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Iran History Timeline
Transcript of Iran History Timeline
The History of
Ismail I founded the Safavid dynasty and made Shi'a Islam the official religion of the Safavid Empire.
The Safavid Empire (1502-1736)
Increased trade with the British and the Dutch, conquering massive territories to the South and East of Persia
Shah Abbas I of Safavids
After the disintegration of the Safavids, Nader Shah Afshar seized power and invaded India to regain territory
The Afsharid Dynasty (1736-1796)
The Afsharid decline gave way to the Zand Dynasty
Ruling from his capital, Shiraz, Karim Khan Zand declared himself the "Representative of the People", rejecting the title "Shah"
Karim Khan Zand
Karim Khan Zand is widely known to be one of the most just and benevolent rulers of Iran.
Karim Khan Zand Monument in Shiraz
Indeed Iran experienced one of its most prosperous and peaceful periods during the Zand Dynasty when taxes and the judicial system were administered more justly, and art and culture thrived.
The Qajar Dynasty (1796-1925)
The civil war ensuing from the death of Karim Khan Zand, led to the establishment of the Qajar Dynasty, when Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar was crowned "Shah"
Interests in Iran
Iran had always been a site of strategic and economic interest for European powers.
Britain, Russia, and France were the main colonial powers with sights set on Iran, establishing colonial footholds in Iran throughout the 18th & 19th centuries.
Treaty of Gulistan (1813)
Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828)
Signed by Iran and Imperial Russia at the end of the First Russo-Persian War
It incorporated modern day Azerbaijan, Daghestan, and Eastern Georgia into the Russian Empire
Under the rule of Fath Ali Shah Qajar, Iran was forced by Russia to sign the Turkmenchay Treaty in 1828 under threat of invasion
It granted Russian sovereignty over Erivan, Nakhchivan, & Talysh khanates, and established the Aras River as the boundary between the two Empires.
Modernization under the Qajars
The first 'Prime Minister' of Iran, Amir Kabir restored fiscal responsibility to the lavish courts of Nasser al-Din Shah, and is widely known as a great reformer, modernizer and nationalist.
Vast modernization and infrastructure projects began under the reign of the Qajars.
However, the Qajar court's excessively lavish and wasteful expenditures, including expensive trips abroad plunged Iran into ever deeper debt and reliance on foreign loans, mainly from the British.
He founded the first national modern university in the Middle East, Dar al-Funun
However, his popularity threatened the Shah and his court. Amir Kabir was dismissed and exiled to Kashan, where he was assassinated on the order of the Shah.
Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar
The Constitutional Revolution of 1906
The corrupt, bankrupt and ineffective rule of Mozzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar, led to mass protests by Shi'a clerics, the merchant class and others, demanding a legislative representative body and limits to the power of the Shah.
The protests were also fueled by ever increasing concessions of territory and resources to the British and the Russians.
In 1906, due to mass revolts and protests, the Shah agreed to establish an elected national parliament called the Majles, and to sign Iran's first written Constitution. However, he refused to cede all of his powers to the Majles and continued to restrict freedom of press, speech, and association.
The First Majles
Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar attempted to rescind the Constitution and with the help of Russian-officered Persian Cossacks Brigade bombed the Majles building and arrested the Majles deputies.
The Revolution continues
The Shah's attempts caused further mass protests, especially in the cities of Tabriz, Rasht and Isfahan and the revolutionaries finally succeeded in deposing Mohammad Ali Shah and exiling him to Russia.
At the forefront of this call for democratic representation were the Ulema (Shi'a clerics and scholars) and the Bazaari Merchant class.
Oil and The Great Game
In 1908, oil was discovered in the Southern Khuzestan region of Iran -a fact that strengthened British interest in Iran, and led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), which controlled all of Iran's oil production and revenues.
In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Convention split Iran into spheres of influence between Russia and Britain, circumventing Iran's national sovereignty. Russia controlled the North while Britain was in the South and East.
In 1909, the 11-year-old Ahmad Shah Qajar came to power
Finally, the Russian Revolution of 1917 led to the withdrawal of Russia from Iran. The Constitutional Revolution, countless mass protests and instability led to the military coup of Reza Khan, an officer of the Persian Cossack Brigades.
