Definitions

Iran

Iran

[ih-ran, ih-rahn, ahy-ran]
Iran, officially Islamic Republic of Iran, republic (2005 est. pop. 68,018,000), 636,290 sq mi (1,648,000 sq km), SW Asia. The country's name was changed from Persia to Iran in 1935. Iran is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea; on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and on the west by Turkey and Iraq. The Shatt al Arab forms part of the Iran-Iraq border. Tehran is the capital, largest city and the political, cultural, commercial, and industrial center of the nation.

Land

Physiographically, Iran lies within the Alpine-Himalayan mountain system and is composed of a vast central plateau rimmed by mountain ranges and limited lowland regions. Iran is subject to numerous and often severe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Iranian Plateau (alt. c.4,000 ft/1,200 m), which extends beyond the low ranges of E Iran into Afghanistan, is a region of interior drainage. It consists of a number of arid basins of salt and sand, such as those of Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut, and some marshlands, such as the area around Hamun-i-Helmand along the Afghanistan border. The plateau is surrounded by high folded and volcanic mountain chains including the Kopet Mts. in the northwest, the Elburz Mts. (rising to 18,934 ft/5,771 m at Mt. Damavand, Iran's highest point) in the north, and the complex Zagros Mts. in the west. Lake Urmia, the country's largest inland body of water, is in the Zagros of NW Iran. Narrow coastal plains are found along the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and the Caspian Sea; at the head of the Persian Gulf is the Iranian section of the Mesopotamian lowlands. Of the few perennial rivers in Iran, only the Karun in the west is navigable for large craft; other major rivers are the Karkheh and the Sefid Rud.

The climate of Iran is continental, with hot summers and cold, rainy winters; the mountain regions of the north and west have a subtropical climate. Temperature and precipitation vary with elevation, as winds bring heavy moisture from the Persian Gulf. The Caspian region receives over 40 in. (102 cm) of rain annually. Precipitation occurs mainly in the winter and decreases from northwest to southeast. Much of the precipitation in the mountains is in the form of snow, and meltwater is vital for Iran's water supply. The central portion of the plateau and the southern coastal plain (Makran) receive less than 5 in. (12.7 cm) of rain annually.

In addition to Tehran, important cities include Esfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, Rasht, Hamadan, Abadan, Shiraz, and Ahvaz.

People

Iran's central position has made it a crossroads of migration; the population is not homogeneous, although it has a Persian core that includes over half of the people. Azerbaijanis constitute almost a quarter of the population. The migrant ethnic groups of the mountains and highlands, including the Kurds, Lurs, Qashqai, and Bakhtiari, are of the least mixed descent of the ancient inhabitants. In the northern provinces, Turkic and Tatar influences are evident; Arab strains predominate in the southeast. Iran has a large rural population, found mainly in agrarian villages, although there are nomadic and seminomadic pastoralists throughout the country.

Islam entered the country in the 7th cent. A.D. and is now the official religion; about 90% of Iranians are Muslims of the Shiite sect. The remainder, mostly Kurds and Arabs, are Sunnis. Colonies of Zoroastrians (see Zoroastrianism) remain at Yazd, Kerman, and other large towns. In addition to Armenian and Assyrian Christian sects, there are Jews, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Attempts have been made to suppress Babism and its successor, Baha'i, whose adherents constitute about 1% of Iran's population; Sufism has also suffered from government restrictions under the Islamic republic. Other religious movements, such as Mithraism (see under Mithra) and Manichaeism, originated in Iran.

The principal language of the country is Persian (Farsi), which is written with the Arabic alphabet and spoken by about 60% of the people. Other groups speak Turkic dialects (25%), Kurdish, (10%), and Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic. Among the educated classes, English and French are spoken.

Economy

About 10% of the land in Iran is arable; agriculture contributes just over 11% to the GDP and employs a third of the labor force. The main food-producing areas are in the Caspian region and in the valleys of the northwest. Wheat, the most important crop, is grown mainly in the west and northwest; rice is the major crop in the Caspian region. Barley, corn, sugar beets, fruits (including citrus), nuts, cotton, dates, tea, hemp, and tobacco are also grown, and livestock is raised. Illicit cultivation of the opium poppy is fairly common.

The principal obstacles to agricultural production are primitive farming methods, overworked and underfertilized soil, poor seed, and scarcity of water. About one third of the cultivated land is irrigated; the construction of multipurpose dams and reservoirs along the rivers in the Zagros and Elburz mts. has increased the amount of water available for irrigation. Agricultural programs of modernization, mechanization, and crop and livestock improvement, and programs for the redistribution of land are increasing agricultural production.

The northern slopes of the Elburz Mts. are heavily wooded, and forestry products are economically important; the cutting of trees is rigidly controlled by the government, which also has a reforestation program. In the rivers entering the Caspian Sea are salmon, carp, trout, and pike; the prized sturgeon (and caviar) of the Caspian Sea have been hurt by pollution and overfishing.

Of the variety of natural resources found in Iran, petroleum (discovered in 1908 in Khuzestan province) and natural gas are by far the most important; oil accounts for 80% of export revenues. The chief oil fields are found in the central and southwestern parts of the Zagros Mts. in W Iran. Oil also is found in N Iran and in the offshore waters of the Persian Gulf. Major refineries are located at Abadan (site of the country's first refinery, built 1913), Kermanshah, and Tehran. Pipelines move oil from the fields to the refineries and to such exporting ports as Abadan, Bandar-e Mashur, and Khark Island. Domestic oil and gas, along with hydroelectric power facilities, provide the country with power.

Textiles are the second most important industrial product; Tehran and Esfahan are the chief textile-producing centers. Other major industries are sugar refining, food processing, and the production of petrochemicals, cement and other building materials, and machinery. Iron and steel and fertilizer are also produced. Traditional handicrafts such as carpet weaving and the manufacture of ceramics, silk, and jewelry are important to the economy as well.

Besides crude and refined petroleum, Iran's chief exports are chemical and petrochemical products, fruits, nuts, carpets, hides, and iron and steel; its chief imports are industrial raw materials, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods, technical services, and military supplies. Iran's chief trading partners are China, Japan, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. Khorramshahr, on the Shatt al Arab, is the country's chief general cargo port; Bandar-e Anzali is the chief Caspian port.

Government

Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic governed under the constitution of 1979 as amended. Appointed, rather than elected, offices and bodies hold the real power in the government. The supreme leader, who effectively serves as the head of state, is appointed for life by an Islamic religious advisory board (the Assembly of Experts). The supreme leader oversees the military and judiciary and appoints members of the Guardian Council and the Expediency Discernment Council. The former, some of whose members are appointed by the judiciary and approved by parliament, works in close conjunction with the government and must approve both candidates for political office and legislation passed by parliament. The latter is a body responsible for resolving disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council over legislation. The president, who is popularly elected for a four-year term, serves as the head of government. The unicameral legislature consists of the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Administratively, Iran is divided into 30 provinces.

History

Early History to the Zand Dynasty

Iran has a long and rich history. For a detailed description of the Persian Empire, see Persia. Some of the world's most ancient settlements have been excavated in the Caspian region and on the Iranian plateau; village life began there c.4000 B.C. The Aryans came about 2000 B.C. and split into two main groups, the Medes and the Persians. The Persian Empire founded (c.550 B.C.) by Cyrus the Great was succeeded, after a period of Greek and Parthian rule, by the Sassanid in the early 3d cent. A.D. Their control was weakened when Arab invaders took (636) the capital, Ctesiphon; it ended when the Arabs defeated the Sassanid armies at Nahavand in 641. With the invasion of Persia the Arabs brought Islam. The Turks began invading in the 10th cent. and soon established several Turkish states. The Turks were followed by the Mongols, led by Jenghiz Khan in the 13th cent. and Timur in the late 14th cent.

The Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), founded by Shah Ismail, restored internal order in Iran and established the Shiite sect of Islam as the state religion; it reached its height during the reign (1587-1629) of Shah Abbas I (Abbas the Great). He drove out the Portuguese, who had established colonies on the Persian Gulf early in the 16th cent. Shah Abbas also established trade relations with Great Britain and reorganized the army. Religious differences led to frequent wars with the Ottoman Turks, whose interest in Iran was to continue well into the 20th cent.

The fall of the Safavid dynasty was brought about by the Afghans, who overthrew the weak shah, Husein, in 1722. An interval of Afghan rule followed until Nadir Shah expelled them and established (1736) the Afshar dynasty. He invaded India in 1738 and brought back fabulous wealth, including the legendary Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-noor diamond. Nadir Shah, a despotic ruler, was assassinated in 1747. The Afshar dynasty was followed by the Zand dynasty (1750-94), founded by Karim Khan, who established his capital at Shiraz and adorned that city with many fine buildings. His rule brought a period of peace and renewed prosperity. However, the country was soon again in turmoil, which lasted until the advent of Aga Muhammad Khan.

The Qajar Dynasty

A detested ruler (assassinated 1797), Aga Muhammad Khan defeated the last ruler of the Zand dynasty and established the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925). This long period saw Iran steadily lose territory to neighboring countries and fall under the increasing pressure of European nations, particularly czarist Russia. Under Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834), Persian claims in the entire Caucasian area were challenged by the Russians in a long struggle that ended with the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and the Treaty of Turkmanchay (1828), by which Iran was forced to give up the Caucasian lands. Herat, the rich city on the Hari Rud, which had been part of the ancient Persian Empire, was taken by the Afghans. A series of campaigns to reclaim it ended with the intervention of the British on behalf of Afghanistan and resulted in the recognition of Afghan independence by Iran in 1857.

The discovery of oil in the early 1900s intensified the rivalry of Great Britain and Russia for power over the nation. Internally, the early 20th cent. saw the rise of the constitutional movement and a constitution establishing a parliament was accepted by the shah in 1906. Meanwhile, the British-Russian rivalry continued and in 1907 resulted in an Anglo-Russian agreement (annulled after World War I) that divided Iran into spheres of influence. The period preceding World War I was one of political and financial difficulty. During the war, Iran was occupied by the British and Russians but remained neutral; after the war, Iran was admitted to the League of Nations as an original member.

In 1919, Iran made a trade agreement with Great Britain in which Britain formally reaffirmed Iran's independence but actually attempted to establish a complete protectorate over it. After Iranian recognition of the USSR in a treaty of 1921, the Soviet Union renounced czarist imperialistic policies toward Iran, canceled all debts and concessions, and withdrew occupation forces from Iranian territory. In 1921, Reza Khan, an army officer, effected a coup and established a military dictatorship.

The Pahlevi Dynasty

Reza Khan was subsequently (1925) elected hereditary shah, thus ending the Qajar dynasty and founding the new Pahlevi dynasty. Reza Shah Pahlevi abolished the British treaty, reorganized the army, introduced many reforms, and encouraged the development of industry and education. In Aug., 1941, two months after the German invasion of the USSR, British and Soviet forces occupied Iran. On Sept. 16 the shah abdicated in favor of his son Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi. American troops later entered Iran to handle the delivery of war supplies to the USSR.

At the Tehran Conference in 1943 the Tehran Declaration, signed by the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR, guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Iran. However, the USSR, dissatisfied with the refusal of the Iranian government to grant it oil concessions, fomented a revolt in the north which led to the establishment (Dec., 1945) of the People's Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kurdish People's Republic, headed by Soviet-controlled leaders. When Soviet troops remained in Iran following the expiration (Jan., 1946) of a wartime treaty that also allowed the presence of American and British troops, Iran protested to the United Nations. The Soviets finally withdrew (May, 1946) after receiving a promise of oil concessions from Iran subject to approval by the parliament. The Soviet-established governments in the north, lacking popular support, were deposed by Iranian troops late in 1946, and the parliament subsequently rejected the oil concessions.

In 1951, the National Front movement, headed by Premier Mussadegh, a militant nationalist, forced the parliament to nationalize the oil industry and form the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Although a British blockade led to the virtual collapse of the oil industry and serious internal economic troubles, Mussadegh continued his nationalization policy. Openly opposed by the shah, Mussadegh was ousted in 1952 but quickly regained power. The shah fled Iran but returned when monarchist elements forced Mussadegh from office in Aug., 1953; covert U.S. activity was largely responsible for Mussadegh's ousting.

In 1954, Iran allowed an international consortium of British, American, French, and Dutch oil companies to operate its oil facilities, with profits shared equally between Iran and the consortium. After 1953 a succession of premiers restored a measure of order to Iran; in 1957 martial law was ended after 16 years in force. Iran established closer relations with the West, joining the Baghdad Pact (later called the Central Treaty Organization), and receiving large amounts of military and economic aid from the United States until the late 1960s.

Starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, the Iranian government, at the shah's initiative, undertook a broad program designed to improve economic and social conditions. Land reform was a major priority. In an effort to transform the feudal peasant-landlord agricultural system, the government purchased estates and sold the land to the people; it also distributed large tracts of crown land. In the Jan., 1963, referendum, the voters overwhelmingly approved the shah's extensive plan for further land redistribution, compulsory education, and a system of profit sharing in industry; the program was financed by the selling of government-owned factories to private investors. Within three years, 1.5 million former tenant farmers were plot owners.

The shah held close reins on the government as absolute monarch, but he moved toward certain democratic reforms within Iran. A new government-backed political party, the Iran Novin party, was introduced and won an overwhelming majority in the parliament in the 1963 and subsequent elections. Women received the right to vote in national elections in 1963.

Reaction, Repression, and Conflict

The shah's various reform programs and the continuing poor economic conditions alienated some of the major religious and political groups, and riots occurred in mid-1963. The general political instability was reflected by the assassination of Premier Hassan Ali Mansur and an unsuccessful attempt on the shah's life in Jan., 1965. Amir Abbas Hoveida succeeded as premier. In Oct., 1971, Iran commemorated the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great with an elaborate celebration in the desert at Persepolis. Iran's pro-Western policies continued into the 1970s; however, opposition to such growing Westernization and secularization was strongly denounced by the Islamic clergy, headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been exiled from Iran in 1964. Internal opposition within the country was regularly purged by the Shah's secret police force (SAVAK), created in 1957.

Improved relations in the 1970s, especially in the economic sphere, were established with Communist countries, including the USSR. However, relations with Iraq were antagonistic for much of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in great part due to conflict over the Shatt al Arab waterway. A number of armed clashes took place along the entire length of the border. In Apr., 1969, Iran voided the 1937 accord with Iraq on the control of the Shatt al Arab and demanded that the treaty, which had given Iraq virtual control of the river, be renegotiated.

In 1971, Britain withdrew its military forces from the Persian Gulf. Concerned that Soviet-backed Arab nations might try to fill the power vacuum created by the British withdrawal, Iran increased its defense budget by almost 50%, and with the help of huge U.S. and British defense programs, emerged as the region's strongest military power. Although Iran renounced all claims to Bahrain in 1970, it took control (Nov., 1971) of three small, Arab-owned islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iraq protested Iran's action by expelling thousands of Iranian nationals.

In Mar., 1973, short of the end of the 25-year 1954 agreement with the international oil-producing consortium, the shah established the NIOC's full control over all aspects of Iran's oil industry, and the consortium agreed (May, 1973) to act merely in an advisory capacity in return for favorable long-term oil supply contracts. In the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of Oct., 1973, Iran, reluctant to use oil as a political weapon, did not participate in the oil embargo against the United States, Europe, Japan, and Israel. However, it used the situation to become a leader in the raising of oil prices in disregard of the Tehran Agreement of 1971. Iran utilized the revenue generated by price rises to bolster its position abroad as a creditor, to initiate domestic programs of modernization and economic development, and to increase its military power.

