Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Iran is the eighteenth largest country in the world,[35] with an area of 1,648,000 km2 (636,000 sq mi).[36]

Its area roughly equals that of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined, or somewhat more than the US state of Alaska.[37] Iran lies between latitudes 24° and 40° N, and longitudes 44° and 64° E. Its borders are with Azerbaijan (432 km/268 mi) and Armenia(35 km/22 mi) to the north-west; the Caspian Sea to the north; Turkmenistan (992 km/616 mi) to the north-east; Pakistan (909 km/565 mi) and Afghanistan (936 km/582 mi) to the east; Turkey(499 km/310 mi) and Iraq (1,458 km/906 mi) to the west; and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south.

Mount Damavand, Iran's highest point, is located inMazanderan.

Iran consists of the Iranian plateau with the exception of the coasts of the Caspian Sea and Khuzestan. It is one of the world's most mountainous countries, its landscape dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins orplateaux from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as theCaucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains; the last contains Iran's highest point, Mount Damavand at 5,610 m (18,406 ft), which is also the highest mountain on the Eurasian landmass west of the Hindu Kush.[38]

The northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. The eastern part consists mostly of desert basins such as the Dasht-e Kavir, Iran's largest desert, in the north-central portion of the country, and the Dasht-e Lut, in the east, as well as some salt lakes. This is because the mountain ranges are too high for rain clouds to reach these regions. The only large plains are found along the coast of the Caspian Sea and at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, where Iran borders the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab (or the Arvand Rūd) river. Smaller, discontinuous plains are found along the remaining coast of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.


Simplified Climatic Map of Iran
Caspian Mild
Arid and Semi-Arid

Iran's climate ranges from arid or semiarid, to subtropical along the Caspian coast and thenorthern forests. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) temperatures rarely fall below freezing and the area remains humid for the rest of the year. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 29 °C (84.2 °F).[39][40] Annual precipitation is 680 mm (26.8 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1,700 mm (66.9 in) in the western part.

To the west, settlements in the Zagros basin experience lower temperatures, severe winters with below zero average daily temperatures and heavy snowfall. The eastern and central basins are arid, with less than 200 mm (7.9 in) of rain, and have occasional deserts.[40] Average summer temperatures exceed 38 °C (100.4 °F). The coastal plains of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in southern Iran have mild winters, and very humid and hot summers. The annual precipitation ranges from 135 to 355 mm (5.3 to 14.0 in).[40]


Persian Leopard

Iran's wildlife is composed of several animal species including bears, gazelles, wild pigs, wolves, jackals, panthers, Eurasian Lynx, and foxes. Domestic animals include, sheep, goats, cattle, horses, water buffalo, donkeys, and camels. The pheasant, partridge, stork, eagles and falcon are also native to Iran.

One of the most famous members of Iranian wildlife is the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, also known as the Iranian Cheetah, whose numbers were greatly reduced after the Iranian Revolution. Today there are ongoing efforts to increase its population and introduce it back in India . Iran had lost all its Asiatic Lion and the now extinct Caspian Tigers by the earlier part of the twentieth century.[41]

Provinces and cities

and Bakhtiari
Kohgiluyeh and
Sistan and
Caspian Sea
Persian Gulf
Saudi Arabia

Iran is divided into thirty one provinces (ostān), each governed by an appointed governor (استاندار, ostāndār). The provinces are divided into counties (shahrestān), and subdivided into districts (bakhsh) and sub-districts (dehestān).

Iran has one of the highest urban growth rates in the world. From 1950 to 2002, the urban proportion of the population increased from 27% to 60%.[42] The United Nations predicts that by 2030, 80% of the population will be urban.[43] Most internal migrants have settled near the cities of Tehran, Isfahan,Ahvaz, and Qom. The listed populations are from the 2006/07 (1385 AP) census.[44] Tehran, with a population of 7,705,036, is the largest city in Iran and is the capital. Tehran is home to around 11% of Iran's population. Tehran, like many big cities, suffers from severe air pollution. It is the hub of the country'scommunication and transport network.

