Iran (Persian: ايران) is a Middle Eastern country located in Southwest Asia bordering Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan to the north, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east, Turkey and Iraq to the west. Although locally known as 'Iran', at least since the Sassanian period, until 1935 the country was referred to in the West as Persia. In 1959, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi announced that both terms could be used. In 1979 a revolution, which was eventually led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, established a theocratic Islamic Republic, changing the country's official name into the Islamic Republic of Iran (جمهوری اسلامی ايران). The name Iran is a cognate of the Aryan meaning "Land of the Aryans."
- 1 Terminology
- 2 History
- 3 Politics
- 4 Geography
- 5 Provinces
- 6 Economy
- 7 Demographics
- 8 Culture
- 9 Miscellaneous topics
- 10 External links
By its people, Iran or Persia has been called Aryanam since ancient times and Iran/Eranshahr since the Sassanian period. "Aryanam" is the ancient version of "Iran" and the old genitive plural meaning (land) of the Aryans. The term Persia is the name used for this country by European countries since the Persian Empire of the Achaemenids in the 6th century BC.
See also: Iran naming dispute
Main article: History of Iran
Iran traces its national origin to Persia, an empire that emerged in the 6th century BC under Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, who called himself "King of Iran". Indeed, the name Persia is derived from Persis, the ancient Greek name for the empire. The Achaemenid dynasty was followed by the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties as Persia's greatest pre-Islamic empires. Alexander the Great first conquered Persia in 331 BCE, followed by Islam's Arab forces in the 7th century, and Genghis Khan and Tamerlane in the middle ages.
The 9th century saw the rise of the Saffarids and then other lines of kings or shahs. During the 19th century Persia came under increasing pressure from both Russia and the United Kingdom, leading to a process of modernisation that continued into the 20th century. By the 20th century Iranians were longing for a change and thus followed the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905/1911.
In 1953 Iran's elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, was removed from power in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies (dubbed "Operation Ajax"). Many scholars suspect that this ouster was motivated by British-US opposition to Mosaddeq's attempt to nationalize Iran's oil. Template:Iran Following Mosaddeq's fall, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran's monarch) grew increasingly dictatorial. With strong support from the USA and the UK, the Shah further modernised Iranian industry but crushed civil liberties. His autocratic rule, including systematic torture and other human rights violations, led to the Iranian revolution and overthrow of his regime in 1979. After more than a year of political struggle between a variety of different groups, an Islamic republic was established under the Ayatollah Khomeini by popular vote.
The new theocratic political system instituted some conservative Islamic reforms and engaged in an anti-Western course. In particular Iran distanced itself from the United States due to the American involvement in the 1953 coup, which supplanted an elected government with the Shah's repressive regime. It also declared its refusal to recognize the existence of Israel as a state. The new government inspired various groups considered by a large part of the Western World to be fundamentalist. As a consequence some countries, currently led by the USA, consider Iran to be a hostile power.
In 1980 Iran was attacked by neighbouring Iraq and the destructive Iran-Iraq War continued until 1988. The struggle between reformists and conservatives over the future of the country continues today through electoral politics and was a central Western focus in the 2005 Elections where Conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad triumphed.
See also: Full list of Iranian Kingdoms
Iran is a constitutional Islamic Republic, whose political system is laid out in the 1979 constitution called Qanun-e Asasi. Iran's makeup has several intricately connected governing bodies, some of which are democratically elected and some of which operate by co-opting people based on their religious inclinations. The concept of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) plays an influential role in the governmental structure. It is vital to understanding some of the inspiration, basis, and institutions such as the position of the Supreme Leader and the Council of Guardians.  
The Supreme Leader (Rahbar)
According to Iran's Constitution, the Supreme Leader of Iran is responsible for the delineation and supervision of "the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran." In the absence of a single leader, a council of religious leaders is appointed. The Supreme Leader is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the Islamic Republic's intelligence and security operations; he alone can declare war. He has the power to appoint and dismiss the leaders of the judiciary, the state radio and television networks, and the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He also appoints six of the twelve members of the Council of Guardians. He, or the council of religious leaders, are elected by the Assembly of Experts, on the basis of their qualifications and the high popular esteem in which they are held.
The President (Ra'is-e Jomhoor)
After the office of Leadership, the President of Iran is the highest official in the country. His is the responsibility for implementing the Constitution and acting as the head of the executive, except in matters directly concerned with (the office of) the Leadership. According to the law, all presidential candidates must be approved by the Council of Guardians prior to running, after which he is elected by universal suffrage to a 4-year term by an absolute majority of votes. After his election, the president appoints and supervises the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), coordinates government decisions, and selects government policies to be placed before the parliament. Eight vice presidents serve under the president, as well as a cabinet of 21 ministers. The Council of Ministers must be confirmed by Parliament. Unlike many other states, the executive branch in Iran does not control the armed forces.
