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Iran's history in brief

The written history of Iran begins with the early Achaemenids, some 2,500 years ago, but since then till the dawn of Islam in Iran, all that is available on the Iranian history has been written by the ancient Greeks, who were then Iran's greatest enemies. So, the pre-Islamic historical sources are not completely reliable although there are indications that Greek historians often faithfully recorded the facts.

Was there no Iranian Herodotus or Xenophon, or were Iranian historical records destroyed in the many invasions that followed? The answer is not clear. But of the ancient past, certain mythological stories have survived which had been collected during the Sassanid era; and once the Persian language emerged in the Moslem Iran, these were turned into verses, sixty thousand of them in all, by one of Iran's greatest poets, Abulghassem Ferdowsi. He compiled these verses into a book and named it "Shahnameh", the book of kings. Parts ofthese verses have been translated into English, French, Cerman and a few other languages. The book makes excellent epic reading, but for the ancient history we have to rely on Greek writings, and archaeological findings.

Iranians are said to be Aryans and this is in part true. Though predominantly Aryan, they are in fact a mixture of many nations and races: the Old Asian people who lived on the Iranian plateau before the arrival of the Aryans; the Aryans who moved to the plateau mostly in the first millennium BC ; and finally the descendants of the later conquerors: Arabs, Turks, and Mongols.

Archaeological findings indicate that before the Ary ans moved to Iran, a race of people who were neither Semitic nor Aryan lived on the Iranian plateau. These men and women belonged to a certain race which inhabited western Asia, a region extending from the present republic of Turkestan to the Mediterranean. In Iran the Old Asians formed a settlement which gradually spread over the western parts of the plateau running into the Zagros mountains. Apparently this people discovered agricultural cultivation specially growth of barley and wheat and the art of pottery which began with the primitive sun-baked brick. Gradually they had to face other neighboring peoples and civilizations quite different from their own. From the north tribes came peacefully, mixed with the natives and settled on their land. But on the west there was a different story. There, relations developed between the natives of Iran and the Semites of Mesopotamia who were developing an urban, agricultural civilization with well planned political and military structures. The Old Asians were still more or less nomadic but were beginning to show some sod of identity as various civilizations: the Elamites, the LuIlubi, the Guti, and the Kassites occupying the western pads of present Iran from Khouzistan northwards to the end of Luristan. One would think that these two people the Old Asians living in mountainous regions that were rich in raw materials such as ores; and the other, a wealthy people with abundance of food and manufactured goods should have lived in peaceful coexistence with prosperous trade. But in fad, the two people fought for centuries and although the Semites were generally superior and often victorious, it was the less civilized people of the mountains that overcame the Semites. Eventually the Elamites took over the whole of the Tigris Valley from Assure to the Persian Gulf. But soon they were overthrown by the Babylonians: Nebuchadnezzar I more or less destroyed this admirable civilization.

Meanwhile, on the inner side of the Zagros mountains, the Aryans were moving in peacefully from the north, mixing with the native Old Asians, and thus began to glimmer on the plateau the star of a great civilization.

The Aryans are a branch of the people today known as the Indo-Europeans, and are believed to be the ancestors of the people of present day India, Iran, and most of Western Europe. Their language was closely related to Sanskrit and was pad of the Indo-European family of languages. The Aryans began their migrations 3,000-4,000 years ago in three groups; one moved westward to Asia Minor, the second eastward to India; the third group took the middle route, southwards to the Iranian plateau, probably first via the present day Azarbaijan, and later also from the east of the Caspian crossing the river Oxus. Migration to the plateau was initially slow but by the beginning of the first millennium the pace and the number Increased. It continued for a few centuries at an ever expanding rate, but still peacefully, the newcomers mixing with and settling among the natives.

Eventually, two kingdoms appeared which were to play a most significant role in the history of the Persian Empire and Iran: a) Parsa or Persis as the Greeks called it, the Persian kingdom in the south of the plateau, in and around the present day provinces of Fars (from Pars and Parsa), and Khouzistan; and b) the Medes in the northwestern parts of the present day Iran.

