Monthly Archives: September 2021

Correspondence between Ethel Mannin and Christopher Walker (EUL MS 452)

Ethel Edith Mannin (1900-84) was a prolific writer of novels and travel memoirs (many of which we have in our Hypatia collection), as well as a committed Socialist and political activist. She became interested in Palestine during period of the British Mandate, and was a staunch opponent of the Israeli occupation after 1948. Christopher Walker (1942-2017) was working in Sotheby’s department of historical and literary manuscripts when he came into contact with Mannin in the late 1960s through their shared interest in the Palestinian cause. They developed a strong friendship and corresponded regularly for several years, with their letters focussing primarily on Palestinian issues and the politics of the Middle East, Mannin sharing with the young historian her knowledge of people and places built up over decades of travel and political activism. We recently acquired a box of these letters, which have now been catalogued and make for fascinating reading, both for the insights into Mannin’s personality and relationship with Walker, and for what they reveal about Palestinian networks of resistance and communication during this period.

Portrait of Ethel Mannin

Mannin was born in Clapham in 1900, the eldest of three children of Robert Mannin, a postal worker, and a farmer’s daughter named Edith Gray. She began writing stories as a young girl, and was first published in The Lady’s Companion at the age of ten. When she left school she began working as a typist for Charles Higham’s advertising agency, and was soon promoted to copywriter and editor, as well as producing a monthly magazine called The Pelican in which she published her own articles and stories. In 1919 she married John Porteous, a manager at Higham’s thirty years her senior, and her only child Jean was born shortly after. They separated ten years later by which time Mannin had developed a deep interest in child care and education, especially in the progressive theories of A.S. Neill. She wrote several books on the topic, both novels and non-fiction. Indeed, this was the formula for her prolific output – to travel somewhere or research a subject, and then use the material as the basis for at least two books, one a non-fiction study and the other a novel.

Some of Ethel Mannin’s novels in our Hypatia collection

By the time her marriage broke up she had published seven novels or anthologies, as well as numerous short stories, and was able to buy a house for herself and Jean: Oak Cottage, on Burghley Road in Wimbledon. Inside the ‘cottage’ was painted in riotous colours with a zig-zag patterned gramophone, reflecting Mannin’s modern personality and the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age. Her frank opinions on sexual education and women’s rights, as well as her affairs with celebrities such as W.B. Yeats and Bertrand Russell, earned her something of a reputation – and when she published the first of several volumes of autobiographical memoirs, Confessions and Impressions, in 1930, it proved a best-seller: it was reprinted fifty times over the next six years, and then republished in paperback by Penguin in 1937.

Ethel Mannin’s memoirs and travel writings in our Hypatia collection

If images of the Twenties suggest something of the frivolous ‘flapper’, it should be noted that Mannin was intensely interested in the political developments of the time and her writings took an increasingly strong left-wing bent by the early 1930s.  Although initially a supporter of the Labour party, she became disenchanted with the failure of Ramsay Macdonald’s government to help the unemployed, and in 1933 she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1933, becoming a frequent contributor to their newspaper, the New Leader. During the Spanish Civil War she was a committed supporter of the POUM (in Spanish, ‘Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista’, or ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’), with which George Orwell fought in Catalonia. Upon his return, Orwell became a good friend of Mannin’s, as well as her second husband, the Quaker pacifist Reginald Reynolds (1905-58), whom she married in 1938.  She dedicated Women and the Revolution (1938) to her friend Emma Goldman, a Russian-born anarchist who was deeply involved in the struggle against Fascism in Spain, and who provided the inspiration for Mannin’s novel Red Rose (1941).

Mannin’s engagement with Palestine also began in the 1930s, when Reynolds worked with Dr Izzat Tannous at the Arab Information Office in London. (Reynolds wrote about how he got involved in Palestine in his memoir My Life and Crimes, published in 1956.) Tannous, a Palestinian Christian who had qualified as a doctor in Lebanon, had been involved in the Arab nationalist movement during the Mandate period and would later be a founding member of the PLO in 1964. During the 1940s he had worked hard on negotiations with the British government to prevent the partition of Palestine. At first this was only part of her wider campaigning against imperialism, which included her collaborations with black activists such as C.L.R James and George Padmore during the 1930s, and her postwar protests against the British government’s oppression of Kenyan nationalists. However, her support for the Palestinian cause became a personal one following her visits to the Middle East in the early 1960s.