The Parliament (Majles)
The unicameral Iranian parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly or "Majles-e Shura-ye Eslami", consists of 290 members elected to a 4-year term. The members are elected by direct and secret ballot. It drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties, and approves the country's budget. All legislation from the assembly must be reviewed by the Council of Guardians. Candidates for a seat in the Majles require approval by the Council of Guardians.
The Assembly of Experts
The Assembly of Experts, which meets for one week every year, consists of 86 "virtuous and learned" clerics elected by the public to eight-year terms. Like presidential and parliamentary elections, the Council of Guardians determines eligibility to run for a seat in this assembly.
Members of the Assembly of Experts in turn elect the Supreme Leader from within their own ranks and periodically reconfirm him. The assembly has never been known to challenge any of the Supreme Leader's decisions.
The Council of Guardians
Twelve jurists comprise the Council of Guardians, six of whom are appointed by the Supreme Leader. The head of the judiciary recommends the remaining six, which are officially appointed by Parliament.
The Council of Guardians is vested with the authority to interpret the constitution and determines if the laws passed by Parliament are in line with sharia (Islamic law). Hence the council can exercise veto power over Parliament. If a law passed by Parliament is deemed incompatible with the constitution or sharia, it is referred back to Parliament for revision.
The council also examines presidential and parliamentary candidates to determine their fitness to run for a seat.
The Expediency Council
Created by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988, the Expediency Council has the authority to mediate disputes between Parliament and the Council of Guardians. Presently, according to the constitution, the Expediency Council serves as an advisory body to the Supreme Leader, making it one of the most powerful governing bodies in the country, at least in name.
Main article: Judicial system of Iran
The head of the judiciary is appointed by the Supreme Leader, who in turn appoints the head of the Supreme Court and the chief public prosecutor.
Public courts deal with civil and criminal cases. "Revolutionary" courts try certain categories of offenses, including crimes against national security, narcotics smuggling, and acts that undermine the Islamic Republic. Decisions rendered in revolutionary courts are final and cannot be appealed.
The Special Clerical Court handles crimes allegedly committed by clerics, although it has also taken on cases involving lay people. The rulings of the Special Clerical Court, which functions independently of the regular judicial framework and is accountable only to the Supreme Leader, are also final and cannot be appealed.
Main article: Geography of Iran
Iran borders Azerbaijan (length of border: 432 km / 268 mi ) and Armenia (35 km / 22mi) to the northwest, the Caspian Sea to the north, Turkmenistan (992 km / 616 mi) to the northeast, Pakistan (909 km / 565 mi) and Afghanistan (936 km / 582 mi) to the east, Turkey (499 km / 310 mi) and Iraq (1,458 km / 906 mi) to the west, and finally the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south. Iran's total land mass is 1,648,000 km² / ≈636,300 mi² (Land: 1,636,000 km² / ≈631,663 mi², Water: 12,000 km² / ≈4,633 mi²).
Iran's landscape is dominated by rugged mountain ranges that separate various basins or plateaus from one another. The populous western part is the most mountainous, with ranges such as the Zagros and Alborz Mountains, the latter of which also contains Iran's highest point, the Damavand at 5,671 m (18,606 ft). The eastern half consists mostly of uninhabited desert basins with the occasional salt lake.
The only large plains are found along the coast of the Caspian Sea and at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, where Iran borders on the mouth of the Arvand river (Shatt al-Arab). Smaller, discontinuous plains are found along the remaining coast of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman. The Iranian climate is mostly arid or semiarid, though subtropical along the Caspian coast. Iran is considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity".
Iran consists of 30 provinces:
Provinces are governed from a local center, mostly the largest local city. Provincial authority is headed by a governor (استاندار: ostāndār), who is installed by the Minister of Interior subject to approval of the cabinet.
Iran's varied landscape produces several different climates. On the northern edge of the country (the Caspian coastal plain) the temperatures nearly fall below freezing and remains humid for the rest of the year and summer temperatures rarely exceed 29°C (84°F). Annual precipitation is 680 mm (26 in) in the eastern part of the plain and more than 1700 mm (75 in) in the western side of the plain. At higher elevations to the west, settlements in the Zagros mountains basins experience lower temperatures. These areas have severe winters, with average daily temperatures below freezing and have heavy snowfall. The eastern and central basins are arid and get less than 200 mm (8 in) of rain and have occasional desert. The average summer temperatures exceed above 38°C (100°F). The coastal plains of the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in southern Iran have mild winters and very humid and hot summers. Annual precipitation ranges from 135 mm to 355 mm (6 to 14 in).
See also: List of cities in Iran.
Main article: Economy of Iran
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. The current administration has continued to follow the market reform plans of the previous one and has indicated that it will pursue diversification of Iran's oil-reliant economy. Iran is attempting to diversify by investing revenues in other areas, including petrochemicals. Iran also is hoping to attract billions of dollars worth of foreign investment by creating a more favorable investment climate (i.e., reduced restrictions and duties on imports, creation of free-trade zones).
Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer and holds 10% of the world's proven oil reserves. It also has the world's second largest natural gas reserves (after Russia). The strong oil market in 1996 helped ease financial pressures on Iran and allowed for Tehran's timely debt service payments. Iran's financial situation tightened in 1997 because of lower oil prices. The subsequent rise in oil prices in 1999/2000 afforded Iran fiscal breathing room. Iranian budget deficits have been a chronic problem, in part due to large-scale state subsidies -- totaling some $7.25 billion per year -- including foodstuffs and especially gasoline.
On March 20, 2006, Iran plans to participate in a new International Oil Bourse, trading oil priced as Petroeuros, rather than Petrodollars, as oil is traded in all other markets (as of 2005). This attempt to rebalance trading relationships in the world economy may trigger a series of far reaching consequences. A few observers, especially among peak oil production theorists who believe that an oil crisis is imminent, argue that there is a potential for a resource war with the United States of America over the flow of both dollars and oil. Others, including military leaders and peak oil theorists who believe that a crisis is further off, argue that the results of war game scenarios cast doubt on the argument that a war is the most likely result of the Oil Bourse.
The services sector has seen the greatest long-term growth in terms of its share of GDP, but the sector remains volatile. State investment has boosted agriculture, however, with the liberalisation of production and the improvement of packaging and marketing helping to develop new export markets. Large-scale irrigation schemes, together with the wider production of export-based agricultural items such as dates, flowers and pistachios, produced the fastest economic growth of any sector in Iran over much of the 1990s, although successive years of severe drought in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 have held back output growth substantially. Agriculture remains one of the largest employers, accounting for 22% of all jobs according to the 1991 census. According to the U.N. World Drug Report for 2005, Iran has the highest proportion of opiate addicts in the world -- 2.8 percent of the population over age 15. Only two other countries -- Mauritius and Kyrgyzstan -- pass the 2 percent mark. With a population of about 70 million and some government agencies putting the number of regular users close to 4 million, Iran has no real competition as world leader in per capita addiction to opiates, including heroin.
Main article: Demographics of Iran
The majority of Iran's population speak one of the Iranian languages, though only Persian is an official language . While the number, percentage, and definition of the different Iranian peoples is disputed, the major ethnic groups in Iran include the Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Arabs (3%), Baluchi (2%), Lurs (2%), Turkmen people (2%), Qashqai, Armenians, Persian Jews, Assyrians and others.¹ See also: Ethnic minorities in Iran.
Most Iranians are Muslims; 89% belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 10% belong to the Sunni branch, which predominates in most Muslim countries. Non-Muslim religious minorities include the Bahá'í Faith, Zoroastrians, as well as Jews, Christians, and Mandeans. The latter three are officially recognised minority religions and have reserved seats in the Majlis (Parliament). Iran's population size increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century. Iran hosts more than one million foreign refugees, more than any other country on earth. 
¹ Please note that the numbers are according to the 2004 edition of CIA's The World Factbook. Different claims include higher numbers for Persian-speaking groups and respectively lower numbers for Turkic-speaking groups or vice versa. Some people in the first group claim that the CIA statistics are based on guesses made around 1964, while the CIA claims that their numbers are based on information from January 2004.
Main article: Culture of Iran
Like all ancient civilizations, culture constitutes the focal point and heart of Iranian civilization. The art, music, architecture, poetry, philosophy, traditions, and ideology of this country have made it a continuously important nation in the global community. In fact, many Iranians believe their culture to be the one and only reason why their civilization has continuously survived thousands of years of plethoric calamities.
- Iranian art:
- Education in Iran:
- Other cultural related topics:
- Communications in Iran
- Other topics:
Official Government Links
- Iran Travel and Tourism Guide
- Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)
- BBC News - "Iran, Who holds the power?"
- Encyclopaedia Iranica
- Iranian Cultural & Information Center at Stanford University, California
- CIA World Factbook - Iran
- Library of Congress - Country Studies: Iran data as of May 1988
- LookSmart - Iran directory category
- Open Directory Project - Iran directory category
- Yahoo! - Iran directory category
- Yahoo! News Full Coverage Iran headline links
- HavenWorks' Iran News
- Directory of Iranian online newspapers
- http://www.iran-now.com News and Community Portal
- Iran Oil and Gas
- Freedom of Expression in Iran - IFEX
- List of alleged weapons
- The Dismal Reality of Ahlus Sunnah in Iran
- Iran, The Persian Gulf - Iran in the Persian Gulf
- List of Iranian High Commissions, embassies and consulates around the world.
- The Iran Elections - A guide to understanding the Iranian elections
- Iran Scan - An english blog from Iranians on elections and democracy in Iran
- Democracy in Iran Iran's road to democracy
- Farhangsara.com - an independently-produced Iran encyclopedia
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