IRANLOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENERGY AND POWER
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
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CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
Islamic Republic of Iran
Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran
FLAG: The national flag is a tricolor of green, white, and red horizontal stripes, the top and bottom stripes having the Arabic inscription Allah Akbar ("God Is Great") written along the edge nearest the white stripe. In the center, in red, is the coat of arms, consisting of a stylized representation of the word Allah.
MONETARY UNIT: The rial (r) is a paper currency of 100 dinars. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 rials, and notes of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 rials. r1 = $0.00011 (or $1 = r9,040.26) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard, but local units are widely used.
HOLIDAYS: National Day, 11 February; Oil Nationalization Day, 20 March; No Ruz (New Year), 21–24 March; Islamic Republic Day, 1 April; 13th Day of No Ruz (Revolution Day), 2 April. Religious holidays (according to the lunar calendar) include Birthday of Imam Husayn; Birthday of the Twelfth Imam; Martyrdom of Imam 'Ali; Death of Imam Ja'afar Sadiq; 'Id al-Fitr; Birthday of Imam Reza; 'Id-i-Qurban; 'Id-i-Qadir; Shabi-Miraj; Martyrdom of Imam Husayn; 40th Day after the Death of Imam Husayn; Birthday of the Prophet; Birthday of Imam 'Ali.
TIME: 3:30 pm = noon GMT.
Situated in southwestern Asia, Iran covers an area of 1,648,000 sq km (636,296 sq mi) and extends about 2,250 km (1,398 mi) se–nw and 1,400 km (870 mi) ne–sw. Comparatively, the area occupied by Iran is slightly larger than the state of Alaska. Iran is bounded on the n by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea, on the e by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the s by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, on the w by Iraq, and on the nw by Turkey, with a total land boundary length of 5,440 km (3,380 mi). The coastline is 2,440 km (1,516 mi). The shoreline on the Caspian Sea is 740 km (460 mi). Iran's territory includes several islands in the Persian Gulf.
Iran's capital city, Tehrān, is located in the northwestern part of the country.
Most of the land area consists of a plateau some 1,200 m (4,000 ft) above sea level and strewn with mountains. The Zagros and Elburz ranges stamp a "V" upon the plateau; the apex is in the northwest, and within the lower area between the arms are to be found salt flats and barren deserts. Most of the drainage is from these two great ranges into the interior deserts, with limited drainage into the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. The ranges run in parallel files, enclosing long valleys that provide most of the agricultural land. Qolleh-ye Damāvand (Mt. Damavand), northeast of Tehrān, rises to 5,671 m (18,605 ft), while the Caspian littoral is below sea level and has a semitropical climate. Only the Kārūn River, emptying into the Persian Gulf, is navigable for any distance, but the rivers that rush down from high altitudes offer fine sources of power. Harbors of limited depth are found along the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea has similar facilities for coastal fishing and trade.
Iran is geologically unstable with some of the most severe and deadliest earthquakes on record. On 20 June 1990, a 7.4 magnitude quake caused the death of about 50,000 people, many of whom were caught in resulting landslides. On 10 May 1997, a 7.3 magnitude quake occurred in northern Iran causing the deaths of at least 1,567 people; another 2,300 were injured and 50,000 were left homeless. A 6.6 magnitude quake on 26 December 2003 left about 31,000 people dead. On 22 February 2005, a 6.4 magnitude quake in Kerman province in central Iran left at least 602 people dead and 991 injured.
Iran has a continental type of climate, with cold winters and hot summers prevalent across the plateau. The annual rainfall does not exceed 30 cm (12 in), with the deserts and the Persian Gulf littoral receiving less than 13 cm (5 in). Snow falls heavily on the mountain peaks and is the principal source of water for irrigation in spring and early summer. The Caspian littoral is warm and humid throughout the year, and the annual rainfall is about 100–150 cm (40–60 in). Clear days are the rule, for the skies are cloudless more than half the days of each year. The seasons change abruptly. By the Persian New Year (the first day of spring), orchards are in bloom and wild flowers abound. In January, the Tehrān temperature ranges from an average low of -3°c (27°f), to an average high of 7°c (45°f); and in July, from an average minimum of 22°c (72°f) to an average maximum of 37°c (99°f).
More than one-tenth of the country is forested. The most extensive growth is found on the mountain slopes rising from the Caspian Sea, with stands of oak, ash, elm, cypress, and other valuable trees. On the plateau proper, areas of scrub oak appear on the best-watered mountain slopes, and villagers cultivate orchards and grow the plane tree, poplar, willow, walnut, beech, maple, and mulberry. Wild plants and shrubs spring from the barren land in the spring and afford pasturage, but the summer sun burns them away. Bears, wild sheep and goats, gazelles, wild asses, wild pigs, panthers, and foxes abound. Domestic animals include sheep, goats, cattle, horses, water buffalo, donkeys, and camels. The pheasant, partridge, stork, and falcon are native to Iran.
As of 2002, there were at least 140 species of mammals, 293 species of birds, and over 8,000 species of plants throughout the country.
Iran's high grasslands have been eroded for centuries by the encroachment of nomads who overgrazed their livestock. Desertification resulting from erosion and deforestation of the high plateau pose additional dangers to Iran's environment. United Nations (UN) sources have estimated that 1–1.5 million hectares (2.5–3.7 million acres) per year become desert land. The basic law controlling the use of forests dates from 1943. In 1962, the forests and pastures in Iran were nationalized in an effort to stop trespassing deforestation.
In early 1983, blown-out oil wells in the Persian Gulf war zone between Iran and Iraq caused a huge oil slick that threatened ocean and shore life along the southwestern Iranian coast. Air and water pollution continued to be significant problems in Iran in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The water in the Persian Gulf is polluted with oil and black rain, and the burning of Kuwaiti oil wells caused significant air pollution as well. Iran also has the 19th-highest level of industrial carbon emissions in the world. Iran has 129 cu km of renewable water resources with 92% used for farming activity and 2% used for industrial purposes. The country has a large network of underground water canals called qanats. This network, once used as an irrigation source, covers an estimated 400,000 km (248,548 mi). Some analysts are encouraging a return to this source of irrigation waters as an answer to regional water shortages. Only 83% of the rural people have pure drinking water.
Iran's Department of Environment was established under the Environment Protection and Enhancement Act of 1974; no information is available on how well the legislation has been implemented. In 2003, about 4.8% of the total land area was protected.
According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 21 types of mammals, 18 species of birds, 8 types of reptiles, 4 species of amphibians, 14 species of fish, 3 species of invertebrates, and 1 species of plant. Endangered species in Iran include the Baluchistan bear, Asiatic cheetah, Persian fallow deer, Siberian white crane, hawksbill turtle, green turtle, Oxus cobra, Latifi's viper, dugong, and dolphins. The Syrian wild ass has been listed as extinct.
The population of Iran in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 69,515,000, which placed it at number 18 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 4% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 30% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 103 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 1.2%, a rate the government viewed as too high. Since 1990, the government has had some success in reducing fertility rates; in 1990, there were 5 births per woman and by 2003, the number had declined to 3.5 births per woman. The projected population for the year 2025 was 89,042,000. The population density was 42 per sq km (110 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 67% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.23%. The capital city, Tehrān, had a population of 7,190,000 in that year. The populations of other major metropolitan areas were Mashhad, 2,147,000; Esfahān, 1,547,000; Tabriz, 1,396,000; Shirāz, 1,230,000; Ahvāz, 967,000; and Kermānshāh, 949,000.
Until the late 20th century, there was little immigration to Iran, with the exception of Shia Muslims coming from Iraq. There has been some emigration to Europe and the United States, particularly by Iranians who were studying overseas at the time of the revolution of 1979. About 100,000 Kurds were repatriated from Iran to Iraq during the mid-1970s after the suppression of a Kurdish rebellion in the latter country. Between 1980 and 1990, however, an increased number of Shia Muslims fled Iraq because of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars; at the end of 1992, some 1.2 million were refugees in Iran. Perhaps 2.8 million Afghan refugees moved to Iran after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. About 200,000 returned in 1992, and about 2.1 million remained in mid-1993. At least 50,000 refugees from Azerbaijan had fled to Iran by late 1993 to escape Armenian occupation. In the fall of 1996, some 65,000 Iraqi Kurds entered Iran due to ethnic fighting.
According to 1999 statistics, Iran had the largest refugee population in the world, hosting some two million refugees, mainly Afghans and Iraqis. An increase in unemployment and faltering economic conditions resulted in increased pressure for refugees to return to their homelands. However, due to conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, chances for significant repatriation remained poor. The Iranian government felt a heavy economic and social burden and sought help from the international community. The total number of migrants in the country was 2,321,000 in 2000, down from 3,809,000 ten years earlier. In 2003 Iran had a million refugees. The number increased to 1,045,976 in 2004, with 698 returned refugees. Afghanistan and Iraq were the source of refugees—952,802 and 93,103, respectively. Nearly a million Iranians were refugees in seven countries in that same year, primarily in Germany and the United States. In 2004 nearly 14,000 Iranians sought asylum in 16 countries, primarily in Turkey, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In 2004, Iran was the main asylum country, accounting for 11% of all refugees under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In 2005 the net migration rate was estimated as -2.64 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory.
Present-day Iranians, or Persians, are considered to be direct descendants of the Aryans who moved into the plateau in the second millennium bc. They speak Persian, or Farsi, and number more than half the total population. In the Zagros range and its extensions are to be found the Kurds, Lurs, Bakhtiari, Qashqa'i, and Qajars; the first three are said to be of stock similar to the Iranian element, and they speak languages that stem from ancient Indo-European languages. At various times after the 10th century ad, Turkish tribes settled in the region, and Turkish-speaking groups are still found in several parts of the country. One-eighth of the total population dwells in East and West Azerbaijan, and there are sizable groups of Azerbaijanis in major cities elsewhere, including Tehrān. Arab groups arrived during and after the 7th century ad; their descendants live in the south and southwest and in scattered colonies elsewhere.
In general, non-Iranian elements are to be found along the perimeter of the country. Of these, certain nomadic groups move back and forth across the frontiers. Tribal groups have been a conspicuous element in Iran for many centuries, migrating vertically in spring and fall between high mountain valleys and hot, lowland plains. The important migratory groups include the Qashqa'i, Qajars, Bakhtiari, Balochi, and Turkmen. A large proportion of these people are now settled, however. The nomadic way of life is on the decline, and official policy has sought to resettle these groups on farmlands.
According to the latest estimates, Persians account for 51% of the population, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurds 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Balochi 2%, and Turkmen 2%.
Farsi, commonly called Persian in the West, is the official language of Iran. An Indo-European language of the Indo-Iranian group, Farsi derives from ancient Persian, with an admixture of many Arabic words. Arabic characters and script are used in writing modern Persian. Dialects of Turkish, or Turki—especially Azeri, the language of the Azerbaijanis—are spoken throughout northwestern Iran, by the Qashqa'i tribe in the southwest, and in parts of the northeast by Turkmen tribes and others. The Lurs, Kurds, and Bakhtiari have languages and dialects of their own that descend from earlier Indo-European languages, and the Balochi language spoken in southeastern Iran also is of Indo-European origin. A small number of Brahui in the southeast speak a Dravidian language. About 58% of the population speaks Persian or Persian dialects, 26% Turkic or Turkic dialects, 9% Kurdish, 2% Luri, 1% Balochi, 1% Arabic, 1% Turkish, and 2% other.
Iran is the only Islamic country where Shia Muslims hold the reins of power. Shia Islam is the official religion of the country and the president, prime minister, and cabinet ministers must be Muslims. As of 2004, about 99% of the population were Muslim, with 89% of the people being Shia Muslims and 10% Sunni Muslims. The largest non-Muslim group was the Baha'i faith, with between 300,000 and 350,000 members. Their faith, which sprang from the teachings of a 19th-century Muslim in Iran, has been denounced as heresy to Islam. The Baha'is have been severely persecuted by the Shia government since the 1979 revolution, and many of their religious leaders have been executed. The Jewish community has between 20,000 and 30,000 members. There are about 300,000 Christians, including Nestorian Christians (Assyrians). About 35,000 people adhere to the tenets of Zoroastrianism. The Mandaeans (between 5,000 and 10,000 people) practice a pre-Christian form of gnosticism.
The government openly restricts the freedom of religion. The constitution declares Shia Islam as the official religion and guarantees some freedom to Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians; however, other religious groups have been persecuted for their beliefs.
Iran had 178,152 km (110,811 mi) of roads in 2002, of which 118,115 km (73,468 mi) were paved, including 751 km (467 mi) of expressways. A1, a major paved highway, runs from Bazargan on the Turkish border to the border with Afghanistan. Another major highway, A2, runs from the Iraqi border to the Pakistani border. Much of the revolutionary government's road-building activity centered on improving roads in rural areas. In 2003 there were over 2,578,850 passenger cars and 666,550 commercial vehicles.
The state-owned Iranian State Railway has 7,203 km (4,480 mi) of broad and standard gauge track, as of 2004. Standard gauge accounts for nearly all—or 7,109 km (4,422 mi)—of all railroad right-of-way. The main line runs south for 1,392 km (865 mi) from Bandar Turkoman on the Caspian Sea, through Tehrān, to Bandar-e Khomeini on the Persian Gulf. Rail construction from Bafq to Sirjan has been completed and is operational.
Iran's main ports at Khorramshahr and Ābādān on the Persian Gulf were largely destroyed in fighting during the 1980–88 war with Iraq. Khorramshahr was restored to operation by November 1992. Other ports on the Gulf are Bandar-e Khomeini, Bandar-e 'Abbās, and Bandar-e Būshehr. Both Bandar-e Khomeini and Bandar-e Būshehr were damaged because of the war. The government was continuing the program to modernize the port at Bandar-e 'Abbās. On the Caspian Sea, there are the ports of Bandar Anzeli (formerly Bandar Pahlavi) and Naushahr. In addition, there are the oil shipment ports of Kharg Island (a principal target in the war with Iraq) and Ābādān. As of 2004, there were 850 km (529 mi) of inland waterways on Daryācheh-ye Orūmiyeh (Lake Orumieh) and the Kārūn River. In addition, the Shatt al Arab is usually navigable by maritime traffic for about 130 km (81 mi). In 2005, the Iranian merchant marine included 144 vessels of at least 1,000 gross registered tonnage (GRT), with a total capacity of 4,715,242 GRT.
Iran had an estimated 305 airports in 2004, 129 of which had paved runways as of 2005; there were 15 heliports. Principal airports include Bandar-e 'Abbās, Mehrabad International at Tehrān, and Shirāz International at Shirāz. The state-owned Iran Air maintains frequent service to 15 cities in Iran and is an international carrier. In 2003, about 9.554 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.
As early as 6000 bc, communities on the Iranian plateau were carrying on agriculture, raising domestic animals, and producing pottery and polished stone implements. Sites datable to later than 3000 bc are numerous and offer quantities of bronze instruments and painted pottery of the finest types. About 1500 bc, masses of Indo-Europeans, or Aryans, began to cross the plateau of Iran. The Iranian group included Medes, Persians, Parthians, Bactrians, and others. The Medes settled in western Iran (Media) about 900 bc and established their capital at Ecbatana (modern Hamadān); the Persians settled to the south of them (Parsis) around 700 bc. The Median king Cyaxares (625–585 bc), along with the Chaldeans, destroyed the power of neighboring Assyria. In the area of Parsis, the Achaemenid clan became overlords, and in 550 bc, their leader, Cyrus the Great, revolted against the Medes; forming a union of Medes and Persians, he then drove with armies both into Asia Minor and to the east of the Iranian plateau and established the Achaemenid Empire. Cambyses, Darius, Xerxes I, and Artaxerxes I were notable rulers of this line who penetrated Greece, Egypt, and beyond the Oxus. The Achaemenid power was centered at Susa and Persepolis; the ruined site of the latter is impressive even today. Zoroastrianism was the religion of the rulers.
In his eastward sweep (334–330 bc), Alexander the Great defeated vast Achaemenid forces and went on to capture Susa and to burn Persepolis. In the 3rd century bc, the Parthians moved into the area east of the Caspian and then into the Achaemenid Empire, establishing the new Parthian kingdom; later rulers moved west to come in contact with and then to fight the Roman Empire. The Parthians considered themselves spiritual heirs of the Achaemenids and adopted Zoroastrianism as the official religion. Weakened by long wars with Rome, the Parthians were followed by a local dynasty, the Sassanian, which arose in the area of Fars in southwestern Iran. Wars with Rome continued and were followed by a struggle with the Byzantine Empire. The Sassanian period (ad 226–641) was one of cultural consolidation and was marked by economic prosperity and by a series of enlightened rulers.
During the first half of the 7th century ad, Arab warriors burst out of the Arabian Peninsula to overwhelm the Sassanian Empire and to spread the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, embodied in Islam. By the opening of the ninth century, Islamic doctrine and precepts had spread over the plateau, and local dynasties faithful to the Muslim creed emerged. Early in the 11th century, the Turkish Ghaznavid dynasty held power from western Iran to the Indus River. Their greatest ruler was Mahmud of Ghaznī, a renowned conqueror and a patron of the arts. The Ghaznavids were replaced by the Seljuks, descended from Turkish nomad warriors enlisted in their service.
The Seljuk kingdom had its capital at Ray, just south of Tehrān, and stretched from the Bosporus to Chinese Turkestan. Of rude origins, such rulers as Tughril Beg, Alp Arslan, and Malik Shah did much to promote cultural pursuits and enhance the character of Persian civilization.
In 1219, Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan (Temujin) began to move into Iran; successive waves subdued and devastated the country. Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis, settled in Maragheh in Azerbaijan and as Il-khan, or chief of the tribe, gave this title to the Il-khanid dynasty. His successors, such as Ghazan Khan and Oljaitu, ruled from Tabriz and Sultaniya, and once again untutored invaders became converts to Islam and patrons of Persian science, learning, and arts. Rivalries within the military leadership brought about the breakdown of Il-khanid power in the second half of the 14th century.
In 1380, Timur ("Timur the Lame," or, in the West, Tamerlane) began to move into the Iranian plateau from the east. Within a decade, the entire area was in his power, bringing a renaissance of culture at Herāt (in modern Afghanistan) and other towns, but later rulers lacked the force and ability to hold the empire together. Early in the 16th century a number of smaller, local dynasties emerged throughout Iran. The most powerful was the Safavid dynasty, whose leaders, descendants of a spiritual head of the Shia sect, imposed this form of Islam on their subjects. The fourth and greatest of this line, Shah Abbas (r.1587–1628), moved the capital to Esfahān, where he had many splendid buildings constructed. The Safavid period, marked by the emergence of a truly native Iranian dynasty after the lapse of many centuries, was a period of military power and general prosperity. However, decline set in, and in 1722, Esfahān fell to invading forces from Afghanistan. Nadir Shah, an Afshar tribesman from the north, drove off the Afghans and in 1736 established the Afshar dynasty. By the end of the 18th century, Zand rulers, dominant in the south, were replaced by the Qajars, a Turkish tribe.
Qajar power began to fade at the turn of the 19th century. In the 1890s, Shia clerics led a national boycott that made the shah rescind a decree awarding a tobacco monopoly to a foreign agent. In 1906, a coalition of bazaar merchants, clerics, intellectuals, and tribal leaders forced the shah to accept a constitution. Th is liberal initiative was frustrated, however, by the power of the British and Russians, who controlled spheres of influence in the south and north of Iran.
After a period of chaos, the British arranged for a Persian cossack officer, Reza Khan, to come to power, first (in 1921) as minister of war in 1921, then as prime minister, and finally (in 1925) as Reza Shah, the first sovereign of the Pahlavi dynasty. With ruthless authority, he sought to modernize Iran along the lines of Ataturk in Turkey. In 1941, suspecting him of pro-German sympathies, the British forced Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his 21-year-old son, Muhammad Reza. British and Russian forces set up a supply line across Iran to the USSR. In April 1946, the British left, but the USSR refused to withdraw its forces. Under pressure from the United Nations (UN) and the United States, Soviet troops withdrew in December 1946.
Oil, the source of nearly all Iran's national wealth, quickly came to dominate politics after World War II. Muhammad Mossadeq, who, as leader of the National Front in the national assembly (Majlis), led the fight in 1947 to deny the USSR oil concessions in northern Iran, became chairman of the oil committee of the Majlis. On 15 March 1951, the Majlis voted to nationalize the oil industry, which was dominated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. (AIOC), a prewar concession to the United Kingdom. When the government of Prime Minister Hosein Ala took no immediate action against the AIOC, the Majlis demanded his resignation and the appointment of Mossadeq, who became prime minister in April. The AIOC was nationalized, but its output rapidly declined when the United Kingdom imposed an embargo on Iranian oil, as well as other economic sanctions. As Iran's economic situation worsened, Mossadeq sought to rally the people through fervent nationalistic appeals. An attempt by the shah to replace him failed in the summer of 1952, but by August 1953, Mossadeq had lost his parliamentary majority, but not his popular support. With the backing of a referendum, Mossadeq dissolved the Majlis and then refused to resign when the shah again tried to oust him. The shah fled Iran for four days, but returned on 22 August with backing from the military, the United States, and the United Kingdom. A new conservative government issued an appeal for aid; in September, the United States granted Iran $45 million. Mossadeq was convicted of treason in December.
After 1953, the shah began to consolidate his power. New arrangements between the National Iranian Oil Co. and a consortium of US, UK, and Dutch oil companies were negotiated during April–September 1954 and ratified by the Majlis in October. The left-wing Tudeh (Masses) Party, which had been banned in 1949 but had resurfaced during the Mossadeq regime, was suppressed after a Tudeh organization was exposed in the armed forces. In 1957, two new pseudo-parties (both government-sponsored) arose; both contested parliamentary elections in 1960 and 1961. Meanwhile, Iran became affiliated with the Western alliance through the Baghdād Pact (later the Central Treaty Organization) in 1955. (CENTO was dissolved after Iran pulled out in 1979.) Frontier demarcation agreements were signed with the USSR in April 1957.
US assistance and goodwill were essential for the shah. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy urged him to undertake a more liberal program. Under the "white revolution" of 1962–63, the shah initiated land reform, electoral changes (including, for the first time, the right of women to hold and vote for public office), and broad economic development. Opposition to the reform program, the dictatorial regime, and the growing American influence was suppressed. Political dissent was not tolerated.
The shah's autocratic methods, his repressive use of the secret police (known as SAVAK), his program of rapid Westernization (at the expense of Islamic tradition), his emphasis on lavish display and costly arms imports, and his perceived tolerance of corruption and of US domination fed opposition in the late 1970s. The economic boom of the previous 15 years also came to an end. Islamic militants, radical students, and the middle class all joined in the revolt, until virtually the entire population turned against the shah. Following nine months of demonstrations and violent army reactions, martial law was declared in Iran's major cities in September 1978, but antigovernment strikes and massive marches could not be stopped. On 16 January 1979, the shah left Iran, appointing an old-line nationalist, Shahpur Bakhtiar, as prime minister. However, the leader of the Islamic opposition, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (the term ayatollah is the highest rank of the Shia clergy), who had spent 15 years in exile, first in Iraq and briefly in France, refused to deal with the Bakhtiar regime. Demonstrations continued, and on 1 February the ayatollah returned to a tumultuous welcome in Tehrān. He quickly asserted control and appointed a provisional government, which took power after a military rebellion and the final collapse of the shah's regime on 11 February.
After a referendum, Khomeini on 1 April declared Iran an Islamic republic. However, the provisional government, led by Medhi Bazargan and other liberal civilians, was unable to exercise control; revolutionary groups made indiscriminate arrests and summary executions of political opponents. Increasingly, radical clerics sought to take power for themselves. The crisis atmosphere was intensified by the seizure, on 4 November 1979, of more than 60 US hostages (50 of them in the US embassy compound in Tehrān) by militant Iranian students who demanded the return of the shah from the United States (where he was receiving medical treatment) to stand trial in Iran. Despite vigorous protests by the US government, which froze Iranian assets in the United States, and by the UN over this violation of diplomatic immunity, 52 of the hostages were held for 444 days; in the intervening period, a US attempt to free the hostages by military force failed, and the shah died in Egypt on 27 July 1980. The crisis was finally resolved on 20 January 1981, in an agreement providing for release of the prisoners and the unfreezing of Iranian assets. A new constitution providing for an Islamic theocracy was ratified by popular referendum in December 1979. In presidential elections in January 1980, 'Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, a moderate who supported the revolution, was elected president. Later elections to the Majlis resulted in victory for the hard-line clerical Islamic Republican Party (IRP).
In June 1981, President Bani-Sadr was ousted by Khomeini; later that month, a bomb explosion at IRP headquarters in Tehrān killed Ayatollah Beheshti, who had been serving as chief justice, as well as 4 cabinet ministers, 20 paramilitary deputies, and dozens of others. Another bombing, on 30 August, killed the new president, Muhammad 'Ali Rajai, and his prime minister, Muhammad Javad Bahonar. The bombings were ascribed by the government to leftist guerrillas. By 1982, at least 4,500 people had been killed in political violence, and some estimates placed the total much higher. In September 1982, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who had been foreign minister during the hostage crisis, was executed on charges of plotting to kill Khomeini and establish a secular government.
Iraq, meanwhile, had taken advantage of Iran's political chaos and economic disorder to revive a border dispute that had been settled in 1975 when Iranian and Iraqi representatives reached agreement on the demarcation of their frontiers. Full-scale war erupted in September 1980, when Iraq demanded sovereignty over the entire Shatt al Arab waterway. Iraqi forces invaded Khuzistan in the southwest, and captured the town of Khorramshahr and the oil refinery center of Ābādān. The Iranian army, decimated by the revolution, was slow to mobilize, but by June 1982 it had driven Iraqi soldiers out of Ābādān and Khorramshahr and from all undisputed Iranian territory. Iran then launched its own offensive, invading Iraq and thrusting toward Al Başrah (Basra), but failed to make significant gains. At this point the land war became stalemated, with Iranian and Iraqi troops setting up an elaborate system of trenches. In 1983, Iraq broadened the war zone to include oil-tanker traffic in the northern Persian Gulf.
The Iraqis first attacked Iranian oil installations, disrupting, but not stopping, oil exports from the main oil terminal at Kharg Island. In mid-1983, Iraq took delivery of French jets bearing Exocet missiles. Iran responded that it would close the Strait of Hormuz if Iraq used the missiles. The United States declared the strait a vital interest and said it would use military force to keep the strait open because of the large volume of oil that passed through it on the way to the West. During 1983, the Iraqis also began to attack civilian targets in Iran with long-range missiles. The attacks caused heavy casualties, and Iran responded by shelling Iraqi border cities. In 1984, Iran began to attack Arab shipping in the Persian Gulf.
Iranian forces staged a surprisingly effective attack on Iraqi forces in the Fao Peninsula in February 1986. The Iranians now controlled Iraq's entire border on the Persian Gulf and were in reach of the major Iraqi city of Al Başrah. In April, Khomeini renewed his demands for an end to the war: Iraqi president Saddam Hussein must step down and Iraq must admit responsibility and pay war reparations. Iran rejected all demands for a cease-fire and negotiations until these demands were met.
In November 1986, it was revealed that US national security adviser Robert McFarlane had secretly traveled to Iran to meet with government leaders. The United States supplied Iran with an estimated $30 million in spare parts and antiaircraft missiles in hopes that Iran would exert pressure on terrorist groups in Lebanon to release American hostages. In the wake of this affair, Iran in 1987 attacked Kuwaiti oil tankers reregistered as American tankers and laid mines in the Persian Gulf to disrupt oil tanker shipping. The United States responded by stationing a naval task force in the region and attacking Iranian patrol boats and oil-loading platforms; in the process, the United States accidentally shot down a civilian passenger jet.
As the war continued to take a heavy toll in casualties and destruction and economic hardships persisted on the home front, the clerics maintained firm control through repression and Khomeini's charismatic hold over the people. In 1988, Iran finally yielded to terms for a cease-fire in the war. On 3 June 1989, a few months after calling for the death of novelist Salman Rushdie for blasphemy, Khomeini died of a heart attack. Over three million people attended his funeral. He was succeeded as the country's spiritual guide by Ali Khamenei. On 28 July 1989, speaker of the parliament Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, a moderate, was elected president with 95% of the vote. Iran remained neutral during the Gulf War, receiving (and retaining) Iraqi planes that were flown across the border for safekeeping. Iran also accepted thousands of Kurdish refugees from Iraq to add to its heavy burden of Afghan refugees from the civil strife in that country. Inflation, shortages, and unemployment—the products of revolution, war, and mismanagement—continued to generate widespread popular discontent, fueled also by dissatisfaction with the closed and repressive political system.
President Rafsanjani was reelected by a significantly smaller margin in 1993 but continued to press for free-market economic reforms. Rising prices in the wake of decreased government economic subsidies led to civil unrest in 1994 and 1995. Clerical conservatives led by Khamenei continued to battle the political moderates for dominance in the 1996 parliamentary elections, without a decisive victory for either side. Then, in the presidential election of May 1997, a moderate cleric, Mohammad Khatami, who favored economic reform, a more conciliatory foreign-policy stance, and less rigid clerical control of the government, won over two-thirds of the vote. In spite of continued opposition by Islamic conservatives, Khatami established a more tolerant climate in the country and expanded civil liberties. His policies received a decisive endorsement by the Iranian electorate when a political coalition led by the reformist president won 141 out of 290 parliamentary seats in the February 2000 elections and 189 seats in the May runoff elections, despite the shutdown of over a dozen liberal newspapers by conservative elements in the government in the weeks preceding the May polling. On 8 June 2001, Khatami won a landslide reelection victory, securing nearly 80% of the popular vote.
US president George W. Bush, in his 29 January 2002 State of the Union address, labeled Iran—along with Iraq and North Korea—an "axis of evil," responsible for seeking out weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorists. Khatami, who long advocated a more pro-Western stance, urged anti-US demonstrators to turn out in large numbers to protest the speech, as the speech had come as a surprise. Although Iran did not support the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime in late 2001, it had expressed sympathy toward US citizens after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States, and stated that it would aid any US service personnel in need on Iranian territory during the war in Afghanistan. Iran supported a greater role for the UN in Afghanistan, and pledged resources to help train an Afghan army. Iran was concerned with securing its border with Afghanistan to prevent further destabilization of the region.
In January 2003, in an effort to avoid war Iran urged Iraq to cooperate with UN resolutions requiring it to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. Iran took the position that the United States must not take unilateral military action in the dispute, and said that it would not participate or allow its territory to be used in any military action against Iraq. The Iraq War began on 19 March 2003.
While Khatami was in office, a youth movement formed representing people who rejected the rule of Iran's hardline clerics and the "Islamic democracy" of the reformers. Many sought to live in a state based on the rule of law where the clergy's rule is abolished. In November 2002, Hashem Aghajari, a history professor, was sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. He had given a speech in which he stated that each generation should reinterpret aspects of Islam rather than simply following religious leaders. Thousands of students protested against the ruling—the largest in three years.
Parliamentary elections, which marked the end of the campaign for political and social reform, were held on 20 February 2004. The conservative Guardian Council disqualified 43% of the 8,000 candidates who had entered the election, including most reformist incumbents who ran. There were calls for a boycott of the election. Reformists who chose to contest the election took only about 20% of the seats decided in the first round of voting. The conservative win was consolidated in the second round of voting in May. Another victory for conservatives came with the 2005 presidential election, when the ultraconservative former mayor of Tehrān, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, beat former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani with more than 61% of the vote in the second round. Ahmadinejad appealed to the poor in securing his win.
On 26 December 2003 more than 31,000 people were killed in an earthquake in the Kerman province of southeast Iran. The city of Bām—including its famous Citadel and 85% of all buildings—was largely destroyed. On 22 February 2005 more than 600 people were killed in an earthquake near the city of Zarand, Kerman province.
The European nations of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom led efforts to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear research program. By 2005, Iran resumed what it claimed was a civilian nuclear research program, but which Western nations fear could be used to develop nuclear arms.
Before the 1979 revolution, Iran was an absolute monarchy, with the constitution of 1906 modified in 1907 and amended in 1925, 1949, and 1957. The shah was the chief of state, with sweeping powers. He commanded the armed forces, named the prime minister and all senior officials, and was empowered to dissolve either or both legislative houses. The legislative branch comprised the national assembly (Majlis) and the senate. Members of the Majlis were elected for four-year terms from 268 constituencies by adults 20 years of age and older. Half of the 60 senators were named by the shah, and half were elected. Members of the Majlis ostensibly represented all classes of the nation, while the somewhat more conservative Senate consisted of former cabinet ministers, former high officials, and retired generals.
The constitution of December 1979, which was approved in a public referendum and revised in 1989, established an Islamic republic in conformity with the principles of the Shia faith. Guidance of the republic is entrusted to the country's spiritual leader (faqih ) or to a council of religious leaders. An appointed Council of Guardians consists of six religious leaders, who consider all legislation for conformity to Islamic principles, and six Muslim lawyers appointed by the supreme judicial council, who rule on limited questions of constitutionality. In accordance with the constitution, an 86-member Assembly of Experts chooses the country's spiritual leader and may nullify laws that do not conform to Islamic tenets. In 1998, seats on the council (which have eight-year terms) were opened for the first time to nonclerics.
The executive branch consists of a president and council of ministers. The president is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two consecutive four-year terms and supervises government administration. Candidates for the presidency and parliament must have the approval of Iran's spiritual leaders. The Majlis consists of 290 members elected directly to four-year terms. Iran has the lowest voting age in the world: suffrage is universal for those ages 15 and over.
There were more than 800 candidates for president in 2001, and the Council of Guardians narrowed them to 10. Mohammad Khatami was the sole moderate, with all of the other candidates having ties to conservative or hard-line parties. On 8 June 2001, Khatami secured 77% of the popular vote, with four-fifths of 43 million eligible voters turning out. In 2005, more than 1,000 candidates initially put forth their names for president, but the Council of Guardians disqualified all but seven. In the run-off election held on 24 June 2005, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani faced Tehrān mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a surprise victory, Ahmadinejad beat Rafsanjani with more than 61% of the vote. Almost 60% of all eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. The next presidential election was scheduled for 2009.
During the reign of Reza Shah (1925–41), political parties were not permitted to function. After 1941, parties sprang up, but most of them were of an ephemeral nature. The Communist-oriented Tudeh (Masses) Party was better organized than the others and benefited from the services of devoted followers and foreign funds. In 1949, an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the shah was traced to the Tudeh, and it was banned. It continued to work through front groups, and its views were reflected in some periodicals, but the organization was extinguished in the shah's post-1953 crackdown.
In 1957, the government created facade political parties, the Nationalist (Mellioun) Party, headed by Manochehr Eqbal, then prime minister, and the People's (Mardom) Party, headed by former prime minister Asadullah Alam, Neither of these parties ever attracted any popular following. In 1975, the shah ordered the formation of a single political organization, the Iran Resurgence (Rastakhiz) Party, into which were merged all existing legal parties. Three cardinal principles were cited for membership in the party: faith in Iran's constitution, loyalty to the monarchical regime, and fidelity to the "white revolution." This party, like others before it, lacked a popular base.
After the overthrow of the shah's regime in February 1979, new political parties were formed, the most powerful being the Islamic Republic Party (IRP), which took control of the Majlis. However, power was wielded primarily by the military, the president, the clerical elite, and the heads of the bonyads (autonomous financial organizations that have considerable power and were formed from the confiscated wealth of the former royal family and its cronies).