Mashhad, with a population of 2,410,800, is the second largest Iranian city and the centre of the Razavi Khorasan Province. Mashhad is one of the holiest Shia cities in the world as it is the site of the Imam Reza shrine. It is the centre of tourism in Iran, and between 15 and 20 million pilgrims go to the Imam Reza's shrine every year.[45][46]

Another major Iranian city is Isfahan (population 1,583,609), which is the capital of Isfahan Province. The Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city contains a wide variety of Islamic architectural sites ranging from the 11th to the 19th century. The growth of the suburban area around the city has turned Isfahan into Iran's second most populous metropolitan area (3,430,353).[47]

The fourth major city of Iran is Tabriz (population 1,378,935), the capital of the East Azerbaijan Province. It is also the second industrial city of Iran after Tehran. Tabriz had been the second largest city in Iran until the late 1960s and one of its former capitals and residence of the crown prince under the Qajar dynasty. The city has proven extremely influential in the country’s recent history.

The fifth major city is Karaj (population 1,377,450), located in Alborz Province and situated 20 km west of Tehran, at the foot of the Alborzmountains; however, the city is increasingly becoming an extension of metropolitan Tehran.

The sixth major Iranian city is Shiraz (population 1,214,808); it is the capital of Fars Province. The Elamite civilization to the west greatly influenced the area, which soon came to be known as Persis. The ancient Persians were present in the region from about the 9th century BC, and became rulers of a large empire under the Achaemenid dynasty in the 6th century BC. The ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, two of the four capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, are located in or near Shiraz. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire and is situated 70 km northeast of modern Shiraz. UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.

view · talk · editview · talk · editLargest cities of Iran
Statistical Center of Iran: Results of national census, 2007 [48]


RankCity NameProvincePop.RankCity NameProvincePop.Isfahan


2MashhadRazavi Khorasan2,427,31612ZahedanSistan and Baluchistan557,336
4TabrizEast Azerbaijan1,398,06014HamadanHamadan479,640
8QomQom964,70618Bandar AbbasHormozgan379,301
10UrmiaWest Azerbaijan583,25520EslamshahrTehran357,389


Pre-Historic era

The earliest archaeological artifacts in Iran were found in the Kashafrud and Ganj Par sites that date back to the Lower Paleolithic era.Mousterian Stone tools made by Neanderthal man have also been found.[49] There are more cultural remains of Neanderthal man dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period, which have been found mainly in the Zagros region and less frequently in central Iran at sites such as Shanidar, Kobeh, Kunji, Bisetun, Tamtama, Warwasi, Palegawra, and Yafteh Cave.[50] Discovery of human skeletons in the Huto cave and the adjacent Kamarband cave near the town of Behshahr in the Mazandaran Province, south of the Caspian Sea in Iran, suggest human habitation of the area as early as 75,000 years ago.[51] However, recent studies in the valleys of Shuresh, around the earlier mentioned caves, led to the discovery of 400,000 year old stone tools.[52] Evidence for Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic periods are known mainly from theZagros region in the caves of Kermanshah and Khorramabad.

Early agricultural communities such as Chogha Bonut in 8000 BC,[53][54] Susa (now a city still existing since 7000 BC)[55][56] and Chogha Mish dating back to 6800 BC.[57][58] started to form in the western Iran. Dozens of pre-historic sites across the Iranian plateau point to the existence of ancient cultures and urban settlements in the 4th millennium BC,[58][59][60] centuries before the earliest civilizations arose in nearby Mesopotamia.[61]

Early history (3200 BC – 625 BC)

19th century reconstruction of a map of the world by Eratosthenes, c.200 BC. The name Ariana (Aryânâ) was used to describe the region where the Iranian plateau is found.

Elam was part of the early urbanization during the Chalcolithic. The emergence of written records from around 3000 BC also parallels Mesopotamian history. In the Old Elamite period (MiddleBronze Age), from around 2800 BC, Elam consisted of kingdoms on the Iranian plateau, centered in Anshan, and from the mid-2nd millennium BC, it was centered in Susa in the Khuzestanlowlands. Elamite kingdom continued its existence until the emergence of Median andAchaemenid Empires.

Proto-Iranians first emerged following the separation of Indo-Iranians, and are traced to theAndronovo culture.[62] Proto-Iranian tribes arrived in the Iranian plateau in the third and secondmillennium BC, probably in more than one wave of emigration, and settled as nomads.

Further separation of Proto-Iranians into "Eastern" and "Western" groups occurred due to migration. By the first millennium BC, Medes, Persians, Bactrians and Parthians populated the western part, while Cimmerians, Sarmatians and Alans populated the steppes north of the Black Sea.

