Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, country in southwest Asia, bordered by Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Caspian Sea in the north, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east, Turkey and Iraq in the west, and the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the south. The capital and largest city is Teheran.
Land and climate
Most of the country is a high plateau lying between the Elburz and Zagros mountain ranges. An interior desert contains salt wastes. The climate is marked by hot summers and cold winters. About 11 percent of the land is forested. The country is also subject to numerous severe earthquakes.
Persians comprise the largest ethnic group in Iran (about 60% of the total). Other groups include Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Tatars, and Arabs. The official language is Persian (Farsi), an Indo-European language written in the Arabic script. The state religion is Islam. About 95% of the population are Muslims, the majority of them Shi'tes.
Iran is one of the world's major oil producers, and oil exports provide most of the country's foreign exchange, but nearly one-fourths of the work force is employed in agriculture and forestry. Natural resources other than oil include natural gas, coal, manganese, salt, and copper. Other manufacturing includes textiles, sugar refining, food processing, machine tools, and traditional handicrafts (most notably carpets).
Iran is an ancient country. The earliest village settlements of the Iranian plateau date back to c.4000 B.C., and by c.550 B.C. the Persian empire, founded by Cyrus the Great and centered in what is now Iran, was one of the world's major civilizations. In 331 B.C. the empire was overthrown by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and later, c.250 B.C., Persia was invaded and occupied by armies from the kingdom of Parthia. In 224 A.D. the Persians regained control of their land under Ardashir, who founded the Sassanid dynasty, a state that lasted for about 400 years. In 641 the Sassanids fell to the Arab invasions, and the religion of Islam was introduced. Iran was invaded by the Turks (10th century), and by the forces of Genghis Khan (13th century) and Tammerlane (14th century). Order was restored by the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736). In the 18th century a decline began, leading to increased influence by European powers in Iran, although the country was never formally colonized. The discovery of oil in the early 1900s sharpened European interest, and the country was divided into British and Russian spheres of influence from 1907 until after World War I. In 1921, an army officer named Reza Khan seized power in a coup, and in 1925, as Reza Shah Pahlevi, he established the Pahlevi dynasty. In 1941 he abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlevi, who became the new shah (king). In the early 1950s the shah's power was challenged by a new prime minister, Muhammad Mossadegh, who nationalized the oil industry. The shah fled, but recovered his throne in 1953, with support of Iranian military officers and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The shah's regime became increasingly repressive, and popular support for it evaporated almost completely. In 1979 massive street demonstrations, though violently repressed, forced the shah to leave the country.
The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a revered Islamic leader living in exile, returned to head the newly established Islamic Republic, a highly repressive regime based on the power of the mullahs, Muslim religious leaders who ultimately determine the way the country is run. In retaliation for U.S. support of the shah and an attempt to force the return of the shah to Iran, Iranians captured the U.S. embassy in Teheran, holding embassy workers hostage (1979). The shah died in exile (1980) and the hostages were eventually released (1981). The crisis was a major factor in Ronald Reagan's defeat of President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Meanwhile, in Sept. 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, triggering an 8-year war that inflicted massive damage and high casualties on both countries. Khomeini died in 1989, and Ali Khamenei succeeded him as faqih, or guardian of the faith, the supreme religious leader and Rafsanjami became president. In 1997 the latter was succeeded by Mohammad Khatami, who tried to liberalize the economy.