Category Archives: Testimony / Diaries

Observations and thoughts on meeting Turkey; July 1961

Observations and thoughts on meeting
Turkey; July 1961 by Robert Cox

The divide

Turkey seems to be caught in an
impossible situation liable to last for a long time yet. No practical
solution to her difficulties seems to be readily forthcoming. The
intelligentsia is a small group of men and women whose education has
been almost entirely European. They have possibly had European
governesses while young. They were then educated in one of
Istanbul’s European schools before going abroad to study and become
even more firmly orientated in European ways. But the vast majority
of the nation (some 80%) is illiterate and without any education
whatever. The rift between these people and the small elite of
European-trained intellectuals is enormous. It recalls the middle
ages in Europe when the nobles and feudal barons of the various
countries had far more in common with each other than they had with
the lesser men of their own country. The result of this upbringing
in a context alien to that of their own nation is that they cannot
possibly hope to bring about reform and improvement, even with the
strongest will and deepest patriotism in the world if the bonds
between them, and those whom they desire to help are practically
non-existent. There is the bond of nationality and the bond of
language with it, but if the educated Turk has little taste for the
plaintive Turkish melody and more for the crisp American “hot”
tune, then obviously the entire psychological difference between them
removes any possibility of rapprochement.

Thus the top layers of Turkish society
are a bad piece of skin-grafting which has not taken for the right
sort of solvent is not available. It is strange; one gains rapidly
the impression that they are more European than most Europeans.

The servant

Mehmed Ali has just returned from
military service. To his great joy he returned to service with the
M*** family, and before returning said to M*** in a letter that he
would be happy to remain with them as servant until his death.
Before entering army service his mother brought pressure on him to
marry although he was in fact more attracted to another girl. His
mother decreed that he should marry one more to her choosing and he
did so without objection. Shortly after, his mother died. The
pattern becomes complete. Feeling her death she wished to see her
son married to what by the standard of his family would be a
respectable marriage, and so strong is the patriarchal pattern of
society that he raises no objection. Much of this still persists in
certain diluted forms in the upper classes, although their westernism
is gradually breaking this down.

The bartered bride

And yet when Muzaffer was married, it
was largely because her father wished it to be so. With her it is
more complicated. Her father, by calling her “ugly duckling”
when she was a child, surrounded by attractive sisters, unwittingly
caused the mental uncertainty which now plagues her. This was the
other side to her marriage, the personal aspect. After such a
childhood marriage came to her as proof that she was marriageable,
that she could become attractive to men, and that she was not
inferior to her sisters. Thus it was marriage for its own sake, and
not because she loved the man concerned so intensely that she had to
marry him. It is part of the universal pattern where most marriages
are concerned and a glimpse back into the underlying causes which
drove this woman not only to a disastrous first marriage but rendered
her almost incapable of knowing any such happiness with any
succeeding man. She loved her second husband above all, but the ugly
experience of her first marriage, the instability bred in childhood,
all combined to destroy the potential happiness with her second

The unstretched son

He was an architect and a good one.
R*** wants to become an architect as well but not simply to gain
standing in the eyes of his wife as a creative man. He is not
entirely satisfied with his present job which is too easy for him and
does not demand of him all that he is capable of. The comfortable
surroundings in which he grew up as son a diplomat are now proving
his biggest enemy. He never will become an architect because he is
now past the last stage when he might possibly have been able to
extend himself sufficiently to undertake such an arduous task as
creativity. But he will never be a completely happy man until he
does learn to use his capabilities to the full.