The fall of the Qajar Dynasty and the Rise of the Pahlavis
In 1925, Reza Khan declared himself Shah and started the Pahlavi Dynasty
Reza Shah's reign was marked by rapid but inconsistent modernization. He established major infrastructure projects, building a cross-country railroad system, establishing a national public education system, reforming the judiciary, and improving health care.
Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925 - 1941)
Ahmad Shah was forced into exile in France and Reza Khan came to power.
Reza Shah avoided granting technical and business contracts to the British and instead preferred French, German, and Italian companies. This created problems during World War II when the British claimed that German engineers in Iran were spies wanting to sabotage British oil facilities in Southwestern Iran, despite Iran's officially declared neutrality.
Reza Shah was an extremely secular leader, forcing women to discard the hijab and men to shave their beards and don Western attire -- a fact that incensed the religious Shi'a establishment.
In 1941, the Allied forces (mainly Britain, USSR, and the United States) occupied Iran, deposing Reza Shah and forcing him into exile due to his refusal to expel German nationals from Iran's soil. The Pahlavi regime collapsed and the Allies took full control of Iran's oil, railroads, and communications, which allowed them to secure their own oil supplies.
Mohammad Reza comes to power
In 1942, Mohammad Reza, the son of Reza Shah, was allowed to accede to the throne, and Iran's sovereignty was once again recognized by the Allied powers.
Throughout the 30s & 40s, the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran was an active political party and had a sizable representation in the Majles. Despite the Allies' declaration of Iran's sovereignty following WWII, the USSR refused to leave Northwestern Iran, where many communist militant and secessionist movements had begun.
Party Politics and the Cold War
One of the most outspoken supporters of the nationalization of Iranian oil was Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran's Prime Minister in 1951.
This prompted the Iranian government, supported by the US to crush several Tudeh branches in Iran. In the end, the USSR troops left Iran in 1946. This episode in Iran was one of the first precipitating factors for the beginning of the Cold War.
Following WWII, foreign control of Iran's oil resources became one of the most contentious political issues in Iran
In 1951, Mosaddegh was elected to be the Prime Minister of Iran by the Majles and shortly thereafter, with his leadership, the Majles voted (79-12) to nationalize Iran's British-owned oil.
The Game of Oil
The opening up of Iran's political system allowed a true multi-party system to be established and for the Majles elections to become competitive in 1944.
Iran was placed under a trade embargo by Britain and the Shah, fearing Mosaddegh's growing popularity and economic problems resulting from the embargo, left Iran.
Soldiers surrounding the Parliament building, August 19, 1953
On August 19th, 1953, the CIA and Britain's MI6 orchestrated a military coup to depose the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran, Dr. Mosaddegh. The military, backed by the US and Britain, restored Mohammad Reza Shah to his throne.
This move angered many Iranians who stormed the streets in mass demonstrations and protests. However, the new Pahlavi government was quick to suppress any opposition and all protesters, especially the Tudeh Party and the National Front Party.
Mosaddegh was arrested and tried for treason in a military court. He was then sentenced to permanent house arrest at his father's estate in Ahmadabad.
Overall Mosaddegh was only Prime Minister for 2 years and three months. However, the legacy of his efforts toward building a more democratic country and ending imperialist control of Iran's resources will forever live in the collective memory of Iranians.
He died under house arrest at the age of 82
The Shah's White Revolution
Mohammad Reza Shah
The Shah's White Revolution
Throughout the 1960s, Mohammad Reza Shah instituted modernization and reform projects, building massive infrastructure, expanding the middle class, urbanizing the country, extending voting rights to women, and greatly reducing illiteracy. These reforms became known as the White Revolution.
However, the Shah's autocratic rule, repression of dissent, banning of political parties, freedom of press, speech, and association, and wasteful spending on personal expenditures caused immense opposition to his rule.
A Revolution In the Making
One of the Shah's tools of repression was the highly feared SAVAK -- the Shah's secret police, who collaborated closely with the CIA, and actively persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured members of political opposition.
