The term Iran derives directly from Middle Persian Ērān, first attested in a 3rd-century inscription at Rustam Relief, with the accompanying Parthian inscription using the term Aryān, in reference to Iranians. The Middle Iranian ērān and aryān are oblique plural forms of gentilic ēr- (Middle Persian) and ary- (Parthian), both deriving from Proto-Iranian *arya- (meaning "Aryan", i.e. "of the Iranians"), argued to descend from Proto-Indo-European *ar-yo-, meaning "skillful assembler". In the Iranian languages, the gentilic is attested as a self-identifier included in ancient inscriptions and the literature of Avesta, and remains also in other Iranian ethnic names such as Alans (Ossetic: Ир – Ir) and Iron (Ossetic: Ирон – Iron).
Historically, Iran has been referred to as Persia by the West, due mainly to the writings of Greek historians who called Iran Persis (Greek: Περσίς), meaning "land of the Persians". As the most extensive interactions the Ancient Greeks had with any outsider was with the Persians, the term persisted, even long after the Persian rule in Greece. However, Persis (Old Persian: Pārśa; Modern Persian: Pārse) was originally referred to a region settled by Persians in the west shore of Lake Urmia, in the 9th century BC. The settlement was then shifted to the southern end of the Zagros Mountains, and is today defined as Fars Province.
In 1935, Reza Shah requested the international community to refer to the country by its native name, Iran. As the New York Times explained at the time, "At the suggestion of the Persian Legation in Berlin, the Tehran government, on the Persian New Year, Nowruz, March 21, 1935, substituted Iran for Persia as the official name of the country." Opposition to the name change led to the reversal of the decision, and Professor Ehsan Yarshater, editor of Encyclopædia Iranica, propagated a move to use Persia and Iran interchangeably. Today, both Persia and Iran are used in cultural contexts; although, Iran is the name used officially in political contexts.
Historical and cultural usage of the word Iran is not restricted to the modern state proper. "Greater Iran" (Irānzamīn or Irān e Bozorg) correspond to territories of the Iranian cultural and linguistic zones. In addition to modern Iran, it includes portions of the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Central Asia.
The Persian pronunciation of Iran is [ʔiːˈɾɒːn]. Two common pronunciations of Iran in English are roughly “ih-RAHN” and “ih-RANN” which are listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as /ɪˈrɑːn/ and /ɪˈran/, Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary as i-ˈrän, -ˈran; ī-ˈran, and the Random House Dictionary as /i-ran', i-rän', ī-ran'/. The Cambridge Dictionary lists /ɪˈrɑːn/ as UK pronunciation and /ɪˈræn/ as US pronunciation. Other dictionary is the Collins Dictionary that lists the pronunciation as /ɪˈrɑːn/. The pronunciation guide from the Voice of America provides the pronunciation of Iran as /ih-RAHN/. The pronunciation /aɪˈræn/ or /eye-RANN/ is sometimes heard in U.S. media. According to an article in The Washington Post, the correct pronunciation of Iran is /ee-RON/ while /EYE-ran/ is listed as the way it's NOT pronounced. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language in the dictionary's 2014 Usage Ballot addressed the topic of the pronunciations of Iran and Iraq. According to this study, among three pronunciations for Iran in American English i.e. roughly “ih-RAHN,” “ih-RANN,” and “eye-RANN”, first two pronunciations were almost equally acceptable while “ih-RAHN” being the preferred pronunciation for most panelists participating in the ballot by more than four to one. With regard to the “eye-RANN” pronunciations, however, more than 70% of the Panelists deemed “eye-RANN” unacceptable. Among the reasons given by those Panelists who disapprove of “eye-RANN” were that it has “hawkish connotations” and sounds “angrier,” “xenophobic,” “ignorant,” and “not … cosmopolitan.”
The earliest archaeological artifacts in Iran, like those excavated at the Kashafrud and Ganj Par sites, attest to a human presence in Iran since the Lower Paleolithic era, c. 800,000–200,000 BC. Iran's Neanderthal artifacts from the Middle Paleolithic period, c. 200,000–40,000 BC, have been found mainly in the Zagros region, at sites such as Warwasi and Yafteh Cave. Around 10th to 8th millennium BC, early agricultural communities such as Chogha Golan and Chogha Bonut began to flourish in Iran, as well as Susa and Chogha Mish developing in and around the Zagros region.
The emergence of Susa as a city, as determined by radiocarbon dating, dates back to early 4,395 BC. There are dozens of prehistoric sites across the Iranian plateau, pointing to the existence of ancient cultures and urban settlements in the 4th millennium BC. During the Bronze Age, Iran was home to several civilizations including Elam, Jiroft, and Zayande River. Elam, the most prominent of these civilizations, developed in the southwest of Iran, alongside those in Mesopotamia. The emergence of writing in Elam was paralleled to Sumer, and the Elamite cuneiform was developed since the 3rd millennium BC.
The Elamite Kingdom continued its existence until the emergence of the Median and Achaemenid empires. Between 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, northwestern Iran was part of the Kura-Araxes culture that stretched into the neighbouring regions of the Caucasus and Anatolia. Since the earliest 2nd millennium BC, Assyrians settled in swaths of western Iran, and incorporated the region into their territories.
During the 2nd millennium BC, Proto-Iranian tribes arrived in Iran from the Eurasian steppes, rivaling the native settlers of the country. As these tribes dispersed into the wider area of Greater Iran and beyond, the boundaries of modern Iran were dominated by the Persian, Median and Parthian tribes.
From the late 10th to late 7th centuries BC, the Iranian peoples, together with the pre-Iranian kingdoms, fell under the domination of the Assyrian Empire, based in northern Mesopotamia. Under king Cyaxares, the Medes and Persians entered into an alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylon, as well as the Scythians and the Cimmerians, and together they attacked the Assyrian Empire. The civil war ravaged the Assyrian Empire between 616 BC and 605 BC, thus freeing their respective peoples from three centuries of Assyrian rule. The unification of the Median tribes under a single ruler in 728 BC led to the foundation of the Median Empire which, by 612 BC, controlled the whole Iran and the eastern Anatolia. This marked the end of the Kingdom of Urartu as well, which was subsequently conquered and dissolved.
In 550 BC, Cyrus the Great, son of Mandane and Cambyses I, took over the Median Empire, and founded the Achaemenid Empire by unifying other city states. The conquest of Media was a result of what is called the Persian Revolt. The brouhaha was initially triggered by the actions of the Median ruler Astyages, and was quickly spread to other provinces, as they allied with the Persians. Later conquests under Cyrus and his successors expanded the empire to include Lydia, Babylon, Egypt, parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper, as well as the lands to the west of the Indus and Oxus rivers.
539 BC was the year in which Persian forces defeated the Babylonian army at Opis, and marked the end of around four centuries of Mesopotamian domination of the region with the transition from the Neo-Babylonian Period to the Achaemenid Period. Cyrus entered Babylon and presented himself as a traditional Mesopotamian monarch. Subsequent Achaemenid art and iconography reflect the influence of the new political reality in Mesopotamia.
At its greatest extent, the Achaemenid Empire included the modern territories of Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, much of the Black Sea coastal regions, northeastern Greece and southern Bulgaria (Thrace), northern Greece and Macedonia (Paeonia and Ancient Macedon), Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, all significant ancient population centers of ancient Egypt as far west as Libya, Kuwait, northern Saudi Arabia, parts of the UAE and Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and much of Central Asia, making it the first world government and the largest empire the world had yet seen.
It is estimated that in 480 BC, 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire. The empire at its peak ruled over 44% of the world's population, the highest such figure for any empire in history. In Greek history, the Achaemenid Empire is considered as the antagonist of the Greek city states, for the emancipation of slaves including the Jewish exiles in Babylon, building infrastructures such as road and postal systems, and the use of an official language, the Imperial Aramaic, throughout its territories. The empire had a centralized, bureaucratic administration under the emperor, a large professional army, and civil services, inspiring similar developments in later empires. Furthermore, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, was built in the empire between 353 and 350 BC.
Eventual conflict on the western borders began with the Ionian Revolt which erupted into the Greco-Persian Wars, and continued through the first half of the 5th century BC, and ended with the Persian withdrawal from all of their European territories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper.