During her travels through Iraq and Kuwait, she met General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had led the 1958 coup that ended the monarchy in Iraq.  She formed a favourable impression of the General, who would be executed during the 1963 Ba’athist Coup, and made him a key character in her novel The Midnight Street (1969). There are photos of Mannin and Qasim together in her travelogue A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (1963), which also recounts her sympathetic friendships with a number of Iraqi liberals such as student leader Khalid Ahmed Zaki. The novel that emerged from this visit, The Road to Beersheba (1963), she envisaged as a pro-Palestinian counterpoint to the international bestseller Exodus (1958), written by Leon Uris and presenting a heroic version of the founding of the state of Israel. In The Lovely Land (1965) and the chapter ‘Making a film with the Arabs’ in Stories from my Life (1973) she tells of the King of Jordan’s efforts to have the book adapted into a film. Although this plan eventually fell through, it was translated into Arabic, serialised on ‘Voice of the Arabs’ radio station and published in a Jordanian newspaper.

Excerpt of a letter from Ethel Mannin

The Road to Beersheba tells the story of the Mansour family, who are violently evicted from their home in Lydda by Haganah militia in 1948 and forced into exile in Jordan. The young son Anton eventually comes to England where he meets other family members and Palestinian exiles. Some of their interactions – such as the scene where Anton’s mother tries to explain to a shopkeeper that her flowers ‘from Israel’ are actually from occupied Palestine – reflect arguments that were being made around the same time by Christopher Walker’s relative Lady Diana Richmond, an early member of CAABU and active campaigner for the Palestinian cause. Mannin’s letters contain numerous references to the Richmonds, as well as Michael Adams and other CAABU members, although she was critical of the organisation for its moderate stance regarding the State of Israel. (Mannin’s own views provide some intriguing insights into the tensions between left-wing politics, pacifism, pragmatic diplomacy and support for various revolutionary movements.) Other novels that focussed on the Palestine were The Night and its Homing (1966) – a sequel to The Road to Beersheba – and Bitter Babylon (1968).

Front cover of Ethel Mannin's novel The Road to Beersheba

 

The letters to Walker begin in January 1968, with Mannin contacting him in response to a letter regarding Palestine he had written in The Times. She discussed her novels with him, often sending him copies of her own books and recommending the writings of some of her Palestinian friends. The letters contain many references to – and critical comments about – what was being published on Palestine, both in terms of articles and letters in the press, as well as books. She also comments on the quality of speakers at CAABU meetings, goings on at the Jordanian Embassy (to which she was occasionally invited for receptions) as well as the activities of various friends from Jordan and Palestine who came to her house for dinner. They are peppered with lively comments about people she had met in Palestine, Beirut, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, many of whom had become close friends and long-term correspondents. These references could be gossipy, affectionate, full of respect or savagely critical, but she provided Walker with personal introductions to many of her contacts in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, which would prove invaluable when the young historian travelled there in the summer of 1969. She also drew vivid pen portraits of many of those in the UK who were involved in media or academic work relating to Palestine, some of whom she met at Committee meetings or public lectures. Names mentioned in her letters include her longstanding friend Rev. Eric Bishop (1891-1980), an ‘old Palestinian hand’ and member of the Church Missionary Society who held Arabic services in London, Musa Alami, Basil Aql, Moshe Menuhin, Musa Mazzawi, Rouhi Khatib – former Mayor of Jerusalem – Suleiman Mousa, Desmond Stewart, Anthony Nutting, Christopher Mayhew, Manuela Sykes, Elizabeth Collard, John Reddaway, Peter Mansfield, John Richmond and Michael Adams, Faris Glubb and his father John Bagot Glubb, Ismael Shammout, Izzat Tannous, Basil Ennab,  Jordanian Ambassador Anwar Bey Nuseibeh, Adel Jarrah (Charge d’Affaires at the Kuwait Embassy), Dr. Anis Sayegh and Fayez Sayegh, Egyptian artist Youssef Francis, Fareed Jafri, and Soraya ‘Tutu’ Antonius, with whom she danced ‘the twist’ in Beirut in 1962. (Soraya was the daughter of Lebanese intellectual and Arab nationalist George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening (1938). There are letters from both Soraya [‘Thurayya’, hence ‘Tutu’] and her mother Katy Antonius in the Richmond archive, EUL MS 115.)

A sample excerpt from one of Mannin’s typed letters, often annotated with additional lines typed around the edges

By this time she was of course almost seventy years old, and admitted frankly to Walker that she found social activities a tiresome chore and really wanted peace to work on her writing, for which she relied in order to make a living. In a letter of 19 September 1970 she told Walker that by the time of her 70th birthday she hoped ‘to bring her annual income up to that of a dustman.’

