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Arang Keshavarzian is an Associate Professor Middle Eastern Studies at NYU. His focus is on modern Iran and the Persian Gulf, although he has studied, conducted research, and taught in several other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Turkey. His book, Bazaar and State in Iran, was based on his intensive field research and engages with the literature on networks and political institutions in order to trace the structure of the Tehran Bazaar under the Pahlavi monarchy and Islamic Republic, and shed light on the organization and governance of markets as well as state-society dynamics, more generally. The analysis stresses unintended consequences, while identifying mechanisms and contradictions that traverse the immediate issue of bazaars and the Iranian case. He has also published articles on clergy-state relations and authoritarian survival in Iran. Currently, his research examines the Persian Gulf in order to analyze the processes of late imperialism and globalization from the perspective of local circuits of trade and transnational alliances.
Interview with Arang Keshavarzian | New York City on July 14, 2015
Sure. Okay. That sounds fine. I’ve been at NYU for seven years, since 2008. Before that, I taught at Connecticut College in Connecticut and Concordia University in Montreal, and this was immediately after receiving my PhD in Politics at Princeton University. I’m trained primarily as a political scientist, a political economist. My dissertation work and a lot of my earlier studies had been on the Tehran Bazaar that we will talk about today, but I’ve also written about authoritarianism in Iran and the Middle East more generally. And, in the last 5 to 10 years, I’ve been involved in studying the Persian Gulf region broadly over the long 20th century in terms of British imperialism, US power and the political economy of the Gulf in relationship to oil, labor movements and so on and so forth.
Sure. The bazaar is a deceptively simple-sounding kind of concept. It really should be broken down in along at least three dimensions, I would say. On the, you know, the most primary level, the bazaar is a Persian word that basically means market, a system and a place in which goods are exchanged, goods are produced. Historically, bazaars oftentimes had artisans, cobblers, bookmakers and so on and so forth involved in this bazaar to produce goods for purchase, retailable but also wholesaling. And, also, bazaars also imply a system in which goods could be imported or exported in and out of Iran in this particular case. And, these bazaars, it should be noted, have existed for centuries in rural areas, oftentimes in rural areas. They would move. They would be weekly markets. They would move from one town to another. But, in more urban areas, towns and cities, settled areas, these bazaars became fixed, situated in specific locations.
And, this brings me to the second important aspect of a bazaar. It’s not simply a market but it’s a marketplace. A bazaar in modern Iran, in urban Iran implies a specific district, a place in the city that is dedicated to commercial activities. As I said, in the beginning of the 20th century, artisans and production existed, but since World War II, it’s become increasingly dominated by commerce, and production has been displaced by industrialization and imports of goods and so on and so forth. So, this space of the bazaar oftentimes set aside from the rest of the city in terms of it being a covered marketplace is quite important. That’s why some people talk about or Iranians talk about the bazaar being a city within the city. It’s almost its own self-contained special area where not only do you have shops and wholesale offices and import-export offices, but you have coffee shops, restaurants. You have a whole series of religious institutions—mosques, shrines. You have kind of a cornucopia of a social world existing there.
And, this brings me to probably the third dimension of a bazaar and that is that it’s not just a place or market but it’s a social world. These relationships commercial between buyers and sellers, these credit relations between merchants imply a set of relationships and ties, a degree of trust between people, between families even over generations, over long periods of time. And, this is one way to think about the bazaar as constituting a social network of people. And, it is this kind of social dimension that feeds into the politics of the bazaar. The bazaar and the bazaaris, the people that work and make a living in the bazaar, not only do they have economic interests, they have a political power because they are interwoven, tightly woven socially through inter-marriage sometimes, through credit relations and so on and so forth that allows them to mobilize at critical junctures in support of certain movements, against a ruling government and so on and so forth. So, I would say when you think about the bazaar, it’s important to keep these three aspects of it in mind, that it’s an economic marketplace but it’s also a physical urban space, and thirdly, it’s a social community constituted by these relationships.
Could I just add one last part?
I also wanted to add that while it does create a community, I do want to underline one aspect and that is that doesn’t mean that the bazaar is homogenous. The differences within the bazaar or amongst the bazaaris is, in my opinion, as critical as the bonds that are forged among them. So, the differences for me that are important are, on the one hand, economic power or if you want, the hierarchy within the bazaar, the large import-exporters are very different from the small shopkeepers or the peddlers, hand sellers that work in the bazaar. They have very different assets, capital, resources and so on and so forth, so there’s kind of an economic hierarchy. But, the other dimension of the heterogeneity that I would underline is that there is a diversity not only in the economic power but of the types of people that work and make a living in the bazaar. There are people of different ethnic backgrounds, different religions. So, the Tehran bazaar, which is the largest bazaar in Iran, for instance, includes merchants from Turkish-speaking backgrounds, Azaris, for instance, Kurds, people from all over Iran in terms of their heritage, but has historically included large numbers of Jews, Muslims both Sunni and Shia, so it’s religiously quite diverse. And, including Bahai, Bahair Iranians also have been present in the Tehran bazaar in the 20th century. So, this diversity is important to acknowledge because it implies also that we shouldn’t treat the bazaar as a single actor. There are different political tendencies within the bazaar that I’ll talk about. And so, while the bazaar is brought together under the roof of the bazaar in a sense, the differences are always present.
Okay. Maybe I’ll raise that after ’79. Yes. The bazaaris were a member of that kind of coalition that developed at the beginning of the 20th century around claims to make the monarch more accountable and more controlled by the Iranian people, by the nation. So, they’re part of that coalition that included kind of intellectuals, sometimes Western-educated intellectuals, the clergy and so on and so forth. And, the bazaaris were critical urban constituency within that coalition pushing for constitutional rule and circumscribing the powers of the then Qajar monarchy.
You know, I would say they played several different roles. On the one hand, the bazaaris’ primary interest or maybe their initial interest was to limit the ability or protest against the powers of the Qajar monarch to tax their commerce, their activities. And, this triggered some early protest movements in the very outset of the Constitutional Revolution where several merchants protested the heavy taxes that were being levied against them and commercial activities. But, also related to the economic kind of interest and concerns was the increasing encroachment, what they felt the increasing encroachment of European powers in their ability to engage in commerce. So, the various concessions and monopolies created by European powers, most particularly the British and the Russians, created grievances amongst the merchants especially the major import-exporters, wholesalers and such. So, they had a series of kind of economic grievances against the ruling family, the Qajar family. But, also, the other aspect of the bazaaris that was important in the Constitutional Revolution is that these big import-exporters, the tojjar, the larger merchants, they or their sons were the ones who were traveling to and living in places such as Istanbul, in Russia, in Bombay, where there are similar movements for constitutionalism, discussions about creating accountable government, discussions about confronting imperialism and so on and so forth. So, many of these ideas that were central to the Constitutional Movement in Iran were also being clearly discussed and debated in other parts of the world where these merchants were based. So, they can have brought these ideas with them to reinforce the essential demands of the constitutionalists.