The little girl from Anatolia

The little girl from Anatolia cannot
read and write. She approaches the table hesitantly and hardly
dares to look at the faces which she is to serve. She is intimidated
and suppressed by the vague, silent chaos of her world. Her world is
the peaceful country house, the mature lawns and silent flower beds.
Her world is also those people with such clever faces who converse in
exalted tongue. They are semi-divine, and yet sometimes their eyes
glow as did the eyes of men of her native Anatolia when aroused
passion. The language differs little from the language which she
grew half accustomed to before leaving the village travelling in that
wonderful train to the great city where the houses touch the clouds,
big red machines clatter through crowded colourful streets, and large
benevolent gentlemen and slim benevolent ladies would correct gently
with a fleeting frown, pat her head and smile again as she performed
her small tasks correctly. Now she knows from which side she should
serve the refined ladies and gentlemen with their rich food. But as
she approaches the table she still hesitates as if the twenty
faltering paces from the kitchen to the table transferred her into a
different, almost unreal, world outside of which the elders had
spoken in mysterious tones while gathered about the table in her
lowly village home. Last winter she would go twice a week to
another gentlemen who lived in less splendid but still mysterious
surroundings and he would teach her to understand the odd symbols by
which these people amused themselves and which stood painted over the
walls and streets of the great city. The gentleman rarely smiled but
usually spoke with strange meaningless words while his pen moved
meaninglessly from one symbol to another. At the end of the winter
the lady of the house looked long into her eyes with their
expressionless stare, smiled thinly with less benevolence than before
and said she would go again to the stern and hurried gentleman when
winter approached and once more try to make a pen produce the symbols
which he wisely inscribed on paper.

She remembered that the brown-skinned
mullah in her village had also caused symbols to appear upon paper
and had instructed the reverent boys of the village in this wonder.
How could she, with her misformed eyes, which the lady had promised
to have cured by great doctor, dare to try and share the same secrets
as the mullah and the clever boys?

When the meal had finished and the
gentlemen conversed, she silently approached the lady and waited a
small distance away from he until she should be noticed. The lady
turned graciously and smiled, beckoning her to speak. The little
girl from Anatolia spoke in a whisper: “Please, Madame, what shall
I do now?” “Go and play with little Aysha”, said the lady
smiling. The little girl from Anatolia smiled timidly as she knew
was right, and walked haltingly down the garden between the carved
flower beds. She was going to play with little Aysha on the lady’s
bidding and felt free from the sense of guilt which continuously
asked her: “Am I doing the right thing? Will not my lady be angry,
or will the gentlemen frown? Will they send me away? Or can I do
this without my lady knowing, for I am sure that it is wrong, and I
cannot ask the old cook for she is certain to scold me.”

One day back in the village she had
fallen and struck her head upon a stone. A spear of pain jabbed
across the back of her eyes and she sobbed while her body lay across
the stone. Two men grumbled and picked her up. The flame flashed
suddenly to white heat and darkness fell more quickly than it had
ever fallen before. Long night, sweet night, with the stars
throbbing in infinite disorderly rhythm and a thrilling sensation
which was no longer pain. She woke as if thrust out of a deep well
into daylight, revolving as she rose. Her head was dull and seemed
to want to crush her whole body, she tried to move it and it would
not move. Two hands held her head and two eyes penetrate hers but
she could not quite concentrate her gaze upon them try as she would.
The head shook slowly and deliberately, then turned to utter a few
words to half visible figures sin the dim background; “her eyes
will not serve her well” said the wise voice and other heads shook
slowly and deliberately. The hands released their hold and turned
over the straw pillow as she sank once more into half sleep.

Robert Cox, Istanbul, August 1961.
Written up in 2008 with minimum editing.

Then and Now: Russia

Peter Temple-Morris was Member of Parliament for Leominster from February 1974 until 2001, when he was raised to the peerage.

During his parliamentary career, Peter Temple-Morris was Chairman, British Group, Inter-Parliamentary Union, in which capacity he was host for the celebrated visit to the United Kingdom of Mr. Gorbachov in December 1984.

Chairman, British Soviet Union Parliamentary Group, 1992-94

Vice-Chairman, GB-USSR Association 1993-98 (This later became the GB-Russia Centre).

