Iran Country Profile

Iran, a republic of southwest Asia, is limited to the north with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea, to the east with Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south with the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf Persian and west with Iraq and Turkey. It has 1,648,000 km2 of territorial extension. Until the 1930s, Iran was known by the name of Persia. The capital is Tehran.


According to, Iran is characterized by having a central plateau surrounded by mountains in almost all its extension. To the north, extending in parallel to the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, are the Elburz mountains. Along the western border, the Zagros Mountains rise, extending to the southeast until reaching the region that borders the Persian Gulf. In addition to the narrow coastal plain, the only relatively flat area is the plain of Khuzestan to the west.

Two large deserts occupy much of central Iran, the Dasht-i-Lut, covered in sand and rocks, and the Dasht-i-Kavir, covered in salt in some parts. Iran can be divided climatically into three major regions: the extremely hot coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the moderate but arid central highlands and the extremely cold lands of the Elburz mountains.


About half of the population (46%) is Persian and descends from the Indo-European peoples who arrived in the 2nd millennium BC The rest of the population is composed of Azeris (17%), Kurds (9%), Gilis, Lumis, Mazandarais, Baluchis , Arabs and baktiaris. The population, according to estimates for 1993, was 63,369,809 inhabitants, with an average density of 39 inhabitants / km2. The main cities are: Tehran with 6,475,527 in 1991, Mashhad and Isfahan. The official language is modern Persian or Farsi, an Indo-Iranian language (see Persian language; Arabic literature; Persian literature). The official religion is Shi’ism, an Islamic belief followed by 94% of the population. Sunni Muslims make up 8%, and there are still less developed communities of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Bahais (see Iran’s Art and Architecture). The 1979 Constitution established the Islamic Republic, where the precepts of Islam are the basis of social, political and economic relations. A religious leader called a faqih, oversees government activity. The president, elected by suffrage, commands the executive power, in addition to being the head of the state. Legislative power is exercised by a unicameral parliament called Majlis.


In 1994, gross domestic product was $ 74.2 billion. The currency is the rial. The main crops are: wheat, potatoes, barley, grapes and rice. There is also an important cattle ranching. Even though commercial fishing is relevant to the economy, it has not yet fully developed. Iranian caviar is considered one of the best in the world. The country stands out for its oil production and its main oil fields are among the richest in the world. Its industrial activity is concentrated in the petrochemical, textile, food, electronic equipment manufacturing, construction material, steel and vehicle manufacturing industries.


The defeat of the Sassanid empire by the Arabs meant a definitive change for Iran. Its territory was incorporated into the Caliphate, ruled in principle from Medina and later from Damascus and Baghdad. From that moment on, Iran would be a Muslim nation. In the middle of the 11th century, the Seleucid Turks conquered Iran, which in the subsequent centuries was dominated by the Mongols, under the command of Genghis Khan and Tamerlão, and finally by the Turkmen. Turkmen rule ended with Ismail I, who was proclaimed shah, marking the beginning of the Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) and the establishment of Shiite doctrine as the official religion of Iran.

Ismail’s reign was characterized by a conflict with the Ottoman empire that would only end a century later, with the taking of Baghdad in 1623 by Shah Abbas I the Great. Over the next century, Iran began a slow decline, until in 1722 the country was conquered by an army of Sunni Afghans led by Mir Mahmud. Taking advantage of the existing confusion in Iran, Russia and Turkey reached an agreement to dismember the country. An Iranian national army, led by the warlord who expelled the Afghans in 1729 and who, in 1736, took office under the name of Nadir Shah, expelled the Russians and Turks, ending foreign occupation in Iranian territory. Nadir Xá reigned between the years 1736 and 1747. The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed the struggle between Britain and Russia for hegemony over Iran.

The increase in foreign power and the weakness and corruption of its leaders provoked, in the beginning of the 20th century, the appearance of a nationalist movement that claimed the establishment of a constitutional government. In 1906, Shah Muzaffar al-Din, who reigned between the years 1896 and 1907, was compelled by the population to convene the first National Assembly. This Assembly had the main objective of drawing up a liberal constitution. Despite Iran’s neutrality in World War I (1914-1918), its territory witnessed several battles for control of its oil fields between the allied forces of Russia and Britain and Turkey. Reza shah Pahlevi established a new independent government, through a coup d’état, and in 1925 the shah was proclaimed. During his reign, the judicial system was modified,

In World War II, Britain and the USSR occupied some areas of the country to protect oil fields from a probable German incursion. The allies took control of Iran’s communications system and Reza Pahlavi, who sympathized with Axis interests, abdicated. His son, Mohamed Reza shah Pahlevi, succeeded him on the throne by adopting a policy favorable to the allies and agreeing with the liberal reforms that parliament wanted to impose. In 1943, the Iranian government protested because of the total isolation to which the USSR was subjected to the occupation zone. This dispute was resolved at the Tehran Conference, where the Declaration on Iran’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity emerged. The great economic difficulties that emerged in the first half of 1950 generated a serious political crisis.