So, I would say these are the two ways to think about the bazaaris’ role and significance in the Constitutional Movement, and their position in this coalition has been kind of replicated at various other historical junctures, for instance, in the Oil Nationalization Movement, or in 1979, where they participated in an alliance with other segments of society at these critical junctures.
Maybe I should just say a little bit about…well, I don’t know if you want this to be too Tehran-focused but the intermediary period is when Tehran really starts expanding and that may be something important. So, at the time of the Constitutional Revolution, it should be remembered that Tehran was a relatively small city. I believe 200,000 to 300,000 people were living in Tehran at that moment. It’s in the subsequent years of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, as the states, the government expanded that Tehran itself also expanded. So, it’s under Reza Shah’s rule that Tehran really begins to expand and this pace accelerates after World War II, entering the oil boom years of the 1960s and ‘70s. But, with that expansion of Tehran in the interwar years, the ‘20s and ‘30s, the Tehran Bazaar also benefits from this urbanization and growth, and one aspect of that is the price of property in Tehran increases. And, the bazaaris were one of the few segments of society that were property owners, or at least the wealthy bazaaris were.
So, this was to some extent, a period of boom despite the vitality in the Iranian and the world economy in the interwar periods. But, as a generalization, one could say the bazaaris benefited with all of these kind of demographic expansions in the urban centers, in particular, in Tehran. So, in 1953, not unlike the constitutional period, the bazaaris participated in a protest movement against the monarchy, in this case Mohammad Reza Shah, the young monarch that was in power after his father was deposed in 1941. In this case, there are important differences between the constitutional moment, the Oil Nationalization Movement, Mosaddegh’s premiership.
Politics had become far more multi-class or mass-based and far more national in orientation. So, one could say the Constitutional Revolution focused in on the major cities in Iran and specific kind of elite families, aristocratic families, bazaaris, clergy and the such. By 1953, you have a very significant labor movement primarily based in the oil manufacturing regions of the country such as Gulistan. There’s something of a national economy emerging. Roads were built, so on and so forth. So, politics was different, the nature of politics was different. Parties had developed. There was a degree of a free press in the 1940s and 1950s. So, politics was more inclusive, and the bazaaris were part of this general mobilization, a mass citizen mobilization. The bazaaris aligned themselves with Mosaddegh in the late ‘40s and the 1950s. A significant number of members of the National Front and other parties that supported the Oil Nationalization Movement… Let me say that again. A significant number of the political actors that were members of the National Front and other political parties… Okay. So, a significant portion of the political parties and actors that supported the Oil Nationalization Movement came out of the bazaar backgrounds and out of the bazaar.
So, they clearly represented, the bazaaris are clearly represented in this political movement via these political parties and so on and so forth. But, they also organized protests, many of the marches in support of Mosaddegh and supported the Oil Nationalization Movement against the British, for instance began in the Tehran Bazaar and culminated, ended in front of the Parliament Building. So, this was a common route in the early 1950s of protests in the sense the bazaar sometimes went on closure and so on and so forth. But, another kind of reflection of the support of the bazaaris for Mosaddegh’s government and his policies was that many merchants bought bonds to support the government financially at a moment where the British had to impose the blockade on the export of Iranian oil. So, there was even financial support for Mosaddegh and his sympathizers.
Another important kind of example of the bazaaris’ support for Mosaddegh and his Oil Nationalization Movement is that even when Mosaddegh was arrested and put on trial in November of 1953, so this is a few months after he was removed by the military coup, the bazaaris went on strike as a show of protest against his trial. And, this is when, you know, the universities and so on and so forth were forced to be open and so on and so forth, but one segment of the Iranian [indiscernible][0:17:32] that continued to at least on the surface exhibit some dissent to the shah’s policies was the bazaar, and the Tehran Bazaar, specifically. Having said that, 1953 also exposes one of these divides in the bazaar that I’ve already mentioned. While I think it’s fair to say that the bulk of the bazaaris, those involved in retail, wholesale, money lending and so on and so forth supported Mosaddegh, many of let’s call them the lower rank and file peddlers, lower, poor segments of the bazaar were basically either apolitical or were easily kind of hired thugs for the monarchist groups.
So, in the summer of 1953, on various occasions, many poor segments of the bazaar, especially from the fruit and vegetable bazaar were basically from what we gathered from the sources, were hired to go on rampages in Tehran against Mosaddegh. Right? So, this is an indication of the class distinctions within the bazaar, where there is a division. And, some of these lower ranking, poor segments of the bazaar aligned themselves with Ayatollah Kashani, a cleric that during the Oil Nationalization Movement shifted his alliance from Mosaddegh to the shah. And, it’s through him and his extensive networks of seminary students and others that they were able to mobilize these poor segments of the bazaar. Let me just add, one institution that I should have mentioned is this let’s call it traditional gymnasium or the zurkhaneh, the city’s old, historic athletic centers, if you will, but they had dimensions of religiosity and displays of chivalry.
Many bazaaris were members of these zurkhaneh or these gymnasiums and many of the gymnasiums were located in and around of the bazaar district. And, some of the members of these gymnasiums were the members who helped organize these pro-monarchist rallies that was much smaller in scale as the rallies in support of Mosaddegh, but nonetheless, they were significant and that rift within the bazaar is displayed there in that kind of institutional sense too.
Sure. Okay. I’ll say some things kind of general and then we can tease out some of the dynamics.
So, after 1953, once the shah was kind of gradually cemented himself as the monarch in Iran, we have this period of Pahlavi rule, increasingly confident, self-confident and increasingly supported by large sums of oil wealth that were entering the Iranian economy after the 1960s. The typical way that scholars and ordinary Iranians think of the 1960s and ‘70s when it comes to the bazaar is a period of the bazaar’s decline, a moment in which notions of modernity, modernism, the development of Iranian industry, urban space, development of supermarkets and so on and so forth were flourishing so much that the bazaar as a “traditional institution”, as an old fashioned institution was simply in decay and was losing out to this new modern Iran that was emerging after the 1960s.