Other tribes began to settle on the eastern edge, as far as on the mountainous frontier of the north-western Indian subcontinent and into the area which is now Balochistan. Others, such as the Scythian tribes, spread as far west as the Balkans and as far east as Xinjiang. Avestanis an eastern Old Iranian language that was used to compose the sacred hymns and canon of the Zoroastrian Gathas in c. 1000 BC.

Pre-Islamic statehood (625 BC – 651 AD)

The Cyrus Cylinder a document issued by Cyrus the Great and regarded by some as a charter of human rights

The Medes are credited with the unification[1] of Iran as a nation and empire (625[1]–559 BC), the largest of its day, until Cyrus the Great established a unified empire of the Medes and Persians leading to the Achaemenid Empire (559–330 BC), and further unification between peoples and cultures. After Cyrus' death, his son Cambyses II continued his father's work of conquest, making significant gains in Egypt.

Following a power struggle after Cambyses' death, Darius the Great was declared king (ruled 522–486 BC). Under Cyrus and Darius, the Persian Empire eventually became the largest and most powerful empire in human history up until that point.[63] The borders of the Persian empirestretched from the Indus and Oxus Rivers in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, extending through Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Egypt.

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest extent, at about 500 BC

In 499 BC, Athens lent support to a revolt in Miletus which resulted in the sacking ofSardis. This led to an Achaemenid campaign against Greece known as the Greco-Persian Wars which continued through the first half of the 5th century BC. During the Greco-Persian Wars Persia made some major advances and razed Athens in 480 BC, but after a string of Greek victories the Persians were forced to withdraw. Fighting ended with the peace of Callias in 449 BC.

The rules and ethics emanating from Zoroaster's teachings were strictly followed by the Achaemenids who introduced and adopted policies based on human rights,equality and banning of slavery.[citation needed] Zoroastrianism spread unimposed during the time of the Achaemenids and through contacts with the exiled Jewishpeople in Babylon freed by Cyrus, Zoroastrian concepts further propagated and influenced the Abrahamic religions. The Golden Age of Athens marked by Aristotle, Plato and Socrates also came about during the Achaemenid period while their contacts with Persia and the Near East abounded. The peace, tranquility, security and prosperity that were afforded to the people of the Near East and Southeast Europe proved to be a rare historical occurrence, an unparalleled period where commerce prospered and the standard of living for all people of the region improved.[64]

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Achaemenid Empire, defeating the last Achaemenid Emperor Darius III at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. He left the annexed territory in 328–327. In each of the former Achaemenid territories he installed his own officers as caretakers, which led to friction and ultimately to the partitioning of the former empire after Alexander's death, and the subsequent formation of theSeleucid Empire.

A bust from the National Museum of Iran of Musa of Parthia

The Parthian Empire (238 BC–226 AD), led by the Arsacid Dynasty, was the third Iranian kingdom to dominate the Iranian plateau, after defeating the Greek Seleucid Empire, beginning in the late 3rd century BC, and intermittently controlled Mesopotamia between ca. 150 BC and 224 AD. This was the third native dynasty of ancient Iran and lasted five centuries. After the conquests of Media, Assyria, Babylonia andElam, the Parthians had to organize their empire. The former elites of these countries were Greek, and the new rulers had to adapt to their customs if they wanted their rule to last. As a result, the cities retained their ancient rights and civil administrations remained more or less undisturbed.

Parthia was the arch-enemy of the Roman Empire in the east, limiting Rome's expansion beyondCappadocia (central Anatolia). By using a heavily armed and armoured cataphract cavalry, and lightly armed but highly mobile mounted archers, the Parthians "held their own against Rome for almost 300 years".[65] Rome's acclaimed general Mark Antony led a disastrous campaign against the Parthians in 36 BC, in which he lost 32,000 men. By the time of Roman emperor Augustus, Rome and Parthia were settling some of their differences through diplomacy. By this time, Parthia had acquired an assortment of golden eagles, the cherished standards of Rome's legions, captured from Mark Antony, and Crassus, who was defeated by General Surena in the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC.[66]

