Special Collections

Exploring the Omar Sheikhmous Archive, Part 1: The KDP 1945-1975

Between 2007 and 2011 Omar Sheikhmous (born in Syria in 1942) generously donated a large collection of personal papers, books and periodicals to the University of Exeter that reflect and record a lifetime’s involvement in Kurdish political and academic activities. A prolific author, lecturer, conference-organiser and broadcaster, Sheikhmous has made an enormous contribution to Kurdish studies over the last four decades, but he has also been closely involved with political activism in his native Kurdistan. His archive offers a uniquely-detailed insiders’ perspective on the formation and activities of major Kurdish political bodies in Iraq, Syria and Iran – including the PUK, KDP, KDPI and Iraqi Communist Party – as well as numerous smaller groups, students’ organisations and exile associations. It also includes rare documents and personal correspondence with the likes of Jalal Talabani, Kemal Fuad, Fuad Masoum and other leading political and cultural figures. In the first of a series of blogposts, we will be looking at some highlights from the archive and exploring what they can teach us about the history of the Kurdish people.

Part 1: The Kurdistan Democratic Party from 1945 to 1975

In 1975 Omar Sheikhmous was a founding member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has often had bitterly hostile relations with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), especially during the civil war of the mid-1990s. However, the archive contains numerous documents relating to the KDP’s early history, many of them rare and valuable in the insights they provide into the development of the Kurdish movement.

Material relating to the history of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (EUL MS 403/3/2/2)

Origins: the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad and the KDP in Iran

The Komalay Jiyanaway Kurdistan [Society for the Revival of Kurdistan], known as the ‘Komala J.K.’ for short, was founded in Mahabad in 1942 and quickly became the focus for the Kurdish nationalist movement, publishing a journal Niştiman [‘Motherland‘] and devising what became the Kurdish national flag – red, white and green. In 1945 Komala J.K. was disbanded to make way for a new political party that could operate in the open and replaced with The Kurdistan Democratic Party. Emboldened by the setting up of the autonomous Azerbaijan People’s Government in northern Iran, as well as the arrival of a large group of around 1,000 armed Iraqi Kurds and their families, headed by Mustafa Barzani, an independent republic was declared in January 1946, with Qāżi Moḥammed as its president and a parliament of thirteen ministers.declared Mahabad an independent Kurdish People’s Government.

For a short while the little republic flourished. Moḥammed wanted Mahabad to become the centre of a new revival of Kurdish culture, and a newspaper and political monthly – both called Kurdistan – were published in the town, as well as two literary journals, Havar and Hilal. Textbooks were also printed in the Kurdish language, which was used to teach children in the classrooms.

Throughout this time the republic had relied upon support from Soviet Russia, and when this was withdrawn in the autumn of 1946 as part of an agreement with the government in Tehran, the end came swiftly. Barzani and his tribesmen left and Iranian forces swept into Mahabad in December. Qāżi Moḥammed was arrested and hanged with his brothers Seif and Sadr at dawn on 31 March 1947.

We have a number of interesting items relating to Mahabad in the Sheikhmous archive, including copies of some of the Kurdish periodicals and newspapers that were published during the Republic. These include the first three issues of the Persian-language periodical Gir wa Gali Mindalani Kurd (1946), an issue of the periodical Niştiman (1945) and five issues from 1946 of  the newspaper Kurdistan , which like Niştiman was written in Sorani Kurdish. There are also some later materials, such as an undated French leaflet commemorating the Republic that includes a rather gruesome photograph of the execution of Qāżi Moḥammed and his co-leaders. A letter to Omar Sheikhmous from Qāżi Moḥammed’s only son Ali, written in 1991, is also in the archive.

 

Copies of the newspaper ‘Kurdistan’, printed and published by the KDPI in Mahabad in 1946. EUL MS 403/3/2/1

The KDP in Iraq

Although the tragic end of the Republic effectively crushed the KDP in Iran, Barzani had managed to establish the party across the border in Iraq, where the new KDP of Iraq held its first congress in Baghdad on 16 August 1946. Following the fall of Mahabad, Barzani fled to the USSR and did not return until 1958: his place was taken by Ibrahim Ahmad, who had been the head of the Suleymania branch of Komala JK. A talented writer and political leader, Ahmad became chairman of the KDP in Iraq at the second party congress in 1951. He would later become the father of Jalal Talabani, co-founder of the PUK, future Prime Minister of Iraq and a close friend of Omar Sheikhmous: as a consequence of which we have a great deal of correspondence and other documents written by Talabani in the archive.

Over the next ten to fifteen years, the KDP continued to grow in Iraq, often working closely with the Iraqi Communist Party. On 14 July 1958 General Abd al-Karim Qasim led a coup in Iraq that toppled the Hashemite monarchy which had ruled the country since 1920. This was done with the support of the KDP, and under the new regime Barzani was able to return from exile. There was, however, tension between him and Ibrahim Ahmad, whose socialist leanings were not to Barzani’s likings. Good relations with the Iraqi government did not last either, as Qasim broke his promise of granting Kurdish autonomy and instead stirred up trouble among the Kurdish tribes. On 11 September 1961 Barzani led the Kurds in taking up arms against the Iraqi forces, beginning a war that would last until 1975. During this time Qasim was deposed and killed by another coup led by the Ba’ath party; further infighting and coups followed until the Ba’athists consolidated their power in 1968.

A handwritten open letter from the KDP (15 July 1964) – EUL MS 403/3/2/1

We have a number of documents from this period, including a cyclostyled handwritten proclamation to the Kurdish people by the KDP (12 May 1962), a six-page handwritten open letter from the KDP (15 July 1964 – illustrated above) and a KDP press release signed by Mustafa Barzani (10 February 1965).

The KDP and the Ba’ath Party, 1968-75

The Ba’ath Party never had any real desire to promote Kurdish autonomy, but the manifesto drawn up in March 1970 – negotiated with Saddam Hussein – seemed to meet most of Barzani’s demands, recognising Kurdish as an official language and inviting members of the KDP to join a government taskforce for implementing the manifesto. Suspicion remained on both sides however, there was several assassination attempts on Barzani that were likely backed by the Iraqi government, and neither party could agree over the status of Kirkuk. In the background too, Barzani had moved away from Soviet Russia to align his party with the US and Iran, while Baghdad and Moscow had grown closer. In March 1974 Saddam Hussein imposed a revised version of the autonomy manifesto and gave Barzani two weeks to respond. His rejection of the offer launched a full-scale conflict between the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi forces, but sadly Barzani would realise too late that the support offered by the Shah and the American authorities was a means to an end rather than a loyal commitment.

Poster by unknown artist commemorating the execution of KDP member Layla Qasim, who was hanged in Baghdad in April 1974. EUL MS 403/7

Not for the first time, the Kurds would find themselves exploited by the west and then abandoned in their time of need. The US support failed to materialise, and in March 1975 the Iraqi government persuaded Iran to withdraw their support of the Kurds in exchange for access to the vital Shatt al-Arab waterway connecting the Iranian port of Abadan to the Persian Gulf. The Kurdish uprising collapsed overnight and Barzani, with around 100,000 of his followers, crossed the border to take refuge in Iran. He died four years later.

This was a confusing and complicated period of Kurdish history and one of the great strengths of the Sheikhmous archive is the number of original documents that provide insights into what the different parties were doing and saying at this time, both in private and in public. In addition to correspondence between KDP members, there are press releases, KDP newspapers and publications, open letters to the Iraqi public and communications to the Kurdish community in exile.

In the next blogpost in the series, we will look at the founding of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in June 1975 and the role played by Omar Sheikhmous in the party’s development and activities….

Iran in the Archives

Iran – known as Persia until the middle of the 20th century – is the second largest country in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, and is also home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, possessing an unbroken history that stretches back over six thousands year. In addition to the ancient ruins of Persepolis – one of nineteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country – it is home to the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, the Sheikh Safi mausoleum in Ardabil, the architectural wonders of Isfahan and the Golestan Palace, as well as the natural beauties of Mount Tamarvand – the highest peak in the Middle East – the forest and waterfalls of Gilan, and the magnificent rolling green plains of Torkaman Sahra. Much of the country comprises mountains and desert, which has hindered both invasion from the outside and expansion from within.

Detail from a 16th century Persian manuscript, from illustrations compiled by Major William Nassau Weech for his ‘History of Persia’ (EUL MS 233)

Iran is bordered by the Caspian Sea to the north, with the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south; Turkey and Iraq lie to to the west, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia bound its north, while its neighbours to the east are Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran’s strategic location, as well as its oil resources, have long attracted the interest of both eastern and western powers, and understanding the country’s history is crucial to anyone seeking to grapple with the complexities of Gulf politics, relations between the Middle East, Asia and Europe, and the continuing role played by Islam in the cultural and political development of the region. With tensions between Iran and the USA escalating sharply over the last few days, this is an opportune moment to delve into the materials held in our Middle East archives and Special Collections to see what insights they can offer.

Although there are some offprints and journals within the papers of John Craven Wilkinson (EUL MS 119) relating to the early archaeological and ancient history of the country, most of the archival material held in Exeter University’s Middle East collections dates from the last two centuries – so it is perhaps worth having a quick recap of the modern history of Persia. The Safavid and Zand dynasties that had ruled over Persia since the beginning of the 16th century ended in civil war after the death of Karim Khan in 1779, to be followed by the Qajar dynasty that lasted until 1925.  This period was characterised by growing rivalry in the region between Britain in the south – due to Persia’s boundaries with British India (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan)  – and Russia in the north. The Tsar’s attempts to expand into the Caucasus region resulted in mass migration of many Muslims into Turkey and Persia, as well as  two wars between with Russia and Persia in the early 19th century. These events are vividly described in Laurence Kelly’s excellent book, Diplomacy and Murder in Tehran: Alexander Griboyedov and Imperial Russia’s Mission to the Shah of Persia (Tauris, 2002). In the archive, a great deal of interesting material relating to this period can be found among the research papers of Peter Morris (EUL MS 285), a lecturer at Exeter University who had a special interest in Persian history.

A small selection of material from the Iranian research papers of Peter Morris (EUL MS 285)

Although much of the material is secondary, it includes copies of records from Russian archives and policy documents from the India Office, handwritten and typed notes on ethnic traditions, Persian culture, social attitudes and customs, copies of 18th century correspondence and 19th century typed descriptions of personalities in Persia, financial and agricultural statistics, information relating to the army, trade and administration, postcards of Persian paintings, presscuttings from the 19th and 20th century, as well as guidebooks, maps and personal notebooks. These papers would make an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to undertake research into the history of Iran.

The Twentieth Century: reform and revolution

Iran was ruled at the beginning of the twentieth century by Mozaffar ad-Din Shah Qajar, who had succeeded his father in 1896 and would reign until his death in 1907. He was ill-suited for office, however, and one of his most poorly-judged decisions was to sign away his country’s oil rights in 1901 to William Knox D’Arcy, who subsequently became director of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) – later British Petroleum (BP) –  and would make a fortune from Iran’s precious natural resources: a cause for resentment by Iranians for most of the century. The Shah’s power was curtailed by the creation of a majles (parliamentary assembly) and democratic constitution, and he died 40 days after this was signed. Concerned over the possible instability of these liberal changes, Russia and Britain signed the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, or Convention between the United Kingdom and Russia relating to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet, recognising their respective spheres of influence in the north and south of Persia and promising not to interfere either with each other or with Persian sovereignty. This would of course fall apart after the Bolshevik Revolution, and there are various papers on this topic in EUL MS 285/2.