There is some truth to this, to this kind of narrative. Two points that could support this idea is that workshops, artisans were in large part eradicated from most of the large bazaars in Iran. They simply could not compete with industrial production either in Iran or industrial production that was taking place all around the world and being imported into Iran in the ‘60s and ‘70s in large numbers. So, that dimension of the bazaar, production, manufacturing, small-scale manufacturing was in all intents and purposes eradicated by the 1970s. A second way that the bazaar really was transformed is that prior to the 1950s, the bazaar area, while it was on the one hand a commercial area, it was also a mixed use area. By that, I mean, there were a lot of housing; a lot of merchants lived in the immediate vicinity of the bazaar, so, it was a quasi-residential area.
By the 1970s, the residential dimensions of the bazaar region was kind of erased, and most bazaar families moved to other parts of Tehran, for instance, more affluent neighborhoods where the air was better, modern conveniences were availed and so on and so forth. So, the residents that will remain in the bazaar were kind of poor members of the bazaar or people that recently had moved from rural areas to Tehran. So, the bazaar had changed morphologically. It was a very different place in the 1970s than it was even in the 1950s and 1940s.
So, in that sense, yes, the modernization, if you will, of Iran transformed the bazaar. But, what is sometimes forgotten in all of this is that part of that what we think of modernization, as urbanization, industrialization, greater access to education, all of these factors benefited the bazaar economically and even socially. The massive urbanization that took place not only in Tehran but all of the major cities in Iran after the 1950s was a great boon for the bazaaris, basically, their primary clients were urban dwellers. They provided the commodities either directly as retailers or as wholesalers to the expanding commercial sectors that were growing in the 1960s and ‘70s thanks to urbanization but also thanks to the oil boom. So, these bazaaris, very quickly many of them switched into wholesaling activities in which they would be wholesalers to these new emerging supermarkets, malls, grocery stores and so on and so forth that were spreading all across the city. So, this is one important way that they were beneficiaries.
And, second, as one of the social classes in Iran that owned property, whether it’s their shops or their warehouses or their homes, as the value of land in the urban areas increased, they quite directly benefited from the increased value of their assets. So, that’s another important aspect of how they benefited from this era. But, also another way to think about it as maybe more socially is that the bazaaris were part of the old urban fabric, and they were the first to benefit from the advantages of a new, modernizing in Iran in terms of employment in the state and educational opportunities. They themselves didn’t quit their jobs and enter the bureaucracies or go to universities, but their sons and sometimes their daughters did. So, when you look around to the students that studied at Tehran University or studied abroad in the 1960s, ‘70s, many of them came from merchant families or mercantile families. So, it’s not that the bazaaris shied away from these new developments, new opportunities or new challenges. They oftentimes took advantage of these new petrol-based political economy and modern urban society.
So, you know, like anywhere in the world, much of the purchasing of goods is based on credit, and in the bazaar, credit, promissory notes where essential ways in which bazaaris were tied to one another, through dependencies, through credit relationships, through debt, basically. This was the case historically, and was the case after World War II, the ‘50s and ‘60s. But, part of what the oil economy, the oil boom or the massive flood of oil wealth that entered Iran in the ‘60s and ‘70s did was that it enhanced the amount of oil and liquidity and cash available in the state-run banks. While the bazaar’s informal—let’s call it informal—credit distribution networks were in large part informal, i.e. not controlled by the state, many of the large import-exporters or even wholesalers had accounts in state-owned banks and banks in general in Iran, and they would use their good credit, their wealth, their asset to gain access to cheap loans, subsidized loans and so on and so forth, and these loans would be in a sense filtered or re-directed towards the bazaar’s informal credit markets.
So, while it’s true that in a sense, there were these parallel banking systems, the official state-run banking system and kind of an informal let’s call it bazaar-based banking system, but these two banking systems weren’t separate and delinked, but in fact were quite interdependent with one another. So, this is another way to complicate the story that in a sense Iranian modernity displaced or radically weakened the bazaar. In fact, in very indirect ways, it strengthened the bazaar’s access to credit and the availability of credit to the bazaaris in general.
I don’t really have much to say about…yes, yes. Maybe I can talk about industrialization. I could make the point about how many of the bazaaris became industrialists.
Another way to think about a bridge between the bazaar and the larger economy is that many of the large import-exporters, wholesalers in the bazaar were also some of the first industrialists in Iran that emerged in the 1960s and ‘70s. So, many of the larger important families, mercantile families in Iran didn’t in fact view Industry as something that was hostile or beyond their area of expertise. And, many of them were quite comfortable in a sense shifting from commerce to production, and specifically, industrial production. So, that’s another mistake people make is to draw too stark of a distinction between the industrialists and the bazaaris. In fact, these categories were bled into one another and the relationships weren’t necessarily hostile. Just to give you one example of that, one of the major initial car manufacturers in Iran came from a merchant family in Mashhad. So, he is someone who before World War II would have been called a bazaari, or his family would have been called a bazaari, but in the 1960s was labeled an industrialist.
So, another way that the bazaar is kind of a city within a city or a separate, distinct space from society is that within the bazaar, you historically had… It’s still going. It’s a red light. It’s not in your questions but one thing I should talk about is the relationship between the bazaar and the clergy. Actually, I just realized that. Nobody said anything about it. Okay. So, another sense that the bazaar being a city within the city is how the bazaaris have historically solved their disputes amongst themselves internally, and they didn’t resort to judges and state courts to adjudicate bankruptcies, bounced checks, defaults on debt and so on and so forth. They had kind of an informal set of mechanisms in which disputing parties were brought together, oftentimes under kind of the auspices of the guild, this guild-like structure, whereas senior members of that guild would listen to both parties and try to negotiate a settlement that was agreeable not only to the both of them but to the guild as a whole, to maintain stability, to maintain trust amongst one another and also ultimately to maintain the flow of purchasing, buying and selling of goods and so on and so forth.
So, the bazaaris were quite impressive in their ability to maintain order amongst themselves, and it’s in that sense that I mean them as a community, a community that not completely…they operated not completely outside of the state, but nonetheless was able to carve out a degree of autonomy from state institutions, and this persisted well into the 1970s. This is one aspect that wasn’t really transfigured by the socio-economic changes of the ‘60s and ‘70s although after the revolution, there’s indication that bazaaris increasingly have resorted to state courts and have been unable or unwilling to solve their disputes internally or at least in comparison to earlier decades. But, up to the Revolution, that judicial autonomy, legal autonomy was there.
I can say that last sentence again, if you want. Was it just that last sentence, right?
