Iran (Persian: ايران) is a Middle Eastern country located in Southwest Asia bordering Armenia, Azerbaijan including its Nakhichevan exclave and Turkmenistan to the north, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east, Turkey and Iraq to the west. In addition; it shares the Persian Gulf waters with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Until 1935 the country was referred to in the West as Persia. On March 21, 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence. Dispute exists as to the country's current official name. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution eventually led by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established a theocratic Islamic Republic. Iran retained its name and its political title was changed to the Islamic Republic of Iran (جمهوری اسلامی ايران).
- Main article: History of Iran
Sometime around 1500 to 1000 BC, the Iranian nomads of Indo-European stock emigrated to the Iranian plateau possibly from Central Asia. In 8th century BC, the first Iranian government was established under the Median dynasty and under the following dynasty, the Achaemenids, Iranians built the first world empire. Their empire emerged in the 6th century BC under Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, who called himself "King of Iran and beyond". Indeed, the name Persia is derived from Persis, the ancient Greek name for the empire. The Achaemenid dynasty was followed by the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties as Persia's greatest pre-Islamic empires. Alexander the Great first conquered Persia in 331 BC, followed by Islam's Arab forces in the 7th century AD, and Genghis Khan, and lastly, Tamerlane who conquered a significant portion of Persia in the middle ages.
The 9th century saw the rise of the Saffarids and then other lines of kings or shahs. During the 19th century Persia came under increasing pressure from both Russia and the United Kingdom, leading to a process of modernization that continued into the 20th century. By the 20th century Iranians were longing for a change and thus followed the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905/1911. The social unrest continued and culminated in Mirza Koochak Khan's movement in Northern Iran.
In 1953 Iran's elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, was removed from power in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies (dubbed "Operation Ajax"). The operation was conducted following the Prime-Minister's nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. It reinstated the Iranian monarchy against the people's will, handing power back to former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Following Mosaddeq's fall, Pahlavi grew increasingly fascist. With strong support from the USA and the UK, the Shah further modernized Iranian industry but crushed civil liberties. His autocratic rule, under which systematic torture and other human rights violations were known to occur, led to the Iranian revolution and overthrow of his regime in 1979. After more than a year of political struggle between a variety of different groups, an Islamic republic was established under the Ayatollah Khomeini by a revolution.
The new theocratic political system instituted some conservative Islamic reforms and engaged in an anti-Western course. In particular Iran distanced itself from the United States due to the American involvement in the 1953 coup, which supplanted an elected government with the Shah's repressive regime. It also declared its refusal to recognize the existence of Israel as a state. The new government inspired various groups considered by a large part of the Western World to be fundamentalist.
In 1980 Iran was attacked by neighbouring Iraq and the destructive Iran-Iraq War continued until 1988. The struggle between reformists and conservatives over the future of the country continues today through electoral politics and was a central Western focus in the 2005 Elections where Conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphed.
- Main article: Politics of Iran
Iran is a constitutional Islamic Republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1979 constitution. Iran's makeup has several intricately connected governing bodies, some of which are democratically elected and some of which are appointed by religious leaders. The concept of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) plays an influential role in the governmental structure as both the advovate for and the voice of God in all matters.  
The Supreme Leader of Iran is responsible for oversight for the delineation and supervision of "the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran." In the absence of a single leader, a council of religious leaders is appointed. The Supreme Leader is commander-in-chief of the armed forces; he alone can declare war. He has the power to appoint and dismiss the leaders of the judiciary, the state radio and television networks, and the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He also appoints six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians. He, or the council of religious leaders, are elected by the Assembly of Experts, on the basis of their qualifications and the high popular esteem in which they are held.
Twelve jurists comprise the Council of Guardians, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The head of the judiciary recommends the remaining six, which are officially appointed by Parliament. The Council of Guardians is vested with the authority to interpret the constitution and determines if the laws passed by Parliament are in line with sharia (Islamic law) and the Iranian constitution; if a law passed by Parliament is deemed incompatible, it is referred back to Parliament for revision.
After the office of Leadership, the President of Iran is nominally the highest official in the country. His is responsibile for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with the Leadership. All presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running, and are elected to a 4-year term. After his election, the president appoints and supervises the 21-member Council of Ministers (who must then be confirmed by Parliament), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the parliament. Eight vice presidents serve under the president.
The unicameral Iranian parliament consists of 290 members elected to a 4-year term (approved by the Council of Guardians before running). It drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the country's budget. All legislation from the assembly must be reviewed by the Council of Guardians.