Published works in our rare book collection provide evidence of Britain’s long history of involvement in Iran – in military, missionary, political and mercantile spheres – not only in their printed narratives but also in the material history of the books themselves

Material relating to the oil industry in Iran can be found among the papers of John Wilkinson (EUL MS 119/2/3/13) as well as Charles Belgrave (EUL MS 148/1/17 and elsewhere). The Shah’s son and successor tried to oppose the constitution and was forced into exile in 1909, to be succeeded by his young son Ahmad Shah, who proved weak and ineffective in dealing with civil unrest and the intrusions of Britain and Russia. He lost his throne in a coup d’etat in 1921, to be replaced by Reza Pahlavi, Commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade, who held the posts of Minister of War (1921-25) and Prime Minister (1923-25) before taking the imperial oath as the first shah of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was Reza Shah who insisted in 1935 that foreign countries used the name ‘Iran’ rather ‘Persia’, although his son would later allow the two to be used interchangeably.

Folder containing a typescript and illustrations for a history of Persia by Major William Nassau Weech (1878-1961), written in 1936 and published as part of his ‘History of the World’ (1944) EUL MS 233

Although Iran underwent far-reaching programme of modernisation under Reza Shah, he was unpopular with many Iranians due to his authoritarian rule and reliance on the military to crush dissent. Inspired by Kemal Ataturk’s reforms in Turkey, he ordered the wearing of modern dress, banned the hijab and established a highly centralised secular administration that broke the hold of Islamic clergy on the educational and legal system. This led to growing opposition from traditional Islamists, clergy, tribal groups, marginalised ethnic minorities such as the Kurds, as well as the younger generation of middle-class intelligentsia who resented his crushing of free speech as well as his association with British imperialism. During the 1930s, however, the Shah developed close relations with Germany, who provided technical and engineering support for the construction of railways, industrial plants and other infrastructure projects. Although Iran remained neutral at the outbreak of WWII, the Allies regarded the Shah with suspicion due to his pro-German policies and refusal to expel the large number of Germans – many of whom were Nazi supporters – living in Iran. An Anglo-Soviet invasion in 1941 brought about the forced abdication of the Shah and his replacement by his son, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In keeping with past convention, the Russians occupied the north of the country and the British and Americans the south.

The Kurds in Iran

The weakening of the Shah’s power during the period of Allied occupation meant an end to the restrictions on political opposition, including the activities of Iranian Kurds who had long engaged in struggles against the centralised authorities in Tehran. In September 1942, in the town of Mahabad in northwest Iran, Kurdish nationalists formed the Komala-ye Žīān-e Kordestān  (Committee of the Life of Kurdistan), whose influence gradually spread throughout the town and surrounding villages, severing all administrative links with the Iranian government in Tehran. They were joined in 1944 by a well-respected local judge Qazi Mohammad, who soon took control of the group. Their aims included autonomy for Iranian and the right to use the Kurdish language in education and administration – and to this end they set up the first Kurdish theatre in Iran, as well as publishing newspapers and periodicals in Kurdish. On 22 January 1946 an independent Kurdish Republic was declared in Mahabad, with its own manifesto, army, girl’s school and a territory that included the nearby Kurdish-speaking towns of  Bukan, Piranshahr, Sardasht, Naqadeh and Oshnoviyeh. We have some interesting material relating to Mahabad in the Omar Sheikhmous collection (EUL MS 403), including copies of the periodicals Gir wa Gali Mindalani (Vols.1, Nos. 1-3) and Niştiman (Vol.1, Nos.7-9) and five issues of the newspaper Kurdistan from 1946, which was published by Qazi Mohammad’s Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Hîzbî Dêmukratî Kurdistanî Êran). The latter two titles are in Sorani Kurdish. The Republic received the promise of military and financial backing from Soviet forces, as well as armed support from Iraqi Kurdish leader  Mostafa Barzani (1903-79), who brought with him several thousands Kurdish fighters and their families from over the border.

Some of the large number of documents – in Persian, Kurdish, English, Swedish, German and French – in the Omar Sheikhmous archive (EUL MS 403) documenting the history and political struggles of the Kurds of Iran

Mohammad had, unfortunately, overestimated the support of the Russians as much as he had underestimated the wiliness of the Iranian prime minister Ahmad Qavam, who played the various parties off against one another, and offered the Soviet authorities generous oil concessions in exchange for the withdrawal of their forces from Iran. In December 1946 the Iranian army entered Mahabad, ending the short-lived Kurdish republic. Despite the peaceful reconquest of the town, the leaders were shown no mercy: on 23 March 1947, Qazi Mohammad, his brother Sadr Qazi and cousin Sayf Qadr were hanged in the town centre. An undated French leaflet among the Sheikhmous papers is illustrated with a photograph of their execution.

The Latter Years of the Shah’s Reign

One of the most significant crises in Iran during the Cold War occurred in 1952 when Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq – a senior figure in the Communist Tudeh party – sought to nationalize the British-owned oil industry and return its revenues to Iran. This resulted in an economic blockade, an attempted coup, the temporary exile of the Shah, and a complex power struggle between Mosaddeq, the Shah, the military, Islamic clergy and crowds of rival demonstrators who were paid by the American government to instigate trouble on the streets. Mosaddeq was eventually removed in a CIA and MI6 backed coup in 1953, the Iranian oil industry was restored to British ownership, and from then on the Shah pursued a liberal, pro-western policy – branded the ‘White Revolution’ in 1963 – that was nonetheless autocratic, authoritarian and deeply corrupt, relying on rigged referendums and the brutal methods of the SAVAK security forces. It was, however, the Shah’s hostility to Islam that particularly drew the criticism of an outspoken Muslim cleric, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who was based in the holy city of Qom. Born in 1902, the charismatic and scholarly Khomeini was widely revered, and rather than risk a backlash by having him executed, the Shah had the 62-year old cleric arrested and deported in 1964. He would spend the next fifteen years in exile in Turkey, Iraq and France.

The Shah’s unpopularity continued to grow during the 1970s, partly due to the way in which the oil boom of that decade seemed to the Iranian people to made the Pahlavi family and their friends immensely rich while leaving much of the country in poverty. British interests in the Gulf region underwent a major change with the withdrawal of British forces from the Gulf in 1971, and Sir William Luce met the Shah several times during the period of his shuttle diplomacy between 1970 and 1971.  (Records of their conversations can be found amongst Luce’s papers, e.g. EUL MS 146/1/3/1, 1/3/7 and 1/3/8.) The Shah also met with Glencairn Balfour-Paul, who was based in Bahrain during the late 1960s as deputy political resident of the Persian Gulf, followed by another post as British ambassador to Iraq (1969-72) – there is an informal photograph of the Shah and his wife amongst Balfour-Paul’s papers (EUL MS 370/6/34.)

On the domestic front, however, the Shah proved unable to control the waves of protest that shook the country during the late 1970s, and eventually fled Iran in January 1979. The papers of Sir John and Lady Richmond contain a file of presscuttings  covering these events (EUL MS 115/19/13). The British, seeing the direction in which events were heading, had already dropped their support for the Shah and took the further step of refusing him asylum. He died in Egypt the following year.

Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran to a tumultuous welcome on 1 February 1979. One of the Shah’s final acts had been to appoint Shapour Bakhtiar as Prime Minister. Khomeini refused to recognise his authority, and after ten days of chaos and fighting Bakhtiar’s weak and isolated administration collapsed, to be replaced by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the next ten years – until his death on 3 June 1989 – Khomeini served as Supreme Leader of Iran, a decade that saw the revolution consolidated into an Islamic theocracy as well as a long and bloody war with Iraq.

Detail of a mural in Tehran showing the Ayatollah Khomeini during the war with Iraq. From the papers of Jonathan Crusoe (EUL MS 143)

This was chronicled in detail by Jonathan Crusoe, and among his papers are several folders on the ‘First Gulf War’ (1980-88) between Iran and Iraq as well as other files relating to relations between the two countries (EUL MS 43/10/2/1-6). Iran’s seizure of the Tunb Islands in the Straits of Hormuz is discussed in several articles in the Baghdad Observer, which would make an interesting comparison with Sir William Luce’s accounts of the same event amongst his papers.

Some of the presscuttings and other documents assembled by Jonathan Crusoe on the subject of the First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), many of which offer insights into how Iran’s history, culture and political intentions were perceived by Iraqi

Various scholarly assessments of Khomeini’s rule and the Islamic revolution in Iraq can be found among the academic papers of Nazih Ayubi (e.g. EUL MS 129/1/1/9, 129/1/2/5, 129/2/1, 3 and 30.) It should also be noted that there is an audio recording of a conference on Iran held in the El-Awaisi collection (EUL MS 284). Following Khomeini’s death in 1989, Ali Khamenei was appointed the next Supreme Leader and – thirty years on – remains in post. Although the Supreme Leader possesses ultimate religious and political authority in Iran and is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister and all other military and judicial leaders, it has been claimed that he functions as more of a figurehead for other powerful forces within the conservative establishment. There is no denying the significant differences between Khamanei and his predecessor in terms of religious education, cultural tastes and popular standing, and he remains a divisive figure for many in Iran, which has seen widespread anti-government demonstrations over the last two or three years.

The relationship between the Supreme Leader and the government is however, a complex one, as would be expected in a theocratic state. The power structure in Iran includes an array of different elements that includes the Supreme Leader, the President, Parliament and Judiciary, the Council of Guardians – who monitor parliamentary decisions for compatibility with Islamic law, the Assembly of Experts – who elect the Supreme Leader – the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was founded by Khomeini in 1979 to safeguard the principles of the revolution, and is fiercely independent from the regular army.

Those who wish to understand Iran today will need to spend a substantial amount of time working out the dynamics between these different centres of power, studying the personalities and abilities of the key figures, and learning how they operate both within Iran and as part of the wider political, religious and cultural context of the Gulf region – including its involvement in the affairs of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. Perhaps more than most other countries in the Middle East, commentary on Iran has suffered badly from a vast chasm between how outsiders view the country and how it is seen from within. Anyone seeking to bridge this chasm must begin by acquiring a solid grasp not only of Persia’s long history but also of the diverse and conflicting movements that are currently helping to shape contemporary Iran. The archival materials held in Special Collections provide unique insights into this subject, and can of course be complemented by drawing on the rich resources held alongside in AWDU (the Arabic World Documentation Unit), which include a wealth of ephemera, economic reports, statistical records, leaflets and presscuttings, Iran in the Persian Gulf 1820-1966 (Slough: Archive Editions, 2000) – a six-volume collection of facsimile government papers  – plus official material relating to the oil industry, trade and banking.

For any questions, please contact the Middle East Archivist.

A few of the titles in the rare book section of Special Collections relating to the history of Iran and its neighbours. Many of these are illustrated with photographs and engravings, as well as maps, from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

The El-Awaisi archive (EUL MS 284) and the Muslim Brotherhood

Those familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood will likely associate the organisation with Egypt, the place of its origin and the centre of its activities for much of its 90-years of existence. Founded by Hasan al-Banna in Ismailia in NE Egypt in 1928 – in part as a response to the dissolution of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – the Muslim Brotherhood was one of many small Islamic groups dissatisfied with the secular character of Egyptian society and the continuing occupation by British forces under the liberal monarchy of King Fuad I. By the late 1930s, however, it had over half a million members in Egypt alone and over the following decades would gradually become a powerful force of influence across the Arab world – despite a series of government prohibitions and crackdowns that saw thousands of its members imprisoned or executed.

A transnational movement rather than a political party, the Muslim Brotherhood was never in a position of power until the 2011 uprising that followed the ‘Arab Spring’. The thirty-year Presidency of Hosni Mubarak has been analysed in detail by Nazih Ayubi and many papers in the Ayubi archive offer insights into Egyptian life, society and economy during this period, but human rights abuses and corruption under Mubarak were the focus of the political demonstrations that took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the spring of 2011, leading to Mubarak’s resignation and the first ever democratic election in Egypt’s history. The new president, Mohammed Morsi, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. A year later, he was deposed in a coup led by General Sisi – who became the new president – and Morsi was imprisoned in jail in Cairo, where he died in June 2019.

