Recorded: May 7, 2023
Event: Bilingual Lecture Series
by Mehrdad Amanat (Independent Scholar)
A Historical Perspective on Violence and Urban Unrest in Modern Iran
During the Qajar era, urban riots were often popular uprisings rooted in social grievances such as famines and grain hoardings. Women responsible for feeding the family were often at the forefront of bread riots. In many other cases, riots were instigated by the powerful who used their mercenaries for dominance of the urban scene. Chivalry has a long history in Iran, and in the pre-modern era, lutis (ruffians) played a role in defending cities against foreign invaders. However, during the Qajar period, this social group underwent a decline and often became an instrument for oppression and tyranny. Provincial governors, who mostly bought their positions from the central government for economic gain, appointed lutis as their agents and often for extortion. As private militias at the service of rival Shi’i clerics, the lutis fought for control of neighborhoods and mosques or harassed and looted dissidents. Landowners often settled disputes over water and property in the urban scene with the help of lutis. The main victims were the urban poor, women and children, non-Muslims, and nonconformists. This presentation tries to draw the boundaries between popular riots and those manipulated by the powerful to protect their interest.