Persian and Median soldiers at Persepolis

The end of the Parthian Empire came in 224 AD, when the empire was loosely organized and the last king was defeated by Ardashir I, one of the empire's vassals. Ardashir I then went on to create the Sassanid Empire. Soon he started reforming the country both economically and militarily. The Sassanids established an empire roughly within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids, referring to it as Erânshahr or Iranshahr, Eranshahr.svg, "Dominion of the Iranians", (i.e. of Iranians), with their capital at Ctesiphon.[67] Unlike the diadochic Seleucids and the succeeding Arsacids, who used a vassalary system, the Sassanids—like the Achaemenids—had a system of governors (MP: shahrab) personally appointed by the Emperor and directed by the central government. The Romans suffered repeated losses particularly by Ardashir I, Shapur I, and Shapur II.[68] During their reign, Sassanid battles with the Roman Empire caused such pessimism in Rome that the historian Cassius Dio wrote:

Geographical extent of Iranian influence in the 1st century BC. The Parthian Empire (mostly Western Iranian) is shown in red, other areas, dominated by Scythia (mostly Eastern Iranian), in orange.
Here was a source of great fear to us. So formidable does the Sassanid king seem to our eastern legions, that some are liable to go over to him, and others are unwilling to fight at all.[69]

In 632 raiders from the Arab peninsula began attacking the Sassanid Empire. Iran was defeated in the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, paving way for the Muslim conquest of Persia.

During the Parthian and later Sassanid eras, trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the great civilizations of China, Egypt,Mesopotamia, Persia, Indian subcontinent, and Rome, and helped to lay the foundations for the modern world. Parthian remains display classical Greek influences in some instances and retain their oriental mode in others, a clear expression of the cultural diversity that characterized Parthian art and life.[70]

The Parthians were innovators of many architecture designs such as that ofCtesiphon, which later influenced European Romanesque architecture.[71][72] Under the Sassanids, Iran expanded relations with China. Arts, music, and architecture greatly flourished, and centers such as the School of Nisibis and Academy of Gundishapur became world renowned centers of science and scholarship.

Middle Ages (652–1501)

Map of Iranian Dynasties c. 1000

After the Muslim conquest of Persia, most of the urban lands of the Sassanid Empire, with the exception of Caspian provinces and Transoxiana, came under Islamic rule.[73] Many provinces in Iran defended themselves against the Arab invaders, although none in the end were able to repulse the invaders. However, when the Arabs had subdued the country, many of the cities rose in rebellion, killing Arab governors, although reinforcement by Arab armies succeeded in putting down the rebellions.

However, the Iranians' conversion to Islam was a complex process and is generally considered to have been gradual; the notion of force has largely been discredited,[74]although occasional acts of violence did take place, with Zoroastrian scriptures being burned and Zoroastrian priests being executed.[73][75]

By the 9th century, Islam became a dominant religion in Persia and the conversion of Iranians to Islam brought profound changes to their life and culture.[73] However, in some regions, such as the Fars province, Zoroastrianism remained strong up to the 9th century, although Sufis such as Abu Eshaq Kazeruni, the founder of Kazeruni Sufi order, brought mass conversion of Zoroastrians to Islam in the 10th century.[73]

During the Abbasid caliphate decline, independent[76][77] and semi-independent native Iranian dynasties arose in different parts of Persia including the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, Afrighids, Ghurids, Sallarids, Justanids, Shaddadids and Buyids. Socially, the Arabs abolished the previous social class system of Sassanians while later, especially under the Ummayyads, another form of discrimination and exclusion against non-Arabs evolved.[78] In reaction to these, Abu Moslem, an Iranian[79][80] general, expelled the Umayyads from Damascus and helped the Abbasid caliphs to conquer Baghdad. The Abbasid caliphs frequently chose their Iranians as their "wazirs" (viziers), and Iranian governors acquired a certain amount of local autonomy. Thus in 822, the governor of Khorasan, Tahir, proclaimed his independence and founded a new Persian dynasty of Tahirids. And by the Samanid era, Iran's efforts to regain its independence had been well solidified.[81]

Attempts at Arabization thus never succeeded in Iran, and movements such as the Shu'ubiyya became catalysts for Iranians to regain their independence in their relations with the Arab invaders.[82] Other notable major revolts, some by Iranian Muslims and others by practitioners of old Iranian religions against Arab rule were led by Al-Muqanna, Sunpadh, Khurramites, Babak Khorramdin, Maziar, Mardavij, Ustadh Sis andYa'qub-i Laith Saffari.