The role played by the Muslim Brotherhood in Morsi’s rise and fall is a topic that will continue to be debated for many years, and it will be interesting to see what insights Victor Willi forthcoming book The Fourth Ordeal: A History of the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, 1968-2018 (Cambridge University Press) has to offer. The Muslim Brotherhood’s activities outside of Egypt have perhaps received less scrutiny, which is what makes Abd al-Fattah M. El-Awaisi’s study, The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question 1928-1947 (London: Tauris, 1998) so fascinating.

Some items from the El-Awaisi archive

El-Awaisi was born in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip, and after studying at Kuwait University came to Exeter to pursue a Ph.D under the supervision of Michael Adams. His thesis, entitled The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question, 1936-1947, was successfully submitted in January 1986, after which he took up an academic post at the University of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied territory of Palestine. He was head of the history department when he was deported by the Israelis in 1992, a traumatic experience that caused him a great deal of suffering and ill-health in addition to separating him from his family. Professor El-Awaisi was later reunited with his wife and children, and held academic posts in Malaysia and Turkey. In 2001 he became the first Principal of the Al-Maktoum Institute in Dundee, where he co-wrote Time for Change: Report on the Future of the Study of Islam and Muslims in Universities and Colleges in Multicultural Britain (2006) with Professor Malory Nye, who succeded him as Principal in 2008. In recent years he was been committed to a new interdisciplinary field designated ‘Islamicjerusalem [sic] Studies’, which aims at exploring an Islamic understanding of the Holy Land through theology, history, geography, architecture and archaeology.

El-Awaisi’s recent work is, arguably, rooted in the research undertaken forty years earlier for his PhD thesis, which examined in detail the Muslim Brotherhood’s belief that Palestine occupied a position of unique significance within Islam, and the ways in which their engagement with this issue played out through three successive phases: that of propaganda, military preparations and armed conflict.

Tapes of Abu Zant with one of El-Awaisi’s index cards

Under Hasan al-Banna, the Brothers began with the fundamental concept of Islamic umma [أمة] which emphasises that all Muslims belong to a ‘spiritual nation’ which transcends geographic boundaries and racial distinction. At first, they adopted a principled and respectful stance towards non-Muslims, both Christians and Jews, as People of the Book, but this changed in response to the Zionist movement and its demands upon Palestine. Believing that Palestine occupied a special place within the Islamic umma and that all Muslims had a sacred duty to defend the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Muslim Brotherhood took an increasingly hostile stance towards Judaism, including the distribution of ugly anti-Semitic material. The Brothers’ commitment to fighting in Palestine was based on a fusion of the concepts of umma and jihad [جهاد‎ ], so that the defence of Palestine was seen both as a nationalist and a religious cause. At this time however, British policy was aimed at keeping Egypt isolated from the Arab world, with the consequence that Egyptian politicians were much more concerned with domestic issues and showed little interest in Palestine. Even as late as 1931, there was little support in Egypt for Pan-Muslim movements, which is why the Muslim Brotherhood had to devote so much energy to propaganda in its early years.

As El-Awaisi’s thesis reveals, one of Hasan al-Banna’s first actions (in 1927) was to send a message of support to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni – who was, incidentally, a good friend of Ernest Richmond. The Brotherhood’s first activity outside Egypt was in Palestine in 1935, when a delegation of Brothers travelled to Jerusalem to visit al-Husayni before meeting others sympathetic to their aims in Damascus. After returning, their offices in Cairo became a centre for the Palestinian resistance movement, and over the next decade they would take an increasingly active role in military operations within Palestine.

EUL MS 284

El-Awaisi’s account of this history was based on a wide range of Arabic sources from Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, both published and unpublished, as well as records from the Foreign Office. During the 1980s he also travelled to Geneva, Cairo and Palestine to conduct interviews with twelve former members of the Brotherhood, contemporaries of Hasan al-Banna who had been involved in the Palestinian resistance. These interviews were recorded and now form part of the El-Awaisi archive of almost 230 cassette tapes. In addition to the interviews, there are recordings of Islamic and Palestinian songs, a conference on Iran held by the Muslim Institute in London, lectures by Shaykh Fu’ad al-Rifai and Shaykh Ahmad al-Qattan, sermons by Palestinian cleric and militant Abu Anas on ‘Jarimat al-Watan al-Badil’ [‘The Crime of the Alternative Homeland proposal’], and over fifty tapes of the radical Jordanian MP and Muslim Brother Shaykh Abd al-Munim Abu Zant. The value of this audio archive extends far beyond the parameters of El-Awaisi’s PhD research, and will be of relevance for anyone researching the wider history of radical Islam. In addition to a card listing of the tapes’ contents, there are five boxes of index cards – written chiefly in Arabic – providing a subject index to El-Awaisi’s research materials, including book and periodical references. The tapes are in the process of being digitised, although this is a time-consuming practice that will take several months.

The aims, strategies and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood remain a highly contentious issue. Despite long-standing support from Qatar and Turkey, the Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, and during 2019 Donald Trump called for the USA to do likewise. Although it officially renounced violence in the 1970s, the Brotherhood’s theocratic ideology can be seen to underpin the agendas of militant groups such as Hamas, al-Qa’eda and ISIS – even if the relationship between these groups ranges from, at best, informal collaboration to outright mutual condemnation – with the writings of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) playing a significant role in the development of Islamic fundamentalism. Even if the fullness of their commitment to democracy is debatable, the Brotherhood’s emphasis on social transformation, electoral participation and charitable work for the sick and the poor indicates that they may have much to offer as a nonviolent alternative to more extreme forms of Islamism.

Using archival sources is a valuable step towards engaging with a complex and challenging debate such as this, as it encourages the enquiry to go beyond general abstractions (such as ‘The Clash of Civilisation’ trope) and examine primary sources that record the actual words, written and spoken, of individuals at a specific time and place. This is particularly important for anyone studying the Muslim Brotherhood and its various affiliate networks, which have often evolved in different ways according to regional and local contexts, and the political realities of the moment. In addition to the El-Awaisi archive – which has been catalogued here – there are sub-sections of the Ayubi papers dealing specifically with political Islam, Egypt and militant Islamic movements in the Middle East (EUL MS 129/1/2 and EUL MS 129/1/3, see records here) and also a small folder of manuscript notes in the Richmond papers on the 1966 trial in Egypt of Sayyid Qutb and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood (EUL MS 115/41/1, see here.)

Where oil and water mix: the Omani papers of John Craven Wilkinson (EUL MS 119)

Although the archives of John Shebbeare and John Craven Wilkinson (1934-) both relate to Oman, they are very different in both size and scope. Wilkinson is arguably the foremost Western scholar to have worked on the history of Oman, a field of study that he has dominated for the last half century. As his collection of papers is substantially a record of this distinguished career, it will be helpful to offer a summary of Wilkinson’s life and work.

Born in 1934, he was educated at Harrow before going up to Oxford where he matriculated at St Edmund’s Hall in 1955. While still a student, he led a university expedition to NE Kurdistan in 1956 that involved climbing Halguard – the highest mountain in Iraq – and a walk of some 600 miles through the mountainous regions to the north east of Rowanduz as far as the borders with Turkey and Iran. Papers relating to this expedition include correspondence with Cecil J. Edmonds (1889-1979), a former political officer in Kurdistan who was an expert authority on the area and was then Lecturer in Kurdish at SOAS. (EUL MS 119/1/1/1 and 119/3/1).

Correspondence and papers by C.J. Edmonds relating to Wilkinson’s 1956 expedition to Kurdistan

In his published account [‘Oxford university expedition to Iraqi Kurdistan, 1956’, Journal of The Royal Central Asian Society Vol.45:1 (1958) pp.58-64] Wilkinson paid tribute to the assistance provided by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), who supplied a guide and a landrover as well as other forms of support, and after graduating from Oxford in 1957 he went to work in the oil industry. The Sultan of Muscat and Oman had granted a 75-year concession to the IPC, who set up an associate company called Petroleum Development (Oman) to run the oil operations in the Sultanate. Wilkinson was appointed first to Qatar in 1958, moving to Abu Dhabi the following year and then on to Trucial Oman before he transferred to work for Shell in 1962. After working in Laos and other locations, he returned to Oman in 1965. Many of his papers, including correspondence and reports, relate to his work for PDO during this time. (See for example EUL MS 119/2/3/1-4 and correspondence files.)

Oman and the Oil Industry

Petroleum Development Oman brochure, EUL MS 119/2/3/4

During the 1950s and 1960s Wilkinson witnessed first-hand how the politics of oil clashed with the Imamate society that inhabited central Oman – a topic that, in its various ramifications, would remain at the centre of much of his scholarly work over the next few decades. However, in order to understand this fully, it is necessary to explain a little more about Oman itself.

A water channel in Oman, part of the falaj irrigation system, from an official Omani bulletin EUL MS 119/2/2/4

Oman is essentially an island, bordered on two side by the waters of the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, and on the others by the vast sands of the the Rub’ al Khali desert or ‘Empty Quarter’ that separates Oman from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the UAE. Furthermore, the country was roughly divided into two separate parts – the outward-looking, secular, seafaring society along the coast which was governed from Muscat, and the closed, more-or-less self-sufficient tribal communities who inhabited the interior region or ‘Oman proper’, who were led by a an elected Imam who followed the tenets of the Ibadi sect of Islam. (This dual nature was reflected by the country being referred to as Sultanate of Muscat and Oman from 1820 until 1970, when the coup (referred to here) simplified the name to just ‘Oman.’) The tribal organisation of the interior was based around the doctrines of Ibadism and the pattern of village settlements that were founded upon the falaj irrigation system, a complex system of channels that distributed water to owners who paid for specific units of time rather than volume of water. In order to penetrate the interior – where the Sultan’s authority was not recognised – the oil companies needed to deal with the Omani tribal leaders, over whom Saudi Arabia claimed a degree of sovereignty. Events in Oman during the mid-20th century are a complex web of rivalries between the British-influenced Sultan and the Saudi-influenced Imam, between the ambition of American oil companies and British diplomatic strategists and between the religious character of the Imamate tribes and the commercial secularism of the maritime coast, much of it muddied by disputes over boundaries that had been drawn up by British diplomats seeking to consolidate their influence in the Gulf region, but which did not correspond with the topographical and cultural realities of the region.

Understanding these complexities was essential for those working in the oil industry, and Wilkinson applied himself carefully to gathering as much information as he could on the region, its history, people and topography, climate, flora and fauna, Arabic etymology, religion and politics. In 1965 he left Shell and returned to Oxford to work on a doctorate under the supervision of Albert Hourani and Freddy Beeston, whose letters are in the archive. The result was a Ph.D thesis with the title Arab settlement in Oman: the origins and development of the tribal pattern and its relationship to the Imamate (1969), a copy of which is held in AWDU.

Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company report EUL MS 119/2/3/5

From 1969 until his retirement in 1997, Wilkinson taught at Oxford University, holding the posts of Lecturer and Reader, as well as Fellow of St Hugh’s College. During this time he consolidated his reputation as an expert on Oman and the Gulf, publishing a stream of important monographs and journal articles on a range of inter-related topics. Many of the papers in the archive formed part of the research materials he gathered for these publications, and include early drafts, conference papers and correspondence with other leading scholars such as Albert Hourani, Bob Serjeant, Freddy Beeston, Dale Eickelman, Calvin Allen, A.K.S. Lambton, Elizabeth Monroe, Ralph Daly and Daniel Varisco. (See for example EUL MS 119/3/14-20).

In order to understand better the nature of this scholarship, a brief overview of some of Wilkinson’s most significant publications may be helpful.