Over the next few years she managed to finish off various autobiographical writings, some of them charting her travels around England, including England at Large (1970),   Free Pass to Nowhere (1970), My Cat Sammy (1971), England My Adventure (1972) and Stories from My Life (1973), as well as what would be her final novel with a Middle East setting – Mission to Beirut (1973), about the murder of a diplomat. She revealed in a letter of 27 January 1972 that the plot was inspired by the ‘inside story’ of the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal a few weeks earlier. As she had not visited Beirut since 1962 she asked Walker to fill her in on some of the recent changes to the city, so that she could ensure the details were all authentic.

In September 1974 she sold Oak Cottage and moved to Overhill, a house in Brook Lane, Shaldon, near Teignmouth in Devon, to be with her daughter. (Jean had married Leslie Faulks, who developed cancer around 1970; they had a daughter named Catherine.) Mannin had a sister in Exeter but they seem to have had little contact. Around this time she and Walker appear to have lost touch, with their letters ceasing in 1976.  In their 1972 correspondence they discussed the work he was beginning on writing a book about Armenia, a task that would take him the next eight years. Armenia: survival of a nation was finally published by Croom Helm in 1980. In the meantime, Mannin had finished her final book, an autobiographical memoir entitled Sunset over Dartmoor (1977) which contains two chapters about the Middle East: Chapter 13 ‘Some reflections on Palestine’ and Chapter 14 ‘The Time of My Life’, which recounts highlights and thoughts about her travels to Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Syria between 1962 and 1966. Her letters to Walker have a similar valedictory feel at this time, as she reflects upon her retirement, how she was no longer in touch with any of her Middle East contacts, and her feelings about her fifty years of involvement in the Palestinian struggle. ‘Being now 80,’ she wrote, ‘I will hardly live to see Palestine liberated – but YOU may, and probably will. Drink a toast to me then, and to all the old campaigners…’

Mannin died four years after her last letter to Walker, who continued to study and lecture on the subject of Armenia. His research on the role of religion in the Ottoman Empire developed into a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between Islam and the West, which provided the focus for various talks and publications in the 2000s.  His Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005) refuted the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative that had grown popular around this time, arguing instead that much of the current tension was a result of the west having forgotten its long history of interaction with the Islamic east, the richness of their intellectual and commercial exchanges over many centuries, and the mutual respect and tolerance that had characterised these relationships. He died in 2017, without having seen the liberation of Palestine.

This collection of correspondence supplements other letters from Mannin that we hold in our collections, including those among the papers of Henry Williamson (EUL MS 43) and Malcolm Elwin (EUL MS 423). It also complements other Middle East archives – Christopher Walker’s uncle was Sir John Richmond, and there are numerous references to CAABU and mutual acquaintances in both the Richmond archive (EUL MS 115) and the papers of Michael Adams (EUL MS 241). We have over thirty of Mannin’s novels in the Hypatia Collection too, and the letters between her and Walker could make for a fascinating research project for anyone seeking to explore Mannin’s views and activities supporting Palestinian resistance, the relationship between her literary work and political engagement, British networks of pro- and anti-Zionist advocacy, the interaction between British leftwing politics and support for Palestine (a topic that continues to provoke contentious discussion within the Labour Party) or simply to gain a greater knowledge of the literary and academic circles of the period. Catalogue entries for the correspondence can be found here.

Further Reading

By Ethel Mannin –

Middle East novels:

The Road to Beersheba (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Bitter Babylon (London: Hutchinson, 1968)

The Midnight Street (London: Hutchinson, 1969)

Mission to Beirut (London: Hutchinson, 1973)

Travel writing:

Moroccan Mosaic (London: Jarrolds, 1953)

A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Aspects of Egypt (London: Hutchinson, 1964)

The Lovely Land. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (London: Hutchinson, 1965)

 

By Christopher Walker –

The Armenians (Minority Rights Group Report No.32, 1975), co-authored with Professor David Marshall Lang

Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (Croom Helm, 1980)

Armenia and Karabagh: the struggle for unity (Minority Rights Group, 1991) – editor

Oliver Baldwin: A Life of Dissent (London: Arcadia, 2003)

Visions of Ararat: writings on Armenia (Continuum, 2005)

Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005)

‘Friends or Foes? The Islamic East and the West’, History Today Volume: 57:3 (Mar 2007) pp.50-7

Other

Sarah Graham Brown, ‘A Lance for the Arabs: Ethel Mannin’, The Middle East No.125 (March 1985) p.62.

Ahmed Al Rawi, ‘The post-colonial novels of Desmond Stewart and Ethel Mannin’, Contemporary Arab Affairs Vol.9:4 (2016) pp.552-64.

