Born on this day, July 14th in 1868 Gertrude Bell is one of the most remarkable women in history. Writer, traveller, mountaineer, archeologist, historian, journalist, red-cross worker and most importantly she was a highly insightful political analyst.
Bell also translated the Persian poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, better known as Hafez in her book “Poems from the Divan if Hafiz” (1892).
She was a witness to and reporter of the Armenian Holocaust when the Ottomans committed a genocide wiping out 1.5 million Armenians. She saw Armenian women traded in the marketplaces by the Turks and Kurds as groups of the men, boys and old aged were dragged off and murdered in the desert.
Bell is one of the very few representatives of the colonial powers who is remembered with any fondness in the middle east. She was instrumental in the establishment of the boundaries of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Her intimate knowledge of tribal groupings, loyalties and alliances paved the way for the division of the middle east.
Bell had a unique advantage over the French and British men involved in the process. As a woman she had access to women. Her Arabic title : al-Khatun is derived from Imperial Ottoman Harem politics and refers to a court lady who is highly politically astute. A lady who works for the benefit of the state and who has the ear of the Sultan. She was the Sheherazade to King Faisal in the creation of Iraq.
Mark Sykes (of the Sykes-Pichot Agreement) was said to have hated Bell. She was also unpopular with the Zionists because she opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Arabic lands. She wrote of the Balfour declaration; “It’s like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can`t stretch out your hand to prevent them“.
This is enough for me. (Poems from the Divan of Hafiz: Translated by Gertrude Lowthian Bell)
A flower-tinted cheek, the flowery close
of the fair earth, these are enough for me.
Enough that in the meadow wanes and grows
the shadow of a graceful cypress-tree.
I am no lover of hypocirisy;
of all the treasures that the earth can boast,
a brimming cup of wine I prize the most.
This is enough for me !
To them that here renowned for virtue live,
a heavenly palace is the meet reward;
to me, the drunkard and the beggar, give
the temple of the grape with red wine stored!
Beside a river seat thee on the sward;
it floweth past, so flows thy life away,
so sweetly, swiftly, fleets our little day.
Swift, but enough for me !
Look upon all the gold in the world’s mart,
on all the tears the world hath shed in vain;
shall they not satisfy thy craving heart?
I have enough of loss, enough of gain;
I have my Love, what more can I obtain?
Mine is the joy of her companionship
whose healing lip is laid upon my lip.
This is enough for me !