J.C. Wilkinson’s Published Work

Water and Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia. A study of the Aflāj of Oman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977)

Wilkinson’s first major monograph was a remarkable, ground-breaking study of the relationships between water, land, community and religion in Oman. Beginning with an account of the arid climate and topography of the country, Wilkinson proceeds to show the vital importance of the irrigation system known as falaj, how this developed from the earlier Persian qānat system, and how this changed following the arrival of Islam as the tribal society developed under the influence of the Ibadi sect. It is a complex book in which Wilkinson applied his skills as a geographer, historian, linguist and Islamic scholar, and is all the more impressive considering most of his materials were drawn from primary sources and fieldwork. One of his most valuable sources – discussed in detail in Chapter X – was the Malki falaj book, a 19th century manuscript recording patterns of water ownership around the cultivated land around Izki, a village in central Oman.

A page from the Falaj Malki manuscript (EUL MS 119/4/1 ) with details of water rights near Izki in the 19th century

The Falaj Al-Malki is divided into seventeen channels that extend over nine miles, distributing to the villages of Al Nazar and Al Yemen and other agricultural areas around Izki. The manuscript has been digitised and can be viewed here.

The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)

In his introduction to the book, Wilkinson reveals that he intended to write a dramatic account of the rivalry between oil companies caught up in the region’s political struggles, along the lines of Hammond Innes’ novel The Doomed Oasis (1960) – and it is interesting to note that the diaries of Charles Belgrave record Innes’ visit to Bahrain in 1954 to gather background material for his story. As work progressed, however, Wilkinson’s introductory material on the Imamate gradually came to dominate the book and the chapters on the oil industry were pushed to the very end. The Imamate Tradition of Oman covers well over a thousand years of Omani history, exploring the relationship between the Imamate and the tribal system of the interior in terms of a cyclical power dynamic and the tension between centralised authority necessary for statehood and the decentralised nature of the tribal communities, as well as the disastrous consequences of the involvement of foreign powers i.e. Britain. With regard to the latter, Wilkinson’s account of the demise of the Imamate during the 1950s is severe in its criticism of Sultan Said bin Taimur’s rule.

Arabia’s Frontiers. The Story of Britain’s Boundary Drawing in the Desert (London: I.B. Tauris, 1991)

In both the works above Wilkinson discussed Britain’s role in Omani affairs, with reference more widely to efforts by the British government to negotiate boundaries around the Persian Gulf and in Southern Arabia that would protect its sphere of influence. This was a flawed strategy, made worse by the lack of any valid legal framework to support it, that helped give rise to many of the wars and boundary disputes in the region during the 20th century. (Wilkinson’s book was published just after the Second Gulf War, in which Saddam Hussein had justified his invasion of Kuwait on the grounds that it had belonged to Iraq under Ottoman rule, and the British creation of a separate sheikhdom in 1913 was an illegal act of imperialism that had never been ratified.) The book provides a detailed, objective and often sharply critical analysis of British involvement in boundary arbitration, and the legacy this has left for the Gulf. The Wilkinson archive contains numerous boundary maps from the 19th and 20th centuries, while papers relating to the oil concession negotiations provide a first-hand view of how such disputes played out on the ground.

Ibâḍism: Origins and early development in Oman  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Ibâḍism had been a central element of Wilkinson’s work for over forty years due to its importance in the legal, political and cultural development of Oman, and in this book he revisited some of his earlier research in the light of new sources such as the Kitab ansab al-‘Arab (and other manuscripts made available in the library of the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture following the 1970 change of regime) as well as some of the recent scholarly work done on the history of Ibâḍism since his earlier publications. Dense and detailed, Wilkinson’s Ibâdism uses his encyclopaedic knowledge of the historical framework of the Imamate and Oman to reassess the early origins of Ibâdism during the first six centuries of Islam, beginning in Iraq with the early Ibâdi movement in Basra and tracing its development against a background of tribal migration and settlement through to the twelfth century. The progress of Wilkinson’s thinking on Ibâḍism can be seen in some of his published works on the topic (EUL MS 119/1/1/4) as well as the sources he used, such as the manuscripts EUL MS 119/4/14 and EUL MS 119/4/17. Almost all of Wilkinson’s studies were based at least in part upon careful study of Arabic manuscripts, some from the late medieval period, and his archive contains both original manuscripts and copies in various media forms.

A bifolium legal document in black and red ink, with some marginal annotations (EUL MS 119/3/23)

The Arabs and the Scramble for Africa (Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2015)

Although much of Wilkinson’s research focused on the interior of Oman, on p.332 of The Imamate Tradition (1987) he mentioned that his ‘current research interests’ were being directed towards the study of Omanis in the Congo, and almost thirty years later the fruit of the research was published. This book charts the involvement of Omani Arabs in East and Central Africa over several centuries, while concentrating on the period between 1820 and 1890 with the demise of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which had belonged to a branch of the Omani Al Said dynasty since 1698. Utilising a huge range of archival sources as well as half a century’s accumulated knowledge of Omani history and documentation, Wilkinson also drew on his geographical background to emphasise the importance of land, sea, weather and climate in the decisions made by the Omani colonisers of Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and the Congo. Among his papers is an annotated 12-page typescript copy of a 1932 article, ‘The Al Bu Said dynasty in Arabia and East Africa’,  translated into English [possibly by Wilkinson] from the German of Rudolph Said-Ruete, the son of Emily Ruete (born Salama bint Said), author of Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar (EUL MS 119/1/2/12).

A small selection of Wilkinson’s published work (EUL MS 119/1/4)

Even this brief overview of five major monographs – quite apart from the numerous journal articles and conference papers he has written – will convey a sense of Wilkinson’s erudition across a wide range of interdisciplinary scholarly fields. The papers in this archive provide a rich resource for researchers interested in topics as diverse as the history of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and East Africa, the petroleum industry, hydrology, irrigation and agriculture, Ibâdism and the early history of Islam, tribal systems, archaeology, kinship and Islamic law, Arabic manuscripts, geology, maritime history and the flora and fauna of the Middle East. As Professor Wilkinson is still working and writing, permission needs to be sought for access to some of the papers, but the catalogue entries for the Wilkinson archive can be examined here and further enquiries can be directed as usual to the Special Collections department.

Rent receipts and ‘spiritual summes’: using modern languages in Special Collections

In July 2019, a week-long summer residential programme for Year 12 students took place at the University of Exeter. As part of the Modern Languages strand of the programme, PhD student Edward Mills led a translation workshop using French- and Spanish-language material from our Special Collections. We were delighted to be involved in this workshop and would like to thank the students and Edward for their ingenuity and enthusiasm in working with the material.

In this guest blog post, Edward Mills shares some of the students’ translations and explores how modern language skills can be used to unlock archives and bring history to life…

 

What makes Special Collections ‘special’? There are many ways to answer this question, and as the University of Manchester notes in their introduction to their own collections, ‘there is no simple, catch-all definition’ that neatly encompasses all of the material that we keep here in the Old Library. One common thread that does emerge from our colleagues’ reflections, though, is that of uniqueness: many of the items in Special Collections, whether in Manchester and in Exeter, are one-of-a-kind items. This may be because of the way in which they were produced, as is the case with the medieval manuscripts in the Syon Abbey collection, or owing to how they were used later, as we can see in Jack Clemo’s unique treatment of his Boots annual diaries.

These unique items often require the reader to have specialist skills in order to be able to interpret them. This might entail training in palaeography, or else an understanding of how patterns of book-binding changed over time; equally important, however, are language skills. Many of the documents in Special Collections here at Exeter are written in languages other than English, and while being written in (say) French or Latin isn’t itself enough to warrant inclusion in Special Collections, many of the otherwise-unique documents that we preserve and maintain are, by dint of their language of composition, much less accessible to monolingual English speakers.

How, then, can modern linguists use their language skills in the specific context of archives? Questions like these formed the backdrop to a workshop run last week with Year 12 students from across the country, all of whom were taking part in the Modern Languages strand of the University of Exeter’s Summer Residential Programme. Accompanied by Edward Mills (a PhD student at the University) and Angela Mandrioli (a Special Collections assistant), the students spent the morning of 23rd July investigating French- and Spanish-language material in Special Collections, using their language skills to transcribe and translate these documents and working to make them available to a wider audience. In this blog post, we’re delighted to share some of the students’ work; we thank them for allowing us to reproduce their work here, and hope that it will go some way towards demonstrating the key role that languages play in the everyday life of the Special Collections Reading Room.

 

EUL MS 36 (box 2, item 111)

Pour le terme échu le 1er ______

Le soussigné Propriétaire d’une maison, sise à Paris, rue Montaigne no. 22, reconnais avoir reçu de Madame Mariette de Vileblun la somme de quatre cents cinquante francs pour une terme de loyer des lieux qu’occupe dans ladite maison, ledit terme échu le premier ***. Dont Quittance, sans préjudice du terme courant et sous la réserve de tous mes droits. À Paris, le 15 janvier mil huit cent cinquante six.

For the term elapsed on 1st _____

The undersigned owner of a house, located in Paris, at rue Montaigne, No, 22, acknowledges having received from Madame Marette of Nileblun the sum of four hundred and fifty francs, for one term of rent of the rooms that [she] occupies in the aforesaid house, the said term having elapsed on 1st ***. This we accept, without any effect on the current term [of rent] or my own rights. Paris, 15th January 1856. 

Transcribed by Danielle Tah

This partial transcription and translation of a rent receipt is from a series of three such official documents within the Mariette family papers, which includes similar items for the months of April and July in the same year. The term ‘quittance de loyer’ might initially give the impression that the document was intended as a notice of eviction; in reality, however, the sense of ‘quittance’ here is closer to the modern English ‘calling it quits’. That’s because this document is, quite simply, a rent receipt, acknowledging that the renter (locataire) has paid their dues for the given month. Like the notarial document shown above, a rent receipt such as this also problematizes any ideas we might have about archival documents being either ‘printed’ or ‘hand-written’; it’s clear that this document is largely printed as a pro-forma, with names and amounts of money left to be written in later.

A keener look, however, reveals that the landlord didn’t quite do their due diligence in filling in all of the information required. The clue here is in the phrase ‘pour une terme de loyer des lieux qu’occupe dans ladite maison, ledit terme échu le premier’, which would translate into the distinctly odd-sounding ‘for one period of rent for the lodging that occupies in the said house, up to the first’. Who’s doing the ‘occupying’, and until the first of ‘what’ are they staying there? Judging by the gaps between some of these terms, it appears that the landlord didn’t bother to fill out a couple of blanks that are easy to miss: namely, in this case, ‘qu’elle occupe’ and le premier mars’ (‘which she occupies’ and ‘the first of March’). Whether this was due to convenience or simply laziness is something that the archivist can only guess at, but it’s not something that we’d recommend pestering your own landlord about.

A student working on documents from the Mariette family papers

EUL MS 389/HOU/1/8/1 (first letter)

Ma bien chere Soeur Cecile,

Nous avons bien reçu vôtre aimable lettre du 23 octobre 92 et n’avons rien pensé du retard que vous avez mis à repondre à nôtre precedante, parce que comme que vous voyez il nous arrive la m[em]e chose ; nous avons tout nôtre temps pris nous n’avons une minute de disponible ayant comme vous de difficultées pour nous faire comprendre en français ; pour ecrire une lettre dictionnaire en main nous avons de beaucoup de temps et n’ayant pas d’occasion de pratiquer nous oublions chaque jour un peu plus le fraçais. Nous aussi nous vous ecririons beaucoup plus souvent si nous puissions le faire en espagnol.

My dear Sister Cecile,

We have received your letter dated 23rd October [18]92, and have thought nothing of your delay in replying to our last letter, since (as you can see) the same thing has happened to us; we are very busy, and don’t have a single minute free, given as how we, like you, struggle to make ourselves understood in French. It takes a very long time for us to write a letter with a dictionary in-hand, and without the opportunity to practice, we forget a little more of our French every day. We too would write to you far more frequently if we could do so in Spanish.