On the other side of the Zagros range, meanwhile, two powerful Semitic nations prospered: Babylonia and Assyria. In 612 BC, however, suddenly the Medes, led by Cyaxares captured Nineveh and put a permanent end to the Assyrian Kingdom. Then, in 550BC, Cyrus the Great appeared in Persia and united the two kingdoms and soon subverted Babylonia and Lydia. The two nations, united by Cyrus, made up a powerful empire of "the Persians and the Medes" which, under the leadership of Cyrus grew increasingly stronger until Cyrus was killed in his last battle against nomads on the east. ('he dynasty that followed Cyrus drew its name from one of his ancestors, Achaemenes, whom Cyrus greatly respected.) Cyrus's short life was filled with courage, compassion towards the conquered, and tolerance of others' ideals and religions. When he conquered Babylonia he retained the king as a satrap (or provincial governor). He also freed the Jewish slaves there, and helped them return to their homeland and rebuild their temples which the Babylonians had destroyed. Thus it is that in the Old Testament Cyrus's name has been mentioned with respect and gratitude.

Although Cyrus's son, Cambyses, managed to conquer Egypt easily, before going to Egypt he killed his brother Bardia who was more popular. When he left Iran a man who resembled Bardia took the throne and Cambyses died or killed himself on his way back. In 521 BC a few of the noblest princes assassinated the imposter and elected Darius I as the new King of Kings, or the Great King as Persian kings were known to the Greeks. Darius is, unfortunately, better known for his defeat at Marathon, in his battle against the Greeks who were the only people left on the West that the Persians and the Medes had not subjugated. Except for this failure, how ever, Darius's reign was full of great achievements. He developed, for the first time in history, a system for running his territories through the satraps. He built admirable highways, and developed an excellent postal system both of which allowed him to receive rapidly information from his twenty or so provinces. He appointed inspectors in whom he had confidence to act as "the Eyes and Ears" of the king and keep him informed of all developments, specially with regard to the behavior of each satrap towards his people and towards the empire, bearing in mind at all times that a satrap was always a potential rebel.

Among Darius's other achievements was the development of a standard coin known worldwide for its consistency in its gold content and weight A canal linking the Nile to the Red Sea which was the predecessor of the present day Suez Canal, was also made by him. After Darius, his son Xerxes attempted to subvert the Greeks. He managed to capture Athens but was eventually pushed back by the Greeks. In the latter days of the Achaemenids the Persian kings tried to break the Greeks, not by the sword, but by their gold coins. They were about to succeed when history took one of its greatest turns. This time it fancied to hand over just about the entire civilized world of the time to a young Macedonian, Alexander, who defeated Darius Ill in 323 BC after long and hard battles.

Was the speed of his conquests too fast or his life too short? Or did he lack the genius required for organization and administration of such vast territories at time of peace - the genius with which Darius was amply endowed? Whatever the reason, Alexander died before he had brought about a well-established and organized empire. After his death his territories were divided among his generals; Seleucus Nicator (the victorious) gaining what was then called "Asia". This was most of the Achaemenid Empire less Judea, the Arabian peninsula and parts of Asia Minor.

Alexander made great efforts to bring together the East and the West, Persia and Greece effectively. He had great admiration for the Persian culture, customs and traits, and often dressed in the fashion of the King of Kings. He married the daughter of a Persian noble, and encouraged Greek noblemen to marry Persian noble-women, one of whom, by the name of Apama, became Seleucus Nicator's wife.

The Greek Seleucus and his Persian wife Apama became the king and queen of a territory with a population of Persians and Greeks mixed together and enjoying equal rights. But the Seleucids were not on the whole successful politically and gradually lost parts of their territories, most of it in the first 100 years. However, during their era the encounter of the two civilizations resulted in some artistic and cultural developments. The first province to break away from the Seleucids was Parsa, the birthplace of the Achaemenid empire. Then gradually, Bactria, Parthia and Hyrcania. Finally, after years of clash and struggle, the Parthians captured today's Iran and Mesopotamia and retained these territories for about 300 years.

