On Lines and Fences: Labour, Community and Violence in an Oil City

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In December 1942, unrest broke out in Abadan, arguably Iran’s first modern industrial city and home to the world’s biggest oil refinery. Two scuffles in the bazaar provoked Iranians from the Ahmadabad neighbourhood to attack Indian labourers in the so-called ‘Indian Lines’ of the Bahmashir neighbourhood. Although not as bloody or widespread as more well-studied occurrences of unrest in Abadan, I will argue that this ‘Bahmashir Incident’ represents an important case with which to understand the interconnectedness of oil, space and violence. As such, this chapter has two aims.
The first is to fill a gap in the existing literature on Abadan and the oil-producing province of Khuzestan in southwest Iran. This literature tends to focus on the struggles of the native Iranian labour movement against the Anglo-Persian, later Anglo-Iranian, Oil Company (A.I.O.C., henceforth ‘the Company’), and specifically on the great oil strikes of 1929 and 1946 and the oil nationalisation movement of 1951. In this literature, a crucial element is normally either mentioned only in passing or simply neglected: imported Indian labour. Through material from, among other places, the underexplored British Petroleum Company archives, I will investigate the context of the event (the Bahmashir Incident) synchronically, and the history of a particular community (the Indians) diachronically.
Through these investigations, an alternative labour history of Abadan emerges, which, I will argue, can complement and challenge the existing literature. Key Iranian leftist and nationalist accounts of Abadan’s history tend to cast all violence in the binary terms of a struggle between ‘the oppressor’ (‘The British’) and ‘the oppressed’ (the native Iranians). This chapter will instead propose that since Abadan had multiple subaltern agencies, urban violence operated on several levels. The presence of Indians in Abadan’s labour hierarchy and social fabric challenges the idea of Abadan as a ‘dual city’, and complicates simplistic interpretations of urban violence.
Secondly, by disentangling the web of interests spun between the Company, the British military and the diplomatic machinery, this chapter will nuance the notion, so often reiterated uncritically in Middle East Studies, of ‘The British’ as one single, cohesive actor. The Company drew on the colonial legacy of British imperialism, was protected by the British army, and was influenced by its major shareholder, the British government; yet, the Company was nonetheless an autonomous entity with a distinct mode of operation. In order to ‘see like an oil company’, this chapter uses the Bahmashir Incident to examine how World War II affected the Company in Abadan on the eve of victorious nationalist movements and the dissolution of the British Empire – events that eventually drove companies born in colonial settings into the present globalised world of neo-liberal corporate capitalism.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
TitelUrban Violence in the Middle East : Changing Cityscapes in the Transition from Empire to Nation-State
RedaktørerUlrike Freitag, Nelida Fuccaro, Claudia Ghrawi, Nora Lafi
Antal sider25
Udgivelses stedNew York
ForlagBerghahn Books
Publikationsdato1 apr. 2015
Sider197-221
Kapitel9
ISBN (Trykt)9781782385837
StatusUdgivet - 1 apr. 2015
NavnSpace and place
Vol/bind14

    Forskningsområder

  • Det Humanistiske Fakultet - Byrum, byrumsanalyse, Vold, Kolonialisme, olie, Etnicitet, Indien, Iran, Social Engineering, Byplanlægning, arbejderbevægelse

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