Transcribed by Alice Manchip and Elaria Admassu

This letter, dated 7th January 1896, was written by Dolores de Marie Immaculé to her ‘sister’, Cécile. The term ‘sister’ here refers not to a family relationship, but instead to their shared membership of a religious order: specifically, the order of the Brigittines, which had religious houses in both Azcoita (modern-day Spain) and Syon Abbey (at the time located in Chudleigh, Devon). The archives of Syon Abbey now reside in the University of Exeter, and it’s in from this collection that the letter is taken. (For more information about the Syon Abbey collections, see this earlier blog post by the Project Archivist, Annie Price.)

As modern linguists, one question immediately springs to mind when reading this letter: why would a Spanish nun write to an English nun in French, especially if doing so is much harder than writing in Spanish? (After all, she needs to have ‘a dictionary to hand’!) The most likely explanation is that French is, in this instance, a vehicular language: since neither group of nuns speaks the other’s first language, French takes on the role of a common code that they can both communicate in (however awkwardly). This difficulty may also explain the four-year delay between the receipt of the English nuns’ previous letter and the arrival of the reply from Spain: the sentence immediately following this transcription reads ‘nous vous écririons beaucoup plus souvent si nous puissions le faire en espagnol.’

Incidentally, if that last sentence sounds slightly odd in French … that’s because it is. Dolores is exhibiting what linguists call ‘language transfer’, as she calques grammatical forms from her native language. Spanish uses the imperfect subjunctive in second-order conditional sentences, whereas French uses the imperfect indicative:

Les escribiríamos más frequentamente si pudiéramos / pusiésemos hacerlo en español.

Nous vous écririons beaucoup plus souvent si nous pouvions le faire en espagnol.

We would write to you far more often if we were able to do so in Spanish.

This letter, then, is interesting for all sorts of reasons: while it does provide a glimpse into personal correspondence between women in the late nineteenth century, it also, for modern linguists, shows some rather charming examples of linguistic stumbling-blocks. There are several other errors at various points in the letter, from mis-spellings to absent accents, but by and large, it’s clear here that French as a lingua franca is very much serving its purpose.

EUL MS 262/add1/3 (title page)

Suma espirituall en que se resuelven todos los casos ÿ dificultades q[ue] hay en el camino de la perfeccion. Compuesta por el Padre Figueras, religioso de la companía de iesus, confessor del conde de Benevente

A spiritual summe in which bee resolved all the difficulties and cases that maie happen in the waie of perfection. Composed by the Reverend Father Figueras of the Societies of iesus and Confessor to the Earle of Benevente

Transcribed by Muning Limbu

This manuscript is also from the Syon Abbey collection, but predates the letter to Cécile by almost 250 years. Datable to 1657, it’s surprisingly small — measuring approximately 145 x 100mm, and featuring clasps — and contains three ‘treatises’, each of which has been foliated separately by a contemporary hand. The extract above is taken from the title page, which presents both the original Spanish title of the work and its translated title in English; it is not, however, the first page of the book,  as it is preceded by a dedicatory epistle from the translator. Naming himself as ‘Brother Francis’, he explains that the work was produced at the request of Sister Ellen Harnage, ‘in the Monasterie of the most devout religious English Nunnes of Syon in Lisbone’. he apologises if his work seems a poor substitute for the original: ‘there is a great difference betwixt a tailor and translator, yet sure I am, the loome is the same, though not the lustre, the substance, though not the varietie of colours, sweetness of speech, and quaint language’. These linguistic anxieties may go some way towards explaining Francis’ decision to retain the original title on the following folio, but from a linguistic perspective, the co-existence of multiple languages also provides a valuable insight into the early modern orthography of both Spanish and English.

In addition to this volume, which was produced for her benefit, Special Collections also holds her (bilingual English-Portuguese) vows of profession to join the community, in which she spells her name ‘Ellin’ (dated 1st January 1642). In 1681, as a collection of miscellaneous Syon Abbey documents records, she became Prioress of the Abbey, a position that she held until her death in 1683.

A student working on a manuscript from the Syon Abbey Collection

EUL MS 56 (opening folio)

Venta de nueve minas de oro sitas en termino de la Nava de Jadraque. Ayuntamiento del Ordial partido judicial de Atienza en la provincia de Guadalajara. Otorgada por Don Mancino Magio y Castillo, y otros a favor de La Compañia Española Limitada de minas de oro y Plata de Guadalajara, representada por los Señores Don José Morrell y Earle y Don Juan Hennon y Hackworth; ante Don Ramon Sanchez Suarez, Notario del Colegio de Madrid.

Sale: of nine gold mine sites at the edge of the Jadraque flatland, within the jurisdiction of the borough of Atienza, in the province of Guadalajara. Given by Don Mariano Magro y Castillo, and others, to the Compañia Española Limitada de minas de oro y Plata de Guadalajara, represented by Messrs. Don José Morrell y Earle, and Don Juan Hennon y Hackworth; before Don Ramon Sanchez Suarez, Notary of the Colegio de Madrid.

Transcribed by Joe Sene

Mining documents might not, at first glance, appear to be the most riveting of the Spanish-language material held in Special Collections. Nevertheless, this particular piece part of a much larger collection of items relating to mining operations throughout the nineteenth century — is intriguing for several reasons. The most obvious of these is its size: as a large document with clearly defined borders (310 x 220mm, with the enclosed area totalling 255 x 165mm), it serves a clearly-defined purpose as a frontispiece for the collection as a whole. Also of note is its construction: while the border, the  name of the notario, and the seal of the Colegio de notarios are printed, everything else is carefully written by hand in a legible, italic script. This is a document designed to illustrate the legal status and authority held by Don Ramón Sanchez Suarez, and it does this elegantly through a mixture of print and manuscript. One can almost imagine Don Ramón reaching for a stack of these forms from his desk as he begins to draft the document itself.

The story behind the Guadalajara Gold and Silver Mining Company of Spain is, incidentally, an interesting one (stay with me here). The company — based out of the UK — was formed in 1879 in response to a promise of a gold rush in the area; unfortunately, these claims turned out to be optimistic, and the Company seems to have folded in 1895. This document, then, was woefully optimistic; hopefully modern linguists making use of their language skills in a business context will make better decisions than Messrs. Morell and Hackworth.

EUL MS 207/2/1/1 (mounted ink drawing and letter)

Chère Carrey,

La nuit, l’imagination de Georges prend le costume d’un chasseur antique, pardessus lequel il met une paire de caleçons […] affublé de la sorte, il va à la chasse […] dans les vastes forêts de la memoire […]. Ces curieuses forêts sont peuplés d’êtres fantastiques et d’arbres singuliers …

Dear Carrey,

At night, George’s imagination dresses up like an old-time hunter, over which he puts on a pair of leggings […] suitably dressed-up, he goes out hunting the […] in the vast forest of memory […]. These curious forests are populated by fantastical creatures and remarkable trees …

Transcribed by Temi; reproduced by kind permission of the Chichester Partnership

This nineteenth-century letter from Georges du Maurier to the unidentified ‘Carrey’ is dominated by an ink drawing, which portrays a Robin Hood-esque figure resplendent in tights and carrying a bow as he looks upon three figures (likely those named in the letter  itself). While the current presentation of the item — mounted on cardboard — does help to foreground the intricate image, it has an unfortunate side-effect: namely, that many readers leave unaware that the letter also has a verso side. This verso side offers something of a counterpoint to the vivid, imaginative dreamscape painted on the recto side, as Georges apologises for writing ‘toute pleine de bêtise[s]’ (‘all kinds of nonsense’) and thanks Carrey for her previous letter. Even if the drawing dominates the item today, then, the content of the letter itself — which Modern Languages researchers are uniquely well-suited to unpick — illustrates a side to Georges du Maurier’s personality that might not otherwise be visible. His whimsy and active imagination are on full view here, as he imagines this vivid scene and escapes from the noises and distractions that surround him.

 

The five items investigated in this blog post are, of course, only a snapshot of what’s accessible in the archives. Even in and of themselves, though, they go some way towards demonstrating the range of languages and genres that can appear in a Special Collections reading room, as well as illustrating the essential role that language skills play in helping to interpret them. For the Year 12 students, it was precisely these language skills that unlocked the documents, and brought history to life, whether professional mining transactions or deeply personal letters. Archive work might not be what most students are expecting when considering studying Modern Languages at university, but as this session showed, the skills developed by a languages degree – from the obvious linguistic aptitude to the lesser-anticipated intercultural competence and ability to place language use in context – can be applied in a wider range of areas than one might think.

Transcriptions and translations by students on the ‘Modern Languages: Translating Cultures’ strand

of the University of Exeter Year 12 Summer Residential

Text by Edward Mills, PhD student (Department of Modern Languages)

 

Visiting the archive

As an Archivist it is always a perk of the job to share our collections with a new audience. GCSE student Cate Horrell came on a tour as part of a placement and was kind enough to write us a short blog below about her impressions on visiting an archive for the first time.

While visiting the University of Exeter for work experience, I was lucky enough to be taken around the special collections archive. I’d never been to an archive before and I wasn’t even sure exactly what it would be like.

My first impression was that it was like the huge, historic libraries you see in films. I was shown around the archive, and I found the strong rooms particularly interesting. They hold some of the oldest and most valuable items; my favourites were an old atlas of England and Wales created by Christopher Saxton, and a first edition of Dracula. The books range from the beautiful, old style that have been bound in vellum to more modern books that look more like the typical ones we would read today.

The archive has a huge range of items, and I really enjoyed seeing some different examples of the kinds of things it stores. I also saw an old sketch book which had drawings of Devon in it, alongside an old theatre set plan and a case of glass photographic negatives.

I really enjoyed looking around the special collections archive and seeing some rarities. It was a new experience for me and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

Saxton Atlas and first edition of Dracula

 

John Shebbeare and Oman: past, present and future

The papers of John Digby Shebbeare (1919-2004) are one of the smaller collections in the Middle East Archives, comprising just two small files, a photograph album and an envelope of newspaper cuttings, but they nonetheless provide a unique perspective of Oman’s landscape, both in its political and geographical senses.

John Shebbeare overlooking the old town of Muscat

John Shebbeare was born in Oxfordshire, one of three sons of the Rev. Charles John Shebbeare, who was Rector of Swerford and later chaplain to King George V. John was educated at Aysgarth Preparatory School, Yorkshire, Highfield Preparatory School in Hampshire and Rugby College. Following training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he obtained a commission in the Indian Army in 1939 and saw service in India, Egypt, Persia and Iraq, serving with the Poona Horse and eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His older brother Bill was killed in France in 1944. After retiring from the army in 1948, he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the Bar in 1951. He practised as a lawyer firstly in the family chambers in London and then as a legal advisor in the Department of Health. However, having spent so many years in the Middle East, he was keen to return to the region and secured a job in Baghdad as legal adviser to the consulting water engineers Binnie, Deacon & Gourley.

After spending five or six years in Baghdad, Shebbeare studied Arabic at Shemlan in the Lebanon, then moved to a post as District Resident in Beihan in the Aden Protectorate, (now in Yemen.) When the British withdrew from Aden in 1967 he had no wish to leave the Middle East and contacted Said bin Taimur, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman. Following an interview with the Sultan at Salalah, he was offered – and accepted – the post of ‘Secretary in Internal Affairs’. This was an advisory role in which Shebbeare was meant to guide the Sultan on internal affairs as well as using his legal training to monitor the activities of Oman’s wālis [governors] and qādis [religious judges].

One of John Shebbeare’s many photographs of the Omani falaj system

Oman is a dry and arid country with very low annual rainfall – hence the importance of the irrigation system known as ‘falaj’  أَفْ (plural  أَفْلَاج   aflāj). In classical Arabic, the word أَفْ has nothing to do with water, but refers to the distribution of shares, and as Shebbeare explains in some of his lecture notes (EUL MS 293/1), these are measured in units of time rather than volume. Usually the falaj is owned collectively, with water flowing out from the main channel into individual gardens, for which each landowner buys the right to so many minutes, or hours, per day or week. A nineteenth century document listing the owners of a falaj can be viewed here.