Peter’s essay is to be found here

Then and Now: Iran



A member of the Cambridge Afro-Asia Exhibition 1961

Secretary and later Chairman of the British Iranian Parliamentary Group 1974-2005

President of the Iran Society 1995-

Frequent visitor before Revolution and twice on official visits since 1979

Events within Iran over the past 30 years are too complex and extreme for a straight “then and now” piece. The fair contrast from 1961 would have been with an Iran unaffected by one of the major revolutions of the 20th century in 1979. As it is, we have an Islamic Iran in 2008, which bears little relation to what we experienced in 1961. That said, it was possible to identify, even in 1961, some of fault lines that led to the revolution and a particular turbulent period in Iran’s already turbulent history.

We must set the scene and, for that, we can begin at the Second World War. Iran’s ruler, Reza Shah, had stabilised and unified a disparate country dominated over the years by the interests of Russia and the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, Reza Shah’s admiration of the Germans became too overt to be ignored and at a time of war Britain occupied Iran to secure it in the allied camp and to open up supply routes to the desperate struggle going on against Nazi Germany within the Soviet Union. That led to a young and inexperienced Mohammed Reza Shah taking over from his father who was sent into exile. Hardly an auspicious start, which contributed to the Shah’s insecurity and which was to have sad and severe repercussions later on.

The Anglo-Iranian oil crisis of the late 1940s and early 1950s was followed by the celebrated CIA/MI6 coup, which restored the Shah to his throne in 1953. The following years saw a series of event that never really gave the Shah or Iran much needed time to settle down. Enormous pressure was put on the Shah by the West against the background of the Cold War and in which Iran was a priceless asset. In 1961, we arrived in the middle of all this. Only two years later, in 1963, came the first modern uprising of the clerics emanating from Qum and led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That uprising was firmly put down by the Shah’s then Government and, after some debate on his future, Khomeini was allowed to go into exile at Najaf in Iraq. In 1965, the then Iranian Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Mansur, was assassinated. For all the wealth, development and power increasingly associated with the Shah’s regime, this was yet another example of the fact that it was hardly any time settled and secure.

So how much of this did we see and feel in 1961? By comparison with what happened later, the frank answer is not very much. Indeed, there is a serious point here in that it applied far more generally than just to us. During the immediate run-up to the Iranian Revolution in 1977 to 1979, it is well documented that the underlying seriousness of what was happening was completely missed by most in the West and embarrassingly by the intelligence services of the British, Americans and others. Part of the reason for this was the quite extraordinary nature of what eventually happened.

One was not aware that the struggle to westernise, against a background of considerable and increasing prosperity, disguised the fact that two countries and systems were actively at work in opposition to each other. The Shah, his Government and the whole elite, plus the increasing middle class of the country, steadily adopted western ways and tried to run a modern economy and system. However, a very vital ingredient was omitted in that the ways of democracy were left far behind, rather than a modern constitution being gradually introduced. All this kept alive the latent powers of traditional Iran and its clerics. It was a force that could be kept down when the going was good, but it was always capable of forming a catalyst for discontent and eventual revolution when its time came. Add to that the natural middle-class discontent with the system of government coming from the young, educated abroad largely at the Shah’s expense, and then returning full of the freedoms of the West only to find a system of government that hardly lived up to their aspirations. So a coalition was formed of both clerical and secular elements which, in the end, captured the imagination of the people—a people who now in large numbers bitterly regret their youthful enthusiasms!

In 1961, we could only spot elements of this, rather than the whole. Iran seemed to be going places. Modernisation was the name of the game with the presence of the Americans and British, joined by the Europeans and with trade competitors such as Japan and South Korea, all coming in on the act. Much good work was done. Moderate land reform was happening; the USIS and other western agencies were very active; the CENTO Military Alliance was in place with an American commanding general based in Tehran; Kennedy’s Peace Corps was doing a great job in the rural areas while major infrastructure projects were increasingly getting underway. The Shah and his Government appeared all powerful and the West, to a certain extent, was blinded by that and concentrated not so much on the intricacies of internal Iranian politics and history, but rather on the major regional and global questions of the day.