As of 2006 Iran's parliament, or Majlis, is made up of various groups representing a spectrum of views ranging from hard-line radical Islam to moderates and liberals. Moderates generally hold less hostile views about the West while still believing in an Islamic republic. In 1997, a moderate politician, Mohammad Khatami, was elected president of Iran. The moderates scored a further triumph in the parliamentary elections of February and May 2000. A moderate reformist coalition headed by Khatami won 189 out of 290 seats in the Majlis, with radical Islamists winning 54, independents 42, and religious minority parties 5. The following organizations had success at the 2000 parliamentary elections: Assembly of the Followers of the Imam's Line, Freethinkers' Front, Islamic Iran Participation Front, Moderation and Development Party, Servants of Construction Party, and the Society of Self-sacrificing Devotees. Khatami was reelected president in 2001 after receiving just under 77% of the vote.
In 2004, the hard-line Guardian Council banned 3,605 reformist candidates out of a total 8,157 candidates running for parliament. About 80 of the candidates were sitting members of parliament. The first round of elections was held on 20 February 2004. Reformists who chose to contest the election took only about 20% of the seats decided in the first round. The conservative win was consolidated in the second round of voting in May. Conservatives held 190 seats, reformers took 50, independents, 43; religious minorities, 5; and 2 seats were vacant as of 2005. The next legislative election was scheduled for February 2008.
Iran is divided into 28 ostans (provinces), each headed by a governor-general; the governor-general and district officials of each province are appointed by the central government. The ostans are subdivided into sharestans (counties), which are in turn divided into bakhsh (districts). Each bakhsh consists of two or more dehistans, which are composed of groups of villages or hamlets. Each of the municipalities (shahrdarys ) is headed by a mayor. Some sharestan officials are elected; others are appointed by Tehrān.
The overthrow of the shah and the approval in 1980 of a constitution making Iran an Islamic state have radically changed Iran's judicial system. The 1980 constitution was revised in 1989.
In August 1982, the supreme court invalidated all previous laws that did not conform with the dictates of Islam, and all courts set up before the 1979 revolution were abolished in October 1982. An Islamic system of punishment, introduced in 1983, included flogging, stoning, and amputation for various crimes. There are two different court systems: civil courts and revolutionary courts.
The judicial system is under the authority of the religious leader (faqih ). A supreme judicial council responsible to the faqih oversees the State Supreme Court, which has 33 branches. The chief justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the faqih to a five-year term and must be a Muslim cleric and judicial expert. The Ministry of Justice oversees law courts in the provinces.
The revolutionary courts try cases involving national security, political offenses, narcotics trafficking, and "crimes against God." Although the constitution guarantees a fair trial, the revolutionary courts provide almost no procedural safeguards. The trials in revolutionary courts are rarely held in public and there is no guarantee of access to an attorney.
A Special Clerical Court deals with crimes committed by members of the clergy, including what can be termed ideological offenses, such as issues like interpretations of religious dogma deemed not acceptable to the establishment clergy.
Elements of the prerevolutionary judicial system continue to be applied in common criminal and civil cases. In these cases the right to a public trial and the benefit of counsel are generally respected. In 1995 the government began implementing a law authorizing judges to act as prosecutor and judge in the same case.
The constitution states that "reputation, life, property, (and) dwelling(s)" are protected from trespass except as "provided by law." However, in practice, security forces do not respect these provisions.
In 2005, the total active armed forces of Iran numbered 420,000 with 350,000 reservists. The Iranian Army had 350,000 active personnel. Their equipment included 1,613 main battle tanks, 80 light tanks, 35 reconnaissance vehicles, 610 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 640 armored personnel carriers, and more than 8,196 artillery pieces, which included over 876 multiple rocket launchers. The Air Force had active personnel numbering an estimated 52,000, including 15,000 air defense personnel. The Air Force had 281 combat capable aircraft, including 153 fighters and 102 fighter ground attack aircraft. Iran's Navy had 18,000 active personnel in 2005. Major naval units included three tactical submarines, three frigates, two corvettes, five mine warfare vessels, and more than 254 patrol/coastal craft. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (Pasdaran) was estimated at over 125,000 active personnel. The land-based element was estimated at more than 100,000 active members, while the naval element had 20,000 active personnel, including a 5,000-member Marine force. In addition, there was also an Air Force element. Although there was no data as to how many active personnel comprised that force, it was responsible for controlling Iran's strategic missile force, which consisted of one brigade and one battalion. Iran's paramilitary forces had 40,000 active members, which included security troops and border guards. There was also a reserve of the Popular Mobilization Army (Basij Resistance Force), which upon mobilization, could reach up to one million combat capable personnel. As of 2006, it was widely believed that Iran was developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. The official military budget in 2000 (the latest year for which data was available) was $9.7 billion or 3.1% of GDP.
Iran is a charter member of the United Nations, having joined on 24 October 1945, and belongs to ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, UNESCO, UNIDO, the World Bank, and WHO. Iran is also a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), G-24, G-77 and the Colombo Plan. It is a founding member of OPEC and a leading supporter of higher petroleum prices. Iran is one of ten members in the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).
Iran's revolutionary government has aligned itself with the radical Arab states of Libya and Syria, which were the only Arab countries to support Iran in its war with Iraq (1980–88). Since before 1979, Iranian foreign policy has been to curtail superpower influence in the Persian Gulf area. It also encourages the Islamization of the governments throughout the Middle East, in such countries as Sudan, Algeria, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Th is policy of Islamization includes strong anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiments. Despite past troubles with Iraq, Iran remained neutral during the 2003 US-led coalition invasion of Iraq, which resulted in the ousting of the Hussein government. Iran is considered to be a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States. Iran is part of the Nonaligned Movement.
In environmental cooperation, Iran is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.
A country with a substantial economic potential, Iran witnessed rapid economic growth during the reign of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Development of its extensive agricultural, mineral, and power resources was financed through oil revenues. The traditional land tenure system, under which farmers were sharecroppers, was replaced through a land reform program inaugurated in 1962. In addition to carpets, Iran produced a variety of consumer goods and building materials. Oil, however, became the lifeblood of the economy. With the astonishing growth of its oil revenues, Iran became a major world economic power, whose investments helped several industrialized countries pay for their oil needs during the 1970s.
The economy changed drastically after 1979. The war with Iraq, which curtailed oil exports, coupled with the decrease in the price of oil, especially in 1986, sent oil revenues spiraling downward from $20.5 billion in 1979 to an estimated $5.3 billion in 1986. This forced annual GDP growth down from 15.2% in 1982 to 0.2% in 1984; GDP was estimated to have fallen by 8% in 1986. The war's drain on the state budget, the drop in oil prices, poor economic management, declining agricultural output, an estimated 1987 inflation rate of 30–50%, and large budget deficits combined to put enormous strains on the economy.
After Iran accepted a UN cease-fire resolution in 1988, it began reforming the economy with the implementation of the Islamic republic's first five-year social and economic development plan for 1989–94. The plan emphasized revitalizing market mechanisms, deregulating the economy, and rebuilding basic infrastructure. These reforms led to economic growth and lowered budget deficits. GDP grew an average 7% a year in real terms over 1989–92. The general government deficit was reduced from 9% of GDP in 1988 to an estimated 2% in 1992. The inflation rate decreased from 29% in 1988 to around 10% in 1990, but had redoubled to 20% in 1991–92.
Other impacts of the first plan included a growth in agricultural production of 5.6%; industrial production of 15%; water, gas and electricity of 18.9%; and transport of 11.9%. In 1991, the government adopted a structural adjustment program similar in nature to the kind the IMF imposes on developing nations in exchange for aid. Iran, however, did not need aid, but rather imposed the adjustments on itself in an effort to liberalize its economy, making it more market-oriented while still retaining an authoritarian regime. The structural adjustments advocated by then-president Rafsanjani included privatizations of state-owned enterprises, deregulation, cutting government subsidies, and encouraging foreign investment. While marginally well-intentioned, the Rafsanjani reforms led to little economic improvement. Privatization was especially ineffective. Political corruption and rampant cronyism led to many enterprises ending up in the hands of a small clique of well-connected elites. By 1997, 86% of Iran's GDP came from state-owned businesses. Deregulation also hit considerable snags. In 1996 alone, more than 250 regulations on imports and exports were issued by 24 ministries—many of them repetitive or contradictory.
In April 1995, the United States imposed trade and investment sanctions against Iran, in reprisal for what the United States believed was Iran's continued support of international terrorism. This move, unduplicated even by the strongest allies of the United States, had some economic impact—most notably a precipitous drop in the value of the rial, which the government was forced to prop up.
The GDP growth rate stood at 5.28% in 2000, 5.82% in 2001, 7.64% in 2002, and 6.1% in 2003. For 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth was expected to average 5.6% and 4.8%, respectively. GDP on average grew at a rate of 5.6% over the 2001–05 period. Inflation averaged 14.6% from 2001–05. The unemployment rate stood at 11.2% in 2004, but it is significantly higher among young people. The Iranian economy in the mid-2000s remained determined by its reliance upon oil, and continued to pass through periods of boom and bust as oil prices rose and fell on the volatile international markets. The state remained the dominant economic actor, as it was the recipient of crude oil revenue. The oil sector's share of GDP declined from 30–40% in the 1970s to 10–20%, particularly as a result of war damage to production facilities and OPEC output ceilings. Nevertheless, oil revenue provides about 80% of export earnings and some 40–50% of government revenue; therefore, the hydrocarbons sector receives the vast majority of domestic and foreign investment flows. The services sector has grown, but bureaucracy, the uncertainty of long-term economic planning, and currency-exchange restrictions have made services a volatile sector. The agricultural sector has been aided by state investment, with the improvement of packaging and marketing helping to develop new export markets. Export-based agricultural products—such as dates, flowers, and pistachios—have seen substantial growth, aided by large-scale irrigation projects, although successive years of serious drought in 1999–2001 put a damper on growth in the agricultural sector. In 2005, agriculture accounted for 11.8% of GDP, with industry contributing 43.3% and services 44.9%. As of 2001, 30% of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, with 25% in industry and 45% in services.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 Iran's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $456 billion. The per capita GDP was estimated at $7,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 17.3%. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 19% of GDP, industry 26%, and services 55%.
According to the United Nations, in 2000 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $320 million. Worker remittances in 2001 totaled $326.4 million. Foreign aid receipts amounted to about $2 per capita.
The World Bank reported that in 2001 per capita household consumption (in constant 1995 US dollars) was $964. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the same period private consumption grew at an annual rate of 5%. Approximately 20% of household consumption was spent on food, 32% on fuel, 12% on health care, and 8% on education. It was estimated that in 1996 about 53% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
Iran's labor force was estimated at 23.7 million in 2005. In 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), an estimated 30% of the employed workforce was in agriculture, 25% was in industry, and 45% was in the service industry. As of 2004, unemployment was estimated at 11.2%.
The labor code grants workers the right to form and join their own organizations, however, the government-controlled Workers' House is the only authorized national labor organization. The Workers' House controls all workers according to government objectives. Strikes are not permitted. Islamic principles and dress are strictly observed at work with transgressions subjecting the worker to penalties. Workers cannot bargain collectively.
The Labor Law forbids employment of minors under 15 years of age, but these regulations are not enforced. Forced and bonded labor by children remains a serious problem. In 1997, the minimum wage was $2.80 per day. Many middle class citizens work several jobs to support their families. The Labor Code stipulates a 6-day, 48-hour workweek, with one rest day.
Of Iran's total area, 11% is cultivated, 27% consists of permanent pastures, and 7% is forest and woodland. The remaining 55% consists of wasteland, lakes, mountains, desert, and urban areas. About one-third of the labor force is employed in agriculture. In 2003, the total land area under cultivation was estimated at 18.2 million hectares (44.9 million acres).
Progress in Iranian agriculture was greatly stimulated by the land reform of 1962–63, under which 4,025,680 farmers and their family members had taken title to their land by 1975, after the old land tenure system was abolished. However, with a rapidly increasing population and a sharply rising standard of living, Iran is no longer self-suffi cient in its agricultural production, and food imports have risen steadily.
In 2004, Iranian agricultural production (in thousands of tons) included wheat, 14,000; sugar beets, 6,050; barley, 2,700; rice, 3,400; grapes, 2,800; apples, 2,400; oranges, 1,900; dates, 880; cotton, 105; tea, 52; and tobacco, 21. Almonds and pistachios are grown primarily for export. In 2004, Iran was the largest producer of pistachios in the world (275,000 tons, or 50% of global production), and the fifth-largest producer of almonds (after the United States, Syria, Spain, and Italy), at 80,000 tons.
As of 2003, some 7.65 million hectares (18.9 million acres) were under irrigation. The fifth development plan (1973–78) envisaged an overall increase of 5.5% in agricultural production, but the revised plan raised the target to 8% annually, rescheduled allocations over six years instead of five, and slowed down the projects. Under the revolutionary government's first five-year plan (1983–88), agriculture was to receive 15.5% of total allocations, with food self-sufficiency the primary objective. However, because of the war with Iraq, planned expenditures were never attained. Moreover, food self-suffi ciency still remains only a goal: imports of agricultural products exceeded exports by nearly $1.3 billion in 2004.
Not only is animal husbandry the major occupation of nomadic and seminomadic tribes scattered over Iran, but each farming village also keeps flocks that graze on the less productive areas. In 2005 there were 54,000,000 sheep, 26,500,000 goats, 8,800,000 head of cattle, 550,000 water buffalo, 146,000 camels, and 280,000,000 chickens. Cattle are raised as draft animals and for milk and are not fattened for beef. Sheep produce many staple items: milk and butter, animal fat for cooking, meat, wool for carpet making, and skins and hides. During 2002–04, livestock production was up 2.1% from 1999–2001, and up 32% from 1992–94.
The Caspian Sea provides a seemingly inexhaustible source of sturgeon, salmon, and other species of fish, some of which spawn in the chilly streams that flow into this sea from the high Elburz Mountains. In 2003, the total fish catch was 440,835 tons. Caviar of unrivaled quality is produced by the Iranian Fisheries Co., formerly a joint Russo-Iranian venture but now wholly owned by the government of Iran. About 200,000 kg (440,000 lbs) of caviar are sold per year, most of which is exported, providing a substantial share of the world's supply. Exports of fish products in 2003 amounted to nearly $80.5 million. The fishing grounds of the Persian Gulf were long neglected, but during the 1970s new fishing fleets and packing and conserving facilities were established. The Iran-Iraq war and consequent environmental damage retarded the development of fisheries in this region. Total marine catch has more than doubled from 1982–84 levels.
About 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) were covered by forest in 2000. An estimated 844,000 cu m (30 million cu ft) of roundwood were produced in 2003; about 29% was used for fuel. Along the northern slopes of the Elburz Mountains from near sea level to an altitude of about 2,100 m (7,000 ft) are dense stands of oak, ash, elm, beech, ironwood, cypress, walnut, and a number of other varieties. The high plateau forests of Fars, Kurdistan, Luristan, and Khorasan comprise sparse stands of scrub oak, ash, maple, cedar, wild almond, and pistachio. Date palms, acacias, and tamarisks grow in the Persian Gulf area. The deciduous forests on the Caspian littoral are among the best in the world. The timber industry is controlled by the government; its potential annual capacity is 3 million cu m (106 million cu ft). In 2000, forest plantations covered 2,284,000 hectares (5,643,000 acres). Imports of forest products totaled $615.7 million in 2004.
A forest ranger school was started in 1957 as an extension of the government's forest service. In 1963, a forestry college was established at Karaj, west of Tehrān, to train forestry engineers.
Iran possessed extensive and varied mineral resources and was the world's third-largest producer of gypsum. Of Iran's 2,700 mines, most were privately owned and 2,000 were active, producing 42 minerals; some 65% of the mines produced building and construction materials and 20% were stone quarries. The mining sector accounted for 24% of Iran's industrial output of $15.4 billion, and mineral and metal exports amounted to $645 million. Mineral exports included chromite, refined sulfur, lead, zinc, copper, and decorative stone. Iron, steel, and chemicals were leading export commodities. While the petroleum and petrochemicals industries were Iran's top industries in 2002, the production of cement and other construction materials ranked fourth.
Production of gypsum in 2003 (from the Semnan region, east of Tehrān) was an estimated 10.5 million tons, up from 10.38 million tons in 2002. Estimated production of iron ore and concentrate (by gross weight) in 2003 and 2002 totaled 16.1 million tons and 11.3 million tons, respectively. Copper concentrate (29–35% Cu) output by gross weight in 2003 totaled 389,790 metric tons. Bauxite production (gross weight) totaled an estimated 450,000 metric tons in 2003, while output of mined chromite concentrate (by gross weight) in that same year was estimated at 500,000 metric tons. Lead concentrate production by gross weight in 2003 was estimated at 16,000 metric tons. Output of mined zinc concentrate by gross weight in 2003 was estimated at 240,000 metric tons, while manganese mine production by gross weight that same year was estimated at 4,300 metric tons. Mined molybdenum concentrate output by gross weight was estimated at 125,000 metric tons in 2003. Total sulfur output in 2003 was estimated at 1,360,000 metric tons. Marble production (blocks, crushed, and slabs) was estimated at 7.7 million tons in 2003.
Iran also produced orpiment and realgar arsenic concentrates, gold, silver, asbestos, barite, borax, hydraulic cement, clays (bentonite, industrial, and kaolin), diatomite, feldspar, fluorspar, turquoise, industrial or glass sand (quartzite and silica), lime, magnesite, nitrogen (of ammonia and urea), perlite, natural ocher and iron oxide mineral pigments, pumice and related volcanic materials, salt, caustic soda, stone (including granite, marble, travertine, dolomite, and limestone), celestite strontium, natural sulfates (aluminum potassium sulfate and sodium sulfate), and talc. Iran also may have produced ferromanganese, ferromolybdenum, nepheline syenite, phosphate rock, selenium, shell, vermiculite, and zeolite, and had the capacity to mine onyx.
In 2000, the government merged the Ministry of Mines and Metals and the Ministry of Industry to form the Ministry of Industry and Mines. For its third five-year economic development plan (2000–05), the government proposed to privatize 40 mineral industry companies affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Mines, having already divested itself of numerous smaller mineral enterprises. Since 1998, the government has allowed foreign investment in solid mineral exploration joint ventures, and, in 1999, showcased 102 mining and mineral-processing projects at the First International Mines and Metals Investment Forum. The Iranian constitution prohibited foreign control over natural resources. To diversify and expand the economy in the wake of declining oil prices in the late 1990s, the government sought to increase metal production.
Iran's proven oil reserves as of 1 January 2005 were estimated by the Oil and Gas Journal at 125.8 billion barrels, up from 89.7 billion barrels as of 1 January 2003; these constituted 10% of the world's known reserves, and were exceeded only by those of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. However, in July 2004, Iran's oil minister placed the country's proven oil reserves at 132 billion barrels after discoveries in Khuzestan province's Hosseineih and Kushk fields. In 2004, Iran produced around 4.1 million barrels of oil per day, of which crude oil accounted for 3.9 million barrels per day. Domestic oil demand in 2002 was placed at an estimated 1.4 million barrels per day, with oil exports estimated for 2004 at 2.5 million barrels per day.
More than half of Iran's 40 producing fields contain over 1 billion barrels of oil. Most of the reserves are located in onshore fields in the Khuzestan region. The onshore Ahwaz, Marun, Gachsaran, Agha Jari, Bibi Hakimeh, and Pars fields alone account for half of annual oil production. In 1999 Iran announced its largest oil discovery in 30 years, at the Azadegan field in Khuzestan. It is thought to have reserves totaling as much as 24 billion barrels. Oil revenues rose from $5.1 billion in 1986 to an estimated $16.4 billion in 2002, when they accounted for about 90% of total export revenues.
In 2004, Iran's natural gas reserves were estimated at 26.7 trillion cu m, and are exceeded only by those in Russia. However, approximately 62% of Iran's natural gas reserves are situated in nonassociated fields and have yet to be developed. Iran's output in 2003 was estimated at 79 billion cu m, up from 59,400 million cu m in 2000. More than one-quarter of Iran's natural gas reserves have been discovered since 1992. Domestic demand for natural gas was estimated for 2003 at 72.4 billion cu m, with exports and imports for that year estimated at 3.4 billion cu m and 4.92 billion cu m, respectively. Exploitation of natural gas is controlled by the National Iranian Gas Co. In the mid-1990s, Iran began developing extensive gas export plans. Inside Iran, a network of pipelines connects Tehrān, Qazvin, Esfahān, Ābādān, Shirāz, and Mashhad to Ahvāz and the gas fields. In 1995, Iran played an important role in regional talks concerning the construction of a 3,200 km (2,000 mi) pipeline that would carry gas from Turkmenistan to European markets via Iran, Turkey, and possibly Ukraine. Also in 1995, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement to ship up to 450 million cu m per day via a 1,600 km (1,000 mi) overland pipeline to Pakistan. At the end of 2001, Iran signed an agreement to build a pipeline to transmit natural gas to Azerbaijan from Khoi in the northwestern part of the country.
Although Iran is one of the world's leading oil-producing countries, Iranian industry formerly depended on other energy sources, such as electricity, coal, and charcoal. Recently, however, oil and especially gas have been used increasingly in manufacturing. In 2002, Iran's electric power generating capacity was placed at 34.222 million kW, with 31.419 million kW dedicated to conventional thermal fuel plants. Hydropower accounts for 2.803 million kW of capacity for that year. Electric power output in 2002 came to 129 billion kWh, with consumption that year at 119.9 billion kWh. Iran plans to construct ten nuclear power plants by 2015 in order to provide about 20% of the country's power needs. As of 2000, there were five small nuclear reactors in operation.
Principal industries are oil refining, petrochemicals, steel, and copper. In 1987, there were six primary refineries—at Ābādān, Bakhtaran, Tehrān, Shirāz, Esfahān, and Tabriz—with a potential capacity of 950,000 barrels per day. In late 1980, Iraqi bombing forced the closure of the Ābādān refinery, which had a total capacity of 600,000 barrels per day and was one of the world's largest refineries. Several other refineries suffered lesser damage during the war. The Kharg Island oil terminal also was severely damaged by bombing in 1985. Construction by a Japanese consortium of a $4-billion petrochemical complex at Bandar-e Khomeini, near the Iraqi border, was halted by the war; by mid-1983, the installation, which was 85% complete, had already been attacked six times. In September 1984, the Japanese withdrew their technicians from the site because of renewed Iraqi bombing. Iran took on much of the financial responsibility for the plant, and the ending of all payments of Japanese credits and loans in February 1986 meant that the plant would never be completed according to the original plans. After the cease-fire in 1988, Iran began to rebuild its damaged oil export facilities, concentrating mainly on the rehabilitation of Kharg Island. A 500,000-barrel reservoir terminal at Uhang Island was put into operation in March 1993. The oil complex on the southern island of Lavan was reopened after reconstruction at the end of April 1993. The Ābādān refinery became operational again at 200,000 barrels per day in May 1993. Esfahān's oil production unit became operational in 1992/93, while the construction of a new refinery at Bandar-e 'Abbās was underway. Major refinery products are motor fuel, distillate fuel oil, and residual fuel oil. Oil refining manufacturers had a combined capacity of 1.47 million barrels per day in 2000.
In 2005, Iran had proven oil reserves of 125.8 billion barrels. Oil production that year was 4.3 million barrels per day, of which 93% was crude oil. In 2005, Iran had estimated net exports of 2.7 million barrels of oil per day, the second-largest exporter in the Persian Gulf region. The Doroud 1 & 2, Salman, Abuzar, Foroozan, and Sirri fields comprise the bulk of Iran's offshore output, all of which is exported. Iran planned extensive development of existing offshore fields, and hoped to raise its offshore production capacity to 1.1 million barrels per day, from 675,000 barrels per day in 2004. Iran's major refineries in 2005 were at Ābādān, Esfahān, Bandar Abbas, Tehrān, Arāk, Tabriz, Shirāz, Kermānshāh, and Lavan Island.
The natural gas industry has boomed in Iran, with the second-largest proven reserves in the world (940 trillion cubic feet in 2005). In 2005, Iran produced 2.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In October 2004, Iran and China announced the signing of a deal for Chinese investment in Iran's oil fields and the long-term sale of Iranian natural gas to China, which could eventually be worth $100 billion. The gas agreement entailed the annual export of some 10 million tons of Iranian liquefied natural gas (LNG) for a 25-year period. The agreement could eventually reach 15–20 million tons a year, taking the total value to as much as $200 billion. Iran must first build the plants to liquefy the natural gas. This agreement was seen as a blow to US sanctions on Iran. The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA), first enacted in 1995, penalizes companies investing more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sector; it was renewed in 2001 for five years. Iran hoped the gas deal with China would encourage other countries (such as Japan, India, Russia, and European countries) to reconsider doing business with Iran.
A plant in Ābādān for the production of plastics, detergents, and caustic soda was completed in the 1960s. Since then, the petrochemical industry has expanded considerably: by the mid-2000s, Iran's attempt to diversify its economy resulted in its investing some of its oil revenue in the petrochemicals sector and other areas. Petrochemicals has been the main element of the postwar industrialization program. The heavy metals industry began in 1972 with the start of steel production at Esfahān National Steel Mill in Esfahān. Manufactured goods include diesel engines, motor vehicles, television sets, refrigerators, washing machines, and other consumer items.
The textile industry has prospered in recent years with increased production of cotton, woolen, and synthetic fabrics. The making of handwoven carpets is a traditional industry in Iran that flourishes despite acute competition from machine-made products. However, carpet exports declined throughout the war years. To promote self-suffi ciency, Iran has encouraged development of the food-processing, shoemaking, paper and paper products, rubber, pharmaceutical, aircraft, and shipbuilding industries. Other industrial products include cement, nitrogenous fertilizer, phosphate fertilizers, and refined sugar.
Iran's industrialization program was set back by political turmoil and labor disruptions of the late 1970s and by the revolutionary government's nationalization of industries in the summer of 1979, causing a flight of capital and trained managers. However, the sector recovered somewhat by 1983/84, when the government reported a 23% gain in industrial production.
The development plan of 1989–94 increased funding to develop heavy industry. A privatization decree in June 1991 led to the identification of 390 public manufacturing and trading firms for divestiture; of these, 185 were already been divested. Industrial production grew at a rate of 5.3% during 1988–98, as opposed to a–3.4% rate during the 1970s. The industrial production growth rate stood at 3% in 2005 (excluding oil). Market reforms were set to continue after 2000, but were placed in question when a conservative parliament was elected in May 2004 and a conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in June 2005.
The "white revolution" of the 1960s, which emphasized industrialization, involved the importation of petroleum technology and the training of Iranian technicians abroad, but it did not improve Iran's indigenous technology. The principal scientific institution in Tehrān is the International Scientific Research Institute, founded in 1955. Specialized learning societies include the Iranian Mathematical Society and the Iranian Society of Microbiology, both headquartered in Tehrān. Also in the city are the Animal Husbandry Research Institute and the Institut Pasteur. Iran has 37 universities offering degrees in basic and applied sciences. Following the removal of the shah and the formation of an Islamic revolutionary government, Iran suffered a "brain drain" as foreigntrained scientists and engineers either fled the country or refused to return after their education. In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 37% of college and university enrollments. As of 2001, there were 484 researchers and 390 technicians per million people. High technology exports in 2002 were valued at $64 million, or 3% of GDP.
Outside the major cities, most goods are sold in small shops or open-air markets. Most large enterprises are controlled by the state. Privately owned shops for trade and services are typically small. Textile industries are located in Esfahān and Shirāz. Kermān is known for production and distribution of fine carpets. Hamadān is an important trade center for agricultural products from the surrounding areas.
Business hours are from 8 am to 2 pm, Saturdays through Wednesdays. Since Friday is the official Muslim holy day, many establishments close early on Th ursday afternoons or are completely closed on Thursdays. Banking hours are 7:30 am to 2 pm on weekdays and 7:30am to 12 pm on Thursdays. Shops are open from 10 am to 9 pm, Saturdays through Thursdays, and department stores are open until 9:30 pm.
In 2005, major imports included machinery, military supplies, metal works, food, pharmaceuticals, technical services, and refined oil products.
Iran's most expensive export is crude petroleum, which accounts for the majority of its commodity exports revenues (80%). Petrochemicals made up 4.1% of merchandise exports in 2004. Other exports included floor coverings and fruits and nuts, with pistachios accounting for 2.4% of merchandise exports in 2004. Iran accounts for 10% of the world's carpet exports.
Iran's leading markets in 2004 were Japan (18.5% of total exports); China (9.6%); and Italy (6%). Iran's leading suppliers in 2004 were Germany (12.3% of total imports); France (8.4%); and China (7.5%).
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Iran had a favorable trade balance, but substantial imports of services resulted in an annual deficit on current accounts. Long-term capital inflows from private sources reached a peak in 1965; between 1968 and 1973, capital
|United Arab Emirates||910.2||3,079.8||-2,169.6|
|Italy-San Marino-Holy See||160.2||1,620.9||-1,460.7|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
|Balance on goods||13,138.0|
|Balance on services||-914.0|
|Balance on income||-200.0|
|Direct investment abroad||…|
|Direct investment in Iran||39.0|
|Portfolio investment assets||…|
|Portfolio investment liabilities||…|
|Other investment assets||-8,257.0|
|Other investment liabilities||-1,971.0|
|Net Errors and Omissions||-1,373.0|
|Reserves and Related Items||-1,083.0|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
from foreign governments played a prime role in Iranian development. By 1974, with a net trade surplus of $17.7 billion and a current account surplus of $10.9 billion, Iran was one of the world's major exporters of capital. The current accounts balance remained in surplus annually until the massive economic and civic turbulence caused by the revolution of 1979 and the long, devastating war with Iraq (1980–88). By the time the war had ended, Iran's position as a net foreign creditor was badly eroded due to a substantial drop in the world price for oil and a sharp increase in dependence on imports—largely machinery and basic commodities to rebuild infrastructure. By 1993, Iran owed foreign creditors nearly $30 billion. In following years, the government, still plagued by lessening oil revenues and a quota of production imposed on it by OPEC, was forced to reschedule the debt—with payments coming due in 1996, when foreign debt went down to approximately $22 billion. Foreign debt stood at approximately $8.2 billion in 2002.
High oil prices during 2000–04 allowed Iran to record substantial trade surpluses, even though import spending also rose quickly as strong foreign-exchange earnings and the easing of the country's debt-repayment schedule allowed the central bank to relax its import compression program. In 2005, Iran had exports of $55.42 billion, and imports of $42.5 billion. The current-account surplus was $8.179 billion. Foreign debt stood at $16.94 billion. Iran had $40.06 billion in foreign exchange reserves and gold.
The Iranian fiscal year begins on 21 March and runs through 20 March of the following calendar year. Before the modern era in Iranian banking, which dates to the opening of a branch of a British bank in 1888, credit was available only at high rates from noninstitutional lenders such as relatives, friends, wealthy land-owners, and bazaar money lenders. As recently as 1988 these noninstitutional sources of credit were still available, particularly in the more isolated rural communities. The Central Bank of Iran-Bank Markazi, established by the Monetary and Banking Law of 1960, issues notes, controls foreign exchange, and supervises the banking sector.
The revolutionary government nationalized all commercial banks shortly after taking office in 1979 and announced that banking practices would be brought in line with Islamic principles, which include a ban on interest payments. By 1993 there were five Islamic banks, which had incorporated the previous banks. Instead of paying interest, the new banks give "guaranteed returns" or commissions on loans. The commissions, which equal 4% of the loan's total, were introduced in 1984, and were known as "profit sharing." In Islamic terms, this meant that profit (interest) was acceptable only if a lender's money was "not at risk."
In 1991 measures to promote competition between banks, and to loosen Bank Markazi's control in order to encourage savings within the official banking sector were introduced. In 1994 Bank Markazi introduced reforms allowing private banking operations to register officially and offer most services in competition with the public sector. However, the raft of new currency and export regulations that followed the collapse of the rial in April 1995 put the recently legalized private sector under huge pressure because, for many of the bazaar traders, currency dealings represented a significant share of their total business. There is a basic lack of confidence in the banking system. Many informal banking operations are run from the bazaars. In addition, Iranians who are able to do so operate bank accounts outside the country, importing funds as needed rather than using the domestic system.
Bank Melli, which has acted for the central bank, handles most Iranian banking operations outside the country. The requirements to abide by Islamic principles were never imposed on Bank Melli. The International Monetary Fund reported that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $71.7 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds—was $153.6 billion.
The Tehrān Stock Exchange, locally known as the Bourse, was created in 1968. Three years later, the National Bank of Iran and the Industrial and Mining Development Bank of Iran joined with the US firm of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith to begin international brokerage activities in Iran. The exchange has stayed open since the revolution but did not play a significant role in the nation's business until the 1990s. Since 1989, the stock exchange has expanded continuously. A total of 344 companies were being traded and the capitalization of the exchange was reported to be nearly $26 billion in mid-2003.
The insurance industry had a negligible role in the accumulation of funds to finance development, largely because insurance was not used by most of the population; the insurance industry in Iran had barely started in 1960. On 25 June 1979, the revolutionary government announced the nationalization of all insurance companies. Under a 1971 Act of parliament, all companies operating in Iran were required to cede 25% of total acquired nonlife business and 50% of life business to Bimeh Markazi Iran, the central insurance company of Iran. The company writes all classes of insurance and reinsurance. In 2003, the value of all direct premiums written totaled $1.484 billion, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $1.368 billion. As of 2005, there was no further published data on premium income in Iran.
Iran's fiscal year coincides with its calendar year, beginning on 21 March. The budget is prepared by the Finance Ministry and submitted to parliament. Trade reforms implemented since 1991 have boosted economic growth and reduced budget deficits. The general government deficit fell from 9% of GDP in 1988 to 2% in 1992, but was up to almost 7% again in 1998. By 2002, however, external debt was equivalent to less than 2% of GDP as a result of market reforms.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Iran's central government took in revenues of approximately $48.8 billion and had expenditures of $60.4 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$11.5 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 27.5% of GDP. Total external debt was $16.94 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2004, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were r408,094 billion and expenditures were r383,011 billion. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$47 million and expenditures us$44 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2004 of us$1 = r8,614 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 11.1%; defense, 9.3%; public order and safety, 3.7%; economic affairs, 25.8%; environmental protection, 0.6%; housing and community amenities, 7.5%; health, 6.2%; recreation, culture, and religion, 5.0%; education, 8.2%; and social protection, 22.6%.
Under tax laws written in May of 1992, individual income is taxed at rates varying from 12–54%. Capital gains and investment income are also taxable and employees pay a 7% social security contribution. As of 2005, corporate profits were taxed at 25%, although
|Revenue and Grants||408,094||100.0%|
|General public services||42,691||11.1%|
|Public order and safety||14,020||3.7%|
|Housing and community amenities||28,881||7.5%|
|Recreational, culture, and religion||19,009||5.0%|
|(…) data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.|
companies listed on the Tehrān Stock Exchange were taxed at a 22.5% rate. Income derived from outbound international transport was taxed at 5%. Capital gains resulting from the transfer of real property were taxed at 5% of the value of the property according to regional value tables. Capital gains resulting from the sale of securities listed on the Tehrān Stock Exchange were taxed on 0.5% of the sales value. Also levied are real estate taxes, municipal taxes, and a levy on expatriate salaries. A value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax of 3% is applied to products considered final. Another tax is a public education cost levy to be paid by manufacturing and service companies.