In the eyes of his opposition, the Shah was seen as a puppet of the US -- a Western Imperialist power whose foreign policy and un-Islamic values were infiltrating Iran.
It was thus, that the religious Shi'a clerics, the liberal intellectuals, and socialist-communists became united in calling for massive reforms, and finally, for the Shah to abdicate his throne.
The Islamic Revolution 1979
Mass protests against the Shah began in 1977 and continued until the Shah left Iran in 1979. The monarchy was replaced with the Islamic Republic of Iran, following 98% of Iranians voting yes on a national referendum to make it so.
Tehran Protests 1979
Ayatollah Khomeini - a high-ranking cleric became the leader of the Revolution
A Revolutionary in Exile
Khomeini came to political prominence first in 1963 when he opposed the Shah's White Revolution and called his rule corrupt and antithetical to Islamic teachings, while denouncing his capitulations to the US and Israel.
He was arrested and exiled to Najaf, Iraq; and later, he was exiled to Paris where he remained until the Revolution.
The Iranian Revolution could not have happened without the participation of a wide range of groups from traditional Bazaari merchants, to secular nationalist liberals, to leftist socialist groups and the religious establishment. However, none of the groups had the cohesion, charisma, network, and organization of Ayatollah Khomeini, which allowed him to emerge as the leader of the Revolution.
In 1979, Iranian newspapers reported the monumental news in one single sentence "The Shah has left". After the tide of the Revolution made it clear that the Pahlavi Dynasty would not survive and the military had declared itself neutral, Mohammad Reza Shah left Iran. He died shortly thereafter, and he is buried in Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo.
Achaemenid Empire (550 BC–330 BC)
The Leaders in power before and after Alexander the Great conquered Persia. Buddhism came in from India, while Zoroastrianism traveled west to influence Judaism. Incredible statues of the Buddha in classical Greek styles have been found in Persia and Afghanistan, illustrating the mix of cultures that occurred around this time.
The Hellenic conquest and the Seleucid Empire (312 BC – 63 BC)
The Parthian empire subsisted for five centuries, longer than most Eastern Empires. For the Romans, who relied on heavy infantry, the Parthians were too hard to defeat, as both types of cavalry (heavy armed and light armed) were much faster and more mobile than foot soldiers.
Parthian Empire (248 BC — AD 224)
The first Shah of the Sassanid Empire, Ardashir I, started reforming the country both economically and militarily. The empire's territory encompassed all of today's Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Afghanistan, eastern parts of Turkey, and parts of Syria, Pakistan, Caucasia, Central Asia, India and Arabia.
Sassanid Empire (224 – 651)
Muslims invaded Iran in the time of Umar (637) and conquered it after several great battles. The last Sassanid ruler, Yazdegerd III, fled from one district to another until a local miller killed him for his purse at Merv in 651. By 674, Muslims had conquered Greater Khorasan (which included modern Iranian Khorasan province and modern Afghanistan). The Islamic conquest of Persia ended the Sassanid Empire and led to the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia
Islamization was a long process by which Islam was gradually adopted by the majority of Iran's population.
As Persian Muslims consolidated their rule of the country, the Muslim population rose from approx. 40% in the mid 9th century to close to 100% by the end of 11th century.
Although Persians adopted the religion of their conquerors, over the centuries they worked to protect and revive their distinctive language and culture, a process known as Persianization.
Islamic Golden Age and Persianization
The Mongol invasion of Iran began in 1219, after two diplomatic missions to Khwarezm sent by Genghis Khan had been massacred.
Before his death in 1227, Genghis had reached western Azarbaijan, pillaging and burning cities along the way.
The rule of Ghenghis's great- great-grandson, Ghazan Khan (1295–1304) saw the establishment of Islam as the state religion.
Mongols, Timurids and Local Governments
Sunnism was the dominant form of Islam in most of Iran until the rise of the Safavid Empire: more than 90% of Persians were Sunnis before the Safavids.
Sunnism and Shiism in pre-Safavid Iran
Imam Reza shrine, the greatest religious site in Iran, was built in the 9th century and has been the pilgrimage site for all Shi'a Muslims since then.