The cultural revival of the post-Abbasid period led to a resurfacing of Iranian national identity. The resulting cultural movement reached its peak during the 9th and 10th centuries. The most notable effect of the movement was the continuation of the Persian language, the official language of Iran to the present day. Ferdowsi, Iran's greatest epic poet, is regarded today as the most important figure in maintaining the Persian language. After an interval of silence Iran re-emerged as a separate, different and distinctive element within Islam.

Khwarezmid Empire around 1200

In 1218, the eastern Khwarazmid provinces of Transoxiana and Khorasan suffered a devastatinginvasion by Genghis Khan. During this period more than half of Iran's population was killed,[83]turning the streets of Persian cities such as Nishapur into "rivers of blood", as the severed heads of men, women, and children were "neatly stacked into carefully constructed pyramids around which the carcasses of the city's dogs and cats were placed".[84]

According to Steven R. Ward, "Overall, the Mongol violence and depredations killed up to three-fourths of the population of the Iranian plateau, possibly 10 to 15 million people. Some historians have estimated that Iran's population did not again reach its pre-Mongol levels until the mid-20th century."[85] In a letter to King Louis IX of France, Holaku, one of the Genghis Khan's grandsons, took sole responsibility for 200,000 deaths in his raids of Iran and the Caliphate.[86] He was followed by yet another conqueror, Tamerlane, who established his capital in Samarkand.[87] The waves of devastation prevented many cities such as Nishapur from reaching their pre-invasion population levels until the 20th century, eight centuries later.[88]

In 1387, Tamerlane avenged a revolt in Isfahan by massacring 70,000 people.[89] But both Hulagu, Tamerlane, and their successors soon came to adopt the ways and customs of that which they had conquered, choosing to surround themselves with a culture that was distinctively Persian.[90] The mid-14th-century Black Death killed about 30% of the country's population.[91]

Illustration from Jami "Rose Garden of the Pious", dated 1553. The image blends Persian poetryand Persian miniature into one, as is the norm for many works of the Timurid era.

Iran was gradually Islamized after the collapse of the Sassanid Empire; however, it was not Arabized. Iranian culture re-emerged with a separate and distinctive character and made an immense contribution to the Islamic civilization.[92][93] When Islam came through Iran, what developed was an Iranian Islam or Persian Islam rather than the original Arab Islam, and this new Islam is sometimes referred to by scholars as Islam-i Ajam (Persian Islam).[92][94]

It was this Persian Islam and Sufism which was brought to new areas and new peoples such as the Turks of Central Asia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Indian subcontinent.[92] Among the major Iranian Muslims who cultivated Sufism and helped the spread of Islam through Sufism, one can mention Habib Ajami,Hallaj, Hasan Basri, Junayd Baghdadi, Bayazid Bastami, Maruf Karkhi, Abdul-Qadir Gilani, Moinuddin Chishti, Jalaluddin Rumi, Najmuddin Kubra, and Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari. Note should also be made of Abu Hanifa, the founder of the Hanafi school of thought which is followed by most Muslims today.

Arabic writer Ibn Khaldun has remarked that the sedentary culture which was necessary for the development of civilization was rooted in the Persian empire.[95]

One of the main developments after the advent of Islam in Iran was the rise of the New Persian language as an important Indo-European language. The New Persian language was an evolution of Middle Persian, which in turn was derived from Old Persian. New Persian absorbed a considerable amount of Arabic vocabulary[96][97] during this era, although the Arabic vocabulary that was Persianized[98] often took a different meaning than the Arabic origin. In terms of contribution to the Arabic language, Iranians like Sibawayhi[99] pioneered writing books of grammar of the Arabic language.

Culturally, Iranians preserved their language, while they used Arabic for scientific and philosophical discourses;[100] this enabled them to reach a worldwide audience for the first time.[100] After the 10th century, Persian, written in the modified Perso-Arabic script alongside Arabic, was used for scientific, philosophical, historical, mathematical, musical, and medical works, as important Iranian writers such as Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Avicenna, Qotb al-Din Shirazi, Gurgani, Nasir Khusraw, Biruni, Abd al-Qadir Maraghi made contributions to Persian scientific writing.

