Iran covers a physical area larger than the state of Alaska. It is a land of mountains and deserts. Most of Iran’s population lives in cities along the mountain ranges.
Iran was once the center of the Persian Empire, going back to 648 BCE, and the country was called Persia until about 1935. Most of the seventy million people in Iran are Persian. The country’s Persian identity and culture continued throughout the centuries under different ruling powers. Arabic is the country’s second language.
The Persian monarchy was ruled by a shah, who is similar to a king. In 1979, Islamic fundamentalists took control of the government and the shah fled the country. During this revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini urged Iranians to oppose US activities in Iran. Iranian students stormed the US embassy. Fifty-two Americans were held captive for 414 days during the US presidency of Jimmy Carter. The hostages were released the day that Ronald Reagan became president. This is one reason the United States backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.
Khomeini ruled Iran until his death in 1989. Since then, Iran has been an Islamic state with an ayatollah as the Supreme Leader. An ayatollah is a high-ranking Shia leader who is an expert in the Islamic faith and the Muslim code of law. Approximately 90 percent of Iran’s population follows the Shia division of Islam.
Iran’s leadership is developing nuclear weapons, which it intends to use against Israel. US president George W. Bush included Iran in his 2002 Axis of Evil speech, focusing on the lack of democratic freedoms and the restrictive measures of the Islamic fundamentalist government. Some countries have trade sanctions against Iran for materials associated with nuclear weapons or missiles. The US has an almost total trade embargo against Iran.
Open protests expressing a need for change occasionally erupt in Tehran, the capital city. Protesters are seeking personal freedoms and a more open society.
The government of the Islamic state is controlled by conservative Muslim clerics, but the young people are mainly democratic reformers seeking Western culture. In 2011, the Iranian government tried to limit the influence of Western culture by banning all symbols associated with Valentine’s Day.
Iran has large oil and natural gas reserves, and the government controls these industries. The UN has classified Iran’s economy as semi-developed.
Source: Iraq, Turkey, and Iran: Iran
By Saylor Academy, CC-BY 3.0