Iran country overview

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Iran information index

Iran summary

Iran is a country located in southwestern Asia, characterized by its mountainous and arid terrain, as well as its diverse ethnic population. The country has a rich cultural and social history that dates back to the Achaemenian period, which began in 550 BCE. In recent years, Iran has gained recognition for its unique form of Islamic republic. While initially intended as a parliamentary democracy, persistent instability both domestically and internationally has led to a shift towards a more theocratic authoritarianism.

In 2022, the government’s attempt to suppress economic unrest through repression resulted in widespread protests that had a debilitating impact. These protests were partly sparked by the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, who was in custody for wearing improper attire.

Geographically, Iran is mostly comprised of a central desert plateau, surrounded by towering mountain ranges that provide access to the interior through high passes. The majority of the population resides on the outskirts of this harsh and waterless landscape. The capital city, Tehrān, is a sprawling metropolis located at the southern base of the Elburz Mountains. Known for its impressive architecture and lush gardens, the city experienced some decline in the decades following the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. However, efforts have been made to preserve historic buildings and expand the city’s network of parks. Other cities such as Eṣfahān and Shīrāz also blend modern structures with significant historical landmarks, serving as important centers for education, culture, and commerce.

Iran has a long and storied history as the heart of the Persian empire. It has played a significant role in the region as an imperial power and, due to its strategic location and abundant natural resources, particularly petroleum, has been involved in colonial and superpower rivalries. Throughout its history, Iran has been influenced by both indigenous and foreign conquerors and immigrants, including the Hellenistic Seleucids, Parthians, and Sasanids. However, the most lasting influence came with the conquest of the Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE, which led to the assimilation of Iranian culture under Arab rule.

A cultural renaissance in the late 8th century sparked a revival of Persian literary culture, although the Persian language became highly Arabized and adopted Arabic script. Native Persian Islamic dynasties emerged in the early 9th century, with the rise of the Ṭāhirids. The region experienced successive waves of Persian, Turkish, and Mongol conquerors until the Safavids came to power in the early 16th century. The Safavids introduced Twelver Shiʿism as the official creed, leading to a synthesis of Persian culture and Shiʿi Islam that left a lasting impact on both.

After the fall of the Safavids in 1736, Iran saw the rise of several short-lived dynasties before the Qājār line took control in 1796. Qājār rule was marked by increasing European influence in Iran’s internal affairs, resulting in economic and political challenges. Additionally, the power of the Shiʿi clergy grew in social and political matters.

In 1925, the Pahlavi dynasty came to power, aiming to modernize Iran. However, their efforts were poorly planned and led to widespread dissatisfaction, ultimately resulting in the revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the dynasty. This revolution brought about a unique regime that combined elements of a parliamentary democracy with an Islamic theocracy led by the country’s clergy. Iran became the world’s only Shiʿi state but found itself embroiled in a long-term war with neighboring Iraq, which had severe economic and social consequences. The Islamic republic’s alleged support for international terrorism also led to its isolation from the global community. In the late 20th century, reformist elements within the government emerged, opposing the conservative clergy and Iran’s political and economic isolation. However, in the 21st century, conservative leadership and the increased influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reversed the rise of these reformist elements.

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