So, up until the Revolution, the bazaaris were able to maintain that legal autonomy from the state. Yes. I think this independence or autonomy definitely helped the bazaaris, in a sense, mobilize and develop an associational voice that couldn’t be completely suppressed by the state either through violence, coercion, the Secret Service or co-opted, bought in ways by the state as was the case, for instance, for labor, the working class in many cases. So, the bazaaris, on the eve of the Revolution, were one segment of society that probably had greater independent wiggle room vis-à-vis the increasingly repressive Pahlavi state. And, this benefited the bazaaris in 1978-1979, although from the perspective of the monarchy, this was one of their Achilles heels.
When I say something about the clergy, this can be a filler. You can move it around. And then, I should say something about the actual revolution, if you will. Ervand didn’t talk about unionization and labor?
Okay, so I defer to him on that. But, I should say something about the clergy because that’s how oftentimes people think about the bazaar, the bazaaris being quite religious. So, I’ll tow that line a little bit but not completely. So, one important social aspect of the bazaar, one way to think about the bazaaris’ politics is to think about the bazaaris’ relationship with the clergy. Some historians have even gone so far to describe a moque-bazaar alliance, by which they mean several things. On kind of a more personal level, it’s factually correct to say that many bazaaris are intermarried with many clerical families.
Oh, I see. You turned off the AC. It was cold when I entered and now it’s warm, but, I supposed I’m talking and the AC is on. No, no, it’s fine.
Yes, and there’s definitely truth in that, but it kind of goes to my point about, yes, some segments of the bazaar. And, that’s why we have to talk about ’79 in particular because there was clearly a faction within the bazaar that supported… Yes. I mean, ’53 is a great example of where, you know, one of the leading clerics, Kashani ends up supporting the shah in the last instance but the bulk of the bazaar maintained their support for Mosaddegh. So, I think it’s just too simplistic to think that whatever position the clergy takes, the bazaaris are going to automatically support it.
That’s a good point. Yes. That’s a good point. Maybe I’ll do two sentences on that and then you guys can edit it. Okay, that’s a very good point. Let me say two sentences on the Constitutional Revolution and then I’ll get to the clergy part.
So, another reason that many bazaaris were attracted to Mosaddegh and Mosaddegh’s movement in the early 1950s was Mosaddegh’s insistence that Iran should go back to the constitutional revolutionary movement and moment in which the powers of the parliament were strengthened and the powers of the monarchy were circumscribed, and this, in a sense re-inscribed the social status and the political power of the bazaaris that was, in a sense, written into the Constitutional Revolution and the constitution at the beginning of the 20th century. So, it’s reasonable to assume that the bazaaris found that argument within the nationalist camp very attractive.
Okay. So, one common lens to understand the political attitudes and political positions of the bazaar is said to be their close relationship with the clergy. Many historians have pointed this out and some have gone so far to say that this relationship between the clergy and the bazaaris is so strong that in fact, you can speak of a mosque-bazaar alliance in 19th and 20th century Iran. There is definitely support for that sort of argument. On the one hand, many clergy and bazaari families are connected through marriage. Many clergy come from mercantile backgrounds. Many bazaaris have close family relations to some of the leading clerics in 20th century Iran, and that’s obviously significant, important. They come from a similar, kind of social background, social milieu.
A second aspect of this relationship between bazaar and mosque is that many of the major bazaars in Iran house the major mosques in Iran. So, in many of the largest cities in Iran, the Friday mosque, the main mosque is actually located physically in the heart of the bazaar of that city. So, for instance, in Isfahan, that’s the case. So, it’s actually kind of the physical proximity between the bazaar and the mosques that brings these people together on a daily, intimate basis. But, there’s an economic dimension in the relationship between the bazaaris and the clergy and this is something that a number of scholars have pointed to, and this is related to religious taxes. Within Shii Islam, there is an expectation that religious devout Muslims will pay a portion of their wealth, their assets to the clergy as a religious tax.
[0:43:00] And, as wealthy Iranians, bazaaris were in a point constituency for providing religious taxes directly to clergy or sometimes by creating trusts and donating property and land to in the name of a religious charity. So, there’s a kind of financial linkage between the bazaar and the clergy, so much so that it should be noted that some of…for instance, Khomeini’s students pointed out that this dependency ran only in one direction and the clergy had become overly dependent on the bazaaris, and some of these clerics were actually wary of this overly reliant clergy, this clergy that was overly reliant on the bazaaris. So, this economic bond is significant and is definitely there.
And, because of these various ways that the bazaar and the clergy are interwoven, people have argued that just in terms of attitudes, bazaaris tend to be more religious, more traditional, more patriarchal, more wary and critical of things that are “foreign,” that are modern and so on and so forth. This last point, I definitely think is a lot of exaggeration and extrapolation there that there doesn’t necessarily seem to be much truth to that. My view is that there clearly is a very close relationship between bazaaris and clergy but there is, if you will, two shortcomings with that perspective. One is not all bazaaris are closely aligned with the clergy. Definitely, as we can talk about in relationship to the 1979 revolution, there are segments of the bazaar that are close to the clergy as a whole or even just specific clerics such as Ayatollah Khomeini, for instance.
But, that doesn’t mean that the entire bazaar as this large social category had an equal set of relationships with the clergy. And, do remember that bazaaris have different levels of religiosity. There are non-Muslims within the bazaar—the Jews, Bahais, others and so on and so forth. So, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that all bazaaris have a strong relationship with the clergy. And then, secondly, when we look at the historical record, there definitely are moments where the clergy and the bazaaris were both mobilized in the same direction, in opposition to, for instance, the Qajar monarchy during the Constitutional Revolution; in opposition to Mohammad Reza Shah, in 1979 for instance. But, there are also many other instances where we can see the bazaaris and the clergy political positions and demands diverging, and a good example is 1953, in which it was clear that the majority, especially the higher ranking bazaaris allied themselves and supported the Oil Nationalization Movement and Mosaddegh while the clergy, and the most politicized cleric amongst the clergy, Kashani, while initially supporting Mosaddegh, by the coup had switched sides and supported the shah in that political conflict.
And, there are many other instances where you can see that the bazaaris and clerics don’t actually see things eye-to-eye. And, this also resurfaces after the 1979 revolution as well. So, this relationship between the bazaaris and clergy is significant but it’s important not to think of it in kind of strong, functionalist terms where the clerics dictate things to the bazaaris or vice versa where the bazaaris dictate politics to the clergy. I think there is a degree of negotiation and a room for difference and divergence.