Iran's Parliament (Majles)
Khomeini returns from exile
Iran's Constitution is replaced with one that is based on Shi'a Islam and a theocracy is born, with Ayatollah Khomeini becoming the Supreme Leader of the new Islamic Republic.
The New Regime
The ideology of the Islamic Republic relies on the concept of "velayat-e faqih" the guardian of the Revolution and the Regime, which can only be a high-ranking Shi'a jurist. Khomeini served in this role until his death in 1989.
Despite the establishment of democratic institutions, such as the presidency and regular elections for the Majles, the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people were soon derailed. Khomeini moved quickly to neutralize all political opposition, including communist-leaning groups and secular liberals, and to concentrate power in the hands of himself and his supporters.
In 1980, Saddam Hussein, perceiving a weak and chaotic Iran, and fearing the influence of Iran's Revolution spreading to Shi'a minorities in Iraq, decided to invade Iran over a border dispute in Southwestern Iran. This marked the beginning of the 8-year-long Iran-Iraq war.
Iran, Iraq and the US
Many political prisoners were hanged at the beginning of the Revolution. The Shah's secret police, SAVAK--responsible for the imprisonment, torture and death of many opposition members--became the new SAVAMA (now VEVAK) in the Islamic Republic.
Directly after the Revolution, Iran went through a Cultural Revolution for three years when the hijab became mandatory for women, and schools, universities and all other institutions were reformed to reflect the ideology of the new Regime.
In 1979, Iranian revolutionary students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and captured and imprisoned US diplomats for 444 days. This incident known as the "Iran Hostage Crisis" was a precipitating factor in the decline of Iran-US relations.
Shortly after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Khomeini died and he was replaced with Ali Khamenei (a former President of Iran) who is currently the sitting Supreme Leader.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein was militarily supported by the US, despite the widely known fact that Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers, in violation of international law.
In 1988, after many millions had died, a cease-fire was declared and the Iran-Iraq War officially ended. Iran began a period of recovery from the devastation of war, reconstruction, infrastructure-building, and modernization.
After Khamenei, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani became President. He is generally considered to be a pragmatist and he focused his two-term presidency on reconstruction and re-building the war-torn country. However, low oil prices and corruption hindered many of these development projects.
Iranian politics split into two distinct political parties: The Conservatives and the Reformists. The Reform Movement had been in Iran since the beginning of the Revolution; however, it gained new power with the election of Mohammad Khatami to the Presidency in 1997.
The Reform Movement
In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Mayor of Tehran won the Presidency. Ahmadinejad had presented himself as an immensely populist President, one who would tackle poverty and corruption, and improve the flailing economy.
Khatami's promises of more personal freedoms and a better economy were appealing particularly to the young generation who voted him into office yet a second time in 2001. However, many of Khatami's efforts were blocked by a Conservative-controlled Majles and the Supreme Leader.
However, over the past 7 years, due to heavy & burdensome international sanctions, cutting basic food and fuel subsidies, increased military spending, and government mismanagement, unemployment, inflation and cost of living have soared immensely.
In June 2009, believing that the Presidential elections had been severely rigged, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest, demanding "Where's My Vote?"
The Green Movement
Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former and last Prime Minister of Iran (1981-1989) before the post was permanently abolished, appeared as Ahmadinejad's main Reformist rival during the 2009 elections. When Mousavi and many other Reformists challenged the result of the election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians demonstrated.
Green was originally the color of Mousavi's campaign. However, after mass protests erupted following the elections, it quickly became the symbol of the movement for democracy in Iran.
Mousavi and wife, Zahra Rahnavard
However, the people's mass protests were quickly met with repressive state action and hundreds were wounded and imprisoned, and dozens of others died during the unrest immediately following June 2009.
Iran is a country rich in history, culture, and traditions. It is a multilingual, multiethnic, and multicultural society. Historically caught between foreign imperialist plots and tyranny at home, the Iranian people have struggled, resisted, challenged, survived and triumphed many times. They continue to pave new and creative ways of charting their own destiny, while forming solidarity across boundaries. The challenge of Iranian people for liberation, prosperity, and self-determination is the challenge of all peoples the world over.
The Story of Iran