Most goods entering Iran are subject to customs duties, the majority of which are on the CIF (cost, insurance, and freight) value. A number of government organizations and charitable institutions are permitted to import goods free of duty. The average tariff was 4% in 2005, down from 18.9% in 2000.
Until the early 1970s, Iran rarely participated in foreign businesses. The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) invested in the construction of oil refineries in Madras, India, and other places and participated in several ventures with foreign oil firms that held concessions for Iranian oil. With the vast increase in oil revenues, Iran became one of the world's leading creditor nations; in 1974 alone, bilateral agreements worth hundreds of billions of rials were signed with France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. In July 1974, Iran agreed to purchase a 25% interest in the German steel-making firm of Krupp Hüttenwerke, an investment believed to be the largest single stake purchased by any oil-producing nation in a major European firm up to that time. In 1975, Iran began negotiating investments through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in developing nations.
Prior to World War II, foreign companies had important investments in Iranian banks, insurance companies, transport, and the oil industry. In 1955, the legislature enacted a law providing for withdrawal of invested capital in the currency that was brought into Iran, for the export of annual profits, and for adequate compensation in the event of nationalization of the industry or business. In 1957, the United States and Iran exchanged notes recognizing that the United States would guarantee its private investments in Iran against loss through actions by Iran, and the following year the Majlis enacted a law protecting foreign capital investments. Foreign companies moved into Iran to exploit mineral resources, to establish banks in partnership with Iranian capital, to build factories, and to carry out segments of the shah's vast economic development program.
Since 1979, the instability of the revolutionary government and the catastrophic war with Iraq have had a chilling effect on Western investment in Iran. In 1995, the United States imposed trade and investment sanctions on Iran for its support of international terrorism; the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) penalizes companies investing more than $20 million in Iran's oil and gas sector; the ILSA was renewed in 2001 for five more years. The country emerged from the war with Iraq in terrible economic shape. In 1995, desperate for Western assistance in rebuilding its oil sector, Iran contracted with the French Oil Company, Total, to develop its Sirri oil field. It was the first instance of foreign investment in the vital petroleum sector since the 1979 revolution. In 1995, Iran had negative direct foreign investment of about $50 million, reflecting repatriation of profits greater than inflows of new investment.
Inward foreign investment outside the oil and gas sectors in the fiscal year ending in March 2005 was a mere $1 billion. Some large investment deals have made their way through the system, however, and the oil minister in 2005 called for $150 billion of new investment to double petroleum production. Foreigners observe investment in Iran warily, although Iran hopes to attract billions of dollars worth of foreign investment by creating a favorable investment climate (by reducing restrictions and duties on imports and creating free trade zones). Additionally, disagreements between reformers and conservatives make foreign investors wary of doing business in Iran, as does the international standoff over the country's nuclear program. In September 2005, Iran threatened to impose investment limits on countries opposing its right to access nuclear fuel cycle technology.
Iran's first development plan (1949–56) foundered because of the lack of oil revenues during the nationalization dispute and also because the IBRD refused to lend the hoped-for one-third of the projected development expenditures. The second plan (1956–63) also ran into financial diffi culties when the domestic budget consumed a larger proportion of the oil revenues than expected. An austerity program from 1960, however, facilitated economic recovery. The third plan (1963–68) was successful, and the period witnessed rapid economic growth. This plan placed emphasis not only on the building of an infrastructure but also on projects making use of local resources. The private sector exceeded the target planned for investment. Substantial foreign aid, varied in its sources, was also forthcoming, and foreign investment in Iran totaled more than $2.7 billion. The fourth plan (1968–73) was far more successful than the previous ones, with most of its objectives realized beyond expectation. The mean annual GNP growth was 11.2%, as compared with the projected figure of 9%. Similarly, per capita GNP rose to about $560 ($300 had been the goal).
In its revised form, the fifth plan (1973–78) provided for infrastructural development and other expenditures. However, a lag in oil revenues led to rescheduling of the plan for six years instead of five and the postponement or slowdown of individual projects. Because of political opposition and social unrest during the last year of the shah's reign, the plan was abandoned in 1978. The Islamic government that came to power in 1979 cut economic development funds because of a shortage of revenues, but in 1983 it proposed its own five-year development plan for 1983–88, with allocations totaling $166 billion and emphasis given to agriculture and service industries. However, the government's cutbacks on oil production (and, consequently, of the oil revenues that were to finance the plan), coupled with the diversion of resources to the war with Iraq, made it impossible to fulfill the plan's goals.
The five-year plan (1989–94) authorized up to $27 billion in foreign borrowing. It aimed to increase productivity in key industrial and economic sectors and to promote the non-oil export sector. The 1994–99 plan aimed at investing money in transport, particularly in the railroad system and in the construction of a public underground for Tehrān. Other projects were aimed at revitalizing the petroleum sector and developing the natural gas sector. The five-year plan implemented from 2000–04 was to privatize at least six major state-owned enterprises (such as communications and tobacco), and at least 2,000 smaller state-owned firms. The conservative parliament that took office in May 2004 ruled against key reforms planned for the 2005–09 economic plan. Nevertheless, Iran's five-year plans have envisaged a gradual move towards a market-oriented economy, but political and social concerns and external debt problems have hampered progress. Upon being elected president in June 2005, conservative populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged to fight poverty and corruption while creating new jobs in the public sector. He proposed sharing the nation's oil wealth more broadly and reducing the country's income gap between rich and poor. Ahmadinejad also favored the promotion, where possible, of local firms over foreign enterprises.
Traditionally, the family and the tribe were supplemented by Islamic waqf (obligatory charity) institutions for the care of the infirm and the indigent. Social welfare programs include workers' compensation, disability benefits, maternity allowances, retirement benefits, death benefits, and family and marriage allowances. These programs cover all employed persons between the ages of 18 and 65 who reside in the country. There is a special pension system in force for public employees. Old age benefits are available at age 65 for men and age 60 for women. Seasonal workers are covered for medical services during the working season. Employed persons in urban areas are covered by workers' compensation. Family allowances are available for working families with limited means.
Statistics on violence against women including spousal abuse are unavailable. Provisions in the Islamic Penal and Civil code discriminate against women, especially in property rights. The testimony of a woman in court is worth half of a man's statement. Women receive more harsh punishments for criminal offenses. A woman can only divorce a man for limited reasons, but a man may divorce his wife without cause. Gender segregation is enforced in most public places
The Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i minorities face government discrimination in education, employment, and public accommodations. They also suffer harassment and abuse. Serious human rights abuses persist, including summary execution, disappearance, torture, rape, stoning, flogging, arbitrary arrest and detention, and harsh prison conditions. The Iranian government continues to restrict freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, association, and the press.
Beginning in the 1960s, national campaigns against such major diseases as malaria and smallpox were undertaken. Other major health problems included high infant mortality, smallpox outbreaks, venereal disease, trachoma, typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery, malaria, tuberculosis, and the debilitating effects of smoking opium. The creation in 1964 of a health corps, consisting of physicians and high school graduates who agreed to spend the period of their military service serving in semimobile medical units in rural areas, helped to reduce the death rate. Roving health corps teams, comprising a doctor, a dentist, a pathologist, and (when possible) a nurse, served the villages, offering medical services to 10,000–15,000 rural inhabitants annually.
As of 2002, the death rate was estimated at 5.4 per 1,000 people. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 41.58 per 1,000 live births.
The Islamic republic has continued to provide health care programs to rural areas. As of 2004, there were an estimated 105 physicians, 246 nurses, and 19 dentists per 100,000 people in Iran. Many physicians left the country after the 1979 revolution and health conditions were reportedly deteriorating; however, by the mid-1980s, many doctors who had been in exile during the shah's reign had returned. Approximately 80% of the population had access to health care services. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 4.2% of GDP. Average life expectancy in 2005 was estimated at 69.96. In 2000, 95% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 81% had adequate sanitation. Some form of contraceptive was used by 73% of married women ages 15–49 as of 2000. Iran's estimated birth rate in 2002 was 17.5 per 1,000 people. Children up to one year old were immunized against tuberculosis, 100%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 95%; polio, 95%; and measles, 95%.
The prevalence of low birth weight babies has risen from 4% of all births in 1980 to 10% in 1999. As of 2000, 16% of all children were malnourished. Cholera was reported in 2,177 individuals. Malaria cases are high. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 31,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 800 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
Rapid urbanization and migration of refugees into the country have made housing one of the country's most acute social problems. Although housing has always been given top priority in development plans, the gap between supply and demand for dwellings has grown increasingly wide. During the fourth plan (1968–73), nearly 300,000 housing units were built, but because some 120,000 new families were added to the urban population during that period, the average density rose from 7.7 to 8.5 persons per dwelling. During the same period, the national urban housing deficit rose from 721,000 to 1.1 million units. However, housing starts fell sharply after the 1979 revolution, as construction declined precipitously because of lack of funding (construction of all buildings dropped by 21% in 1981/82 and 24% in 1982/83). In 1995–2000, the government presented programs focused on attracting private sector investment and approving legal and economic measures.
In 1986 (the latest year for which such statistics are available), 43% of all housing units were constructed of brick with iron beams, 19% were adobe and wood, 16% were brick with wooden beams, 10% were adobe and mud, 5% were cement block, and 3% were iron with a cement skeleton. Electricity was available in 84% of all housing units, 95% had a water toilet, 75% had piped water, 54% had a kitchen, and 47% had a bath. According to 1996 national statistics, there were about 12,349,003 private households in permanent dwellings. About 38,940 households were listed as "unsettled," meaning that they were either homeless or nomadic.
Education is virtually free in Iran at all levels, from elementary school through university. At the university level, however, every student is required to commit to serve the government for a number of years equivalent to those spent at the university.
During the early 1970s, efforts were made to improve the educational system by updating school curricula, introducing modern textbooks, and training more efficient teachers. The 1979 revolution continued the country's emphasis on education, but Khomeini's regime put its own stamp on the process. The most important change was the Islamization of the education system. All students were segregated by sex. In 1980, the Cultural Revolution Committee was formed to oversee the institution of Islamic values in education. An arm of the committee, the Center for Textbooks (composed mainly of clerics), produced 3,000 new college-level textbooks reflecting Islamic views by 1983. Teaching materials based on Islam were introduced into the primary grades within six months of the revolution.
Education is compulsory for five years of primary school. A middle school program covers three years of study. After this stage, students may choose to continue in general academic studies or vocational studies for three years. Students interested in continuing on to university studies complete an additional year. The academic year runs from September to June.
Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 86% of age-eligible students. Nearly all students complete their primary education. In 2001, secondary school enrollment was about 76% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 24:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 28:1.
The tradition of university education in Iran goes back to the early centuries of Islam. By the 20th century, however, the system had become antiquated and was remodeled along French lines. The country's 16 universities were closed after the 1979 revolution and were then reopened gradually between 1982 and 1983 under Islamic supervision. While the universities were closed, the Cultural Revolution Committee investigated professors and teachers and dismissed those who were believers in Marxism, liberalism, and other "imperialistic" ideologies. The universities reopened with Islamic curriculums.
The University of Tehrān (founded in 1934) has 10 faculties, including a department of Islamic theology. Other major universities are at Tabriz, Mashhad, Ahvāz, Shirāz, Esfahān, Kermān, Babol Sar, Rasht, and Orūmiyeh. There are about 50 colleges and 40 technological institutes. In 2003, about 21% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program.
A literacy corps was established in 1963 to send educated conscripts to villages. During its first 10 years, the corps helped 2.2 million urban children and 600,000 adults become literate. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 77%, with 83.5% for men and 70.4% for women. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 4.9% of GDP or 17.7% of total government expenditures.
Public libraries and museums are fairly new in Iran. The National Library at Tehrān had a good general collection of about 590,000 volumes as of 2002. The Library of Parliament, with 170,000 volumes, has an extensive collection of manuscripts and an unrivaled collection of documentary material in Farsi, including files of all important newspapers since the inception of the press in Iran. The Central Library of the University of Tehrān holds some 650,000 volumes. In 2005, there were over 1,000 public library branches throughout the country.
Tehrān has the Archaeological Museum, overflowing with fabulous treasures from the long cultural and artistic history of Iran, and the Ethnological Museum. Iran's crown treasures—manuscripts, jeweled thrones, and a vast variety of other objects—may be seen at the Golestan Palace. Museums at Esfahān, Mashhad, Qom, and Shirāz feature antique carpets, painted pottery, illuminated manuscripts, and fine craftsmanship in wood and metal; most of these objects date from the 12th to the 18th centuries.
Telegraph, telephone, and radio broadcasting services are stateowned. In 1996, 25 regional telecommunications authorities were formed to oversee paging services and cellular systems. In 2003, there were an estimated 220 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; over one million people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 51 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.
Both radio and television were nationalized in 1980. Principal stations are located in Tehrān, and other major stations broadcast from Ahvāz, Zahedan, Tabriz, Rasht, Kermānshāh, and Bandare Lengeh. As of 1999 there were 72 AM and 6 FM radio stations and 28 television broadcast stations. Television of Iran, a privately owned station, began broadcasting in 1956 in Tehrān and Ābādān. The national radio organization and the government television network were merged in 1971 to form National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT). After 1979, it became the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Company. Though there is an official ban on owning a satellite dishes, many still do, particularly wealthier citizens. In 2003, there were an estimated 281 radios and 173 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 90.5 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 72 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 13 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
Among Iran's most widely read newspapers are Ettela'at (2002 circulation 500,000) and Kayhan (350,000). Alik (3,400) is an Armenian daily, Journal de Teheran (8,000) is published in French, and Teheran Times (7,700) is published in English. There are also several weeklies and special interest magazines. Most print media originate in Tehrān.
The constitution does not mention freedom of speech and limits freedom of the press; a press law requires publications to be licensed, and their editors are subject to imprisonment for printing reports the religious authorities deem insulting. As of 2004, there were many reports of continuing government infringement on freedom of the press.
Long renowned for their individualism, Iranians now actively associate with modern public and private organizations. Under the shah, the government greatly encouraged the growth of the cooperative movement; the first Workers' Consumers Society was established in 1948. Many villages have founded producers' cooperatives with official advice and support, and consumers' cooperatives exist among governmental employees and members of the larger industrial and service organizations. Rural cooperative societies are wide spread. The Chamber of Commerce, Industries, and Mines has its headquarters in Tehrān.
Private charitable organizations date from as early as 1923, when the Iranian Red Lion and Sun Society was established; this organization has since joined the corresponding international organization of the Red Crescent Society. Other charitable institutions include the Organization for Social Services and the Mother and Infant Protection Institute. The Islamic Women's institute is active. The Society to Combat the Use of Opium has waged a campaign against use of the drug. Human Rights Monitor is a multinational organization based in Tehrān.
For youth, the Boy Scout movement in Iran began before World War II. There are several sports associations active within the country, representing such pastimes as badminton, tennis, baseball, and track and field. There are active organizations of the Special Olympics.
Political and civil unrest has kept many tourists from visiting Iran in recent years. Principal tourist attractions include historic and beautifully decorated mosques, mausoleums, and minarets. There are many sports and physical culture societies in Tehrān and the provinces, where the emphasis is on skiing and weight lifting. Other popular sports include football (soccer), wrestling, and volleyball.
A valid passport and visa are required to enter Iran. All travelers are required to have a certificate of inoculations against meningitis.
The long history of Iran has witnessed many conquerors, wise rulers and statesmen, artists, poets, historians, and philosophers. In religion, there have been diverse figures. Zoroaster (Zarathushtra), who probably lived in the 6th century bc, founded the religion known as Zoroastrianism or Mazdaism, with Ahura-Mazda as the god of good. In the 3rd century ad, Mani attempted a fusion of the tenets of Mazdaism, Judaism, and Christianity. The Bab (Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad of Shirāz, 1819–50) was the precursor of Baha'ism, founded by Baha' Allah (Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri, 1817–92).
Persian rulers of the pre-Christian era include Cyrus ("the Great"; Kurush, r.550–529 bc), Cambyses II (Kambuiya, r.529–522 bc), Darius I ("the Great"; Darayavaush, r.521–486 bc), Xerxes I ("the Great"; Khshayarsha, r.486–465 bc), and Artaxerxes I (Artakhshathra, r.464–424 bc). Shah 'Abbas (r.1587–1628) expanded Persian territory and conquered Baghdād. Prominent political figures of modern times are Reza Shah Pahlavi (1877–1944), who reigned from 1925 to his abdication in 1941; and his son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–80), who was shah from 1941 until his abdication in 1979. Until his death in 1989, Iran was under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900–89). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (b.1939) took over the position of Supreme Leader upon Khomeini's death.
The great epic poet Firdawsi (Abdul Qasim Hassan ibn-i-Ishaq ibn-i Sharafshah, 940–1020), writing about ad 1000, produced the Shahnama (Book of Kings) dealing with four ancient dynasties and full of romantic and heroic tales that retain their popularity today. Omar Khayyam (d.1123?), astronomer and poet, is known in the Western world for his Rubáiyât, a collection of quatrains freely translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Important figures of the Seljuk period (11th and 12th centuries) include Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Ghazali (1058–1111), philosopher and mystic theologian, who exerted an enormous influence upon all later speculative thought in Islam; Farid ad-Din 'Attar (Muhammad bin Ibrahim, 1119–1229?), one of the greatest of mystic poets; and Nizami (Nizam ad-Din Abu Muhammad, 1141–1202), noted for four romantic epic poems that were copied and recopied by hand and illuminated with splendid miniatures. In the 13th century, Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207–73) compiled his celebrated long mystic poem, the Mathnavi, in rhyming couplets; and Sa'di (Muslih ud-Din, 1184?–1291), possibly the most renowned Iranian poet within or outside of Iran, composed his Gulistan (Rose Garden) and Bustan (Orchard). About a hundred years later, in 1389, another poet of Shirāz died, Hafiz (Shams ud-Din Muhammad); his collected works comprise nearly 700 poems, all of them ghazals or lyrical odes.
Poets of the modern period include Iraj Mirza (1880–1926), Mirzadeh Eshqi (d.1924), Parveen Ettasami (d.1941), and the poet laureate Behar (Malik ash-Shuara Bahar, d.1951). Preeminent among prose writers was Sadeq Hedayat (1903–51), author of the novel Buf i kur (The Blind Owl) and numerous other works, including films. Azar Nafisi (b.1955) is an Iranian-born professor and writer residing in the United States whose book Reading Lolita in Tehran gained international acclaim and was translated into 32 languages.
Miniature painting came to full flower in the second half of the 15th century. The greatest figure in this field was Bihzad, whose limited surviving work is highly prized. The School of Herāt was composed of his followers.
Abbas Kiarostami (b.1940) is an influential and controversial postrevolutionary filmmaker who is highly respected in the international film community.
Iran has no territories or colonies.
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COPYRIGHT 2007 Thomson Gale
Islamic Republic of Iran
Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran
LOCATION AND SIZE.
Iran, a country slightly larger than Alaska, is located in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf in the south and the Caspian Sea in the north. It covers an area of 1.648 million square kilometers (636,296 square miles) and is edged between Iraq, with which it shares a border of 1,458 kilometers (906 miles), and Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east, with which Iran has 909 kilometers (565 miles) and 936 kilometers (582 miles), respectively, of common borderline. Iran also shares 499 kilometers (310 miles) of borderline with Turkey, 992 kilometers (616 miles) with Turkmenistan, 432 kilometers (268 miles) with Azerbaijan, and some 35 kilometers (22 miles) with Armenia, the latter 3 states formerly being part of the USSR.
Most of the 2,440 kilometers (1516 miles) of coastline are on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The 2 gulfs are connected by the strategic strait of Hormuz. Iran has dozens of islands in the Persian Gulf, many of which are uninhabited but used as bases for oil exploration. Those that are inhabited—notably Qeshm and Kish—are being developed, attracting investors and tourists. The Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea is some 740 kilometers (460 miles) long. Apart from being home to the sturgeon that provides for the world's best caviar, the Caspian Sea is the world's largest lake, with an area of some 370,000 square kilometers, and is co-owned by Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
In general, Iran consists of an interior plateau, 1,000 meters to 1,500 meters (3,000 feet to 3,500 feet) above sea level, ringed on almost all sides by mountain zones. The Elburz range with the Iranian capital, Tehran, at its feet, features the country's highest peak, the snowcapped volcanic cone of Mt. Damavand, at 5,604 meters (18,386 feet). To the north of the range there is a sudden drop to a flat plain occupied by the Caspian Sea, which lies about 27 meters (89 feet) below sea-level and is shrinking alarmingly in size. The larger Zagros mountain range runs from north-west Iran down to the eastern shores of the Persian Gulf, and then eastward, fronting the Arabian Sea, and continuing into Pakistan.
The interior plateau of Iran is mostly desert, and the settled areas are generally confined to the foothills of mountains, though oasis towns, such as Kerman, are growing in size. Major towns and historical centers are spread all over the country, such as the country's largest cities of Tabriz (1.2 million) in the far northwestern corner; Mash-had (1.9 million) in the far northeastern corner; Esfahan (1.3 million) to the south; and Shiraz (1.1 million) to the distant south of the capital, Tehran (6.8 million).
Iran's population was estimated to total 65.6 million in July 2000 according to CIA figures. Almost two-thirds of Iran's people are of Aryan origin— their ancestors migrated from Central Asia. The major groups in this category include Persians, Kurds, Lurs, and Baluchi. The remainder are primarily Turkic but also include Arabs, Armenians, Jews, and Assyrians. Iran's ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of languages Iranians speak, with 58 percent speaking Persian and Persian dialects, 26 percent speaking Turkic dialects, 9 percent Kurdish, and 7 percent other languages. Persian— an Indo-European language almost unchanged since ancient times with a share of Arabic, Turkic, and European words—is now spoken by the majority of Iranians as their first language and operates as a lingua franca for minority groups. Although granted equal rights by the constitution, ethnic minorities are second-class citizens.
Iran's population is approximately 99 percent Muslim, of which 89 percent are followers of the state religion, Shi'a Islam. Some 10 percent are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam (mostly Turkomen, Arabs, Baluchs, and Kurds living in the southwest, southeast, and northwest). Sufi Brotherhoods (mystical religious orders) are popular, but there are no reliable figures available to judge their true size. Baha'is, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews constitute less than 1 percent of the population. The largest non-Muslim minority is the Baha'i faith, estimated at about 300,000 to 350,000 adherents throughout the country. Estimates on the size of the Jewish community vary from 25,000 to 30,000. These figures represent a substantial reduction from the estimated 75,000 to 80,000 Jews who resided in the country prior to the 1979 Revolution. The Christian community is estimated at approximately 117,000 persons. According to government figures the size of the Zoroastrian community was estimated at approximately 35,000 adherents. Zoroastrian groups cite a larger figure of approximately 60,000. Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the pre-Islamic Sassanid Empire and thus has played a central role in Iranian history. Zoroastrians are mainly ethnic Persians concentrated in the cities of Tehran, Kerman, and Yazd. In general, society is accustomed to the presence of Iran's pre-Islamic, non-Muslim communities. However, the government restricts freedom of religion, creating a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities, especially Baha'is, Jews, and evangelical Christians.
Iran has a relatively young population, with 34 percent of the population under the age of 14 and 61 percent between 15 and 64 years of age. Thanks to a family planning program, population growth decreased from 3.2 percent in 1984 to 1.7 percent in 1998 and further to 0.83 percent in 2000. Of the population, an estimated 38 million Iranians (or 60 percent) live in urban areas, while approximately 27 million live in rural areas. The population density was 37.6 inhabitants per square kilometer (97 per square mile) in 1998, though many people are concentrated in the Tehran region, and other parts of the country (especially deserts) are basically uninhabited. Basic literacy rates are above the regional average, although uncertain reporting standards give a wide margin for error. In 1997-98 the central bank estimated literacy at 80.5 percent in those over 6 years old, with 75.6 percent of women and 85.3 percent of men judged to be functionally literate, i.e. they were taught to read and write at some point.
Between 1920 and 1960 Iran's population doubled to 23 million, and by 1979 the equivalent to the entire population of the country in 1920 had been added. Most of the increase in population migrated to urban centers and found jobs in industry and services, as opposed to agriculture. In 1960, about one-third of the population lived in towns; by 1979 nearly half the population was urban. Tehran became the center of government, higher education, and industry; in 1976, it contained two-thirds of all university students, and nearly one-third of high school students; about half of all factories were in or around Tehran. After the Islamic revolution of 1979, this trend continued. Currently, around 60 percent of the Iranian population lives in towns. Tehran remains the principal political, economic, and industrial center, with a population of 6.8 million, according to a 1996 census, although it is very likely that the metropolitan area accommodates some 11-12 million people, or 20 percent, of the country's overall population.
The civil war in Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and Iraqi policies in the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1990-91 have caused a constant influx of refugees to Iran. The country hosts the largest refugee population in the world. According to the government, the total refugee population counts 2 million—1.4 million Afghans and 580,000 Iraqis—while a smaller number have been driven into Iran by the conflict in the Nagorny Karabakh region in Azerbaijan. The Iraqis include Kurds from the north and Arab Shiites from the south. Only 5 percent of refugees live in 30 designated camps, while others are scattered among cities and villages throughout the country. The increase in unemployment and deteriorating economic conditions have somewhat eroded the Iranians' so far rather tolerant and welcoming attitude toward refugees, and more pressure is being exerted for refugees to return to their countries of origin. The Iranian government feels it bears a heavy social and economic burden and believes the international community should share more of this burden.
OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY
Iran has a mixed economy that is heavily dependent on export earnings from the country's extensive petroleum reserves. Oil exports account for nearly 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings. The constitution mandates that all large-scale industries, including petroleum, minerals, banking, foreign exchange, insurance, power generation, communications, aviation, and road and rail transport, be owned publicly and administered by the state. Basic foodstuffs and energy costs are heavily subsidized by the government. Although economic performance improved somewhat during 1999 and 2000 due to the worldwide increase in oil prices, performance is affected adversely by government mismanagement and corruption. Unemployment was estimated to be as high as 25 percent, and inflation was an estimated 22 percent. Iran's gross national product (GNP) is the highest in the Middle East, although its GNP per capita is comparatively low because of Iran's large and growing population.
From medieval times until the 20th century, the socioeconomic structure of Iran remained almost unaltered. Only half of the population was settled; the remainder were tribal nomads, mainly engaged in the herding of grazing animals. A system of land assignment was in place, similar to the medieval European system of feudalism, under which the ruler, the shah, granted land to loyal subjects who became absentee landowners, collecting taxes from the peasants on their land. Economic activity further suffered from the handicaps of topography and climate, as well as prolonged political and social insecurity (with constant pressure by foreign powers). Things began to change when Reza Shah Pahlavi, a colonel in the Persian army and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, seized the throne in 1925 and initiated a modernization of Iran's political and economic system, while also changing the country's name from Persia to Iran.
Following World War II the new shah, Mohammed Reza, guided the economy through public planning, urbanization, industrialization, and investment in the infrastructure , and achieved sustained growth, all supported by substantial oil revenues. Compared with other third world countries during the period from 1960-77, Iran's annual real growth rate of nearly 9.6 percent was about double the average. Therefore, one explanation for the Islamic revolution of 1979 is that the modernization program imposed by the shah was too rapid for the Iranian people, who wished to hold on to their traditional values and ways. Another view suggests that in fact, the shah failed to modernize rapidly enough. The Iranian economic and social infrastructure was found increasingly inadequate to meet expectations, despite rising oil revenues that produced a superficial modernism. The standard of living did increase in Iran during the early 1970s, when per capita income rose from US$180 per year just before the massive oil price increase to US$810 in 1973-74, and up to an estimated US$1,521 just one year later. During the last years of the shah's reign, per capita income rose less rapidly and living costs soared. By 1978, the typical rent for a house in Esfahan had risen from about US$70 per month in 1973 to over US$500 a month, while a typical salary was still below US$2 per hour. In addition, corruption had become widespread.
In 1979 an Islamic revolution ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi from power and placed the Shiite clergy in control of the government of the country. The revolution was followed by trade sanctions and the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States after radical Iranian students stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held embassy staff as hostages. These measures and the war which broke out between Iran and Iraq in September 1980 and lasted for 8 years harmed the development of the Iranian economy considerably. Since that conflict, efforts to resume broad economic development and diversification have been hindered by volatile world oil prices, by internal structural weaknesses and rampant inflation, and by persistent political tensions with the West, especially with the United States, which still considers Iran to be the most active state sponsor of terrorism, supporting extremist groups such as Lebanon-based Hezbullah and the Palestinian Hamas.
The most remarkable features of the post-revolutionary Iranian political and economic scene are the influence of the so-called bazaar and the bonyad. The bazaar refers to Iran's traditional import-export markets, the leaders of which wield considerable influence over economic policy. These leaders, known as bazaaris, showed their power in 1978 by calling a series of strikes, paralyzing Iran's economy and speeding up the departure of the shah. Since the revolution the bazaaris have enjoyed a close relationship with the Islamic regime, benefiting from lucrative business contracts in exchange for funding individual mosques and conservative parliamentary and presidential candidates. The bazaar also provides an informal banking service to the private sector and is responsible for much of the black-market trade in currency; as a result, bazaaris tend to oppose exchange-rate reunification. In broad terms, they also oppose wider economic reform, the reduction of tariff barriers, and the greater participation of foreign investors in the economy.
The bonyad (religious foundations) were created after the revolution to safeguard the Islamic Republic's revolutionary principles and to attend to the plight of the poor. While providing much-needed welfare support for the families of those killed or wounded in the Iran-Iraq war, the bonyad have exploited their position to become multi-billion dollar conglomerates controlling large portions of the Iranian economy, especially properties and businesses taken from the Pahlavi family and individuals associated with the monarchy. The larger bonyad, such as the Bonyad-e Mostazafan (Foundation of the Oppressed) and Bonyad-e Shahid (Foundation of the Martyrs), oppose better relations with the West and the liberalization of the economy, fearing that foreign investment in Iran could threaten their economic empires.
In the early 1990s, Iran faced a huge foreign debt and other serious economic dislocations stemming from the nearly decade-long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), while its population continued to grow at a rapid pace. Most of the economic resources were allocated through the vast public sector , widespread price controls , extensive trade and exchange restrictions, heavily subsidized energy and petroleum products, and protective labor and business practices. With oil prices changing considerably during the 1980s, planning became difficult and resulted in inflation, since the government did not want to borrow on international markets, but financed war-related and other expenses through the central bank. Between 1981-82 and 1984-85, the real GDP had grown by about 8 percent annually, which reflected oil production and export recovery after the low-point during and in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. But when oil prices fell to a historic low in 1987-88, this drop was also reflected in the economy at large, and Iran witnessed a negative growth rate of 10 percent.
After the war, efforts were made to revive oil exports and to shift the economy onto a peacetime basis. Through the 1990s, attempts at privatizing public enterprises, liberalizing prices and the exchange system, removing tariff barriers, and lowering income taxes to encourage investment were made. During the First 5 Year Development Plan (1989-94), these measures worked well and the economy grew in real GDP terms at an average annual rate of 7 percent. While the First 5 Year Development Plan focused on infrastructure development and reconstruction programs, the Second 5 Year Development Plan (1994-99) concentrated on Iran's financial problems. The sharp drop of oil prices in 1998-99 forced the government to abandon structural reforms and brought about a budget deficit of US$2.1 billion, which was financed by monetary expansion, thus accelerating inflation from 17 percent in 1997-98 to 25 percent in 1998-99.
The reformist president Khatami, elected in 1997, has continued to follow the market reform plans of his predecessor, President Rafsanjani, and has indicated that he will pursue diversification of Iran's oil-reliant economy, although he has made little progress toward that goal so far, mainly because of Iran's dependence on oil and the decline in oil prices in the first 2 years of his government. A broad program of economic adjustment and reform was issued in August 1998 to form the Third 5 Year Development Plan (2000-05). It involves restoring market-based prices, reducing the size of the public sector and encouraging private sector investment. As a result, domestic petroleum prices were raised by 70 percent in 1999, and a more market-based official exchange rate was introduced on the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE).
The recovery of oil prices during 1999-2000 significantly strengthened Iran's external and financial position. Although annual GDP growth remained weak at 2.4 percent and the inflation rate remained almost unchanged at 20 percent, the government incurred a large budget surplus of about US$4.7 billion and hurried to pay external debt , reducing outstanding debt to about 10 percent of the GDP. The Third 5 Year Development Plan aims at accelerating growth to an average annual rate of 6 percent in order to create sufficient employment opportunities for the rapidly growing labor force , which currently increases by an estimated 5 percent every year.
POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION
The Islamic revolution of 1979, during which the monarch, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was driven out of the country, brought the Shiite clergy to power with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as its charismatic leader. Following the revolution, Iran adopted a constitution based on Ayatollah Khomeini's theory of Islamic government. The constitution ratified by popular referendum established a theocratic (from ancient Greek, literally meaning "the rule of God") republic and declared as its purpose the establishment of institutions and a society based on Islamic principles and norms, adopting the shari'a (Islamic law) as the basis for the country's legal system. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic provided for a Vali-ye Faqih, a Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution. Since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989, this office has been held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader still enjoys primary control of many organs of the state and has the right to appoint key officials such as heads of the judiciary, the broadcast media, the armed forces, and various revolutionary bodies, as well as the power to supervise the overall policies of the regime.
The 1979 constitution created an Islamic Consultative Assembly called the Majlis, Iran's most democratic legislature in its history. Its 290 members are elected by universal adult suffrage—men and women from the age of 16 are eligible to vote—and serve for 4-year terms. The Majlis develops and passes legislation that is reviewed for adherence to Islamic and constitutional principles by a Council of Guardians, which consists of 6 clerical members. These are appointed by the Supreme Leader and 6 jurists, who in turn are appointed by the head of the judiciary and approved by the Majlis. The constitution provides the Council of Guardians with the power to disqualify candidates for elective offices based on a set of requirements, including the candidates' ideological beliefs.
The country's president is elected by popular vote to a 4-year term and has the power to appoint a cabinet known as the Council of Ministers, with the approval of the legislature. Mohammad Khatami was elected in elections held on 3 August 1997.
Political parties, legalized in 1998 after a 13-year ban, are still at an early stage of development. Nevertheless, factions within the ruling hierarchy, particularly in the Majlis, are increasingly visible. While these are most often defined broadly as "reformist" or "conservative," political allegiances do exist based on patronage, loyalties, specific interests, and the exchange of favors.
Several agencies share responsibility for internal security, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the Ministry of Interior, and the Revolutionary Guards, a military force that was established after the revolution. Paramilitary volunteer forces known as Basijis, and groupings, known as the Ansar-e Hezbollah (Helpers of the Party of God), who often are aligned with specific members of the leadership, act as watchdogs, intimidating and physically threatening demonstrators, journalists, and individuals suspected of counter revolutionary activities. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both regular and paramilitary security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Iranians also suffer from violations of freedom of expression. Iran's conservative-dominated judiciary waged an extensive campaign against the local reformist press, closing newspapers and prosecuting critical journalists throughout 2000.
Although briefly occupied during World War II by Soviet and British troops, Iran is 1 of only 2 countries in the Middle East that were never colonized (the other being Saudi Arabia). However, the country's geopolitical significance—Iran has the longest Gulf shoreline and is a vital link between Asia, the Middle East and Europe—has made it of central concern to the world's most powerful empires and a target for frequent political manipulation. Following the occupation of Iran by allied forces during World War II, Iran's Pahlavi ruler, Reza Shah, was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammed Reza.