Britain’s role in, and soon to become its withdrawal, from the Gulf was a prime example; Another was the Cold War and the containment of Communist influence, having defeated it in 1953; also Iranian economic expansion and the West’s role in this, with all too much money to be made. Defence contracts, that lucrative source of profit and unfortunately engine of corruption, was another good example. The all too speedy adoption of western cultural values also had a considerable effect on a largely conservative people. Meanwhile, the clerics and their allies were kept at bay by financial grant and, as necessary, repression.

During our stay, we met many prominent Iranians; saw many lovely places; witnessed various welfare projects and importantly had various discussions with students. As ever, Tehran University was discontented but then, as our hosts explained, it is always discontented about something or other. That said, there was a feeling that all was not well. The students were careful in what they said but, compared with the Soviet Union, were very free indeed! It was clear that the Shah had no depth of affection from them and, indeed, this was a general problem with students and others throughout his reign. A shy man, who to the western eye posed as more powerful than he was, he attracted criticism on everything because he insisted on ruling and claiming responsibility for everything. The advantage of gradually becoming more constitutional as a monarch, and letting the politicians carry the blame, was a democratic advantage quite beyond his thinking.

In 1961, the financial, and to an extent the territorial, power of the leading families very much existed, and indeed provided a valuable cushion of support for the Shah. However, the excesses of the Shah’s later years were still to come. These increased steadily over the 1960s as Iran’s wealth became greater and was much encouraged by the incoming Republican Administration of Richard Nixon in 1969. The so-called Nixon-Kissinger Doctrine made Iran into the potential power of the Gulf, way before she was able to handle such a role mentally or physically.

Military imports increased, as did US influence. In 1972, that showed itself domestically with the celebration of the 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy. It was a magnificent, but enormously extravagant, fiesta for the international establishment in which the Iranian people only featured in the crowd scenes. The sudden and vast oil price increase of 1973 doubled the Iranian budget capability overnight. Sadly, rather than reacting in a steady and mature way to that windfall, the Iranian Government tried to spend too much too quickly, which caused severe inflationary problems, and a general slowing of progress with infrastructural improvement as the economy suffered severe indigestion.

Looking back now, the years after the 1953 coup until Prime Minister Mansur’s assassination in 1965, during which time we were in Iran, provided the window of opportunity to establish both Iranian monarchy and a gradually developing democracy. It would certainly have been risky, but the right leader could have brought it off. In view of what happened later, perhaps the risk was worth taking. However, that opportunity was lost and, sadly, things went from bad to worse.

So the fact that we felt secure in the Iran of 1961 and that it was broadly on the right road was understandable in the circumstances. We left full of goodwill and Iranian hospitality and neither we, nor many others, had any real conception of what was to happen in that still unhappy country.

Peter Temple-Morris

A member of the Cambridge Afro-Asia Exhibition 1961

Secretary and later Chairman of the British Iranian Parliamentary Group 1974-2005

President of the Iran Society 1995-

Frequent visitor before Revolution and twice on official visits since 1979

Then and Now: Iraq


Chairman of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union from 1982 to 1985. During that period, he had much to do with Iraq.

Compared with Iran and the Soviet Union, our stay in Iraq was but brief, being only four days and, while the Embassy did its best for us, there was little time for a detailed programme. That said, it was sufficient to pick up impressions of the country, which have indeed stuck with me throughout later political activities in the Middle East and periodically dramatic happenings within Iraq itself.