Parthians or Arsacids - the latter refers to the names of the earliest kings of this dynasty - were originally nomadic people who more or less retained their nomadic culture and feudal system of government. They realized, specially the wise Mithridates I, the superiority of the culture of the conquered people and so allowed them to retain Greek as the official language and to keep their property and administration but under the supervision of Parthian governors.

Meanwhile, a new empire based on and replacing Greek civilization, had appeared in the West and eventually became the neighbor of the Parthian territory. Rome.

During the reign of Mithridates 11(123-87 BC) Iran established relations with China on the East and Rome on the West. Thus trade between East and West expanded, Iran providing a convenient route that later came to be known as the famous Silk Road or Silk Route. Although the first contacts between Parthia and Rome were friendly and resulted in the development of trade and thereby cuftural exchanges, there were intermittent border skirmishes and small scale battles between the two powers. in which the Parthians showed remarkable abilities.

Besides such quarrels with Rome, the Parthians, whose chief interests were hunting and battling, were kept busy by the nomad hordes on the northeast. They withstood invasions by other nomadic tribes and even at times drove them back considerably and thus acted as a barrier to these nomads rushing westwards. (Had it not been for the Parthians these hordes would probably have overrun the Near East and even parts of Europe, 1000 years before Holaku finally did so.)

Unfortunately, Parthians have left no written records oftheir times and what we know about them today are deductions from archaeological findings and non-Parthian sources. It is most likely that their nobles were so concerned with warfare that they left writing to the lower classes. Empires come and empires go. The vassal overcomes the lord to be toppled by one of his own vassals. In 220 AD, Ardeshir, the king of Parsa, who paid tribute to the Parthian king, revolted and in a relatively short time toppled the Parthian empire, and thus in 220 AD the Sassanian or Sassanid dynasty replaced the Parthian. And Iranian history took another turn. Rome considered these developments of little importance to the Roman empire. But when Ardeshir attacked Armenia, Rome's ally, and even parts of the Roman empire in Mesopotamia, the Roman emperor found himself compelled to take to the battlefield, in 231 AD, and so centuries of minor disputes with the Parthians gave way to a few more centuries of fierce battles and deep enmity with the Sassanids.

There were four centuries of intensive, though intermittent, wars which finally exhausted both powers making them easy prey to Moslem Arab invaders who arrived on their Arabian horses with their curved swords and - most important of all an ideology which they expressed in their own simple, harsh, bedouin cries of "AIIah-o-Akbar", great is the one and only God. The Persian empire collapsed suddenly; the Romans lost Syria and Egypt, two vitally important territories.

Once again the vassal overthrows the lord. The bedouin overcomes his protector. There have been many theories put forward regarding the reason why Moslem Arabs managed to conquer Iran at least the better part of it so rapidly and easily. Some point to the decadence of the late Sassanid society; some to Islam's belief in equally irrespective of race, color and social status; yet others point out that Moslems had an ideology, a strong belief to fight for, the belief that dead or alive, they would be the winners at the end of any battle fought for God. Others point the finger at the Persians' overconfidence. The reason, in fact, must be complex and may encompass almost all these factors. But ideology- belief in a God worthy of dying for- is of utmost importance and gave the Arabs great strength of heart. At the same time, the lower Persian classes, bound to their social status through a caste system irrespective of ability, could not help being mesmerized by the idea of equality which was and is a most significant element of Islam.

To these reasons must be added the Persians' appreciation of Islam as a monotheistic religion: after all they had been one of the first people to believe in one God, Ahura Mazda as He was called by them, though towards the end of the Sassanid era their religion had become infected by ideas from Mithraism, Manichaeism and other creeds.

At any rate Persians became Moslems and retained Islam even when they had regained their independence and developed their new language. Just about I 00 years after Persia had become a pad of the Moslem world, an Iranian by the name of Abu Muslim led an uprising in Khorassan against the Omayyad rulers and in favor of Abdollah Saffah, a descendant of Abbas, one of the cousins of the holy Prophet Mohammad. In 750 AD the Omayyads were overthrown and Abdollah Saffah became caliph, the first in line of the Abbasid dynasty. From then on Iranians penetrated further and further into the Arab society and the Moslem world, and contributed greatly to Moslem civilization, art, literature and sciences. Meanwhile, Iranians with a fighting spirits sprang up here and there in the empire, struggling for independence from the Arab yoke.