During this era, Iranians continued on a much larger scale the cultural and scientific enterprises set up by the Sassanids.[101] The blossoming Persian literature, philosophy, medicine, and art became major elements in the forming Muslim civilization. The Islamic Golden Age, which is characterized by developments in science, owed to a large extent its importance to vital contributions made by Iranians.[102]The Islamic Golden Age reached its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries, during which Persia was the main theatre of scientific activity.[101]The Persian influence of this period relied heavily upon the achievements of the Sassanids, and the weight of this influence has led the Muslim world to accept Islamic civilization as the Perso-Islamic civilization.[103]

Even in the development of Arabic scientific prose itself, which differs in style from that of the Quran, Persian scholars such as Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ had a major role. Indeed, the class of clerks and civil administrators that was responsible for the cultivation of the sciences in the early Islamic centuries consisted mostly of Persians.[104] The contributions of Iranians to the Arabic language are however not limited to scientific prose but are also found in Arabic poetry. The contributions by Iranians are characterised as "the lively and graceful fancy, elegance of diction, depth and tenderness of feeling, and a rich store of ideas".[105]

Iranian philosophy after the Islamic conquest is characterized by different interactions with Old Iranian philosophy, with Ancient Greek philosophy, and with the development of Islamic philosophy. Illuminationism and transcendent theosophy are regarded as two of the main philosophical traditions of this era in Persia. These movements continued well into the 11th century, during which the Nizamiyya University was founded, and hundreds of Iranian scholars and scientists contributed greatly to technology, science, and medicine, later influencing the rise of European sciences during the Renaissance.[106]

Early modern era (1501–1921)

Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736)
Shah Mohammed Ali Mirza, December 19, 1907.

Iran's first encompassing Shia Islamic state was established under the Safavid dynasty (1501–1722) by Shah Ismail I. The Safavid dynasty soon became a major political power and promoted the flow of bilateral state contacts. The Safavid peak was during the rule of Shah Abbas The Great.[25] The Safavid dynasty frequently warred with the Ottoman Empire, Uzbek tribes and the Portuguese Empire.

The Safavids moved their capital from Tabriz to Qazvin and then to Isfahan, where their patronage for the arts propelled Iran into one of its most aesthetically productive eras. Under their rule, the state became highly centralized, the first attempts to modernize the military were made, and even a distinct style of architecture developed. In 1722 Pashtun rebels headed by the Hotakis of Kandahar defeated Sultan Husayn and ended the Safavid dynasty, but in 1735, Nader Shah successfully drove out the Pashtuns from Isfahan and established the Afsharid Dynasty.

Sattar Khan was a key figure in the Persian Constitutional Revolution

He then staged an incursion into India in 1738, securing the Peacock Throne, Koh-i-Noor, and Darya-ye Noor among other royal treasures. His rule did not last long, however, as he was assassinated in 1747. TheMashhad based Afshar Dynasty was succeeded by the Zand dynasty in 1750, founded by Karim Khan, who established his capital at Shiraz. His rule brought a period of relative peace and renewed prosperity.

The Zand dynasty lasted three generations, until Aga Muhammad Khan executed Lotf Ali Khan, and founded his new capital in Tehran, marking the dawn of theQajar dynasty in 1794. The Qajar chancellor Amir Kabirestablished Iran's first modern college system, among other modernizing reforms. Iran suffered several wars with Imperial Russia during the Qajar era, resulting in Iran losing almost half of its territories to Imperial Russia and the British Empire, via the treaties of Gulistan, Turkmenchay and Akhal. The Great Persian Famine of 1870–1871 is believed to have caused the death of 2 million persons.[107]

In spite of The Great Game Iran managed to maintain her sovereignty and was never colonized, unlike neighbouring states in the region. Repeated foreign intervention and a corrupt and weakened Qajar rule led to various protests andconstitutionalization efforts which eventually resulted in the establishment of the nation's first parliament in 1906. This was followed by the Jangal movement of Gilan which lead to the short-lived Gilan Republic.

