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Abadan is a city in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, located on the island of the same name. The island is in the Shatt al-Arab river, near the mouth where it empties into the Persian Gulf. (The Shatt al-Arab also defines the border between Iran and Iraq)

While unsuitable for agriculture or most other industries, Khuzestan is rich in oil and thus Abadan is the site of a major refinery. Unfortunately, this, and its position on the border, made the city a target during the Iran-Iraq War.


Abadan is said to have been founded sometime in the eighth century C.E.. The island was actually owned by the Ottoman Empire until 1847, when the Agreement of Ezerum made it property of what was then Persia. It remained a small village up until the 1908, when oil was found in the area by an Australian, one William Knox D’Arcy.

The discovery of oil created an industrial boom in the area, which was then under British control. By 1909 an oil pipeline was built to the city and in 1913 a refinery opened under control of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

During World War I, the area was placed under charge of General Percy Sykes who raised an army of local recruits to protect the oil fields. The Germans understood the importance of the area’s oil to the British war effort, and they provided arms to local dissidents who resented the English occupation. No actual German troops ever set foot in the area, though some German agents helped organize the resistance. The resistance was troublesome for a while, but was eventually defeated by General Sykes.

Abadan was untroubled by the events of World War II, and was only affected by world events again in 1951, when Iran took control of the oil industry and nationalized it, creating the National Iranian Oil Company. In 1953, the oil industry suffered greatly as a world-wide oil surplus occurred. The economic effects on Abadan were increased as the British government boycotted Iranian oil in response to their loss of control.

The oil market eventually rebounded, and by the late 1970s the city had over a quarter of a million citizens, almost all working in the oil refining or shipping industries. By this time Abadan had one of largest, if not the largest, oil refineries in the world.

On September 22, 1980, Abadan was among the targets of Iraqi bombers in the opening bombardment of the Iran-Iraq War, due to the strategic importance of the refineries and military airport located there. While never successfully taken by Iraqi forces, artillery and bombers destroyed much of the city and especially the refineries. Most of the city was evacuated while military and oil company personnel stayed behind to guard the city and fight raging fires in the refineries.

After the war ended in 1988 reconstruction began, but went slowly. The city’s population, which before the war was 296,081 (1976), was only 84,774 in 1991. While the city will undoubtedly continue to play an important part in the oil industry, eight years of being near the center of a war has left scars that will probably take decades to heal.

  • Ali Banuazizi. "Iran." World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1988.
  • "Abadan." Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. (Article located online at bartleby.com <http://www.bartleby.com/65/ab/Abadan.html>)
  • Kamin Mohammadi. Return To Abadan. Travel Intelligence. 18 December 2003. <http://www.travelintelligence.net/wsd/articles/art_1524.html>
  • Abadan. Encyclopedia of the Orient. 18 December 2003. <http://icias.com/e.o/abadan.htm>
  • Shatt El Arab. Encyclopedia of the Orient. 18 December 2003. <http://icias.com/e.o/shatt_ar.htm>
  • The History of Iran- Iran-Iraq War 1980-1988. IranChamber.com Society. 19 December 2003. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/iran_iraq_war/iran_iraq_war1.php>
  • Abadan- History. Mideast Traveling. 19 December 2003. <http://www.mideasttravelling.net/iran/abadan/abadan_history.htm>

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