The southwestern city of Abadan has an almost mythical status in Iranian historical consciousness, as the town’s past as a cosmopolitan oil city remains a focus of national nostalgia. This piece is the first part in a series exploring how Abadan is imagined in Iran today.
Just south of Jaffa is the shrine of Nabi Reuben, once the site of a boisterous Palestinian religious festival that combined the Christian and Muslim, the spiritual and the profane. Today, the shrine sits amid the sand dunes, a reminder of a pre-Zionist cosmopolitanism forcibly uprooted from the land.
As UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran act as a celebration of the past, but not an examination of it. One may ask: where are the Armenians who lived here, if only their buildings remain? As landmarks are indoctrinated into the cult of heritage, we are able to consecrate something that speaks to cosmopolitanism without actually having to live it, or ask the question why the past no longer resembles the present.
The preservation and restoration of religious buildings become implicated in complex and polemical questions of Georgian nationhood, citizenship, identity, and belonging. The production of a neoliberal notion of cosmopolitanism based on tolerance and celebration of different ethno-religious groups within national borders, enshrined in the preservation of religious buildings, is part and parcel of this re-branding campaign. The presentation of a public space that celebrates diversity does not however necessarily translate to lived reality where difference just is.
What does it truly mean to be worldly, and yet rooted in the geographical, historical, and cultural circumstances that mandate artistic expression? A conversation with one of the masters of modern Persian literature, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi.
In a world where politicians like to create and emphasize differences between the so-called “West” and Iran, and even regional differences in the country itself, Ajam Band and its musical forefathers allow us musical glimpses of Iran that embrace paradox and encourage Iranians and non-Iranians alike to turn to their identities, as mixed and incoherent as they may be, as a source of pride.