Caroline Rooney, ‘The First nakba Novel? on Standing with Palestine,’
Interventions. International Journey of Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 20:1 (2018) pp.80-99.

Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: the survival of a nation (London: Croom Helm, 1980)

Rebecca Jinks, The Uncompromising Facts Of History: Christopher J. Walker’s Writings On Armenia (2021)

Philipp Winkler, ‘Che Guevara of the Middle East’: Remembering Khalid Ahmad Zaki’s Revolutionary Struggle in Iraq’s Southern Marshes’, in The Arab Lefts: Histories and Legacies, 1950s–1970s (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) pp.207-221. [Article on Mannin’s friend, whose death is referred to several times in her letters to Walker.]

 

Rya T’eze and the Kurds in Armenia

As much of the Kurdish material we hold in the library and archives relates to Kurdistan – the area that covers territories within Iraq (Southern Kurdistan), Iran (Eastern Kurdistan), Syria (Western Kurdistan) and Turkey (Northern Kurdistan) – it is sometimes forgotten that there is a large Kurdish diaspora that lives outwith this region, with historically established communities. In this blogpost I am going to look at the newspaper Rya T’eze, which was the first Kurdish newspaper to be published in Latin script.

The Kurds in Armenia

Most of the Kurds in Armenia originally came from Turkey, beginning to settle in numbers around 1828 to escape from fighting during the Russo-Turkish wars, with migration increasing during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of them belonged to the Yezidi community, who follow a religion that fuses elements from Islam and the ancient Persian faith of Zoroastrianism.

Over half of the Kurds in Armenia live in the capital city, Erivan, previously known as Yerevan, or ‘Rewan’ in Kurdish. This city, as will be discussed below, has played a significant role in the development of Kurdish culture.

In 1921 Kurds here began to use a Kurdish alphabet that was derived from Armenian characters; this lasted for about eight years before it was replaced by a Latin alphabet, which was created by a Yezidi Kurd named Arab Shamilov (in Kurdish, Erebê Şemo/Ә’рәб Шамилов or Ereb Shemo), working closely with an Assrian named Isaac Marogulov. Born in 1897 in Kars in eastern Anatolia (NE Turkey), Shemo had fled to Armenia with his family after the First World War. His book Xwe bi Xwe Hînbûna Kurmancî [Teach Yourself Kurmanji], was published in 1928 and was the first Kurdish book to be printed using the new Latin alphabet.

Between 1930 and 1937 there was a flowering of Kurdish education and culture in Armenia, with almost thirty Kurdish schools established, children taught to read and write in Kurdish, and a regular stream of Kurdish-language books published each year. Shemo’s novel Sivane Kurd [The Kurdish Shepherd] came out in 1935, followed by his anthology Folklora Kurmanca. It was against this background that Rya T’eze appeared.

Rya T’eze 1930-1937

Image of the front cover of the first issue

The first issue of Rya T’eze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Рйа  Т’әзә or Rya T’eze (sometimes spelled Riya Teze) means ‘New Path’, and the first issue was published on 25 March 1930, printed in Kurmanji Kurdish but using the Latinised alphabet of Shemo-Marogulov. It had four pages and came out twice a week, with a circulation of some 600 copies. Celadet Alî Bedirxan’s magazine Hawar [The Cry] was not published until 1932, making Rya T’eze the first Kurdish language newspaper in the world. This was acknowledged in an article in Hawar (No.8, 1932), written by Herekol Azizan:

Produced under the auspices of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia, the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR, Rya T’eze was bound to reflect Soviet ideology, and even though it was written in Kurdish, there is perhaps a disappointingly sparse amount of material on Kurdish culture. At first the newspaper was run by three exiled Armenians who knew Kurdish – Kevork Paris, Hraçya Koçar and literary critic Harûtyûn Mkirtçyan – before Kurdish linguist and author Cerdoy Gênco took over as editor in 1934. That was also the year that the first ever pan-Soviet Congress of Kurdology was held – in Yerevan, naturally – which called for the creation of a Kurdish dictionary and historical grammar. An education academy had already opened in Yerevan with the aim of training Kurdish language teachers. 

However, under Stalin’s increasingly tight grip on the Soviet Union there was little place for dissent or devolution, and the resources and freedom open to Kurds in Armenia began to decline. Kurdish-language teaching and publishing were discouraged, and the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed on Kurds to encourage them to learn Russian, Armenian or Georgian (and therefore abandon their own language.) Between 1937 and 1944, Caucasian Kurds were deported to settlements within places such as Uzbekhistan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia, where they faced severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Ereb Shemo was himself among these, and he would not return until 1956. Publication of Rya T’eze was shut down in 1937, and would not resume for almost twenty years.