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi sought to ally Iran closely with Western powers and particularly with the United States. However, growing nationalist sentiment in Iran forced him to appoint the nationalist Mohammed Mossadeq as prime minister in 1951. Prime Minister Mossadeq nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) the same year, sidelining the shah politically. Alarmed at the threat the nationalist leader posed to their position in the Gulf and the broader Middle East, the Western powers imposed an oil embargo on Iranian exports, crippling the government. This was followed in 1953 by support from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British counter-intelligence agency, MI6, for a successful coup, which overthrew Mossadeq and returned authority to the shah. Mohammed Reza subsequently initiated a massive modernization program, known as the "white revolution," accompanied by a greater centralization of power and increased use of repression to subdue political dissent. In 1964 the government exiled the cleric Ayatollah Khomeini after a series of his speeches led to widespread rioting.
The oil price explosion of 1973-74 fueled rapid economic growth, but at the cost of increased volatility in the Iranian economy and high levels of inflation. Economic hardship, the growing dominance of Western culture—which traditional Iranians found offensive—and the government's repressive security methods brought about an increasingly determined collection of opposition groups. Unifying into an anti-monarchist coalition with Ayatollah Khomeini as their figurehead, these activists organized nation-wide demonstrations and strikes, culminating in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in February 1979 and the return of Khomeini from exile. Following a popular vote, Iran became a self-styled "Islamic Republic" in March 1979.
International opinion turned strongly against the new government in November 1979, when militant students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 people hostage for more than a year. In September 1980, Iraqi forces invaded Iran, hoping for an easy victory that would allow the annexation of Iranian territory around the strategically important Shatt al-Arab waterway. While remaining neutral, the Western powers, together with many Arab states, assisted Iraq in order to suppress Khomeini's Islamic state. Until August 1988, when Iran finally accepted a U.N. cease-fire resolution, the 2 countries engaged in one of the bloodiest wars of the century, suffering widespread human and economic losses. Ayatollah Khomeini died in June 1989, and the Council of Experts, a clerical body empowered to choose the next Supreme Leader, selected Hojatoleslam Seyyed Ali Khamenei as Khomeini's successor, rapidly promoting him to the clerical rank of Ayatollah (literally: Sign of God). Hojatoleslam Ali Rafsanjani won the presidential election in August of the same year.
Since the amendment of the constitution in 1989 the president has appointed the government, though all ministers must be approved by the parliament before taking office. Iran's domestic politics have since evolved into an increasingly bitter power struggle between conservatives and reformers within the regime. From 1989 to 1997, President Rafsanjani sought to implement a program of gradual economic and political reform, but his more conservative rivals frequently blocked his policies. In 1997, the reform-orientated cleric, Mohammad Khatami, was elected to a 4-year term as president in a landslide victory and is set to stand a second term in June 2001 after winning the election with a great majority, almost 77 percent of the votes cast. Though with a turnout at the polls of only 65 percent of eligible voters, after 90 percent in the 1997 election, people seem to be disillusioned by politics and the pace of reform. Mohammed Khatami's reform-orientated supporters also defeated the conservatives in the parliamentary election held in February 2000, gaining majority control. Nevertheless, the power struggle with the conservatives continues. Through their control of various oversight institutions, the judiciary and state-run broadcasting, they manage to contain power.
INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS
Iran's infrastructure is relatively poor and inadequate. Part of this stems from the fact that the vast country was never fully developed, but it also experienced considerable setbacks during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and restoration since then has been slow.
Iran has a network of 140,200 kilometers (87,120 miles) of roads, of which 49,440 kilometers (30,722 miles) are paved. The 2,500-kilometer (1,553-mile) A1 highway runs from Bazargan on the Turkish border across Iran to the Afghan border in the east. The A2 runs from the Iraqi border to Mirjaveh on the Pakistani frontier. Tehran is linked to major cities in the vicinity by 470 kilometers (292 miles) of express-ways. A heavy expansion of car use has led to increased demand for fuel, severe overcrowding of roads in metropolitan areas, and mounting pollution problems. Government estimates put the average annual increase in domestic fuel consumption at 5.5 percent, well above the real economic growth rate. The government has sought to limit motor use by raising domestic fuel prices, but petroleum products in Iran remain heavily subsidized and among the cheapest in the world.
An important transportation link is the railway constructed with great effort before World War II between the Caspian Sea, Tehran, and the Persian Gulf. Other rail links with neighboring countries already exist or are under
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
der construction. Recently the long-closed link to Van in Eastern Turkey reopened, enabling passengers and goods to travel from Tehran to Istanbul and on to Europe. Overall, the Iranian railway network covers 5,600 kilometers (3,480 miles).
The Shatt al-Arab, the main waterway shared by Iran and Iraq on the Persian Gulf, is navigable by maritime traffic for about 130 kilometers (81 miles). Ports include Abadan/Khorramshahr, which was largely destroyed in fighting during the Iran-Iraq war, and has been overtaken by Bandar Abbas as the country's major port. About 12 million tons of cargo pass through Iran's Gulf ports each year. Smaller ports at Bushehr, Bandar Lengeh, and Chah Bahar have also assumed new importance. The 1998 Lloyd's Register of Shipping lists 382 Iranian merchant vessels.
The 3 major international airports of Tehran, Bandar Abbas, and Abadan, have recently been joined by the international airports on the free-trade islands of Qeshm and Kish. Most domestic and international flights go through Mehrabad international airport in Tehran. The huge Imam Khomeini international airport to the south of Tehran, currently under construction, is going to take over operations in a few years with a projected capacity of 30 million passengers a year. The state-owned national carrier, Iran Air, serves 15 Iranian cities and runs scheduled routes in the Gulf, Asia, and Europe. In 1997 it carried 907,000 international and 6,240,000 domestic passengers.
Electricity generation was severely restricted by Iraqi attacks on power stations during the Iran-Iraq War, reducing available capacity from 8,000 MW to 5,000 MW, according to estimates. In December 1988, the Ministry of Energy stated that the general capacity of the national grid was deficient by at least 2,500 MW, owing to war damage, lack of fuel, and inadequate rainfall. At the beginning of the 1990s, residential consumption accounted for about 40 percent of total consumption, and industry for about one-quarter. However, industrial demand rose dramatically and accounted for almost half of total consumption in 1998. Overall consumption reached 90 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1998, up from 73.4 billion kWh in 1994. Installed power production capacity had reached about 24,000 MW, with another 4,600 MW coming from private generators.
Iran plans to increase this capacity to 96,000 MW by 2022. Power plants currently under construction, and due for completion by 2002, will add about 13,000 MW to the national grid. Some 8,000 MW of this will come from hydroelectric (turbines powered by water that generate electricity) dams, although the proportion of hydroelectricity will fall in subsequent years. The balance of 5,000 MW under construction comes from gas-fuelled plants and other facilities. Currently, some 89.5 percent of electricity is produced by thermal power plants (using fossil fuels like coal, oil, or gas) and the rest by hydro-electric stations. Recent years have seen Iran advancing on a nuclear power program of 3,000-5,000 MW. The United States stated that nuclear cooperation and the transfer of technology to Iran was dangerous, as it would accelerate a secret program to develop nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, Chinese and Russian officials have expressed their determination to proceed with deals aimed at selling nuclear reactors to Iran.
As a result of heavy investment in the telephone services since 1994, the number of long-distance channels has grown substantially; many villages have been brought into the net. The number of main lines in the urban systems has approximately doubled since 1994, and the technical level of the system has been raised by the installation of thousands of digital switches. Countrywide, there were some 7 million lines in 1998. There is now also a mobile cellular system in place that was serving 265,000 subscribers in August 1998. This figure is up from under 60,000 in 1996 and has grown rapidly since.
Iran has radio relays to Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Kuwait, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The fiber-optic Trans Asia Europe line runs through northern Iran, and the country is also connected to the Fiber-optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG) through a submarine fiber-optic cable link to the United Arab Emirates.
Internet access is increasing. However, price rather than official censorship remains the greatest hindrance to wider use. The state remains in control of terrestrial radio and television broadcasts, but the illegal use of satellite television receivers in urban areas continues to be widespread. There were 82 radio stations in 1998, and Iranians had 17 million radios. Television receivers numbered 4.9 million.
Iran's economy clearly relies on its natural resources, and most importantly, oil. Agriculture still contributed 21 percent to the GDP in 1999, while industry accounted for 34 percent, and services for 45 percent. About one-third of the labor force is engaged in agriculture (33 percent); industry employs 25 percent of the workforce and 42 percent are occupied in services. Except for petroleum and petrochemical industries, Iran also has industrial production in steel, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food processing (especially sugar refining and vegetable oil production), metal fabricating, and armaments.
After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran nationalized all major industries, banks, and insurance companies. It committed itself to heavy investment in both the agricultural sector and selected industries, with the ultimate goal of economic independence, but unstable internal conditions and the war with Iraq made economic growth almost unattainable until the mid-1990s. The revival of oil production helped stabilize national finances, and free-market initiatives and reforms sparked a rise in domestic agricultural and industrial production.
Iran is a mostly arid or semi-arid country, with a sub-tropical climate along the Caspian coast. Deforestation, desertification , overgrazing, and pollution from vehicle emissions and industrial operations have harmed the land over the last few decades and hampered production. Other significant problems include poor cultivation methods, lack of water, and limited access to markets. Iran's agricultural sector is especially dependent on changes in rainfall, and although the government has attempted to reduce this dependence through the construction of dams, irrigation and drainage networks, agriculture remains highly sensitive to climate developments. Still, the agricultural sector accounts for about one-fifth of the GDP and employs one-third of the workforce. The country's most important crops are wheat, rice, other grains, sugar beets, fruits, nuts, cotton, and tobacco. Iran also produces dairy products, wool, and a large amount of timber. Irrigated areas are fed from modern water-storage systems or from the ancient system of qanat. Qanat are underground water channels stretching up to 40 kilometers (26 mi) and first used at least 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, many of them have fallen into disrepair in recent years.
The centerpiece of the "white revolution," during which the shah pressed the modernization of Iran during the 1960s, was land reform. Until the 1950s, only about 5 percent of peasants owned sufficient land to maintain themselves. The dominant figures in rural areas were the landowners; it is estimated that about half of Iran's cultivated land was held by big landowners, those who controlled one or more villages, a typical holding being between 20 and 40 villages (there were some 70,000 villages altogether). These landowners were absentees and included members of the royal family, military officers, tribal shaykhs, religious dignitaries, and big merchants. The land reform, which began in 1961 and was not completed until 1971, had dramatic effects. The power and influence of large landowners was extinguished; smaller absentee landowners survived and in 1971 still owned half of all cultivated land. Seemingly, the benefits went to those 50 percent of peasants who had cultivation rights. By 1971, 90 percent of them were owners of land, though it turned out that for most of them acquired holdings were too small to support a family. Farm laborers remained without rights and holdings.
The traditional dominance of agriculture was eroded by oil and gas exploitation, which became the country's major source of export revenues as population growth made Iran a net importer of foodstuffs. The agricultural sector has nevertheless usually been the largest contributor to the GDP, its share falling only slightly in the 1990s, from 23.9 percent in 1992-93 to 19.7 percent in 1997-98, when it was overtaken by the industrial sector. In 1999-2000, real growth in the sector declined by 0.3 percent, production of cotton fell by 9 percent, and wheat and barley outputs declined by 27 percent and 39 percent, respectively. This came after the successful year of 1998-99, when a rise in rainfall led to sharp overall growth in the sector, achieving 9.5 percent growth. The government continues to gear efforts toward reducing its role in agriculture and encouraging private sector activities and the growth of cooperatives, while restricting itself to the provision of infrastructure. Subsidies have been reduced over the last few years, but agriculture remains favored with price guarantees and persisting subsidies, in particular for wheat.
The offshore fishing industry is important in Iran both for domestic consumption and for export, mainly of caviar. The total Iranian fish catch rose from 327,727 metric tons in the year 1991-92 to 385,200 tons in 1997-98, of which 244,000 tons came from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, 76,200 tons from the Caspian Sea, and 65,000 tons from inland waters. The government remains committed to increasing the annual catch to at least 700,000 tons, principally by the development of fisheries in southern waters. The caviar industry, which enjoys a worldwide market, is by far the most developed field within Iran's fisheries sector. Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan form a cartel to protect caviar prices and sturgeon stocks in the Caspian Sea, but over-fishing has begun to threaten the industry. Caviar exports averaged around US$30 million per year in the 1990s.
Petroleum and natural gas clearly dominate Iranian industry, which is mostly controlled by the state or run by one of the religious foundations, the bonyad. With the revolution came nationalization, and by the end of 1982, 130 nationalized industries were under the direct control of the 3 ministries that were authorized to conduct industrial policies, and 450 industrial units were placed under the control of the National Iranian Industrial Organization.
Iranians became involved with oil before most of the rest of the world, granting their first exploration concession to British prospectors in 1901. After the discovery of commercially viable deposits at Masjid-e Suleiman in 1908, the reserves were worked by the newly formed Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which changed its name to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in 1935 and is now known as BP Amoco. The oil industry's pivotal position in modern Iranian society was demonstrated during the 1979 revolution, when a series of strikes at oil installations culminated in the strikers' refusal to resume exports until the shah left the country. Iran's petroleum industry suffered extensive damage to wells, refineries, and export terminals with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. Crude oil production recovered to 3.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 1990 and since 1994 has averaged around 3.6-3.7 million bpd. Proven oil reserves at the end of 1998 totaled 90 billion barrels, representing 8.7 percent of world reserves, and were expected to last about 70 years at current production rates. As of January 2000, Iran possessed 9 operational refineries with an aggregate capacity of 1.5 million bpd, the government's aim being to boost refining capacity to 2 million bpd during its Third 5 Year Development Plan (until 2005).
The dramatic decrease in world oil prices from late 1997, to below early 1973 levels in real terms, prompted the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC, a cartel grouping together most significant oil producing countries to fix production quotas and attempt to stabilize prices) to decree that its members should reduce production from April 1998 in an effort to boost prices. In March 1999 Iran agreed to cut its output from the benchmark of an average production of 3.6 million bpd by 7.3 percent, to 3.36 million bpd. In their September meeting OPEC countries decided to retain reduced quotas despite the sharp rise in world oil prices. When in March 2000 OPEC responded to what was seen as a dangerously high world oil price of US$30 per barrel by increasing aggregate production quotas by 1.7 million bpd, only Iran declined to accept the plan proposed by Saudi Arabia, on the grounds that OPEC was buckling to U.S. pressure for lower oil prices. However, resistance was short, and the new Iranian production quota had increased to 3.84 million bpd by September 2000. As a result of the production cuts in 1999, exports fell by 10 percent from 1998-99 to 1999-2000, to 2.1 million bpd. Thanks to higher prices, however, oil export revenues increased by 63 percent to US$16.3 billion and are expected to hit the US$20 billion in 2000-01.
Iran's petroleum industry basically works as an extension of the government. The Minister of Petroleum serves as chairman of the 3 main companies, the National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), the National Iranian Gas Co. (NIGC), and the National Petrochemical Co. (NPC). The NIOC handles oil and gas exploration, production, refining, and oil transportation; NIGC manages gathering, processing, transmission, distribution, and exports of gas and gas liquids; and NPC handles petrochemical production, distribution, and exports. The majority of Iran's oilfields are concentrated in the southwest of the country, where 90 percent of Iran's total production of crude oil is produced. The state-owned gathering and distributing system for natural gas from Iran's enormous reserves—second in the world only to Russia's—is one of the largest in the Middle East. Other mineral resources are largely underdeveloped.
With proven natural gas reserves of 23 trillion cubic meters (at the end of 1999), Iran is the world's second richest country in gas resources after Russia, with some 15.7 percent of the global total and 46.4 percent of the Middle East regional total. Production increased from 12.2 billion cubic meters in 1989 to 29.5 billion cubic meters in 1993 and to 54 billion cubic meters in 1998, the bulk of which was consumed domestically in line with the government's policy of substituting gas for petroleum. Currently, natural gas accounts for about 40 percent of total domestic energy consumption. Iran plans to construct a 1000-kilometer (621-mile) onshore and 1200-kilometer (746-mile) offshore gas pipeline to India. In 1996, Iran signed an agreement worth US$20 billion to supply gas to Turkey over a 22-year period. With pipeline construction in its final stage, deliveries should begin in mid-2001. In April 2000, the discovery of the country's biggest onshore gas field to date, north of the city of Bushehr, was announced. It is estimated to contain 445,000 million cubic meters of gas not needing to be refined, as well as 240 million barrels of liquid gas. The field is to be brought to production by 2002 and is expected to yield revenue of US$16.5 billion over 20 years.
In addition to the enormous hydrocarbon reserves, Iran has considerable mineral resources. Around 80 million tons of minerals are quarried each year from some 1,500 non-metallic and 50 metallic mines in Iran, with the bulk coming from mines owned by the Bonyad-e Mostazafan (Foundation of the Oppressed). Minerals currently being worked include copper, lead-zinc, iron ore, bauxite, coal, strontium, gold, chromium, uranium, red oxide, turquoise, sulphur, and salt. Foreign investors have concentrated most on Iran's copper-extraction industry, which has taken the lead in moves towards privatization.
Iran's industrial sector is dominated by relatively few but large public enterprises accounting for approximately 70 percent of value added in manufacturing. Steel, petrochemicals, and copper remain the country's 3 basic industries. Other important branches are automobile manufacturing (mainly assembled under license from Western or Japanese manufacturers), construction material, textiles (mainly woven carpets, for which Iran has traditionally been famous), food processing, and pharmaceuticals. Despite large investments in the 1970s, problems persist to this day, including a shortage of skilled labor, insufficient raw materials and spare parts, and an inadequate infrastructure.
After the revolution in 1979, no clear policy was formulated for the industrial sector. Subsequently, then-president Bani-Sadr estimated a drop of at least 34 percent in industrial output in the first post-revolutionary year alone. The manufacturing industries' poor performance continued throughout the 1980s with many factories still operating at only 30 percent of their capacity at the end of the decade. Much of this downturn had to do with the emigration of industrial owners and a resulting shortage of managerial skills. The high degree of Iran's dependency on imports for raw materials, along with the economic sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic, further increased the vulnerability of the manufacturing sector. Taken together, these factors resulted in inefficiency and low productivity.
The steel industry is one of the few exceptions to Iran's disappointing manufacturing scene. Development began late—Iran's first steel mill was a joint venture with the Soviet Union in the 1960s—and proceeded slowly, with output standing at just 1 million tons per year in 1979. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, a huge expansion has taken place. New plants have been commissioned in Khuzestan, Khorasan, and Azerbaijan provinces, and Iran has become the world's third largest steel producer, with an output of 6.7 million tons in 1997-98.
In recent years the government has placed great emphasis on expanding the petrochemical industry to generate products of higher value added and higher export earnings. In the medium term the petrochemical industry represents Iran's only chance of diversifying away from crude oil exports. Iranian petrochemical production has more than doubled in the last 5 years, making it the second largest producer in the region, after Saudi Arabia. Total petrochemical output was estimated at about 12 million tons in 1998, compared to 2.4 million tons in 1989. The government plans to triple the annual output to 30 million tons within 20 years, which requires investments of US$20 billion. Government predictions were that Iran's share of the world's petrochemical production would reach 2 percent by 2005 and that the value of exports would rise from US$500 million in 1999 to US$2 billion in 2005. Main petrochemical products are fertilizers, methanol, aromatics, and olefins.
The automotive sector is underdeveloped. The most common vehicle on Iran's roads is the Paykan, the locally produced version of a 1960s British model. The car's old-fashioned engineering makes it inefficient and one of the worst polluters in the country. Since 1989, the industry has enjoyed a modest recovery, as local plants have contracted to assemble Nissan, Peugeot, and Kia models under license. Some manufacturers, such as Iran Khodro, which held the rights to assemble General Motors vehicles until 1985, have begun to modernize and restructure . Local production of cars reached 245,556 units in 2000-01, compared to some 80,000 units in 1995-96, and up 23 percent from the previous year. However, poor access to finance and a shallow inventory suggest that there is further need for improvement.
In 1995, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that Iran's textile mills were operating at an average of 56 percent of their capacity, owing to shortage of foreign exchange and raw material. The textiles industry is partly based on domestic supply of cotton. During the 1970s, European manufacturers purchased Iranian cotton, but as profits fell in the 1980s, most cotton was absorbed domestically. The government hopes to promote textile exports, and some public investment has been devoted to improving production quality. However, the results have been visible only in niche areas, and export earnings in 1997-98 remained below US$100 million per year. Revenues from exporting carpets dropped severely in the 1990s from US$2 billion in 1990 to US$570 million in 1998, rendering it a shaky business.
The services sector is the largest in the Iranian economy and contributed approximately 40 percent to the GDP during 1999-2000. The sector has seen the greatest long-term growth in terms of its share of the GDP, but currency-exchange restrictions, excessive bureaucracy, and the uncertainty of long-term planning have hindered further development.
The Iranian banking sector is dominated by 10 state-owned banks, including the 6 full-service commercial banks, and 4 sectorally specialized ones. In addition, 4 small private non-bank credit institutions have recently been licensed. The total number of state-owned bank branches was 14,518 in 1999, compared with 11,634 in 1995. Commercial banks engage mainly in short-term lending, primarily to the private sector and public non-bank financial enterprises, and act as agents of depositors in the investment of funds. The profits and losses from these investments are then distributed to depositors based on the duration and amount of their investment. Specialized banks lend mainly on a long-term basis (5 years or more) and have investments in various sectors of the economy.
After the revolution, 2 major changes were made in the banking system: one was nationalization and restructuring in the year immediately after the revolution, the other was the introduction of Islamic banking in 1983-84. Islamic banking is characterized by the prohibition of interest on loans, according to Islamic law. Interest on loans, or riba, was replaced by a commission of 4 percent a year compared with the traditional 14 percent, whereas interest on deposits was replaced with profits, estimated at a minimum of 7-8 percent a year. The banks would become temporary shareholders in major industrial enterprises to which they lent money. Unfortunately, the changes to the banking sector were made just when the public sector was relying heavily on the banking system to finance the large deficit, due to low oil revenues. Consequently, the inflation rate accelerated rapidly. While it amounted to only 4 percent in 1985-86, it surged to 21 percent the following year, and increased to 28 percent and 29 percent, respectively, during 1987-88 and 1988-89 and has since remained at a high level.
The Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) benefitted from a wave of privatization during the early 1990s. Stock market capitalization of IR38 trillion at the end of 1999 corresponded to about 9 percent of the GDP, although relatively few of the shares are routinely available for purchase by the general public. The ownership of stocks is highly concentrated. The largest 5 shareholders account, together, for more than 82 percent of company shareholdings. A small handful of institutional investors dominate the market as a whole. These are all either government institutions or state-owned banks or their subsidiaries, but nevertheless operating on a market-oriented basis.
Iran has traditionally been an agricultural nation populated by traders. With the exception of the carpet industry and a tiny jewelry industry, the Iranian economy was essentially agrarian until the time of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Despite the crash industrialization program launched by the Pahlavi regime in the 1960s and 1970s and the necessity for self-sufficiency during Iran's 8-year war with Iraq, the country retains its preference for trade over production.
The merchant, or bazaar, classes had profited from the economic boom Iran experienced under the shah in the 1970s. Many had amassed fortunes in these years. Yet, the bazaar provided valuable support to the revolutionary movement, contributing generously to the clerical cause in the lead-up to the revolution. The bazaar merchants had several grievances against the shah, whose policies favored a new industrial and entrepreneurial elite, and import licenses made life difficult for the smaller merchants. The bazaar was relegated to secondary status, especially after some of the major industrial families started combining interests in industry with interests in banking, insurance, and trade by the mid-1970s; several of the largest trading companies developed alongside major industrial enterprises. These new trading companies threatened to drive the bazaar merchants out of wholesale trade, and then, by establishing new retail networks and outlets, out of retail trade as well.
After the revolution, the trading sector achieved positive growth, and this sector absorbed most of the new entrants into the job market. In the absence of a properly functioning banking system, demand for capital has been frequently met from moneylenders in the bazaar. Indeed, currency exchange and money lending has become a major source of business for the bazaar's traders in Iran's distorted economy. This further intensified a tendency among Iranians to invest in businesses with a cash-based return, such as constructing homes for the rental market or the import of consumer goods .
Before the revolution Iran had begun to build a reputation as an exotic holiday destination; its ski resorts at Shemshak and Dizin, north of Tehran, attracted international celebrities. After 1979, the Islamic government discouraged tourism, leaving many renowned archaeological and historical sites, including Persepolis, Pasargard, and Esfahan, barely visited by foreigners. Although hardly a booming sector, visitor rates are beginning to rise. The government has begun to issue visas more freely to non-Muslim individuals and groups, and the country is appearing with greater frequency in tourism brochures, but still only around 320,000 foreign tourists actually visit, bringing in revenue of US$170 million. The bulk of tourism remains to be founded on Shia pilgrimage centers such as Mashhad and Qom. The Bonyad-e Mostazafan (Foundation of the Oppressed), which owns most of Iran's large hotels, plans to increase the number of hotel beds from the current 34,500 to 59,500 by 2002.
Following a strong balance of payments performance in 1996-97, mainly due to high oil prices, the period 1997-99 witnessed the deterioration of Iran's external accounts, triggered by tumbling oil prices and stagnant non-oil exports. Imports went down due to the resulting scarcity of foreign exchange, and Iran negotiated re-phasing part of its external debt in 1998 in order to alleviate financial pressure. When oil prices recovered during 1999-2000, and non-oil exports also grew by 9
|Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Iran|
|SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.|
percent, the Islamic Republic's external position was enhanced considerably. Iran's trade balance had dropped from a surplus of US$2.8 billion in 1996-97 to a deficit of US$4 billion in 1997-98, although this was reversed again into a US$2 billion surplus in 1999-2000. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its 2000 country report on Iran estimated that exports during 1999-2000 totaled US$19.726 billion, while total imports that year amounted to US$13.511 billion. Changes in Iran's external balance are mainly dependent on oil prices. Thus, in 1999-2000, proceeds from crude oil exports rose by 60 percent, despite a decline in the export volume, reflecting the 77 percent increase in the average export price of Iranian crude oil.
Non-oil exports consist mainly of consumer goods (55 percent on average during 1997-2000), followed by raw materials and intermediate goods (about 38 percent). Carpets remain the single most exported Iranian non-oil product. Such exports have declined significantly over the second half of the 1990s, from US$2 billion in 1994 to US$570 million in 1998, which is attributed to competition from low-priced carpet-producing countries. Exports of fresh and dried fruits, at about US$600 million in 1998-99 (of which $416 million came from pistachios alone), have captured a larger share of the total. Chemicals are the most prominent export of raw materials and intermediate goods, hovering at about US$500 million during 1997-2000.
The direction of exports has also remained unchanged since the mid-1990s. While Japan and the United Kingdom are the largest importers of Iranian goods (absorbing about 16 percent and 17 percent of total exports, respectively), Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the main destinations for non-oil exports, capturing 13 percent and 16 percent of these exports, respectively. Other important destinations for Iranian exports are Italy (6 percent of non-oil exports and 9 percent of total exports), Greece and South Korea (5 percent of total exports), and Turkey (5 percent of non-oil exports).
Iran imports mainly raw materials and intermediate and capital goods . Imports of consumer goods, at about US$2 billion per year, represent only 14 percent of total imports. Imports of machinery and tools average about US$4-5 billion, which cover the bulk of capital goods imports. Iran's imports of grains and derivatives fell drastically in 1998-99 from about US$1.8 billion the previous years to below US$900 million. Iran also imports a large quantity of chemical products, totaling about US$1.8-2 billion per annum. The most important sources of Iranian imports are Germany (12 percent), Japan (7 percent), and Italy (6 percent).
Since Iran's first application to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996, it has been constantly blocked by the United States. The application was blocked again in May of 2001, but the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is thought to be considering dropping its objection now that Egypt has sponsored Iran's application. Iran is a founding member of the Asian Clearing Union (ACU), established in 1974 to provide a mechanism for the settlement of transactions among countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Members are Bangladesh, Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. Iran undertakes only about 3 percent of its total trade within the ACU, with Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka importing oil and oil products, handicrafts, and machinery equipment. Iran's imports from these countries include machinery, spare parts, and spices from India, jute from Bangladesh, and rice and cotton from Pakistan.
The Bank-e Merkazi-ye Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran, or Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is the highest monetary authority in the country. Each year after the approval of the government's annual budget, the Central Bank presents a detailed monetary and credit policy. Short-term credit policies need to be approved by the
|Exchange rates: Iran|
|Iranian rials (IR) per US$1|
|Note: Iran has three officially recognized exchange rates; the averages for 1999 are as follows: the official floating rate of 1,750 rials per US dollar, the "export" rate of 3,000 rials per US dollar, and the variable Tehran Stock Exchange rate, which averages 7,863 rials per US dollar; the market rate averages 8,615 rials per US dollar.|
|SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].|
government and long-term credit policies have to be incorporated into the 5 Year Development Plan with Parliament's consent.
After the introduction of the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE) rate in July 1997 and until March 2000, 2 officially recognized exchange rates coexisted in Iran. The official rate of the Iranian rial—1,750 per U.S. dollar—applies to oil and gas export receipts, imports of essential goods and services, and repayment of external debt. The "export" rate, fixed at 3,000 rials per dollar since May 1995, applied to all other trade transactions, but mainly to capital goods imports of public enterprises. In order to ease pressure on exporters, the bank introduced a currency certificate system allowing exporters to trade certificates for hard currency on the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE). This method finally replaced the fixed export rate in March 2000, and has since held steady at some IR8,500:US$1. There is an active black market in foreign exchange, but the development of the TSE rate and the ready availability of foreign exchange over 2000 narrowed the differential to as little as IR100 in mid-2000. The reunification of Iran's multi-tiered exchange-rate system, which has plagued Iran's non-oil exports and frustrated potential investors since the revolution, had been under discussion since a failed attempt in 1993 to operate a single, floating exchange rate . At the same time, as a step toward further liberalization and integration of foreign exchange markets, banks were allowed to deal relatively freely with foreign exchange. Despite this, foreign currency is still hard to get and even harder to keep for ordinary Iranians.
Given recent government decisions to allow banks to sell currency at free-market rates, together with the positive outlook for oil earnings, and the apparent willingness of new lenders, particularly European banks, to extend new credit lines to Iran, an attempt at reunification is likely to be made in 2001-02, at a rate of around IR9,000=US$1.
POVERTY AND WEALTH
Before the Islamic revolution, Iran had gradually been transformed from a largely farm-based economy to a modern society by ways of major changes in the traditional
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
socioeconomic order between 1946 and 1979. Under the shah, thanks to considerable outlays allocated to education and health, great strides were made in improving social welfare. Infant mortality, malnutrition, endemic diseases, and illiteracy were greatly reduced. Caloric intake, life expectancy, and school enrollment were all markedly increased. While rural-income gaps and income inequalities within the respective areas did not narrow, indicators showed that absolute poverty was reduced. Although elementary school enrollment during the 1970s quadrupled to more than 9 million, this was achieved in many cases only by running students through in 3 shifts and having teachers in the classroom 60 to 80 hours a week. About 90 percent of high school graduates were denied admission to college because of inadequate facilities. About 20 percent of Iran's institutions of higher education had no library facilities, nor were they likely to obtain them because, while the state budget set aside 5 percent for sports, it did not have any reserves for books and libraries.
It was thought and hoped that the new regime would remedy these faults. The Islamic government declared a policy of improving the lot of the poor for whom, after all, the revolution itself had been launched, but there has been little evidence of success. Nominal wages and salaries lagged behind inflation throughout the 1980s, which according to one Majlis deputy left more than 90 percent of public servants below the poverty line. According to the official line, the poor were better off after, rather than before, the revolution. This was undoubtedly true for certain groups of people who have been especially well positioned within the regime, such as members of the Revolutionary Guards, many families of the war dead, some among the subsidized urban proletariat, and others from extremely low-income households. It does not hold true, however, for the majority of the population. In 1972, some 44 percent of the population were living below the subsistence poverty line. During the 1979-85 period, absolute poverty increased by 40 percent; some reports indicated that absolute poverty had spread among as many as 65-75 percent of the population in 1988. According to the IMF, 53 percent of Iranians still live below the poverty line.
Health conditions outside major cities are poor. Many small towns and rural areas suffer from unsanitary conditions and a shortage of medical personnel and facilities. The infant mortality rate remains a serious problem; it is very high by world and Middle Eastern standards, although it has been reduced significantly (26 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998, down from 91.6 during 1980-85 and 50 during 1991-95). Although primary education is compulsory for 5 years, many rural children never attend school because of either parental objection or a lack of facilities. The secondary-school system in Iran is relatively underdeveloped, and it serves for the most part to prepare small numbers of students for university-level education. In order to improve the situation for the poorest segments of Iranian society, the government is considering an anti-poverty program comprising expanded provision of food, clothing, health care, education, social security, and bank credits to these people.
The highly fluid nature of Iran's labor market and the large size of the informal services sector make accurate estimates of employment levels difficult. A census, conducted in 1991, recorded 25.2 percent of the 57.8 million population as economically active, and 22.3 percent as in employment, suggesting that around 11 percent of the workforce was unemployed. However, the census ignored the fact that most Iranian adults must hold 2 or even 3 jobs in order to provide for the rest of their family. The government put unemployment at 2 million in 1997-98, equivalent to 12.1 percent of the workforce and up sharply from the previous year's estimate of 9.1 percent. Given the rapid population growth experienced over the past 20 years, together with a real reduction of government resources aimed at job creation, it is likely that even this estimate is too conservative. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), an accurate estimate for unemployment figures lies between 14 percent and 18 percent, while the IMF suggests it may be as high as 25 percent.
High inflation has been another characteristic of the Iranian economy since the early 1970s and played a crucial role in the industrial action that presaged the 1979 revolution. In recent years changes in the exchange rate, the gradual removal of subsidies, and the suppression of imports have all contributed to rising prices and eroded real wages . Some evidence indicates that inflation has dropped steadily since 1995, settling in a range of 22-30 percent, according to sources from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The Labor Code empowers the Supreme Labor Council to establish annual minimum wage levels for each sector and region. The minimum wage has been inadequate for some years by the government's own admission. Officially the minimum wage should be sufficient to meet the living expenses of a family and should take inflation into account. The daily minimum wage was raised in March 1997 to US$2.80 (8,500 rials). This wage apparently is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Information on the percentage of the working population covered by minimum wage legislation is not available. Private-sector personnel in contrast are better off.
Formally, workers are granted the right to establish unions; however, the government does not allow independent unions to exist. A national organization known as the Worker's House, founded in 1982, is the sole authorized national labor organization. The leadership of the Worker's House coordinates activities with Islamic labor councils, which are made up of representatives of the workers and 1 representative of management in industrial, agricultural, and service organizations of more than 35 employees. These councils also function as instruments of government control, although they frequently have been able to block layoffs and dismissals. In 1993, the parliament passed a law that prohibits strikes by government workers. Nevertheless, strikes occur, apparently in increasing numbers. Reports over the last 2 years included strikes and protests by oil, textile, electrical manufacturing, and metal workers, and by the unemployed.
One unforeseen result of the revolutionary government's drive for gender segregation has been the improvement in women's education. As men and woman are expected to work separately, the demand for female professionals has risen markedly, boosting the number of female graduates. The war effort contributed to this process, as women took the places of men required for military service. In 2000, there were more women enrolled in universities than men. In tertiary education, vocational subjects such as computer studies and engineering are becoming increasingly popular, while the quality of language tuition is improving. These trends will undoubtedly improve the qualifications of the local population from the point of view of foreign investors, but they also present the government with higher demands for skilled job-creation and increase the pressure to cut bureaucratic and ideological obstacles to a free labor market.
COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
4000 B.C. Ancient settlements develop in the Caspian region and on the Iranian plateau.
2000 B.C. Aryans arrive and split into the Medes and the Persians.
550 B.C. Cyrus the Great founds the Persian Empire.
200 A.D. After periods of Greek and Parthian rule, the Sassanids take power and rule until the Arab final victory in 641.
1502. The Safavid dynasty is established and continues to rule until 1736.
1904. The Qajar dynasty, founded by Fath Ali Shah, comes to an end.
1906-08. Iran's modern history begins when the Constitutional Movement achieves the declaration of a constitution and the establishment of a parliament in 1906 and when oil is discovered in 1908.
1919. The country is occupied by Russia and Great Britain during World War I; it signs a trade agreement with Great Britain in 1919, in which Britain formally re-affirms Iran's independence.
1921. After Iranian recognition of the USSR, the Soviet Union withdraws occupation forces from Iranian territory; Reza Khan, an army officer, establishes military rule and subsequently becomes shah in 1925 and founder of the new Pahlevi dynasty.
1941. Iran is occupied by British and Soviet forces at the start of World War II, prompting the shah to abdicate in favor of his son, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi.
1943-46. Iran is formally guaranteed independence by the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in 1943; however, political instability delays the withdrawal of troops until 1946.
1951-53. The National Front Movement under Prime Minister Mossadeq nationalizes the oil business and forms the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC); Mossadeq is subsequently ousted from power with the help of U.S. covert activity, and an international consortium operates Iran's oil facilities, with profits shared equally between Iran and the consortium.
1960-73. The shah's modernization program—named the "white revolution"—transforms the country and its economy, with a dramatic land reform, huge investments in infrastructure, and continued economic growth.
1973. The shah gives the NIOC full control over Iran's oil industry, placing the international consortium in an advisory capacity. Iran does not participate in the Arab oil embargo in September.
1979. After years of political repression and with a growing divide between rich and poor, popular protests oust the shah in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini becomes the figurehead of the revolution and subsequently the Supreme Leader of the country until his death in 1989.
1980. On 22 September, Iraqi troops invade Iran, triggering a prolonged and devastating war that lasts until Khomeini accepts a UN-brokered cease-fire in July 1988.
1989. The Ayatollah Khomeini is succeeded by Iran's president, Ali Khamenei. Ali Akbar Rafsanjani becomes president and is re-elected in 1993. Iran begins to re-build its economy.
1997. Mohammed Khatami, a moderately liberal Muslim cleric, is elected president and becomes the figure-head for the country's reformist movement; economic reforms begun under Rafsanjani continue.
The Iranian government has set itself the priority of achieving political reform, believing that its victory over conservative forces in the February 2000 parliamentary elections gives it the authority to deal with what President Khatami has described as Iran's "sick economy." Despite good intentions, President Mohammed Khatami has done little to change the overall pattern of Iran's macroeconomic policy. While many observers hoped that the new president would speed up the reform process, he has been bothered by entrenched political opposition in the Majlis (parliament) and pressure from the powerful bonyad (religious foundations) and by external debt repayments. Pending the outcome of the political battle, the government has to deal in the short term with a chronically weak currency, high unemployment, and the arrival of 800,000 young people on the job market every year. The lack of economic opportunities and social freedom has led to growing discontent, especially among young Iranians, and may result in extended civil unrest and an increase in emigration. Returns in the June 2001 presidential election gave President Khatami the thumping victory which is needed to revive the economic, political, and social reform process.
A key factor in Iran's economic prospects is whether the country will be able to break its international isolation which will have to be overcome in order to integrate the country into the world economy and to bring much-needed foreign investment into the Islamic Republic. This depends in particular on the lifting of U.S. sanctions. Signals show that Iran's rehabilitation is a desired U.S. objective if the reformists carry out their agenda. Iran's further international and domestic economic progress, therefore, depends in large part on the outcome of the political contest between reformers and conservatives in Tehran. Economic development will also depend on the success of privatizing enterprises in the inefficient state sector, to which about 60 percent of the current budget expenditure is allocated in subsidies and other support. Finally, to have the financial means to cope with needed reforms Iran will try to keep oil prices stable on a high level.
Iran has no territories or colonies.
Amid, Mohammad Javad. Poverty, Agriculture, and Reform in Iran. London: Routledge, 1990.
Ansari, Sarah. Women, Religion and Culture in Iran. Richmond, Virginia: Curzon, 2001.
Daniel, Elton L. The History of Iran. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.
Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Iran. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.
Esposito, John L., and R. K. Ramazani. Iran at the Crossroads. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.
Iqbal, Zubair, et al. Iran: Recent Economic Developments. IMF Staff Country Report 00/120, September 2000.
Parsa, Misagh. Social Origins of the Iranian Revolution. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1989.
Parvin, Alizadeh. The Economy of Iran. London: I.B. Tauris, 2000.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http:// www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed August 2001.
—Markus R. Bouillon
Iranian rial (IR). One Iranian rial equals 100 dinars. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 rials and notes of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 rials.
Petroleum (80 percent), carpets, fruits, nuts, hides, steel.
Machinery, military supplies, metal works, foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals, technical services, refined oil products.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$347.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$12.2 billion (f.o.b., 1998). Imports: US$13.8 billion (f.o.b.,1998).
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group Inc.
Country in southwestern Asia between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Iran has an area of 636,290 square miles and an estimated population of 67 million (2004). It is bounded on the north by the Caspian Sea and the republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan; on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and on the west by Turkey and Iraq.
Land and Climate
Iran lies on a high plateau with an average altitude of around 4,000 feet, surrounded by the Zagros Mountains, running from the Armenian border to the shores of the Gulf of Oman, and in the north by the Elburz Mountains. An extensive salt desert in the interior is separated from a sand desert by two mountain ranges in the east. Temperatures reach a low of -15°F in the harsh winters of the northwest and a high of about 123°F in the south during the summer, with most of the country enjoying a temperate climate. Average rainfall ranges from 80
inches along the Caspian coast to less than 2 inches in the southeast.
With an estimated population of 67 million in 2004, Iran is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East. It had grown at over 3 percent per annum from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. However, the successful family-planning campaign begun in the late 1980s has decreased the rate to about 1.6 percent. Iran's population is comparatively young; 45.5 percent of the population was under 15 years old in 1986, but that percentage fell to 40 percent in 1996 due to the sharp decline in population growth rate. Approximately two-thirds of Iran's people live in the cities: In 1996 the capital, Tehran, accounted for 7 million; Mashhad for more than 1.9 million; and Tabriz, Isfahan, and Shiraz for more than 1 million each.
About 80 percent of Iran's population is of Iranian origin, of whom the ethnic Persians are predominant. According to the 1986 census 82.7 percent of the population (90.9% in the urban areas and 73.1% in the rural areas) could both comprehend and speak Persian, and another 2.7 percent could understand it. Persians are overwhelmingly Shiʿite Muslims. Azeris, or Azerbaijanis, are Iran's largest linguistic minority. Estimated at 25 percent of the population, they are concentrated in the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, and Zanjan, as well as in and around the cities of Qazvin, Saveh, Hamadan, and Tehran. Iran's second largest ethnolinguistic minority, the Kurds, make up an estimated 5 percent of the
country's population and reside in the provinces of Kerman and Kurdistan as well as in parts of West Azerbaijan and Ilam. Kurds in Iran are divided along religious lines as Sunni, Shiʿite, or Ahl-e Haqq. The predominantly Sunni Baluchis reside mainly in the Sistan/Baluchistan province and make up 2 percent of Iran's population. Other ethnic minorities include the Shiʿite Arabs (5%) and the Sunni Turkmen (2%). Also residing in Iran are nomadic and tribal groups, including the Qashqaʾis, Bakhtiaris, Shahsevans, Afshars, Boyer Ahmadis, and smaller tribes.
According to the 1996 census, 99.5 percent of the population was Muslim. Followers of the other three officially recognized religions included 279,000 Christians, 28,000 Zoroastrians, and 13,000 Jews. An additional 56,000 were listed as followers of other religions, and 90,000 did not state their religion. The majority of the latter two groups are presumed to be Bahaʾis, followers of a religion that has not been officially recognized by the government and has been subjected to persecution since the 1979 revolution.
The modern national education system emerged in the 1920s and 1930s, when the influence of the religious establishment was repressed and the control
of the rising nation-state over the school system was established. The period from 1956 to 2002 saw the rapid expansion of modern education. The number of students at all levels rose from 1.1 million in 1956 to 7.5 million in 1976, 16 million in 1992, and 18.3 million in 2000 (nearly 30% of the total population). The percentage of girls in elementary schools rose from 21 percent of total enrollment in 1926 to 38 percent in 1976 and 47 percent in 1996; girls in secondary schools increased from 6 percent to 35 percent and then to 47 percent in the same years; and the number in universities leaped from almost none in 1926 to 28 percent in 1976, 57 percent in 1996, and more than 61 percent in 2001. As a result of the adult literacy campaign and the expansion of primary education, the literate population age six and over increased from about 15 percent in 1956 to approximately 62 percent in 1976 and 80 percent in 1996.
The educational reforms of 1966 to 1978 marked the transformation of Iran's school system from the French model to one similar to that of the United States. The structure and organization remained virtually intact after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but the focus of educators became shaping pupils' behavior according to Islamic values through curriculum and textbooks. Other measures included converting all coeducational schools into single-sex institutions and imposing Islamic dress codes. In 1992 secondary education was reduced from four years to three years and divided into general education (including academic and technical-vocational divisions) and professional education (focusing on
specific, practical work-related skills). The twelfth year of high school became a college preparatory program accepting only high school graduates who pass the entrance examination.
In May 1980 the government closed all universities and appointed a panel, the Cultural Revolution Headquarters, to provide a program of reform for higher education in accordance with Islamic values. When the universities were reopened in October 1981, the University Jihad and other militant groups took control and purged 8,000 faculty members (about half). Following disputes between these groups and the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education over reform issues, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution was founded in 1984 to supervise the reconstruction of universities. In 2000 government-sponsored colleges and universities accredited by the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education and technical, vocational, and teacher training schools (primarily two-year junior colleges) administered by the Ministry of Education and other government agencies enrolled 413,000 students. In addition, the Open Islamic University (836,000 enrollment in 2000) is open to any student upon the payment of fairly steep tuition and fees.
Iran's economy is a mixture of large state and semi-public enterprises, small-scale private manufacturing, trade and service ventures, and village agriculture. State enterprises have expanded substantially since the revolution, and market-reform plans set in motion in the 1990s have made little progress toward privatization of large public enterprises. As noted by the International Monetary Fund in 2003, the "Iranian economy continues to face important challenges: employment creation has not been sufficient to meet the rapid increase in the labor force; inflation is high and rising again; and price subsidies and control continues to hinder economic efficiency; and structural impediments for private sector development remain" (International Monetary Fund, p. 1).
The Iranian economy is heavily dependent on oil, which accounted for 15 percent of the total value of gross domestic product (GDP), 50 percent of state revenue, and 75 percent of total exports from 1996 to 2001. It is estimated that Iran's oil reserves are about 93 billion barrels, or 10 percent of the world's total. Iran also possesses the second largest natural gas reserve in the world, estimated at about 20 trillion cubic meters, or 15 percent of the world's reserves. Hydropower, coal, and solar energy resources are also significant, and there are substantial deposits of copper, zinc, chromium, iron ore, and gemstones.
From 1963 to 1976, Iran's GDP grew by an average annual rate of around 10.5 percent in real terms, and per capita income leaped from some US$170 to over $2,060. The 1978–1980 period of revolutionary crisis saw the flight of skilled workers and entrepreneurs, the transfer of large sums of capital abroad, and the abandonment of many productive establishments. Under these circumstances, the GDP in constant 1974 prices fell from 3.7 trillion rials in 1977 to 2.5 trillion in 1980, and per capita GDP declined from 108,000 rials to 63,000 rials. Following a short period of increase in oil revenues and financial recovery, the period of 1985 to 1988 saw an annual GDP decline of 4 percent due to the fall in oil revenues, negative fixed capital formation, and the heightening of the "tanker war" in the Persian Gulf. In the postwar period and between 1988 and 1992 the rise of oil revenues led to an average annual growth rate of 8 percent in the GDP. The annual growth rate of the GDP fluctuated considerably for the next eight years, but averaged about 4 percent. In 2001 agriculture accounted for 19 percent of Iran's GDP, industry for 26 percent, and services for 55 percent. The state together with semi-public organizations created after the revolution own all heavy industries, many other large industrial establishments, and all major transportation networks and agroindustries. Nationalization of large enterprises and confiscation by the revolutionary government considerably expanded the public sector. As a result, all banks (and insurance companies) were owned by the state until 2000, when a more liberal interpretation of the revolutionary constitution led to the enactment of a new law permitting the establishment of privately owned banks and, later, insurance companies. Four newly established private banks compete with state-owned banks.
Modern industry made its appearance in Iran in the early twentieth century, but it was not until the late 1950s that the government adopted a clear industrialization policy. By the early 1970s the average annual growth rate of the industrial sector was more than 10 percent. From the early 2000s, Iran has had an industrial base consisting mainly of import-substituting industries that are subsidized and heavily protected, and dependent on imported materials. Steel, petrochemicals, and copper ore remain Iran's three basic industries.
Only about one-fourth of Iran is potentially suitable for agricultural production—the other three-fourths receives less than 10 inches of rainfall per year—and less than half of the crops grown are irrigated. In 2001 wheat production amounted to 9.5 million, sugar beets 4.6, potatoes 3.6, barley 2.4, rice 2, and onions 1.3 million tons. In 1998 livestock and dairy products included 763,000 tons of red meat, 5 million tons of milk, 720 tons of poultry, and 625 tons of eggs.
After the revolution, imports fell from $14.6 billion in 1977 to $10.8 billion in 1980 and $8.2 billion in 1988. In 1991 imports rose to $25 billion, then declined between 1993 and 1995 due to the fall of oil revenues, reaching an annual average of $14 billion in the late 1990s. Non-oil exports rose from $2.9 billion in 1992 to $4.2 billion in 2000. In 1999 Iran's total exports (including oil) amounted to $21 billion and its imports amounted to $14.3 billion. Iran's main export markets for both oil and non-oil goods are Japan and United Kingdom; together they accounted for nearly one-third of Iran's total exports in 1999. Germany, with an annual export of $1 to $2 billion goods in the postrevolution period, is the main exporter to Iran.
Iran is a theocratic republic that combines the absolute authority of the ruling Shiʿite jurist combined with an elected president and parliament and an appointed chief of the judicial branch. The sovereignty of Shiʿite clerical authority (velayat-e faqih), the supreme spiritual guide, is the deputy of the twelfth Shiʿite imam, the Lord of the Age. He appoints the head of the judiciary branch and the theologians of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, and as commander in chief of the armed forces, he appoints and dismisses all commanders of the armed forces, Revolutionary Guards Corps, and security forces and is empowered to declare war. The president, elected for four years, is the head of the cabinet and the civilian wing of the government's executive branch.
The legislature comprises two institutions: the parliament (Majles) and the Council of Guardians. Under the provisions of the constitution all bills must be approved by the Majles and then be ratified by the Council of Guardians before they are signed into law by the president. The Majles is a body of 290 legislators elected to four-year terms. The twelve members of the Council of Guardians, consisting of six clerics and six lay judges appointed by the supreme guide, review legislation passed by the Majles and are empowered by the constitution to veto laws considered to violate Islamic or constitutional principles. The appointed Expediency Council, created in February 1988 and formally recognized in an amendment to the constitution in July 1989, rules on legal and theological disputes between the Majles and the Council of Guardians. It is charged with ruling in the best interest of the community, even when such rulings go beyond a strict interpretation of the tenets of Islamic law. The elected Assembly of Experts determines succession to the supreme guide.
The judicial branch consists of regular civil and criminal courts, as well as a special clerical court and revolutionary tribunals that hear civil and criminal suits concerning counterrevolutionary offenses. The head of the judiciary is appointed by the supreme guide. The minister of justice functions as a liaison among the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. The Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution has legislative powers over educational matters.
Iran is divided into twenty-eight provinces (ostans) administered by governors (ostandars) who are nominated by the minister of the interior and appointed by the president. The second level of local government consists of 195 counties (shahrestans) under junior governors (farmandars). At the third level, 500 districts (bakhshs) are under executives (bakhshdars), and at the fourth level, 1,581 clusters of villages (dehestans) are under headmen (dehdars). Villages, the base level, are administered by elected councils. Towns and cities have municipal governments with mayors and councils.
The armed forces and Revolutionary Guards Corps are responsible for defending Iran against foreign aggression. The 300,000-man army is organized into ten divisions and six brigades. The air force consists of about 35,000 men, with more than 400 pilots on active duty and 100 combat aircraft. The 15,000-man navy operates in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Caspian Sea. It includes two fleets, three marine battalions, and two Russian-made submarines. The 180,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps is organized into eleven regional commands with four armored divisions and twenty-four infantry divisions, as well as air and naval capacities. Iran's police force incorporates revolutionary committees and the rural police force into the urban police force. The suppression of opposition to the regime is the responsibility of the Ministry of Information and a 100,000-man mobilization corps (basij) recruited from veterans of the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988). Ideological-political bureaus have been established in government agencies and in the armed forces to ensure conformity to the regime's rules of conduct. The armed forces and security organizations are under the command of the supreme spiritual guide.
Since the 1979 revolution various groups, organizations, and factions within the ruling party have fallen into four main political camps. First, those who support the interests of the religious groups (ulama) and the bazaar merchants, and who advocate the traditional Islamic jurisprudence, are referred to as conservatives, traditionalists, or rightists. The conservatives fear the cultural penetration of Western lifestyles and are zealous on cultural issues such as women's rights, Islamic dress codes, music, and the media. In the early post-Khomeini era, a major political shift to the right occurred and the conservative camp prevailed. Second, those who support the cause of the economically deprived (mostazʾafan) and advocate a progressive Islamic jurisprudence, distributive justice, and tighter state control of the private sector are called radicals, leftists, or followers of Imam Ruhollah Khomeini's line. Receptive to Western progressive ideas and more tolerant on cultural issues, the radicals are nevertheless highly suspicious of Western imperialism and Iran's dependency on the world capitalist system. The Bureau for Promotion of Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), major student unions, and the young Combatant Clerics (Ruhaniyun-e Mobarez) are among the radical organizations. In much of the 1980s the radicals dominated the regime. Third, those who advocate a pragmatic approach—the new middle-class professional and bureaucratic groups—and are concerned with peaceful coexistence in the modern world under a mixed economy are called pragmatists, centrists, or moderates. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has led the centrist camp since its inception in the late 1980s. In the fourth Majles (1992–1996) conservatives controlled more than two-thirds of the seats, pragmatists around one-fifth, and radicals about one-tenth.
In the mid 1990s a popular, reformist movement emerged when there was a major shift in the ideological orientation of the leftist faction from a radical to a relatively moderate and liberal interpretation of Islam. The roots of this ideological shift can be traced to a series of political developments since the revolution, including various failures of the revolutionary regime to fulfill its populist and egalitarian promises; a considerable erosion in the legitimacy of the ruling clerics; the successful (though largely silent) resistance by youth and women to the culturally restrictive policies of the Islamic Republic; the rise of a distinctly antifundamentalist, liberal-reformist interpretation of Islam by a number of Iranian theologians and religious intellectuals; and the precipitous decline in the popularity of revolutionary ideas in the 1990s.
The main Islamic opposition to the regime inside the country includes the liberal Iran Freedom Movement (Nahzat-e Azadi-ye Iran), established in the early 1960s under the leadership of Mehdi Bazargan, who was prime minister in the provisional revolutionary government of 1979. Also organized by Bazargan to fight against frequent violations of human rights in Iran was the Society for the Defense of Liberty and National Sovereignty of the Iranian Nation. Another organization active in Iran is the nationalist Nation of Iran Party (Hezb-e Mellat-e Iran). These groups have been outlawed and systematically suppressed by the government. Absence of opportunities for genuine political participation, imposition of a strict Islamic code of conduct, and, above all, shrinking opportunities for employment have led to increasing alienation of young intellectuals and students.
There are several opposition groups among the one million Iranian political and cultural exiles in Europe and the United States, including liberal nationalists such as the National Front, whose origin can be traced to the period of Mohammad Mossadegh, and a number of small groups that advocate the establishment of a secular, Western-style parliamentary system in Iran. Also active are monarchists seeking to resurrect Pahlavi rule through the former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi. A few small leftist groups conduct a propaganda campaign against the regime through newspapers and magazines. The most active, militant opposition force has been the People's Mojahedin of Iran (Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran). Between 1987 and 2003 it waged guerrilla operations and a military offensive against Iran from its camps across the border in Iraq.
History since 1800
Iran began the nineteenth century under the Qajar Dynasty (1796–1925) and the political and economic influence of Russia and Great Britain. Two wars with Russia were ended by the treaties of Golestan (1813) and Turkmanchai (1828), and Russia took over the area north of the Araks River. Following a futile attempt by Iran to reclaim Herat, its former territory in western Afghanistan, the British waged war in 1857 and forced Iran to give up all claims to British-controlled Afghanistan. To resist the European expansionist schemes, Crown Prince Abbas Mirza initiated a series of military reforms in the 1820s that were continued by more comprehensive reforms of the grand vizier Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir in the mid-nineteenth century. Mirza Hosayn Khan Sepahsalar continued the reforms of his predecessor in the early 1870s.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Russia and Britain increased their economic and political domination over Iran. European companies were granted trade concessions that often were disadvantageous to nascent Iranian industries and local merchants. Meanwhile, new ideas of political freedom were introduced by intellectuals and others who had come in contact with the West. The 1890 grant of a tobacco concession by Naser al-Din Shah to a British citizen provoked the local tobacco merchants and the ulama to instigate riots that eventually forced cancellation of the concession. Many intellectuals and popular religious leaders believed that by reforming the government they could improve the country's economic and social conditions and ensure its political independence. Antigovernment protests were led by a broad alliance of Islamic clergymen, intellectuals, and merchants. On 30 December 1906 the ailing monarch, Mozaffar alDin Qajar, finally yielded to demands for a constitution. In 1907 Great Britain and Russia divided Iran into two spheres of influence and a neutral zone. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Iran declared its neutrality; nevertheless, Britain and Russia occupied the country, spying on each other and engaging in hostilities on Iran's territory.
In February 1921 a pro-British journalist, Sayyed Ziya al-Din Tabatabaʾi, and Brigadier Reza Pahlavi staged a bloodless coup and took control of the government in Tehran. With the army as his power base, Reza became the country's monarch in 1925 and founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. After establishing the authority of the central government throughout the country in the 1920s, he tried to Westernize Iran's economic and social institutions in the 1930s. He replaced the traditional religious schools and courts with a secular system of education and a judicial system based on European legal patterns. He created a modern army and national police force and established a number of state-owned industrial enterprises and a modern transport system. The period of his rule (1925–1941), however, was marked by suppression of individual freedoms and political activities.
In August 1941 troops from the Soviet Union and Britain invaded Iran and forced Pahlavi to abdicate his throne to his son, Mohammad Reza. After the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Union refused to withdraw its forces from Iran. Through a combination of international pressure and internal maneuverings by Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam, Russia's forces finally left in late 1946, and the pro-Soviet autonomous government of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Kurdistan collapsed. For much of this period, the young shah and his cabinets were forced to conform to the will of the parliament, which was dominated by the old-guard politicians and propertied classes. Following an attempted assassination of the shah on 4 February 1949, the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party was outlawed. The Constitutional Assembly that convened on 21 April granted the shah the right to dissolve the Majles.
At the beginning of the 1950s the National Front, a loose coalition of liberal nationalists under the leadership of Mohammad Mossadegh, demanded greater control over the British-dominated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The oil industry was nationalized, and Mossadegh became prime minister in April 1951. The Soviet-backed Tudeh Party strongly opposed the nationalization and the Mossadegh government. In a struggle with the shah over control of the armed forces, Mossadegh resigned, and Ahmad Qavam was appointed premier on 18 July 1952. Three days later, riots broke out in Tehran and major cities; Qavam was forced to resign and Mossadegh was reinstated.
In August 1953 a coup conceived by the British MI6 and delivered by the U.S. CIA ousted Mossadegh; Fazlollah Zahedi became prime minister. The new regime ordered the arrest of supporters of the National Front and the Tudeh Party and placed severe restrictions on all forms of opposition to the government. Between 1953 and 1959 the shah's power gradually increased, and the government signed an agreement with a consortium of major Western oil companies in August 1954, joined the Baghdad Pact in October 1955, and with CIA assistance established an effective intelligence agency (SAVAK) in 1957.
In the early 1960s, under increasing pressure from the U.S. Kennedy administration, the shah appointed Ali Amini as prime minister and Hassan Arsanjani as minister of agriculture, and the government initiated a series of social and economic reforms later called the White Revolution. In January 1963 a national referendum supported six reform measures including land reform, women's suffrage, workers' sharing up to 20 percent of industrial profits, and the nationalization of the forests. Major urban uprisings protested the referendum and the government's arrest of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in June 1963. After cracking down on rioters, the shah emerged as an autocratic ruler. He allocated oil revenues among state agencies and projects, and he directly supervised the armed forces and security organizations, foreign policy and oil negotiations, nuclear power plants, and huge development projects. The latter half of the 1960s was marked by relative political stability and economic development, and Iran emerged as the regional power in the Persian Gulf after the withdrawal of British forces in 1971. Following border clashes between Iran and Iraq in the early 1970s, an agreement between the two nations was signed in Algeria in 1975. By the mid-1970s Iran had established close ties not only with the United States and Western Europe but also with the Communist Bloc countries, South Africa, and Israel.
Meanwhile, land reform and the rise of a modern bureaucracy eliminated the traditional foundation of the regime—the ulama, the bazaar merchants, and the landowning classes. They were replaced by entrepreneurs, young Western-educated bureaucratic elites, and new middle classes discontented with the shah and his policies. The entrepreneurial and bureaucratic elites were unhappy with their lack of political power, the intelligentsia resented violations of human rights, and the ulama and the bazaar merchants resented the Western lifestyles, promoted by the state's modernization policies, that contravened Islamic traditions. Under these circumstances, the nucleus of a revolutionary coalition was formed by leaders with ready access to the extensive human, financial, and spatial resources of the bazaar, the mosque, and the school-university networks. They saw an opportunity to challenge the shah after the victory of human-rights champion Jimmy Carter in the U.S. presidential race of November 1976.
In the summer of 1977 a series of open letters written by intellectuals, liberal figures, and professional groups demanded observance of human rights. An article published in the daily Ettelaʾat on 7 January 1978 attacked Khomeini, and violent clashes between religious opposition groups and security forces took place in Qom on 9 January. This conflict marked the beginning of a series of religious commemorations of the fortieth day of mourning (a Shiʿite rite) for those who had been martyred in various cities. In July and August, riots erupted in Mashhad, Isfahan, and Shiraz. September 1978 began with the first mass demonstrations against the shah's regime. Striking government employees brought the oil industry to a standstill on 31 October. Mass strikes continued through early November, when a military government was installed by the shah, and in December hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Tehran. In all, approximately 2,500 persons were killed in clashes between demonstrators and the security forces from January 1978 to February 1979. The shah left Iran for Egypt on 16 January 1979, and Khomeini returned to Tehran on 1 February. Four days later, he appointed Mehdi Bazargan prime minister of a provisional government. On 11 February the army's Supreme Council ordered the troops back to their barracks. Military installations were occupied by the people, and major army commanders were arrested.
The April 1979 national referendum sanctioned the declaration of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the December 1979 national referendum approved the constitution, and in January 1980 Abolhasan Bani Sadr was elected the republic's first president. He was impeached by the Majles for opposing the ruling clerical establishment and dismissed from office by Khomeini in June 1981. In July Mohammad Ali Rajaʾi was elected president; in August a bomb exploded in the prime minister's office, killing the new president and Mohammad Javad Bahonar, the new prime minister. In October Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenehi was elected the third president of the Islamic Republic, and the Majles endorsed the radical prime minister, Mir-Hosain Musavi.
On 4 November 1979 the U.S. embassy in Tehran was occupied by a group of militant students, and sixty-six Americans were taken hostage. The seizure was in response to alleged U.S. interference in Iran's internal affairs and to the U.S. decision in October to admit the shah for medical treatment. President Carter ordered the freezing of some $12 billion of Iran's assets in the United States on 14 November. After 444 days in captivity, the last of the hostages were released on 20 January 1981 as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated U.S. president. Five years later, in September 1986, it was reported that Iran had secretly received 508 U.S.-built missiles in a clandestine "arms-for-hostages" deal with the United States to intercede for the release of American hostages in Lebanon; this episode became known as the Iran–Contra Affair.
Frustrated by an imposed 1975 border agreement and heartened by Iran's military weakness after the 1979 revolution, Iraq invaded Iran on 22 September 1980. After rapidly occupying large areas of southwestern Iran and destroying the oil refinery at Abadan, Iraq's forces became bogged down in siege warfare. In an offensive in May 1982 Iran recaptured the strategic town of Khorramshahr, and its forces entered Iraq. Initiating the "war of the cities," Iraq's forces launched air attacks on Iran's cities in 1984. In May 1987 the United States began direct intervention in Persian Gulf affairs by escorting eleven Kuwaiti oil tankers under the U.S. flag. This action led to increased attacks against oil tankers and merchant ships. After a long pause, the war of the cities resumed in early 1988, when Iraq launched missile attacks against Tehran and other cities, and both Tehran and Baghdad came under fire from ground-to-ground missiles. On 3 July 1988 the U.S. warship Vincennes, stationed in the Strait of Hormuz near Bandar Abbas, shot down a civilian Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people aboard. On 18 July Iran accepted UN Security Council cease-fire Resolution 598. The eight-year Iran–Iraq War left about one million casualties and cost several hundred billion dollars in damages and military expenditures.
On 3 June 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini died, and the Assembly of Experts elected President Ali Khamenehi as the supreme spiritual guide of the Islamic Republic; the change of leadership marked the beginning of a major shift of power from the radical left to the conservative right. In July Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was elected president, and he was re-elected for a second term in 1993. Rafsanjani's policies for economic, sociocultural, and political reforms were obstructed by the radical faction of the left between 1989 and 1993, and then by the rising conservatives on the right. At this juncture, a new coalition was formed between the moderate, pragmatist group that followed Rafsanjani and the radical, leftist faction within the regime who were excluded from power by the conservative and fundamentalist forces.
Mohammad Khatami's 1997 presidential campaign platform emphasized the rule of law, building a civil society, a moderate foreign policy, and the protection of civil liberties guaranteed by the Islamic constitution. His victory was as much a manifestation of the voters' rejection of the extremist politics of the left in the 1980s and the right in the 1990s as it was an affirmation of Khatami's moderate, well-reasoned, and liberal campaign statements. His 1997 electoral triumph over Ali Akbar NateqNuri would not have been possible, furthermore, without the vast human and financial resources that were contributed to his campaign by members of the pragmatist camp of the incumbent president, Rafsanjani, as well as the many formerly radical elements within the regime. During much of Khatami's first presidential term (1997–2001), his supporters rallied behind the slogans of civil society and the rule of law, but they were besieged by the conservatives, who had gained effective control over key positions within the Islamic state. These included positions in the judiciary and the Council of Guardians, the armed forces and the militia, the intelligence services and vigilante groups working in tandem with them, the broadcast media, and the para-statal foundations. The latter, putatively philanthropic foundations that are not subject to the fiscal and regulatory agencies of the state, form a massive network of patronage and corruption and "an economy within the economy" that effectively controls as much as one-third of the country's domestic production.
Khatami's election victory in 1997 was followed by two other sweeping wins by reformist candidates in the municipal elections of 1999 and the Majles elections of 2000. In the 2000 election the reformists won some 200 of the 290 seats in parliament, thus giving the pro-Khatami candidates a decisive majority in the legislative body, but the conservatives, on the defensive against a formidable majority of the people, resorted to tactics of intimidation and vigilantism against their political rivals. Through their control of the judiciary they started a systematic crackdown of the press, intellectuals, and other outspoken critics of the regime.
In July 1999 Salam, a popular pro-reform newspaper, was closed by the order of the Press Court. Following peaceful demonstrations on the campus of Tehran University against the closure, militia forces entered the student dormitories and brutally attacked students, killing one of them in the assault, and injuring and arresting hundreds. The dormitory assault ignited a series of protests over the next several days that escalated into full-scale riots when the demonstrators were attacked by vigilante partisans of the Party of God (Ansar-e Hezbollah). In April 2000 the conservative-dominated judiciary continued the campaign of intimidation against the press. More than forty pro-reform newspapers and magazines were forcibly closed because of their alleged "denigration of Islam and the religious elements of the Islamic revolution." Over the next several months, journalists and editors were the primary targets of the conservatives' attacks against the print media. Iran's best-known investigative journalist and the editor of the newspaper Fath, Akbar Ganji, was sentenced to ten years in prison (later reduced to six years) for his writings that implicated several senior officials in the 1998 murders of five intellectuals and political activists. This and the imprisonment of another two dozen well-known journalists prompted the Paris-based Reporters sans Frontiers to dub Iran "the largest prison for journalists in the world."
In April 2000 several prominent Iranian intellectuals, journalists, publishers, and women's rights activists traveled to Berlin to attend an international conference on the future of reform in Iran. Upon their return to Iran many of the participants were brought to trial before the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on charges of conspiring to overthrow the Islamic Republic. In March 2001 the judiciary ordered the closure of the religious-nationalist Iran Freedom Movement (the only tolerated opposition group in the country since the revolution) on charges of attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic, arresting and detaining twenty-one of its leading members. Khatami's failure to implement his promised political reforms and the lack of any significant improvement in the economy during his first four-year term did not prevent him winning the June 2001 presidential election with 77 percent of the vote. In spite of two mandates for change that he has been given by an overwhelming majority of his countrymen, and even though pro-reform candidates are in control of the Majles as well, Khatami faces the same constitutional constraints and political obstacles from his conservative opponents that stymied his first presidential term.
The catastrophic attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 11 September 2001 brought a new phase in United States–Iran relations. Iranian authorities promptly condemned the terrorist attacks, and the mayor of Tehran sent a message of sympathy to the mayor of New York City. The Iranian people showed their sympathy by organizing gatherings in commemoration of the victims of 9/11. In response to the terrorist attacks, the U.S. government put together what it called a coalition against terrorism. As part of this approach, it lent aid to the Northern Alliance, the forces that Iran had supported from their formation in 1996 to fight against the Taliban regime and Osama bin Ladin's forces in Afghanistan. Following 9/11, Iranian and U.S. military advisors worked side by side with Afghan opposition forces to bring down the Taliban. After dismantling the Taliban network and creating a new regime in Afghanistan in Fall 2001, neoconservatives in the Bush administration supported regime change in a number of other countries. This policy unfolded on 29 January 2002 when in his State of the Union address President Bush labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "Axis of Evil." On 13 December 2002 the United States accused Iran of launching a secret nuclear weapons program and published satellite images of two sites under construction in the towns of Natanz and Arak. Iran denied any military purpose behind its nuclear activities and agreed to inspections by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but refrained from "full cooperation." Despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program—which included uranium-enrichment activities—was designed to meet its energy needs only, the IAEA gave Iran until 31 October 2003 to provide evidence that it was not trying to build nuclear weapons. Persuaded by the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, and Germany, Tehran agreed to "total transparency" over its nuclear activities, promising full cooperation with the UN's nuclear agency and agreeing to suspend uranium enrichment, while reserving the right to resume the process if it deemed necessary.
