Ajam Media Collective was launched in 2011 by a group of graduate students who wanted to challenge simplistic representations of the region in the Western media and bring the complex debates happening in academia to a wider audience. So much of the discussions about the region happening in academia were locked behind paywalls and were hindered by a limited focus on the Arabic-speaking Middle East, a focus that too often erased the myriad connections between and across modern borders and contemporary geographical categorizations (like the term “Middle East” itself, a colonial invention). Since then, Ajam has grown to include editors based at several universities who among them share backgrounds in diverse fields like filmmaking, music, art, and journalism.

Ajam Media Collective is an online space devoted to analyzing society and culture across the lands we refer to as Ajamistan. We imagine this landscape as spanning from Turkey in the East across Iraq, the Caucasus, and Iran and into Central Asia, Afghanistan, and South Asia. These lands are united by a shared Persianate culture and heritage; throughout the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal courts that ruled these lands from the 1500s until the 18th and 19th centuries, Persian was an official language of culture and poetry and thus provided the basis for a shared cultural idiom to emerge that has been referred to as the Persian Cosmopolis.

Even though colonialism and the emergence of nation-states has cut this land up and reshaped local notions of identity, traces of Ajamistan can be seen everywhere today: in the Persian words that pepper daily speech, the religious practices and spaces informed by Persianate religious idioms, the obsessive love of poetry and mysticism that cuts across faiths, and shared pleasures like the waterpipe (referred to by the Persian words shisha, nargile, or ghelyan) and backgammon.

Ajam is at its root a slur in Arabic, denoting otherness. We, however, see this otherness as an opportunity, not a badge of shame: By being both a part of the Arab-Islamic world and yet somehow peripheral to it, the Persianate cosmopolis of Ajamistan has developed traditions and worldviews that are both informed by that world and yet do not shy away from freely adding from everywhere else as well. Read more about our choice to use the word Ajam.

Ajam Media Collective is committed to uniting authors from various backgrounds and disciplines to promote diverse critical views on culture, politics, and society, emphasizing the region’s importance as a thriving cultural center whose multiple realities are too often obscured by the popular Western and global media.

Ajam offers a unique perspective on contemporary and historical issues in the region through informed analysis of culture and society. It also serves as a semi-scholarly resource by engaging with academics, activists, and students, and by providing access to contemporary debates and research in fields ranging from Literature to Gender Studies and from Cinema to Urban Geography and beyond.

Ajam includes the articles on this website as well as podcasts, mixtapes, the Ajam Archive, and a project committed to documenting urban areas across Ajamistan that are at risk of destruction called Mehelle.

For more information regarding the blog, please contact us at info@ajammc.com.


Senior Editors

Alex Shams 

Alex Shams is a writer with a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. His dissertation focused on sacred space and political ideology in contemporary Iran, where he lived while carrying out research on holy sites across the country. A Los Angeles native, Shams previously worked for several years as a journalist in Bethlehem, Palestine. He is currently based in Mexico City.

Belle Cheves

Belle Cheves is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Bard College with a PhD in History and Middle Eastern Studies and a secondary field in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Harvard University. Her dissertation used memory and affect theory to think through emerging notions of service, kinship, race, and ethnicity in Qajar Iran. Her research interests span trans activism in Tajikistan to prison literature in twentieth century Iran to Qajar-era perceptions of difference. 

Kamyar Jarahzadeh

Kamyar Jarahzadeh is an Iranian-American writer and social worker. He holds an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford and is completing his Master of Social Work at California State University Northridge. Beyond his career in mental health and nonprofit organizations, he is interested in musicology, cultural exchange, and the use of language across the Persianate world.


Lyla Amini 

Lyla Amini is an Afghan-American student Fulbright researcher currently based in Tajikistan where she is investigating climate change resilient agriculture. Her interests span place-based ecological and ancestral knowledges, agriculture, climate migration, diaspora, identity and forced displacement, and community resiliency. She is considering pursuing a PhD, but is still undecided.

Aalekh Dhaliwal

Aalekh Dhaliwal has a degree in architectural research and currently works with a non-profit in London. She grew up in Amritsar with both sets of grandparents close by who filled her in with stories that she recorded, creating a little sonic archive of interviews which she aims to weave into a visual narrative. You can find Aalekh geolocating and saving places she might never visit, so hit her up if you’d like cafe recommendations in Yangon.

Dorsa Djalilzadeh

Dorsa Djalilzadeh is an Iranian-American writer based in New York. Her work centers on memory, nostalgia, and how affect and corporeal experiences shape diasporic intimacy, solidarity, and activism. Dorsa’s other interests include cats, spicy food, and gossip as a subversive community tool. You can read her work on her substack, Modest Thots.

Ashkaan Kashani 

Ashkaan Kashani is a PhD student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. He works on Classical and modern Persian literature, comparative poetics, literary theory, and psychoanalysis.

Amanda Caterina Leong

Amanda Caterina Leong is a PhD Candidate at the University of California Merced. Her dissertation looks at representations of female javanmardi (young-manliness) from medieval and early modern Persianate aesthetic and literary traditions for a different understanding of the intersections of race, gender, and class.

Ben Rejali 

Ben Rejali is a writer, editor and researcher whose work delves into the visual culture and publishing history of the SWANA region. In addition to editing for Ajam, he is the editor-in-chief of Khabar Keslan—a bilingual publishing project based in Beirut, Lebanon—and a monthly resident on Radio Alhara.


If you are interested in contributing a piece, we are always interested in submissions. Please visit our submissions page to send us a pitch. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Salam! I am from Brazil, and I am studying Iran in my master degree. This website is very useful to me. I am happy because I found you. Thanks!

  2. This is a great site, love the topics and presentation. So much insight and things I did not know.

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