A Historical Perspective on Violence and Urban Unrest in Modern Iran

Bilingual Lecture Series

A Historical Perspective on Violence and Urban Unrest in Modern Iran

A Zoom lecture in Persian by Mehrdad Amanat

Sunday, May 7, 2023 to Sunday, May 7, 2023
4:00 PM (Pacific Time)

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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.


Mehrdad Amanat holds a BS in Engineering (1976), MA in Islamic Studies (1979), and a PhD in History (2006) from UCLA. He is the author of Jewish Identities in Iran, Resistance and conversion to Islam and the Baha’i Faith (I.B. Tauris 2011). He is a regular contributor to Encyclopædia Iranica, with his latest entry being “Kashan, History to the Pahlavi Period.” Among his articles is “Set in Stone, Homeless Corpses and Desecrated Graves in Modern Iran,” published in the International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2012. He co-authored with Nikki Keddie “Iran under the Later Qajars, 1848-1922” in Cambridge History of Iran, Vol VII, 1991; and with Roy Mottahedh, “Medieval Kashan: Crossroad of Commerce and Culture” in Euroasian Studies, 2018, Reprinted in Cities of Medieval Iranian, 2020. His forthcoming article with Anthony Lee is titled “Race and Social Mobility in Turn of the Twentieth Century Yazd: The Rise and Fall of an Afro-Iranian Landowner.”


Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies, Iranian Studies, Amuzegar Chair in Iranian Studies, Musa Sabi Term Chair of Iranian Studies