Yes, and the clerical position would be like, “We want to keep an almost closed Iran” and so on and so forth but these bazaaris involved in international trade, working with foreign companies, so that’s…
Exactly. Yes. So, let me add a sentence on that, on the difference of opinion on foreign investment and engaging in international commerce. So, another example of a tension between the clergy and the bazaaris is their different attitude and interest regarding international economy, foreign investment, foreign companies. It’s not unfair to say that many clerics would like to see Iran, wanted to see Iran maintain a more closed economy, less foreign investment in Iran, less kind of economic engagement with foreign, especially Western companies and governments, while merchants, by definition, are engaged in commerce, international commerce.
And then, during the course of the 20th century, some of this commerce actually got translated into industrial investments and working with foreign companies and importers and so on and so forth. So, there’s a clear tension and conflict between their attitudes towards the position of Iran in the global economy, and that’s something that has been there all along including after the revolution in relationship to the nationalization of industries and how Iran should or should not participate in the world economy, how Iran should respond to sanctions and so on and so forth.
Okay. Let me start again.
The differing outlooks in terms of Iran’s position in the world economy has definitely played an important role in the post-revolutionary years where initially, the Islamic Republic nationalized many industries in the 1980s and tried to create a more kind of inward-looking economy.
While when the Iran-Iraq War ended, and under Rafsanjani’s presidency, there was initiative to expand Iran’s engagements with the international economy, encouraged privatization, encouraged foreign direct investment, these were all issues that were attractive to the commercial economic classes in Iran, including the bazaaris, but something that angered and concerned many of the more cautious, conservative, religiously oriented clergy in the seminaries.
You’re going to ask me about the revolution, right? I just wanted to quickly…because I don’t want to go into details. I just want to jog my memory in terms of what I wanted to point out.
Yes, because the revolution…it’s important to piece out some of the issues. What do you mean by information arbitration?
I talked about the informal conflict resolution, right? I did that. I talked about that. Okay, I’ll try.
No, no, I can’t remember what I had said about…
Oh, it’s related to…gathering in a group to figure out, okay, what is the actual just price for a good.
So, it’s the idea that the reason they want to solve their disputes as a collective is they bring all the information and knowledge about the market, about the products and goods to solve any dispute over, you know, how much is owed or what is the value of a carpet and so on and so forth. So, I should talk about that? So, when we look at the revolution of 1979 or what some would call the Islamic Revolution, the uprising that overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah and ultimately resulted in the creation of the Islamic Republic, the bazaaris’ role was like the constitutional revolution, like 1953, was also important, pronounced, and part of a large mass-based coalition that constituted this revolutionary uprising.
Now, when I say that, I think the image that some people may have is thousands if not tens of thousands of merchants, bazaaris taking to the streets and engaging in closure because they believed that the shah was unjust and they believed Khomeini was the best ruler of Iran. The picture is far more complex than that, as you would imagine. I would describe it in the following terms. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of bazaaris, on the eve of the revolution, in 1977, let’s say 1976, 1977, were apolitical, were, you know, engaged in their ordinary lives, were not members of any political parties, were not aligned with particular political factions, and some of them may even probably didn’t participate in some of the rallies or protests or signed many of the petitions that were circulating in ’78 and ’79.
So, they may have not been even active participants. Some others may have in a sense become active in the heat of the moment, during ’78 and ’79, but this wasn’t because of some long-standing affiliation or alignment with a particular ideology or perspective. This was a revolutionary moment and people do revolutionary things in revolutionary moments. And, what impression I have from talking to bazaaris is that many of them just got caught up in the moment, in the revolution, not necessarily out of any ideological conviction. Having said that, within the bazaar, there were clearly at least two small but coherent factions that were politicized and were actively engaging and thinking about politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s. And, in a sense, they were the ones that mobilized bazaaris during ’78 and ’79.
These two groups could be thought of as one group representing Khomeini or Khomeinists; and the second group could be described as the old nationalists and liberal nationalists who kind of thought of themselves as being in line with the old national front and Mohammad Mosaddegh from 1953. But, these two groups, at certain moments worked together, but they were distinct and they had distinct organizations and distinct personalities involved in them. The first faction, or the Khomeinists, these were bazaaris who, beginning in the 1950s, some of them even going back a little bit before that, but definitely beginning in the 1950s, developed close relations with Khomeini himself as a cleric based in the seminary city of Qom, but also significantly with a number of Khomeini’s close confidantes and students, some of whom such as Rafsanjani become major figures after the revolution of 1979. So, there was a relatively small and underground group of merchants based in Tehran but in other cities such as Isfahan, who had very direct and close relations with Khomeini and his confidantes going back to the ‘50s and then this continues in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And, by the time of the Revolution, they had cells and organizations.
They were photocopying pamphlets, distributing flyers, distributing copies of Khomeini’s cassette tapes and so on and so forth. And, they had a very distinct understanding of what the revolution was and what sort of government should and could emerge after the fall of the shah. And, they wanted some sort of government that represented the ideas of Khomeini and they imagined, I suspect a government in which Khomeini would have some sort of a role in. They were a small but well-organized group. The second group, also small, maybe somewhat larger than the Khomeini group come from different branches of the Nationalist Movement. Some of them were liberal and secular-oriented. Some of them were religious yet following kind of a more diverse set of perspectives not associated with Khomeini at all. These groups were active merchants who, you know, again saw their model as Mosaddegh, saw their model as some form of constitutional system, maybe with a monarchy but maybe just a pure republican system. They had close, old ties within the bazaar but also with political parties, journalists, activists, poets in some cases, in larger society. And, they were the transmission belt, if you will, between this kind of larger, amorphous liberal nationalist strata in Iranian society and the bazaars in Iran on the eve of the revolution. They also, thanks to their resources, were able to photocopy flyers and pamphlets and so on and so forth and get the word out to organize and rally against the shah in 1977 and ’78, and then ultimately, in support of what becomes the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Let me pause one second just to remind myself what I…
I just want to talk about the children of the bazaaris for a second. Now, all of these groups, you can think of them as men and they are all men; men in their 40s, 50s, maybe even 60s. One question is what were their children doing, children in college years, in their 20s or in their teens even. And here, I think this is another aspect of the bazaar that sometimes is forgotten is these bazaaris have young children who were attracted to newer and more radical political ideas and organizations. So, anecdotally, it’s clear that many children of bazaaris were attracted to various underground leftist organizations, leftist religious organizations such as the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, for instance.
So, at home, one can imagine that these older bazaaris may have been more attuned to the ideas of the older guard, older generation, the more established political groups and parties, but their children, at the dinner table, probably were mentioning ideas of social justice, of Marxism, of Redistribution and so on and so forth. So, the discussions at the bazaar were probably quite pluralistic and diverse just as the revolution, in a sense, represented a wide array of ideas, beliefs, aspirations, utopias within Iranian society, the bazaar, in a sense, was a microcosm of this larger diversity within Iranian society in the 1970s.