There were Babak Khorram-Din in Azarbaijan; Mazyar and Hamzeh in Mazandaran, Sistan and Khorassan: and specially Tahir Zol-Yaminein, the governor of Khorassan, who declared independence in 820 AD. Then came Yaqub Lais and the Saffarian dynasty which replaced Taherians in 872 AD to be eventually replaced by Samanians (903 AD). The AI-Buyeh or the Buwahids appeared in nodhem Iran, and were recognized by the caliphate (945 AD), which was by then reduced to a puppet court controlled by the Buyehs. There were other developments here and there until Mahmud, a Moslem Turk of Ghazna, established a strong state, replacing the Samanians in Khorassan and Sistan.

It is about this time that the Turks, long used as slaves, soldiers and generals, enter the world of Islam as rulers and masters. The Turks were a people with their origin in the Altai mountains of Central Asia. They were of both Aryan and non-Aryan blood, with a common language binding them to form a single people. Living under very difficult conditions - like the Mongols with whom they had relations and contacts they were a courageous and robust people of great endurance. Gradually they descended from the Altai mountains and moved westwards in a series of migrations. They came to Iran from the east and the north (both sides of the Caspian Sea). Later they established the great Ottoman empire west of the Caspian Sea, in Asia Minor, which was eventually reduced to the present day Turkey (World War I).

It is said that the Turks, being extremely poor, used to sell their children, at about the age of ten or so, to the neighboring people. Used to hardship, Turkish boys would normally grow up to become worthy Moslem warriors. In this way the Turks infiltrated the courts and armies of independent Moslem Iranian rulers as well as the caliphs, who eventually became dependent upon them. Finally, they ousted the Iranian rulers and replaced them, and turned the caliph into a puppet ruler under their own influence.

From early 11th century there ruled in various parts of Iran, Turkish kings who were more Moslems than Turks, and became increasingly more absorbed into the Islamic and Iranian cultures. One of their greatest plea sures was listening to recitations from the Shahnameh, the legendary epic of ancient Persia's heroes.

Thus Iran was divided into a number of kingdoms, mostly with Turkish monarchs, who ruled on the advice and guidance of their Iranian viziers, or prime ministers.

In 1220 AD, however, the history of Iran began to take yet another turn, more bloody, more tragic, and sadder than any before or since. There was a man approaching Iran on his horse who eventually became a nightmare to the whole world: Chengiz Khan.

Chengiz Khan was a Mongol, born a prince among his people: a people - like the Turks - used to hardship because of the harsh natural conditions in which they lived as nomads. Chengiz's genius and his people's inborn courage and loyalty to him allowed him to rapidly extend his domination over the entire Mongolia and the neighboring regions. Soon his territories shared borders with the Iranian kingdom of Kharazmshahian.

It is said that Chengiz had a great deal of respect for the Iranians and their civilization, and even feared Iranian military strength. In order to expand trade and cultural relations with Iran he sent emissaries to the Kharazmshahi king Sultan Mohammad, For one reason or another, perhaps out of greed for the possessions of the emissaries and the magnificent presents they had with them, some Iranian chief at the frontier outpost murdered the ambassadors and plundered their belongings. Chengiz Khan, though furious at the news, still remained calm and acted wisely; perhaps he had not yet allowed his anger to overcome his respect for and fear of the Iranians. He sent a messenger to the Kharazmshahi king to make a complaint and require an explanation as well as to seek, once again, to establish relations with Iran. Again too much pride and overconfidence, as shown by Iranian rulers and nobles time and again, brought disaster to the nation. Rather than apologize for his officer's uncivilized behavior, and make reparations to this neighbor who was extending his hand to show his amicable intentions, the conceited king treated the messenger harshly as a savage. This time Chengiz Khan decided to attack the Kharazmshahi territory, come what may.

