Iran, center of the Middle East, fundamentalist theocracy, and home to some of the richest history of human civilization as we know it. Today it stands as one of the major oil producers in the world; it also has ties to Islamic hatred and terrorism. These negative influences have pushed what is an otherwise benign and humble country into the forefront of world security today. Let's learn some more about Iran.
Ok, so you want to speak wise on Iran. First, let's cover their history. The key word in Iranian history is turmoil. From the Aryans to the Achaemenids to the Mongols, Arabs, and Turks, there has rarely been a period in time where Iran was not in the thick of a major war or struggle for power.
- 4000 B.C.: Nomads settle in to the various watering holes of Iran, thereby stripping themselves of the title "nomad."
- 2200 B.C.: Aryan tribes begin conquering and civilizing (term used loosely) most of modern Iran. Eventually, infighting breaks the Aryans up into the Medes and the Persians.
- 550 B.C.: The Persian Empire really gets underway when Cyrus the Great becomes king. He takes over Lydia (modern day Yugoslavia and Turkey) and the northern half of Egypt.
- 486 B.C.: Darius I loses to the Greeks at Marathon, although they come in a close second at 2 hrs, 38 minutes, 21 seconds.
- 334 B.C.: A weakened Persian state is no match for Alexander the Great. Unfortunately, Alexander the Great is no match for the flu, and upon his death Iran returns ... to turmoil.
- AD 226: After 5 centuries of mostly regional rule (with the occasional Parthian state attempting to exert itself), the Sassanians set up their capital at Ctesiphon and made Zoroastrianism the state religion of Persia.
- AD 272: The Sassanians defeat the Roman Emperor Valerian in a bloody battle royale in Turkey. Highlight: Shapur I doing the Leg Drop of Doom on Valerian. For once, Iran is not in turmoil, and Ctesiphon becomes the most powerful city in the world. You can also thank the Sassanians for the income tax.
- AD 304: Constant persecution of Christianity leads to war with Byzantium. Strong leaders keep the Byzantines at bay, but bloodshed is part of the daily affairs of Persia.
- AD 624: Government stagnancy allows Arab invaders to conquer most of their lands, bringing the first seedlings of Islam to the Iranian Plateau. Crusades, anyone?
- AD 930: Bloodthirsty Turks swarm the land of Iran, forming several small states in its northern region, along with Syria and Iraq. The Arabs are a tad busy with the Catholics in Jerusalem. Palestine, and elsewhere, and pay little attention to their new swarthy neighbors.
- AD 1231:Genghis Khan, scourge of the Orient, arrives in town and starts kicking ass and taking names. In the 14th century, the great warrior Tamerlane also makes several guest appearances, and the region is in turmoil for 200 years.
- AD 1502: Shah Ismail corrals enough power and land to reform Persia as a sovereign state, beginning the Savafid Dynasty. With this new power Ismail named Shiite Islam as the state religion. Uzbekistan and the Ottoman Empire disapprove, and decide to resolve their issues diplomatically via scimitar and crossbow.
- AD 1513: Just in case there weren't enough fingers in the pie, explorers from Portugal start settling in western Iran, trying to mine and plant their way to world domination.
- AD 1587: Abbas The Great comes into power, reorganizes the Army, and shows Portugal the door. He ain't called Great for nothing, you know.
- 1722: Despite the greatness that preceded them, other Savafid rulers are weak and puny, and the Afghans take control in 1722.
- 1736: Spread too thin, the Afghans are no match for local despot Nadir Shah, who forms the Afshar dynasty: during his 11 year tenure, he conquers both Syria and India.
- 1747: Nadir Shah is assassinated, replaced by Karim Khan and the Zand dynasty. Alas, turmoil again reigns supreme, and the Qajar tribe goes to war with the Zand.
- 1793: Aga Muhammad Khan finally defeats the Zand and begins his Qajar dynasty. As is tradition with Iranian rulers, he rules with an iron fist and is stabbed to death by his own servants in 1797.