General Ali Razmara took over as prime minister. His policy managed to improve the country’s economic situation, but he was radically opposed to the nationalization of the oil industry. He was assassinated in 1951. Mohamed Hidayat Mossadegh succeeded him in office as leader of the National Front Party. He also defended the nationalization of oil companies. In 1953, the Majlis expanded Mossadeg’s dictatorial powers, but shortly thereafter the two powers came into conflict because of the international repercussion of the nationalization of oil companies, mostly English. The mandatory dissolved the chamber of deputies and the shah, who was opposed to many of the measures adopted, dismissed him. Mossadegh refused to leave office and his followers rose up against the monarchy, forcing Reza Pahlevi to go into exile. But the economic boycott of the Western powers and the acceptance of an alliance with the Soviet Union weakened Mossadeg’s position. After the victory of the shah’s supporters, achieved with the help of the British and American secret services, General Fazlollah Zahedi was appointed prime minister and began to rule. The shah increased his control over the government, maintaining a close alliance with the United States.

In 1960, Iran recognized the state of Israel, making relations with Egypt more difficult. For this reason, the Arab League extended its boycott against Israel to Iran. The official coronation of the shah was celebrated in 1967, although it had been in the direction of the country for 26 years. At the time of the coronation, the shah’s power was almost absolute and he intended to establish a foreign policy more independent of the United States, but strengthening his relations with the countries of the East, while he approached the Arab world, with the exception of Iraq, with which he disputed territories. . Despite the prosperity in the 1970s, due in large part to oil profits, opposition to the shah was widespread, encouraged by conservative religious leaders. In 1978, disturbances took place in several cities in Iran, led by Shiites, Islamic fundamentalists who wanted the nation to be governed by Sharia or Islamic law. These disturbances were commanded in Paris by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who has been in exile since 1963. The repression carried out by the secret police, with frequent use of torture and arbitrary arrests, gave greater impetus to the resistance which quickly, inflated from the mosques by the priests, turned into a revolution . The appointment of a moderate prime minister was made too late, and Mohammed Reza Pahlevi had to abdicate and leave the country. After the defeat of the shah, Khomeini, supported by the Shiite clergy and broad sectors of the population, led the establishment of an Islamic republic. In 1979, a new constitution was approved and in January 1980 elections were held for a new president.

Fundamentalist Muhammad Ali Rajai was named prime minister. Meanwhile, some ethnic minorities in Iran, such as the Kurds in the west, the Azerbaijanis in the north and the Arabs in Khuzestan have started a war to fight for their autonomy. In September 1980, Iraq demanded autonomy for the Arab minority. When Iran rejected these demands, Iraq invaded Iran, starting the Iran-Iraq War. In 1981, the fundamentalist Parliament and Prime Minister Rajai defeated President Bani Sadr, who was removed from office, replaced by Rajai in the presidency. After the general elections in October, Ali Kamenei became the third to hold the presidency of the Republic that same year, while Husein Musavi was elected prime minister. When Khomeini died in 1989, President Kamenei succeeded him in his role as Guide to the Revolution (equivalent to the head of state in Iran since the revolution). Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president.

Iran condemned both the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War and the subsequent deployment of US troops in Saudi Arabia, but resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq, which in turn renounced its territorial claims in Iran. The faction that supported Rafsanjani won a majority in Parliament in 1992, and he himself was re-elected in June 1993. In the following years, Iran, accused by the United States of being the promoter of international terrorism, suffered a real economic and diplomatic encirclement, seeing reducing foreign investments and suffering an economic embargo similar to that affecting countries like Cuba or Libya. But the insistence on radical stances like the death sentence of writer Salman Rushdie, the repression of national minorities and the segregation of women greatly reduced the international support that the country could have. In 1997, the Iranian government was blamed for the murder of four Kurdish nationalist militants in Germany by the Berlin Supreme Court. In the 1996 parliamentary elections, the Society of Iranian Clergy, a party of the Ayatollahs, lost a majority in Parliament. In the May 1997 presidential election, the moderate Sayed Mohammad Khatami had popular support to face and defeat Ali Nateq Nouri, a candidate for right-wing religious.

Khatami’s government has not been easy, due to opposition from Shiite radicals and the clerical right, but it has been successful in improving the country’s external image. In September 1998 he guaranteed that his government will not take any action to enforce the death penalty against Rushdie, even though he does not have the power to revoke it, and in December he paid a visit to Italy during which he maintained a historic interview with the pope. John Paul II. At the end of February 1999, his supporters won a considerable victory in the first municipal elections held since the Islamic revolution, winning in the largest cities and obtaining all the positions in the Tehran City Council. But the most important aspect of the electoral defeat of the ayatollahs was that, of the 200,000 municipal positions in dispute, 4,000 were filled by women.

Iran Country Profile