• Rivers of Power
    Ghazal Jafari

Expansion of irrigation and plantations along the Karun River and polluted runoff pouring downstream into Shadegan wetland, Khuzestan, Iran, 2014. Courtesy US Geological Survey

From 1953 to 1979—the latter marking the end of the Iranian revolution—the Khuzestan region became a strategic gateway for the United States’ territorial expansion under the premise of technical assistance. In this context, the Tennessee Valley Authority became a model of propaganda for promotion of capitalist democracy by the premise of putting rivers to work. An army of bankers, engineers, surveyors, planners, and environmental conservationists defined a region by transforming the landscape and its contingent ethnocultural relations that have developed over centuries. Control over water ways, rights, and landscapes that started in this period have proved central to racial and environmental injustices, international violence, and borderland inhumanities that continue to this day. By countermapping transformations of the Karun River Basin in Khuzestan, this multimedia historical narrative reveals the role of American politicians, bureaucrats, and design missionaries in the weaponization of constructed grounds to promote extraction and support centralized geopolitical control over Indigenous tribes in southern Mesopotamia and Zagros plains.

Ghazal Jafari is a territorial scholar trained as an architect, urban designer, and cartographer. Her research focuses on territorial justice, racialized geographies, colonial histories, political infrastructures, feminist theories, immigrant narratives, and non-Western spatial discourses. Jafari is cofounder, executive board member, and director of special initiatives of OPEN SYSTEMS™ (OPSYS®), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) research organization dedicated to environmental justice. Originally of Persian and Azeri descent, now living in the United States, Jafari and her family left Iran in 2007 due to political and socio-environmental violence. Since then, she has been studying and documenting spatial complexities, transnational dimensions of racial and political power, systemic injustices, and deep-seated heteropatriarchy that prevail in former British colonial territories such as Canada, the US, and the Middle East. Jafari is assistant professor of landscape architecture at University of Virginia.