One could say that the Iranian king pushed Chengiz Khan into waging war against the Iranian people, and once he began, Chengiz Khan would not be satisfied only with Kharazrnshahi territories. He overran most Iranian kingdoms, sacked many towns and even completely "erased some from the face of the earth,"

Two elements in the Iranian character show themselves repeatedly: that of pride and overconfidence among the kings and nobles which often led to disasters; and that of resilience, patience and endurance among the common people. Every single town that Chengiz Khan destroyed, was eventually rebuilt by the Iranian people.

Chengiz did not stop at just sacking and erasing towns that resisted him in the slightest way; he massacred in the most inhuman and cruel manner men, women and children: except for a few which he retained as slaves. He built towers out of human heads, His men butchered men and women, boys and girls. Raping women and girls was the least crime they committed, lt is said that the Mongols were forbidden by their traditions to rape married women; so they would first kill the husband then rape the wife. Never in history have Iranians been so shamefully humiliated, except for the second surge of Mongol-Tatar invasion by Teymoor "Lang" (the lame Teymoor) or Tamerlane as he is known in the West.

Chengiz had not yet established his domination over all of Iran, nor yet completely destroyed the Kharazmshahians, when he died in 1227 AD. His empire was divided among his sons and brothers, Holaku Khan becoming the "Ilkhan" of Iranian territories. He appointed an Iranian vizier, Khajeh Nassireddin Toosi, who helped him become established as the king and ruler of Iran and overcome the Abbasid caliph. Toosi's presence at the llkhan court made life easier for the Iranians who became more and more liberated, gradually regained their proper status and soon began to assimilate the nomadic Mongols and to civilize them. The later descendants of Holaku converted to Islam - became devout Moslems, in fact - and more and more Iranian in attitude, manner and thought.

And then, once again, small independent states sprouted here and there with Iranians as their rulers, turning Iran into yet another collection of kingdoms. Then disaster struck again. Teymoor Lang was a Tatar whose ancestors had converted to Islam. He was a devout Sunni Moslem and disliked Shia Iranians whom he believed to be heretics. But apparently even this was not the reason why he invaded Iran: he simply loved war and enjoyed spilling blood. He was even more cruel and merciless than Chengiz but whenever he conquered a town or city, he spared men of learning, poets and writers, and artists and craftsmen, for whom he had respect and whom he helped to continue with their works. He himself is said to have been a Moslem scholar and to have known the entire Koran by heart, (even backwards they say, ie from the last verse to the first). Yet he was a warrior void of mercy and compassion. Teymoor first attacked Iran in or around 1393 AD.

In 1405 Teymoor died and his son Shahrokh acceded to his throne. Shahrokh, though a warrior, was mild and generous. He loved the Persian language and poetry and was deeply interested in arts and sciences which he encouraged and supported. Once again the Invader became assimilated into the way of life of the conquered Iranian; Shahrokh and his descendants came to think of themselves more and more as Iranians than Tatars.

After Shahrokh, again independent states appeared, and once again Iran was divided into little kingdoms. This time fate showed more sympathy for Iranians who had gone through so many tragedies, so much sorrow. The Safavi (Safavid) star was about to rise; the Golden Age was about to begin; the Iranian civilization, arts and crafts, were to reach un precedented heights.

The son and grandson of holy men, Ismail was a respected person among his people who lived in Azarbaijan. His parents and grandparents, going back generations, were Shia Moslems. He gathered together from his followers a small army and overthrew the Aq-Quynlu Turkomans and thus began the Safavid dynasty whose kingdom gradually grew to encompass most of the traditionally Iranian territories. During the two and a half centuries of Safavid rule, although Iran was constantly at war with the Ottoman Turks in the northwest, Uzbeks on the east and for a time the Portuguese in the Persian GuIf, the arts, specially architecture, carpet weaving and miniature painting, rose to great heights.