Should I talk about concrete things they did during the Revolution? Okay.
So, during the revolutionary months, basically beginning in late 1977 and stretching to early 1979, there were series of repertoires or actions that the bazaaris engaged in to display their support for the revolutionary movement. On the one hand, the classic example of protest was closure. Bazaaris themselves would close their shops and they would call upon their neighbors, their friends to close their shops. So, for many months, the bazaar, in 1978 was simply closed. And, this was a very dramatic symbol and signal to society that the bazaaris are discontent and they have grievances. So, maybe a housewife going shopping to the bazaar may not have known about some of the protest in the early months of 1978, but once they arrived in the bazaar and they saw all the shops were closed, that was a signal that something is going on, and this is a way that word spread that the bazaaris are protesting, and the particular historical resonance within Iran given the past historical events that we’ve talked about.
So, closure was the basic form of protest, but another repertoire of protest was organizing rallies, and this is sometimes an occasion where the religious, the secular, the nationalists and others would sometimes coordinate these rallies, but not always, but they sometimes would coordinate these rallies. And, one very typical route of protest for the rallies was they began in the bazaar, in more kind of southern central Tehran, and they would head north to the Tehran University, which was, if you will, the other access of protest, the university. So, one thing to point out is that while in 1953, the path of the rallies extended from the bazaar to the parliament, the main political institution of public dissent at that moment, the path of the rally had changed. The parliament was now a rubber stamp institution that the shah fully controlled. It was meaningless. So, to express and display political demands, the access became the bazaar and the university. So, rallies was another important way that bazaaris participated or helped fashion the revolution. And, third was various forms of reproduction of media—posters, pamphlets, announcements, petitions were photocopied, processed, paid for by bazaaris who had photocopying machines and technologies at their disposal or had the resources to pay for the paper and so on and so forth.
But, the other kind of important media of the revolution was audio cassettes—I’m sorry, it’s been a long time—audio cassettes that carried the sermons of Khomeini. And, again, the merchants, the bazaaris would help record and distribute these audio cassettes as well as pay for the actual cassette tapes themselves. That was also quite integral to the revolution. And, another kind of example of bazaari support for the revolution was that they would contribute to certain accounts that would help, for instance, university professors that went on strikes. So, in 1978, the university also engaged in strike activities, but of course, the university professors and staff and so forth wouldn’t be paid during their strike. So, one thing that one group of bazaaris did was to create a fund in which bazaaris were encouraged to contribute to that would help cover the expenses of these striking university professors.
Other similar accounts were also developed by bazaaris to, in a sense, cover the expenses of revolutionary activities by other social groups. So, there was a whole series of repertoires used by bazaaris during ’78 and 1979 to participate in the revolution and move the revolution forward.
How are we doing? Are we on time?
The 1980s, war years. Okay, with the fall of the shah and the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran went through an earthquake basically—social, political, cultural, emotional, in many dimensions, but, one dimension of it was economic. There were a whole series of sweeping changes that transformed the entire geography of Iran’s political economy in those initial years. One aspect of it was nationalization of major segments of Iran’s economy where assets shifted hands from private to public but also sometimes made their way into other organizations, foundations that were created after the revolution. And, these foundations sometimes, in a sense, became private, almost private or quasi-private assets of significant bazaari families who have close relations with the emerging ruling establishment, had close relations with Khomeini, had close relations with Khomeini’s students such as Beheshti, such as Rafsanjani and others. So, this, in a sense, shuffling of the assets through Iranian society was significant, and there were losers and dramatic winners in those opening months and years after the revolution. So, clearly, those bazaaris who had close connections and ties with Khomeini and his close confidantes were the beneficiaries of some of these shifting of assets in those opening years. Another dimension and aspect that was taking place was the seizure of land. Sometimes, this was formal, where a land was confiscated. If a family was viewed as being anti-revolutionary, for instance, but other times, it was simply squatting and taking over of land. So, it was not only industries, factories that were being relocated, that were seized and so on and so forth, just land was being relocated and seized. And, the bazaaris, in a sense, were affected both positively and negatively by these sorts of changes. But, I would argue, the most dramatic shift in the political economy was not so much a direct result of the revolution, but a result of the Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980. So, shortly after the revolution, we have the Iraqi invasion of Iran and what leads to an eight-year war between Iran and Iraq and the creation of a war economy. This war economy was shaped by a number of policies including limiting of imports of goods, restricting the export of assets, export of carpets, for instance, handwoven carpets to limit capital flight during the war years; the creation of a state-run rationing and distribution system to make sure that everyone had basic resources and so on and so forth.
So, this was a radical transformation of the entire architecture of commerce in the 1980s. And, here, the bazaaris were on the hold; their system was displaced by a state-led, state-centered project. It definitely created monopolies or specific segments that could be captured by certain people for enormous profit, you know, import licenses, access to cheap hard currency if you had the right contacts. So, again, certain bazaaris with pre-existing contacts, family contacts, and here, again the clergy-bazaar relationship is important because of the family relationships. Some bazaaris did benefit from this war economy.
But, the basic structure, I would argue, of the bazaar was radically disrupted and displaced by this war economy in the 1980s, and so much so that even when the war ended, you had a whole new series of new commercial actors, people who were not necessarily engaged in bazaari commerce before 1980 that emerged as new, significant, powerful, well-connected and wealthy commercial actors that could outmaneuver wholesalers in the bazaar or import-exporters in the bazaar. But, also, it’s not only do you have new actors taking place and old actors either leaving or retiring or what have you, but the whole system and the structure was so heavily interwoven with ministries who were in charge of procurement.
Okay. So, not only do you have new actors entering the commercial field and old actors retiring or being simply pushed aside, but your whole system of commerce was re-shaped by the series of state institutions and ministries that were involved in redistributing goods through procurement boards, redistributing hard currency, access to dollars and so on and so forth. So, the very fabric of the bazaar was radically changed and altered.
So, what is ironic or puzzling is that the bazaar or the bazaaris helped, in a sense, create the revolution and helped create the basis in which the Islamic Republic was developed in 1979, but the policies directly and indirectly transformed the bazaar in ways that didn’t necessarily benefit the bazaar as a collective or as a corporate entity. It definitely benefited certain bazaaris who had the right connections. But, the point I would make is the bazaar, as a set of practices, as an institution, as a set of social relationships, was weakened and fragmented by the post-revolutionary order. And, this is an irony, the bazaaris would say a tragedy; others would say simply a radical transformation.
Okay, yes, I can do that. And then, maybe I can give two little examples about how commerce is re-shaped by Dubai and the free trade zones, that sort of thing.