The Assembly of Experts, which meets for one week every year, consists of 86 "virtuous and learned" clerics elected by the public to eight-year terms. Like presidential and parliamentary elections, the Council of Guardians determines eligibility to run for a seat in this assembly.
The head of the judiciary is appointed by the Supreme Leader, who in turn appoints the head of the Supreme Court and the chief public prosecutor.
Public courts deal with civil and criminal cases. "Revolutionary" courts try certain categories of offenses, including crimes considered against national security or the republic and narcotics smuggling. Decisions rendered in these courts are final and cannot be appealed. The Special Clerical Court, which functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader, handles crimes allegedly committed by clerics, although it has also taken on cases involving lay people.
- Main article: Provinces of Iran
Iran consists of 30 provinces:
|Numbered map of provinces|
Provinces are governed from a local center, mostly the largest local city. Provincial authority is headed by a governor (استاندار: ostāndār), who is installed by the Minister of Interior subject to approval of the cabinet.
Until 2004 there were 28 provinces. A law passed that year split the province of Khorasan into three new provinces: North Khorasan, Razavi Khorasan, and South Khorasan.
- Main article: Geography of Iran
Iran borders Azerbaijan (length of border: 432 km / 268 mi ) and Armenia (35 km / 22mi) to the northwest, the Caspian Sea to the north, Turkmenistan (992 km / 616 mi) to the northeast, 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 total land mass is 1,648,000 km² / ≈636,300 mi² (Land: 1,636,000 km² / ≈631,663 mi², Water: 12,000 km² / ≈4,633 mi²).
Iran's landscape is dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins or plateaus from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as the Zagros and Alborz Mountains, the latter of which also contains Iran's highest point, the Damavand at 5,671 m (18,606 ft). The eastern half consists mostly of uninhabited desert basins with the occasional salt lake.
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 on the mouth of the Arvand river (Shatt al-Arab). Smaller, discontinuous plains are found along the remaining coast of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman. The Iranian climate is mostly arid or semiarid, though subtropical along the Caspian coast. Iran is considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity".
Iran's varied landscape produces several different climates. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) the temperatures nearly fall below freezing and remain humid for the rest of the year. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 29°C (84°F). Annual precipitation is 680 mm (26 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1700 mm (75 in) in the western side of the plain. At higher elevations to the west, settlements in the Zagros mountains basins experience lower temperatures. These areas have severe winters, with average daily temperatures below freezing and have heavy snowfall. The eastern and central basins are arid. They get less than 200 mm (8 in) of rain and have occasional desert. The 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 experience very humid and hot summers. The Annual precipitation ranges from 135 mm to 355 mm (6 to 14 in).
- Main article: Economy of Iran
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. The current administration has continued to follow the market reform plans of the previous one and has indicated that it will pursue diversification of Iran's oil-reliant economy. Iran is attempting to diversify by investing revenues in other areas, including petrochemicals. Iran is also hoping to attract billions of dollars worth of foreign investment by creating a more favorable investment climate (i.e., reduced restrictions and duties on imports, creation of free-trade zones).
Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer and holds 10% of the world's proven oil reserves. It also has the world's second largest natural gas reserves (after Russia). The strong oil market in 1996 helped ease financial pressures on Iran and allowed for Tehran's timely debt service payments. Iran's financial situation tightened in 1997 because of lower oil prices. The subsequent rise in oil prices in 1999/2000 afforded Iran fiscal breathing room. Iranian budget deficits have been a chronic problem, in part due to large-scale state subsidies–totaling some $7.25 billion per year–including foodstuffs and especially gasoline.
On March 20, 2006, Iran plans to participate in a new International Oil Bourse, trading oil priced as Petroeuros, rather than Petrodollars, as oil is traded in all other markets (as of 2005). This attempt to rebalance trading relationships in the world economy may trigger a series of far reaching consequences. A few observers, especially among peak oil production theorists who believe that an oil crisis is imminent, argue that there is a potential for a resource war with the United States of America over the flow of both dollars and oil. Others, including military leaders and peak oil theorists who believe that a crisis is further off, argue that the results of war game scenarios cast doubt on the argument that a war is the most likely result of the Oil Bourse.
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, however, with the liberalization of production and the improvement of packaging and marketing helping to develop new export markets. Large-scale irrigation schemes, together with the wider production of export-based agricultural items such as dates, flowers and pistachios, produced the fastest economic growth of any sector in Iran over much of the 1990s, although successive years of severe drought in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 have held back output growth substantially. Agriculture remains one of the largest employers, accounting for 22% of all jobs according to the 1991 census. According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world–2.8 percent of the population over age 15. Only two other countries–Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan–pass the 2 percent mark. With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.