The Islamic Revolution

The rapid growth of industrialization and modernization programs within Iran, accompanied by ostentatious private wealth, became greatly resented by the bulk of the population, mainly in the overcrowded urban areas and among the rural poor. The shah's autocratic rule and his extensive use of the secret police led to widespread popular unrest throughout 1978. The religious-based protests were conservative in nature, directed against the shah's policies. Khomeini, who was expelled from Iraq in Feb., 1978, called for the abdication of the shah. Martial law was declared in September for all major cities. As governmental controls faltered, the shah fled Iran on Jan. 16, 1979. Khomeini returned and led religious revolutionaries to the final overthrow of the shah's government on Feb. 11.

The new government represented a major shift toward conservatism. It nationalized industries and banks and revived Islamic traditions. Western influence and music were banned, women were forced to return to traditional veiled dress, and Westernized elites fled the country. A new constitution was written allowing for a presidential system, but Khomeini remained at the executive helm as Supreme Leader. The Revolutionary Guard was established separately from the military as an ideologically based corps charged with defending the revolution. Clashes occurred between rival religious factions throughout 1979, as oil prices fell. Arrests and executions were rampant.

On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 American hostages. Khomeini refused all appeals, and agitation increased toward the West with the Carter administration's economic boycott, the breaking of diplomatic relations, and an unsuccessful rescue attempt (Apr., 1980). The hostage crisis lasted 444 days and was finally resolved on Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as U.S. president. Nearly all Iranian conditions had been met, including the unfreezing of nearly $8 billion in Iranian assets.

War and its Aftermath

On Sept. 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, commencing an eight-year war primarily over the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway (see Iran-Iraq War). The war rapidly escalated, leading to Iraqi and Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in 1984. Fighting crippled both nations, devastating Iran's military supply and oil industry, and led to an estimated 500,000 to one million casualties. Khomeini rejected diplomatic initiatives and called for the overthrow of Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. In Nov., 1986, U.S. government officials secretly visited Iran to trade arms with the Iranians, in the hopes of securing the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, because Iran had political connections with Shiite terrorists in Lebanon. On July 3, 1988, a U.S. navy warship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft, killing all aboard. That same month, Khomeini agreed to accept a UN cease-fire with Iraq, ending the war.

Iran immediately began rebuilding the nation's economy, especially its oil industry. Tensions also eased at that time with neighboring Afghanistan, as Soviet troops there began withdrawal (completed in 1989), after a presence of nearly 10 years. During the Soviet occupation, Iran had become host to nearly 3 million Afghan refugees. Khomeini died in 1989 and was succeeded by Iran's president, Sayid Ali Khamenei. The presidency was soon filled by Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who sought improved relations and financial aid with Western nations while somewhat diminishing the influence of fundamentalist and revolutionary factions and embarking on a military buildup. A major earthquake hit N Iran on June 21, 1990, killing nearly 40,000 people.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990, Iran adhered to international sanctions against Iraq. However, Iran condemned the use of U.S.-led coalition forces against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War (1991), and it allowed Iraqi planes fleeing coalition air attacks to land in the country. As a result of the war and its aftermath, more than one million Kurds crossed the Iraqi border into Iran as refugees.

Rafsanjani was reelected president in 1993. The United States suspended all trade with Iran in 1995, accusing Iran of supporting terrorist groups and attempting to develop nuclear weapons. In 1997, Mohammed Khatami, a moderately liberal Muslim cleric, was elected president, which was widely seen as a reaction against the country's repressive social policies and lack of economic progress. Also in 1997, Iran launched a series of air attacks on Iraq to bomb Iranian rebels operating from Iraq. Several European Union countries began renewing economic ties with Iran in the late 1990s; the United States, however, continued to block more normalized relations, arguing that the country had been implicated in international terrorism and was developing a nuclear weapons capacity.

In 1999, as new curbs were put on a free press, prodemocracy student demonstrations erupted at Teheran Univ. and other urban campuses. These were followed by a wave of counterdemonstrations by hard-line factions associated with Ayatollah Khamenei. Reformers won a substantial victory in the Feb., 2000, parliamentary elections, capturing about two thirds of the seats, but conservative elements in the government forced the closure of the reformist press. Attempts by parliament to repeal restrictive press laws were forbidden by Khamenei. Despite these conditions, President Khatami was overwhelming reeelcted in June, 2001. Tensions between reformers in parliament and conservatives in the judiciary and the Guardian Council, over both social and economic changes, increased after Khatami's reelection. In Aug., 2002, a frustrated Khatami called for legislation to limit the powers of the Guardian Council and restore presidential powers to act as head of state and enforce the constitution, and in June, 2003, there were ongoing demonstrations by students in Tehran in favor of reform. In August, however, the Guardian Council rejected a bill aimed at curbing its ability to bar candidates from elections.

Tensions with the United States increased after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in Mar., 2003, as U.S. officials increasingly denounced Iran for pursuing the alleged development of nuclear weapons. Iranian government support for strongly conservative Shiite militias in Iraq also further soured U.S.-Iranian relations. In October, however, Iran agreed, in negotiations with several W European nations, to tougher international inspections of its nuclear installations. Concern over Iran's nuclear program nonetheless continued, and in early 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the country had failed to disclose all aspects of its nuclear program. Meanwhile, an earthquake, centered on Bam in SE Iran, killed more than 26,000 people in Dec., 2003.

In the Feb., 2004, elections conservatives won control of parliament, securing some two thirds of the seats. The Guardian Council had barred many reformers from running, including some sitting members of parliament, and many reformers denounced the move as an attempt to fix the election and called for a electoral boycott. Many Iranians, however, were unhappy with the failure of the current parliament to achieve any significant reforms or diminish the influence of the hard-liners. A significant number of the hard-line conservative members of the new parliament had ties to the Revolutionary Guards, who increased their economic and political influence, but they also faced opposition from more traditional conservatives such as former president Rafsanjani.

In mid-2004 Iran began resuming the processing of nuclear fuel as part of its plan to achieve self-sufficiency in nuclear power production, stating the negotiations with European Union nations had failed to bring access to the advanced nuclear technology that was promised. The action was denounced by the United States as one which would give Iran the capability to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA said that although Iran had not been fully cooperative, there was no concrete proof that Iran was seeking to develop such arms; however, the IAEA also called for Iran to abandon its plans to produce enriched uranium. In Nov., 2004, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, but also subsequently indicated that it would not be held to the suspension if the negotiations the EU nations failed. Iran signed an agreement with Russia in Feb., 2005, that called for Russia to supply it with nuclear fuel and for Iran to return the spent fuel to Russia; despite the apparent safeguards in the agreement, it was denounced by the United States. Iran's nuclear energy program remained a contentious international issue in subsequent months.

The presidential elections in June, 2005, were won by the hardline conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who ran on a populist, anticorruption platform. The Guardian Council had initially rejected all reformist candidates, including one of Iran's vice presidents, but permitted him and another reformist to run after an appeal. Ahmadinejad and former president Rafsanjani were the leaders after the first round, but in the runoff Ahmadinejad's populist economic policies combined with Rafsanjani's inability to pick up sufficient reformist support assured the former's win. Ahmadinejad's victory, which was marred by some interference in the balloting from the Revolutionary Guards, gave conservatives control of all branches of Iran's government.

After Iran resumed (Aug., 2005) converting raw uranium into gas, a necessary step for enrichment, the IAEA passed a resolution that accused Iran of failing to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and called for the agency to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The timetable for the reporting, however, was left undetermined.

In the fall of 2005 Ayatollah Khamenei broadened the responsibilities of the Expediency Council by delegating to it some of his governmental oversight responsibilities. The move enhanced the standing and power of Rafsanjani, who had become head of the council in 1997, and was regarded as an attempt to establish a counterweight to the new president (who had been elected with the ayatollah's support) and the more radical conservative elements associated with Ahmadinejad's presidency. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, issued strong anti-Israel, anti-Holocaust statements, and sought to set a more conservative course for Iran. The country also continued to move forward with its nuclear research program.