So, after the Iran-Iraq War ends, and then Khomeini passes away, Iran enters a moment of emerging stability and an opportunity for kind of a normalization of the economy, normalization of society, dampening of some of the conflicts, the deep conflicts within Iran’s polity. This doesn’t actually quite happen the way some expected and some hoped. And, the bazaaris were one group that thought that, okay, with the end of the war, they could go back to business as normal. That was their expectation, I believe. And, they had some reason to be optimistic. Rafsanjani was the President. He has a very pro-private, free market outlook. He talked about enhancing the opportunities for foreign investment, for encouraging private initiatives. He and his government created a whole series of free trade zones, for instance.
So, he talked about an outward-looking economy that would be growing and so on and so forth. And, the bazaaris, I think were heartened by this message of a greater opportunity for entrepreneurship enterprise and such. However, things actually didn’t transpire in this exact way. Let me continue by talking about these free trade zones and the emerging, if you will, of Persian Gulf commercial nexus around Dubai and the southern Persian Gulf commercial activities. Beginning in the 1990s, a number of bazaaris and commercial actors in general viewed Dubai and the free trade zones in southern Iran such as Kish and Kesh that were developed in the 1990s as an opportunity for developing their own independent pathways to import and export goods, pathways that were independent of the ministries and state agencies.
What this ended up doing, however, was that much of the commercial activities, social relationships that were historically concentrated in the bazaars, in the major urban centers in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, these sorts of places, became, if you will, more diffused and dispersed into various locations. Now, you had bazaaris depending on their relationships, their family members based in the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai; in free trade zones on the peripheries, on the borders of Iran; in places such as Istanbul, in places such as Baku; developing commercial relations with places in China and so on and so forth. So, the heart of commercial activity in Iran was no longer the bazaars and specifically the Tehran Bazaar.
But, to be a successful commercial actor in Iran in the 1990s and then since then, one had to have a wide array of contacts and credit lines distributed all across Iran but also well beyond it; and as well as contacts in key ministries, sometimes even in the military in Iran to help when there were, for instance, sanctions imposed or heavier sanctions imposed in the 2000s. So, one way to think about it is while the bazaar was highly concentrated and focused spatially in a city within the city earlier in the 20th century, by the time you get to the end of the 20th century and even the beginning of 21st century, it wasn’t enough to simply had good relations with the bazaaris in your wing of the Tehran Bazaar. That was not going to be sufficient for you to make significant profits, to gain access to large wholesalers and so on and so forth.
Okay. So, another development after the revolution was that a number of these families and personalities from the bazaar that did have close relations with Khomeini and his students and followers congregated around specific organizations and institutions. So, for instance, there is a party called Motalefeh, which is composed of a number of these significant bazaari merchants that were engaged in kind of what we would call now political Islam and Islamist activities since the 1950s. After the revolution, this party became significant, powerful, had open relationship and conversations with members of the ruling establishment. One of their figures became a minister of commerce, for instance. So, the Motalefeh claimed to represent the demands, the interest, the wishes of the bazaar during the 1980s. Another organization that emerged as a representative of the bazaar was the Chamber of Commerce, that again was headed by someone from a bazaari family, a bazaari family that also kind of transformed the Chamber of Commerce into an organization representing the wishes, the demands of the bazaar. And, there are few others like this that could, at least in the 80s, claim to have close relations with the bazaar and represent the bazaaris. By 1990s, these organizations on the one hand had lost the trust of the bazaaris.
It was clear that many of these bazaaris, while they claimed to represent the interest of commerce and commercial activities and mercantile activities were mostly looking out for their own personal interest, their own vested interest in acquiring monopolies and so on and so forth. So, the bazaaris had lost interest in these organizations and questioned their claim that they represented the bazaar as a whole, the commercial strata as a whole. But, the other dynamic that emerged is that these organizations themselves, in part because they didn’t have popular support at the level of society amongst the bazaaris had lost their clout with governmental officials, with ministries, with parliamentarians, and then with even the major decision-makers in the Islamic Republic.
So, by the late 1990s and definitely by the 2000s, the bazaaris really didn’t have a structure or an organization representing their interest within the government. And, this kind of confounded their weakness, their political weakness that had emerged because of the dislocation and the fragmentation of the bazaar that I had mentioned. So, there was simultaneously a political organizational weakness that confounded the bazaaris or has confounded the bazaaris for several years now. I could say something about these bounced checks.
Should I give a little thing about bounced checks now, the bazaaris go to courts more because I had mentioned it? Okay. Sure, sure, yeah. Smuggling and the consequences of smuggling. Okay. Yeah, water or something.
So, I’ll say something about the smuggling and its consequences for the bazaar, and then you want me to say a little bit about 2009 and the Green Movement, which is basically they weren’t… You know, one indication of their weakness is they were somewhat irrelevant to that whole, that uprising or that episode.
Okay. So, smuggling is an interesting case. Post-revolutionary smuggling there’s obviously been elicit trade and commerce across Iran’s borders for centuries. But, in terms of scale and scope, since the revolution, smuggling has dramatically increased. It’s partly related to the war economy and the restrictions on imports that I mentioned; partly due to the regional dynamics and disruptions and wars in Afghanistan, for instance, or in Iraq and even Eastern Turkey that have made Iran’s borders attractive for those engaged in smuggling goods out of Iran or inside of Iran. Smuggling, however, has been a dilemma for bazaris.
If you remember, bazaaris depend on regularized, repeated, long-term relationships with their wholesalers or their distributors. This is what creates stability, creates trust, and allows bazaaris to kind of engage in predictable, long-term investments and commercial activities. With the upheaval of the revolution, with the upheavals related to the war and the changes in policies and restrictions, government restrictions on commerce that were created during the war years, the bazaaris weren’t able to engage in regular, long-term commercial activities. One way to engage in commercial activities was to work with small-time smugglers to export their carpets, for instance, or import tea, cigarettes, you name it, vast array of goods that it was either illegal to export or import or there was such heavy restrictions that it was too costly to engage in exporting or importing those goods. So, in the short term, these smugglers were a solution to the problem of engaging in commerce for the bazaaris.
However, smugglers brought with them a real dilemma. Smuggling relations were not long-term. They were simply oftentimes no real commitment could be made that those goods would be able to be exported out of Iran or imported into Iran. It was under a cloud of secrecy. Even the trading partner was maybe unknown to the bazaaris. Maybe it was just someone they received a phone call from. It wasn’t clear if that person was the member of the Iranian military or a merchant in Dubai, or who that trade partner was. So, there was the secrecy that was a problem. Goods may arrive damaged and not the goods that they expected. All of this instability dramatically affected the ability of the bazaaris to maintain that social web that made them so powerful, and if you will, coherent before the revolution. So, smuggling was, in a sense, a short term boon for some bazaaris, but in the long term, it added to this gradual whittling away of the networks that made up or that constitute the bazaar.
