Ajam Media Collective was launched in 2011 by a group of Harvard 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 bacheye Los Angeles, a fact he has spent years trying to deny but eventually learned to embrace. Raised in the diaspora but with as many summers as possible spent in Tehran, he first became interested in regional politics after being chased out of a history class debate at his evangelical middle school during the Iraq War. After a few years dividing his time between Beirut, Istanbul and, most recently, Boston, he is now working in journalism and is based out of Palestine. His interests include feminism, urbanism and Islamism in Iran and the Arab World.
Beeta Baghoolizadeh is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Pennsylvania Currently, she is writing her dissertation on race and abolition in Iran during the 19th and 20th centuries, after having conducted research in Iran, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. Contrary to her last name, she’s not interested in baghali, and is more of an albalu polo person.
Rustin is a PhD candidate in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. 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 customs regimes, urban space, and the history of print.
Kamyar Jarahzadeh is a graduate student at Oxford in the MSc in Migration Studies. Born to Dezfuli and Ahvazi parents, Kamyar has supplanted the everyday cosmopolitanism of his southern Iranian roots and has instead chosen to descend into full-blown cultural chaos. His penchant for languages incidentally helped him completed his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley, where he focused on migration and forced migration of Afghan refugees in Turkey. In his free time, he works with the Coordination Group of Afghan Refugees (www.afgrefugees.com) and draws on his Californian and Iranian heritage to present his spin on Iranian roots music (www.soundcloud.com/yavaran).
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.