- 1813: The Treaty of Gulistan comes to pass. This treaty, along with the 1828 Treaty of Turkmanchay, force Iran to give up its claims to its lands in Caucasia (now southern Russia). Iran continues to be a czarist patsy for 100 years, until the Russian Revolution.
- 1857: After years of trying to reclaim the rich city of Herat from Afghanistan, the British come to Afghani aid, forcing Iran to recognize the country's independence. Ahh, turmoil, we know ye well.
- 1902: The first oil is discovered in Iran.
- 1902: HOLY CRAP! OIL IN IRAN!
- 1906: The Shah agrees to a constitution and a parliament. Finally, some non-turmoil politics. But wait ...
- 1907: The British and Russian governments agree to divvy up Iran into "spheres of influence"; Iran has little say in this. Political turmoil ensues.
- 1919: Iran joins the League of Nations as an independent state. Britain agrees to affirm Iran's independence, but tries to unofficially make it a protectorate. Russia, on the other hand, cancels all of its debt and moves out of Iran in 1921.
- 1925:Reza Shah, a colonel in the Iranian army, decides that he's had enough of this turmoil from outside the country, and in a fit of nationalism, forms a military coup d'etat and takes over the country, ending the Qajar dynasty.
- 1941: After years of de facto isolation, Iran is reoccupied by British and Russian forces during World War II. Reza Shah abdicates, leaving his son in power. His son gives the United States permission to post troops in the country to deliver military goods and weaponry to the USSR.
- 1943: At the Tehran Conference, the US, Britain, and Russia give territorial integrity to Iran. However, Iran makes few oil concessions, and Boris Badenov returns the favor by subtly aggrandizing a revolt in the north of Iran.
- 1946: War's over, and the Russians still aren't out of Azerbaijan (then Iranian land.) The Russians finally agree to leave when they are given oil concessions, but Iran manages to depose the Soviet puppet governments in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan and refuse to meet their end of the bargain.
- 1951: Mussadegh nationalizes the oil industry, forming the National Iranian Oil Company. A British blockade leads to - you guessed it - economic turmoil, and the shah escapes Iran for London.
- August 1953: Mussadegh is forced from office. Covert United States activity under the OSS is directly responsible for his ouster. Iran forms a consortium with France, Britian, the United States, and the USSR to split the costs and profits of the Iranian oil industry.
- 1957: In a strangely turmoil-avoiding move, Iran abolishes the martial law that has been in place since the start of WWII.
- 1961: Iran joins the Baghdad Pact, receiving millions in economic aid from the United States for the next 8 years.
- 1963: A new party takes majority power in parliament, and the shah's land reform policies do little to assuage the worsening economic situation in Iran: riots ensue. In unrelated news, women are allowed to vote for the first time.
- 1964: An Islamic dissenter named Ayatollah Khomeini is removed from the country. The shah's secret police SAVAK "purges" thousands more during his reign.
- January 1965: Iranian Premier Hassan Ali Mansur is assassinated, and the first of many attempts on the shah's life is taken. Tough crowd.
- April 1969: Now the fun really begins. The Shatt al Arab waterway, which serves as the border between Iraq and Iran, is completely under Iraqi control. The Iranians demand renegotiation of the power.
- November 1971: Shortly after Britain removed its troops from the Persian Gulf, Iran uses foreign aid to become the numero uno military power in the Middle East. It also takes over three Arab islands in the Persian Gulf, severely ticking off several Iraqi officials.
- 1973: The Shah re-nationalizes the oil industry. After the Six Day War, Iran refuses to embargo the nations supporting Israel, but takes an active part in price gouging throughout the 1970s.
- September 1978: Martial law is declared in all major cities. To which critics replied, "Too little, too late."
- January 16, 1979: In his second run for the border, the shah again heads to London. By Valentine's Day, Ayatollah Khomeini and his Islamic fundamentalist faction are in control of Iran. Western music and dress were banned: women were taken out of the internal political loop - no longer allowed to run for office - and placed back under veils. Arrests and executions ran rampant. In short: turmoil.
- September 22, 1980: Iraq invades Iran, primarily over the Shatt al Arab waterway, but also with various foreign interests in mind. Khomeini never backs down, ordering the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Over half a million people die as a result of direct warfare and economic turpitude in eight years of fighting.