In 334 BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Achaemenid Empire, defeating the last Achaemenid emperor, Darius III, at the Battle of Issus. Following the premature death of Alexander, Iran came under the control of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. In the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Parthian Empire rose to become the main power in Iran, and the century-long geopolitical arch-rivalry between Romans and Parthians began, culminating in the Roman–Parthian Wars. The Parthian Empire continued as a feudal monarchy for nearly five centuries, until 224 CE, when it was succeeded by the Sassanid Empire. Together with their neighboring arch-rival, the Roman-Byzantines, they made up the world's two most dominant powers at the time, for over four centuries.
The Sassanids established an empire within the frontiers achieved by the Achaemenids, with their capital at Ctesiphon. The Sassanid Empire of the Late Antiquity is considered as one of the most influential periods of Iran, as Iran influenced the culture of ancient Rome (and through that as far as Western Europe), Africa, China, and India, and played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asian medieval art.
Most of the era of both Parthian and Sassanid empires were overshadowed by the Roman-Persian Wars, which raged on their western borders at the Anatolia, the western Caucasus, Mesopotamia, and the Levant, for over 700 years. These wars exhausted both Romans and Sassanids, and led to the defeat of both at the hands of the invading Muslim Arabs.
Several offshoots of the Achaemenids, Parthians, and Sassanids, established eponymous dynasties and branches in Anatolia and the Caucasus, including the Kingdom of Pontus, the Mihranids, and the Arsacid dynasties of Armenia, Iberia (Georgia), and Caucasian Albania (present-day Azerbaijan and southern Dagestan).
The prolonged Byzantine-Sassanid Wars, most importantly the climactic Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602-628, as well as the social conflict within the Sassanid Empire, opened the way for an Arab invasion to Iran in the 7th century. Initially defeated by the Arab Rashidun Caliphate, Iran came under the rule of the Arab caliphates of Umayyad and Abbasid. The prolonged and gradual process of the Islamization of Iran began following the conquest. Under the new Arab elite of the Rashidun and later the Umayyad caliphates, both converted (mawali) and non-converted (dhimmi) Iranians were discriminated against, being excluded from the government and military, and having to pay a special tax called Jizya. Gunde Shapur, home of the Academy of Gunde Shapur which was the most important medical center of the world at the time, survived after the invasion, but became known as an Islamic institute thereafter.
In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads, due mainly to the support from the mawali Iranians. The mawali formed the majority of the rebel army, which was led by the Iranian general Abu Muslim. The arrival of the Abbasid Caliphs saw a revival of Iranian culture and influence, and a move away from the imposed Arabic customs. The role of the old Arab aristocracy was gradually replaced by an Iranian bureaucracy.
After two centuries of the Arab rule, semi-independent and independent Iranian kingdoms such as the Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, and Buyids began to appear on the fringes of the declining Abbasid Caliphate. By the Samanid era in the 9th and 10th centuries, the efforts of Iranians to regain their independence had been well solidified.
The blossoming literature, philosophy, medicine, and art of Iran became major elements in the formation of a new age for the Iranian civilization, during the period known as the Islamic Golden Age. The Islamic Golden Age reached its peak by the 10th and 11th centuries, during which Iran was the main theater of the scientific activities. After the 10th century, the Persian language, alongside Arabic, was used for the scientific, philosophical, historical, musical, and medical works, whereas the important Iranian writers, such as Tusi, Avicenna, Qotb od Din Shirazi, and Biruni, had major contributions in the scientific writing.
The cultural revival that began in the Abbasid period led to a resurfacing of the Iranian national identity, and so earlier attempts of Arabization never succeeded in Iran. The Iranian Shuubiyah movement became a catalyst for Iranians to regain independence in their relations with the Arab invaders. The most notable effect of this movement was the continuation of the Persian language attested to the epic poet Ferdowsi, now regarded as the most important figure in Iranian literature.
The 10th century saw a mass migration of Turkic tribes from Central Asia into the Iranian plateau. Turkic tribesmen were first used in the Abbasid army as mamluks (slave-warriors), replacing Iranian and Arab elements within the army. As a result, the mamluks gained a significant political power. In 999, large portions of Iran came briefly under the rule of the Ghaznavids, whose rulers were of mamluk Turk origin, and longer subsequently under the Turkish Seljuk and Khwarezmian empires. These Turks had been Persianized and had adopted Persian models of administration and rulership. The Seljuks subsequently gave rise to the Sultanate of Rum in Anatolia, while taking their thoroughly Persianized identity with them. The result of the adoption and patronage of Persian culture by Turkish rulers was the development of a distinct Turko-Persian tradition.
In 1219–21 the Khwarezmian Empire suffered a devastating invasion by the Mongol army of Genghis Khan. According to Steven R. Ward, "Mongol violence and depredations killed up to three-fourths of the population of the Iranian Plateau, possibly 10 to 15 million people. Some historians have estimated that Iran's population did not again reach its pre-Mongol levels until the mid-20th century."
Following the fracture of the Mongol Empire in 1256, Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Ilkhanate in Iran. In 1370, yet another conqueror, Timur, followed the example of Hulagu, establishing the Timurid Empire which lasted for another 156 years. In 1387, Timur ordered the complete massacre of Isfahan, reportedly killing 70,000 citizens. The Ilkhans and the Timurids soon came to adopt the ways and customs of the Iranians, choosing to surround themselves with a culture that was distinctively Iranian.
By the 1500s, Ismail I from Ardabil, established the Safavid dynasty, with Tabriz as the capital. Beginning with Azerbaijan, he subsequently extended his authority over all of the Iranian territories, and established an intermittent Iranian hegemony over the vast relative regions, reasserting the Iranian identity within large parts of the Greater Iran. Iran was predominantly Sunni, but Ismail instigated a forced conversion to the Shia branch of Islam, by which the Shia Islam spread throughout the Safavid territories in the Caucasus, Iran, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. As a result, thereof, the modern-day Iran is the only official Shia nation of the world, with it holding an absolute majority in Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, having there the 1st and 2nd highest number of Shia inhabitants by population percentage in the world.
The centuries-long geopolitical and ideological rivalry between Safavid Iran and the neighboring Ottoman Empire, led to numerous Ottoman–Persian Wars. The Safavid Era peaked in the reign of Abbas the Great, 1587–1629, surpassing their Ottoman archrivals in strength, and making the empire a leading hub in Western Eurasia for the sciences and arts. The Safavid Era saw the start of mass integration from Caucasian populations into new layers of the society of Iran, as well as mass resettlement of them within the heartlands of Iran, playing a pivotal role in the history of Iran for centuries onwards. Following a gradual decline in the late 1600s and early 1700s, which was caused by the internal conflicts, the continuous wars with the Ottomans, and the foreign interference (most notably the Russian interference), the Safavid rule was ended by the Pashtun rebels who besieged Isfahan and defeated Soltan Hosein in 1722.
In 1729, Nader Shah, a chieftain and military genius from Khorasan, successfully drove out and conquered the Pashtun invaders. He subsequently took back the annexed Caucasian territories which were divided among the Ottoman and Russian authorities by the ongoing chaos in Iran. During the reign of Nader Shah, Iran reached its greatest extent since the Sassanid Empire, reestablishing the Iranian hegemony all over the Caucasus, as well as other major parts of the west and central Asia, and briefly possessing what was arguably the most powerful empire at the time.
Nader Shah invaded India and sacked far off Delhi by the late 1730s. His territorial expansion, as well as his military successes, went into a decline following the final campaigns in the Northern Caucasus. The assassination of Nader Shah sparked a brief period of civil war and turmoil, after which Karim Khan of the Zand dynasty came to power in 1750, bringing a period of relative peace and prosperity.
The geopolitical reach of the Zand dynasty was limited, compared to its preceding dynasties. Many of the Iranian territories in the Caucasus gained de facto independence and were locally ruled through various Caucasian khanates. However, despite the self-ruling, they all remained subjects and vassals to the Zand king. The khanates exercised control over their affairs via international trade routes between Central Asia and the West.
Another civil war ensued after the death of Karim Khan in 1779, out of which Aqa Mohammad Khan emerged, founding the Qajar dynasty in 1794. In 1795, following the disobedience of the Georgian subjects and their alliance with the Russians, the Qajars captured Tblisi by the Battle of Krtsanisi, and drove the Russians out of the entire Caucasus, reestablishing the Iranian suzerainty over the region.