In Feb., 2006, the IAEA voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council. In response Iran resumed uranium enrichment and ended surprise IAEA inspections and surveillance of its nuclear facilties. The Security Council called (March) for Iran to suspend its nuclear research program in 30 days, but the statement left unclear what if any response there would be if Iran refused. For its part, Iran remained defiant, and its slow response to a European Union-led negotiating effort and the revelation of an additional, previously unknown enrichment program caused the nations involved (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and the EU) to refer the issue back to the Security Council in July, 2006. The Council set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to stop enrichment, but Iran insisted it would continue its program and ignored the deadline. The Council's veto-holding nations were divided over the subsequent U.S. call for sanctions, but in Dec., 2006, they agreed on sanctions that barred the sale of technology and materials that could be used in Iran's nuclear program. and the international assets of certain companies associated with program were frozen. After a new deadline for stopping enrichment also passed without Iranian action, additional sanctions were imposed in Mar., 2007, but Iran continued with its enrichment activities. A subsequent IAEA report (Aug., 2007) indicated that Iran was continuing to expand its enrichment capabilities while utilitizing them at lower than expected levels.

Also in Dec., 2006, Ahmadinejad's supporters and allies suffered losses in elections for local councils and the Assembly of Experts; more moderate conservatives were the biggest winners, and reformists did sufficiently well to reemerge as a political force. The most significant winner was Rafsanjani, who was reelected to the Assembly of Experts and received the most votes of any Tehran Assembly candidate.

Fifteen British naval personnel were seized in Mar., 2007, by Revolutionary Guards forces in what Iran asserted were its waters. The British disputed the claim, and called for them to be released. After two weeks marked by behind-the-scenes negotiations and Iranian broadcasts of the British personnel saying they had violated Iranian waters (which the personnel, after their release, said were coerced), the British were released.

Tensions between Iran and the United States over Iran's nuclear program and over accusations that Iran was providing support for Shiite groups that had attacked U.S. forces in Iraq became increasingly pronounced in the second half of 2007. There were press reports of Bush administration plans to launch air strikes against Iran, and the United States pressed, unsuccessfully, for stiffer UN sanctions on Iran. In Oct., 2007, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran, aimed mainly at Iranian banks, which it said were supporting Iran's nuclear program, and at Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which it charged supported terror attacks against U.S. forces and others.

A November IAEA report indicated that Iran was cooperating with the IAEA (but on a more limited basis than in the past), and a December U.S. intelligence assessment said that Iran appeared to have stopped nuclear weapons design development in 2003 in response to international pressure and now seemed less determined to develop such weapons. Nonetheless, concerns remained with respect to Iran's continuing expansion of its enrichment capabilities and, after the IAEA said that Iran had not proved it did not have a nuclear weapons development program, the UN Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions in Mar., 2008. In the Mar.-Apr., 2008, parliamentary elections, conservatives won roughly 70% of the seats; many reformist candidates were again barred from running.

In May and subsequent months, the IAEA said that Iran continued to fail to provide information about its nuclear programs that would clarify whether it was developing nuclear weapons. Iran subsequently tested longer-range missiles that were capable of hitting Israel, but U.S. intelligence sources indicated that it believed at least one test was not fully successful; in Feb., 2009, Iran successfully launched a satellite for the first time. A value-added tax on shopkeepers provoked a weeklong strike by them in several cities in Oct., 2008, and the government postponed the imposition of the tax for a year.

In the June, 2009, presidential election Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, and two other candidates challenged Ahmadinejad, who was seen as favored by Khamenei. Mousavi appeared to gain broad support as the campaign progressed, but when the tally was announced Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with 63% of the vote. The rapidity of the vote count and other anomalies, including overvoting in 50 of 170 districts and dramatic shifts in voting patterns since 2005, strongly suggested vote rigging, and Mousavi and others denounced the result as fraudulent. There were large demonstrations in support of Mousavi, but the Guardian Council affirmed the result, and after two weeks security forces had forcibly suppressed most public protests.

Mousavi, former president Khatami, and others nonetheless continued to denounce the election, and Rafsanjani criticized the government response to the protests. Despite Khamenei's strong criticism of protesters and others who rejected the result, Iran's clerical establishment appeared to slow to fall in line, and in some cases denounced the outcome. Prominent opposition members were tried in group trials that antigovernment groups decried as show trials. In Dec., 2009, the funeral and memorials for Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, who was Khomeini's chosen successor until he criticized (1989) the Iranian government on human rights, turned into large antigovernment demonstrations and led to clashes with security forces.

In Sept., 2009, Iran acknowledged constructing a second nuclear enrichment facility, leading to international calls for IAEA inspections of the site. Although Iran agreed that inspectors could enter the site in October, other discussions concerning its nuclear enrichment were less successful. Western nations asserted that Iran had agreed in principle to shipping enriched uranium outside the country for further enrichment, but Iranian sources and officials insisted that Iran was interested in purchasing enriched uranium and that Iran did not accept an enrichment agreement proposal made by IAEA. The IAEA found nothing of concern at the second enrichment site, but said that Iran's secrecy raised issues about whether other secret sites existed. The IAEA voted to censure Iran over the site. In November, Iran announced plans for 10 more sites, and indicated that it did not intend to notify the IAEA about them until six months before they were operational, in contravention of Iran's 2003 agreement.

Bibliography

See G. C. Lenczowski, ed., Iran under the Pahlavis (1978); B. Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (1982); N. R. Keddie, Religion and Politics in Iran (1983); J. Abdulghani, Iraq and Iran (1984); W. Barthold, Historical Geography of Iran (1984); S. Bakhash, Reign of the Ayatollahs (1986); E. Sciolino, Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (2000); S. Kinzer, All the Shah's Men (2003); C. de Bellaigue, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs (2005); J. Afary, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (2009); R. Takeyh, Guardians of the Revolution (2009); W. R. Polk, Understanding Iran (2009).

(1980–90) Protracted and indecisive conflict prompted by Iraq's invasion of its eastern neighbour. Following the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Iraqi leadership sought to exploit Iran's military and political chaos in order to resolve border disputes, gain control of Iran's oil-rich western (largely Arab) province, and achieve hegemony in the Persian Gulf. Iraq was successful early (1980–82) but began to lose ground and sought to negotiate peace. Iran refused, and the war turned into a bloody stalemate that included the first use of chemical warfare since World War I (1914–18). After additional Iraqi advances, Iran agreed to a cease-fire in 1988. Peace was concluded only when Iraq invaded another neighbour, Kuwait, in 1990. Seealso Ssubdotaddām Hsubdotussein; Ruhollah Khomeini.

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(1979–81) Political crisis involving Iran's detention of U.S. diplomats. Anti-American sentiment in Iran—fueled in part by close ties between the U.S. and the unpopular leader Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi—peaked when Pahlavi fled Iran during the 1979 Iranian revolution. When the monarch entered the U.S. for medical treatment later that year, Islamic militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehrān and seized 66 Americans. The hostage-takers, who enjoyed the tacit support of the new Iranian regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, demanded the shah's extradition to Iran, but Pres. Jimmy Carter refused and froze all Iranian assets in the U.S. The Iranians released 13 women and African Americans on Nov. 19–20, 1979, and another hostage was released in July 1980. A rescue attempt in April 1980 failed. Negotiations for the hostages' return began after the shah died in July 1980, but the remaining 52 hostages were kept in captivity until Jan. 20, 1981, when they were released moments after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. The crisis contributed to Carter's failure to win reelection. Seealso Iran-Contra Affair.

