In recent centuries, Iran’s southwestern province Khuzistan has had vaguely defined and changing borders with other Iranian provinces and with the Ottoman Empire/Iraq. Scholarship on the history of Khuzistan has yet to incorporate emerging ideas on life as an Iranian subject and citizen in this peripheral province during the first three decades of the twentieth century. While scholarship has primarily focused on diplomacy and political relations led by sheikhs, official elites, and the British, this paper seeks to broaden the understanding of the history and citizenry of the Arab part of Khuzistan (Arabistan) under the lens of contemporary Iranian perspectives.
While this paper also considers British reports, it is mainly concerned with the views and policies expressed in Iranian local and non-local studies or reports (official and non-official), newspaper articles, official policies, such as by the Shah and his representatives, or writings and memoires, such as by Ahmad Kasravi. The paper examines how such narratives and state policies situate the province within the larger Iranian state. By approaching the region from top-down as well as bottom-up perspectives it examines the state’s attitudes and policies towards Khuzistan, and considers the sociopolitical effects on the local communities.
This paper argues that throughout the first three decades of the twentieth century the integration of Iran’s tribal border province Khuzistan received its impetus only through the on-going negotiations and deliberations about the defense of its southwestern boundary, Iran’s border with Ottoman Iraq – especially, since the idea of the nation, mellat, and constitutionalism were still experimental realms which provided a potential matrix for perception and self-identification.
The analysis will show that the attempt to cultivate a sense of national belonging under the authority of the Qajar king and constitutional law failed to reduce local tribal particularism within Khuzistan. However, the central state used the issue of the southwestern border as a means to successfully exert control and influence over the peripheral territory and its local communities. The new educational and political concept of Reza Pahlavi’s early reign also failed to achieve a harmonious cultural-political balance between Iran’s central authority and the provincial particularism of Arab tribal culture. But the Pahlavi regime increased the importance of border security and the defense of the boundary and could thus justify its legitimate leadership of the mellat-e iran.