The Russo-Persian wars of 1804–1813 and 1826–1828 resulted in large irrevocable territorial losses for Iran in the Caucasus, comprising all of Transcaucasia and Dagestan, which made part of the very concept of Iran for centuries, and thus substantial gains for the neighboring Russian Empire.
As a result of the 19th century Russo-Persian wars, the Russians took over the Caucasus, and Iran irrevocably lost control over its integral territories in the region (comprising modern-day Dagestan, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan), which got confirmed per the treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay. The area to the north of the river Aras, among which the contemporary Republic of Azerbaijan, eastern Georgia, Dagestan, and Armenia, were Iranian territory until they were occupied by Russia in the course of the 19th century.
As Iran shrank, many Transcaucasian and North Caucasian Muslims moved towards Iran, especially until the aftermath result of the Caucasian War, and the decades afterwards, while Iran's Armenians were encouraged to settle in the newly incorporated Russian territories, causing significant demographic shifts.
Around 1.5 million people—20 to 25% of the population of Iran—died as a result of the Great Famine of 1870–1871.
Between 1872 and 1905, a series of protests took place in response to the sale of concessions to foreigners by Qajar monarchs Nasser ed Din and Mozaffar ed Din, and led to the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. The first Iranian Constitution and the first national parliament of Iran were founded in 1906, through the ongoing revolution. The Constitution included the official recognition of Iran's three religious minorities, namely Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews, which has remained a basis in the legislation of Iran since then.
The struggle related to the constitutional movement continued until 1911, when Mohammad Ali Shah was defeated and forced to abdicate. On the pretext of restoring order, the Russians occupied northern Iran in 1911, and maintained a military presence in the region for years to come. During World War I, the British occupied much of the territory of western Iran, and fully withdrew in 1921. Also during this time, a famine in northern Iran killed between 8 and 10 million people. The Persian Campaign commenced furthermore during World War I in northwestern Iran after an Ottoman invasion, as part of the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. As a result of Ottoman hostilities across the border, a large amount of the Assyrians of Iran were massacred by the Ottoman armies, notably in and around Urmia. Apart from the rule of Aqa Mohammad Khan, the Qajar rule is characterized as a century of misrule.
The Persian Cossack Brigade, which was the most effective military force available to the crown, began a military coup supported by the British in February 1921. The Qajar dynasty was subsequently overthrown, and Reza Khan, the former general of the Cossack Brigade, became the new Prime Minister of Iran. Eventually, he was declared the new monarch in 1925—thence known as Reza Shah—establishing the Pahlavi dynasty.
In the midst of World War II in 1941, Nazi Germany began the so-called Operation Barbarossa and invaded the Soviet Union, breaking the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This had a major impact on Iran, which had declared neutrality in the conflicts. Later that year, following an Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Subsequently, Iran became a major conduit for British and American aid to the Soviet Union until the end of the ongoing war.
At the 1943 Tehran Conference, the Allied "Big Three" (Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill) issued the Tehran Declaration to guarantee the post-war independence and boundaries of Iran. However, at the end of the war, Soviet troops remained in Iran and local pro-Soviet groups established two puppet states in northwestern Iran, namely the People's Government of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Mahabad. Receiving a promise of oil concessions, the Soviets withdraw from Iran proper in May 1946. The two puppet states were soon overthrown following the Iran crisis of 1946, and the oil concessions were revoked.
In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected as the prime minister. He became enormously popular in Iran, after he nationalized Iran's petroleum industry and oil reserves. He was deposed in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, an Anglo-American covert operation that marked the first time the US had overthrown a foreign government during the Cold War.
After the coup, the Shah became increasingly autocratic and sultanistic, and Iran entered a phase of decades long controversial close relations with the United States and some other foreign governments. While the Shah increasingly modernized Iran and claimed to retain it as a fully secular state, arbitrary arrests and torture by his secret police, the SAVAK, were used to crush all forms of political opposition.
Ruhollah Khomeini, a radical Muslim cleric, became an active critic of the Shah's far-reaching series of reforms known as the White Revolution. Khomeini publicly denounced the government, and was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months. After his release in 1964, he refused to apologize, and was eventually sent into exile.
Due to the 1973 spike in oil prices, the economy of Iran was flooded with foreign currency, which caused inflation. By 1974, the economy of Iran was experiencing double digit inflation, and despite the many large projects to modernize the country, corruption was rampant and caused large amounts of waste. By 1975 and 1976, an economic recession led to increased unemployment, especially among millions of youth who had migrated to the cities of Iran looking for construction jobs during the boom years of the early 1970s. By the late 1970s, many of these people opposed the Shah's regime and began to organize and join the protests against it.
The 1979 Revolution, later known as the Islamic Revolution, began in January 1978 with the first major demonstrations against the Shah. After a year of strikes and demonstrations paralyzing the country and its economy, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled the country and Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran in February 1979, forming a new government. After holding a referendum, Iran officially became an Islamic republic in April 1979. A second referendum in December 1979 approved a theocratic constitution.
The immediate nationwide uprisings against the new government began with the 1979 Kurdish rebellion and the Khuzestan uprisings, along with the uprisings in Sistan and Baluchestan Province and other areas. Over the next several years, these uprisings were subdued in a violent manner by the new Islamic government. The new government began purging itself of the non-Islamist political opposition, as well as of those Islamists who were not considered radical enough. Although both nationalists and Marxists had initially joined with Islamists to overthrow the Shah, tens of thousands were executed by the new regime afterwards.
On November 4, 1979, a group of Muslim students seized the United States Embassy and took the embassy with 52 personnel and citizens hostage, after the United States refused to return Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Iran to face trial in the court of the new regime and all but certain execution. Attempts by the Jimmy Carter administration to negotiate for the release of the hostages, and a failed rescue attempt, helped force Carter out of office and brought Ronald Reagan to power. On Jimmy Carter's final day in office, the last hostages were finally set free as a result of the Algiers Accords.
The Cultural Revolution began in 1980, with an initial closure of universities for three years, in order to perform an inspection and cleanup in the cultural policy of the education and training system.
On September 22, 1980, the Iraqi army invaded the western Iranian province of Khuzestan, launching the Iran–Iraq War. Although the forces of Saddam Hussein made several early advances, by mid 1982, the Iranian forces successfully managed to drive the Iraqi army back into Iraq. In July 1982, with Iraq thrown on the defensive, Iran took the decision to invade Iraq and conducted countless offensives in a bid to conquer Iraqi territory and capture cities, such as Basra. The war continued until 1988, when the Iraqi army defeated the Iranian forces inside Iraq and pushed the remaining Iranian troops back across the border. Subsequently, Khomeini accepted a truce mediated by the UN. The total Iranian casualties in the war were estimated to be 123,220–160,000 KIA, 60,711 MIA, and 11,000–16,000 civilians killed.
Following the Iran–Iraq War, in 1989, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his administration concentrated on a pragmatic pro-business policy of rebuilding and strengthening the economy without making any dramatic break with the ideology of the revolution. In 1997, Rafsanjani was succeeded by the moderate reformist Mohammad Khatami, whose government attempted, unsuccessfully, to make the country more free and democratic.
The 2005 presidential election brought conservative populist candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power. During the 2009 Iranian presidential election, the Interior Ministry announced incumbent president Ahmadinejad had won 62.63% of the vote, while Mir-Hossein Mousavi had come in second place with 33.75%. Allegations of large irregularities and fraud provoked the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, both within Iran and in major cites outside the country.
Hassan Rouhani was elected as President of Iran on June 15, 2013, defeating Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and four other candidates. The electoral victory of Rouhani has improved the relations of Iran with other countries.
Iran has an area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi). Iran lies between latitudes 24° and 40° N, and longitudes 44° and 64° E. Its borders are with Azerbaijan (611 km or 380 mi, with Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave, 179 km or 111 mi) and Armenia (35 km or 22 mi) to the north-west; the Caspian Sea to the north; Turkmenistan (992 km or 616 mi) to the north-east; Pakistan (909 km or 565 mi) and Afghanistan (936 km or 582 mi) to the east; Turkey (499 km or 310 mi) and Iraq (1,458 km or 906 mi) to the west; and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south.
