Institute for Middle East Studies
Kirkuk is Iraq’s most multilingual city, for millennia home to a diverse population. It was also where, in 1927, a foreign company first struck oil in Iraq. Over the following decades, Kirkuk became the heart of Iraq’s booming petroleum industry. City of Black Gold tells a story of oil, urbanization, and colonialism in Kirkuk—and how these factors shaped the identities of Kirkuk’s citizens, forming the foundation of an ethnic conflict.
Arbella Bet-Shlimon reconstructs the twentieth-century history of Kirkuk to question the assumptions about the past underpinning today’s ethnic divisions. In the early 1920s, when the Iraqi state was formed under British administration, group identities in Kirkuk were fluid. But as the oil industry fostered colonial power and Baghdad’s influence over Kirkuk, intercommunal violence and competing claims to the city’s history took hold. The ethnicities of Kurds, Turkmens, and Arabs in Kirkuk were formed throughout a century of urban development, interactions between communities, and political mobilization. Ultimately, this book shows how contentious politics in disputed areas are not primordial traits of those regions, but are a modern phenomenon tightly bound to the society and economics of urban life.
Arbella Bet-Shlimon is a historian of the modern Middle East. She is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Washington's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization and an affiliate of the Jackson School's Middle East Center. In her research and teaching, she focuses on the politics, society and economy of twentieth-century Iraq and the broader Persian Gulf region, as well as Middle Eastern urban history. My teaching has been recognized with several awards, including the UW's Distinguished Teaching Award.