The 2003 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Iranian human-rights activist and ardent reformist Shirin Ebadi, boosting Iranian hopes for the rule of law, justice, and democracy. Yet, in spite of the appeal of liberal-democratic ideas of individual freedom, pluralism, and political tolerance, and the overwhelming endorsement of these ideas in four national elections, the reform movement has had but a limited influence on Iran's political conditions. The willingness of the conservative forces to heed the popular mandate for greater political and cultural freedoms, economic reform, and respect for law—and, above all, for an end to the use of violence—will determine whether a gradualist course of reform will succeed.
see also ahl-e haqq; ahvaz; azerbaijan; azerbaijan crisis; baghdad pact (1955); bahaʾi faith; baluchis; bani sadr, abolhasan; bazargan, mehdi; ebadi, shirin; ganji, akbar; hamadan; iran–contra affair; iranian languages; iranian revolution (1979); iran–iraq war (1980–1988); isfahan; kerman; khamenehi, ali; khatami, mohammad; khomeini, ruhollah; kurdistan; kurds; mashhad; mojahedin-e khalq; mossadegh, mohammad; mozaffar aldin qajar; musavi, mir-hosain; naser al-din shah; nateq-nuri, ali akbar; national front, iran; pahlavi, mohammad reza; pahlavi, reza; persian; qajar dynasty; qom; rafsanjani, ali akbar hashemi; shiʿism; shiraz; sistan and baluchistan; sunni islam; tabatabaʾi, ziya; tabriz; tehran; tobacco revolt; tudeh party; turkmanchai, treaty of (1828); united states of america and the middle east; velayat-e faqih; white revolution (1961–1963); zahedan.
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Amuzegar, Jahangir. Iran's Economy under the Islamic Republic. London: I. B. Tauris, 1993.
Ashraf, Ahmad. "Charisma, Theocracy, and Men of Power in Postrevolutionary Iran." In The Politics of Social Transformation in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, edited by Myron Weiner and Ali Banuazizi. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.
Ashraf, Ahmad. "From the White Revolution to the Islamic Revolution." In Iran after the Revolution: The Crisis of an Islamic State, edited by Sohrab Behdad and Said Rahnema. London: I. B. Tauris, 1995.
Ashraf, Ahmad, and Banuazizi, Ali. "Iran's Tortuous Path toward 'Islamic Liberalism.'" International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 15, no. 2 (Winter 2001): 237–256.
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Dabashi, Hamid. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. New York: New York University Press, 1993.
Hooglund, Eric, ed. Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution: Political and Social Transitions in Iran Since 1979. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.
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Moin, Baqer. Khomeini: The Life of the Ayatollah. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999.
Moslem, Mehdi. Factional Politics in Post-Khomeini Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.
Schirazi, Asghar. The Constitution of Iran: Politics and the State in the Islamic Republic. London: I. B. Tauris, 1997.
COPYRIGHT 2004 The Gale Group, Inc.
|Official Country Name:||Islamic Republic of Iran|
|Language(s):||Persian, Turkic, Kurdish, Luri, Balochi,Arabic, Turkish|
|Number of Primary Schools:||63,101|
|Compulsory Schooling:||5 years|
|Public Expenditure on Education:||4.0%|
|Foreign Students in National Universities:||622|
|Educational Enrollment:||Primary: 9,238,393|
|Educational Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 98%|
|Student-Teacher Ratio:||Primary: 31:1|
|Female Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 95%|
History & Background
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), a country located in the Middle East, covers an area of 1,648,00 square kilometers and is surrounded on the north by the former Soviet Union and the Caspian Sea, on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea, and on the west by Iraq and Turkey. The climate is arid and the terrain mountainous. Roughly 20 percent of its landmass is desert and infertile, 55 percent is natural pasture, and 8 percent is forest. Only the remaining 10 to 15 percent is arable.
The population as of July 2000 was estimated to be 65.6 million. More than half of the country's population (61 percent) is between 15 and 64 years old, and 34 percent is under 14 years of age, making Iran one of the youngest countries in the world. Recent figures show that this might be changing, however. The population's annual growth rate was estimated in 2000 at .83 percent, a significant decrease from the 3.6 percent that was estimated between 1976 and 1986—an economically disastrous burden believed to be caused by the absence of a family planning program during the height of the revolutionary period that overthrew the former ruler, the Shah of Iran.
Iran is commonly misperceived as an Arab country, but in truth, its Arab population comprises only 3 percent of its ethnic identity. The major ethnic groups are Persian (51 percent) and Azeri (24 percent). And, in fact, Arabic is only used in religious contexts and expressions, while Farsi (Persian) is spoken by 58 percent of the population. Other spoken languages include Turkic, Kurdish, Luri, Balochi, and Turkish. Of these, only Turkic is spoken by a significant portion of the population (26 percent). The official religion, in accordance with Article 12 of the Islamic constitution, is the Jafari Faith of the 12 Imams. About 99 percent of the population is Muslim, 89 percent of which belong to the Shi'a sect. Religious minorities in Iran include Christians, Jews, and followers of the ancient Persian faith, Zoroastrianism.
Iran is one of the Middle East's main reservoirs of oil, and in recent years numerous other industries have developed and expanded, but agriculture still employs roughly 33 percent of the workforce. Twenty-five percent of the population is involved in industry, while 42 percent work in other service positions. With a 1999 unemployment rate estimated at 25 percent, an inflation rate of 30 percent, and a real growth rate of 1 percent, the Iranian economy has suffered from continuous stagnation since the revolution. In 1996, approximately 53 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.
Historical Evolution: In 1979 the Islamic revolution ended Pahlavi rule and the ancient tradition of monarchical government from which it claimed authority. The Pahlavi's, a relatively short-lived dynasty in the history of Persian Civilization, seized power from the Qajars in 1925. That occurred 20 years after the Constitutional Revolution had limited their (the Qajars) authority and created in Iran a constitutional monarchy, recognizing the people as a source of legitimacy.
The tradition of absolute monarchical rule dates back to the sixth century B.C. and the Achaemenid Empire, a successful regime that made the subsequent Persian empire not only one of the most powerful of the ancient world, but also the most progressive. Its contributions to art, literature, science, and law make it one of the seedbeds of civilization. The Islamic foundations of Iranian government were not introduced until the Islamic conquest of the seventh century, which had a profound impact on Iranian culture in general by introducing a new language, social, and legal system. In the ninth century, the Islamic Empire broke up and Farsi again replaced Arabic as the spoken language in a reconstituted Iran; however, by that time, Islam had taken hold. The Safavid dynasty (1501-1732) made Shi'a Islam the state religion, institutionalizing its preeminence and creating a presence in Iranian government and education that would not be seriously challenged by its rulers for hundreds of years. Under the Qajar dynasty, though, the traditional Islam-based approach to education began to show its inadequacy, as Iranian intellectuals increasingly stressed the need for the inclusion of Western educational mechanisms and a national educational system; this was seen as a response to European power. However, very few intellectuals went so far as to advocate a separation of education from religion. In fact, a contributing factor to the demise of the Qajar dynasty was its perceived lack of religious authority. Another important factor was its weakness in the face of European power.
Despite European influence on the Qajar's by both Britain and Russia—at one point those two had divided Iran into spheres of influence—Iran was never colonized or fully controlled by any European authority and has traditionally maintained a fierce independence from western society. The westernization of education was seen as a means of empowering the country to fight western dominance—a paradox that plagued many reformists of the period. When the Constitutional Revolution took place in 1905, the intellectuals who inspired it focused on developing primary education and pushed through the Supplementary Constitutional Law of 1907. The law guaranteed the freedom of "acquisition . . . and instruction in all sciences, arts and crafts" and established The Ministry of Sciences and Arts to govern all educational institutions. In 1910 the Ministry of Education was established. This was the first real attempt to nationalize the educational system. The constitution also mandated the inclusion of Islamic studies in school curriculums and gave the Ministry of Education the power to exclude any textbook seen to be in conflict with the tenets of Islam.
The rise to power of Reza Shah Pahlavi reflected the failure of the constitutional experiment to live up to the challenges of western power, as was made painfully evident during World War I. The influence of the Pahlavi's on education was profound, for it was under their leader-ship that the basic educational structure and system was developed and westernized. As of 2000, the education structure in Iran continued to reflect the French system, which was selected as a model under Pahlavi rule: primary, secondary, and higher education, with degrees at the university level, including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. It was under the Pahlavis that the first university in Tehran was established as a coeducational institution in 1920, and after World War II other institutions of higher learning were established in Tabriz, Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, and Ahvaz.
The Ministry of Education was further empowered and was given the responsibility of regulating all public and private schools. There was also an increase in students studying abroad, as the Shah Reza sought to bring western advancements to his country. Most notably, the educational system was secularized, with the emphasis on training Iranian youth to succeed in modern occupations—especially science and administration. In the eyes of many Iranians, especially the clergy and leftist political groups, westernization became an increasing trend in the development of education as Pahlavi Rule passed to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. And in fact, the educational system was a high-profile example of how the regime supported modernization. Textbooks used at that time downplayed religious history and emphasized loyalty, modernity, and nationalism. Under the Pahlavi's, the vatan or mihan (motherland)—and a citizen's commitment to it—was the highest value, and the purpose of education was to train students to serve the needs of the motherland above any other authority, including religion.
The success of the Pahlavi regime in terms of education literacy and enrollment is difficult to judge because there are few reliable statistics available before 1940. It is known that although the Pahlavis were never able to fully realize a national educational system, they did make significant progress. In 1940, only 10 percent of all elementary-age children were enrolled in school, and less than 1 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 20 were in secondary school. By 1978, these statistics had improved dramatically, as 75 percent of all elementary-age children were enrolled in primary schools, and nearly 50 percent of all teenagers were attending secondary schools. It is also known that although the Mohammed Reza Shah made significant attempts at improving literacy, the illiteracy rate in 1976 was still 63 percent.
The rise to power of the Iranian ulama —religious scholars—was a manifestation of public dissatisfaction with the Shah's attempt to modernize and westernize a nation that did not have a strong industrial infrastructure and was culturally and spiritually dependent on its Islamic traditions. When economic crises caused by a fluctuating oil market made class and wealth distinctions intolerable, the absence of meaningful spiritual and cultural leadership became intolerable as well. What the Islamic theory of political and spiritual leadership, the velayet-i-faqih, offered was a strong leadership that, in theory, placed the leader of the republic in a position to interpret and administer the will of God. What it did not provide, in terms of education, was a resolution to the conflict between modernizing the education system so that Iran could compete with western nations, and maintaining an identity as an Islamic nation. The new regime also had to face many cultural and economic challenges that effected educational practice and principle, including a major war with Iraq, a high rate of illiteracy, and a population explosion.
Constitutional & Legal Foundations
In Article 3, the IRI constitution of 1979 establishes the goal of "free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education." Additionally, article 30 requires that the government "provide all citizen with free education up to secondary school," and "expand free higher education to the extent required by the country for attaining self-sufficiency." To ensure the expansion of literacy and enrollment in the public educational system, the Second Economic, Social, and Cultural Development plan (1995-99) made education not only free, but also compulsory, requiring school age children and illiterate adults under age 40 to attend education and literacy courses. The constitution does not touch on issues of educational practice other than to establish the importance of intellectual freedom and equality based on Islamic revolutionary principles. Because of the doctrine of velayet-I faqih, there is no separation between the Qur'an and the ideological and legal foundations of the educational system. Furthermore, interpretation of what Islamic revolutionary principle is comes from the religious leader, the Ayatullah. The aims of the educational system envisioned by the Ayatullah Khumayni were made apparent in 1980 when he called for the formation of a Council for Cultural Revolution, requiring that education be in keeping with Islamic culture and that educators be committed to the ideals of the revolution.
This effort began the Islamization of Iranian education. The first step was to stop the secularization of the system and to purge those academics that did not embrace revolutionary principle. Efforts to forcibly de-secularize the university system led to several violent clashes, the suspension of higher education for three years, the closing of 200 institutes of higher learning, and a radical decrease in enrollment for those institutions that re-opened in 1983. Enrollment at the University of Tehran, for example, dropped from 17,000 to 4,500 students, and the percentage of women's enrollment in institutions of higher learning plunged from 40 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in 1983. The emphasis on revolutionary commitment over expertise also led to a lowering of overall educational quality and a reduction in the emphasis placed on the necessity for sufficient skilled manpower needed to achieve economic goals.
Like the Pahlavi regime, the ulama saw the purpose of education as a means of supporting the ideology of the government. At the primary and secondary level "Islamization" and "Westoxification" mainly focused on changing textbooks to those that transmitted acceptable ideological beliefs and social behaviors. Particularly in the humanities, textbooks were purged of all ideas that were thought to promote western values and were rewritten to promote the concept of a New Islamic citizen in terms of political beliefs, cultural values, and role models.
A national literacy campaign was central to the government's plans for cultural Islamization, and one of Khumayni's first acts after the revolution was to establish the Literacy Movement of Iran. The regime also placed great emphasis on primary education and teacher training as a means of propagating revolutionary ideals. Especially in the early 1980s, a commitment to Islamic revolutionary principles was more important than competency at nearly all levels of instruction, especially within the Literary Movement Organization (LMO).
The precollege educational system in the Islamic Republic of Iran has not changed significantly since the rule of the Pahlavis and is modeled after the French system. It consists of one year of preprimary education at age 5, five years of primary education (from age 6 to 11), three years of lower secondary, or guidance, school (from age 11 to 14), and three years of secondary school (from age 14 to 17). Students who wish to enroll in a university have to take one year of pre-university training and pass the National Entrance Examination. Secondary vocational and technical education is also available. At all levels, the language of instruction is Farsi, except at the University of Shiraz, where English is used. In accordance with Article 30 of the IRI constitution, education through age 11 is both free and compulsory. The official length of the academic year for preprimary to lower secondary levels is 10 months, but the official starting date is subject to change. Traditionally it has run from September to June. Most universities operate on a similar time frame. The grading system through all levels of education is based on a 20-point scale, with an A being worth four points and an F worth zero points. To graduate, a C average in all courses is required.
Preprimary & Primary Education
Preprimary education is a one-year period in which five-year-old children are prepared for primary school. The main goals of preprimary education are:
- To contribute to the physical, mental, emotional, and social growth in young children based on religious and ethical principles
- To develop the abilities and talents of students in order to prepare them for future studies
- To promote the Persian language, particularly in the provinces, which have different native languages
- To prepare children for social relationships and cooperation
- To help families with low incomes by creating a safe educational atmosphere to train their young children
The curriculum at this level is standardized through use of two teaching manuals titled Content and Methods of Instruction in Pre-Primary Centers, Volumes I and II. These demonstrate appropriate behavioral and pedagogical techniques as well as a general curriculum focusing on basic life skills, natural sciences, hygiene, literacy, history, and religious history and practice.
Primary education in Iran is split into two types: elementary and lower secondary, or guidance, schools. The elementary level is a four-year program and includes religious training and the study of the Qur'an, Persian composition, dictation, Persian reading comprehension, social studies, arts, hygiene and natural science, mathematics, and physical education. Special emphasis at this level is given to reading comprehension. In grade one, half of the 24 allotted teaching hours are set aside for this discipline. The main objectives of primary education are:
- Creation of a favorable atmosphere for the purification and moral superiority of students
- Development of student's physical strength
- Enabling the students to read, write, and upgrade their calculating skills, and providing necessary training on proper social behavior
- Instruction for individual hygiene and providing necessary advice on how to behave at home as well as in society
All subject musts be passed in order for students to pass on to the guidance cycle. Textbooks are standardized and must be prepared and approved by the Ministry of Education. The dropout rate at the primary level from 1993 to 1994 was 1.9 percent. The repetition rates for the same year varied depending on grade level but were highest in grades one (9.5 percent) and five (8.7 percent). In the 1994-95 academic year, the transition rate from the primary to lower secondary level was 94.2 percent.
The lower secondary, or guidance, cycle (doreh-e rahnamaii ) is a three-year program in which the emphasis on instruction changes from teaching general knowledge to an effort at helping a student discover an area of specialization. The goals of the guidance cycle include:
- Developing a student's moral and intellectual abilities
- Increasing the student's experiences and general knowledge
- Helping students to continue the habits of discipline and scientific imagination that have been taught in elementary school
- Diagnosing individual preferences and talents in students so that they may be directed towards suitable studies and professions
At this level the subjects of history, geography, Arabic, vocational training, foreign languages, and defense preparation are added to the curriculum. Mathematics and natural sciences are given a larger portion of the 28 allotted teaching hours—four to five hours—although Persian language and literature remains the focus of instruction. In the area of religious training, religious minority groups are given their own special subjects. Students who successfully pass a regional examination conducted at the end of the cycle receive a Certificate of General Education/General Certificate of Guidance Education. No statistics on dropout rates were available for this level. In the 1993-94 school year, grade repetition levels ranged from 10 to 13 percent depending on year. For the 1994-95 school year, the transition rate from lower secondary or guidance school to upper secondary level was 98 percent.
Depending on their tested aptitudes and potential, at this point students may choose to pursue one of two possible courses of study: The theoretical branch, or the technical and vocational education (TVE) stream.
The theoretical branch is comprised of general academic disciplines such as mathematics, physics, empirical sciences, human sciences, and economics. Students in this curriculum must take 63 units of general study and an additional 36 units in one field of specialization. After completing this track, they take the national examinations and, if successful, are awarded the Diplom-Motevaseteh making them eligible for the pre-university course—a one year program designed to prepare them for university. Successfully completing pre-university study earns them the Pre-University Certificate and the right to take the Konkur, or National Entrance Examination. The vocational and technical branch (TVE), Kar-Denesh (knowledge-skill branch), and the integrated associate degree in the technical and vocational stream comprise the technical/vocational track of Iranian secondary education. The vocational and technical branch students take applied science courses designed to train them in the agricultural trades. Here they can earn a trade certificate. The Kar-Denesh track develops semiskilled and skilled workers, foremen, and supervisors who can earn second-degree skill certificates. The integrated associate degree is a five-year course following lower secondary education designed to develop highly skilled technicians. These students may also opt for the pre-university stream after three years in the program. In 1986, the Ministry of Education listed 30 fields of study in the TVE system and over 400 in the Kar-Denesh.
Teaching hours at this level range from 30 to 32 and curriculum varies significantly depending on the individual student's field of study or vocational path.
Types of—Public & Private: Until very recently, higher education in the IRI has been completely state-run and public, with only a small number of private institutions opening in the past few years. Iran has 46 universities, 60 postsecondary technical institutions, about 200 colleges/higher institutes/professional schools, and a number of teacher training colleges. While there are no exact numbers available for private institutions, there were at least four as of 1997. The most prominent of Iran's public universities include The University of Tehran, Tarbiat Modaress University, Shahid Beheshti University, Shiraz University, Tabriz University, and Isfahan University.
Admission Procedures: In order to apply for university admission a student must possess the Diplom-Motevaseteh, complete the pre-university course, and take the National Entrance Examination. The transition rate from upper secondary to postsecondary level (including private and public), was reported by IRI's Ministry of Education to be 40 percent in 1996. Those numbers are misleading however, because they combine vocational and theoretical tracks. In the traditional academic disciplines, the percentage of successful applicants to university is much lower—only 12 percent in 1991. High marks on the National Entrance Examination do not necessarily guarantee admission into a university, partially because of the limited number of spaces available to a highly educated and youthful population and partially because of preferential treatment given to soldiers and veterans. While there are no statistics available concerning the enrollment numbers for foreign students, they can be admitted providing they have a visa and hold a Secondary School Leaving Certificate with a minimum average of 62.5 percent for studies leading to a bachelor's degree.
Administration: The administration of higher education is connected by law and policy to the Iranian government by the concept of velayet-i-faqih, but the tight control over educational administration is a reflection of the power that student movements have traditionally had in Iranian politics. To a large degree, the revolution itself was a student movement, and, especially in the 1990s, unrest and protest against restrictive government policies were centered on university campuses. So the strong connection between the university system and the government has been a political necessity. Any decisions made at the institutional level must be approved by either The Ministry of Culture and Higher Education and its Supreme Council on Higher Education Planning or the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, depending on the nature of the institution. Decisions regarding the policies of higher education are made by these organizations under the approval of the Islamic Parliament, the Cabinet, and the Higher Council of Cultural Revolution. University administration is undertaken by the Board of Trustees, affirmed and appointed by the Higher Council of Cultural Revolution. By law, these trustees set university budgets, research finances, and teaching salaries, subject to the approval of the council. They are also responsible for supervision of the effective administration of educational research, cultural affairs, student, official, financial, construction, and discipline affairs, scientific services, all national and international relationships of the university or institution, and the coordinating and leading of different units and departments.
The Educational Council forms the second institutional level of university administration. This council is made up of members of the administrative body and the deans of faculties, junior colleges, and research departments, as well as faculty teachers who are members of each institution's specialty council. Some of the duties of this council include the study and approval of short-term educational and research projects and new educational courses or fields.
Tuition & Academic Year: In 1998 tuition expenses for students at the university level varied from 0 to 450,000 Iranian rials, depending on the level of aid. The academic year runs roughly from September to June.
Programs & Degrees: Much as in the West, university level studies in Iran are divided into three stages, associate's degree (Kardani ) or bachelor's degree (Karshenasi ), masters degree (Karshenasi-arshad ), and doctorate. At the undergraduate level, however, there are differences, depending on whether or not the student desires to continue on to the graduate level. A student desiring an associate's degree must complete two years of study (67 to 72 credit units). Associate-level curricula include traditional academic disciplines such as medicine, technical engineering, and agriculture. To receive a noncontinuous bachelor's degree a student must then complete another two years of study (65 to 70 credit units). And if he or she wishes to continue to the graduate level, that student must complete at least 140 credit units and pass another competitive entrance examination. A master's degree in arts and science requires two more years of study and another 28 to 32 credits (depending on the program), including the submission of a thesis and a passing grade on a comprehensive examination. A master's degree in architecture is more rigorous, requiring six-and-a-half years of study (a total of 172 to 182 units).
At the doctoral level, specialized degrees (or professional doctorates) are offered in the areas of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. These programs require six years of full-time study (210-290 semester credits). For the medical degree, a student must complete seven semesters of study (121 units), a nine-month externship (95 units), an 18-month internship (68 units), and a doctoral thesis (6 units) for a total of 290 units. After completing this program, a student may then enroll in a residency program in different fields (three to five years beyond the doctorate). In order to pursue a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., prospective applicants must hold a master's degree or a professional doctorate degree and pass an entrance test set by the individual university, as well as an interview with that university. They must also submit at least two recommendations from former professors. There is no age limitation, except in cases of scholarship (33 years). The Ph.D. must be completed in four-and-a-half years and requires 42 to 50 units. After completing 30 semester units, students must pass a comprehensive examination before continuing to the second phase of the program, in which they must successfully complete a dissertation and defend it in front of a dissertation committee.
Outside of the university system, there are abundant opportunities for postsecondary education, especially in vocational and technical fields. In fact technical and vocational institutions greatly outnumber universities. Technical institutions offer programs leading to the Fogh Diplom, or First-Class Technicians Certificate. Such programs are open to graduates of four-year technical and general secondary schools.
Study Abroad: Since 1979 the pursuit of education in foreign countries was nearly eliminated by the Islamic regime as an effect of Islamization and Westoxification policies. The year before the revolution, there were 13,107 students sent abroad for study. Between the years of 1983 and 1988, that number was only 1,395. In the 1990s restrictions were eased and the number rose to around 3,000. The United States has the highest concetration of Iranian students studying abroad. Other countries of educational preference include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. Due to fears of western influence, the government made it very difficult for many students studying abroad to return to Iran upon graduation from foreign universities. This too began to change in the 1990s, and the easing of that policy is another reflection of the more pragmatic goals of the IRI in handling crippling economic problems, such as manpower shortage and "brain-drain"—the emigration of intellectuals and highly skilled technicians from Iran that has occurred since the revolution.
Administration, Finance, & Educational Research
Governmental Educational Agencies: Important governmental institutions and agencies related to education in Iran include the Ministry of Education; the Higher Council of Education; the Ministry of Higher Education; the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education the Literary Movement Organization; the National Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; the Institute for Research and Planning in Higher Education; the Exceptional Education Organization; and the Technical and Vocational Training Organization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Ministry of Education: Iran's educational system and its administration is highly centralized under the Ministry of Education, which in turn is responsible to the Islamic Parliament, the Cabinet, and the Higher Council of Cultural Revolution. In essence this organization is responsible for all educational policies relating to primary and secondary education and the setting and implementation of objectives relating to them, from forming the makeup of its Higher Council of Education to the development, printing, and distribution of textbooks. Other significant duties include procurement of facilities; the creation and supervision of vocational, academic, and physical education programs; the supervision of teacher training; insurance of the freedom and access to education for all citizens; the financial and educational support of the children and families of both martyrs and war dead; the coordination of defense training within the schools; the support and development of special education; development of the arts; student recruitment; support for the Literary Movement Organization; and cooperation with all other significant educational offices. All provincial and regional offices report to the ministry.
Educational Budget: In 1996 the budget for the Ministry of Education was 6.1 billion rials, or 3.8 percent of the gross national budget. These funds are divided among administrative, research, training, and procurement, with each level of education allotted specific funds. By far the greatest expenditures in the 1995-96 academic year were for primary education (1.6 million rials) and upper secondary education (.93 million rials). The expenditure for higher education and research is budgeted separately to the Ministry of Higher Education and was 1.6 million rials for the same academic year. These figures reveal the emphasis placed on primary education in the IRI.
Educational Research: Fields of educational research taken on by the Ministry of Education are divided into three areas of study—educational, psychological and social, and economic. Educational research relates to problems concerning objectives, curricula, methodologies, manpower training, organizational inadequacies, and policies for management and evaluation. Research on psychological and social issues relating to children, juveniles, and youth concerns personality development, social participation, and problems related to leisure time. Economic research studies the appropriate allocation of funding and its relation to the achievement of educational objectives.
Nonformal education is conducted in the IRI through the Literacy Movement Organization, adult education classes, TVE programs, and distance education.
Literary Movement Organization: Established in 1984, the Literary Movement Organization (LMO) was created to encounter the disastrously high rate of national illiteracy inherited from the Pahlavi regime. Its main functions include the provision of adult education and education for children outside of the educational system, training instructors and qualified Muslim teachers committed to the principles of velayat-I faqih and to the Iranian constitution, preparing and adopting textbooks in keeping with the Islamic faith, promoting cultural awareness and revolutionary commitment, and attracting citizens to literacy classes.
Existing statistical reports show that the LMO covered almost 2.8 million people in the 1994-95 academic year. Of that number 78.9 percent were women and 21.1 percent men, while 53.7 percent were rural and 42.7 percent urban. Because of almost universal enrollment at the primary school level, 89 percent of the learners were adults with the average age of 29 years.
Literacy education is split into two cycles, introductory and complementary. Curriculum for the first cycle includes reading, writing, dictation, and arithmetic. The second cycle, or final course, includes study of the Qu'ran, Islamic culture, composition, mathematics, experimental science, social science, dictation, and Persian language.
Adult Education: What is termed adult education by the IRI is really supplementary evening courses provided for those who were not able to finish their studies during prior periods. The youngest age of a learner in the "adult" education program is 18 years of age. In reality adult education in Iran is handled by the Literacy Movement Organization.
Technical-Vocational Programs: The Technical and Vocational Training Organization (TVTO) of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is designed to prepare learners for the job market through instruction in necessary job skills. Training for the nonformal TVE is separated into three contexts: industrial, agricultural, and administrative and hygiene.
Distance Learning: Nonformal studies are offered as distance education at Payam-E-Noor University for holders of the Diplom-Motevaseteh. Courses last between five and eight years in fields such as education, mathematics, chemistry, and Persian literature. An associate's degree and bachelor's degree are awarded.
In the 1994-95 academic year, there were more than 500,000 teachers in the preprimary to upper secondary level. In accordance with "The Act of Coordinated Payment to State Employees," these professionals have salaries equivalent to those of regular public workers. The Ministry of Education places a high priority on teacher training, stating that "teachers have always played a significant role in education. So, the training of teachers should be of major concern in the changing of world future society."
Primary School & Lower Secondary Teacher Training: Primary school and lower secondary, or guidance, schoolteachers are trained in two years in teacher training centers (Daneshsari-rahnamai ), where they obtain an associate's degree. In the technical/vocational sections, they are selected from graduates of technical and vocational schools.
Secondary School Teacher Training: Secondary school teachers must pass the National Entrance Examination, ask for a scholarship, and follow a four-year course leading to a bachelor's degree. Upper secondary school teachers are trained at Tarbiat Moallam University and the University for Teacher Education, both in Tehran.
Higher Education Teacher Training: Tarbiat Modares University has been established to train faculty members and researchers in different scientific fields.
General Assessment: The educational system in Iran continues a process of philosophical transition that began with the revolution in 1979. Since the inception of Islamization, the government attempted to balance between the desire for cultural and spiritual independence from the West, and the desire to succeed as a modern nation in competition with the West. In the 1990s, economic demands and labor force necessities created some changes in the attitudes and goals of the fundamentalist administration. Both Rafsanjani and Khatami began to stress the need for expertise in the workforce, cultural awareness of western ideas, and a revitalized concept of modern Islam. This change was most evident in their attitudes toward women. While women were still encouraged to serve traditional roles in the family and subject to severe restrictions concerning dress and movement, they were also encouraged to pursue education and limited professional development.
In 1998 the freshman class in Iranian universities had more women than men. Between 1987 and 1994, the ratio of female students to total students for the educational system as a whole rose from 38 percent to 45.8 percent. Women's literacy has also shown significant improvement, rising from 25.5 percent in 1976 to 72.4 percent in 1996—largely due to the concentration on women's education in the LMO. The role of women in education in a key indicator of the tenuous balance the regime has attempted to strike between the maintenance of fundamentalist values and the pursuit of knowledge—both ideals inherent to the Shi'a faith. Other indications of liberalization in the educational system included a slight opening of opportunities for students to study abroad and the reinstitution of a private school system. By the year 2000, enrollment in private schools rose from 1 percent to 5 percent.
The most impressive achievement of the Islamic Regime in terms of objective data has been its Literacy Movement Organization. Though estimates vary, literacy in Iran rose from roughly 45 percent before the revolution to roughly 80 percent by 1996. Between the ages of 10 and 24, that percentage rises to roughly 93 percent. Considering the youthfulness of the population, this statistic holds great promise for the future. The success of the LMO has received international acclaim, and in 1998 The Corresponding Services Project of the Literacy Movement was awarded the Malcolm Adiseshiah Literacy Prize for innovative postliteracy and continuing adult education initiatives.
The regime has also made improvements in overall enrollment since the revolution. In 1991 the number of students enrolled in primary education was 9.1 million, and by 1996, enrollment at primary schools was almost universal. Enrollment at secondary schools and upper secondary schools had risen from prerevolutionary figures of 62 percent and 27 percent to 99 percent and 50 percent. Also, despite the initial effects of the revolution in driving down university enrollment, the number of students in postsecondary education from 1978 to 1995 rose from 175,000 to 1.2 million—though that figure decreases to roughly 600,000 for exclusively academic disciplines. Still, the education system of the IRI has significant challenges resulting in part from the split goal of education as a both a search for knowledge and as a device for the propagation of fundamental beliefs. An emphasis on tradition and commitment may encourage cultural stability, but it can also be a major inhibitor to innovation and development. Teaching techniques in Iran, for example, have remained somewhat stagnant, and too often the most highly qualified teachers are passed over for the more highly committed. This reality, coupled with the lack of employment opportunities for many educated Iranians, has resulted in a restive youth population and the emigration of some of the best minds in the country. One of the problems with women's education in Iran, for example, is that while the educational opportunities for women have increased, their opportunities to work outside the home remain limited. The Ministry of Education also admits to a teaching shortage, particularly in secondary education, caused by a lack of interest in the profession.
The future of education in Iran is difficult to assess because the country continues to undergo cultural change, although the Ministry's stated commitment to decentralization is promising. With the election of reform-minded President Hojjatoleslam Seyed Mohammad Khatami in 1997, there could be further philosophical and even institutional changes forthcoming.
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The Development of Education: National Report of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Tehran: Ministry of Education, 1996.
International Association of Universities, International Universities Bureau, UNESCO. Higher Education Systems (1998-1999). 18 February 2001. Available from http://www.unesco.org/.
International Guide to Qualifications in Education. 4th ed. London and New York: Mansell, 1996.
Library of Congress. Country Studies: Area Handbook Series. 18 February 2001. Available from http://www.lcweb2.loc.gov.
Mehran, Golnar. "Lifelong Learning: New Opportunities for Women in a Muslim Country (Iran)." Comparative Education 35(2) (1999): 201-215.
Salehi-Isfahani, Djavad. "Demographic Factors in Iran's Economic Development." Social Research 67(2) (2000): 599-620.
Sedgwick, Robert. "Education in Post-Revolutionary Iran." World Education News and Reviews 13(3) (2000).
Statistical Centre of Iran. 18 February 2001. Available from http://www.sci.iranet.net/.
Vakily, Abdollah. "An Overview of the Education System in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Muslim Education Quarterly 14(2) (1997): 37-56.
World Guide to Higher Education : A Comparative Survey of Systems, Degrees and Qualifications. 3rd ed. Paris: Unesco, 1996.
—Joel Peckham, Jr.
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Gale Group Inc.
Islamic Republic of Iran
Tehrān, Esfahān, Shirāz
Ābādān, Bakhtaran, Bandar Abbas, Hamadān, Kerman, Mashhad, Qom, Tabriz, Yazd, Zāhedān
The Middle Eastern nation of IRAN is located at a strategic crossroads between the Western and Eastern worlds. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has isolated itself from most of the world in an attempt to protect itself from non-Muslim values and influences. The country's support of international terrorism and its desire to export the Islamic Revolution to its more moderate Middle Eastern neighbors has made Iran an international outcast. Since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, in 1989, Iran has made tentative attempts to establish new ties with the West. Years of isolation and a devastating war with Iraq during the 1980s decimated Iran's economy. The moderate, pragmatic government of Ali Hashemic Rafsanjani recognized the need for Western technology and financial assistance to rebuild the economy, but it had to move cautiously in order not to offend Iran's powerful Islamic clergy. In 1997, a moderate candidate, Mohammed Khatami, was elected president. Since Iran's constitution limits the president's powers, the election did not change Iran's foreign policy.
Tehrān, the capital of Iran, is located at the foot of the Elburz Mountains (Reshteh-ye Alborz). The city, whose origins date back to the fourth century A.D., has served as Iran's capital since 1788 and has developed over the years into a modern transportation, cultural, and industrial center. Tehrān is linked by road with other major Iranian cities and is accessible by air to cities in Asia, Europe, and the Persian Gulf region. The city is home to many of Iran's major educational institutions, including the University of Tehrān, the Arya Mehr University of Technology, and the National University of Iran. Tehrān is a primary industrial center. Industries in Tehrān produce a wide variety of products, including automobiles, cement, textiles, pharmaceuticals, sugar, electrical equipment, and pottery. Rapid industrialization during the late 20th century has led to a dramatic increase in air pollution. Tehrān enjoys a favorable climate, with cool winters and warm summers. In 1995, Tehrān had an estimated population of 6.8 million.
