al-‚Ä˜Amareh‚Ä™‚Ä™; the Bazaar is directly adjacent to the Golestan Palace
compound, which houses the Shams al-‚Ä˜Amareh, or ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜the Sun of
However, tracking down information on postrevolutionary commer-
cial activities sent me to various locations ‚Ä“ government ministries
spread out all over central and northern Tehran, state-owned trade
companies (e.g. the carpet and tea organizations), the free trade zones in
the Persian Gulf, and the booming international transit hub of Dubai.
My interviewing revealed a distinct generational difference reÔ¬‚ecting the
new spatial scope of the commercial networks. For the generation of
merchants who took up their trade in the past two decades the old
landmarks of the Bazaar area are irrelevant to discussions about
national, let alone international, trade. Younger bazaaris adamantly
insisted that by studying ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜only the Bazaar, I would miss out on the real
commerce that was outside the Bazaar area.‚Ä™‚Ä™ Even from the younger
bazaaris‚Ä™ perspective the commercial world is divided into ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜inside‚Ä™‚Ä™ and
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜outside‚Ä™‚Ä™ the Bazaar; the difference now is that commercial interactions
and relations, or at least the signiÔ¬Ācant ones, are ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜outside‚Ä™‚Ä™ and span
across the Bazaar‚Ä™s border.
What has led to the decentralization of the value chains? As in other
contexts, modernity, as in a rise in urbanization, improvements in tel-
ecommunications and transportation, increased levels of industrializa-
tion and consumerism, and a rise in literacy and nuclear families, has
obviously played a role in transforming the spatial organization of the
Bazaar and the Ô¬‚ow of goods and information through it.
Harvey, Condition of Post-Modernity.
178 Bazaar and State in Iran
Urbanization and technological developments As already men-
tioned, beginning in the late 1960s and the 1970s, and accelerating after
the Revolution, the Bazaar‚Ä™s socioeconomic environment was gradually
altered. Iran‚Ä™s population, which was less than 19 million in the 1956
census, ballooned to roughly 35 million at the time of the Islamic
Revolution, and exceeded 65 million in 2000. Levels of urbanization
exhibited an equally signiÔ¬Ācant upward trajectory ‚Ä“ from roughly
31 percent of Iranians living in urban areas in 1956 to 38 percent in
1966, 47 percent in 1976, and reaching 60 percent in the 1990s. This
steady rise in urbanization was due to the combination of the high
natural growth rate in urban areas, rural to urban migration, and the
reclassiÔ¬Ācation and incorporation of towns into the urban areas. Out-
pacing the national rates, Tehran‚Ä™s population (i.e. within the municipal
borders) of 1.5 million in 1956 reached 2.7 million in 1966, 4.6 million
in 1976, and 6 million in 1986. Today the population is estimated at
over 10 million, with an estimated 15 million inhabitants living in a
sprawling metropolitan region of over 700 square kilometers. Over the
past four decades, the urban experience has become the experience of
the majority of Iranians. Urban consciousness, Kaveh Ehsani convin-
cingly argues, is a fundamental component in understanding con-
temporary Iran, including the rise of the reform movement.152 This
experience takes place in an increasing plurality of spaces with differ-
entiated classes and spheres of life.
This urban experience, especially the physical urban expansion, has
transformed the position of the Tehran Bazaar in the socioeconomic
fabric of the city and nation. But these long-standing socioeconomic
shifts can have, and indeed have had, two contradictory inÔ¬‚uences on
the concentration of the commercial system in the Bazaar. Reinforcing
the centralization have been technological innovations. Improved roads
and national telecommunications allowed Tehran to become the
entrepot for the entire nation, with many import‚Ä“export and wholesaling
activities being transferred from the provincial bazaars to the Tehran
Bazaar.153 With the extensive use of telephones, which allowed bazaaris
to receive instantaneous information about prices, inventories, and
deliveries, technology helped bridge spatial divides through the process
Ehsani, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Municipal Matters,‚Ä™‚Ä™ 22‚Ä“7.
Howard J. Rotblat, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Stability and Change in an Iranian Provincial Bazaar,‚Ä™‚Ä™ in Modern
Iran, ed. Michael Bonine and Nikki Keddie (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1981); and Michael Bonine, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Shops and Shopkeepers: Dynamics of an Iranian
Provincial Bazaar,‚Ä™‚Ä™ in Modern Iran, ed. Michael Bonine and Nikki Keddie (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1981).
Networks in the context of transformative agendas 179
of ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜time-space compression‚Ä™‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜copresence.‚Ä™‚Ä™154 Improvements in
communications and transportation in the second half of the century
allowed merchants to spend less time traveling to meet exchange part-
ners, gather information, and monitor activities, and thus they were able
to dedicate their energies and time to activities within the Bazaar.