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officially Islamic Republic of Iran formerly Persia

Country, Middle East, southwestern Asia. Area: 636,374 sq mi (1,648,200 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 69,515,000. Capital: Tehrān. Persians constitute about one-third of its population; other ethnic groups include Azerbaijanians, Kurds, Lurs, Bakhtyārī, and Baloch. Languages: Persian (Farsi; official), numerous others. Religions: Islam (official; predominantly Shīaynite); also Zoroastrianism. Currency: rial. Iran occupies a high plateau, rising higher than 1,500 ft (460 m) above sea level, and is surrounded largely by mountains. More than half of its surface area consists of salt deserts and other wasteland. About one-tenth of its land is arable, and another one-fourth is suitable for grazing. Iran's rich petroleum reserves account for about one-tenth of world reserves and are the basis of its economy. It is an Islamic republic with one legislative house and several oversight bodies dominated by clergy. The head of state and government is the president, but supreme authority rests with the rahbar, a ranking cleric. Human habitation in Iran dates to some 100,000 years ago, but recorded history began with the Elamites circa 3000 BC. The Medes flourished from circa 728 but were overthrown in 550 by the Persians, who were in turn conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The Parthians (see Parthia) created an empire that lasted from 247 BC to AD 226, when control passed to the Sāsānian dynasty. Various Muslim dynasties ruled from the 7th century. In 1501 the Ssubdotafavid dynasty was established and lasted until 1736. The Qājār dynasty ruled from 1796, but in the 19th century the country was economically controlled by the Russian and British empires. Reza Khan (see Reza Shah Pahlavi) seized power in a coup (1921). His son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi alienated religious leaders with a program of modernization and Westernization and was overthrown in 1979; Shīaynite cleric Ruhollah Khomeini then set up an Islamic republic, and Western influence was suppressed. The destructive Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s ended in a stalemate. Since the 1990s the government has gradually moved to a more liberal conduct of state affairs.

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For a topic outline on this subject, see List of basic Iran topics.

Iran (/irɒn/↔, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran formerly known internationally as Persia until 1935, is a country in Central Eurasia, located on the northeastern shore of the Persian Gulf. The name Iran is a cognate of Aryan, and means "Land of the Aryans".

The 18th largest country in the world in terms of area at 1,648,195 km², Iran has a population of over seventy million. It is a country of special geostrategic significance due to its central location in Eurasia. Iran is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. As Iran is a littoral state of the Caspian Sea, which is an inland sea and condominium, Kazakhstan and Russia are also Iran's direct neighbors to the north. Iran is bordered on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and on the west by Turkey and Iraq. Tehran is the capital, the country's largest city and the political, cultural, commercial, and industrial center of the nation. Iran is a regional power, and occupies an important position in international energy security and world economy as a result of its large reserves of petroleum and natural gas.

Iran is home to one of the world's oldest continuous major civilizations, with historical and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC. The Medes unified Iran into a kingdom in 625 BC. They were succeeded by three Iranian dynasties, the Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids, which governed Iran for more than 1000 years. After centuries of foreign occupation and short-lived native dynasties, Iran was once again reunified as an independent state in 1501 by the Safavid dynasty — who promoted Shia Islam as the official religion of their empire, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam. Iran had been a monarchy ruled by a Shah, or emperor, almost without interruption from 1501 until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when Iran officially became an Islamic republic on 1 April 1979.

Iran is a founding member of the UN, NAM, OIC and OPEC. The political system of Iran, based on the 1979 Constitution, comprises several intricately connected governing bodies. The highest state authority is the Supreme Leader. Shia Islam is the official religion and Persian is the official language.

Etymology

The term Iran (ایران) in modern Persian derives from the Proto-Iranian term Aryānām first attested in Zoroastrianism's Avesta tradition. Ariya- and Airiia- are also attested as an ethnic designator in Achaemenid inscriptions. The term Ērān, from Middle Persian Ērān (written as ʼyrʼn) is found on the inscription that accompanies the investiture relief of Ardashir I at Naqsh-e Rustam. In this inscription, the king's appellation in Middle Persian contains the term ērān (Pahlavi ʼryʼn), while in the Parthian language inscription that accompanies it, the term aryān describes Iran. In Ardashir's time, ērān retained this meaning, denoting the people rather than the state.

Notwithstanding this inscriptional use of ērān to refer to the Iranian peoples, the use of ērān to refer to the geographical empire is also attested in the early Sassanid period. An inscription relating to Shapur I, Ardashir's son and immediate successor, includes regions which were not inhabited primarily by Iranians in Ērān regions, such as Armenia and the Caucasus." In Kartir's inscriptions the high priest includes the same regions in his list of provinces of the antonymic Anērān. Both ērān and aryān comes from the Proto-Iranian term Aryānām, (Land) of the (Iranian) Aryas. The word and concept of Airyanem Vaejah is present in the name of the country Iran (Lit. Land of the Aryans) inasmuch as Iran (Ērān) is the modern Persian form of the word Aryānā.

In the outside world, the official name of Iran from the 6th century BC until 1935 was Persia or similar foreign language translations (La Perse, Das Persien, Perzie, etc.). In that year, Reza Shah asked the international community to call the country by the name "Iran". A few years later, some Persian scholars protested to the government that changing the name had separated the country from its past, so in 1959 Mohammad Reza Shah announced that both terms could officially be used interchangeably. Now both terms are common, but "Iran" is used mostly in the modern political context and "Persia" in a cultural and historical context. Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the official name of the country has been the "Islamic Republic of Iran."

Geography and climate

Iran is the eighteenth largest country in the world after Libya and before Mongolia. Its area roughly equals that of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined, or slightly less than the state of Alaska. 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. Iran's area is 1,648,000 km² (approximately 636,300 sq mi).

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 or plateaux from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains; the latter contains Iran's highest point, Mount Damavand at 5,604 m (18,386 ft), which is not only the country's highest peak but also the highest mountain on the Eurasian landmass west of the Hindu Kush. 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 Sea of Oman.

Iran's climate ranges from arid or semiarid, to subtropical along the Caspian coast and the northern forests. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) temperatures nearly fall below freezing and it remains humid for the rest of the year. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 29 °C (85 °F). Annual precipitation is 680 mm (27 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1,700 mm (67 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 (eight in) of rain, and have occasional deserts. Average summer temperatures exceed 38 °C (100 °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 (five to fourteen inches).

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

Provinces and Cities

Iran is divided into thirty 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%. The United Nations predicts that by 2030 80% of the population will be urban. 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. Tehran, with population of 7,705,036, is the largest city in Iran and is the Capital city. 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's communication and transport network.

Mashhad with a population of 2.8 million is the second largest Iranian city and the centre of the province of Razavi Khorasan. Mashahd is one of the holiest Shi'a 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. Another major Iranian city is Isfahan (population 1,986,542). Isfahan is the capital of Isfahan Province. The Naghsh-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 eleventh to the 19th century. The growth of suburb area around the city has turned Isfahan to the second most populous metropolitan area (3,430,353). The other major Iranian cities are Karaj (population 1,732,275), Tabriz (population 1,597,312) and Shiraz (population 1,227,331). Karaj is located in Tehran province and is situated 20 km west of Tehran, at the foot of Alborz mountains, however the city is increasingly becoming an extension of the metropolitan Tehran.

History

Early history (3200 BC–625 BC)

Dozens of pre-historic sites across the Iranian plateau point to the existence of ancient cultures and urban settlements in the fourth millennium BC, centuries before the earliest civilizations arose in nearby Mesopotamia. Proto-Iranians first emerged following the separation of Indo-Iranians, and are traced to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex. Aryan, (Proto-Iranian) tribes arrived in the Iranian plateau in the third and second millennium 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 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. Avestan is an eastern Old Iranian language that was used to compose the sacred hymns and canon of the Zoroastrian Avesta in c. 1000 BC.

Pre-Islamic Statehood (625 BC–651 AD)

The Medes are credited with the unification of Iran as a nation and empire (625–559  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 continued his father's work of conquest, making significant gains in Egypt. Following a power struggle after Cambyses' death Darius I was declared king (ruled 522–486 BC). Under Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great, the Persian Empire eventually became the largest and most powerful empire in human history up until that point. The borders of the Persian empire stretched from the Indus and Oxus Rivers in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, extending through Anatolia (modern day Turkey) and Egypt.

In 499 BC Athens lent support to a revolt in Miletus which resulted in the sacking of Sardis. This led to an Achaemenid campaign against Greece known as the Greco-Persian Wars which lasted the first half of the 5th century BC. During the Greco-Persian wars Persia made some major advantages 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. Zoroastrianism spread unimposed during the time of the Achaemenids and through contacts with the exiled Jewish people in Babylon freed by Cyrus, Zoroastrian concepts further propagated and influenced into other 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 Southeastern 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.