1961 was but the early days of Iraq’s independence and the establishment of its nationhood. With the British mandate long ended and its influence steadily declining, the country was run until 1958 by Nuri as Sayid, the Prime Minister, and others from the established families of the country. The young King Feisal II sat uneasily on his throne to which he ascended aged 17 in 1953. In 1958 came the brutal revolution, which most unpleasantly killed him and brought British influence to an abrupt end. In place of a traditional Government, with British advisers never far away, there came on the scene the power of the Iraqi Army in a coup led by General Abdul Karim Kassem. The Army was an important part of a deadly political game that followed, which was mixed and complicated and included the competing influence of the Baathists, or Arab nationalists Iraqi style, and the Communists.

By 1961, the “Sole Ruler”, as General Kassem liked to describe himself, remained in power until he duly and literally lost his head in another military coup a few years later. All the usual ingredients with which we are now all too familiar were present: dictatorship; Army power; political manoeuvres from the Baath who eventually took over, with Saddam Hussein increasingly prominent, and the Communists who eventually lost out; the ethnic tribes and deep divisions between the Sunni and Shi’a; Kuwait, then as now, was an opportunity for the Iraqi leadership to show its macho propensities. Indeed, 1961 contained many threats by Kassem against Kuwait, which led to the deployment of British troops. We still had the major responsibility for the Gulf, although this deployment was the last time military force had to be contemplated by us alone on a major scale. The next international military instalment occurred in 1990 as we will remember.

In 1961, the remnants of the quasi-colonial rule could easily be seen. In the Finance Ministry, underneath various information booklets of the present regime, could be found great bundles of the same thing bearing the murdered King’s photograph and saying lots of nice things about him. The discovery caused much embarrassment, when an alert member of the expedition looked at the shelves in detail. Many leading families still lived and worked in Iraq. As the Baath and Saddam Hussein steadily took over in the succeeding years, many went into exile for their own safety. Then one could still go out to dinner at the old “Jockey Club”, which was a splendid place symbolic of years gone by. When we were there, the servants still in attendance greatly outnumbered the few guests present!

The British Embassy in 1961 was under the capable leadership of Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, a great FCO figure and later to become its Permanent Under-Secretary. They did their best to arrange meetings for us, which included the Ministry of Education, Baghdad University and the British Council, which was still active in the country. However, it was difficult to come away with any other impression than that we were seeing a deeply troubled country in a state of transition, but with little control over the direction of that transition. The only quality it seemed to possess was to be comparatively subdued under firm dictatorship, so disparate was the country we had created with our lines on a map. Apart from bestowing kingdoms to the Hashemites and oil to the West, our efforts bore little relationship, in the case of Iraq, to a potentially cohesive estate.

Our visit to Iraq was the only time during our long trip that I felt very much ill at ease with the country that we were in. In the Soviet bloc and in the USSR, there was organisation and direction. You knew where you were and, within the necessary parameters of the system, you could both learn and enjoy. But Iraq was something else. Hot, sticky and unpleasant, there was a certain feeling of menace in the air. Kassem, the sole leader, was in constant danger of assassination and, indeed, shortly before our stay, his convoy had been attacked and a car within it blown up.

Kuwait caused tension and the resulting regular road blocks and inspections, as we drove from Hamadan, Iran to Baghdad, all added to the tension. However the people who we met were delightful, and largely western-educated, but they were not happy or relaxed. One was aware of the political differences, and later on we surveyed the scene with just a little knowledge, as the Iraqi coups, with all the extreme and unnecessary violence, unfolded on the people and those unfortunate enough to be perceived to be on the wrong side. I was personally pleased and relieved to leave the country, and I have never rushed back to it in spite of many opportunities to do.

Then and Now: Israel



For many years, P.T.M. has been a member of the Friends of Israel.

As mentioned in connection with Jordan, the contrast of Israel with Jordan, or indeed the then Arab world, was enormous. The arrival at West Jerusalem from the east; from developing to developed and from the Middle East to Europe could not have been more striking or sudden. From the somewhat medieval atmosphere of East or Old Jerusalem, we were suddenly transported to familiarity. Once more, we were in the modern European world. The abrupt nature of the transition and what it represented gave rise to immediate thoughts of the gulf that existed between Jew and Arab. How could two peoples of the same race be so different? Would the placing of Israel back in the promised land lead to greater hopes of development and progress for the whole or would the sheer level of difference be too much to get over or to bring the parties together? This is still an open question today.