Advances in telecommunications, standardization of international
goods, and prevalence of trademarks allowed bazaaris to conduct
national and international business so rapidly and easily that the con-
centration of commercial and Ô¬Ānancial activities in the central business
district in Tehran was a distinct possibility. Yet, the concentration of
commercial activities in the Bazaar in the postrevolutionary era did not
happen, and instead a series of countervailing forces led to the disper-
sion of commercial activities away from the old Bazaar region.155 First,
the common Third World problem of overpopulation and under urbani-
zation, has led to crippling congestion, urban sprawl, and the rapid
deterioration of the older central areas of the city.156 Time-consuming
commutes, air pollution, and overcrowding have been factors in driving
many bazaari families out of central Tehran, and thus separating the
spheres of work and residence. As the discussion of the location of
networks in the Pahlavi era demonstrated, this process was well under
way in the 1950s and 1960s and has only quickened in the post-
revolutionary era. Yet the difference in terms of scope and impact of
urban growth was more recently palpable. Map 4.1 depicts the physical
growth of Tehran, much of which occurred speciÔ¬Ācally in the 1980s.
ReÔ¬‚ecting on the increasing divide between work and home, a merchant
recalled, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜As a child, some forty years ago, my father would regularly
come home from the Bazaar for lunch. We lived in northern Tehran [far
from the Bazaar], but trafÔ¬Āc wasn‚Ä™t bad and store hours were designed
to allow for a lunch and afternoon siesta. Now, I simply have a small
lunch ‚Ä“ a sandwich or a stew ‚Ä“ and only go home at the end of the day. It
would take far too long to go [home] and come back [to the Bazaar] in
this trafÔ¬Āc.‚Ä™‚Ä™ During the day, a trip from the ever-more-distant outskirts
of the city to the Bazaar, either by private car or bus, would take roughly
one hour each way. Thus, consumers, retailers who purchase goods from
Harvey, Condition of Post-Modernity. A few members of the Bazaar commented that
these technologies helped increase productivity since apprentices and errand-boys did
not have to run around the Bazaar as much and could spend more time in the stores
and warehouses working on inventories.
A‚Ä˜zam Khatam, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Bazar va Markaziyyat-e Shahr,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Goft-o-Gu 41 (Bahman 1383
[ January‚Ä“February 2005]), 127‚Ä“41.
By central Tehran, I mean what was District 5 during the prerevolutionary era and is
now District 12 of Tehran‚Ä™s twenty-zone system.
180 Bazaar and State in Iran
wholesalers in the Bazaar, and the merchants themselves are now
increasingly situated farther from the old commercial core.
The many socioeconomic aspects of modernity have all facilitated a
reformulation of the Bazaar space and have led to urban segmentation
along class lines. However, these changes were largely gradual processes
beginning as early as the 1930s, and in and of themselves do not capture
why the physical location of the Bazaar‚Ä™s networks, and with it the
cooperative hierarchies, underwent particular changes in the 1980s. To
gain a deeper understanding of the timing of the shift from concentrated
to dispersed value chains we must investigate postrevolutionary urban
policies and how they have accelerated and directed this shift.
Delocalization through policies157 The urban and economic
policies of the Islamic Republic dispersed the urban population as it
grew. The rapid growth of Tehran‚Ä™s population has occurred in the
city‚Ä™s periphery. Meanwhile, the old city has continued to be depleted of
residents since the Revolution.158 This pattern has been largely shaped
by policies of the Islamic Republic. To begin with, the new regime gave
out state-owned land either as gifts or at below market rates to potential
clients, which in the case of Tehran helped double the size of the city
within two years of the Revolution.159 Second, in order to limit rural to
urban migration, the municipal and national governments withheld
building permits within the city boundaries. In addition, rent controls
were enforced in order to dampen the cost of living for unpropertied
Tehranis. What ensued, however, was a housing shortage with few
affordable vacancies for the middle and lower classes. Third, to control
migration the state placed a ban on issuing residency permits to new
immigrants to Tehran. Residency cards were required for property
transactions, school registration, and war-era food coupons. Lacking
the appropriate paperwork to access government services, immigrants
While, I speak of policies in this section, it should be noted that these policies were in
no way a part of a coherent plan. Tehran suffers from an acute problem of
underplanning. The city has developed in the past half century without a master plan.
Like other policy areas, urban planning suffers from multiple, and sometimes
competing, authorities, such as the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the
Plan and Budget Organization, the Mayor‚Ä™s ofÔ¬Āce, the City Councils, the Housing
Foundation, the Ministry of the Construction Crusade, and other ministries in charge
of socioeconomic affairs.
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Tehran; Yek Tasvir-e Amari,‚Ä™‚Ä™ Etellat-e Siyasi Eqtesadi 6 (Esfand 1366 [February-
March 1988]), 43‚Ä“5.
Kaveh Ehsani, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜The Urban Provincial Periphery: Revolution and War in Ramhor-
muz‚Ä™‚Ä™ (paper presented at ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Iran: Domestic Change and Regional Challenges,‚Ä™‚Ä™
University of San Diego, September 2005, mimeo).
