Iran Brief History

Iran Brief History

When I told him that my next trip would be to Iran, the Middle East, the question came, more or less, automatically from nine people out of ten: “How dare you go there?” In the end, I also almost wondered what I was getting myself into!

According to A2zgov, the Western image of Iran, mainly ruled by the United States, as a country belonging to the “Axis Powers of Evil”, does not match reality! If the country right now happens to have a government that has chosen a line of confrontation with the Western world, the absolute majority of the country’s population does not share this position. The Iranians are extremely friendly, helpful and hospitable to visitors from the West and it is the encounters with them that one will perhaps remember best from the trip.

During my almost four-week tour of Iran, I had only positive experiences and experiences, with the exception of one occasion, which contradicted the image of the country and its population created by the media. I visited cities like Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Nain, Badrood and Iran’s second holiest city Qom. The trip also included some nice mountain walks outside the small town of Natanz and around the incredibly beautiful mountain village of Abyaneh, meetings with nomads, visits to historic sites such as Persepolis and Pasargadae and a cup of tea with mullets in Khomeini’s house in the holy city of Qom. Are you interested in visiting Iran? Do not hesitate to go there!

Iran history in brief

Iran history, before the birth of Christ

Already several hundred thousand years ago, human early relatives lived in caves in the area that is today called Iran. 8,000 years before the birth of Christ, farmers and herders lived on the slopes of the Zagros Mountains. In the lowlands of western Iran, an urban civilization emerged, which in the 3rd century BC was a centralized state, the Elamite Empire, with its own written language.

Since then, many great empires have arisen and fallen in the area. Different rulers, peoples, cultures and religions have influenced the country. At the same time, Iran, or Persia as the country was called until 1935, exercised a great deal of influence over its surroundings.

Persia first appeared as an independent kingdom in the 5th century BC. The Achaemenid Empire expanded rapidly under the kings Cyrus and Darius. When the empire was at its greatest in the 400s BC, it stretched from Egypt to India. One hundred years later, the Achaemenids were defeated by King Alexander the Great of Macedonia.

History of Iran, after Christ – 1899

In the 200s AD, Persia re-emerged as an independent state, the Sasinidian Empire, which lasted for more than four hundred years. However, it was weakened by constant wars with Rome in the west and Central Asian nomadic peoples in the east.

In the middle of the 6th century, the sasinid rule was conquered by the Arabs. Islam replaced Zoroastrianism, the cult of fire, as the official religion, and Persia was subordinated to the Arab caliphate.

After the caliphate weakened in the late ninth century, periods of Turkish and Mongol rule followed.

In 1500, Ishmael, a leader of a Shiite dervish order, founded the Safavid Empire and Shia became the state religion. Around the year 1600, the Safavid empire reached a greatness that Persia has not experienced since.

In the early 18th century, parts of Persia, including the Turks, were occupied. During the latter part of the century, however, the Persians succeeded in fighting them and even initiating conquests of India, among other places. In 1796, the leader of the Turkmen Qajar tribe proclaimed Shah, that is, King.

The subsequent shahs were corrupt and loved luxury, which led to neglect of the country’s management and army. This increased the interest of European powers in attacking Persia. Russia and Britain intervened in the country’s internal affairs and Russia also conquered parts of the country.

Iran history, modern 1900 – 1999


The misrule of the country led to revolution. The Shah was forced to agree to a new constitution that gave legislative power to a parliament, the majlis


Parliament was dissolved by the ruling Shah, Muhammad Ali. Civil war broke out

1908 Shah Muhammad Ali is deposed and succeeded by his minor son

1914 – 1918

Persia tried to stay out of the First World War by declaring itself neutral, but was still occupied by Russian, Turkish and British forces fighting on Persian soil. As the war drew to a close, the British had greater influence in Persia than the Russians

1921 Military Reza Khan seizes power through a coup


Reza Khan becomes shah under the name Reza Shah Pahlavi. Persia began to reduce its foreign influence under his leadership and a number of companies were nationalized. The Soviet Union agreed to relinquish all the privileges that Tsarist Russia had imposed on it in exchange for the right to send troops to Persia, if the security of the Soviet Union was threatened from this direction.