Iran consists of the Iranian Plateau with the exception of the coasts of the Caspian Sea and Khuzestan Province. It is one of the world's most mountainous countries, its landscape dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins or plateaux from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as the Caucasus, Zagros and Alborz Mountains; the last contains Iran's highest point, Mount Damavand at 5,610 m (18,406 ft), which is also the highest mountain on the Eurasian landmass west of the Hindu Kush.
The northern part of Iran is covered by dense rain forests called Shomal or the Jungles of Iran. The eastern part consists mostly of desert basins such as the Dasht-e Kavir, Iran's largest desert, in the north-central portion of the country, and the Dasht-e Lut, in the east, as well as some salt lakes. This is because the mountain ranges are too high for rain clouds to reach these regions.
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 the mouth of the Arvand river. Smaller, discontinuous plains are found along the remaining coast of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
Iran's climate ranges from arid or semiarid, to subtropical along the Caspian coast and the northern forests. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) temperatures rarely fall below freezing and the area remains humid for the rest of the year. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 29 °C (84.2 °F). Annual precipitation is 680 mm (26.8 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1,700 mm (66.9 in) in the western part. United Nations Resident Coordinator for Iran Gary Lewis has said that "Water scarcity poses the most severe human security challenge in Iran today".
To the west, settlements in the Zagros basin experience lower temperatures, severe winters with below zero average daily temperatures and heavy snowfall. The eastern and central basins are arid, with less than 200 mm (7.9 in) of rain, and have occasional deserts. Average summer temperatures rarely exceed 38 °C (100.4 °F). The coastal plains of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in southern Iran have mild winters, and very humid and hot summers. The annual precipitation ranges from 135 to 355 mm (5.3 to 14.0 in).
The wildlife of Iran is composed of several animal species, including bears, gazelles, wild pigs, wolves, jackals, panthers, Eurasian lynx, and foxes. Other domestic animals of Iran include sheep, goats, cattle, horses, water buffaloes, donkeys, and camels. Pheasants, partridges, storks, eagles, and falcons are also native to the wildlife of Iran.
One of the most famous members of the Iranian wildlife is the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, also known as the Iranian cheetah, whose numbers were greatly reduced after the 1979 Revolution. The Persian leopard, which is the world's largest leopard subspecies living primarily in northern Iran, is also listed as an endangered species. Iran lost all its Asiatic lions and the now extinct Caspian tigers by the earlier part of the 20th century.
At least 74 species of Iranian wildlife are on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a sign of serious threats against the country’s biodiversity. The Iranian Parliament has been showing disregard for wildlife by passing laws and regulations such as the act that lets the Ministry of Industries and Mines exploit mines without the involvement of the Department of Environment, and by approving large national development projects without demanding comprehensive study of their impact on wildlife habitats.
Iran is divided into five regions with thirty one provinces (ostān), each governed by an appointed governor (ostāndār). The provinces are divided into counties (shahrestān), and subdivided into districts (bakhsh) and sub-districts (dehestān).
Iran has one of the highest urban growth rates in the world. From 1950 to 2002, the urban proportion of the population increased from 27% to 60%. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, 80% of the population will be urban. Most internal migrants have settled near the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Ahvaz, and Qom. The listed populations are from the 2006/07 (1385 AP) census.
Tehran, with a population of around 8.1 million (2011 census), is the capital and largest city in Iran. It is an economical and cultural center in Iran, and is the hub of the country's communication and transport network.
The country's second largest city, Mashhad, has a population of around 2.7 million (2011 census). It is the capital of Razavi Khorasan Province, and is a holy city in Shia Islam, as it is the site of the Imam Reza Shrine. About 15 to 20 million pilgrims visit the Shrine of Imam Reza every year.
Isfahan, with a population of around 1.7 million (2011 census), is Iran's third largest city and the capital of Isfahan Province. It was also a former capital of Iran, and contains a wide variety of historical sites; including the famous Image of the World Square, Siose Bridge, and the sites at the Armenian district of New Jolfa. It is also home to the 5th largest shopping mall in the world, namely Isfahan City Center.
The fourth major city of Iran, Karaj, has a population of around 1.6 million (2011 census). It is the capital of Alborz Province, and is situated 20 km west of Tehran, at the foot of the Alborz mountains. It is a major industrial city in Iran, with large factories producing sugar, textiles, wire, and alcohol.
Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan Province, is considered the second industrial city of Iran (after Tehran). With a population of around 1.4 million (2011 census), it is the fifth major city of Iran, which had been the second-largest until the late 1960s. It is one of the former capitals of Iran, the first capital of the Safavid Empire, and has also been proven extremely influential in the country’s recent history.
Shiraz, with a population of around 1.4 million (2011 census), is the sixth major city of Iran. It is the capital of Fars Province, and was also a former capital of Iran. The area was greatly influenced by the Babylonian civilization, and after the emergence of the ancient Persians, soon came to be known as Persis. Persians were present in the region since the 9th century BC, and became rulers of a large empire under the reign of the Achaemenid Dynasty in the 6th century BC. The ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, two of the four capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, are located around the modern-day city of Shiraz.
The political system of the Islamic Republic is based on the 1979 Constitution, and comprises several intricately connected governing bodies. The Leader of the Revolution ("Supreme Leader") is responsible for delineation and supervision of the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Supreme Leader is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, controls the military intelligence and security operations, and has sole power to declare war or peace. The heads of the judiciary, state radio and television networks, the commanders of the police and military forces and six of the twelve members of the Guardian Council are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The Assembly of Experts elects and dismisses the Supreme Leader on the basis of qualifications and popular esteem.
According to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the "Absolute Guardianship and the Leadership of the Ummah" (ولایت مطلقه امر و امامت امت) that refers to the Supreme Leader of Iran.
After the Supreme Leader, the Constitution defines the President of Iran as the highest state authority. The President is elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years and can only be re-elected for one term. Presidential candidates must be approved by the Guardian Council before running, in order to ensure their allegiance to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution.
The President is responsible for the implementation of the Constitution and for the exercise of executive powers, except for matters directly related to the Supreme Leader, who has the final say in all matters. The President appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers, coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the legislature. The current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has fired as well as reinstated Council of Ministers members. Eight Vice-Presidents serve under the President, as well as a cabinet of twenty-two ministers, who must all be approved by the legislature.
The legislature of Iran (known as the Islamic Consultative Assembly) is a unicameral body comprising 290 members elected for four-year terms. It drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the national budget. All parliamentary candidates and all legislation from the assembly must be approved by the Guardian Council.
The Guardian Council comprises twelve jurists including six appointed by the Supreme Leader. The others are elected by the Iranian Parliament from among the jurists nominated by the Head of the Judiciary. The Council interprets the constitution and may veto Parliament. If a law is deemed incompatible with the constitution or Sharia (Islamic law), it is referred back to Parliament for revision. The Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council, and serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country. Local city councils are elected by public vote to four-year terms in all cities and villages of Iran.
Iran has adopted the separation of powers, having three typical division of branches: Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary.
The Supreme Leader appoints the head of Iran's judiciary, who in turn appoints the head of the Supreme Court and the chief public prosecutor. There are several types of courts including public courts that deal with civil and criminal cases, and revolutionary courts which deal with certain categories of offenses, including crimes against national security. The decisions of the revolutionary courts are 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. The Special Clerical Court functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader. The Court's rulings are final and cannot be appealed. The Assembly of Experts, which meets for one week annually, comprises 86 "virtuous and learned" clerics elected by adult suffrage for eight-year terms. As with the presidential and parliamentary elections, the Guardian Council determines candidates' eligibility. The Assembly elects the Supreme Leader and has the constitutional authority to remove the Supreme Leader from power at any time. It has not challenged any of the Supreme Leader's decisions. The current head of the judicial system Sadeq Larijani, appointed by long-time Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said that it is illegal for the Assembly of Experts to supervise Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Iranian government's officially stated goal is to establish a new world order based on world peace, global collective security and justice. Often, Iran's foreign relations since the time of the revolution have been portrayed as being based on two strategic principles: eliminating outside influences in the region and pursuing extensive diplomatic contacts with developing and non-aligned countries.