Networks in the context of transformative agendas 181
settled in the informal housing areas in southern and western Tehran
that were subsequently incorporated into the city.160
Shifts in zoning policy after the establishment of the Islamic Republic
have further delocalized and patterned the central business district by
dispersing commerce. In September 1979, a Council on the TrafÔ¬Āc of
the City of Tehran was established and work was begun on a series of
plans to reduce trafÔ¬Āc in central Tehran.161 The council gradually
placed restrictions on trafÔ¬Āc in the central 22 square kilometers of
Tehran, including the Bazaar and its vicinity. By limiting the hours that
trucks and vans can enter this zone and adding a new bureaucratic layer
to an already convoluted situation, this new zoning law has unwittingly
seriously hampered wholesale trade. Augmenting the plan to dampen
central Tehran‚Ä™s trafÔ¬Āc overcrowding, bus and transport centers were
moved away from the center of the city to terminals in the south, west,
and east of the city.
The new trafÔ¬Āc Ô¬‚ow restrictions precipitated at least two develop-
ments; they sped up the process of moving wholesalers out of the Bazaar
region and helped create wholesaling and retail pockets outside the
trafÔ¬Āc restriction zone. For instance, many of the larger carpet exporters
have now moved their warehouses and carpet-washing facilities to the
outskirts of the city where the movement of goods and access to the
airport is less costly and time consuming.162 Meanwhile, regions outside
the trafÔ¬Āc zone have now become wholesale centers where retailers from
the provinces can more efÔ¬Āciently purchase and pick up large deliveries.
A stationery goods wholesaler who had a store both in the Bazaar (i.e.
the Bayn al-Haramayn Bazaar, which specializes in wholesale stationery
goods) and in the newer business district located near Vali-ye ‚Ä˜Asr
Square explained why his store outside the Bazaar is more proÔ¬Ātable:
‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Prices are 5 to 10 percent cheaper in the Bazaar. But you have to
remember that buyers have to send someone all the way to the Bazaar to
pick up the goods. You have to Ô¬Āgure in the time you lose in the trafÔ¬Āc
and limitations on when you can go [due to the trafÔ¬Āc restriction zone].
So it actually ends up cheaper and easier if you buy the same goods
outside the Bazaar. So it is better for the buyer, and for us. We pay lower
rents and delivery and pick-up is easier for us too.‚Ä™‚Ä™ Another example is
the case of the china and glassware bazaar, which was based in the heart
Bayat, Street Politics; and Abdollah-Khan-Gorji, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Urban Form Transformations.‚Ä™‚Ä™
Musavi ‚Ä˜Ebadi, Shahrdaran-e Tehran , p. 105.
This move has the added advantage for merchants that they pay far lower rents and
insurance premiums, and some suggested that it is easier to avoid tax collectors when
they are in the periphery of the city.
182 Bazaar and State in Iran
of the Tehran bazaar and now has an equally important wholesale dis-
trict in Shush, an area south of the Bazaar just outside the trafÔ¬Āc zone
(see Chapter 5).
Precipitating the expansion and dispersion of commercial ventures
were other municipal policies. Nonexistent and lax enforcement of land-
use laws allowed commercial enterprises to follow the growth of new
residential areas away from the old city core and the Pahlavi north-south
corridor. Second, the municipality has been busy building shopping
centers and fruit and vegetable markets that compete with the Bazaar
district. To no avail, the guild organizations have repeatedly called on
the government to limit the building of these new commercial dis-
tricts.163 The Ô¬Ānancially impoverished municipality continues to con-
struct and rent commercial spaces or sell licenses for private projects as
an important source of funds for itself. Yet, there have been relatively
few of these projects within in the bazaar area.164
The building of new malls and wholesale districts is happening while
the Bazaar‚Ä™s structures are rapidly deteriorating. Overcrowded, overused,
and neglected, the Bazaar‚Ä™s hundred-year-old structures are showing their
age. The physical condition of the Bazaar is noticeably decrepit, with
building collapses and electrical Ô¬Āres a common occurrence.165 Yet
municipal authorities have not developed comprehensive plans for the
Bazaar,166 nor do the city agencies allow renovation and building within
the Bazaar.167 Restrictions are placed on all construction in the Tehran
Bazaar because it has been classiÔ¬Āed as a national monument and its
buildings are under the supervision of the Cultural Heritage Organiza-
tion. But this status has only restricted investment in the area. One urban
planner wryly mentioned that the state-run Cultural Heritage Organiza-
tion ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜protects the Bazaar by not letting anyone touch the buildings. But it
does not restore or renovate them to prevent them from crumbling down.
For them ‚Ä˜protection‚Ä™ (hefazat) of cultural heritage is simply ensuring
things are untouched.‚Ä™‚Ä™ All the while, bazaaris complain that cell phones
do not work in the Bazaar, there is a shortage of bathrooms, and
wholesale space is limited and lacks amenities.
Another factor relocating commercial activities from the Bazaar
is the increased bureaucracy that regulates commerce. With the
Asnaf, year 9, special issue (Esfand 1379 [February‚Ä“March 2001]), 21.
Khatam, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Bazar va Markaziyat-e Shahr,‚Ä™‚Ä™ 130.
Mas‚Ä™ud Behnud, ‚Ä˜‚Ä˜Bazar-e Tehran, Moqavemati Sad-saleh,‚Ä™‚Ä™ BBC Persian, December
8, 2005; www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/story/2005/12/printable/051208_la-mb-baazaar.
shtml (accessed December 8, 2005).