The era is known as the Golden Age specially when referring to the craft and art of carpet weaving - and the greatest Safavid king was Shah Abbas 1(1 587-I 629AD). It was during his reign that Persia once again came to be known in Europe as a superpower, because it was the greatest opponent of the Ottomans, and their wars saved Europe, the Ottomans being too occupied on the east fighting Iran to make headway in the west. The Safavid court eventually fell into luxury and intrigues, and the ugly face of decadence reappeared, preparing the way for a man by the name of Mahmood, who rose in Afghanistan, raided Iran (I722-I725AD), captured Esfahan (the Safavid capital), and killed most of the Safavid princes as well as the king.

Iran fell apart; Mahmood was a warrior but not a king, and Iranians disobeyed him; there was chaos and Peter the Great of Russia occupied Derbent in Northern Iran, then Rasht and Baku. This was the first time that Russia, which was then beginning to develop into a well organized country with expansionist ideas, waged war against Iran, but it was not the last of wars between the two countries.

At the same time, while the Afghans were still in power, the Ottomans occupied Tabriz. Iran was about to collapse, when fate took another turn for the better. Nader, a brave soldier of the Afshar tribe found a surviving Safavid prince, called him Tahmasb (or Tahmasp) II, became his commander-in chief, gathered an army in his name, and in a succession of lightning attacks defeated and threw out the Afghans. Then, not finding the king capable, Nader replaced him with Abbas Ill who soon died and this time Nader proclaimed himself as the Shah of Persia and founded the Afshar dynasty (l736 AD). Nader was a brave soldier but a merciless tyrant. In 1747 AD his closest people entered into a plot and assassinated him. Though his loss at that time was somewhat a relief to the nation, to him must be given the credit of saving and uniting Iran at a critical moment in its history.

In 1750 AD, Karim Khan 7and founded a dynasty in the southern regions which he eventually extended to cover most of the present day Iran, but he left Nader's descendants alone and let them continue to rule in Khorassan out of respect for Nader and his achievements.

In the meantime, among the Turkomans of northern Iran the brave Qajar tribe was establishing a dynasty and kingdom. Qajars and Karim Khan were constantly at war until finally Karim Khan subjugated the tribe and took as hostage Agha Mohammad Khan, the son of the tribe's chief.

Karim Khan was a modest and gentle man and ruled with justice and compas sion, though in battle he was a courageous and fierce soldier. He never called himself a king, preferring the title of "Vakil-oI-Roaya" (the representative of the people) or more simply the Vakil. It is said that he insisted on his people being joyful, and that from the terrace of his palace, overlooking the town below, he watched the town at nights and felt happy to see all the houses and streets well-lighted and to hear his bands of musicians play at every major cross-road of the town. The Vakil is perhaps the best-loved ruler of the entire history of Iran, admired both by the Iranians of his time and by the generations that have followed, except for his enemies the Qajars and in particular Agha Mohammad Khan who later overcame Karim Khan's successors and showed incredible hatred towards Karim Khan and his household, even to his memory.

Because Agha Mohammad was impotent this hatred is generally explained by his having been castrated by Karim Khan's men - with or without the latter's knowledge. But this has not been definitely proved, and some historians claim Agha Mohammad Khan accidentally lost his manhood when he fell from a horse and the horse trampled on him. Whatever the reason, this king was bitter and merciless. It is said that no one ever saw him smile - let alone laugh. His face aged very early because of his physical conditions and his voice was feminine; yet he commanded great respect and fear in his subjects. In the East his case, if not the only one of its kind, must have been a most rare occurrence: a tribe priding themselves on their manhood and virility accepting a eunuch as a ruler.

Despite his character and his cruelties, and perhaps because of them, his enemies succumbed rapidly to him, and where they did resist they paid dearly for it. One instance: In Kerman he ordered that twenty thousand pairs of eyes of the whole population of the town, in fact - should be gouged out; and then he had some of these blinded people hanged, strangled, beheaded, or chopped up alive. Soon, however, he reunited the whole of Iran the present day Iran plus Afghanistan and some pads of the present republics to the north of Iran. He despised Catherine, the Empress of Russia, because of her interference in Iran's northern provinces. He attacked Russian territories and easily captured Tiflis and Erivan and planned to eventually capture Moscow as well. Some historians believe he would have, had he remained alive; but he was assassinated by members of his entourage the night before he intended to move his army northwards. He was killed during the night (I 797AD) just as Nader had been killed before him. A poet has said about Nader, and it aptly applies to Agha Mohammad Khan as well, that

At night he dreamt of sacking the town

Next dawn, his body had no head, his head no crown.

