Brief History of Iran

Topics: Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian Revolution Pages: 9 (3230 words) Published: October 16, 2012


Iran, formerly known as Persia, has a rich fascinating history that shapes the modern day culture of the region. Iran is known for housing one of the world’s oldest major civilizations that has its roots dating back to 4000 BC. The Medes were the first people to occupy the region; they unified the Iran as a nation and major empire. Iran was ruled by a series of empires and dynasties, starting with The Achaemenid Empire which ruled from 550-330 BC all the way to Iran’s last dynasty, The Pahlavi Dynasty, which was in power from 1925-1941. The Iranian Revolution or the Islamic Revolution put an end to the dynasties in Iran after the shahs (kings) started incorporating Western ideals and philosophies into society. This deeply concerned religious people and they started viewing the Shahs as anti-Islamic which eventually lead to the Ayatollah regaining power over the nation. In order to have a basic understanding of the issues facing Iran today it is important to look at the past and have an understanding of the modern history of this complex nation. Safavid Empire

We start our study with the Safavid Empire which took control in 1502. The Safavid Empire ruled over modern day Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Republic of Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus. Although Islamic conquest in Iran started way back in 633 BC, the Safavid Dynasty is primarily known for establishing Shia Islam as the official religion of Iran. This lead to the decline of the Zoroastrian and Bahai faiths which are ancient religions originating in Iran. Shah Ismail I was the first Shah of the Safavid Dynasty, he was primarily responsible for converting Iran from Sunni to Shia Islam. Ismail served as a spiritual leader to the people of Iran, under his rule anyone who wasn’t part of the Shia Islam faith faced extreme religious prosecution and essentially were forced to convert. In the 18th century the Safavid Dynasty was weakened because of attacks from Russians and the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids also fought several brutal battles in Afghanistan because the Afghans were Sunni and they didn’t want to accept Shia Islam as the official religion of their land.

With all the chaos the Safavids faced, Iran started becoming helpless and began relying on European powers. By the early 18th century Iran was completely economically dependent on Europe. The Ottoman Empire took advantage of this vulnerable time for Iran and initiated a major invasion of the country resulting in the loss of many territories to the Ottomans including most of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The empire also started to decline militarily, leaving it more susceptible to invasion from the east. In 1722 Afghan forces invaded and murdered Shah Sultan Hossein. The invasion had catastrophic affects on Iran and thus began the fall of the Safavid Empire. After the Afghan invasion the Ottomans once again took advantage of this opportunity and started occupying areas in western Iran, while the Russians held areas near the Capsian Sea. The loss of all this territory eventually resulted in the demise of the Safavid Empire. After the fall of the Safavid Dynasty there were several other minor short-lived dynasties throughout the mid 1700s. These dynasties separated the Iranian people and were constantly in competition with the Shahs of other dynasties. The Qajar dynasty took power in 1781 and unified the Iranian people. Qajar Dynasty (1796-1825)

Prior to the Qajar Dynasty, many short-lived dynasties sprang up throughout the greater part of the 18th century. Originally from lands near present-day Azerbaijan, Agha Mohammad Khan, of one the Qajar tribes ascended to power during a period of rivalry among members of the previous Zand dynasty. Although known to be extremely violent and brutal, Agha Mohammad was crucial in establishing the Qajar dynasty and uniting the different factions of Persia1. After his...

Bibliography: Abrahamian, Ervand. A history of modern Iran. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Print.
Ghani, Cyrus. Iran and the Rise of the Reza Shah: From Qajar Collapse to Pahlavi Power. London: I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd, 2000.
Nemat, Marina. Marina Nemat Inc., "Marina Nemat." Accessed June 19, 2012.
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