Through a new agreement with the British oil company Anglo-Persian, later Anglo-Iranian, which had a monopoly on oil extraction in Persia, the Persian state got slightly better terms than before


As a step towards modernization, the country changed its name internationally from Persia to Iran, as it was called in Persian


Women were banned from wearing the veil, a ban many Iranians considered offensive, and after just a few years, the ban was lifted


When World War II broke out, Iran declared itself neutral. But they had close contacts with Germany, which was the country’s largest trading partner. For this reason, Britain and the Soviet Union occupied the country and Regent Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza.


In March, British troops left Iran and the Soviet Union withdrew a few months later following pressure from the United Nations.

1947 A treaty is concluded between Iran and the United States on military aid


Following unrest in the country, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced to appoint Mohammad Mossadeq as Prime Minister. Mossadeq was backed by the Tudeh Communist Party and had broad popular support. He broke the 1933 agreement with the British oil company Anglo-Iranian and nationalized the company’s oil resources and facilities. The Anglo-Iranian responded by organizing an international boycott of Iranian oil. Diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran were severed. The United States tried to mediate but failed


Mosaddeq was ousted by Shah’s loyalists with the help of the CIA, the US intelligence service. The oil crisis was resolved through an agreement that gave the Iranian state and a British-American consortium half of the oil revenues
. With the help of the army and the secret police, SAVAK, the Tudeh party was suppressed. The Shah gradually gained dictatorial power


Iran signed the Baghdad Pact, a defense alliance between Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Britain and the United States, as an associate member


Iran began military and economic cooperation with the United States, which contributed to a comprehensive military rearmament.


To improve relations with the Soviet Union, Iran therefore pledged not to lease its territory to foreign military bases. The
Shah launched a major reform program, the “White Revolution.” The most important elements were a land reform and a campaign to teach the population to read and write. Women were given increased rights, including the right to vote. The land reform led to the Shah losing support from the land-owning upper class. The religious leaders created resistance to him for his contacts with the United States and his efforts to modernize the country following the Western model.


When the reform program was approved by parliament, it sparked a brief but bloody uprising led by Shiite scribes. One of these was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He was arrested along with several others and deported from the country

1965 – 1977 During these years, Iran experienced a stable period of good economic growth

1973 – 1974

During these years, oil revenues increased markedly and economic growth was very high. The shah used the oil revenues, among other things, for industrial investments and arms purchases. There was a shortage of labor, but the growth only benefited a few. Much money was spent on imports for the rich
mosques, which became a natural gathering point for the opposition, which was persecuted by increasingly brutal methods. The rising dissatisfaction led on a few occasions to demonstrations, strikes and riots


The shah reacted by dissolving the political parties and introducing one-party rule. However, the protests developed into a nationwide revolutionary movement

1978 In the autumn, a state of emergency was introduced, and a military government was appointed


In January, the ill-fated shah left Iran “indefinitely”
Ayatollah Khomeini had, from her exile in Iraq, and later in Paris, become a unifying symbol of both the religious and the political opposition. On February 1, shortly after the Shah’s escape, Khomeini returned to Tehran, where he was greeted by cheering crowds. Just over a week later, the military declared itself neutral in the conflict between the Shah’s followers and Khomeini and thus paved the way for the Islamic revolution.

Following a referendum in April, Iran was declared an Islamic republic. Khomeini had appointed a provisional government and a prime minister, the liberal Mehdi Bazargan, but in practice the country was ruled by a special revolutionary council, formed by Khomeini. Those who had worked for the overthrown ruler were quickly imprisoned. Many were executed after summary trials. The Shah’s ally in the United States, “the great Satan”, was the subject of hate speech.

In November, the US embassy was stormed and the staff of 63 people were taken hostage. Only 14 months later, after intense diplomatic activity, could the last 52 Americans be held hostage


The situation after Khomeini’s takeover also caused great concern among the Kurds, who took up arms and demanded autonomy. In the oil province of Khuzestan, a guerrilla movement arose among the Arab population, supported by Iraq. Border intermezzo with the Iraqis occurred more and more often. At the same time, the Iranian military was in decline, as it underwent bloody purges of officers who had served the Shah.
In the eyes of the outside world, the situation in Iran was very unstable. Many believed that the Islamic Republic was close to collapse. One of them was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who in September launched an offensive north of the Shatt al-Arab border river. One of the reasons for the attack was a fear in Iraq that Iran was trying to spread the revolution to the Shia Muslim population in Iraq.