In 1961, these were valid and relevant thoughts against a background of a fairly newly established Israel, developing rapidly and asserting its independence and nationhood at every turn. The sheer efficiency of it all and of our reception was a case in point. From the moment of our arrival, we were met and provided with a programme rapidly put together to suit our needs. In the main, we were looked after by British Jews, who made us feel very much at home. The level and competence of the people who we met came across loud and clear. For example, our two meetings at the Israeli Foreign Ministry were conducted by experts under the eye of the heads of the relevant departments. A talk on Refugees, always a difficult subject for Israel, was conducted by the resident specialist and likewise was a session on Africa. At the time, I thought that we could almost have been in our own Foreign Office, such was the obvious intelligence and experience of those who contributed. That feeling continued on the first evening when we attended a large concert given by Pablo Casals in Jerusalem where we immediately met people we knew, and friends of friends from London. In a way, it was all a bit odd. It was somehow Europe drafted onto the Middle East. At the same time, we were all Friends of Israel and its creation, but suddenly we were exposed to the realities of the creation and its effect on the region. However, we could not help but be impressed.

In 1961, Israel was governed by the founding Israeli Labour Party and the people we met, who also so impressed us, were overwhelmingly western and central European in origin. Many Jews of distinction offered their services to Israel in their later life, and many young people came out to be part of the great new adventure. It was almost eerie to hear a talk about journalism from a former assistant editor of The Times; or a meeting with the Histadrut (Israeli trade union movement) conducted by a former British trade unionist with extensive knowledge of our system and ways, from which he had come.

However, in the midst of all this, one could not help feeling the pride in the State of Israel, particularly of the native born, and the absolute determination to establish the State. The 1948-49 war was a recent memory and the old battle lines from before the ceasefire were still on show. One was left in no doubt that we were dealing with a strong people. Even the often strikingly attractive Israeli women soldiers would tell us privately how their training took them over. One told me that those in her dormitory were obliged in the early days to sleep with their Oozi sub-machine guns under the covers with them, which rapidly overcame their reluctance to handle their weapons!

Perhaps the best example of the cohesion and determination of young people was the Kibbutz, an instrument long and still used to occupy and farm land, which can then be claimed for the new state. That system had played a considerable part in the establishment of the state of Israel. We stayed on a rather special “foreign” kibbutz, but the atmosphere was very much there. We ate, drank and discussed with Jews from all over the world and even saw the film of the evening, which was “The Thirty Nine Steps” of all things. We departed somewhat relieved not to be Jewish and have to dedicate ourselves to early mornings and hard, agricultural work. Off to Tel Aviv we went and to more very agreeable contacts in what struck us as a largely westernised Mediterranean city.

We left Israel after an enjoyable day of enforced rest at Tiberias where, owing to the fact that it was Yom Kippur and we could not move around,, we enjoyed ourselves swimming and water skiing on the lake. The most striking thing that I remember, however, was the view of the Golan Heights, which were then full of Syrian gun positions and seemed to totally dominate the area below. The Heights amounted to a formidable military prize, which was taken by Israel after severe fighting in the 1973 war.

So Israel was on its way. No doubt about it. Also, in 1961, possibly an easier place for us and western interests, as the days of mass immigration and settlement of oriental and Russian Jewry were still to come. Out of all that came the Likud and the more right-wing Israel that exists today. For the future, let us hope that an eventual peace settlement can be reached and will be more enduring, possibly coming from the political right rather than the political left, although we have yet to see whether the will is there. The choice is really for Israel to make at the end of the day and may she choose well for the sake of the region and the world, as a whole.