From Ámalah to Karagar: The Making of Working Class in the Iranian Oil Industry

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International Institute of Social History
Academic Bio: 
My main research and teaching field is the social, cultural and political history of the modern Middle East and Central Asia. Under the supervision of Prof Ervand Abrahamian (Baruch College) I did my doctoral dissertation on the ethnicity and regional autonomy in the twentieth century Iran; it was published in 1993 and reprinted in 2000. Since then I moved to the former Soviet south and continued to work on the Caucasus and Central Asia, with a special interest in society, culture and politics in the 1920-1940 period. I have also done some research on the late Ottoman and early modern Turkey's cultural and political links with Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Since I joined the International Institute of Social History I became more interested on the labour and subaltern histories, manifested (among other things) in a 2003 co-editing (with Marcel van der Linden) a special issue of International Review of Social History on history of Iran from below and in a 2007 edited volume on State and Subaltern in modern Turkey and Iran. My most recent book is an edited volume on historiography and political culture in Iran. Along the way I have served as president of the European Society for Central Asian Studies (ESCAS), as a member of the academic board of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), as a member of the editorial board of the Association for Iranian Studies, and Central Asian Survey. At the present I hold the endowed chair of 'Social History of the Middle East and Central Asia' at the School of the Middle Eastern Studies of the Leiden University and work as the Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Social History in charge of the Department of the Middle East and Central Asia. A detailed account of my academic activities could be seen at

The twentieth-century Iran is remembered, amongst the others, by the discovery of the oil. In addition to altering the Iranian status in the international arena, the impact of the oil economy in causing drastic change in the interaction between the state and society of Iran has been significant. The extracting, refining and transporting of the oil created a new working class in Iran which had its impact in every major political change the country experienced in its twentieth-century history.
The extraction of oil in 1908 and the massive building plans of the oil refinery, shipping docks and company towns in southwest Iran opened a new chapter in Iranian labour history. Having enjoyed absolute monopoly over the extraction, production and marketing of the oil, the Anglo-Persian/Iranian Oil Company (APOC, AIOC, now British Petroleum; BP) engaged in a massive labour recruitment campaign. The company began to draw its recruits primarily from tribal and village-based labouring poor throughout a region that was marked by chronic poverty. The work force was then subjected to the labour discipline of an advanced industrial scale, which eventually contributed to the formation of the early clusters of working class in modern Iran. The aim of present study is to review the formation phase of this working class.

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Social History
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