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.

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. These were the third native dynasty of ancient Iran and lasted five centuries. After the conquests of Media, Assyria, Babylonia and Elam, 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 beyond Cappadocia (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". 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 suffered a defeat at Carrhae in 53 BC.

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, , "Dominion of the Aryans", (i.e. of Iranians), with their capital at Ctesiphon. 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. During their reign, Sassanid battles with the Roman Empire caused such pessimism in Rome that the historian Cassius Dio wrote:

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

During Parthian, and later Sassanid era, 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 classically 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. The Parthians were innovators of many architecture designs such as that of Ctesiphon, which later influenced European Romanesque architecture. 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)

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Iran was annexed into the Arab Umayyad Caliphate. But the Islamization of Iran was to yield deep transformations within the cultural, scientific, and political structure of Iran's society: The blossoming of Persian literature, philosophy, medicine and art became major elements of the newly-forming Muslim civilization, culturally, politically, and religiously. The Iranian contribution to this new Islamic civilization caused the Islamic Golden Age.

Abu Moslem, an Iranian general, expelled the Umayyads from Damascus and helped the Abbasid caliphs to conquer Baghdad. The Abbasid caliphs frequently chose their "wazirs" (viziers) among Iranians, 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.

Attempts of Arabization thus never succeeded in Iran, and movements such as the Shuubiyah became catalysts for Iranians to regain their independence in their relations with the Arab invaders. 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 language of the Persians and 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. Iranian philosophy after the Islamic conquest, is characterized by different interactions with the Old Iranian philosophy, the Greek philosophy and with the development of Islamic philosophy. The Illumination School and the Transcendent Philosophy are regarded as two of the main philosophical traditions of that era in Persia. The movement continued well into the 11th century, when Mahmud-a Ghaznavi founded a vast empire, with its capital at Isfahan and Ghazna. Their successors, the Seljuks, asserted their domination from the Mediterranean Sea to Central Asia. As with their predecessors, the divan of the empire was in the hands of Iranian viziers, who founded the Nizamiyya. During this period, hundreds of scholars and scientists vastly contributed to technology, science and medicine, later influencing the rise of European science during the Renaissance.

In 1218, the eastern Khwarazmid provinces of Transoxiana and Khorasan suffered a devastating invasion by Genghis Khan. During this period more than half of Iran's population was killed, turning the streets of Persian cities such as Neishabur 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". Between 1220 and 1260, the total population of Iran had dropped from 2,500,000 to 250,000 as a result of mass extermination and famine. In a letter to King Louis IX of France, Holaku, one of the Genghis Khan's grandsons, alone took responsibility for 200,000 deaths in his raids of Iran and the Caliphate. He was followed by yet another conqueror, Tamerlane, who established his capital in Samarkand. The waves of devastation prevented many cities such as Neishabur from reaching their pre-invasion population levels until the 20th century, eight centuries later. 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.

Early Modern Era (1501–1921)

Iran's first encompassing Shi'a 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. 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 Afghan rebels defeated Shah Sultan Hossein and ended the Safavid Dynasty, but in 1735, Nader Shah successfully drove out the Afghan rebels from Isfahan and established the Afsharid Dynasty. 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, and he was assassinated in 1747. The Mashhad 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 the Qajar Dynasty in 1794. The Qajar chancellor Amir Kabir established 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. 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, which by the end of the Qajar period resulted in Persia's constitutional revolution establishing the nation's first parliament in 1906, within a constitutional monarchy.

Recent history (1921–)

In 1925, Reza Khan overthrew the weakening Qajar Dynasty and became Shah. Reza Shah initiated industrialization, railroad construction, and the establishment of a national education system. Reza Shah 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 in order to utilize Iranian railroad capacity during World War II. The Shah was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

In 1951 Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh was elected prime minister. As prime minister, Mossadegh became enormously popular in Iran after he nationalized Iran's oil reserves. In response, Britain embargoed Iranian oil and, amidst Cold War fears, invited the United States to join in a plot to depose Mossadegh, and in 1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized Operation Ajax. The operation was successful, and Mossadegh was arrested on 19 August 1953. 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.

The Iranian Revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution, began in January 1978 with the first major demonstrations against the Shah. After strikes and demonstrations paralysed 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. 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, as it had not been precipitated by a military defeat, a financial crisis, or a peasant rebellion. 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, the revolution ultimately resulted in an Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Iran's relationship with the United States deteriorated rapidly during the revolution. On 4 November 1979, a group of Iranian students seized US embassy personnel, labelling the embassy a "den of spies". They accused its personnel of being CIA agents plotting to overthrow the revolutionary government, as the CIA had done to Mohammad Mossadegh 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. While most of the female and African American hostages were released within the first months, the remaining fifty-two hostages were held for 444 days. Subsequently attempts by the Jimmy Carter administration to negotiate or rescue were unsuccessful. In January 1981 the hostages were set free according to the Algiers declaration.

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 Tunbs became 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 Shi'a 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 Iranian being victims of Iraq's chemical weapons. 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.

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 EU 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. 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.

Government and politics

The political system of the Islamic Republic is based on the 1979 Constitution. The system comprises several intricately connected governing bodies. The Supreme Leader of Iran is responsible for delineation and supervision of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Supreme Leader is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, controls the military intelligence and security operations; and has sole power to declare war or peace. The heads of the judiciary, state radio and television networks, the commanders of the police and military forces and six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The Assembly of Experts elects and dismisses the Supreme Leader on the basis of qualifications and popular esteem. The Assembly of Experts is responsible for supervising the Supreme Leader in the performance of legal duties.

After the Supreme Leader, the Constitution defines the President of Iran as the highest state authority. The President is elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years and can only be re-elected for one term. Presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running in order to ensure their allegiance to the ideals of the Islamic revolution. The President is responsible for the implementation of the Constitution and for the exercise of executive powers, except for matters directly related to the Supreme Leader, who has the final say in all matters. The President appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers, coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the legislature. Eight Vice-Presidents serve under the President, as well as a cabinet of twenty two ministers, who must all be approved by the legislature. Unlike many other states, the executive branch in Iran does not control the armed forces. Although the President appoints the Ministers of Intelligence and Defense, it is customary for the President to obtain explicit approval from the Supreme Leader for these two ministers before presenting them to the legislature for a vote of confidence. Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was elected in a run-off poll in the 2005 presidential elections. His term expires in 2009.

As of 2008 the Legislature of Iran (also known as the Majlis of Iran) is a unicameral body. Before the Iranian Revolution, the legislature was bicameral, but the upper house was removed under the new constitution. The Majlis of Iran comprises 290 members elected for four-year terms. The Majlis drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the national budget. All Majlis candidates and all legislation from the assembly must be approved by the Council of Guardians. The Council of Guardians comprises twelve jurists including six appointed by the Supreme Leader. The others are elected by the Parliament from among the jurists nominated by the Head of the Judiciary. The Council interprets the constitution and may veto Parliament. If a law is deemed incompatible with the constitution or Sharia (Islamic law), it is referred back to Parliament for revision. In a controversial exercise of its authority, the Council has drawn upon a narrow interpretation of Iran's constitution to veto parliamentary candidates. The Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between Parliament and the Council of Guardians, and serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country.

The Supreme Leader appoints the head of Iran's Judiciary, who in turn appoints the head of the Supreme Court and the chief public prosecutor. There are several types of courts including public courts that deal with civil and criminal cases, and "revolutionary courts" which deal with certain categories of offenses, including crimes against national security. The decisions of the revolutionary courts are final and cannot be appealed. The Special Clerical Court handles crimes allegedly committed by clerics, although it has also taken on cases involving lay people. The Special Clerical Court functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader. The Court's rulings are final and cannot be appealed.

