The ancient nation of Iran, historically known as Persia, has traditionally been a major power in the region. Despite invasions by Arabs, Seljuk Turks, and Mongols, Iran has always reasserted its national identity and taken pride in its unique cultural and political heritage.

Archeological findings indicate that human activity in Iran dates back to the middle Paleolithic era, about 100,000 years ago. The sixth millennium B.C. saw the emergence of a fairly sophisticated agricultural society and the rise of proto-urban population centers. Many dynasties have ruled Iran, beginning with the Achaemenid (559-330 B.C.), which was founded by Cyrus the Great. After the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great ushered in the Hellenistic period (300-250 B.C.), ancient Iran was ruled by the Parthian (250 B.C.-226 A.D.) and the Sassanian (226-651) dynasties.

The seventh century Arab conquest of Iran, which introduced Islam to the population, was followed by invasions by the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. Iran experienced a political and cultural revival under the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736), during which Shah Abbas expelled the Uzbeks and Ottomans from Persia. The conqueror Nadir Shah and his Afsharid dynasty (1736-1749) were succeeded by the Zand dynasty (1750-1794), which was founded by Karim Khan, and later the Qajar (1795-1925) and the Pahlavi (1925-1979) dynasties.

Many date the beginning of modern Iranian history to the nationalist uprisings against the Shah in 1905 and the establishment of a limited constitutional monarchy in 1906. The discovery of oil in 1908 would later become a key factor in Iranian history and development.

In 1921, Reza Khan, an Iranian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, seized control of the government. In 1925, after finally ousting the Qajar dynasty, he declared himself Shah and established the Pahlavi dynasty.

Reza Shah forcibly enacted policies of modernization and secularization in Iran and reasserted government authority over the country’s tribes and provinces. In 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the country’s name to Iran to accentuate Persia’s Aryan roots. During World War Two, the Allies feared that the Shah’s close relations with Nazi Germany would jeopardize Iran as a source of oil and a vital supply link to the Soviet Union. In September 1941, following the occupation of western Iran by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ascended to the throne.

After the war, Soviet troops stationed in northwestern Iran refused to withdraw across the border and, instead, supported short-lived, pro-Soviet separatist regimes in the northern provinces of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In 1946, under U.S. and United Nations pressure, the Soviets were forced to withdraw their troops. The Shah’s forces then moved in to suppress the Azerbaijani and Kurdish revolts.

In 1951, the government of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh (alternatively spelled Mossadeq) nationalized the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In the face of strong public support for Mossadegh, the Shah fled to Rome. Although Mossadegh was not a communist, the U.S. and U.K. feared that his links to the communist Tudeh party would cause Iran to align with the Eastern Bloc. Consequently, in August 1953, the U.S. and U.K. engineered a coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh, during which pro-Shah army forces arrested the Prime Minister. The Shah returned to Iran soon thereafter and, fearing further opposition, began to govern Iran in an increasingly authoritarian manner.

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