The Iraqi attack created a stronger popular support for the Islamic Republic, however, leading politicians began to criticize many elements of the revolution, including the continued executions of opposition figures. There was no political reconciliation, the mullahs continued to demand submission under the Islamic Republican Party, IRP


Deposited President Abul-Hasan Bani-Sadr, who had been standing Khomeini close but now considered to have too many followers outside mullahs control which triggered violent protests
for several bombings in the summer and the fall killed nearly 200 people, among them the IRP leader Ayatollah Beheshti, the new President Mohammad Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javar Bahonar. However, the attacks did not lead to a general uprising, but the regime’s persecution became increasingly severe, which eventually broke the Muslim left movement. Bani-Sadr and MKO leader Masoud Rajavi fled to France. During the first half of the 1980s, an estimated 10,000 MKO members and other opposition members were executed


The only political organizations still outside the control of the religious leaders were the Tudeh Party and the Kurdish movements. Although Tudeh unreservedly supported the IRP’s policies, a relentless persecution of the party was launched. In northern Iran, the military and the Revolutionary Guards carried out an offensive that drove the Kurdish guerrillas up into the mountains. At the same time, the regime provided support to Kurds fighting for autonomy in Iraq


The regime banned political parties


In the spring, Iran suffered a series of setbacks in the war against Iraq and interest in continuing it declined rapidly. The old leader Khomeini became weaker and weaker, and a political battle for his successor gained momentum. In addition, the great powers had threatened an arms embargo, the same great powers that during the war had provided both Iran and Iraq with weapons! In July, Iran surprised the outside world by unconditionally accepting UN Resolution 598, which it had previously refused to do. The ceasefire was monitored by the UN. More than a million people were estimated to have been killed or injured in the war, most of them Iranians


In February, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a religious injunction, which sentenced British author Salman Rushdie to death for his alleged blasphemy in the book Satan’s Verses

In June, Ayatollah Khomeini died. There was no natural successor. However, Khomeini’s death did not lead to an open power struggle. Iran’s new spiritual leader became former President Ali Khamenei. The presidency was taken over by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speaker of Parliament


Peace talks with Iraq had been sluggish, but in August, following the invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted all of Iran’s demands and wanted a formal peace.
Iran remained neutral in the Kuwait war, but condemned both the Iraqi invasion and the later UN the intervention. The Kuwait war greatly affected Iran. More than a million Iraqi Kurds and about 65,000 Iraqi Shia Muslims fled to Iran


In the parliamentary elections, majlis, the Conservatives gained a majority and most of the reforms initiated by Rafsanjani were diluted or stopped, either by Parliament or the Guardian Council, the twelve lawyers and scribes reviewing all new bills.


The presidential election in May was a very big victory for Mohammad Khatami. The election showed that most Iranians wanted more far-reaching reforms. Khatami promised to work for greater democracy, to reduce unemployment and inflation. But he too came to meet strong opposition from the orthodox groups


The country’s non-democratic institutions, ruled by the Orthodox, intensified the repression of reformists and four critics of the regime were assassinated in the autumn and more assaults were planned in what were called “serial killings”. Agents in the security service were identified as guilty


In the summer, the Conservatives in Parliament pushed through a law to stop the increasingly outspoken pressure that had emerged. Among other things, the oldest opposition newspaper, Salam, was banned, leading to student protests in Tehran. The regime responded by breaking into the university’s student housing with the help of the Ansar-e Hezbollah militant movement. Several hundred students were beaten, two of whom died, and a couple of hundred were arrested by the police. The event led to large demonstrations around the country. Ayatollah Khamenei condemned the attack on the students and two senior police officers were fired. In September, four students were sentenced to death for their role in the demonstrations, which was later commuted to 15 years in prison.

Iran Brief History