In his notes, Shebbeare describes seeing men cleaning a falaj (an endless talk that has been compared to the proverbial painting of the Forth Road Bridge), as well as some details of their construction, maintenance and ownership. His papers also contain correspondence in English and Arabic relating to a dispute between Seif bin Hamood al Qasimi and the Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) company regarding the reduction of waterflow in the of Falaj al Taibi, – also near Izki – which Seif claimed had been caused by the PDO’s actions in building a pipeline nearby (EUL MS 293/1/). Other papers in the collection relate to a divorce case, offering an insight into the social and marital customs of the region (EUL MS 293/2) within the wider context of village feuds and legal traditions.

Another of Shebbeare’s falaj photos, taken with a camera given to him by Sultan Said bin Taimur

Oman under Sultan Said bin Taimur

Sultan Said bin Taimur (1910-72) had been ruling the country since 1932, when he succeeded his father Taimur bin Faisal as 13th Sultan of Muscat. He inherited a colossal amount of financial debt, owed to Britain and India, as well as a country that was effectively divided into two halves: the cosmopolitan and more secular culture centred on Muscat and the coastal areas, which was controlled by the Sultan, and ‘Oman proper’, the interior region inhabited by tribal groups who were headed by an Imam, the religious leader of the Ibadi sect of Islam.  The latter is described in detail in The Imamate Tradition of Oman (Cambridge University Press, 1987) by John C. Wilkinson, whose papers are also held here at Exeter and will be the next collection to be catalogued: watch this space for another blogpost!

Over his 37 year rule Said bin Taimur succeeded in bringing his country out of debt, due in part to the discovery of oil. Extracting this was not easy as the wells lay in areas controlled by the tribes, and tension over the intrusion by oil workers led to violent clashes and a series of armed conflicts between the Sultan’s forces and the tribes. The Imamate finally came to an end in 1959, but this was achieved only through military support from Britain. The Sultan moved his residence 800 km away from Muscat to Salalah, and became increasingly reclusive, refusing to leave his palace and accessible only by appointment or through wireless contact shared with a select few. His determination to avoid returning to debt resulted in decades of financial parsimony, with hardly any investment in infrastructure or technology, an almost complete absence of education, and an isolated, anachronistic society that was described by outsiders as ‘medieval’. Discontent and unrest had been growing since the mid-1950s, especially in the Dhofar region, and the Sultan was increasingly reliant upon the British government for support.

Oman has over 500 castles and forts dotted across its landscape, many of them well-preserved

Suspicious of intrigue among relatives, Said avoided placing significant power in the hands of any senior family members and preferred instead to appoint outsiders – like Shebbeare – to senior positions in his government. Over 60% of the army’s rank and file – and almost all the officers – were British. The post of Minister of Internal Affairs was held by Ahmad bin Ibrahim Al Bu Said from 1939 to 1970, but the Sultan shrewdly limited his power by devolving some of his responsibilities onto Shebbeare, the Governor of Muscat, Shihab bin Faysal, Governor of Al-Sharquiyah, Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Harithi, and Director of Education, Ismail bin Khalil al-Rasasi. Other British officials in the administration included L.B. Hirst, Secretary for Petroleum Affairs, C.J. Pelly, Director of Planning and Development with William Heber-Percy as his secretary. Many of these appointments came in 1967 as oil revenues began to stream in, following the discovery of commercial quantities of oil in 1964.Francis Hughes, Managing Director of Petroleum Development (PDO) wielded more power and influence with the Sultan than many of his senior administrators, to whom Hughes was often asked to pass on official messages.

The Sultan’s distrustful isolationism extended to his treatment of his son Qaboos, who had returned to Oman in 1966 after being educated in England. He was kept under virtual house arrest in his father’s palace, isolated from political activities and contact with government officials except a select few permitted by the Sultan. As Sir William Luce commented in March 1970, the Sultan’s ‘inhuman treatment of his son’ had turned Qaboos into a potential rebel, and his policy of handing all senior posts to British and Indians rather than his own people had made the country ‘ripe for revolution’ (EUL MS 146/1/3/4). Luce (despite accusations made to the contrary) played no part in the forthcoming coup, and his prescient analysis of the situation stemmed from his intimate knowledge of the region and years of experience dealing with Gulf politics and culture.

The Coup of 1970 and Shebbeare’s Departure from Oman

On 23 July 1970 Qaboos forced his father to hand over power in a (relatively) bloodless coup. He was supported in this by the British, including intelligence officer Captain Timothy Landon, who had trained with Qaboos at Sandhurst and had been visiting him in Salalah, and Col. Hugh Oldman, the former commander of Oman’s armed forces who had returned from retirement in February 1970 as Defence Secretary. Said bin Taimur was deposed and sent into exile, spending the last two years of his life in the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he died on 1972. Under Sultan Qaboos the new government was restructured, with most of the British officials – Shebbeare included – losing their posts. Qaboos appointed his uncle, Sayyid Tariq bin Taimur, as Prime Minister of Oman, although such was the extent of the isolation imposed by his father, the two men had never met before. During his preparatory work for the founding of the UAE, Sir William Luce met with Sayyid Tariq bin Taimur at the Bustan Hotel in Dubai on 7 September 1970. He recorded their conversation in detail, and later wrote up a report entitled Thoughts on Oman in which he quotes Tariq as saying: ‘we will keep Oldman, but there are some British officials we do not need’ [EUL MS 146/1/3/7]. Hugh Oldman was indeed one of the few who was kept on, and among the papers in the archive is a letter from him to Shebbeare, dated 20 September 1970, confirming the dissolution of the Interim Advisory Council of which he had been a member. (This had been set up to fill the vacuum created by the departure of the old sultan.)

Letter from Hugh Oldman to John Shebbeare (EUL MS 293/1)

After spending a few months visiting friends in Pakistan, Shebbeare returned to Oman and embarked on a series of travels around the country, walking alone in the mountains as well as exploring regions he had not visited while employed by the sultan. He records these travels in fifty pages of hand-written notes that were used in preparation for a lecture about Oman he gave in the mid-1970s.

Photograph by John Shebbeare

Under Qaboos, Oman embarked on a process of modernization and reform, which included huge advances in education, healthcare and technology. The country’s name changed from ‘Muscat and Oman’ to simply ‘Oman’, and with Sultan Said’s isolationism reversed, friendly contacts were established with other countries in what has proved over time to be a remarkably flexible and well-balanced approach to foreign relations.

Meanwhile, after returning to the UK, Shebbeare became a teacher at Little Hampden Manor School before eventually retiring to East Leigh House in the village of Coldridge near Crediton, in Devon. He retained links with Oman through membership of the Anglo-Omani Society and was also active in local history, being chairman of the Okehampton History Society for many years, attending meetings of the Crediton Area History and Museum Society, and acting as churchwarden and bellringer of St Matthew’s Church, Coldridge. He died in October 2004.

Studying Oman

The next few years are going to be an exciting time for anyone wishing to pursue research into Oman, for a number of reasons:

Sultan Qaboos, now 78, is still the Sultan of Oman, and after 49 years on the throne he is the Arab world’s longest-serving leader. He has no children, and on 3 March 2017 Qaboos issued a royal decree appointing his cousin Sayyid Asaad bin Tariq Al Said as deputy prime minister for international cooperation and the sultan’s special representative – an announcement that was widely seen as indicating Sayyid as his heir and successor. (Sayyid is the son of the sultan’s uncle, former Primie Minister Tariq bin Taimur.) The long reign of Qaboos has been one of relative stability, and it is unclear what the effect might be of a change of ruler. Some have suggested that the Imamate may re-emerge and there have been reports of ‘Ibadi activists’ in recent years seeking to push such an agenda.

Aware of the need to adapt to a rapidly changing world, Oman produced ‘Vision 2020’ in the late 1990s, laying out an ambitious plan for economic diversification, technical development and social equality. Water supply has become a growing concern because of the massive population growth since 1970, with the future development of commodity extraction, environmental issues and the fossil fuel industry all playing a critical role. It will be interesting to see how much of Vision 2020 is realised.

From an archival perspective, 2021 will be of crucial significance as the government papers of Harold Wilson and Edward Heath relating to Britain’s involvement in Oman are due to be released from embargo and should be available for study.  These papers could be profitably augmented with work using Exeter’s archival holdings on Oman, of which the Shebbeare papers form just a small part. The catalogue entries can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Palestine dominates their life’: The Papers of Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond

After retiring from a successful diplomatic career in 1966, Sir John Richmond (1909-90) and his wife Diana (1914-97) settled in Durham, where he had accepted a lectureship in Modern Near East History at the University’s School of Oriental Studies. Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Richmonds became increasingly concerned at the suffering of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the strong media bias prevalent at that time. They were instrumental in founding the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) – along with Michael Adams – and over the next few years devoted themselves to campaigning on behalf of Palestinians.

The extent of this work is evident from the Richmond papers deposited at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Department, which have now been catalogued and are available for researchers. There are 38 boxes of papers, including correspondence with authors, editors, journalists, diplomats, scholars and activists, folders of press-cuttings, periodicals and pamphlets from the 1920s through to the 1980s, CAABU reports, minutes and newsletters, as well as a wealth of religious ephemera relating to the Richmonds’ work with the CAABU Religious Affairs Group (CRAG) and their interest in inter-religious dialogue. They were both converts to Roman Catholicism and monitored carefully the coverage of Middle Eastern topics – especially the situation in Palestine – in the Catholic press.

Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond at their home in Durham, from a 1979 newspaper article that reported on how ‘Palestine dominated their life’.

The Richmonds’ love for Palestine, as well their attitude towards the Israeli settlement there, owed much to the life and work of Sir John’s father, eminent architect Ernest Tatham Richmond (1874-1955), who had first gone out to the region in 1895 to help prepare illustrations of an ancient temple. An Arabic speaker, he was entrusted with restoration work on Cairo’s mosques and other commissions in both Egypt and Palestine, and at the end of the First World War he obtained an appointment in the British Mandatory Government in Palestine. Although he resigned in 1924 due to his unease about the strongly pro-Zionist policy of his colleagues, Ernest Richmond returned to returned to Jerusalem in 1927 to take up a strictly non-political appointment as Director of the Department of Antiquities, which he held for the next ten years. Among the Richmond papers are several pamphlets and offprints of Ernest Richmond’s scholarly work, and he was referred to frequently in the correspondence and writings of both Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond.

Scrapbook of presscuttings compiled by E.T. Richmond : ‘Palestine, December 1947: some newspaper cuttings describing the events that immediately followed UNO’s decision to partition the country.’ EUL MS 115/25

His son John first visited Palestine as a schoolboy in 1923 and duly followed in his father’s footsteps, learning Arabic, studying antiquities in the Holy Land and taking part in archaeological excavations. During this time his parents became involved with the Ditchling community of Catholic artists and craftsmen, as well as the Dominican priest-scholars of the École Biblique in Jerusalem. Ernest Richmond was received into the Catholic Church in 1924, his wife Margaret in 1928, with John Richmond following soon after while he was a student at Oxford. After a variety of other archaeological expeditions in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere between 1931 and 1936, he joined HM Office of Works, and he was in this position when he married Diana Galbraith on 2 February 1939. Although she had been brought up a Presbyterian, she converted to Catholicism around the time of their marriage.

An offprint of one of Ernest Richmond’s articles, this one offering a strong criticism of the British Mandate and its mistreatment of the Arab population and their grievances. EUL MS 115/25

During the Second World War John Richmond served as an Army Intelligence Officer in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, where his knowledge of Arabic proved invaluable. At the end of July 1946 the Richmonds, with their two young twin daughters, moved to Jerusalem where John had obtained a post as Conservator of Ancient Monuments – with responsibility for the preservation of historic buildings – at the Palestine Museum where his father had worked. This was the time when the British Mandate in Palestine was coming to an end. According to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain was committed to providing a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine, but they had also made similar promises to the Arabs in return for military and political support during the First World War. The British were therefore faced with an impossible situation, unable to honour the promises they had made, and increasingly unable to maintain order as Zionist paramilitary groups took up arms to protest against the British refusal to admit Jewish immigrants. The murder of British soldiers, policemen and government officials became a regular occurrence, the most notorious incident being the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, with the death of over 90 people.

