Iran (Persia: ایران) is a Middle Eastern country located in southwestern Asia that until 1935 was referred to in the West as Persia. The name Iran is a modern cognate of Aryan meaning "Land of the Aryans." Iran borders Pakistan (909km of border) and Afghanistan (936km) to the east, Turkmenistan (1000km) to the northeast, the Caspian Sea to the north, Azerbaijan (500km) and Armenia (35km) to the northwest, Turkey (500km) and Iraq (1458km) to the west, and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south. In 1979, a revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini established a theocratic Islamic Republic, which makes the present full name of the country Islamic Republic of Iran (جمهوری اسلامی ایران).
Main article: History of Iran
Iran traces its national origin to Persia, derived from Persis, the ancient Greek name for Iran, that emerged in the 6th century BC under the Achaemenid dynasty as a vast empire that controlled an area from northwestern India to Greece. It was defeated by Alexander the Great after three attempts, but soon after, Persia regained its independence in the form of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires. The latter was defeated by Islamic Arab forces in the 7th century AD, who were followed by Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and Tamerlane.
The 16th century saw renewed independence with the Safavids and then other lines of kings or shahs. During the 19th century Persia came under pressure from both Russia and the United Kingdom and a process of modernisation began that continued into the 20th century. Iranians longed for change and this resulted in the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905/1911. In 1953, Iran's prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who had been elected to parliament in 1923 and again in 1944, and who had been prime minister since 1951, was removed from power in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies ("Operation Ajax"). Many scholars suspect that this ouster was motivated by British-US opposition to Mossadeq's attempt to nationalize Iran's oil. Following Mossadeq's fall, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran's monarch) grew increasingly dictatorial. With strong support from the USA and the UK, the Shah further modernised Iranian industry but crushed civil liberties. His autocratic rule, including systematic torture and other human rights violations, 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 popular vote.
The new theocratic political system instituted some conservative Islamic reforms, as well as engaging in an anti-Western course, in particular against the United States, for its involvement in the 1953 coup which had toppled the elected government and fixed the Shah's repressive regime for more than 25 years. The new government inspired various groups considered by the most of the Western World to be fundamentalist. As a consequence, the Western World largely considered Iran to be a hostile power.
In 1980 Iran was attacked by neighbouring Iraq and the destructive Iran-Iraq War continued until 1988. However, in more recent years, the democratic political structure has led to the election of many reformist politicians, including the president, Mohammad Khatami. During the first decade of the 21st century, the struggle between reformists and conservatives over the future of the country continues through electoral politics.
See also: full list of Iranian Kingdoms
- Politics of Iran
- Iranian Foreign Affairs
- U.S.-Iran relations
Iran is a constitutional Islamic Republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1979 constitution called Qanun e Asasi. Iran's makeup has several intricately connected governing bodies, some of which are democratically elected and some of which operate by co-opting people based on their religious expertise.
The Supreme Leader (Rahbar)
According to Iran's Constitution, the Supreme Leader of Iran is responsible 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 and controls the Islamic Republic's intelligence and security operations; 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.
The President (Ra'is-e Jomhour)
After the office of Leadership, the President of Iran is the highest official in the country. His is the responsibility for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with (the office of) the Leadership. According to the law, all presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running, after which he is elected by universal suffrage to a 4-year term by an absolute majority of votes. After his election, the president appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the parliament. Eight vice presidents serve under the president, as well as a cabinet of 21 ministers. The Council of Ministers must be confirmed by Parliament. Unlike many other states, the executive branch in Iran does not control the armed forces.
The Parliament (Majles)
The unicameral Iranian parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly or "Majles-e Shura-ye Eslami", consists of 290 members elected to a 4-year term. The members are elected by direct and secret ballot. 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. Candidates for a seat in the Majles require approval by the Council of Guardians.
The Assembly of Experts
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.
Members of the Assembly of Experts in turn elect the Supreme Leader from within their own ranks and periodically reconfirm him. The assembly has never been known to challenge any of the Supreme Leader's decisions.
The Council of Guardians
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). Hence the council can exercise veto power over Parliament. If a law passed by Parliament is deemed incompatible with the constitution or sharia, it is referred back to Parliament for revision.
The council also examines presidential and parliamentary candidates to determine their fitness to run for a seat.
The Expediency Council
Created by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988, the Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between Parliament and the Council of Guardians. Presently, according to the constitution, the Expediency Council serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country, at least in name.
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. There are also revolutionary courts that try certain categories of offenses, including crimes against national security, narcotics smuggling, and acts that undermine the Islamic Republic. Decisions rendered in revolutionary courts are final and cannot be appealed.
The rulings of the Special Clerical Court, which functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader, are also final and cannot be appealed. The Special Clerical Court handles crimes allegedly committed by clerics, although it has also taken on cases involving lay people.
Map of Iran
Main article: Geography of Iran
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 5,607 m. 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"
See also: List of cities in Iran.
Main article: Economy of Iran
The 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 also is 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 $4.7 billion per year -- including foodstuffs and especially gasoline.
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 liberalisation 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 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.
Main article: Demographics of Iran
The majority of Iran's people 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 in Iran are Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Arabs (3%), Baluchi (2%), Lurs (2%), Turkmens (2%), Qashqais, Armenians, Jews, Assyrians and others.¹
Most Iranians are Muslims; 89% belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 10% belong to the Sunni branch, which predominates in most Muslim countries. Non-Muslim religious minorities include the Bahį'ķ Faith, Zoroastrians, as well as Jews and Christians. The latter three are officially recognised minority religions and have reserved seats in parliament. Iran's population size increased dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century.
¹ Please note that the numbers are according to 2004 edition of CIA's The World Factbook, which may be more neutral than other sources. Different claims include higher numbers for Persians and a respectively lower numbers for Turkic peoples or a higher number for Turkic speaking peoples. Some people in the first group claim that the CIA statistics are based on guesses made around 1964, while CIA claims that the edition is based on January 2004 information.
Main article: Provinces of Iran
Iran consists of 30 provinces (ostan-haa, singular form: ostan):
Main article: Culture of Iran
Like all ancient civilizations, culture constitutes the focal point and heart of the Iranian civilization. The art, music, architecture, poetry, philosophy, traditions, and ideology of this land is what makes the Iranian a proud citizen of the global village. In fact, Iranians believe their culture to be the one and only reason why their civilization has continuously survived thousands of years of plethoric calamities.
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:
Last updated: 10-15-2005 08:39:10