Recent history (1921–present)

Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh

In 1925, Reza Khan overthrew the weakening Qajar dynasty and became Shah. Rezā Shāh initiatedindustrialization, railroad construction, and the establishment of a national education system. Rezā Shāh sought to balance Russian and British influence, but when World War II started, his nascent ties to Germany alarmed Britain and Russia. In 1941, Britain and the USSR invaded Iran to use Iranian railroad capacity during World War II. The Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

In 1951, after the assassination of prime minister Ali Razmara, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh was electedprime minister by a parliamentary vote which was then ratified by the Shah. As prime minister, Mosaddegh became enormously popular in Iran after he nationalized Iran's petroleum industry and oil reserves. In response, the British government, headed by Winston Churchill, embargoed Iranian oil and successfully enlisted the United States to join in a plot to depose the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh. In 1953 US President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized Operation Ajax. The operation was successful, and Mosaddegh was arrested on 19 August 1953. The coup was the first time the US had openly overthrown an elected, civilian government.[108]

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi andEmpress Farah in official uniform

After Operation Ajax, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's rule became increasingly autocratic. With American support, the Shah was able to rapidly modernize Iranian infrastructure, but he simultaneously crushed all forms of political opposition with his intelligence agency, SAVAK. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini became an active critic of the Shah's White Revolution and publicly denounced the government.

Khomeini was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months. After his release in 1964 Khomeini publicly criticized the United States government. The Shah was persuaded to send him into exile by General Hassan Pakravan. Khomeini was sent first to Turkey, then to Iraq and finally to France. While in exile, he continued to denounce the Shah.

Iranian Revolution

The Iranian Revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution,[109][110][111] began in January 1978 with the first major demonstrations against the Shah.[112] After strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country and its economy, the Shah fled the country in January 1979 and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran. The Pahlavi Dynasty collapsed ten days later, on 11 February, when Iran's military declared itself "neutral" after guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran officially became an Islamic Republic on 1 April 1979, when Iranians overwhelmingly approved a national referendum to make it so.[26][27]

In December 1979, the country approved a theocratic constitution, whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country. The speed and success of the revolution surprised many throughout the world,[113] as it had not been precipitated by a military defeat, a financial crisis, or a peasant rebellion.[114] Although both nationalists and Marxists joined with Islamic traditionalists to overthrow the Shah, tens of thousands were killed and executed by the Islamic regime afterward, and the revolution ultimately resulted in an Islamic Republic under AyatollahRuhollah Khomeini.[115]

Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran – United States relations deteriorated rapidly during the revolution. On 4 November 1979, a group of Iranian students seized US embassy personnel, labeling the embassy a "den of spies".[116] They accused its personnel of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the revolutionary government, as the CIA had done to Mosaddegh in 1953. While the student ringleaders had not asked for permission from Khomeini to seize the embassy, Khomeini nonetheless supported the embassy takeover after hearing of its success.[117]

While most of the female and African American hostages were released within the first months,[117] the remaining 52 hostages were held for 444 days. Subsequent attempts by the Jimmy Carter administration to negotiate or rescue were unsuccessful. In January 1981 the hostages were set free according to theAlgiers Accords.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein decided to take advantage of what he perceived to be disorder in the wake of the Iranian Revolution and its unpopularity with Western governments. The once-strong Iranian military had been disbanded during the revolution. Saddam sought to expand Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf by acquiring territories that Iraq had claimed earlier from Iran during the Shah's rule. Of chief importance to Iraq was Khuzestan which not only has a substantial Arab population, but boasted rich oil fields as well. On the unilateral behalf of the United Arab Emirates, the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbsbecame objectives as well. On 22 September 1980 the Iraqi army invaded Iran at Khuzestan, precipitating the Iran–Iraq War.

Although Saddam Hussein's forces made several early advances, by 1982, Iranian forces managed to push the Iraqi army back into Iraq. Khomeini sought to export his Islamic revolution westward into Iraq, especially on the majority Shia Arabs living in the country. The war then continued for six more years until 1988, when Khomeini, in his words, "drank the cup of poison" and accepted a truce mediated by the United Nations. The total Iranian casualties of the war were estimated to be anywhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000; with more than 100,000 Iranians being victims of Iraq's chemical weapons.[118][verification needed] Almost all relevant international agencies have confirmed that Saddam engaged in chemical warfare to blunt Iranian human wave attacks; these agencies unanimously confirmed that Iran never used chemical weapons during the war.[119][120][121][verification needed]

Following the Iran–Iraq War President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his administration concentrated on a pragmatic pro-business policy of rebuilding and strengthening the economy without making any dramatic break with the ideology of the revolution. Rafsanjani served until 1997 when he was succeeded by the moderate reformist Mohammad Khatami. During his two terms as president, Khatami advocated freedom of expression, tolerance and civil society, constructive diplomatic relations with other states including European Union and Asian governments, and an economic policy that supported free market and foreign investment. However, Khatami is widely regarded as having been unsuccessful in achieving his goal of making Iran more free and democratic.[122] In the 2005 presidential elections, Iran made yet another change in political direction, when conservative populist candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.[123]

