Modern nation in SW Asia, bounded on the W by Iraq and Turkey, on the N by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and Turkmenistan, on the E by Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on the S by the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. In 1935, the Persian shah renamed the country from Persia to Iran. In World War II the shah was suspected of German sympathies and in August 1941 British and Soviet troops again occupied Iran. The next month the shah abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlevi. When the war ended the USSR tried to stir up trouble in the north and refused to remove its troops from the country. Iran protested to the United Nations, and in May 1946 the Soviets left. In 1951 a militant nationalist movement resulted in the nationalization of the oil industry. There was much unrest, stemming from economic hardship and antiforeign sentiment, but in 1957 martial law came to an end after 16 years. Iran joined the Central Treaty Organization for the defense of the Middle East and established close ties with the United States, which provided military and economic assistance. In 1963 the shah initiated a series of reforms, including land redistribution, and the emancipation of women. With the aid of large oil revenues, he also tried to make Iran the strongest military power in the region.
Nevertheless, dissatisfaction with the shah’s rule grew, resulting partly from his harsh methods of repression, partly from continued poverty of most of the people, and partly from a resurgence of conservative Islamic forces that opposed the Westernization of the country. The shah’s support dwindled to such an extent that on January 16, 1979, he fled the country. Within a short time power came into the hand s of the Islamic religious leaders, headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and an Islamic republic was established. Anti-American feeling became intense and culminated in the seizure on November 4 of the U.S. embassy in Teheran and its personnel. The embassy hostages were not released until January 20, 1981. In September 1980 Iran’s neighbor Iraq attacked it in a dispute over territory. After some advances into Iran, the war bogged down with several unsuccessful Iranian offensives. In 1988, a U.S. Navy warship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft, killing all aboard. The Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 with a cease-fire brokered by the UN.
After the war, Iran began rebuilding its economy, especially its foreign exchange–rich oil industry. Khomeini died in 1989 and was succeeded by Iran’s president, Sayid Ali Khamenei. The presidency was soon filled by a relative moderate, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who sought to improve relations with the West. In 1990, a major earthquake hit N Iran, killing nearly 40,000 people. In 1990, Iran condemned Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait, but did support the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq and allowed Iraqi planes fleeing coalition forces into Iranian airspace. As a result of the war and its aftermath, more than one million Kurds crossed the Iraqi border into Iran as refugees. In 1993, Rafsanjani was reelected president. In 1995, the United States suspended all trade with Iran in 1995, accusing Iran of supporting international terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. In 1997, Mohammed Khatami, a moderately liberal Muslim cleric, was elected president. While several European countries normalized relations with Iran in the 1990s the United States continued to wage diplomatic and economic war on Iran, based on the ruling regime’s support of international terrorism and weapons proliferation. In 1999, pro-democracy demonstrations and pro-government counterdemonstrations resulted from government crackdowns on dissent and the press. In 2000, reformists won the majority of the seats in the parliament, but the reformist press was closed by the religious authorities. In 2001 President Khatami was reelected by a wide margin. There has been increasing friction between the secular parliament and the religiously conservative judiciary and Guardian Council. In the 2004 elections, the conservatives took control of the parliament but were split between radical and traditional factions. The anti-U.S. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Negotiations continue between the EU, the United States, Russia, and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.
Teheran is the capital; other important cities include Mashhad in the northeast, Tabriz in the northwest, Hamadan in the west, Esfahan in the central west, and Abadan and Shiraz in the southwest. The strategic strait of Hormuz separates Iran from Oman and command s the Persian Gulf’s access to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.