Recreation and Entertainment
Western-style entertainment, such as movies or nightclubs, are virtually nonexistent in Tehrān. However, the city has many museums and mosques that are of interest to visitors. The Ethnological Museum offers visitors an informative look at Iranian life during the 19th and early 20th century. The museum contains excellent displays featuring articles used by average Iranian villagers, including jewelry and amulets, household dishes, and tools. The Ethnological Museum also offers a display of a 19th century Iranian village, with mannequins adorned in native dress.
For those interested in history, Tehrān's Archeological Museum contains art, sculpture, and artifacts from every century and dynasty in Iranian history. Among the exquisite articles in the museum are porcelain vases and bowls, armaments, bone tools, bronze and brass jewelry and perfume-burners, and beautiful rugs.
One of Tehrān's most interesting mosques is the Sepahsalar Mosque. This mosque has eight minarets which offer excellent views of Tehrān. The interior of Sepahsalar Mosque is adorned with beautiful tile work and contains a large library filled with many ancient manuscripts.
Tehrān has over 19 parks, gardens, and squares which offer visitors a welcome respite from the hectic pace of the city. Tehrān's parks and gardens are often filled with Iranians playing badminton and soccer, or picnicking with family members.
Although some hotels and restaurants were closed or destroyed during the Islamic Revolution, several remain which serve Western cuisine. Many Iranian dishes are also quite good and are reasonably priced. The main staple of Iranian dishes is rice, although vegetables, yogurt, meat, cheese, and bread are also used.
The streets of Tehrān have many shops which offer many items of interest to tourists. Persian carpets, which are among the finest in the world, are popular souvenirs.
The city of Esfahān (also spelled Isfahan) is located in west central Iran approximately 210 miles (340 kilometers) south of Tehrān. From the 16th to 18th century, Esfahān served as the capital of Iran. Today Esfahān is one of Iran's largest and most important cities. The city has developed into a major industrial center for textiles, rugs, and tiles. Most heavy industry in Esfahān is centered around petroleum refining and steel making. During the spring and summer, the city receives cool breezes from the north which help to moderate temperatures. Esfahān had a population of 2.6 million in 2000.
Recreation and Entertainment
Esfahān is one of Iran's most beautiful cities and offers many sight-seeing opportunities. The city has many mosques, mausoleums, and minarets that are open to visitors.
Esfahān's largest mosque is the Friday Mosque (Masjid-i-Jami). Begun in the 11th century, construction of the Friday Mosque continued for several centuries. Because the mosque was constructed over several centuries, it offers visitors a glimpse of architectural styles from various centuries of Persian culture. The Friday Mosque is considered one of Iran's most beautiful structures. Located about 500 yards from the Friday Mosque is the Ali Mosque (Masjid-i-Ali). The Ali Mosque has a facade that is covered with exquisite decorations. A notable feature of the Ali Mosque is a group of arches topped with a cupola. The cupola is inscribed with a poem honoring one of Iran's Shahs as well as 13 verses from the Koran. The Shaikh-Lutfallah Mosque, with its intricately patterned dome and gorgeous mosaics, is another beautiful example of Persian architecture.
The city has several mausoleums which are of interest to visitors. The Mausoleum of Darb-i-Imam has a large cupola covered with beautiful mosaics. The mausoleum is easily recognizable by a stone lion with a human face which resides in a courtyard in front of the mausoleum. The Mausoleum of Baba Qasem was completed in 1340 as the final resting place of a theologian from the Sunni Sect of Islam. In 1928, Baba Qasem's body was removed from the tomb because he was considered a heretic by Iran's Shi'ite majority. The mausoleum is a beautiful structure and is adorned with white mosaic tiles on a blue background. The Mausoleum of Baba Rokn-ed-din is another popular site for sightseers. This mausoleum was constructed in 1629 and presented as a gift to the citizens of Esfahān by Shah Abbas. The Mausoleum of Babau Rokn-ed-din is noteworthy because of its unusual pentagonal shape.
Esfahān's beautiful minarets (prayer towers) are also worth a visit. The Sareban Minaret is one of the most attractive minarets in Esfahān. It is 144 feet high and divided into three sections, with each section beautifully decorated with inscriptions, brickwork, or stalactites. North of the Sareban Minaret is the Minaret of the 40 Daughters. This minaret is a brick structure adorned with intricate geometric patterns. The Minaret of the 40 Daughters is somewhat smaller than the Sareban Minaret.
In addition to sight-seeing, Esfahān offers wonderful shopping opportunities. The city's bazaar allows visitors to watch carpet weavers, silversmiths, and coppersmiths practicing their crafts. The silver, brass, and copper jewelry, handprinted cloth, pottery, and Persian rugs sold at the bazaar make excellent souvenirs.
Many visitors also enjoy strolling through the city's spacious central square, with its lovely trees and manicured gardens.
Shirāz, located in south central Iran, is an industrial and commercial center. Several manufacturing industries are located in Shirāz. These industries produce textiles, fertilizers, sugar, and cement. The city is famous for its wine and Persian rugs. Shirāz is considered Iran's literary capital and is the birthplace of Sa'di and Hafez, two of the country's greatest poets. The city has a favorable climate, with mild winters and pleasant temperatures from March to October. In 2000, Shirāz had a population of approximately 1,113,000.
Recreation and Entertainment
Like many other Iranian cities, Shirāz is quite old. As a result, there are many historic mosques and mausoleums that are worth a visit. One of the oldest mosques in Shirāz is the Old Friday Mosque (Masjid-e-Jame). This mosque was begun in 894 A.D. but was added onto throughout the centuries. Beautiful mosaics adorn the structure. One of the unique aspects of the Old Friday Mosque is the miniature temple which graces the mosque's courtyard. This temple, known as the Khoda Khanen (The Lord's House), was constructed in the 14th century and contains a copy of the Koran. No other mosque in Iran has a temple of this kind. Another mosque, the New Friday Mosque, is the largest in Iran with an area of 215,000 square feet. Constructed in the 13th century, it is easily recognizable by its gilded cupola.
The mausoleums of the Persian poets Hafez and Sa'di are located in Shirāz and are open to visitors. The Hafez Mausoleum is situated in a lovely garden filled with orange trees and cypresses. The tomb of Hafez is covered with rosettes and verses from his poems. Another collection of Hafez's poems is inscribed on an alabaster tablet located near the tomb. The Sa'di Mausoleum, with its turquoise dome and high portico, is a beautiful structure. An artificial pond near the tomb offers a spot for peaceful contemplation. Another mausoleum, the Mausoleum of Shah Cheragh, is a pilgrimage center for Shi'ites. Therefore, it is not open to non-Muslim visitors. The mausoleum has many beautiful mirrors and has a distinctive pear-shaped dome.
Shirāz has many bazaars which offer wonderful shopping opportunities. Souvenir hunters can purchase authentic Persian carpets, tablecloths, gold and silver jewelry, glass and ceramic wear, and wood carvings.
ÃBÃDÃN is situated in extreme southwestern Iran near the border with Iraq. Founded in the eighth century, Ābādān's location near the Persian Gulf led to its development as a trading center. The discovery of oil near Ābādān in the early 20th century brought new wealth to the city. Oil refineries, pipelines, and port facilities were quickly constructed. Ābādān was attacked by Iraq in 1980 during the early stages of the Iran-Iraq War. The city was bombed repeatedly throughout the conflict. Most of the city, particularly its oil refineries and port facilities were destroyed. Some of the facilities have been repaired and oil refining has resumed, although at vastly reduced levels. Current population figures are unavailable.
The city of BAKHTARAN , located in western Iran, is nestled in the midst of a fertile agricultural region. Formerly known as Kermanshah, the city has served as a trading center for the barley, corn, wheat, oilseeds, rice, and vegetables grown nearby. Bakhtaran is home to several industries, which produce sugar, textiles, carpets, tools, and electrical equipment. Bakhtaran has a population over 540,000.
BANDAR ABBAS is located on the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf. The city is an important port for Iranian exports such as petroleum and agricultural products. The climate in Bandar Abbas is extremely hot and humid during the summer, but cooler in winter. The city has an estimated population over 210,000.
Situated at the foot of Mount Alvand in west-central Iran, HAMADĀN is an important trading center for fruits and grains grown near the city. The city is famous for its production of Persian rugs and leather goods. Hamadān is an ancient city and some vestiges of its historical past remain, including the mausoleum of Esther and Mordecai and a stone lion constructed during the reign of Alexander the Great. Avicenna, an Arab philosopher, was born and buried in Hamadān. The city has an estimated population over 272,000.
KERMĀN is located on a sandy plain in southeastern Iran. Founded in the second century, the city is an industrial center noted for the production and distribution of beautiful carpets. Other industries in Kermān produce textiles and cement. The city has several mosques that are of interest to visitors. Kermān's climate is generally cool and it is not unusual for the city to experience sandstorms during the spring and autumn. Current population figures are unavailable.
The city of MASHHAD (also spelled Meshed) is the site of two important Muslim shrines, the Shrine of Imam Ali ar Rida and the Shrine of Caliph Harun ar Rashid, which are visited by nearly four million pilgrims annually. Mashhad is situated on an ancient trading route between Iran and the silk markets of China. Today, the city is northeastern Iran's largest export center for carpets and agricultural products. The city has attractive parks, courtyards, avenues, mosques, and libraries which are of interest to visitors. In 2000, Mashhad had a population of approximately 2,378,000.
Located only 92 miles (147 kilometers) south of Tehrān is the holy city of QOM. Qom, with its numerous shrines and tombs of Islamic saints, is the destination of many Shi'ite pilgrimages. The most notable shrine in Qom is the Shrine of Fatimah, which was erected in honor of the sister of an Islamic leader. The city is home to the largest theological college in Iran. Qom has also developed into an industrial center for the production of textiles, cement, pottery, brick, and petro-chemicals. A large oil refinery is also located near the city. Qom is situated in a rich agricultural region and is a distribution center for the cotton, wheat, fruits, barley, and vegetables grown near the city. The city is linked by road and railway with Tehrān and other Iranian cities. Qom has a population of approximately 650,000.
TABRIZ is located in extreme northwestern Iran near the country's border with Russia. With a population of approximately 1,624,000 (2000 est.), Tabriz is Iran's fourth largest city. The city has a well-developed industrial sector. Industries in Tabriz produce a wide variety of products, including agricultural machinery, textiles, carpets, motorcycles, dried fruits and nuts, soap, and leather goods. Rail, air, and bus transportation connects Tabriz with Tehrān. Tabriz is a modern city with beautiful tree-lined avenues and lush public gardens. The city has several mosques, most notably the blue-tiled Blue Mosque. Tabriz is prone to severe earthquakes and has received damaging shocks over the centuries. In February 1997 a devastating earthquake rocked northwest Iran, killing over 500 and leaving more than 35,000 homeless.
The city of YAZD is located in Iran's arid central region. Yazd, founded in the fifth century A.D., is an ancient city and has many mosques and mausoleums that are of interest to visitors. One mosque in particular, the Friday Mosque (Masjed-e Jom'eh), has the tallest minarets of any mosque in Iran. Many of Yazd's mosques are beautifully decorated with intricate designs and inscriptions. The city is located in the heart of a fertile agricultural area which produces fruit, barley, wheat, almonds, and cotton. Yazd is most noted for its silk weaving and carpet manufacturing. The area surrounding Yazd is rich in minerals, which has led to the development of a substantial mining industry. Yazd is a transportation hub and is connected by road and rail with Tehrān and other major Iranian cities. Yazd has a population of over 223,000.
ZĀHEDĀN , a city of approximately 220,000 residents, is situated in southeastern Iran. The city serves as a point of departure for trips to many of the smaller towns in the region. Industrial capacity in Zāhedān is rudimentary, at best. Factories in the city produce mostly bricks, ceramics, processed food, or local handicrafts. Current population figures are unavailable.
Geography and Climate
The Islamic Republic of Iran is located in the highlands of southwestern Asia. It comprises an area of approximately 636,293 square miles, slightly larger than Alaska. Iran is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea, on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the west by Iraq and Turkey, and on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The topography of Iran consists mainly of desert and mountains. The central, eastern, and southern parts of the country contain great salt flats (kavir ) and desert. These areas are virtually uninhabitable. Most of Iran's population lives in the northern and northwestern areas of Iran. Two mountain chains dominate the landscape. The Zagros Mountains originate in northwestern Iran, extend southward to the Persian Gulf coast, and skirt eastward along the Gulf of Oman. The second range, the Elburz Range, extends along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea.
Most of Iran exhibits a desert climate, although areas along the Caspian seacoast are more temperate. Summers are usually long, hot and dry. High humidity is prevalent along the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf coasts. Spring and fall are usually of short duration. Winter, especially in mountainous northern regions, is harsh with extremely cold temperatures.
Iran suffers from chronic water shortages. Eastern and southern portions of Iran receive negligible precipitation. Northern and western parts of the country receive annual rainfall of only eight to ten inches.
As of 2000, Iran had an estimated population of 65,870,000. A number of ethnic groups are represented in Iran. The majority of Iranians are Persians (51 percent). Approximately 25 percent are Azerbaijani. Small minorities of Arabs and Kurds also reside in Iran. Iran's official language is Farsi, spoken by 58 percent of the population. About 26 percent speak Turkic languages, especially people in northwestern and northeastern parts of the country. Kurdish and Luri are spoken in western parts of Iran and Baluchi in the southeast. Arabic, English and French are also spoken.
Approximately 89 percent of the population are Shi'ite Muslims. Another 10 percent belong to the Sunni Muslim sect of Islam. Small non-Muslim minorities exist in Iran. These include Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Baha'is.
Life expectancy at birth 68 years for males and 71 years for females (2001 est.).
Iran, known as Persia until 1935, has a history that dates back to the pre-Christian era. In 549 B.C., Cyrus the Great united Persians and Medes into one Persian empire. Under Cyrus, the Persians created a wealthy and powerful empire. They conquered Babylonia in 538 B.C. and established a dominant position in the Middle East. However, in 333 B.C., the Persian Empire was attacked and conquered by Alexander the Great. The Persians regained their independence under the Sassanians in 226 A.D.
For several centuries, Persia was invaded and occupied by numerous foreign powers. In the seventh century A.D., the Arabs conquered Persia, bringing with them their Muslim faith. Turks and Mongols overran and occupied Persia at various intervals between the 11th and 16th centuries. In 1502, a group known as the Safavids established control of Persia. Under the leadership of Shah Abbas, Persia enjoyed an era of unparalleled peace and prosperity. In 1795, the Safavids were succeeded by the Qajars. The Qajars ruled Persia until 1925.
The early 20th century in Persia was marked by a series of uprisings against the Qajar Dynasty. In 1906, Shah Muzaffer-ud-Din granted the first constitution in Persian history. This constitution gave people a voice in the political process for the first time. This concession, and others, were not enough to calm the anger of the people. In 1925, the Qajar's were overthrown during a coup attempt. A young Persian army officer, Reza Khan, seized power. He named himself king and took the title Reza Shah Pahlavi. During his reign, Reza Shah sought to modernize the country and develop its oil industry. During World War II, Nazi Germany had established a strong commercial presence in Iran. The United States and Great Britain demanded that the Germans be expelled from Iranian soil. When these demands were not met, they invaded Iran in 1941. Reza Shah was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1942, Iran, Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. signed a treaty in which the British and Soviets agreed to respect Iran's territorial integrity and defend the country against foreign aggression. In return, the Iranians agreed to allow Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. to deploy troops in the country. At the end of World War II, the Soviets reneged on the agreement and refused to withdraw its troops. However, after intense American pressure, the Soviets pulled their troops out of Iran in 1946. This marked the beginning of a close relationship between the Pahlavi Dynasty and the United States.
In 1951, the Shah was ousted from power and a new government formed. It was led by Dr. Mohammad Mossadigh, a longtime opponent of the Shah. Mossadigh sought to end all foreign influence in Iranian domestic affairs. The United States and Western European nations strongly urged that Shah Reza Pahlavi be returned to power. In 1953, Mossadigh was overthrown and arrested by the Shah's army. Reza Pahlavi was returned to the throne. In 1961, the Shah launched an ambitious program to modernize Iran. He instituted land reforms and encouraged massive amounts of foreign investment. These reforms, coupled with money from Iran's vast oil reserves, began a period of unprecedented period of modernization and growth.
Despite the prosperity, a growing undercurrent of political turmoil emerged. Many groups within Iran resented the Shah's authoritarian rule, which was enforced by his brutal secret police force. In particular, Reza Pahlavi angered Iran's powerful religious leaders. They charged that the Shah's modernization program was a rejection of Islamic values and traditions. Reza Pahlavi responded to the criticism with even harsher political repression. One of the Shah's most vocal critics, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was arrested by secret police agents and imprisoned. In 1964, Khomeini was forced to leave Iran and eventually settled in France.
In 1978 domestic violence, led by religious clerics, exploded throughout Iran. Iran's cities were the scene of violent demonstrations and riots against the Shah's programs and Western influence in Iran's internal affairs. Bloody battles were waged between Iranian civilians and troops loyal to the Shah. In an attempt to end the violence, Pahlavi declared martial law in 12 major cities. This decision only made the Iranian people angrier. By early 1979, it became clear that Reza Pahlavi's days in power were numbered. On January 16, 1979, the Shah left Iran for exile in Egypt. Before his departure, Reza Pahlavi created an interim government led by prime minister Shahpour Bakhtiar.
Ayatollah Khomeini returned triumphantly from France on January 31, 1979. He declared that Bakhtiar's government was invalid and named his own provisional government. On February 11, 1979, the Shah's best troops, the Imperial Guard, were defeated. Many officials and secret police agents from the Shah's government were hunted down, imprisoned or executed.
The Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on April 1, 1979. The government was dominated by religious clerics and all domestic policies were based on strict Islamic principles and traditions. The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic was extremely anti-American and dedicated to spreading the Islamic Revolution to the rest of the Middle East. On November 4, 1979 Iranian militants seized the American embassy and took hostages. The militants demanded the return of the Shah from exile and intended to put him on trial. However, on July 27, 1980, the Shah died in Egypt after undergoing treatment for cancer. Despite American and international pressure, the hostages remained captive. After a series of frustrating and fruitless negotiations, President Carter authorized a military attempt to rescue the hostages. The mission was a complete failure and resulted in the deaths of several U.S. servicemen. After months of intense negotiations, an agreement was reached. The hostages were freed on January 21, 1981.
On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran in a dispute over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. For nine years, the two countries fought a long and savage war. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and severe damage to their oil producing facilities. In August 1988, Iran and Iraq agreed to a UN-sponsored cease-fire. Peace talks began shortly after. In 1990, a peace agreement was signed, Iraqi troops were withdrawn from Iranian soil, and prisoners of war exchanged.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini offered a one million dollar reward for the killing of Salman Rushdie. Rushdie wrote a book, The Satanic Verses, that Khomeini and others deemed blasphemous to Islam. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. Although Khomeini died on June 4, 1989, the threats against Rushdie's life continue.
Relations between the United States and Iran remain extremely tense. The United States has accused Iran's government of continued state sponsorship of terrorism. Since Khomeini's death, Iran is slowly emerging from years of self-imposed isolation and seeking new contacts with the rest of the world.
In 1997, a moderate candidate, Mohammed Khatami, was elected president. In April 1998, the mayor of Tehrān, Gholamhossein Karabaschi (a political ally of President Khatami), was denounced by political conservatives and arrested on corruption charges. Protesters demonstrated against the arrest, which revealed the growing division between the moderates who won elections in 1997 and the conservatives who have controlled the country since 1979.
Religious clerics wield unrivaled political power in Iran. The government of the Islamic Republic is headed by a Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Revolution. This position is held by a cleric who is highly regarded by the Iranian people. Ayatollah Khomeini served in this capacity until his death in 1989. He was succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei.
The Spiritual Leader selects six clerics to serve as a Council of Guardians. These men serve as commanders of the armed forces, appoint judges, and determine the competency of presidential candidates.
Iran's Islamic constitution provides for the appointment of a president and prime minister. The president is elected to a four-year term and controls the executive branch of government. The president, in turn, nominates a candidate for prime minister. The prime minister is responsible for coordinating government decisions. The candidate for prime minister is subject to approval by the National Assembly. The National Assembly, or Majlis, is composed of 270 members elected to a four-year term. All legislation approved by the Assembly can be vetoed by the Council of Guardians. Elections for the Majlis were last held in April 1996. The results of the election indicated that moderate candidates favoring better relations with the West won a majority of the seats. The election results were viewed as a setback for Iran's hard-line Islamic militants.
All judicial matters are the province of the Supreme Court and a four-member High Council of the Judiciary. These men are entrusted with the enforcement of all laws and for establishing judicial and legal policies.
In 1982, an Assembly of Experts was created. This body consists of 83 members who are elected to eight-year terms. The Assembly of Experts is responsible for choosing the Spiritual Leader and interpreting the constitution. All candidates for election to the Assembly of Experts are subject to approval by the Council of Guardians.
The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran consists of three equal horizontal bands of green (top), white, and red; the national emblem (a stylized representation of the word "Allah") in red is centered in the white band. "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) in white Arabic script is repeated 11 times along the bottom of the green band and 11 times along the top edge of the red band.
Arts, Science, Education
Since 1943, primary education is mandatory for all children for five years. The great majority of primary and secondary schools are run by the state. Tuition and textbooks for elementary students are provided at government expense for the first four years. Small fees are charged at state-run secondary schools.
Iran has about 44 universities with 15 located in the capital, Tehrān. Many of Iran's universities were sites of violent unrest during the Islamic Revolution. Many universities were closed in 1980, but have been gradually re-opened since 1983. A new university, The Free Islamic University, was opened in April 1983. In recent years, college education in Iran has stressed vocational and agricultural programs.
In 1997 about 9.2 million primary school students and nearly 8.8 million secondary level students.
In 1994, an estimated 72 percent (male 78%, female 64%) of Iranians, age 15 and over, could read and write.
Commerce and Industry
Under the Pahlavi dynasty, Iran experienced tremendous industrial and economic growth. Much of this growth was disrupted by the 1979 Revolution. Also, massive corruption, mismanagement, and ideological rigidities have created product shortages and high inflation. Iran's main industry is oil production. However, the large oil refineries at Ābādān and Bandar Khomeini and the main tanker terminal at Kharg Island were destroyed or severely damaged during the 1980-88 war with Iraq. These facilities are slowly being repaired. In addition to oil, Iranian industries produce petro-chemicals, textiles, vegetable oil and other food products, carpets, cement and other building materials, and fertilizer.
Iran has abundant agricultural resources. Her principal crops are wheat, rice, barley, nuts, cotton, sugar beets, and fruits. Wool is also an important product.
Petroleum accounts for 90 percent of Iran's exports. Other exports include carpets, fruits, nuts, and hides. Iran's primary imports are foodstuffs, military supplies, machinery, metal works, pharmaceuticals, and technical services. Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands are Iran's primary trading partners.
The unit of currency is the rial.
In 1995, Iran had approximately 87,000 miles (140,100 kilometers) of roadway. An estimated 26,500 miles (42,700 kilometers) were paved highways. Approximately 1.56 million cars and 589,000 commercial vehicles were in use in 1995. Conditions of secondary roads vary from good to poor.
Iran had an estimated 4,500 miles (7,300 kilometers) of railroads in 1996. The main line links Tehrān to the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf.
There are several flights between Iran and Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
Public transport is frequent, reliable and relatively safe. Bus services offer competitive, inexpensive rates. Trains are efficient and inexpensive as well.
The Shatt-al-Arab was one of Iran's principal waterways. However, it was heavily damaged in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. The Shatt-al-Arab contains two of Iran's principal ports, Ābādān and Khorramshahr. Both ports were virtually destroyed during the fighting. Iran's other ports are located along the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf coasts. These include Bandar Abbas, Bandar Beheshti, Bandar Bushehr, and Bandar Khomeyni.
Iran's main international airport, Mehrabad Airport, is located just west of Tehrān. Shirāz International Airport is located only nine miles (15 kilometers) from Tehrān. A new airport opened near the city of Isfahan in July 1984 and began receiving international flights in March 1986.
The national airline is Iran Air (Air-line of the Islamic Republic of Iran). International flights are available to the Persian Gulf area, Tokyo, London, Paris, Athens, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Karachi, Rome, Vienna, Lagos, Bombay, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Geneva.
There were an estimated 14.3 million radios and 3.9 million televisions in use in 1995. Iran's main radio station is the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Regional broadcasts can be heard in Farsi, Arabic, Assyrian, Dari, Kurdish, Bandari, Baluchi, Turkish and Urdu. Foreign broadcasts are available on shortwave frequencies in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Farsi, Armenian, Urdu, Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish.
Television broadcasts are aired on the Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Programs are produced in Tehrān and transmitted to 28 stations across the country.
Iran's press is tightly controlled by the government. Strong criticism of the government, senior religious clerics, or public morality is forbidden. Many of the newspapers and periodicals published during the Shah's rule have been banned.
NOTES FOR TRAVELERS
A passport and visa are required. The Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Pakistan is located at 2209 Wisconsin Ave. N.W, Washington, DC. 20007; tel 202-965-4990, 91, 92, 93, 94, 99, fax 202-965-1073, 202-965-4990 (Automated Fax-On-Demand after office hours). Their Internet web site is http://www.daftar.org (click on "English"). U.S. passports are valid for travel to Iran. However, the authorities have often confiscated the U.S. passports of U.S.-Iranian dual nationals upon arrival. U.S.-Iranian dual nationals have been denied permission to depart Iran documented as U.S. citizens. To prevent the confiscation of U.S. passports, the Department of State suggests that dual nationals leave their U.S. passports at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate overseas for safekeeping before entering Iran, and use their Iranian passports to enter the country. To facilitate their travel if their U.S. passports are confiscated, dual nationals may, prior to entering Iran, obtain in their Iranian passports the necessary visas for the country which they will transit on their return to the United States, where they may apply for a new U.S. passport.
Alternately, dual nationals whose U.S. passports are confiscated may obtain a "Confirmation of Nationality" from the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland, which is the U.S. protecting power. This statement, addressed to the relevant foreign embassies in Tehran, enables the travelers to apply for third-country visas in Tehran. Dual nationals finding themselves in this situation should note in advance that the Swiss Embassy would issue this statement only after the traveler's U.S. nationality is confirmed and after some processing delay. Dual nationals must enter and leave the United States on U.S. passports.
Iranian authorities may permit travelers to bring in or to take certain goods out of Iran. However, U.S. travelers should refer to the section of this Consular Information Sheet regarding U.S. Government economic sanctions and the importation and exportation of restricted items in order to avoid any violation of the Iranian transactions regulations.
All luggage is searched upon traveling into and departing from Iran. Tourists can bring in and take out the following non-commercial goods, if they are recorded on the tourist's goods slip upon arrival at customs: personal jewelry, one camera, an amateur video camera, one pair of binoculars, a portable tape recorder, a personal portable computer, first aid box, and a camping tent with its equipment. Iranian authorities allow the departing passenger to take an unlimited amount of Iranian goods and foreign goods up to $160 (US), and their personal noncommercial equipment. Air passengers may also take one carpet up to 6 square meters from Iran. The U.S. government only allows the importation of up to $100 worth of Iranian-origin goods, except there are no sanction restrictions on the quantity of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuff. Iranian authorities prohibit the export of antique carpets and carpets portraying women not wearing the proper Islamic covering, antiques, original works of art, calligraphic pieces, miniature paintings, different kinds of coins, and precious stones. They likewise prohibit the export and import of alcoholic beverages, weapons, ammunitions, swords and sheaths, military devices, drugs and illegal goods. It is advisable to contact the Iranian Interests Section in Washington, DC for specific information regarding customs requirements.
On May 6, 1995, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12959, 60 Federal Register 24757 (May 9, 1995), which generally prohibits exporting goods or services to Iran, re-exporting certain goods to Iran, making new investments in Iran and dealing in property owned or controlled by the government of Iran. Except for carpets and foodstuffs, the importation of Iranian-origin goods or services into the United States has been prohibited since October 19, 1987. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, Department of Treasury, provides guidance to the public on the interpretation of the above. For additional information, please consult the Licensing Division, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), U.S. Department of Treasury, tel. 202-622-2480 or check the OFAC home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac or via OFAC's info-by fax at 202-622-0077. For information regarding banking compliance, please contact OFAC's Compliance Programs Division at tel. 202-622-2490.
There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in Iran. The Embassy of Switzerland serves as the protecting power of U.S. interests in Iran. The U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is located at Africa Avenue, West Farzan Street, no. 59, Tehran. The local telephone numbers are 878-2964 and 879-2364, fax 877-3265. The workweek is Sunday through Thursday. Public service hours are 8:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. The Interests Section does not issue U.S. visas or accept visa applications. The limited consular services provided to U.S. citizens in Tehran, Iran include:
- registering U.S. citizens;
- answering inquiries concerning the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens in Iran;
- rendering assistance in times of distress or physical danger;
- providing U.S. citizens with passport and Social Security card applications and other citizenship forms for approval at the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland;
- performing notarial services on the basis of accommodation; and
- taking provisional custody of the personal effects of deceased U.S. citizens.
In addition to the U.S. Government economic sanctions on trade and investment restrictions, travelers should be aware that most hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards. Cash-dollars (not traveler checks) are accepted as payment. In general, hotel bills must be paid with cash-dollars. ATM machines are not available. Foreign currency must be declared at customs upon entry into the country, and the amount is entered in the passport. This amount can then be changed at the bank.
Feb. 11… Victory Day
Mar. 20 … Oil Nationalization Day
Mar. 21-24 … No Ruz (First Day of Spring & New Year)
Apr. 1… Islamic Republic Day
Apr. 2… Revolution Day
… Birthday of Imam Husayn*
… Id al Fitr (end of Ramadan)*
… Twelfth Imam's Birthday*
… Martyrdom of Imam Ali*
… Death of Imam Ja'afar Sadiq*
… Birthday of Imam Reza*
… Martyrdom of Imam Husayn*
… Mawlid an Nabi (birth of the prophet)*
… Birthday of Imam 'Ali*
… Lailat al Miraj*
*variable, based on the Islamic calendar
The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:
Alaolmolki, Nozar. Struggle for Dominance in the Persian Gulf: Past, Present & Future Prospects. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1991.
Amjad, Mohammed. Iran: From Royal Dictatorship to Theocracy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1989.
Amuzegar, Jahangir. Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution: The Pahlavis' Triumph & Tragedy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991.
Bakhash, Shaul. The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran & the Islamic Revolution. Rev. ed. New York: Basic Books, 1990.
Ball, Warwick, and Antony Hutt. Persian Landscape: A Photographic Essay. Brooklyn, NY: Interlink Publishing Group, 1990.
Bill, James A. The Eagle & the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
Bina, Cyrus, and Hamid Zangeneh, eds. Modern Capitalism & Islamic Ideology in Iran. New York: St. Martin, 1992.
Dandamaev, Muhammad A., and Vladimir G. Lukonin. The Culture & Social Institutions of Ancient Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Farmaian, Sattareh F. Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 1992.
Fox, Mary Virginia. Iran. Chicago:Childrens Press, 1991.
Ghods, M. Reza. Iran in the Twentieth Century: A Political History. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1989.
Hillmann, Michael C. Iranian Culture: A Persianist View. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1990.
Hiro, Dilip. The Longest War: the Iran-Iraq Military Conflict. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Hunter, Shireen T. Iran after Khomeini. Westport, CT: Green-wood Publishing Group, 1992.
Menashri, David. Iran: A Decade of War and Revolution. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1990.
Metz, Helen C., ed. Iran: A Country Study. 4th ed. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1989.
Miller, William M. Tales of Persia: A Book for Children. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1988.
Sabri-Tabrizi, Gholam-Reza. Iran: A Child's Story, a Man's Experience. New York: International Publishers, 1990.
St. Vincent, David. Iran: A Travel Survival Kit. Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1992.
Sackville-West, Vita. Passenger to Teheran. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.
Sanders, Renfield. Iran. New York:Chelsea House, 1990.
Tames, Richard. Take a Trip to Iran. New York: Franklin Watts, 1989.
Turner, Stansfield. Terrorism and Democracy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Zonis, Marvin. Majestic Failure: The Fall of the Shah. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group
Iran (ērän´, Ĭrăn´), officially Islamic Republic of Iran, republic (2005 est. pop. 68,018,000), 636,290 sq mi (1,648,000 sq km), SW Asia. The country's name was changed from Persia to Iran in 1935. Iran is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and the Caspian Sea; on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and on the west by Turkey and Iraq. The Shatt al Arab forms part of the Iran-Iraq border. Tehran is the capital, largest city and the political, cultural, commercial, and industrial center of the nation.
Physiographically, Iran lies within the Alpine-Himalayan mountain system and is composed of a vast central plateau rimmed by mountain ranges and limited lowland regions. Iran is subject to numerous and often severe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Iranian Plateau (alt. c.4,000 ft/1,200 m), which extends beyond the low ranges of E Iran into Afghanistan, is a region of interior drainage. It consists of a number of arid basins of salt and sand, such as those of Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut, and some marshlands, such as the area around Hamun-i-Helmand along the Afghanistan border. The plateau is surrounded by high folded and volcanic mountain chains including the Kopet Mts. in the northwest, the Elburz Mts. (rising to 18,934 ft/5,771 m at Mt. Damavand, Iran's highest point) in the north, and the complex Zagros Mts. in the west. Lake Urmia, the country's largest inland body of water, is in the Zagros of NW Iran. Narrow coastal plains are found along the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, and the Caspian Sea; at the head of the Persian Gulf is the Iranian section of the Mesopotamian lowlands. Of the few perennial rivers in Iran, only the Karun in the west is navigable for large craft; other major rivers are the Karkheh and the Sefid Rud.
The climate of Iran is continental, with hot summers and cold, rainy winters; the mountain regions of the north and west have a subtropical climate. Temperature and precipitation vary with elevation, as winds bring heavy moisture from the Persian Gulf. The Caspian region receives over 40 in. (102 cm) of rain annually. Precipitation occurs mainly in the winter and decreases from northwest to southeast. Much of the precipitation in the mountains is in the form of snow, and meltwater is vital for Iran's water supply. The central portion of the plateau and the southern coastal plain (Makran) receive less than 5 in. (12.7 cm) of rain annually.
In addition to Tehran, important cities include Esfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz, Rasht, Hamadan, Abadan, Shiraz, and Ahvaz.
Iran's central position has made it a crossroads of migration; the population is not homogeneous, although it has a Persian core that includes over half of the people. Azerbaijanis constitute almost a quarter of the population. The migrant ethnic groups of the mountains and highlands, including the Kurds, Lurs, Qashqai, and Bakhtiari, are of the least mixed descent of the ancient inhabitants. In the northern provinces, Turkic and Tatar influences are evident; Arab strains predominate in the southeast. Iran has a large rural population, found mainly in agrarian villages, although there are nomadic and seminomadic pastoralists throughout the country.
Islam entered the country in the 7th cent. AD and is now the official religion; about 90% of Iranians are Muslims of the Shiite sect. The remainder, mostly Kurds and Arabs, are Sunnis. Colonies of Zoroastrians (see Zoroastrianism) remain at Yazd, Kerman, and other large towns. In addition to Armenian and Assyrian Christian sects, there are Jews, Protestants, and Roman Catholics. Attempts have been made to suppress Babism and its successor, Baha'i, whose adherents constitute about 1% of Iran's population; Sufism has also suffered from government restrictions under the Islamic republic. Other religious movements, such as Mithraism (see under Mithra) and Manichaeism, originated in Iran.