The Assembly of Experts, which meets for one week annually, comprises 86 "virtuous and learned" clerics elected by adult suffrage for eight-year terms. As with the presidential and parliamentary elections, the Council of Guardians determines candidates' eligibility. The Assembly elects the Supreme Leader and has the constitutional authority to remove the Supreme Leader from power at any time. As all of their meetings and notes are strictly confidential, the Assembly has never been publicly known to challenge any of the Supreme Leader's decisions.

Local City Councils are elected by public vote to four-year terms in all cities and villages of Iran. According to article seven of Iran's Constitution, these local councils together with the Parliament are "decision-making and administrative organs of the State". This section of the constitution was not implemented until 1999 when the first local council elections were held across the country. Councils have many different responsibilities including electing mayors, supervising the activities of municipalities; studying the social, cultural, educational, health, economic, and welfare requirements of their constituencies; planning and co-ordinating national participation in the implementation of social, economic, constructive, cultural, educational and other welfare affairs.

Foreign relations and military

Iran's foreign relations are based on two strategic principles: eliminating outside influences in the region and pursuing extensive diplomatic contacts with developing and non-aligned countries. Iran maintains diplomatic relations with almost every member of the United Nations, except for Israel, which Iran does not recognize, and the United States since the Iranian Revolution. Since 2005, Iran's Nuclear Program has become the subject of contention with the West because of suspicions regarding Iran's military intentions. This has led the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Iran on select companies linked to this program, thus furthering its economic isolation on the international scene.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has two kinds of armed forces: the regular forces Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), totalling about 545,000 active troops. Iran also has around 350,000 Reserve Force totaling around 900,000 trained troops. Iran has not invaded any country over the past two centuries. Iran has a paramilitary, volunteer militia force within the IRGC, called the Basij, which includes about 90,000 full-time, active-duty uniformed members. Up to 11 million men and women are members of the Basij who could potentially be called up for service; GlobalSecurity.org estimates Iran could mobilize "up to one million men". This would be among the largest troop mobilizations in the world. In 2005, Iran's military spending represented 3.3% of the GDP or $91 per capita, the lowest figure of the Persian Gulf nations. Iran's military doctrine is based on deterrence.

Since the Iranian revolution, to overcome foreign embargo, Iran has developed its own military industry, produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, guided missiles, submarines, and fighter planes. In recent years, official announcements have highlighted the development of weapons such as the Fajr-3 (MIRV), Hoot, Kowsar, Zelzal, Fateh-110, Shahab-3 missiles, and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The Fajr-3 (MIRV) is currently Iran's most advanced ballistic missile. It is a domestically-developed and produced liquid fuel missile with an unknown range. The IRIS solid-fuelled missile will be Iran's first missile to bring satellites into orbit.

Economy

Iran's economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of oil and other large enterprises, village agriculture, and small-scale private trading and service ventures. Its economic infrastructure has been improving steadily over the past two decades but continues to be affected by inflation and unemployment. In the early 21st century the service sector contributed the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry (mining and manufacturing) and agriculture. In 2006, about 45% of the government's budget came from oil and natural gas revenues, and 31% came from taxes and fees. Government spending contributed to an average annual inflation rate of 14% in the period 2000–2004. Iran has earned $70 billion in foreign exchange reserves mostly (80%) from crude oil exports (2007). In 2007, the GDP was estimated at $206 billion ($852 billion at PPP), or $3,160 per capita ($12,300 at PPP). Iran's official annual growth rate is at 6%. Because of these figures and the country’s diversified but small industrial base, the United Nations classifies Iran's economy as semi-developed.

The services sector has seen the greatest long-term growth in terms of its share of GDP, but the sector remains volatile. State investment has boosted agriculture with the liberalization of production and the improvement of packaging and marketing helping to develop new export markets. Thanks to the construction of many dams throughout the country in recent years, large-scale irrigation schemes, and the wider production of export-based agricultural items like dates, flowers, and pistachios, produced the fastest economic growth of any sector in Iran over much of the 1990s.

Close to 1.8% of national employment is generated in the tourism sector which is slated to increase to 10% in the next five years. About 1,659,000 foreign tourists visited Iran in 2004; most came from Asian countries, including the republics of Central Asia, while a small share came from the countries of the European Union and North America. Iran currently ranks 89th in tourist income, but is rated among the 10 most touristic countries in the world. Weak advertising, unstable regional conditions, a poor public image in some parts of the world, and absence of efficient planning schemes in the tourism sector have all hindered the growth of tourism.

The administration continues to follow the market reform plans of the previous one and indicated that it will diversify Iran's oil-reliant economy. Iran has also developed a biotechnology, nanotechnology, and pharmaceuticals industry. The strong oil market since 1996 helped ease financial pressures on Iran and allowed for Tehran's timely debt service payments. Iranian budget deficits have been a chronic problem, mostly due to large-scale state subsidies, that include foodstuffs and especially gasoline, totaling more than $84 billion in 2008 for the energy sector alone.

The authorities so as the private sector have put in the past 15 years an emphasis on the local production of domestic-consumption oriented goods such as home appliances, cars, agricultural products, pharmaceutical, etc. Today, Iran possesses a good manufacturing industry, despite restrictions imposed by foreign countries. However, nationalized industries such as the bonyads have often been managed badly, making them ineffective and uncompetitive with years. Today, the government is trying to privatize these industries, such as Damavand mineral water company, and despite some successes, there are still several problems to be overcome such as the lagging corruption in the public sector (and therefore, nationalized industries) and lack of competitiveness.

Globally, Iran has leading manufacture industry in the fields of car-manufacture and transportations, construction materials, home appliances, food and agricultural goods, armaments, pharmaceuticals, information technology, power and petrochemicals.

Energy

Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and also second in oil reserves. It is OPEC's 2nd largest oil exporter. In 2005, Iran spent US$4 billion dollars on fuel imports, because of contraband and inefficient domestic use. Oil industry output averaged in 2005, compared with the peak of six million barrels per day reached in 1974. In the early 2000s, industry infrastructure was increasingly inefficient because of technological lags. Few exploratory wells were drilled in 2005.

In 2004, a large share of Iran’s natural gas reserves were untapped. The addition of new hydroelectric stations and the streamlining of conventional coal and oil-fired stations increased installed capacity to 33,000 megawatts. Of that amount, about 75% was based on natural gas, 18% on oil, and 7% on hydroelectric power. In 2004, Iran opened its first wind-powered and geothermal plants, and the first solar thermal plant is to come online in 2009. Demographic trends and intensified industrialization have caused electric power demand to grow by 8% per year. The government’s goal of 53,000 megawatts of installed capacity by 2010 is to be reached by bringing on line new gas-fired plants and by adding hydroelectric, and nuclear power generating capacity. Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr is set to go online late 2008 or early 2009.

Demography

Iran is a diverse country consisting of people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds cemented by the Persian culture. 70% of present-day Iranians are Iranic peoples, native speakers of Iranian branches of the Indo-European languages. The majority of the population speaks the official Persian language, and other Iranian languages or dialects. In addition Arabic is spoken in Southwestern Iran, and Turkic dialects, (i.e. Azeri, etc) are spoken in different areas in Iran. The main ethnic groups are Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Arabs (3%), Baluchi (2%), Lurs (2%), Turkmens (2%), Laks, Qashqai, Armenians, Persian Jews, Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, Tats, Mandaeans, Gypsies, Brahuis, Hazara, Kazakhs and others (1%).

Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century, reaching about 70 million by 2006. In recent years, however, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly. Currently the population is almost 72 million Studies show that Iran's rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 90 million by 2050. More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and the literacy rate is 82%. Women today compose more than half of the incoming classes for universities around the country and increasingly continue to play pivotal roles in society.

Iran hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with more than one million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2006, Iranian officials have been working with the UNHCR and Afghan officials for their repatriation.