Since 2005, Iran's nuclear program has become the subject of contention with the international community following earlier quotes of Iranian leadership favoring the use of an atomic bomb against Iran's enemies and in particular Israel. Many countries have expressed concern that Iran's nuclear program could divert civilian nuclear technology into a weapons program. This has led the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Iran which had further isolated Iran politically and economically from the rest of the global community. In 2009, the US Director of National Intelligence said that Iran, if choosing to, would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon until 2013.
As of 2009, Iran maintains diplomatic relations with 99 members of the United Nations, but not with the United States or Israel, a state which Iran has not recognized since the 1979 Revolution.
On July 14, 2015, Tehran and the P5+1 came to a historic agreement to end economic sanctions after demonstrating a peaceful nuclear research project that meets International Atomic Energy Agency standards.
Iran is also a member of dozens of international organizations including the G-15, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, IDA, IDB, IFC, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Interpol, OIC, OPEC, the United Nations, WHO, and currently has observer status at the World Trade Organization.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has two types of armed forces: the regular forces Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the Revolutionary Guards, totaling about 545,000 active troops. Iran also has around 350,000 Reserve Force totaling around 900,000 trained troops.
Iran has a paramilitary, volunteer militia force within the IRGC, called the Basij, which includes about 90,000 full-time, active-duty uniformed members. Up to 11 million men and women are members of the Basij who could potentially be called up for service; GlobalSecurity.org estimates Iran could mobilize "up to one million men". This would be among the largest troop mobilizations in the world. In 2007, Iran's military spending represented 2.6% of the GDP or $102 per capita, the lowest figure of the Persian Gulf nations. Iran's military doctrine is based on deterrence. In 2014 arms spending the country spent $15 billion and was outspent by the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council by a factor of 13.
Iran supports the military activities of its allies in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon (Hezbollah) with thousands of rockets and missiles.
Since the 1979 Revolution, to overcome foreign embargoes, Iran has developed its own military industry, produced its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, guided missiles, submarines, military vessels, guided missile destroyer, radar systems, helicopters and fighter planes. In recent years, official announcements have highlighted the development of weapons such as the Hoot, Kowsar, Zelzal, Fateh-110, Shahab-3 and Sejjil missiles, and a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. The Fajr-3 (MIRV), a liquid fuel missile with an undisclosed range which was developed and produced domestically, is currently the most advanced ballistic missile of the country.
Iran's 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. In 2014, GDP was $404.1 billion ($1.334 trillion at PPP), or $17,100 at PPP per capita. Iran is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. In the early 21st century the service sector contributed the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry (mining and manufacturing) and agriculture.
The Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for developing and maintaining the Iranian rial, which serves as the country's currency. The government doesn't recognize trade unions other than the Islamic Labour Councils, which are subject to the approval of employers and the security services. The minimum wage in June 2013 was 487 million rials a month ($134). Unemployment has remained above 10% since 1997, and the unemployment rate for women is almost double that of the men.
In 2006, about 45% of the government's budget came from oil and natural gas revenues, and 31% came from taxes and fees. As of 2007, Iran had earned $70 billion in foreign exchange reserves mostly (80%) from crude oil exports. Iranian budget deficits have been a chronic problem, mostly due to large-scale state subsidies, that include foodstuffs and especially gasoline, totaling more than $84 billion in 2008 for the energy sector alone. In 2010, the economic reform plan was approved by parliament to cut subsidies gradually and replace them with targeted social assistance. The objective is to move towards free market prices in a 5-year period and increase productivity and social justice.
The administration continues to follow the market reform plans of the previous one and indicated that it will diversify Iran's oil-reliant economy. Iran has also developed a biotechnology, nanotechnology, and pharmaceuticals industry. However, nationalized industries such as the bonyads have often been managed badly, making them ineffective and uncompetitive with years. Currently, the government is trying to privatize these industries, and, despite successes, there are still several problems to be overcome, such as the lagging corruption in the public sector and lack of competitiveness. In 2010, Iran was ranked 69, out of 139 nations, in the Global Competitiveness Report.
Iran has leading manufacturing industries in the fields of car-manufacture and transportation, construction materials, home appliances, food and agricultural goods, armaments, pharmaceuticals, information technology, power and petrochemicals in the Middle East. According to FAO, Iran has been a top five producer of the following agricultural products in the world in 2012: apricots, cherries, sour cherries, cucumbers and gherkins, dates, eggplants, figs, pistachios, quinces, walnuts, and watermelons.
Economic sanctions against Iran, such as the embargo against Iranian crude oil, have affected the economy. Sanctions have led to a steep fall in the value of the rial, and as of April 2013 one US dollar is worth 36,000 rial, compared with 16,000 in early 2012. In 2015, Iran and the P5+1 reached a deal on the nuclear program that removed the main sanctions pertaining to Iran's nuclear program by 2016.
Although tourism declined significantly during the war with Iraq, it has been subsequently recovered. About 1,659,000 foreign tourists visited Iran in 2004, and 2.3 million in 2009, mostly from Asian countries, including the republics of Central Asia, while about 10% came from the European Union and North America. Over five million tourists visited Iran in the fiscal year of 2014–2015, ending March 21, four percent more year-on-year.
Alongside the capital, the most popular tourist destinations are Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz. In the early 2000s, the industry faced serious limitations in infrastructure, communications, industry standards and personnel training. The majority of the 300,000 tourist visas granted in 2003 were obtained by Asian Muslims, who presumably intended to visit important pilgrimage sites in Mashhad and Qom. Several organized tours from Germany, France and other European countries come to Iran annually to visit archaeological sites and monuments. In 2003, Iran ranked 68th in tourism revenues worldwide. According to UNESCO and the deputy head of research for Iran Travel and Tourism Organization (ITTO), Iran is rated 4th among the top 10 destinations in the Middle East. Domestic tourism in Iran is one of the largest in the world. Weak advertising, unstable regional conditions, a poor public image in some parts of the world, and absence of efficient planning schemes in the tourism sector have all hindered the growth of tourism.
Since the removal of some sanctions against Iran in 2015, tourism has re-surged in the country. Over 5 million tourists visited Iran in the fiscal year of 2014–2015, four percent more than the previous year.
Iran has the second largest proved gas reserves in the world after Russia, with 33.6 trillion cubic metres, and third largest natural gas production in the world after Indonesia, and Russia. It also ranks fourth in oil reserves with an estimated 153,600,000,000 barrels. It is OPEC's 2nd largest oil exporter and is an energy superpower. In 2005, Iran spent US$4 billion on fuel imports, because of contraband and inefficient domestic use. Oil industry output averaged 4 million barrels per day (640,000 m3/d) in 2005, compared with the peak of six million barrels per day reached in 1974. In the early years of the 2000s (decade), industry infrastructure was increasingly inefficient because of technological lags. Few exploratory wells were drilled in 2005.
In 2004, a large share of natural gas reserves in Iran were untapped. The addition of new hydroelectric stations and the streamlining of conventional coal and oil-fired stations increased installed capacity to 33,000 megawatts. Of that amount, about 75% was based on natural gas, 18% on oil, and 7% on hydroelectric power. In 2004, Iran opened its first wind-powered and geothermal plants, and the first solar thermal plant is to come online in 2009. Iran is the third country in the world to have developed GTL technology.
Demographic trends and intensified industrialization have caused electric power demand to grow by 8% per year. The government’s goal of 53,000 megawatts of installed capacity by 2010 is to be reached by bringing on line new gas-fired plants and by adding hydroelectric, and nuclear power generating capacity. Iran’s first nuclear power plant at Bushehr went online in 2011. It is the second Nuclear Power Plant ever built in the Middle East after Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant in Armenia.
Education in Iran is highly centralized. K-12 education is supervised by the Ministry of Education, and higher education is under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The adult literacy rated 93.0% in September 2015, while it had rated 85.0% in 2008, up from 36.5% in 1976.
The requirement to enter into higher education is to have a high school diploma and pass the national university entrance examination, Iranian University Entrance Exam (known as concour), which is the equivalent of the US SAT exams. Many students do a 1–2 year course of pre-university (piš-dānešgāh), which is the equivalent of GCE A-levels and International Baccalaureate. The completion of the pre-university course earns students the Pre-University Certificate.