Excerpt from a letter from Diana Richmond to a nun from The Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, 14 July 1975. EUL MS 115/13/1

This occurred ten days before the Richmonds arrived in the city. As an Arabic speaker like his father, John Richmond developed friendships with local Palestinians and their daughters began attending a convent day school run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion at Katamon, just outside city. However, with the political situation growing increasingly unstable, it became clear that their hopes of settling in Jerusalem and raising their family here would be impossible. Less than a year after their arrival in Palestine, John Richmond was transferred to the British embassy in Baghdad. The British government announced in September 1947 that the Mandate for Palestine would end at midnight on 14 May 1948 and turned to the United Nations for help in finding a solution. After the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption of the Partition Plan for Palestine, fighting broke out between Arab and Jewish communities. Over the next few months this would escalate into full-blown war, as the military forces of neighbouring Arab countries responded to the declaration of the new state of Israel on 15 May 1948.

Postcard showing Israeli soldiers by the Suez Canal. EUL MS 115/8/13

During the Richmonds’ subsequent diplomatic postings they continued to visit Palestine and correspond with friends and colleagues in the region, as well as keeping themselves well-informed about developments in both the Arab and Israeli positions. It is fair to say, though, that their support for the Palestinians’ cause and their opposition to Zionism was rooted in the experiences described above, namely the influence of Ernest Richmond and their affection for the land and people they had known prior to 1947. In dozens of her letters, Diana Richmond referred back to her knowledge of this period and the Richmonds’ sense of having a ‘two generation link with Palestine and its peoples’. The strongly personal motives of their later activism gives the archive a fascinating resonance.

A large proportion of the papers relates to the Richmonds’ prolific correspondence with newspaper editors, journalists and representatives of the BBC concerning their coverage of the Middle East and – in particular – Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They monitored the media closely and were quick to challenge anything that they regarded as factual errors, suggestio falsi, biased omissions or misrepresentation. In the days before e-mails, these letters were usually drafted by hand and then typed up; more often than not, they received a personal response, ranging from apologies to defensive counter-arguments and – sometimes – an irritable backlash. Correspondents include William Rees-Mogg, Tom Burns (editor of The Tablet), Gerard Noel (editor of The Catholic Herald), Katy and Soraya Antonius, Dr Israel Shahak, Uri Davis, Dan Gillon, Solly Sachs, Cardinal Heenan, Bishop Ian Ramsey, Sir John Glubb, Norman St John Stevas, Fr. Thomas Corbishley SJ, Herbert McCabe OP, Fr. Henry Wansbrough OSB, Judith Maro, Michael Adams, Mgr. Bruce Kent (CND), Christopher Hollis, Christopher Walker, Stephen Spender, E.H. Gombrich,  Bernard Palmer (editor of The Church Times), US Ambassador Kingman Brewster, Menahem Begin, Laurence Olivier, Mark Braham, Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, various diplomats and Foreign Office officials, as well as MPs such as Christopher Mayhew, Jo Grimond, Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan, Dennis Walters, Andrew Faulds, Jeremy Thorpe and PM Edward Heath.

A page from the Koran, from a pamphlet in the Richmond collection. EUL MS 115/34

Their correspondence related not just to the media but to other activities such as CAABU work, public meetings and lectures, all of which were aimed at raising awareness of the situation in Palestine, encouraging dialogue between the different factions, and promoting a deeper understanding of Islam and the Arab world. Scholars interested in the development of contemporary Islamophobia might be interested in the Richmonds’ efforts to combat the ignorance and hostility shown towards Islam during this period, and what these papers reveal about the cultural positions and attitudes held by those in the media, political and religious circles. The Richmonds were also involved in supporting a range of charitable organisations and activities in the Middle East, such as the Spafford Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem, Musa Alami’s Arab Development Society, UNIPAL and the Friends of Bir Zeit University. They supported the inter-religious dialogue movement Jews-Christians-Muslims (JCM) as well as the British Algerian Society, the Anglo-Arab Association and a number of short-lived or lesser-known groups and publications active in these fields.  They were particularly interested in human rights and collected a large amount of documentary material on conditions in the occupied territories, including reports from prisons and interrogation centres, and material on how the conflict affected Palestinian women and children.

Another significant strand that runs through the Richmond papers and remains of cutting relevance today is the debate over the boundaries between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, particularly in the political sphere where critics of Israeli policy and supporters of the Palestinian cause have often been accused of holding anti-Semitic views. The Richmonds tried to adhere to a definition of Zionism as ‘the political movement arising out of Theodor Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat, and finding its political expression in part through the series of Zionist congresses’, and were keen to emphasise that their use of the terms ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-Zionist’ could only ever be a political judgment, based on exclusively political criteria. They corresponded with a number of Jewish writers and campaigners, including several non-Zionist Jews, and were at pains to develop a more nuanced debate about the distinctions between sympathy for the Israeli people and criticism of the injustices brought about by Israeli government policy. Unfortunately, they also attracted interest from individuals and organisations who were genuinely anti-Semitic, such as the eccentric but deeply unpleasant National Cleansing Crusade. Anyone with such views received short shrift from the Richmonds, with their communications either unanswered or dismissed with a terse postcard reply, and any material they sent placed in sealed envelopes marked ‘Anti-Semitic Filth.’

A letter from Emile Marmorstein to John Richmond. EUL MS 115/5/12

In addition to the correspondence and writings of the Richmonds themselves – the latter of which include typed articles, talks, memoirs, translations and verse – the collection holds a large amount of secondary material relating to the history of Palestine and political activism, from the 1920s through to the 1980s. These include scholarly papers and offprints from academic journals, as well as a wide selection of more radical publications such as home-made ‘zines’ and student papers that reflect the artwork and graphic design of the underground counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s: a reminder that the Richmonds’ daughter Sophie worked as secretary for the Sex Pistols and helped design some of their iconic artwork.

Just some of the wide range of periodicals and pamphlets and other literature held in the Richmond collection

It is sometimes forgotten now that pro-Palestinian activism in Britain was not a phenomenon that took off in the 1980s, but it actually had a much longer tradition. An examination of the Richmond papers will help researchers gain a better understanding of these activities and their place within the literary, religious and political culture of late 20th century Britain.

The online catalogue of the Richmond papers can be explored here.

Bahrain’s Silver Screens: the development of the cinema in Bahrain, as viewed through the diaries of Charles Belgrave

Charles Belgrave was adviser to the Sheikh of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957, and during those thirty years he was an exceptionally busy man. In addition to his duties advising the royal family and steering British policy in the region, he set up the police force, sat in judgement in the law courts, oversaw improvements in the health and education systems on the island and played a key role in supporting the establishment of the petroleum industry in Bahrain after oil was discovered in the early 1930s. He took a hands-on approach to all these activities, taking part in midnight raids on illicit arak stills, interrogating prisoners in the police cells, interviewing applicants for various posts on the island and generally involving himself in the minutiae of everyday life in Bahrain. His personal influence in the region was so extensive that he was referred to not only as المستشار (‘the Adviser’) but also as رئيس الخليج (‘Chief of the Gulf.’)

Despite this he was able to make time for leisure activities, including playing bridge, reading novels and listening to gramophone records. At times it is clear that the constant round of social engagements – integral to his job – could be intensely tedious, and there are countless references to dull dinners with ‘awful’ people and ‘sticky’ conversation. One form of entertainment that does begin to appear more and more regularly in his diary is the cinema. Although his references to picture-going are generally brief, Belgrave’s comments provide an insight not only into his taste in movies, but also into the changing nature of early cinema, different routines and patterns of cinema attendance that developed over these three decades.

The first attempt to set up a cinema in Bahrain was in 1922 when local businessman Mahmood Al Saati began running an impromptu movie house in a cottage on the north coast of Manama using a small imported projector. (Al Saati’s grandson is the filmmaker Bassam Mohammed Al-Thawadi – born 1960 – who directed Bahrain’s first feature film, The Barrier, in 1990.) However, when Belgrave arrived on the island in 1926 there is no reference in his diaries to any cinema being in operation, although he did go and see some films while in India trying to recruit policemen for Bahrain. In Karachi on 8 November 1926 he went to see Dante’s Inferno which he described as ‘rather depressing… dreary performance’. It is likely that this was not the 1911 Italian version but the more recent American adaptation directed by Henry Otto. Eight days later, still in India, he sat through ‘a very bad show called Helen of Troy – most disconnected and badly done.’ It is unclear whether Belgrave was frustrated by the film itself or the manner of its screening; problems with mutilated prints and faulty projectors would be a recurring feature of Bahrain picture-going in its early years.

On 2 August 1939 Belgrave went to see ‘Robin Hood’ and wrote in his diary afterward: ‘coloured, rather like a pantomime, very elaborate and some beautiful scenes, but all very juvenile’.

The Yatim cinema venture

On 21 September 1927 Belgrave ‘signed the monopoly of a cinema for three years to Ali Yatim’, adding in his diary ‘Hope he will get a move on with it.’ Belgrave had encountered Ali Yatim before, describing him as a ‘one-eyed English-speaking protégé’ of the American Mission, where he had been educated. He had a brother, Mohamed Katim, who lived away but had a bad reputation for his moral behaviour and lack of adherence to Muslim laws on food and drink. Ali died before the end of the year, however, and according to local custom, Mohamed returned to Bahrain to marry his brother’s widow. Ali’s son Hussein was sent to England to be educated at a school in Brighton (Diary, 1 January 1928). Plans for the cinema continued to be discussed, with Ghaus, the Indian contractor who had accompanied Belgrave to the cinema in Karachi calling about the matter on 14 January 1928; Sheik Hamed, the ruler of Bahrain, agreed to lower the cost of the ground to be used. The following day Ghaus returned for a lengthy talk about the question of censorship, as already strong opposition was being voiced to the proposal on religious grounds: at the council meeting on 31 January there were forceful speeches against the idea of a cinema, while the local Kadis ‘sent letters of protest.’ A wealthy pearl merchant, Ali bin Seggar, came to Belgrave to express his concern that children would be tempted to go to the cinema, ‘spend money on it, and if their parent didn’t give them money, they might steal it’ (Diary, 5 February) and he returned on 11 April to make further protests about the evils of the cinema. It is clear, however, that at least some of this resistance was due to the fierce business rivalry between the Katim family and another influential merchant Yusuf Kanoo, who was leading opposition to the cinema. The dispute seems to have succeeded in stalling any progress with the Yatim cinema. Mohamed Yatim pursued other lines of business, working as an interpreter and assistant for oil contractor Major Frank Holmes, and Belgrave noted in his diary (16 May 1932) that ‘Mohamed Yatim now sells film that fits my camera.’ The following summer, young Hussein Yatim – now returned from school – ‘came to see me to ask if the Govt. would allow a cinema here.’ Belgrave discussed the matter with him but commented privately ‘it is rather a doubtful project financially.’ (Diary, 31 July 1933).

‘After quite a good dinner we went out to Awali to see a film, Col. Blimp, a very good picture, extremely English & Well acted, a long picture.’ (Diary, 17 July 1945)

Other Venues

In the meantime, the number of places where films could be screened was growing. Belgrave recorded seeing a film – ‘a talkie, which I enjoyed enormously’ – on board the naval cruiser HMS Hawkins (9 November 1933), and then another film at the Agency building (18 December 1933). The Political Agent and his staff occupied a two-storey building on the shoreline at the northern tip of Manama town, with a tennis court and pool, although it is not clear precisely when the projector was installed. Belgrave’s diary records occasions when the machine failed to work.