Rya T’eze 1955-2003

Image of front page of newspaper in Cyrillic, dated 1 February 1955

Front page of the revived Rya T’eze, 1 February 1955 – the first issue in our holdings.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953 and the more moderate governance introduced by his successor, Nikita Khruschev, publication of Rya T’eze recommenced in 1955, still in Kurdish but this time printed in a Cyrillic alphabet that had been devised by Heciyê Cindî, another Yezidi Kurd who had worked on Radio Yerevan, and also spent time in exile during the 1940s. Nonetheless, Cindî had managed to complete a doctorate in Kurdish folklore while in exile, and was also the author of a Kurmanji reader and other Kurdish books. The new editor was Mîroyê Esed (1919-2008), who would continue to run the paper until 1989.

 

This again was another period in which Kurdish culture was able to flourish in Armenia, and the local radio station also began broadcasting in Kurdish in January 1955. Gayané Ghazaryan has written a fascinating blogpost about Kurds in Armenia and the work of Casimê Celîl (who wrote Kurdish poetry for Rya T’eze) and his family for Radio Yerevan that can be read here.

Other Kurdish authors who contributed to Rya T’eze after its relaunch in 1955 included Qaçaxê Mirad, Şekroyê Xudo, Xelîlê Çaçan, Babayê Keleş, Têmûrê Xelîl, Tîtal Mûradov, Egîtê Xudo, Eliyê Ebdilrehman, Hesenê Qeşeng, Pirîskê Mihoyî, Rizganê Cango, Porsora Sebrî, Tîtalê Efo, Karlênê Çaçanî, Şerefê Eşir, Egîtê Abasî, Paşayê Erfût, Letîfê Emer and Gayanê Hovhannîsyan. As before, much of the paper’s content reflected the dominant focus of the Armenian SSR on Soviet politics and history, agricultural and factory production, and so on, but there continued to be articles, poems and other material of Kurdish interest, such as this article from 9 October 1955 p.1 on the Armenian poet Хачатур Абовйан (Khachatur Abovyan, 1809-48), who was a pioneer in the study of Kurdish language and folklore, writing extensively about the Kurds and recording many of their local legends and folk tales. Abovyan laid the foundations for the development of Kurdish studies in Russia. 

The article reproduces the famous painting of ‘Abovian Among the Kurds’ by Mkrtich Sedrakyan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the 1970s, circulation figures rose from around 2,800 to 5,000 copies, although by the mid-1980s this had dropped back to about 4,000, with occasional changes in the frequency of publication. The death of Erebê Şemo in May 1978 was not overlooked, with a substantial article published on 5 June:

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 placed serious financial pressures on the newspaper, which had been funded by the Armenian SSR and relied heavily on the support of the state. Tîtalê Efo took over as editor from Esed that year, only to be succeeded in 1991 by Emerîkê Serdar, who ran the paper until he was forced to resign due to illness. During this time, the alphabet reverted to Latin in 2001, and the newspaper became a monthly publication with a print run of 500 copies in an effort to reduce production costs.

One positive outcome from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that Rya T’eze began to focus more on matters of general Kurdish interest, rather than adhering closely to the programme of the Armenian SSR. This was probably due in part to the growing reliance of the newspaper on the wider Kurdish diaspora for financial support, but these years saw regular coverage of events in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

An article on Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani from 2001, showing the newspaper’s return to Latin characters and improved coverage on matters of Kurdish interest outside Armenia

However, despite the efforts of the editor and Kurdish donors to keep the newspaper afloat – including an injection of money, the assistance of Kurdish volunteers and support from organisations such as the Lalish Foundation – it was clear that production was no longer financially viable. Publication wound down at the end of 2003, and after a few sporadic issues over the next two years, the press finally closed with No. 4818 in October 2006, which included a review of Dr. Khanna Omarkhali’s book on the Yezidis, Йезидизм (2005) and a tribute to Kurdish writer Emînê Evdal (1906-64), another Yezidi contributor to Rya T’eze during the 1930s and a pioneer in Kurdish language instruction.

Rya T’eze remains a remarkable record of the Kurdish community in Armenia, and is also of particular interest to scholars researching the history of the Yezidis and their culture. Our holdings of the newspaper are probably the most extensive outside the former Soviet Union, and this is a fantastic resource for postgraduate study, either from our own Centre for Kurdish Studies or further afield. Enquiries about access to the newspaper should be directed to Special Collections.