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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Shams is an Iranian-American writer and a PhD student of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He was previously based in Bethlehem, Palestine, where he worked for Ma’an News Agency, the largest independent Palestinian news agency. His interests include feminism, urbanism and Islamism in Iran and the Arab World.
Beeta Baghoolizadeh (PhD, History, University of Pennsylvania) is an Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies at Bucknell University. Her research focuses on the moving boundaries and changing constructions of race in 19th and 20th century Iran. She is is also the illustrator of the graphic series “Diaspora Letters,” a multimedia project that explores memory and migration in the Iranian diaspora.
Rustin is the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His doctoral research focuses on material, literary, and visual culture– specifically cultural production and circulation in and around the Caspian Sea. His work has taken him across Iran, Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, and his other interests include border zones, urban space, and print culture.
Ali Karjoo-Ravary (PhD, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania) is the Josephine H. Detmer and Zareen Taj Mirza Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Bucknell University. His research on kingship, performance, and Sufism has allowed him to delve into the multilingual literatures of the extended Ajam world. He is also working on a visual project relating to religious rituals and space across the Indian Ocean.
Belle Cheves is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow in History and Middle Eastern Studies, with a secondary field in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. Her research interests span trans activism in Tajikistan to prison literature in twentieth century Iran to Qajar-era perceptions of difference. Her dissertation project uses memory and affect theory to think through emerging notions of service, kinship, race, and ethnicity in Qajar Iran.
Zavier Wingham is a PhD Candidate in the joint History and Middle Eastern Studies program at New York University, with interests in Iran, Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire. Previously, his work has focused on the intersections of archives, oral history, and Afro-Turks. He is currently interested in the formations and deformations surrounding race in the Ottoman context, with desires to engage with the wider geographic contexts of Africa.
Mike Raybourne is a freelance filmmaker and a PhD candidate at the University of Sussex. His research project explores the uses of interactive media technologies in increasing documentary subject agency. Since 2010, he has worked as a video producer in Azerbaijan organizing workshops and film festivals teaching the basics of film-making to youth outside the capital.
If you are interested in contributing a piece, we are always interested in submissions. Please send an email to info@AjamMC.com with the submission and a cover letter in order to be considered. We look forward to hearing from you.