Oil had been discovered on Bahrain in 1932, beginning with a test well at Jebel Dukhan; a settlement of Nissan huts was built here to house the workers of BAPCO (the Bahrain Petroleum Company) which included catering and recreation facilities. Belgrave records a meeting with Percy Loch, the Political Agent, ‘to discuss a cinema at oil camp’ (Diary, 10 January 1935) and a small cinema seems to have begun operating at the Jebel camp soon after. As the oil industry developed with the construction of Sitra refinery, a new town was built on the dry plains of Awali – about twelve miles south of Manama – on a much larger scale. A cinema was also established here in 1937. Running of this cinema was taken over by a formal Club committee two years later, and Belgrave was a regular attendee of screenings here. Following the destruction of this cinema in a fire on Christmas Eve 1943, an open air screen was set up which lasted until a new auditorium was built in 1952.

There are potential problems with having screens out in the open, and after watching Bambi here, Belgrave recorded ‘an attractive picture but the moon on the screen took much of the colour from it’ (Diary, 6 March 1944). A third cinema screen was also available at the British naval base at Juffair, on the southern edge of Manama, which was established in April 1935.

Belgrave’s diary entries during the late 1930s show that he went to watch films at Awali, Jefel and Juffair, as well as the Agency, although much of the time he just wrote ‘to cinema’ without recording the location. Many of these occasions were dictated by social engagements, with an invitation to dinner at the Agency or with oil managers followed by a film screening.

Not all these films were commercial products. The above-mentioned Percy Gordon Loch – Political Agent on Bahrain from 1932 to 1937 – was himself an amateur film-maker, as was his wife Eleanor, and screenings of their home-movies were a regular event on Bahrain’s social calendar, as is evident from Belgrave’s diary entries, for example, on 27 May, 6 November and 25 December 1933, and 8, 17 and 22 February 1934. Some three dozen of these films have been preserved in the Dalyell Collection – see here for more details.

Commercial Cinema in Bahrain

The Agency, BAPCO and naval cinemas were all of course private ventures, accessible only to employees of these particular institutions and their guests. In his Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 to February 1938) Belgrave recorded that ‘Permission was granted by the Government to The Bahrain Theatre Company to open a cinema in Bahrain and a piece of ground on the south side of Manama town was leased to the company on a long lease. The company consists of several of the younger Shaikhs of the Ruling Family as well as two local Arab merchants. Building was begun during the year.’ [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) p.24] One of these merchants was almost certainly Hussein Ali Yatim, the other being Abdulla Al Zayed (1894-1945), something of a media entrepreneur: he installed Bahrain’s first modern printing press in 1935 and four years later launched its first newspaper – Al Bahrain  – which was published between 1939 and 1944.

The Manama cinema had no air-conditioning, and during the winter season screenings were held outside with the films projected onto the wall. The following year’s Annual Report noted that the cinema, which opened in the summer of 1937, showed a different picture every week, with ‘Indian, Egyptian and American films exhibited in rotation. Films are subject to Government censorship but so far only one has been prohibited as being likely to offend local taste. It is understood that the venture is proving a financial success. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1357, p.31] The following year saw another innovation, as the cinema began adopting the BAPCO practice of showing newsreels before the main feature, which proved so popular that many local Arabs began flocking to the cinema to see the newsreels and then leaving before the start of the movie. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1358, p.43]

‘James and I went to the local cinema and saw a very good film Blue Lamp about the Metropolitan police, much enjoyed it. It was quite full, a lot of 14 year old Arabs in the 3/- seats – it is amazing how they have so much money to spend. Rather hot in the cinema.’ (Diary, 18 August 1952.) James was his son, born in 1929.

Belgrave’s tastes were not widely shared among these Bahraini cinemagoers, who much preferred to go and see the latest films from Egypt. Westerners perhaps fail to appreciate that during its ‘golden age’ prior to nationalisation in the 1960s, the Egyptian film industry was the third largest in the world, with around fifty new films being produced every year – a figure that increased after the 1952 revolution led by Nasser that overthrew the monarchy. To a slightly lesser extent, Indian films were also popular, which can be linked both to the presence of a large Indian community on Bahrain and the quality of Indian film-making during the 1940s and 1950s.  Egyptian films were the staple at the Pearl Cinema on Government Road, the opening of which was attended by Belgrave (Diary, 22 July 1948), and the Ahali Cinema in Manama, a commercial venture by former pearl merchant Ibrahim Muhammed Al-Zayyani that also opened in 1948. Such entrepreneurship was characteristic of the period of rapid expansion and consumerism that followed the Second World War, with the Pearl Cinema forming just part of a large business empire run by Andulaziz bin Hasan Al Gosaibi and his family, who had links to Saudi Arabia. Cinema going was now increasingly part of a new leisure culture enjoyed by a younger and more affluent Arab population, and no longer the preserve of the small Anglo-American elite as it had been in the 1930s. Belgrave’s diaries provide information not only about the growth of Bahrain’s cinema industry, but also about the cultural development of film screening practices and the changing habits of cinema-goers.

Finally, Belgrave’s diaries also reveal what he thought about dozens of well-known movie classics…

The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940) ‘Disappointing, some good items but it didn’t hang together – bits of slapdash comedy and rather heavy straight stuff which didn’t mix and a long dull propaganda speech to finish. A most disappointing show.’ (29 November 1941)

Jane Eyre (Stevenson, 1943) starring Joan Fontaine: ‘fairly good but too much darkness – the modern tendency in films seems to have them almost black out. I suppose it saves sets.’ (14 July 1945)

The Keys of the Kingdom (Stahl, 1944) starring Gregory Peck: ‘very well acted & close to the story but on the whole somewhat depressing, a good many people sniffed.’ (19 February 1947)

Caesar and Cleopatra (Pascal, 1945) starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh: ‘I was disappointed in the film, some good colour shots – but I don’t care for history brought up to date with modern slang & a very flighty Cleopatra.   (23 January 1948)

 Dark Mirror (Siodmak, 1946) starring Olivia de Havilland: ‘rotten, about two tiresome twins, one of whom did a murder… bored stiff’ (14 August 1948)

Belgrave’s Books

What sort of books might be read by a young British administrator posted to the Middle East? To celebrate World Book Day, it seemed like an interesting exercise to have a skim through the diaries of Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), who was adviser to the rulers of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957. He wrote in his diary almost every day, and in addition to keeping a record of the day’s events, personal meetings, administrative affairs and official matters, he frequently noted details about books that he had read, or films he had seen at the local cinema (which will probably be the subject of a future blogpost.)

Given the extent of Belgrave’s responsibilities on Bahrain, it is remarkable that he found any time for reading at all. In addition to advising Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa and his successors on financial and legal matters, he was in charge of the police and the law courts, involved in the setting up of schools and hospitals, overseeing improvements in the island’s infrastructure – such as roads, electrical installations, bridge building and harbour construction – as well as dealing with the nascent oil industry, RAF and naval visits, plus the endless round of social calls with Bahraini merchants, pearl fishers, local dignitaries, British officials, American missionaries and visiting clergy.

In spite of this workload – or perhaps because of it – he devoted time to reading a number of novels, both classic and contemporary. Writing in his diary late at night there was neither time nor space for extensive comments, but often he recorded his impressions in a brief sentence or two. The first book to be mentioned was Major Dane’s Garden (London: Hutchinsons, 1926) by Margery Perham, a romantic novel about a District Officer in Somaliland who tries to use his gardening experiments to improve agricultural practices for the locals. Belgrave had arrived on Bahrain on 31 March 1926 and three months later, on 17 June 1926, he wrote ‘Reading a very interesting book called “Major Danes Garden” about Somaliland, really extremely good, the best novel I’ve read for along while.’ Perhaps he saw something in the idealism of Major Dane that he hoped to emulate in his own work on Bahrain?

Next up was The Constant Nymph (London: Heinemann, 1924), by Margaret Kennedy. Set in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1920s, the novel follows the affairs of various members of an extended ‘Bohemian’ family, particularly young Teresa, or Tessa – the ‘nymph’ of the title – and her romantic fixation on composer Lewis Dodd, who shows more interest in Tessa’s cousin Florence. He probably started reading this straight after Major Dane’s Garden as on Saturday 24 July 1926, he noted: ‘Finished reading “The Constant Nymph” a very unusual book, I liked it.’

Unlike many of his contemporaries in diplomatic circles, Belgrave’s tastes at this time seemed to incline towards some of the more unusual and progressive authors on the literary scene. On 26 June 1927 he recorded that he had just read Crazy Pavements (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927) by Beverley Nichols – the ‘original Bright Young Thing’ according to Obsert Sitwell. This darkly satirical swipe at London socialites of the 1920s predated Waugh’s similar Vile Bodies by three years. Belgrave recorded ‘I liked it, though decidedly “modern”.’

Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928) was another novel that mocked the elite social circles of the ‘Twenties, but in contrast to the gossipy tone of Crazy Pavements it was a much more a novel of ideas, in which Huxley used thinly-veiled portraits of figures such as Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry to explore the complex interaction of various intellectual theories and philosophical questions. Heavy on ideas and thin on plot, it nonetheless intrigued Belgrave: ‘5 June 1929 Just finished reading Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, one of the Tauchnitz books, quite one of the queerest, most improper and most amusing, in parts, book that I have read for a long time. I should like to read more of his.’ Tauchnitz were a German publisher who specialised in continental reprints of English literary works, Point Counter Point was published as Vols.4872 and 4873 in their library of British and American Authors: due to its length it required two volumes.

A slightly simpler read was Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), which Belgrave finished on 14 June 1930 and ‘liked very much.’ Two months later, on 17 August 1930, his diary records: ‘Am reading Jane Austen again and very much liking it; I find several novels I had not read before.’ He seems to have developed an interest in Austen, and on 18 December 1931 he recounted how his wife Marjorie wore a dress that they had copied from a picture in one of Austen’s novels, along with a large bonnet, fan and hair locket as accessories.

Although the Regency world of Jane Austen was far removed from life in Bahrain, some of Belgrave’s reading clearly resonated with his current experience. Regarding Joseph Ackerley’s account of his appointment as personal secretary to the eccentric Maharajah of Chhatrapur –  Hindoo Holiday. An Indian Journal (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932) – he wrote in his diary for 23 September 1932: ‘rather improper but very amusing and in many ways not unlike this place.’ Similarly, with regard to Maurice Collis’s biography Siamese White (London: Faber & Faber, 1936) about Samuel White, a 17th century merchant trader from Bath who ended up as a mandarin of Siam. ‘A most interesting book,’ wrote Belgrave on 25 July 1942, ‘the sort I should like to write myself.’

Other novels that he read were clearly just for escapism and relaxation, although it is evident that he kept up to date with what was being published. On 15 April 1946 he wrote: ‘Read after lunch, an historical novel Forever Amber – very long & rather good. Some are scandalised by it but I can’t see why.’ Kathleen Winsor’s novel about a mistress of Charles II had been published in 1944 and she was then in the process of adapting it into a screenplay for the 1947 movie of the same name, which caused even more of a scandal than her book, earning the ire of Hollywood’s Hays Office.   Around the same time he was also working his way through some of Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’ including The Small House at Allinton (‘excellent reading’) and Framley Parsonage, before returning to more contemporary fiction such as Waugh’s Decline and Fall (20 February 1947). There was light relief in the form of Robert Hichens’ satire about decadent London during the ‘Naughty Nineties’ The Londoners, which he found  ‘a very funny book – one forgets that he ever wrote comic stories’ (2 June 1955).

Not all Belgrave’s personal reading was fiction, and his diary entries also records him enjoying works such as William Gaunt’s The Aesthetic Adventure  ‘an extremely amusing book…about the arty people of the 90s’ and Anthony Glyn’s biography of his grandmother, the novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

If anyone is seeking inspiration for reading choices for World Book Day, Belgrave’s diary could provide some ideas!