2 September 2019 - 14:43
  • News Code: 292761
Oil in Abadan and MIS

TEHRAN (Shana) -- Masjed Soleiman (MIS) and Abadan were the most known socio-engineering examples of the operation of a British company in Iran. These two cities were established in the Third World Iran in the form of modern colonies. The necessity of establishment of such cities following the discovery of oil in the region, their general shape and division of localities, form of houses and districts and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC)’s authority over these cities are among important points to be taken into consideration.

With the discovery of oil in MIS in 1908, APOC moved to build the cities of MIS and Abadan. During Qajar-era, MIS had no permanent resident to be considered even a village until the discovery of oil. It was a crossing point for migratory nomads. In that historical period, Abadan did not exist as a city with a centralized population. There were only a number of scattered villages and Arab nomads in the surroundings, living on their palm trees and livestock.

APOC managed to build a city in oil-rich Khuzestan, totally different from other cities in Iran.

MIS Born

Once APOC was assured of its permanent presence in Khuzestan following the discovery and recovery of oil, it made arrangements to build a company-city for oil service workers and technicians in the vicinity of oil wells and installations. Britain had already experienced building industrial parks in its colonies. By modeling on the industrial parks and aided by European engineers, APOC built relatively modern company-cities in oil-rich Khuzestan. MIS was the first town built by APOC in 1908 thanks to its oil deposits. As MIS was developed further and inhabited by more and more people, it became more necessary to build healthcare centers for residents. The governors of other cities in Iran had heaped praise on the highly equipped APOC hospital.

Before the revelation of Islam, MIS had experienced the first population due to the existence of oil and sacred fire. But after Aaron the Orthodox ordered the fire temples to be mothballed, it remained uninhabited for centuries.

When oil was discovered in MIS, everything in that area was affected. APOC focused its oil extraction operations in the land surrounding the Naftoun field. That area belonged to the Bakhtiari tribe. APOC had to win the tribal chiefs’ consent for any operation, but the tribespeople were not happy. The legal aspects of this issue on one side and the insecurity emanating from the Bakhtiaris’ opposition on the other, forced APOC to think of a remedy for that piece of land. In the end, APOC decided to grant 12,000 shares to Bakhtiari chiefs from its own capital. In return, the Bakhtiari chiefs undertook to share the proceeds they received every year with others. The Bakhtiari chiefs agreed to sell the land needed for oil exploration to APOC. That was how operations started for the construction of the first oil company-city in 1908-1900 in an area that had last experienced urbanization a century before.

Despite all that, this zone had no geographical potential for urbanization. Topography, steeps, five valleys and seven ravines, as well as dry and hot weather during three seasons were enough reasons for such conclusion.

Modern Abadan

After the discovery of oil wells in MIS, APOC decided to build a refinery in that area and also in Abadan Island. In 1910, when construction operations were under way for a refinery, the foundation was laid for villas and camps for Indian and Iranian service workers. As the number of service workers and employees increased due to higher production, oil refinery and extension of an oil pipeline from MIS to Abadan, the local population grew. Less than two years after the discovery of oil, a large number of people had moved to that area to either be employed by APOC or sell materials to migrants.

At the beginning, APOC had only concentrated on petroleum industry development and increased success in activities. It did not take into consideration the urban structure and spaces that were being formed at a high pace. A resident of Abadan had once complained as follows: “We have been granted construction permit after paying a sum. Wooden places are hard to hire and brick-made houses have been promised for later.”

That is how the foundation was laid for the city of Abadan. It was a combination of modern buildings with specific architecture, camps serving as dormitories, tents to house workers, adobe buildings as well as wooden kiosks.

Unlike the places built for Indian and foreign workers, the places reserved for Iranians did not have access to drinking water, sewer or other health facilities. As more people migrated to that area the number of tents and adobe houses increased. And as more Indian and foreign workers joined projects, more luxurious villas were built for them. The migrants who had flocked to Abadan in search of work needed a shelter for their families. Shanty towns had been mushrooming as more people settled in tents and huts here and there around oil installations. But APOC did not accept any commitment. The city had been divided into two parts: one part belonged to administrative and residential buildings and oil workshops, while the second part belonged to ordinary people who had built houses for themselves without any compliance with engineering standards and construction code. These slum-dwellers had no specific plans for their construction projects.

Although it was not difficult for villagers to come and live in such tents and huts, there was a big difference between the places reserved for foreign employees and Iranian workers in terms of housing, foodstuff, apparel and pay.

During World War I (WWI), this gap widened as the population of company-cities grew. With the outbreak of WWI, contagious diseases spread. Meantime, famine hit the country as foodstuff was stocked up. Most people, particularly the poor, were faced with unemployment, poverty and hunger.

Demographic displacement is a common option under such circumstances. That is why southern Iran witnessed a large flow of jobless migrants. APOC needed to hire more and more people as it planned to produce more oil to be exported to Allied nations. Due to the growing number of Iranian and non-Iranian staff and workers in oil projects in those years, company-cities mushroomed in some parts of Ahvaz (Nasserieh) and Khoramshahr (Mohamareh), too.

Courtesy of Iran Petroleum 

News Code 292761

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