Religion in Iran is dominated by the Twelver Shi'a branch of Islam, which is the official state religion and to which about 89% of Iranians belong. About 9% of Iranians belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, mainly Kurds and Iran's Balochi Sunni. The remaining 2% are non-Muslim religious minorities, including Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three minority religions are officially recognized and protected, and have reserved seats in the Majlis (Parliament). However the Bahá'í Faith, Iran's largest religious minority, is not officially recognized, and has been persecuted during its existence in Iran. Since the 1979 revolution the persecution of Bahá'ís has increased with executions, the denial of civil rights and liberties, and the denial of access to higher education and employment. Currently, the Islamic Republic of Iran is noted for significant human rights violations, despite efforts by human right activists, writers, NGOs and some political parties. Human rights violations include governmental impunity, restricted freedom of speech, gender inequality, treatment of homosexuals, execution of minors, and in some cases torture.

According to the Iranian Constitution, the government is required to provide every citizen of the country with access to social security that covers retirement, unemployment, old age, disability, accidents, calamities, health and medical treatment and care services. This is covered by public revenues and income derived from public contributions. The World Health Organization in the last report on health systems ranks Iran's performance on health level 58th, and its overall health system performance 93rd among the world's nations.

Culture

The Culture of Iran is a mix of ancient pre-Islamic culture and Islamic culture. Iranian culture probably originated in Central Asia and the Andronovo culture is strongly suggested as the predecessor of Iranian culture ca. 2000 BC. 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, and so influenced as far as Western Europe and Africa. This influence played a prominent role in the formation of both Asiatic and European medieval art. 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.

After Islamicization 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. 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. Norouz was nominated as one of UNESCO's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2004.

The cuisine of Iran is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, as well as culinary traditions and styles, distinct to their regions. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. Herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic flavourings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes. Onions and garlic are normally used in the preparation of the accompanying course, but are also served separately during meals, either in raw or pickled form. Iranian food is not spicy.

Iranian cinema has thrived in modern Iran, and many Iranian directors have garnered worldwide recognition for their work. Iranian movies have won over three hundred awards in the past twenty-five years. One of the best-known directors is Abbas Kiarostami. The media of Iran is a mixture of private and state-owned, but books and movies must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance before being released to the public. State censorship is often brought upon films which do not meet approval. The Internet has become enormously popular among the Iranian youth. Iran is now the world's fourth largest country of bloggers.

Language and literature

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 large languages of Iran such as Azeri, Kurdish and even in relatively smaller ones such as Arabic and Armenian. Many languages have originated from Iran, but Persian is the most used language. Persian is a tongue belonging to the Aryan or Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The oldest records in Old Persian date back to the Achaemenid Empire and examples of Old Persian have been found in present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. In the late 8th century the Persian language was highly Arabized and written in a modified Arabic script. This caused a movement supporting the revival of Persian. An important event of this revival was the writing of the Shahname by Ferdowsi (Persian: Epic of Kings), Iran's national epic, which is said to have been written entirely in native Persian. This gave rise to a strong reassertion of Iranian national identity, and is in part credited for the continued existence of Persian as a separate language.

بسی رنج بردم در این سال سی
عجم زنده کردم بدین پارسی
For thirty years, I suffered much pain and strife
with Persian I gave the Ajam verve and life
Ferdowsi (935–1020)

Persian beside Arabic has been a medium for literary and scientific contributions to the Islamic world especially in Anatolia, central Asia and Indian sub-continent. Poetry is a very important part of Persian culture. Poetry is used in many classical works, whether from Persian literature, science, or metaphysics. For example about half of Avicenna's medical writings are known to be versified. Iran has produced a number of famous poets, however only a few names such as Rumi and Omar Khayyám have surfaced among western popular readership, even though the likes of Hafez and Saadi are considered by many Iranians to be just as influential. The books of famous poets have been translated into western languages since 1634. An example of Persian poetic influence is the poem below which is inscribed on the entrance of United Nations' Hall of Nations.

بنى آدم اعضاء يک پیکرند
که در آفرينش ز يک گوهرند
چو عضوى بدرد آورد روزگارد
دگر عضوها را نماند قرار
Of one Essence is the human race
thus has Creation put the base
One Limb impacted is sufficient
For all Others to feel the Mace
Saadi (1184–1283)

Art

Greater Iran is home to one of the richest artistic traditions in world history and encompasses many disciplines, including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and stone masonry. Carpet-weaving is one of the most distinguished manifestations of Persian culture and art, and dates back to ancient Persia. Persians were among the first to use mathematics, geometry, and astronomy in architecture and also have extraordinary skills in making massive domes which can be seen frequently in the structure of bazaars and mosques. The main building types of classical Iranian architecture are the mosque and the palace. Iran, besides being home to a large number of art houses and galleries, also holds one of the largest and valuable jewel collections in the world. The oldest backgammon in the world along with 60 pieces has been unearthed in southeastern Iran.

Iran ranks seventh among countries in the world with the most archeological architectural ruins and attractions from antiquity as recognized by UNESCO. Fifteen of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites are creations of Iranian architecture and the mausoleum of Maussollos was identified as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Science and technology

Ancient Iranians built Qanats and Yakhchal to provide and keep water. The first windmill appeared in Iran in the 9th century. Iranians contributed significantly to the current understanding of astronomy, natural science, medicine, mathematics, and philosophy. Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī is widely hailed as the father of algebra. The discovery ethanol (alcohol) was first achieved by Persian alchemists such as Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi. Throughout the Middle Ages, the natural philosophy and mathematics of the Ancient Greeks and Persians were furthered and preserved within Persia. The Academy of Gundishapur was a renowned centre of learning in the city of Gundeshapur during late antiquity and was the most important medical centre of the ancient world during the sixth and seventh centuries. During this period, Persia became a centre for the manufacture of scientific instruments, retaining its reputation for quality well into the 19th century.

Iran strives to revive the golden age of Persian science. The country has increased its publication output nearly tenfold from 1996 through 2004, and has been ranked first in terms of output growth rate followed by China.

Despite the limitations in funds, facilities, and international collaborations, Iranian scientists remain highly productive in several experimental fields as pharmacology, pharmaceutical chemistry, organic chemistry, and polymer chemistry. Iranian scientists are also helping construct the Compact Muon Solenoid, a detector for CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

In the biomedical sciences, Iran's Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics is a UNESCO chair in biology. in late 2006, Iranian scientists successfully cloned a sheep by somatic cell nuclear transfer, at the Rouyan research centre in Isfahan.

The Iranian nuclear program was launched in the 1950s. Iran's current facilities includes several research reactors, a uranium mine, an almost complete commercial nuclear reactor, and uranium processing facilities that include a uranium enrichment plant. The Iranian Space Agency launched its first reconnaissance satellite named Sina-1 in 2006, and a "space rocket" in 2007, which aimed at improving science and research for university students.

Iranian scientists outside of Iran have also made some major contributions to science. In 1960, Ali Javan co-invented the first gas laser and fuzzy set theory was introduced by Lotfi Zadeh. Iranian cardiologist, Tofy Mussivand invented and developed the first artificial cardiac pump, the precursor of the artificial heart. Furthering research and treatment of diabetes, HbA1c was discovered by Samuel Rahbar. Iranian physics is especially strong in string theory, with many papers being published in Iran. Iranian-American string theorist Cumrun Vafa proposed the Vafa-Witten theorem together with Edward Witten.

Sports

With two thirds of Iran's population under the age of 25, sports constitutes a highly active portion of Iran's society, both traditional and modern. Iran hence was the birthplace of sports such as polo, and Varzesh-e Pahlavani.

Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally referred to as Iran's national sport, but today, the most popular sport in Iran is football (soccer), with the national team having reached the World Cup finals three times, and having won the Asian Cup on three occasions. Iran was the first country in the Middle East to host the Asian Games. It is home to several unique skiing resorts, with the Tochal resort being the world's fifth-highest ski resort (at its highest station) situated only fifteen minutes away from Tehran. Being a mountainous country, Iran offers enthusiasts abundant challenges for hiking, rock climbing, and mountain climbing. Iranian women are also active in sports.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Benjamin Walker, Persian Pageant: A Cultural History of Iran, Arya Press, Calcutta, 1950.

External links


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