Higher education is sanctioned by different levels of diplomas. Kārdāni (associate degree; also known as fowq e diplom) is delivered after 2 years of higher education; kāršenāsi (bachelor's degree; also known as licāns) is delivered after 4 years of higher education; and kāršenāsi e aršad (master's degree) is delivered after 2 more years of study, after which another exam allows the candidate to pursue a doctoral program (PhD; known as doctorā).
According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, the top-ranking universities in the country are the University of Tehran (468th worldwide), the Tehran University of Medical Sciences (612th) and Ferdowsi University of Mashhad (815th).
Iran has increased its publication output nearly tenfold from 1996 through 2004, and has been ranked first in terms of output growth rate, followed by China. According to SCImago, Iran could rank fourth in the world in terms of research output by 2018, if the current trend persists.
In 2009, a SUSE Linux-based HPC system made by the Aerospace Research Institute of Iran (ARI) was launched with 32 cores, and now runs 96 cores. Its performance was pegged at 192 GFLOPS. Sorena 2 Robot, which was designed by engineers at the University of Tehran, was unveiled in 2010. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has placed the name of Surena among the five prominent robots of the world after analyzing its performance.
In the biomedical sciences, Iran's Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics is a UNESCO chair in biology. In late 2006, Iranian scientists successfully cloned a sheep by somatic cell nuclear transfer, at the Royan Research Center in Tehran.
According to a study by David Morrison and Ali Khadem Hosseini (Harvard-MIT and Cambridge), stem cell research in Iran is amongst the top 10 in the world. Iran ranks 15th in the world in nanotechnologies.
Iran placed its domestically built satellite, Omid into orbit on the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, on 2 February 2009, through Safir rocket, becoming the ninth country in the world capable of both producing a satellite and sending it into space from a domestically made launcher.
The Iranian nuclear program was launched in the 1950s. Iran is the seventh country to produce uranium hexafluoride, and controls the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
Iranian scientists outside Iran have also made some major contributions to science. In 1960, Ali Javan co-invented the first gas laser, and fuzzy set theory was introduced by Lotfi Zadeh. Iranian cardiologist, Tofigh Mussivand invented and developed the first artificial cardiac pump, the precursor of the artificial heart. Furthering research and treatment of diabetes, HbA1c was discovered by Samuel Rahbar. Iranian physics is especially strong in string theory, with many papers being published in Iran. Iranian-American string theorist Kamran Vafa proposed the Vafa-Witten theorem together with Edward Witten. In August 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first-ever woman, as well as the first-ever Iranian, to receive the Fields Medal, the highest prize in mathematics.
Iran is a diverse country, consisting of many religious and ethnic groups that are unified through a shared Iranian language and culture.
Iran's population grew rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century, increasing from about 19 million in 1956 to around 75 million by 2009. However, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly in recent years, leading to a population growth rate—recorded from July 2012—of about 1.29%. Studies project that the growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 105 million by 2050.
Iran hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, with more than one million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2006, Iranian officials have been working with the UNHCR and Afghan officials for their repatriation. According to estimates, about five million Iranian citizens have emigrated to other countries, mostly since the 1979 Revolution.
According to the Iranian Constitution, the government is required to provide every citizen of the country with access to social security that covers retirement, unemployment, old age, disability, accidents, calamities, health and medical treatment and care services. This is covered by tax revenues and income derived from public contributions.
The majority of the population speak Persian, which is also the official language of the country. Others include speakers of the rest of the Iranian languages within the greater Indo-European languages, and the languages of the other ethnicities in Iran.
In northern Iran, mostly confined to Gilan and Mazenderan provinces, the Gilaki and Mazenderani languages are widely spoken. They both have affinities to the neighboring Caucasian languages. In parts of Gilan, the Talysh language is also widely spoken, which stretches up to the neighboring country of Azerbaijan. Kurdish is widely spoken in Kurdistan Province and nearby areas. In Khuzestan, many distinct Persian dialects are spoken. The Lurish and Lari languages are spoken in southwestern and southern Iran.
The Turkic languages and dialects, most importantly Azerbaijani Turkish which is by far the most spoken language in the country after Persian, are spoken in different areas in Iran, but are especially widely and dominantly spoken in the provinces of Azerbaijan.
Notable minority languages in Iran include Armenian, Georgian, Neo-Aramaic, and Arabic. Khuzi Arabic is spoken by the Arabs in Khuzestan, and the wider group of Iranian Arabs. Circassian was also once widely used by the large Circassian minority, but, due to assimilation over the many years, no sizable number of Circassians speak the language anymore.
Percentages of spoken language continue to be a point of debate, as many opt that they are politically motivated; most notably regarding the largest and second-largest ethnicities in Iran, the Persians and Azerbaijanis. The following percentages are according to the CIA's World Factbook: 53% Persian, 16% Azerbaijani Turkish, 10% Kurdish, 7% Mazenderani and Gilaki, 7% Luri, 2% Turkmen, 2% Balochi, 2% Arabic, and 2% the remainder Armenian, Georgian, Neo-Aramaic, and Circassian.
As with the spoken languages, the ethnic group composition also remains a point of debate, mainly regarding the largest and second largest ethnic groups, the Persians and Azerbaijanis, due to the lack of Iranian state censuses based on ethnicity. The CIA's World Factbook has estimated that around 79% of the population of Iran are a diverse Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprise the speakers of the Iranian languages, with Persians (incl. Mazenderanis and Gilaks) constituting 61% of the population, Kurds 10%, Lurs 6%, and Balochs 2%. Peoples of the other ethno-linguistic groups make up the remaining 21%, with Azerbaijanis constituting 16%, Arabs 2%, Turkmens and Turkic tribes 2%, and others 1% (such as Armenians, Talysh, Georgians, Circassians, Assyrians).
The Library of Congress issued slightly different estimates: Persians 65% (incl. Mazenderanis, Gilaks and Talysh people), Azerbaijanis 16%, Kurds 7%, Lurs 6%, Baluchi 2%; Turkic tribal groups such as Qashqai 1%, and Turkmens 1%; and non-Iranian, non-Turkic groups such as Armenians, Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, and Arabs less than 3%. It determined that Persian is the first language of at least 65% of the country's population, and is the second language for most of the remaining 35%.
Other non-governmental estimations regarding the groups other than the Persians and Azerbaijanis roughly congruate with the World Factbook and the Library of Congress. However, many scholarly and organisational estimations regarding the number of these two groups differ significantly from the mentioned census. According to many of them, the number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran comprises between 21.6–30% of the total population, with the majority holding it on 25%.cd In any case, the largest population of Azerbaijanis in the world live in Iran.
Historically, Proto-Iranian religion and the subsequent Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism were the dominant religions in Iran, particularly during the Median, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid empires. This changed after the fall of the Sassanid Empire by the Muslim Conquest of Iran. Iran was predominantly Sunni until the conversion of the country (as well as the people of what is today the neighboring Republic of Azerbaijan) to Shia Islam by the order of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century.
Today, the Twelver Shia Islam is the official state religion, to which about 90% to 95% of the population officially belong. About 4% to 8% of the population are Sunni Muslims, mainly Kurds and Balochs. The remaining 2% are non-Muslim religious minorities, including Christians, Jews, Bahais, Mandeans, Yezidis, Yarsanis, and Zoroastrians.
Judaism has a long history in Iran, dating back to the Achaemenid Conquest of Babylonia. Although many left in the wake of the establishment of the State of Israel and the 1979 Revolution, around 8,756 Jews remain in Iran, according to the latest census. Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel.
Around 250,000–370,000 Christians reside in Iran, and it is the largest recognized minority religion in the nation. Most are of Armenian background with a sizable minority of Assyrians as well.
Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the Sunni branch of Islam are officially recognized by the government, and have reserved seats in the Iranian Parliament. But the Bahá'í Faith, which is said to be the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Iran, is not officially recognized, and has been persecuted during its existence in Iran since the 19th century. Since the 1979 Revolution, the persecution of Bahais has increased with executions, the denial of civil rights and liberties, and the denial of access to higher education and employment.
The government has not released statistics regarding irreligiosity. However, the irreligious figures are growing and are higher in the diaspora, notably among Iranian Americans.