And so died Iran's last conqueror! And from then onwards Iran entered, or rather was dragged into, the international political scene with all its intrigues. The British, hoping to use Iran and Afghanistan as barriers cutting off Russia from British India, began to gradually establish themselves at the Iranian court. Napoleon's France came to help Fath Ali Shah, Agha Mohammad Khan's successor, to oust the British. The Russians wanted to get to the "warm waters" of the Persian GuIf. The hitherto feudalistic Iran, which had continued along the same political and daily ways of life for centuries, unbothered by developments in the rest of the world, suddenly found itself in the middle of staggering circumstances over which it had no control. Struck by the immensity of the scientific and technical advances made by Europe, and ignorant of the ways of handling Europeans and their diplomatic intrigues, the Iranian was baffled, and the two powers made good use of the situation.

Russians attacked and took extensive territories in northern Iran, defeating the Iranian army which was still fighting with swords and hand- made rifles against the recently modernized Russian army equipped with the latest guns and cannons. Iranians were morally shaken and perhaps for the first time in their history, lost their self-confidence. Later, the Russians stopped further aggressions, because of changes in their policy and British diplomatic manoeuvres. Instead, the two powers agreed to divide the country into two spheres of influence: the Russians in the northern parts of Iran and the British in the southern regions. From then onwards, until the "Constitutional Uprising" (I9O6), the Iranian kings, ministers and statesmen were nothing but puppets in the hands of the two powers.

In I 906, however, just a short time before his death, Mozaffar al-Din Shah accorded Iranians the right of a Constitution with a proper parliament, and limitations on the powers of the monarch. However, a year or so later Mohammad Ali Shah abolished the Constitution hut soon had to give in when faced with the nationalist uprising of 1908. The Constitution was restored and Iran truly set foot into the modern age.

History of Contemporary Iran As long as men fought with swords and at the most with simple guns and cannons, Iranians were known as fearless and fierce warriors. But the then modern weapons and war techniques, developed by Europeans, changed the methods of warfare so rapidly that within a short period of time Iranians found themselves helpless before Western armies. When Agha Mohammad Khan of Qajar dynasty defeated the Russian army with lightning speed, it was considered only natural by the Iranians that they should win the war with such ease. Just over a decade later, the modernized Russian army helped by British diplomacy, inflicted one defeat after another on the Iranian army leading to the annexation of a number of northern Iranian provinces by the Russian empire, notably Georgia and what became later known as Soviet Azerbaijan (the Republic of Azerbaijan, as it is known today.)

On the domestic side, lacking experience in international politics and diplomacy Iran soon became the scene of colonial rivalry between the Russians and the British who demanded more and more concessions from Iran and imposed merciless conditions. The Iranian central government was weakened and lost its autocratic control over the nation and, incidentally, the nation took the opportunity to demand and secure a constitutional system of government (1906).

However, for the same reason (weakness of the central government) internal conditions became chaotic inducing the Russians and the British to take full advantage of the situation such that in 1907 an agreement was signed by the two powers according to which Iran was divided into two "spheres of influence", the North being under the "influence" or control of the Russians and the South being practically governed by the British; though officially Iran retained its independence.

With the Russian Revolution and the verthrow of the Czarist regime, the Russian influence diminished, and even for some time vanished altogether, although it soon returned with the coming to power of Stalin: first as a great rival which the British had to contend with, and soon after as their ally.