- Main article: Demographics of Iran
The majority of Iran's population speak one of the Iranian languages, though only Persian is an official language. While the number, percentage, and definition of the different Iranian peoples is disputed, the major ethnic groups and minorities in Iran include the Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Arabs (3%), Baluchi (2%), Lurs (2%), Turkmen people (2%), Qashqai, Armenians, Persian Jews, Assyrians and others. These percentages however are only estimates. There is no official statistics on ethnicity numbers or percentages in Iran.
Iran's population size increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century, although in recent years Iran appears to have taken control of its high population growth rate and many studies show that Iran's population growth rate will continue to decline until it will reach replacement level and stabilize by the year 2040. Iran hosts more than one million foreign refugees (mainly from Afghanistan with some from Iraq), one of the largest figures on earth, and official government policy and social factors aim towards repatriation.
Most Iranians are Muslims; 89% belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 10% belong to the Sunni branch (most of whom are Kurds), which predominates in most Muslim countries. Non-Muslim religious minorities include the Bahá'í Faith, Mandeans, as well as Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three are officially recognized minority religions and have reserved seats in the Majlis (Parliament).
Numerous indications reveal that a considerable proportion of contemporary Iranians profess to religious views only nominally or as a tradition, despite the state's practically enforced ideology of assimilating state and religion on all levels.
Iran's top four largest cities are:
See also: List of cities in Iran.
- Main article: Culture of Iran
Like all ancient civilizations, culture constitutes the focal point and heart of Iranian civilization. The art, music, architecture, poetry, philosophy, traditions, and ideology of Iran have made it a continuously important nation in the global community. In fact, many Iranians believe their culture to be the one and only reason why their civilization has continuously survived thousands of years of plethoric calamities.
From its delicious cuisine to its world famous rugs, the culture of Iran is full of beauty and diversity. Through all of its long history, Iran has come into contact with many cultures of the world but still it has kept its structure but also it has picked up some of the culture of the rest of the world.
Another major topic in the culture of Iran is Persian literature. The Persian language being used for over 2500 years has left distinct marks in the history of the written word. With world famous poets, such as Hafez and Ferdowsi, Iranian poetry has received world wide attention in regards to the beatiful poems and songs written by Iranians.
Notes and references
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- ^ Please note that the numbers are according to the 2004 edition of CIA's The World Factbook. Different claims include higher numbers for Persian-speaking groups and respectively lower numbers for Turkic-speaking groups or vice versa. Some people in the first group claim that the CIA statistics are based on guesses made around 1964, while the CIA claims that their numbers are based on information from January 2004.
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Additional references and bibliography can be found in the more detailed articles linked to in this article.
Official Government Links
The following websites belong to the various branches of government, or are directly operated by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- Official site of the Supreme Leader, (Qom office)
- Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran - Official website.
- The Council of Guardians, Official website.
- The Majlis, Iran's parliament. (2).
- The Judiciary of The Islamic Republic of Iran
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance
- Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces
- Secretariat of The High Council of Iran Free Trade Industrial Zones
- Secretariat of The High Council of The Cultural Revolution
- Official Spokesman of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Islamic Republic of Iran Atomic Energy Organization
- Islamic Republic of Iran Cultural Heritage Organization
- Islamic Republic of Iran Red Crescent Society
- Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, official website.
- Bonyad e Shahid Foundation
- Bonyad e Mostazafeen Foundation
- Iran Travel and Tourism Guide
- Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)
- CIA World Factbook - Iran
- US State Department - Iran includes Background Notes, Country Study and major reports
- Open Directory Project - Iran directory category
- Iran Oil and Gas
- Iran Military Forum
- Freedom of Expression in Iran - IFEX
- List of alleged weapons
- The Dismal Reality of Ahlus Sunnah in Iran
- Iran, The Persian Gulf - Iran in the Persian Gulf
- List of Iranian High Commissions, embassies and consulates around the world.
- Farhangsara.com - an independently-produced Iran encyclopedia
- Death to Theocracy Advocates military action against Iran and support for Iran's student rebels
Iran News Sites:
- Country Briefings: Iran Economist.com country briefings and news articles.
- Directory of Iranian online newspapers Gooya.com
- Iran News HavenWorks.com news portal on Iran.
- Governing Iran PBS NewsHour special on Iranian politics.
- Yahoo! News Full Coverage Iran Yahoo headline links
Iran News Articles:
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