Searching For Gertrude Bell, Colonial 'mother' Of Modern Iraq
Muhammad Irfan 22 days ago Mon 31st May 2021 | 08:40 AM
Baghdad, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 31st May, 2021 ) :For someone credited with being an architect of the nation, the grave of British archaeologist, writer, diplomat and spy Gertrude Bell in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is hard to find.
Down an alley in the heart of the capital, through a heavy locked gate into the Protestant cemetery, and then amid a confusing maze of gravestones, caretaker Ali Mansour leads the way.
Scattered artificial flowers lie on her simple yellow-stone tomb.
"Those who do come leave real ones, but I take them off quickly because they wilt in heat," said Mansour, the 77-year-old caretaker, who inherited his job from his stepfather, who got it from the British more than 60 years ago.
"I felt tremendously sad for this woman, who I feel had done so much for the country -- not only in terms of being an author of its creation," said writer and historian Tamara Chalabi, a specialist on Bell.
"She was in a sense a 'mother of Iraq' if you like, for better or worse." Fiercely intelligent and a masterful linguist fluent in Arabic and Farsi, the daring Bell carved out a unique place for herself in the macho world of British colonial administration.
She was instrumental in Faisal I becoming the ruler of the new Kingdom of Iraq, founded in 1921, under the grip of British forces.
For Chalabi, it is "not only" because Bell was a woman that she has been largely forgotten.
"I think there is a problem with the way history has been taught in Iraq... people don't have good sense of their heritage, so it goes beyond Gertrude," Chalabi told AFP.
"For me, it's a problem of Iraqi and Baghdadis' identity... when you talk about culture and heritage and history, it is a very monolithic story." In a country which will celebrate its centenary next year, the history books have been modified by revolutions, coups, dictatorships and regime changes -- and schooling disrupted by years of devastating war.
"I studied the modern history of my country between the ages of 12 and 15," said Heidi, a 23-year-old Iraqi student.
"You had to learn dates, but Gertrude Bell's name was never mentioned." - 'Interests of the Crown' - But there are critics too.
For Ali al-Nashmi, professor of history at Baghdad's Munstansariya University, Bell has faded from the country's story for a reason -- her role benefitted Britain and "only served the interests of the Crown, not those of the Iraqis".
In the West, on the other hand, Bell's role has been somewhat rehabilitated in popular memory in recent years, with several new biographies and histories written, and Werner Herzog's 2015 film "Queen of the Desert", in which Nicole Kidman played Bell.
Chalabi helped repair and clean Bell's grave, planting trees around it and attaching a small metal plaque beside it.
"In recognition of Gertrude Bell's historic contribution to Iraq," it reads.
To find a trace of Bell today, you have to go to the Iraq Museum.
Top of the list is Gertrude Bell, with her dates as director, 1922-1926.
"She has never been forgotten," Hussein said. "She established the Iraq Museum and contributed to the country's first archaeological structure."However, her statue, erected by Faisal I, disappeared during the looting of the museum amid the chaos that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
"We still have not found it," Hussein said.