And, it also, if you think about the spatial dimension of the bazaar, it also forced bazaaris to think in terms of spatial practices well beyond their borders and border regions and so on and so forth. So, again, it was one of those factors that pushed bazaaris out of the bazaar, the physical space of the bazaar. So, I’ll say something about 2009. Okay. So, given this social, political and economic fragmentation and transformation of the bazaar, by the time we arrive at the 2009 protest that developed around the 2009 Presidential Elections, the bazaaris were not in a position to take a strong, visible, vocal position on one side or the other side of the conflict between Ahmadinejad that won the election or that claimed to have won the election and Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his camp that ultimately developed since The Green Movement. They claimed that election results were fraudulent and made claims that he was the rightful winner of that election.
In this midst, the bazaaris, like many other Iranians were of various persuasions. We have little evidence of bazaaris systematically supporting Mousavi or Ahmadinejad one way or the other. I was actually in Iran during 2009 and I went to the bazaar before the election, and judging by the posters on the walls, by the conversations I had, it was clear that there was support for Ahmadinejad amongst some bazaaris but there was also support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi by other bazaaris.
Why were bazaaris attracted to Mousavi?
Well, for some bazaaris, it came down to ethnicity. A large portion of the bazaaris in Tehran are from Azari-Turkic background and Mousavi is also of Turkish or Turkic background, Azari background. And, some openly said that, you know, “We know his family. We know where his family is from,” and this was kind of code that there was an ethnic kind of solidarity there. Another interesting point was made that Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s father was actually a small-time shopkeeper in the bazaar, so he was thought of as someone who came from a bazaari background, a bazaari milieu for others. Ironically, however, Mir-Hossein Mousavi who was the Prime Minister during the war years was deeply associated with the policies that shaped the economy and transformed into a more state-led, state-dominated political economy in the 1980s. So, the bazaaris, once I would push back and say, you know, “Wasn’t Mousavi supportive of the increasing encroachment of the state in regulating and dictating commercial activities?” they would acknowledge that yes, those were not great years for the bazaar but nonetheless, 20 years later, many clearly supported his presidency.
For others, Ahmadinejad was, you know, was attractive. He was some kind of a vocal nationalist. He was thought of as being strong vis-à-vis the United States. For some, he was clearly the choice of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. And, for more religious and pro-regime members of the bazaar, this was enough reason to support his candidacy.
But, clearly, there was no unified position within the bazaar, and once the protest emerged after the election results were released, the bazaaris didn’t take one strong position one way or another. And, as I’ve mentioned, they didn’t have an institutional organization that could express a preference or support one way or another either.
Yes, you seem to have read everything I’ve written. Is there anything else?
I mean, there’s little anecdotal things about how the expansion of Tehran and…I don’t know. The subway is new, the subway stop at the Tehran Bazaar…
Looking ahead, I mean, there’s always been this discussion of turning the bazaar into a tourist kind of menu and making it conducive to pedestrians and, you know, radical renovation of the space, but even the shah imagined that, it never happened. I mean, I could say something about this vision of turning the bazaar into a museum rather than an economic center. It would be because I suspect in 50, a hundred years, there will still be discussion that “Oh, we should just turn it into a pristine touristic space,” and I mean, this has been discussed since literally in the 1960s.
There were newspaper articles proposing that that’s what we should do with the bazaar. Let’s turn it into a nice, touristic zone, make it all pedestrian walkways. And, you know, it’s very difficult to renovate. I’m losing my mind now. What do you call it? Refurbish? No. What do you call when…you don’t renovate a region. Restoration, yes, a massive restoration project. If it makes any sense, the shah came out and said he wanted to turn the bazaar into Covent Garden.
So, one topic of discussion that has been fairly consistent both before and after the revolution was the idea of radically transforming the bazaar from an economic center to a, let’s call it a touristic social space through a massive restoration project, to turn it into almost like an open-air museum. Going back to the 1960s, their proposals turning the bazaar into a tourist center, tourist attraction sites, the shah himself came out and had an idea of transforming the Tehran Bazaar into a Covent Garden-like space, which is the one…the Covent Garden in London. And, even after the revolution and throughout the past 35 years, there have been various proposals and ideas by government officials, architects, journalists saying that the best thing we could do with the bazaar is to turn it into a pedestrian walkway, a place for gathering, a place that’s almost like a museum that commemorates the traditional way of being.
And, as you could imagine, many of the bazaaris don’t want to be turned into museum figures and quaint historic personalities, and they want to be able to flourish economically. So, the bazaaris view this kind of discussion with heavy disdain. But, it’s very difficult to restore the bazaar. It’s a huge project that would cost millions of dollars. And also, one of the major problems is that it’s never quite clear who owns what parts of the bazaar. There are huge property disputes and there are various claims. So, to engage in a major project like that you would have to tackle the very… But, it’s very difficult to engage in such a large restoration project in the heart of a congested, large metropolitan city such as Tehran. Not only can it be extremely costly, millions of dollars, but you have to sort out the very complicated and intricate property rights issues of who exactly owns what parts of the bazaar, who would have to be reimbursed for their property and so on and so forth. But, it is interesting that continuously, the dilemma of what to do with the bazaar, the traffic around the bazaar, the inadequate structure to the bazaar…in the last few years, there have been regular fires taking place because of electricity shortages.
So, there are real tangible problems but it’s unlikely that a major restoration project would be able to actually be initiated. And then, the question about why I decided to join.
Frankly, from our first kind of set of e-mails and phone conversation, you had done an enormous amount of work and research and knew my writings and my arguments very well, and that was quite impressive. Oftentimes, I have people contact me, journalists and others and they contact me basically, based on my, you know, one paragraph blur about my web page and haven’t read anything I’ve written and assume that I have certain particular understandings of Iran or the US and what have you, but you had clearly taken the time and energy to figure what I’ve written and what I haven’t and that was impressive. And then, secondly, once you told me also about who is involved in this project, that reinforced the point that you have done your research. You gathered an exceptionally impressive list of scholars and experts on Iran covering a whole wide array of areas. So, clearly, you and your team, your colleagues have done a very good job of putting this together. So, I frankly probably would have said, politely would have said no if it wasn’t for those two factors. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/6″][/vc_column][/vc_row]