Anjomans, the Press, and Political Activism in Early Twentieth Century Iran

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have long been recognized as having constituted a time of transformation, not only in terms of events but also mindset and society. In addition to political milestones like the constitutional revolution in the first decade of the twentieth century, which in turn laid the grounds for a new political and cultural discourse, much has also been written about how the years between the 1870s and 1920s witnessed tremendous changes like the introduction of new communication networks such as the telegraph, printing-houses and newspapers, each of which helped expose the towns and cities of Iran increasingly to the wider world. However, rarely has detailed attention been paid to another major change as part of the developments of this period, namely the emergence and shaping of a public sphere in the sense of a space where broader publics could interact and/or effectively discuss issues of common and shared interest. This paper will therefore attempt to address this lacunae by focusing on two public and interrelated spaces, namely anjomans or political clubs, and the press in early twentieth century Iran. We know, for example, that newspapers were read in anjomans, and that some anjomans produced their own newspapers or pamphlets. By looking at the relationship between the press and the anjomans more closely, this paper will consider the role that newspapers (and at times shabnamehs) played in enabling anjomans to broaden the parameters of discussion and debate, engage a wider public in a newly-emerging political and civic discourse, and give shape to a new kind of political activism. To this end, this paper will use as source a selection of early twentieth century Persian newspapers as well as memoirs and journals of the time.