June 2009 Iranian election protests in Tehran

A significant challenge to Ahmadinejad's political power, and the foundations of the Islamic Republic itself occurred during the 2009 Iranian presidential election that was held on 12 June 2009,[124] the tenth presidential election to be held in the country.[125] The Interior Ministry, announced incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the election with 62.63% receiving 24.5 million vote, while Mir-Hossein Mousavi had come in second place with 13.2 million votes 33.75%.[126][127] The European Union and several western countries expressed concern over alleged irregularities during the vote,[128] and many analysts and journalists from the United Statesand United Kingdom news media voiced doubts about the authenticity of the results.[129][130][131]

Mousavi issued a statement accusing the Interior Ministry, which was responsible for conducting the election, of widespread election fraud and urged his supporters to engage in peaceful protests. He also lodged an official appeal with the Guardian Council for new and more transparent elections. Protests, in favour of Mousavi and against the alleged fraud, broke out in Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad, labeling his victory as a "divine assessment".[132] Khamenei then announced there would be an investigation into vote-rigging claims.[133]

On 16 June, the Guardian Council announced it would recount 10% of the votes and concluded there were no irregularities at all, dismissing all election complaints.[134][135][136] However, Mousavi stated that a recount would not be sufficient since he claimed 14 million unused ballots were missing, giving the Interior Ministry an opportunity to manipulate the results.[137] On 19 June, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced the pro-Mousavi demonstrations as illegal,[138] and protests the next day were met with stiff resistance from government forces, with many reported deaths.[139] Independent polls have not contradicted official turnout of 2009 election, which gave around 60% of vote to Ahmadinejad.[140]


City Theater of Tehran, the largest Theater auditorium in the Middle East

The culture of Iran is a mix of ancient pre-Islamic culture and Islamic culture. Iranian culture has long been a predominant culture of the Middle East and Central Asia, with Persian considered the language of intellectuals during much of the 2nd millennium, and the language of religion and the populace before that.

The Sassanid era was an important and influential historical period in Iran as Iranian culture influenced China, India and Roman civilization considerably,[141] and so influenced as far as Western Europe and Africa.[142] This influence played a prominent role in the formation of bothAsiatic and European medieval art.[143] This influence carried forward to the Islamic world. Much of what later became known as Islamic learning, such as philology, literature, jurisprudence,philosophy, medicine, architecture and the sciences were based on some of the practises taken from the Sassanid Persians to the broader Muslim world.[144][145][146]

After Islamization of Iran Islamic rituals have penetrated in the Iranian culture. The most noticeable one of them is commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali. Every year in Day of Ashura most of Iranians, including Armenians and Zoroastrians participate in mourning for the martyrs of battle of Karbala. Daily life in modern Iran is closely interwoven with Shia Islam and the country's art, literature, and architecture are an ever-present reminder of its deep national tradition and of a broader literary culture.[146][147]

The Iranian New Year (Nowruz) is an ancient tradition celebrated on 21 March to mark the beginning of spring in Iran. It is also celebrated in Afghanistan, Republic of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and previously also in Georgia and Armenia. It is also celebrated by the Iraqi and Anatolian Kurds.[148] Nowruz was registered on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity[149] and described as the Persian New Year[150][151][152][153] by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2009.

Language and literature

Geographic distribution of the Modern Iranian languages: Persian (green), Pashto (purple) and Kurdish (turquoise), Lurish (red), Baloch (Yellow), as well as smaller communities of other Iranian languages

Article 15 of the Iranian constitution states that the "Official language (of Iran)... is Persian...[and]... the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian." Persian serves as a lingua franca in Iran and most publications and broadcastings are in this language.

Next to Persian, there are many publications and broadcastings in other relatively popular languages of Iran such as Azeri, Kurdish and even in less popular ones such as Arabic and Armenian. Many languages originated in Iran, but Persian is the most used language. Persian belongs to the Iranian branch of the family of Indo-European languages. The oldest records in Old Persian date to the Achaemenid Empire,[154]and examples of Old Persian have been found in present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey andEgypt.

In the late 8th century, Persian was highly Arabized and written in a modified Arabic

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