Meanwhile, an Iranian soldier, Reza Khan, had been showing great gift for military leadership and organization, and had risen from the status of a private to that of an officer while the Iranian army was under the super vision and instruction of imperial Russian officers as military advisers. When the Russian officers left the Iranian army following the October Revolution, Reza Khan's value as a soldier became even more evident and appreciated. By then, the British were untroubled by Russian rivalries and favored a strong central government in Iran to protect their interests specially in the oil industry. Ahmad Shah, the last Qajar king, was not willing to cooperate with the British; and the Majlis (the parliament) which at one time the British had favored was now an obstacle in their way.

Thus, Reza Khan whom the British discovered as a man capable of controlling the country and protecting their interests, was supported by them. In 1921 he engineered a cope d'etat with the cooperation of Seid Zia- od-Din Tabatabai, a young journalist, as a result of which the latter became the prime minister and Reza Khan the minister of war. Gradually Reza Khan gained complete control of the government and the Majlis which finally deposed Ahmad Shah (1925) and a constituent assembly elected Reza Khan as the Shah. The Pahlavi dynasty was thus established. In the Second World War Reza Shah, sympathizing with the Germans, refused to allow the allies to pass Iran to supply the Soviet Union with war materials, and so help the Russians fight against the Germans. So, the Allied forces occupied Iran in 1941 and remained there until the war was over.

As soon as Iran was occupied, Reza Shah was "advised" by the British to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza who had to adopt policies more appropriate to the circumstances. Bitter over the fact that Reza Shah had betrayed them, the British refused Reza Shah's request to go to Canada. Instead the British government sent him first to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, and later to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he died in I 944. From 1941 Mohammad Reza Shah, a young man of 22 years began his reign over the Iranian nation. Naturally he had to maintain a pro-Western foreign policy and an internal policy of economic and social development with Western aid and compatible with Western tastes and trends. Mohammad Reza Shah ruled Iran for over 38 years, until the victory of the Islamic Revolution.

Major Events Since the Start of the Islamic Revolution


  • Mass demonstrations were put up by the Iranian people in the major cities, notably Tehran, Qom, Tabriz and Esfahan. There were occasional strikes which gradually became more widespread and frequent.
  • On 5th August, Imam Khomeini, who was on exile in Iraq, was forced to leave that country. He moved to Paris from where he guided and led the Islamic Revolution.
  • There were changes of government, one prime minister being replaced by another. The last, Shapur Bakhtiar, came to power on 6th January I 979

1979 onwards

  • On 6th January, Bakhtiar became the Shah's last prime minister.
  • stikes spread and there were confrontations between the Shah's forces and the revolutionary militia.
  • on 16th January the Shah left Iran. He died in Egypt several months after, having suffered very bad treatment by the Americans, his old friends and aIlies. On 1st February Imam Khomeini arrived in Tehran. On 10th February Bakhtiar declared martial law but the people disregarded the law according to Imam Khomeini's guidelines. There were bloody street fights and gradually the armed forces joined or surrendered to the people.
  • On 31st March there was a general referendum and aImost unanimously people chose an Islamic Republic for their country.
  • On 2nd December, the Islamic Republic Constitution was approved by the people through another referendum.
  • On 21st September Iraq began his attacks on Iran at a time when Iran was least prepared for a war. It made rapid advances into Iran soon capturing Khorramshahr and Susangerd and approaching Ahwaz. Abadan was sieged and was about to collapse when it was suddenly freed through courageous and daring operations by Iranians: the army, the Revolutionary forces and the people.
  • In a series of military operations, Iran inflicted one defeat after another on the Iraqis. Korramshahr was freed after two years, on 24th May 1982.
  • The war continued for eight years. Meanwhile, many countries and the United Nations intervened and tried bring about peace between the two countries.
  • On 18th July 1988 Iran finally accepted the UN resolution 598 and made peace with Iraq having regained its territories.
  • On 4th July 1989 Imam Khomeini passed away. Immediately the Council of the Experts appointed Ayatollah Khamenei as the new leader. Hojjatoleslam Rafsanjani became the President replacing Ayatollah Khamenei.
  • On 28th July 1989 the Iranian Constitution was changed and all executive powers and duties were given over to the President rather than the prime minister.

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