PCIA MEMBERS TO PRESENT AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN VIENNA

PCIA MEMBERS TO PRESENT AT INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN VIENNA

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On Thursday, August 4, 2016, a panel at the Eleventh Biennial Iranian Studies Conference in Vienna, Austria will feature Peace Corps Iran volunteers who became scholars of modern Iranian history, culture, and politics.  Mary Hegland (Mahabad, Gorgan, 1966-68,) John Lorentz (Karaj 1962-64,) and Tom Ricks (Mashhad, Mahabad 1964-66,) will discuss their observations and analysis of major state-sponsored reforms of the 1960s, such as land reform and literacy campaigns.  The panel, entitled “Peace Corps Volunteers in Iran: Witnesses to the 1960s,” was organized by Jasamin Rostam-Kolayi, Associate Professor, California State University, Fullerton.

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Here are the titles of each presentation:

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  • Jasamin Rostam-Kolayi, California State University Fullerton, “The Peace Corps in Iran: A Case Study of US-Iran Relations in the 1960s”

  • Thomas Ricks, Thomas M. Ricks, Ret. Villanova University, “Kurdish Peasantry and Persian Sepah-e Danesh Unrest in West Azerbaijan”

  • Mary Elaine Hegland,Santa Clara University, “From Agriculture to Urban Real Estate: A 21st Century Perspective on the 1962 Aliabad Land Reform”

  • John Lorentz,Shawnee State University, “The Early Years of the Peace Corps in Iran (1962-64): A Volunteer’s Perspective”

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In addition, Tom Ricks will present a paper at a separate session entitled, “The Iranian Diaspora Trading Communities in the Indian Ocean:  A Reassessment of the Iranian Slave Trade in 19th Century Qajar Iran.”

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Abstracts for sessions and papers at the conference are listed below.

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Panel Abstract: “Peace Corps Volunteers in Iran: Witnesses to the 1960s”

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Eleventh Biennial Iranian Studies Conference

University of Vienna, Austria

August 2-5, 2016

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The US Peace Corps sent its first group of volunteers to Iran in 1962 and closed its Iran operations in 1976.  During these fourteen years, the Peace Corps sent almost 1,800 Americans to serve on educational, agricultural, environmental, and urban planning projects in dozens of Iranian villages, towns, and cities.  Entering Iran precisely when the Shah launched his 1962 White Revolution, the Peace Corps became involved in social, economic and political transformations unfolding in Iran.

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Peace Corps volunteers thus witnessed and participated in major state-sponsored projects in 1960s Iran, such as the teaching of English in middle and secondary schools and the Literacy Corps.  Three of the four presenters on this panel were Peace Corps volunteers in Iran during the 1960s and later became scholars of modern Iran.  For many such Peace Corps volunteers, service in Iran sparked a lifetime of study and travel, facilitating their careers as scholars engaged with Iran and the Middle East.

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The presentations on this panel will recount and examine the implementation and consequences of land reform and other reforms carried out in the 1960s.  The first presentation, entitled “The Peace Corps in Iran: A Case Study of US-Iran Relations in the 1960s” will discuss the Peace Corps administration’s collaboration with the Shah’s White Revolution and the volunteers’ ambivalence toward aspects of reform implemented in the areas where they served.  The second presentation, entitled “The Early Years of the Peace Corps in Iran (1962-64): A Volunteer’s Perspective,” features the unique personal experiences and observations of a volunteer in “Iran-I,” the first group of Americans in the Peace Corps sent to Iran as witnesses to and sometime participants in the Shah’s reform efforts.  The third presentation, entitled “From Agriculture to Urban Real Estate: A 21st Century Perspective on the 1962 Aliabad Land Reform,” charts the varied and adverse consequences of land reform in Fars province.  The fourth and final paper, “Peasant Unrest in West Azerbaijan Based on Eyewitness Accounts, 1964-1966” will discuss mixed reactions to land reform and literacy projects in rural Azerbaijan from the mid-to-late 1960s.

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Abstract:  Jasamin Rostam-Kolayi, California State University Fullerton, “The Peace Corps in Iran: A Case Study of US-Iran Relations in the 1960s”

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The American Peace Corps operated in Iran from 1962 to 1976, coinciding with the unfolding of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s Inqelab-e Sefid, or White Revolution, launched in 1962 to preempt a “Red revolution,” combat communism and attract US military and financial aid.  Next to land reform, the White Revolution’s cornerstone was the much-touted Literacy Corps, often compared to the Peace Corps.  Thus, the Kennedy administration is considered the initiator of both Iran’s White Revolution and the American Peace Corps.  By directly assisting people in developing nations, Kennedy envisioned the Peace Corps to counter the imperialist image of the US and hence undermine Communist propaganda.