The earliest recorded cultures within the region of Iran date back to the Lower Paleolithic era.
Owing to its dominant geopolitical position and culture in the world, Iran has directly influenced cultures as far away as Greece, Macedonia, and Italy to the West, Russia to the North, the Arabian Peninsula to the South, and indirectly South and East Asia to the East.
Iranian works of art show a great variety in style, in different regions and periods. Iranian art encompasses many disciplines, including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking, and stonemasonry. The Median and Achaemenid empires left a significant classical art scene which remained as basic influences for the art of the later eras. The art of the Parthians was a mixture of Iranian and Hellenistic artworks, with their main motifs being scenes of royal hunting expeditions and investitures. The Sassanid art played a prominent role in the formation of both European and Asian medieval art, which carried forward to the Islamic world, and much of what later became known as Islamic learning, such as philology, literature, jurisprudence, philosophy, medicine, architecture, and science, were of Sassanid basis.
There is also a vibrant Iranian modern and contemporary art scene, with its genesis in the late 1940s. The 1949 Apadana Gallery of Tehran, which was operated by Mahmoud Javadi Pour and other colleagues, and the emergence of artists such as Marcos Grigorian in the 1950s, signaled a commitment to the creation of a form of modern art grounded in Iran.
Iranian carpet-weaving dates back to the Bronze Age, and is one of the most distinguished manifestations of the art of Iran. Iran is the world's largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets, producing three quarters of the world's total output and having a share of 30% of world's export markets.
Iran is also home to one of the largest jewel collections in the world.
The history of Iranian architecture goes back to the 7th millennium BC. Iranians were among the first to use mathematics, geometry and astronomy in architecture.
Iranian architecture displays great variety, both structural and aesthetic, developing gradually and coherently out of earlier traditions and experience. The guiding motifs of Iranian architecture are unity, continuity and cosmic symbolism.
Iran ranks seventh among countries with the most archaeological architectural ruins and attractions from antiquity, as recognized by UNESCO.
Iranian literature is one of the world's oldest literatures, dating back to the poetry of Avesta and Zoroastrian literature.
Poetry is used in many Iranian classical works, whether in literature, science, or metaphysics. The Persian language has been dubbed as a worthy language to serve as a conduit for poetry, and is considered as one of the four main bodies of world literature. Dialects of Persian are sporadically spoken throughout regions from China to Syria and Russia, though mainly in the Iranian Plateau.
Iran has a number of famous poets; most notably Rumi, Ferdowsi, Hafez, Saadi Shirazi, Khayyám Ney-Shapuri, and Nezami Ganjavi. Historically, Iranian literature has inspired writers including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Iranian philosophy originates to Indo-Iranian roots, with Zarathustra's teachings having major influences.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, the chronology of the subject and science of philosophy starts with the Indo-Iranians, dating this event to 1500 BC. The Oxford dictionary also states, "Zarathushtra's philosophy entered to influence Western tradition through Judaism, and therefore on Middle Platonism."
While there are ancient relations between the Indian Vedas and the Iranian Avesta, the two main families of the Indo-Iranian philosophical traditions were characterized by fundamental differences, especially in their implications for the human being's position in society and their view of man's role in the universe.
The Cyrus cylinder, which is known as "the first charter of human rights", is often seen as a reflection of the questions and thoughts expressed by Zarathustra, and developed in Zoroastrian schools of the Achaemenid Era.
The earliest tenets of Zoroastrian schools are part of the extant scriptures of the Zoroastrian religion in the Avestan language. Among them are treatises such as the Shikand-gumanic Vichar, Denkard, Zātspram, as well as older passages of Avesta, and the Gathas.
Iranian mythology consists of ancient Iranian folklore and stories, all involving extraordinary beings. They reflect attitudes towards the confrontation of good and evil, actions of the gods, and the exploits of heroes and fabulous creatures.
Myths play a crucial part in the culture of Iran, and understanding of them is increased when they are considered within the context of actual events in the history of Iran. The geography of Greater Iran, a vast area covering the present-day Iran, the Caucasus, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Central Asia, with its high mountain ranges, plays the main role in much of the Iranian mythology.
Shahnameh of Ferdowsi is the main collection of the mythology of Iran, which draws heavily on the stories and characters of Zoroastrianism, from the texts of Avesta, Denkard and Bundahishn.
Iran has three official calendar systems, including the Solar calendar as the main, the Gregorian calendar for international and Christian events, and the Lunar calendar for Islamic events.
The main national annual of Iran is Nowruz, an ancient tradition celebrated on 21 March to mark the beginning of spring and the New Year of Iran. It is enjoyed by people with different religions, but is a holiday for Zoroastrians. It was registered on the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and was described as the Persian New Year by UNESCO in 2009.
Other remained national annuals of Iran include:Čā'r Šanbe Suri: A prelude to Nowruz, in honor of Ātar (the Holy Fire), celebrated by fireworks and fire-jumping, on the last Wednesday eve of the year.Sizde be Dar: Leaving the house to join the nature, on the thirteenth day of the New Year (April 2).Čelle ye Zemestān: Also known as Yaldā; the longest night of the year, celebrated on the eve of Winter Solstice, by reciting poetry and having the customary fruits which include watermelon, pomegranate and mixed nuts.Tirgān: A mid summer festival, in honor of Tishtrya, celebrated on Tir 13 (July 4), by splashing water, reciting poetry and having traditional dishes such as šole-zard and spinach soup.Mehrgān: An autumn festival, in honor of Mithra, celebrated on Mehr 16 (October 8), by family gathering and setting a table of sweets, flowers and a mirror.Sepand Ārmazgān: Dedicated to Ameša Spenta (the Holy Devotion); celebrated by giving presents to partners, on Esfand 15 (February 24).
Along with the national celebrations, annuals such as Ramezān, Eid e Fetr, and Ruz e Āšurā are marked by Muslims; Noel, Čelle ye Ruze, and Eid e Pāk are celebrated by Christians; and the festivals Purim, Eid e Fatir, and Tu Bišvāt are celebrated by Jewish people in Iran.
Iran is the apparent birthplace of the earliest complex instruments, as evidenced by the archaeological records found in Western Iran, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. The Iranian use of both vertical and horizontal angular harps have been documented at the sites Madaktu and Kul-e Farah, with the largest collection of Elamite instruments documented at Kul-e Farah. Multiple depictions of horizontal harps were also sculpted in Assyrian palaces, dating back between 865 and 650 BC.
Xenophon's Cyropaedia refers to a great number of singing women at the court of the Achaemenid Iran. Athenaeus of Naucratis states that, by the time of the last Achaemenid king, Artashata (336–330 BC), Achaemenid singing girls were captured by the Macedonian general, Parmenion. Under the Parthian Empire, a type of epic music was taught to youth, depicting the national epics and myths which were later represented in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi.
History of the Sassanid music is better documented than the earlier periods, and is specially more evident in the Zoroastrian contexts. By the time of Khosrow II, the Sassanid royal court was the host of prominent musicians, namely Ramtin, Bamshad, Nakisa, Azad, Sarkash, and Barbad.
Some Iranian traditional musical instruments include saz, Persian tar, Azerbaijani tar, dotar, setar, kamanche, harp, barbat, santur, tanbur, qanun, dap, tompak, and ney.
The first national music society of the modern-day Iran was founded by Rouhollah Khaleghi in the 1940s, with the School of National Music established in 1949. Today, the main orchestra of Iran include the National Orchestra, the Nations Orchestra, and the Symphony Orchestra of Tehran.
Iranian pop music emerged by the Qajar Era. It was led to major developments in the 1950s, by the emergence of stars such as Viguen, who was referred to as the king of Persian pop and jazz. The 1970s is known as a "Golden Age" for Iranian pop music, where a revolution was formed in the music industry of Iran, using indigenous instruments and forms and adding electric guitar. Hayedeh, Faramarz Aslani, Farhad Mehrad, Googoosh, and Ebi are among the leading artists of this period.
The emergence of genres such as modern rock in the 1970s and hip hop in the 1980s, which replaced the outdated musical styles among the youth, followed major movements and influences in the music of Iran.
Theater background of Iran dates back to antiquity. The earliest recorded representations of dancing figures within Iran were found in prehistoric sites such as Tepe Sialk and Tepe Mūsīān.