- November 1986: The turmoil of Iran proves contagious as United States officials attempt to negotiate and arms trade with Iran in order to gain release of hostages in Lebanon. These dealings lead to widespread Congressional investigations in what is now known as the Iran Contra Affair. Heads roll.
- July 3, 1988: The United States mistakenly downs an Iranian Airbus A300, killing all 290 passengers and crew. That same month, Khomeini orders a ceasefire.
- 1989: The Soviet Union begins pulling troops out of neighboring Afghanistan. Also, the Ayatollah dies, replaced by Sayid Ali Khamenei.
- June 21, 1990: Natural turmoil! A major earthquake strikes Iran, killing almost 45,000.
- Everything since: Iran has steadily moved towards a more moderate government, working hard to develop ties with the European Union - although the US still will not trade with Iran, claiming they have aided terrorists groups and harbor secret nuclear weapon technology. Current President Mohammad Khatami is now at ends with the more fundamentalist elements of his country to allow reform of the press and the military. Who knows what wacky turmoil-filled ruler or regime will come up next?
Basically formed on the Persian Gulf and Tigris River, Iran is a largely mountainous country with a large central plateau, slightly larger than Alaska. As a major faultline of the Himalayan mountain system runs through northeastern Iran, it is a major site of earthquakes and volcanic activity. Most of its land is very alkaline and sandy, with a few marshes. The Gulf Of Oman and Caspian Sea also provide borders for the country.
Iran's weather is mostly continental, with hot summers and cold winters, similar to the Eastern United States and France. Although it has its share of rainfall, most of its precipitation occurs as snow due to its high elevation - and meltwater is a major water supply for many residents of the country.
Some points of geographical interest in Iran:
All of this geographical diversity - rivers, mountains, deserts, plateaus, and marshes - give Iran a very unique character. Like the country, its people are also diverse. Whereas roughly 50% of its population is of direct Persian descent, 25% of the people are Azeris from Azerbaijan, and the rest of the people an equal mix of Kurds, Arabs, Gilaki, Turks, and Balochs. 90% of the population practices the Shiite form of Islam, and the remainder is comprised of Sunni Muslims, with a scattering of Jews, Christians, and Bahá'í. The primarily language is Farsi, with French, English, and Turkish being found in various parts of the country. Interestingly, men and women are allowed to vote at the age of 15 in Iran.
The government is headed by the supreme leader (currently Ayatollah Khamenei), who rules for life and is elected by the Guardian Council, a fundamental Islamic board which works with the government. The president is elected every 4 years, with similar term limits and qualifications as the United States Presidency. The parliament is made up of 270 members, and although no official political party system exists, it consists of 3 major groups: the Islamic fundamentalists, the secular conservatives, and the secular moderates.
The country's chief currency is the toman, which is equivalent to 10 rials. Roughly 1800 rials equal 1 American dollar. There are 72 radio stations and 28 television stations: many of these are state-run by the Islamic Republic News Agency, a division of the Information Ministry.
Barely 20% of Iran's land is arable (able to grow anything), and agriculture provides less than 30% of its total gross national product. Most of its farming is confined to the northern marshes, where rice and wheat are the major crops. Livestock and textile industries play a rather large role in the industry, as do the various mining expeditions in the country. The Elburz Mountains are particularly wooded, and the government operates a forestry industry in the area. A rather cautious environmental policy ensures a healthy reforestation of the land. Fishing also plays a vital role in the day-to-day life of Iran, with sturgeon and pike providing meals and a valuable export to the country.
Still, by far the largest export of Iran is its oil industry. Oil and natural gas provides over 80% of Iran's annual revenue: its major trading partners are Japan, Russia, and South Korea. Its chief port is Khorramshahr, on the Shatt al Arab waterway. The country itself is crisscrossed with railroads, and the country uses its geophysical position as the gateway between Asia and Europe to serve as a major center of foreign trade. This occasionally has led to problems with heroin and illegal weapons trading, but the government actively works to prevent this.