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The Peace Corps’ actual performance in Iran is generally deemed a success.  This is according to the Peace Corps Agency and the few scholars who remember or have written about it, most notably James Bill in The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iran Relations (1988)According to Bill, the Peace Corps was one of the most notable cases of positive US-Iran relations during the 1960s because it encouraged people-to-people interactions between ordinary Iranians and Americans.  However, the Peace Corps’ arguable success in Iran cannot be separated from its involvement in the Shah’s White Revolution.  Iran’s distinction as the first Middle East nation to host the Peace Corps and the longest-surviving Peace Corps program in the region, at fourteen years, is related to the Peace Corps administration’s assistance in carrying out the White Revolution’s development plans and priorities.  Peace Corps Agency documents and correspondence illustrate that the Iranian Plan and Budget Organization’s economic and social development goals set the objectives of the Peace Corps’ programming in Iran.  Yet, this administrative collaboration did not dictate the nature of relations on the ground between American volunteers and the Iranian communities they served.  Oral history testimonies of these volunteers reflect ambivalence towards the White Revolution, ranging from positive assessments of the Literacy Corps to negative evaluations of land reform.  Moreover, accounts from volunteers often note their resistance to participating in Iranian government programs they deemed unnecessary, detrimental, or even illegitimate.  This paper will assess the record and legacies of the Peace Corps in Iran in light of volunteer and Iranian community accounts and oral histories, official US and Iranian government documents, and the existing scholarly literature in Peace Corps studies and US-Iranian relations.

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Abstract:  Thomas Ricks, Thomas M. Ricks, Ret. Villanova University, “Kurdish Peasantry and Persian Sepah-e Danesh Unrest in West Azerbaijan”

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In the period following the initial announcement of the White Revolution in the fall of 1963, Iran underwent several stages of land and social reforms by decree from above; that is, through of the offices of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Between 1964 and 1966, the first and sixth points of the reforms – land and literacy reforms – were received with a mixed review by the Iran’s rural peoples in general and in particular by the Kurdish and Azeri peasantry in the Western province of Azerbayjan. While published accounts describe some of the problems voiced by the country side or rusta, the eyewitness accounts by the American Peace Corps volunteers and the Iranian Literacy Corps or Sepah-e Danesh military volunteers in those provinces describe a variety of political and administrative problems between the Kurdish peasants and local landlords, and between the Iranian volunteers and the central government. The consular reports of the U.S. consul in Tabriz mirrored a number of those eyewitness observations found in the U.S. National Archives College Park political reports of the time. The combination of eyewitness accounts and written reports give an amended version of the Land Reform and the Literary Corpsmen’ s educational work in West Azerbayjan contrary to any number of the much –publicized success accounts circulated nationally and internationally.

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Abstract:  Mary Elaine Hegland, Santa Clara University, “From Agriculture to Urban Real Estate: A 21st Century Perspective on the 1962 Aliabad Land Reform”

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Concerned about the communist movements in Latin American and wishing to avoid such trends elsewhere, the US Kennedy administration encouraged the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to bring about the “White Revolution,” including land reform. Although in some areas, including several neighboring villages, in Aliabad near Shiraz land reform did not bring about a more independent, better off, and productive community of agriculturalists. Through anthropological participant observation, open-ended interviewing, and oral history conducted in 1978-1979 and during six additional research stays in Aliabad from 2003 to 2015 totaling another year, the author investigates the short-term and long-term aftermath of the 1962 land reform: 1. The immediate result was violence and conflict, as villagers learned that only half of the land was to be distributed among cultivators: the landlord, knowing about the upcoming land reform, sold half of village land to his main village supporter. 2. Because of the violence, on-going conflict, and lack of sufficient land received to make a livelihood, almost all of the younger men turned to work outside of the village. 3. Lack of attention to sources of irrigation and increasing household use of water exacerbated the decline of agriculture. 4. Along with the tremendous population growth of the 1960s and 1970s, the highly contentious 1962 land reform process helped to bring about a village divided between supporters of and enemies of the man who bought much of the village land before land reform. Lack of fairness in how the land was subsequently assigned and further encroachments on land supposedly to go to cultivators further angered villages. The purchase of half of village land before land reform caused further strife after the 1979 Iranian Revolution when villagers took over and planted the land under contention. Supporters of the buyer of land even had to move to Shiraz to avoid disputing villagers. 5. With the growth of the real estate market in this settlement close to Shiraz, by the latter part of the 20th and early part of the 21st century, people were turning much former agricultural land into cash and real estate speculation. Many Aliabad residents became wealthy and enjoyed a much higher standard of living. 6. As land because highly valuable, family members fought over land, and suffered from alienation from each other. 6. Now Aliabad produces very little, and has become a community of consumers. Men earn money from construction and real estate, buying and selling, and services. The settlement has been formally incorporated into Shiraz.