The oldest initiation of theater and phenomena of acting among the people of Iran can be traced in the epic ceremonial theaters, such as Soug e Sivash and Mogh Koshi (Megakhouni), and also dances and theater narrations of Iranian mythological tales reported by Herodotos and Xenophon.
There are several theatrical genres which emerged before the advent of cinema in Iran, including Xeyme Shab Bazi (Puppetry), Saye Bazi (Shadow play), Ru-howzi (Comical plays), and Tazieh (Sorrow plays).
Before the 1979 Revolution, the Iranian national stage had become a famous performing scene for known international artists and troupes, with the Roudaki Hall of Tehran constructed to function as the national stage for opera and ballet. Opened on October 26, 1967, the hall is home to the Symphony Orchestra of Tehran, the Opera Orchestra of Tehran, and the Iranian National Ballet Company, and continues now with Vahdat Hall as its official name.
The opera Rostam o Sohrab, based on the epic of Rostam and Sohrab from Shahnameh, is an example of opera performances in the modern-day Iran.
The earliest examples of visual representations in Iranian history are traced back to the bas-reliefs of Persepolis, c. 500 BC. Persepolis was the ritual center of the ancient kingdom of Achaemenids, and the figures at Persepolis remain bound by the rules of grammar and syntax of visual language. The Iranian visual arts reached a pinnacle by the Sassanid Era. A bas-relief from this period in Taq Bostan depicts a complex hunting scene. Similar works from the period have been found to articulate movements and actions in a highly sophisticated manner. It is even possible to see a progenitor of the cinema close-up in one of these works of art, which shows a wounded wild pig escaping from the hunting ground.
By the early 20th century, the five-year-old modern industry of cinema came to Iran. The first Iranian filmmaker was Mirza Ebrahim Khan (Akkas Bashi), the official photographer of Mozaffar od Din Shah of Qajar. He obtained a camera and filmed the Shah's visit to Europe.
In 1904, Mirza Ebrahim Khan (Sahhaf Bashi) opened the first movie theater in Tehran. After him, several others like Russi Khan, Ardeshir Khan, and Ali Vakili tried to establish new movie theaters in Tehran. Until the early 1930s, there were around 15 cinema theaters in Tehran and 11 in other provinces.
The first silent Iranian film was made by Professor Ovanes Ohanian in 1930, and the first sounded one, Lor Girl, was made by Abd ol Hossein Sepanta in 1932.
The 1960s was a significant decade for Iranian cinema, with 25 commercial films produced annually on average throughout the early 60s, increasing to 65 by the end of the decade. The majority of production focused on melodrama and thrillers. With the screening of the films Kaiser and The Cow, directed by Masoud Kimiai and Dariush Mehrjui respectively in 1969, alternative films set out to establish their status in the film industry and Bahram Beyzai's Downpour and Nasser Taghvai's Tranquility in the Presence of Others followed soon. Attempts to organize a film festival that had begun in 1954 within the framework of the Golrizan Festival, bore fruits in the form of the Sepas Festival in 1969. The endeavors also resulted in the formation of the Tehran World Festival in 1973.
After the Revolution of 1979, as the new government imposed new laws and standards, a new age in Iranian cinema emerged, starting with Viva... by Khosrow Sinai and followed by many other directors, such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi. Kiarostami, an admired Iranian director, planted Iran firmly on the map of world cinema when he won the Palme d'Or for Taste of Cherry in 1997. The continuous presence of Iranian films in prestigious international festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival, attracted world attention to Iranian masterpieces. In 2006, six Iranian films, of six different styles, represented Iranian cinema at the Berlin International Film Festival. Critics considered this a remarkable event in the history of Iranian cinema.
Asghar Farhadi, a well-known Iranian director, has received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time Magazine in 2012.
The oldest records of animation in Iran date back to the late 3rd millennium BC. An earthen goblet discovered at the site of the 5,200-year-old Burnt City in southeastern Iran, depicts what could possibly be the world’s oldest example of animation. The artifact bears five sequential images depicting a Persian ibex jumping up to eat the leaves of a tree.
The art of animation, as practiced in modern Iran, started in the 1950s. After four decades of Iranian animation production and three-decade experience of Kanoon Institute, the Tehran International Animation Festival (TIAF) was established in February 1999. Every two years, participants from more than 70 countries attend this event in Tehran, which holds Iran's biggest national animation market.
Iran's telecommunications are handled by the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran. Almost all of the media outlets in Iran are state-owned or subject to authority monitoring. Outlets such as books, movies and music albums must be approved by the Ministry of Ershad before being released to the public.
Most of the newspapers published in Iran are in Persian. The most widely circulated periodicals of the country are based in Tehran. Iran's widespread daily and weekly newspapers include Ettela'at, Kayhan, Hamshahri and Resalat. Tehran Times, Iran Daily, and Financial Tribune are among the English language newspapers based in Iran.
Television was introduced to Iran in 1958. Although the 1974 Asian Games was broadcast in color, full color programming began in 1978. Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran's largest media corporation is the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Over 30 percent of Iranians watch satellite channels, but observers state that the figures are likely to be higher.
Iran received access to the Internet in 1993. According to 2014 census, around 40% of the population of Iran are Internet users. Iran ranks 24th among countries by number of Internet users. According to the statistics provided by the web information company of Alexa, Google Search and Yahoo! are the most used search engines in Iran. Over 80% of the users of Telegram, a cloud-based instant messaging service, are from Iran. Instagram is the most popular online social networking service in Iran. Direct access to Facebook has been blocked in Iran since the 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, due to organization of the opposition movements on the website; but however, Facebook has around 12 to 17 million users in Iran who are using virtual private networks and proxy servers to access the website. Around 90% of Iran's e-commerce takes place on the Iranian online store of Digikala, which has around 750,000 visitors per day and more than 2.3 million subscribers. Digikala is the most visited online store in the Middle East, and ranks 4th among the most visited websites in Iran.
With two thirds of the population under the age of 25, many sports are played in Iran, both traditional and modern.
Iran is most likely the birthplace of polo, which is locally known as čowgān, with its earliest records attributed to the ancient Medes.
Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as the national sport of Iran, and the national wrestlers have been Olympic and world champions on many occasions. Iran's traditional wrestling called košti e pahlevāni ("the heroic wrestling") is registered on the UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list.
Iran's National Olympic Committee was founded in 1947. Wrestlers and weightlifters have achieved the country's highest records at the Olympics.
Soccer has been regarded as the most popular sport in Iran, with the men's national team having won the Asian Cup on three occasions. The national team has maintained its position as the best Asian squad, as it ranks 1st in Asia and 39th in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings (as of August 2016).
Volleyball is the second most popular sport in Iran. The men's national team is currently the strongest team in Asia, having won the 2011 and 2013 Asian Men's Volleyball Championships, and rank 8th in the FIVB World Rankings (as of July 2016).
Basketball is also popular, with the men's national team having won three Asian Championships since 2007.
Being a mountainous country, Iran is a venue for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, rock climbing, and mountain climbing.
Iran is home to several ski resorts, the most famous being Tochal, Dizin and Shemshak which are all within one to three hours traveling from the capital city Tehran. The resort of Tochal, located in the Alborz mountain rage, is the world's fifth-highest ski resort (3,730 m or 12,238 ft at its highest station). Potentially suitable terrain can also be found in Lorestan, Mazenderan and other provinces.
In September 1974, Iran became the first country in West Asia to host the Asian Games. The Azadi Sport Complex, which is the largest sport complex in Iran, was originally built for this occasion.
In 2016, Iran made global headlines for international female champions boycotting tournaments in Iran in chess (U.S. Woman Grandmaster Nazi Paikidze) and in shooting (Indian world champion Heena Sidhu) because they refused to enter a country where they would be forced to wear a hijab to compete in their sports.
Iranian cuisine is diverse due to its variety of ethnic groups and the influence of other cultures. Herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Iranians usually eat plain yogurt with lunch and dinner; it is a staple of the diet in Iran. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic flavourings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes. Onions and garlic are normally used in the preparation of the accompanying course, but are also served separately during meals, either in raw or pickled form. Iran is also famous for its caviar.