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Abstract:  John Lorentz, Shawnee State University, “The Early Years of the Peace Corps in Iran (1962-64): A Volunteer’s Perspective.

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Soon after the establishment of the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy, the first Peace Corps Group to Iran arrived in September, 1962. There was an infant administrative structure and the lack of any precedent which created unique sets of circumstances for those first PC Volunteers. This presentation will highlight some of these circumstances based upon personal experience, including firsthand village witness accounts of Iranian government reform efforts. As it happened, the Peace Corps Group One experience in Iran coincided with the origination of the “White Revolution” of the Shah and the attempt to introduce land reform and literacy to rural areas. The first PC Group was partly intended to be among the vanguard of this effort. It was a rocky road.

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Abstract:  Thomas Ricks, Thomas M. Ricks, Ret. Villanova University, “Iranian Diaspora Trading Communities in the Indian Ocean: A Reassessment of the Slave Trade in 19th Century Qajar Iran

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The paper investigates the extent to which the Iranian diaspora trading communities in the Indian Ocean ports and hinterland market towns were involved in the early modern slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries. While the general histories mention Iranian merchants and traders’ involvements in the transporting and selling slaves from Ethiopia (Abyssinia)-Red Sea region, and from the East African and West India coasts into the Persian Gulf, there remains a number of questions about the Iranian communities’ financial and shipping arrangements. Finally, the paper finds the extent of the commercial activities of the Iranian diaspora trading communities along the East African, Arabian, and western India coastal regions with the homeland Iranian merchant and trading communities in Iran, particularly in Southern Iran and its ports up to the twentieth century to be close and persistent.  Trading bonds assisted the communities in maintaining continuous ties with the Iranian mainland and with each other throughout the Indian Ocean trading network. The paper relies on Persian and European accounts, the East India Company records in London UK, the Augustinian Archives at Villanova University, and the U.S. National Archives at College Park, MD.  (207 words)

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Tom Ricks has provided additional background information about the International Society for Iranian Studies.

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It’s a good thing to tell volunteers because those of us who did doctorates following Peace Corps are all members of the oldest Iranian academic studies organization in US – began in 1967 by Iranian-born graduate students in the NE and Mid-Atlantic regions. It has published continuously the journal called Iranian Studies to the present (volume 49 is now out) by the original Society of Iranian Studies (SIS) and since ~2000 the International Society of Iranian Studies or ISIS with its headquarters for the journal in St. Antony’s College/Oxford U with Ali Gheissari as the new editor – ISIS is at Syracuse U. where the President Mehrzad Boroujerdi teaches. The conferences of ISIS as of 2003 began to be held biennially in various universities including several meetings in Canada in Montreal and Toronto and in Istanbul. Austria is the new venue for the even years’ meetings – there are Iranian studies panels still given at the annual MESA meetings in the US, but most Iranian and Iranian studies faculty now meet on the even year biennially. The goal is to meet in Iran one day, insha’allah!

 

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Here is more information about the International Society for Iranian Studies as posted on the organization’s website:  http://societyforiranianstudies.org/

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The International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS), formerly the Society for Iranian Studies, was founded in 1967 as an academic society to support and promote the field of Iranian Studies at the international level. ISIS, an affiliated member of the international Middle East Studies Association (MESA), is a private, not-for-profit, non-political organization of persons interested in Iranian Studies in the broadest sense. An elected council and an executive council run the affairs of the organization. The objectives of the Society are to promote high standards of scholarship in the field, to encourage the teaching of Iranian Studies at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and to encourage and facilitate scholarly exchange amongst its international membership. The International Society for Iranian Studies publishes Iranian Studies, a journal that continues to serve as the principal journal in the field. Its current editor is Dr. Homa Katouzian (University of Oxford). Iranian Studies is a peer-reviewed journal of history, literature, culture, and society, covering all regions of the globe with a Persian or Iranian legacy, especially Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus and northern India, as well as diaspora communities of Iranians in Europe and the United States. As an independent, non-partisan, non-political, multi-disciplinary international community of over 700 scholars, students, academic and non-academic researchers, and aficionados of Iranian studies, ISIS is committed to promoting the free exchange of ideas, freedom of expression in all forms and all media, and unrestricted pursuit of (academic and non-academic) research, instruction, publication, and presentation (in Iran and internationally) without fear of intimidation and persecution. To achieve this goal, in 2005 we organized the Committee for Intellectual and Academic Freedom (ISIS-CAIF). Please browse the website to become familiar with our other activities. We encourage you to join our association and to participate in our events.

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