The principal language of the country is Persian (Farsi), which is written with the Arabic alphabet and spoken by about 60% of the people. Other groups speak Turkic dialects (25%), Kurdish, (10%), and Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic. Among the educated classes, English and French are spoken.
About 10% of the land in Iran is arable; agriculture contributes just over 11% to the GDP and employs a third of the labor force. The main food-producing areas are in the Caspian region and in the valleys of the northwest. Wheat, the most important crop, is grown mainly in the west and northwest; rice is the major crop in the Caspian region. Barley, corn, sugar beets, fruits (including citrus), nuts, cotton, dates, tea, hemp, and tobacco are also grown, and livestock is raised. Illicit cultivation of the opium poppy is fairly common.
The principal obstacles to agricultural production are primitive farming methods, overworked and underfertilized soil, poor seed, and scarcity of water. About one third of the cultivated land is irrigated; the construction of multipurpose dams and reservoirs along the rivers in the Zagros and Elburz mts. has increased the amount of water available for irrigation. Agricultural programs of modernization, mechanization, and crop and livestock improvement, and programs for the redistribution of land are increasing agricultural production.
The northern slopes of the Elburz Mts. are heavily wooded, and forestry products are economically important; the cutting of trees is rigidly controlled by the government, which also has a reforestation program. In the rivers entering the Caspian Sea are salmon, carp, trout, and pike; the prized sturgeon (and caviar) of the Caspian Sea have been hurt by pollution and overfishing.
Of the variety of natural resources found in Iran, petroleum (discovered in 1908 in Khuzestan province) and natural gas are by far the most important; oil accounts for 80% of export revenues. The chief oil fields are found in the central and southwestern parts of the Zagros Mts. in W Iran. Oil also is found in N Iran and in the offshore waters of the Persian Gulf. Major refineries are located at Abadan (site of the country's first refinery, built 1913), Kermanshah, and Tehran. Pipelines move oil from the fields to the refineries and to such exporting ports as Abadan, Bandar-e Mashur, and Khark Island. Domestic oil and gas, along with hydroelectric power facilities, provide the country with power.
Textiles are the second most important industrial product; Tehran and Esfahan are the chief textile-producing centers. Other major industries are sugar refining, food processing, and the production of petrochemicals, cement and other building materials, and machinery. Iron and steel and fertilizer are also produced. Traditional handicrafts such as carpet weaving and the manufacture of ceramics, silk, and jewelry are important to the economy as well.
Besides crude and refined petroleum, Iran's chief exports are chemical and petrochemical products, fruits, nuts, carpets, hides, and iron and steel; its chief imports are industrial raw materials, capital goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods, technical services, and military supplies. Iran's chief trading partners are China, Japan, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. Khorramshahr, on the Shatt al Arab, is the country's chief general cargo port; Bandar-e Anzali is the chief Caspian port.
Iran is a theocratic Islamic republic governed under the constitution of 1979 as amended. Appointed, rather than elected, offices and bodies hold the real power in the government. The supreme leader, who effectively serves as the head of state, is appointed for life by an Islamic religious advisory board (the Assembly of Experts). The supreme leader oversees the military and judiciary and appoints members of the Guardian Council and the Expediency Discernment Council. The former, some of whose members are appointed by the judiciary and approved by parliament, works in close conjunction with the government and must approve both candidates for political office and legislation passed by parliament. The latter is a body responsible for resolving disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council over legislation. The president, who is popularly elected for a four-year term, serves as the head of government. The unicameral legislature consists of the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Administratively, Iran is divided into 30 provinces.
Early History to the Zand Dynasty
Iran has a long and rich history. For a detailed description of the Persian Empire, see Persia. Some of the world's most ancient settlements have been excavated in the Caspian region and on the Iranian plateau; village life began there c.4000 BC The Aryans came about 2000 BC and split into two main groups, the Medes and the Persians. The Persian Empire founded (c.550 BC) by Cyrus the Great was succeeded, after a period of Greek and Parthian rule, by the Sassanid in the early 3d cent. AD Their control was weakened when Arab invaders took (636) the capital, Ctesiphon; it ended when the Arabs defeated the Sassanid armies at Nahavand in 641. With the invasion of Persia the Arabs brought Islam. The Turks began invading in the 10th cent. and soon established several Turkish states. The Turks were followed by the Mongols, led by Jenghiz Khan in the 13th cent. and Timur in the late 14th cent.
The Safavid dynasty (1502–1736), founded by Shah Ismail, restored internal order in Iran and established the Shiite sect of Islam as the state religion; it reached its height during the reign (1587–1629) of Shah Abbas I (Abbas the Great). He drove out the Portuguese, who had established colonies on the Persian Gulf early in the 16th cent. Shah Abbas also established trade relations with Great Britain and reorganized the army. Religious differences led to frequent wars with the Ottoman Turks, whose interest in Iran was to continue well into the 20th cent.
The fall of the Safavid dynasty was brought about by the Afghans, who overthrew the weak shah, Husein, in 1722. An interval of Afghan rule followed until Nadir Shah expelled them and established (1736) the Afshar dynasty. He invaded India in 1738 and brought back fabulous wealth, including the legendary Peacock Throne and the Koh-i-noor diamond. Nadir Shah, a despotic ruler, was assassinated in 1747. The Afshar dynasty was followed by the Zand dynasty (1750–94), founded by Karim Khan, who established his capital at Shiraz and adorned that city with many fine buildings. His rule brought a period of peace and renewed prosperity. However, the country was soon again in turmoil, which lasted until the advent of Aga Muhammad Khan.
The Qajar Dynasty
A detested ruler (assassinated 1797), Aga Muhammad Khan defeated the last ruler of the Zand dynasty and established the Qajar dynasty (1794–1925). This long period saw Iran steadily lose territory to neighboring countries and fall under the increasing pressure of European nations, particularly czarist Russia. Under Fath Ali Shah (1797–1834), Persian claims in the entire Caucasian area were challenged by the Russians in a long struggle that ended with the Treaty of Gulistan (1813) and the Treaty of Turkmanchay (1828), by which Iran was forced to give up the Caucasian lands. Herat, the rich city on the Hari Rud, which had been part of the ancient Persian Empire, was taken by the Afghans. A series of campaigns to reclaim it ended with the intervention of the British on behalf of Afghanistan and resulted in the recognition of Afghan independence by Iran in 1857.
The discovery of oil in the early 1900s intensified the rivalry of Great Britain and Russia for power over the nation. Internally, the early 20th cent. saw the rise of the constitutional movement and a constitution establishing a parliament was accepted by the shah in 1906. Meanwhile, the British-Russian rivalry continued and in 1907 resulted in an Anglo-Russian agreement (annulled after World War I) that divided Iran into spheres of influence. The period preceding World War I was one of political and financial difficulty. During the war, Iran was occupied by the British and Russians but remained neutral; after the war, Iran was admitted to the League of Nations as an original member.
In 1919, Iran made a trade agreement with Great Britain in which Britain formally reaffirmed Iran's independence but actually attempted to establish a complete protectorate over it. After Iranian recognition of the USSR in a treaty of 1921, the Soviet Union renounced czarist imperialistic policies toward Iran, canceled all debts and concessions, and withdrew occupation forces from Iranian territory. In 1921, Reza Khan, an army officer, effected a coup and established a military dictatorship.
The Pahlevi Dynasty
Reza Khan was subsequently (1925) elected hereditary shah, thus ending the Qajar dynasty and founding the new Pahlevi dynasty. Reza Shah Pahlevi abolished the British treaty, reorganized the army, introduced many reforms, and encouraged the development of industry and education. In Aug., 1941, two months after the German invasion of the USSR, British and Soviet forces occupied Iran. On Sept. 16 the shah abdicated in favor of his son Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi. American troops later entered Iran to handle the delivery of war supplies to the USSR.
At the Tehran Conference in 1943 the Tehran Declaration, signed by the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR, guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of Iran. However, the USSR, dissatisfied with the refusal of the Iranian government to grant it oil concessions, fomented a revolt in the north which led to the establishment (Dec., 1945) of the People's Republic of Azerbaijan and the Kurdish People's Republic, headed by Soviet-controlled leaders. When Soviet troops remained in Iran following the expiration (Jan., 1946) of a wartime treaty that also allowed the presence of American and British troops, Iran protested to the United Nations. The Soviets finally withdrew (May, 1946) after receiving a promise of oil concessions from Iran subject to approval by the parliament. The Soviet-established governments in the north, lacking popular support, were deposed by Iranian troops late in 1946, and the parliament subsequently rejected the oil concessions.
In 1951, the National Front movement, headed by Premier Mussadegh, a militant nationalist, succeeded in nationalizing the oil industry and formed the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). Although a British blockade led to the virtual collapse of the oil industry and serious internal economic troubles, Mussadegh continued his nationalization policy. Openly opposed by the shah, Mussadegh was ousted in 1952 but quickly regained power. The shah fled Iran but returned when monarchist elements forced Mussadegh from office in Aug., 1953; covert U.S. activity was in large part responsible for Mussadegh's ousting.
In 1954, Iran allowed an international consortium of British, American, French, and Dutch oil companies to operate its oil facilities, with profits shared equally between Iran and the consortium. After 1953 a succession of premiers restored a measure of order to Iran; in 1957 martial law was ended after 16 years in force. Iran established closer relations with the West, joining the Baghdad Pact (later called the Central Treaty Organization), and receiving large amounts of military and economic aid from the United States until the late 1960s.
Starting in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, the Iranian government, at the shah's initiative, undertook a broad program designed to improve economic and social conditions. Land reform was a major priority. In an effort to transform the feudal peasant-landlord agricultural system, the government purchased estates and sold the land to the people; it also distributed large tracts of crown land. In the Jan., 1963, referendum, the voters overwhelmingly approved the shah's extensive plan for further land redistribution, compulsory education, and a system of profit sharing in industry; the program was financed by the selling of government-owned factories to private investors. Within three years, 1.5 million former tenant farmers were plot owners.
The shah held close reins on the government as absolute monarch, but he moved toward certain democratic reforms within Iran. A new government-backed political party, the Iran Novin party, was introduced and won an overwhelming majority in the parliament in the 1963 and subsequent elections. Women received the right to vote in national elections in 1963.
Reaction, Repression, and Conflict
The shah's various reform programs and the continuing poor economic conditions alienated some of the major religious and political groups, and riots occurred in mid-1963. The general political instability was reflected by the assassination of Premier Hassan Ali Mansur and an unsuccessful attempt on the shah's life in Jan., 1965. Amir Abbas Hoveida succeeded as premier. In Oct., 1971, Iran commemorated the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great with an elaborate celebration in the desert at Persepolis. Iran's pro-Western policies continued into the 1970s; however, opposition to such growing Westernization and secularization was strongly denounced by the Islamic clergy, headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been exiled from Iran in 1964. Internal opposition within the country was regularly purged by the Shah's secret police force (SAVAK), created in 1957.
Improved relations in the 1970s, especially in the economic sphere, were established with Communist countries, including the USSR. However, relations with Iraq were antagonistic for much of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in great part due to conflict over the Shatt al Arab waterway. A number of armed clashes took place along the entire length of the border. In Apr., 1969, Iran voided the 1937 accord with Iraq on the control of the Shatt al Arab and demanded that the treaty, which had given Iraq virtual control of the river, be renegotiated.
In 1971, Britain withdrew its military forces from the Persian Gulf. Concerned that Soviet-backed Arab nations might try to fill the power vacuum created by the British withdrawal, Iran increased its defense budget by almost 50%, and with the help of huge U.S. and British defense programs, emerged as the region's strongest military power. Although Iran renounced all claims to Bahrain in 1970, it took control (Nov., 1971) of three small, Arab-owned islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iraq protested Iran's action by expelling thousands of Iranian nationals.
In Mar., 1973, short of the end of the 25-year 1954 agreement with the international oil-producing consortium, the shah established the NIOC's full control over all aspects of Iran's oil industry, and the consortium agreed (May, 1973) to act merely in an advisory capacity in return for favorable long-term oil supply contracts. In the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli War of Oct., 1973, Iran, reluctant to use oil as a political weapon, did not participate in the oil embargo against the United States, Europe, Japan, and Israel. However, it used the situation to become a leader in the raising of oil prices in disregard of the Tehran Agreement of 1971. Iran utilized the revenue generated by price rises to bolster its position abroad as a creditor, to initiate domestic programs of modernization and economic development, and to increase its military power.
The Islamic Revolution
The rapid growth of industrialization and modernization programs within Iran, accompanied by ostentatious private wealth, became greatly resented by the bulk of the population, mainly in the overcrowded urban areas and among the rural poor. The shah's autocratic rule and his extensive use of the secret police led to widespread popular unrest throughout 1978. The religious-based protests were conservative in nature, directed against the shah's policies. Khomeini, who was expelled from Iraq in Feb., 1978, called for the abdication of the shah. Martial law was declared in September for all major cities. As governmental controls faltered, the shah fled Iran on Jan. 16, 1979. Khomeini returned and led religious revolutionaries to the final overthrow of the shah's government on Feb. 11.
The new government represented a major shift toward conservatism. It nationalized industries and banks and revived Islamic traditions. Western influence and music were banned, women were forced to return to traditional veiled dress, and Westernized elites fled the country. A new constitution was written allowing for a presidential system, but Khomeini remained at the executive helm as Supreme Leader. The Revolutionary Guard was established separately from the military as an ideologically based corps charged with defending the revolution. Clashes occurred between rival religious factions throughout 1979, as oil prices fell. Arrests and executions were rampant.
On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 American hostages. Khomeini refused all appeals, and agitation increased toward the West with the Carter administration's economic boycott, the breaking of diplomatic relations, and an unsuccessful rescue attempt (Apr., 1980). The hostage crisis lasted 444 days and was finally resolved on Jan. 20, 1981, the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as U.S. president. Nearly all Iranian conditions had been met, including the unfreezing of nearly $8 billion in Iranian assets.
War and its Aftermath
On Sept. 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, commencing an eight-year war primarily over the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway (see Iran-Iraq War). The war rapidly escalated, leading to Iraqi and Iranian attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in 1984. Fighting crippled both nations, devastating Iran's military supply and oil industry, and led to an estimated 500,000 to one million casualties. Khomeini rejected diplomatic initiatives and called for the overthrow of Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein. In Nov., 1986, U.S. government officials secretly visited Iran to trade arms with the Iranians, in the hopes of securing the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, because Iran had political connections with Shiite terrorists in Lebanon. On July 3, 1988, a U.S. navy warship mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft, killing all aboard. That same month, Khomeini agreed to accept a UN cease-fire with Iraq, ending the war.
Iran immediately began rebuilding the nation's economy, especially its oil industry. Tensions also eased at that time with neighboring Afghanistan, as Soviet troops there began withdrawal (completed in 1989), after a presence of nearly 10 years. During the Soviet occupation, Iran had become host to nearly 3 million Afghan refugees. Khomeini died in 1989 and was succeeded by Iran's president, Sayid Ali Khamenei. The presidency was soon filled by Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who sought improved relations and financial aid with Western nations while somewhat diminishing the influence of fundamentalist and revolutionary factions and embarking on a military buildup. A major earthquake hit N Iran on June 21, 1990, killing nearly 40,000 people.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990, Iran adhered to international sanctions against Iraq. However, Iran condemned the use of U.S.-led coalition forces against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War (1991), and it allowed Iraqi planes fleeing coalition air attacks to land in the country. As a result of the war and its aftermath, more than one million Kurds crossed the Iraqi border into Iran as refugees.
Rafsanjani was reelected president in 1993. The United States suspended all trade with Iran in 1995, accusing Iran of supporting terrorist groups and attempting to develop nuclear weapons. In 1997, Mohammed Khatami, a moderately liberal Muslim cleric, was elected president, which was widely seen as a reaction against the country's repressive social policies and lack of economic progress. Also in 1997, Iran launched a series of air attacks on Iraq to bomb Iranian rebels operating from Iraq. Several European Union countries began renewing economic ties with Iran in the late 1990s; the United States, however, continued to block more normalized relations, arguing that the country had been implicated in international terrorism and was developing a nuclear weapons capacity.
In 1999, as new curbs were put on a free press, prodemocracy student demonstrations erupted at Teheran Univ. and other urban campuses. These were followed by a wave of counterdemonstrations by hard-line factions associated with Ayatollah Khamenei. Reformers won a substantial victory in the Feb., 2000, parliamentary elections, capturing about two thirds of the seats, but conservative elements in the government forced the closure of the reformist press. Attempts by parliament to repeal restrictive press laws were forbidden by Khamenei. Despite these conditions, President Khatami was overwhelming reeelcted in June, 2001. Tensions between reformers in parliament and conservatives in the judiciary and the Guardian Council, over both social and economic changes, increased after Khatami's reelection. In Aug., 2002, a frustrated Khatami called for legislation to limit the powers of the Guardian Council and restore presidential powers to act as head of state and enforce the constitution, and in June, 2003, there were ongoing demonstrations by students in Tehran in favor of reform. In August, however, the Guardian Council rejected a bill aimed at curbing its ability to bar candidates from elections.
Tensions with the United States increased after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in Mar., 2003, as U.S. officials increasingly denounced Iran for pursuing the alleged development of nuclear weapons. Iranian government support for strongly conservative Shiite militias in Iraq also further soured U.S.-Iranian relations. In October, however, Iran agreed, in negotiations with several W European nations, to tougher international inspections of its nuclear installations. Concern over Iran's nuclear program nonetheless continued, and in early 2004 the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the country had failed to disclose all aspects of its nuclear program. Meanwhile, an earthquake, centered on Bam in SE Iran, killed more than 26,000 people in Dec., 2003.
In the Feb., 2004, elections conservatives won control of parliament, securing some two thirds of the seats. The Guardian Council had barred many reformers from running, including some sitting members of parliament, and many reformers denounced the move as an attempt to fix the election and called for a electoral boycott. Many Iranians, however, were unhappy with the failure of the current parliament to achieve any significant reforms or diminish the influence of the hard-liners. A significant number of the hard-line conservative members of the new parliament had ties to the Revolutionary Guards, who increased their economic and political influence, but they also faced opposition from more traditional conservatives such as former president Rafsanjani.
In mid-2004 Iran began resuming the processing of nuclear fuel as part of its plan to achieve self-sufficiency in nuclear power production, stating the negotiations with European Union nations had failed to bring access to the advanced nuclear technology that was promised. The action was denounced by the United States as one which would give Iran the capability to develop nuclear weapons. The IAEA said that although Iran had not been fully cooperative, there was no concrete proof that Iran was seeking to develop such arms; however, the IAEA also called for Iran to abandon its plans to produce enriched uranium. In Nov., 2004, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, but also subsequently indicated that it would not be held to the suspension if the negotiations the EU nations failed. Iran signed an agreement with Russia in Feb., 2005, that called for Russia to supply it with nuclear fuel and for Iran to return the spent fuel to Russia; despite the apparent safeguards in the agreement, it was denounced by the United States. Iran's nuclear energy program remained a contentious international issue in subsequent months.
The presidential elections in June, 2005, were won by the hardline conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who ran on a populist, anticorruption platform. The Guardian Council had initially rejected all reformist candidates, including one of Iran's vice presidents, but permitted him and another reformist to run after an appeal. Ahmadinejad and former president Rafsanjani were the leaders after the first round, but in the runoff Ahmadinejad's populist economic policies combined with Rafsanjani's inability to pick up sufficient reformist support assured the former's win. Ahmadinejad's victory, which was marred by some interference in the balloting from the Revolutionary Guards, gave conservatives control of all branches of Iran's government.
After Iran resumed (Aug., 2005) converting raw uranium into gas, a necessary step for enrichment, the IAEA passed a resolution that accused Iran of failing to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and called for the agency to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The timetable for the reporting, however, was left undetermined.
In the fall of 2005 Ayatollah Khamenei broadened the responsibilities of the Expediency Council by delegating to it some of his governmental oversight responsibilities. The move enhanced the standing and power of Rafsanjani, who had become head of the council in 1997, and was regarded as an attempt to establish a counterweight to the new president (who had been elected with the ayatollah's support) and the more radical conservative elements associated with Ahmadinejad's presidency. Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, issued strong anti-Israel, anti-Holocaust statements, and sought to set a more conservative course for Iran. The country also continued to move forward with its nuclear research program.
In Feb., 2006, the IAEA voted to report Iran to the UN Security Council. In response Iran resumed uranium enrichment and ended surprise IAEA inspections and surveillance of its nuclear facilties. The Security Council called (March) for Iran to suspend its nuclear research program in 30 days, but the statement left unclear what if any response there would be if Iran refused. For its part, Iran remained defiant, and its slow response to a European Union–led negotiating effort and the revelation of an additional, previously unknown enrichment program caused the nations involved (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and the EU) to refer the issue back to the Security Council in July, 2006. The Council set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to stop enrichment, but Iran insisted it would continue its program and ignored the deadline. The Council's veto-holding nations were divided over the subsequent U.S. call for sanctions, but in Dec., 2006, they agreed on sanctions that barred the sale of technology and materials that could be used in Iran's nuclear program. and the international assets of certain companies associated with program were frozen. After a new deadline for stopping enrichment also passed without Iranian action, additional sanctions were imposed in Mar., 2007, but Iran continued with its enrichment activities. A subsequent IAEA report (Aug., 2007) indicated that Iran was continuing to expand its enrichment capabilities while utilitizing them at lower than expected levels.
Also in Dec., 2006, Ahmadinejad's supporters and allies suffered losses in elections for local councils and the Assembly of Experts; more moderate conservatives were the biggest winners, and reformists did sufficiently well to reemerge as a political force. The most significant winner was Rafsanjani, who was reelected to the Assembly of Experts and received the most votes of any Tehran Assembly candidate.
Fifteen British naval personnel were seized in Mar., 2007, by Revolutionary Guards forces in what Iran asserted were its waters. The British disputed the claim, and called for them to be released. After two weeks marked by behind-the-scenes negotiations and Iranian broadcasts of the British personnel saying they had violated Iranian waters (which the personnel, after their release, said were coerced), the British were released.
Tensions between Iran and the United States over Iran's nuclear program and over accusations that Iran was providing support for Shiite groups that had attacked U.S. forces in Iraq became increasingly pronounced in the second half of 2007. There were press reports of Bush administration plans to launch air strikes against Iran, and the United States pressed, unsuccessfully, for stiffer UN sanctions on Iran. In Oct., 2007, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran, aimed mainly at Iranian banks, which it said were supporting Iran's nuclear program, and at Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which it charged supported terror attacks against U.S. forces and others.
A November IAEA report indicated that Iran was cooperating with the IAEA (but on a more limited basis than in the past), and a December U.S. intelligence assessment said that Iran appeared to have stopped nuclear weapons design development in 2003 in response to international pressure and now seemed less determined to develop such weapons. Nonetheless, concerns remained with respect to Iran's continuing expansion of its enrichment capabilities and, after the IAEA said that Iran had not proved it did not have a nuclear weapons development program, the UN Security Council imposed a third round of sanctions in Mar., 2008. In the Mar.–Apr., 2008, parliamentary elections, conservatives won roughly 70% of the seats; many reformist candidates were again barred from running.
In May and subsequent months, the IAEA said that Iran continued to fail to provide information about its nuclear programs that would clarify whether it was developing nuclear weapons. Iran subsequently tested longer-range missiles that were capable of hitting Israel, but U.S. intelligence sources indicated that it believed at least one test was not fully successful; in Feb., 2009, Iran successfully launched a satellite for the first time. A value-added tax on shopkeepers provoked a weeklong strike by them in several cities in Oct., 2008, and the government postponed the imposition of the tax for a year.
In the June, 2009, presidential election Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, and two other candidates challenged Ahmadinejad, who was seen as favored by Khamenei. Mousavi appeared to gain broad support as the campaign progressed, but when the tally was announced Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with 63% of the vote. The rapidity of the vote count and other anomalies, including overvoting in 50 of 170 districts and dramatic shifts in voting patterns since 2005, strongly suggested vote rigging, and Mousavi and others denounced the result as fraudulent. There were large demonstrations in support of Mousavi, but the Guardian Council affirmed the result, and after two weeks security forces had forcibly suppressed most public protests.
Mousavi, former president Khatami, and others nonetheless continued to denounce the election, and Rafsanjani criticized the government response to the protests. Opposition members were tried in group trials that antigovernment groups decried as show trials, though Mousavi, Khatami, and other opposition leaders were not arrested. In Dec., 2009, the funeral and memorials for Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, who was Khomeini's chosen successor until he criticized (1989) the Iranian government on human rights, turned into large antigovernment demonstrations and led to clashes with security forces, but the government soon regained control in the streets.
In Sept., 2009, Iran acknowledged constructing a second nuclear enrichment facility, leading to international calls for IAEA inspections of the site. Although Iran agreed that inspectors could enter the site in October, other discussions concerning its nuclear enrichment were less successful. Western nations asserted that Iran had agreed in principle to shipping enriched uranium outside the country for further enrichment, but Iranian sources and officials insisted that Iran was interested in purchasing enriched uranium and that Iran did not accept an enrichment agreement proposal made by IAEA. The IAEA found nothing of concern at the second enrichment site, but said that Iran's secrecy raised issues about whether other secret sites existed, and later (Mar., 2010) said that Iran was not fully cooperative and as a result the IAEA could not verify that Iran's nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes. The IAEA voted to censure Iran over the site.
In Nov., 2009, Iran announced plans for 10 more sites, and indicated that it did not intend to notify the IAEA about them until six months before they were operational, in contravention of Iran's 2003 agreement. In subsequent months no progress was made concerning the shipment of fuel outside Iran for enrichment, but in Feb., 2010, Iran announced that it was beginning to enrich its uranium to higher levels for use as medical isotopes. In May, 2010, Brazil and Turkey negotiated a deal that called for Iran ship most of its enriched fuel to Turkey in a swap but did not call for Iran to end its enrichment program, and in the face of a new UN sanctions resolution and Iran's continuing with enrichment, it failed to resolve the situation.
The IAEA subsequently (May and Nov., 2011) reported it had evidence that Iran had undertaken work involved in the development of a nuclear weapon, including experiments involving nuclear triggers, and in Jan., 2012, Iran began the process of enriching nuclear fuel to a higher level (20%, used in medicine and a precursor to weapons-grade uranium) than before. The United States and other Western nations imposed additional sanctions in 2011–12 following those revelations; those imposed on many Iranian banks complicated Iran's ability to conducted international trade, leading to a drop in petroleum revenues and financial liquidity problems in Iran. The sanctions also contributed to high inflation and increased unemployment in Iran. In addition to sanctions, since 2010 a number of assassinations of scientists linked to Iran's nuclear program and at least one cyberattack at a nuclear facility have taken place in Iran. In retaliation for the sanctions and other measures, Iran apparently engaged in cyberattacks in the West and Middle East. The IAEA continued its calls for Iran to cooperate, but talks did not produce any resolution until after Hassan Rowhani's election (Aug., 2013) as Iran's president (see below).
In Dec., 2010, the government began reducing subsidies on food and energy; the reductions were forced in part by the high cost of maintaining them in the face of international sanctions against the country. An opposition demonstration in Tehran in Feb., 2011, in support of Egyptian antigovernment protesters was suppressed by the government, which also placed Mousavi and former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi under house arrest after they called for the protest. Mousavi and Karroubi were later reported to have been transferred to a prison. The moves were part of a broader government crackdown in early 2011 that was believed to be in reaction to the antigovernment demonstrations in many Arab nations. In subsequent months a split developed between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, and the ayatollah and hardline clerics moved to limit the president's power. The Mar.–May, 2012, parliamentary elections were largely boycotted by reformists and were mainly a contest between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad supporters, with the former winning a sizable majority of the seats. Tensions between Ahmadinejad and his opponents, particularly the parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, continued into 2013.
Six candidates were permitted to run in the 2013 presidential election; former president Rafsanjani was among the many who were disqualified. Hassan Rowhani, a pragmatic cleric and former diplomat who was regarded as the moderate candidate, won the first round with not quite 51% of the vote; the four most conservative candidates combined for some 30% of the vote. The vote was widely regarded as a rejection of both Ahmadinejad's allies and his hardline opponents. Subsequent negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear program led (Nov., 2013) to an interim agreement that called for Iran to stop enriching uranium above 5% and for it to impose other restrictions on its nuclear programs. In return, Western nations agreed to a limited, but reversible, easing of sanctions. Iran began implementing the restrictions in Jan., 2014. Negotiations continued, and an accord placing limitations on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions was agreed to in July, 2015. Meanwhile, following the Islamic State's successes against Iraqi forces in mid-2014, Iran provided military aid and advisers, including combat troops and air strikes, to Iraqi forces, especially Iraqi Shiite militia forces.
See G. C. Lenczowski, ed., Iran under the Pahlavis (1978); B. Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs (1982); N. R. Keddie, Religion and Politics in Iran (1983); J. Abdulghani, Iraq and Iran (1984); W. Barthold, Historical Geography of Iran (1984); S. Bakhash, Reign of the Ayatollahs (1986); E. Sciolino, Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (2000); S. Kinzer, All the Shah's Men (2003); C. de Bellaigue, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs (2005); K. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict between Iran and America (2005); E. Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran (2008); J. Afary, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (2009); W. R. Polk, Understanding Iran (2009); R. Takeyh, Guardians of the Revolution (2009); D. Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran (2012); E. Yarshater, Encyclopædia Iranica (15 vol., 1983–).
Copyright The Columbia University Press
IRAN. The art of sophisticated cookery in Iran can be traced to antiquity. It has, according to existing literature, preserved its basic mode of preparation for more than a thousand years, enhanced by refinement of dishes and new recipes created in the kitchens of royalty and ordinary folk. Iranian food is prepared with such delicate subtlety that every ingredient used can be tasted and every aromatic spice added can be appreciated.
Food of Ancient Persia
History. The Persian Achaemenid empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in 549 B.C.E., dominated the ancient world for almost two centuries. At the height of its power it extended from the Indus in the east to Asia Minor and Egypt in the west, uniting Medes, Persians, and Parthians, as well as many other tribes and peoples, in fealty to the dynasty. Presumably the people living in that vast expanse with its varied climates each formed their own culinary culture according to indigenous food products, naturally available, grown, or reared. Yet all cultures converged at the Achaemenid court and were elaborately manifested at the table of the king of kings.
There are no known recipes left of that period. The references to food in the Avesta and Elamite tablets from Persepolis dated 509–494 B.C.E. indicate that the Achaemenid diet consisted of dairy products from cows, sheep, goats, and mares; meat from oxen, rams, goats, and wild or reared fowls; grains for making bread; ales; wines; dried fruit; and nuts and seeds also used for pressing oil.
Each season, the nomad kings and the court moved from capital to capital. Winter was spent in Babylon or Susa, where the wine was fermented from dates and grapes; spring in Ecbatana, where meat, dairy products, and herbs were ample; and autumn in Persepolis, where fruit, wild vegetables, and seeds were in abundance.
Narratives by Greek authors of the period reveal the sumptuous preparation and the abundance of food in that fertile realm. Ctesias (405–397 B.C.E.) and Dinon indicate that 15,000 men ate daily in the court of the Achaemenid king of kings. The Greek writer Polyaenus (second century C.E.) recounts that the food brought to the court for distribution as well as for the preparation of three meals a day was formulated by Cyrus and engraved on a bronze column. It included great quantities of different grades of wheat, barley, and rye, floured or treated; grains of corn and parsley; salt; male livestock; gazelles; poultry; geese; pigeons; small wild birds; dairy; watercress; onions and garlic; pickled radishes and beetroots; cured capers; juice of sweet apples; conserve of sour pomegranates; honey; oils of almond, terebinth, sesame seed, and acanthus; raisins dark and light; nuts; sweetened seeds; vinegar; mustard, anise, cumin, celery, and safflower seeds; saffron; cardamom; and dill flower. Xenophon (430–355 B.C.E.) notes that what was served at the king's table was prepared in exquisite taste by expert cooks and bakers who were engaged in a constant search for new recipes and would invent a variety of pastries and cakes.
Herodotus (fifth century B.C.E.) relates that the Persians ate varied desserts and sweets. Birthdays were celebrated by giving great feasts. Side dishes, served at regular intervals, punctuated the introduction of the principal dishes. Large animals, including big fowl like ostrich, were stuffed and roasted whole; birds were stuffed and seasoned with capers. Meat cured in sophisticated fashion was served.
The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (first century B.C.E.) reflects on the variety of delicacies brought from Persia to Babylon, in particular fish from the Persian Gulf. Polyaenus remarks on the exquisite mixture of cardamom and other spices, vinegar, and pepper, and upon the use of aromatic herbs from which oil was also extracted for medicinal purposes.
It is said that soldiers normally received meat and bread, but on long journeys and campaigns were sustained by onion soup and bread. To this day eshkaneh, basically made with onions, flour, and turmeric, is cooked in different parts of Iran. Seasonal or dried herbs and fruit—dried or fresh—are added, and, combined with one or two eggs, the dish can serve a big family. It remains the food of the populace, while the stuffed beast or fowl, boghlameh, is served mainly at tribal feasts by those who can afford the luxury. Pierre Briant, quoting Polyaenus, remarks in Histoire de l'Empire Perse (p. 300) that when Alexander the Great defeated Darius III and seized Persepolis (331 B.C.E.), ordering the bronze pillars to be destroyed, he said with laughter that such a diet weakens the body and the mind and was the cause of the defeat of the Persians.
Following Alexander's demise, his successors, the Seleucid Greek rulers (323–64 B.C.E.), were overthrown by the Parthians of western Iran. The Parthians (250 B.C.E.–224 C.E.) revived the national spirit that came to full flowering under their successors, the Sassanians (224–652 C.E.). The culinary culture of the aristocracy and preparation of food in this period are revealed in a rare Pahlavi manuscript, "King Husrav and His Boy" (translated: J. Unvala, Paris), a reliable source that withstood the destruction of libraries by the Islamic army in 636 or 637. In the text Khosrow II and a companion discuss, among the pleasures of life, the variety of Epicurean cuisine. Some dishes are in certain ways similar to what is eaten in the early twenty-first century in certain parts of Iran. For example, the boy recommends that the meat of a two-month-old kid fed on mother's milk and cow's milk marinated with herbs be cooked and served with whey (kashk ). In Yazd (central Iran), Kerman, and Azerbaijan, bōzghōrmēh is still a popular dish. It features chunks of goat's meat or mutton as a dominant substitute, fried with chopped onions, seasoned with turmeric and cinnamon, sprinkled with tarragon and mint or saffron, and topped by thick yogurt or kashk. As for sweets, almond, walnut, and pistachio are used in making delicate cookies, as they were many years ago. A jelly made with quince juice is now called mōjassamēh-ye beh. In jams and preserves the peel of baalang, a large citrus fruit, is still popular in Fars and Gilan provinces. Quince jam continues to be made in most parts. Cucumber and walnut jams and pickles are remembered recipes in Qazvin.
Other later sources, too, elaborate the sophisticated Sassanid cuisine. An eleventh-century scholar, Tha'alebi of Neishapur, describes in his "History" a variety of dishes including wild birds and other game, fish, lamb, and veal marinated in vinegar, mustard, stock, garlic, dill, and green and black cumin, or in yogurt, flavored with spices, and stewed, broiled, or roasted according to different recipes; barbecued chicken flavored with cane sugar, skewered and grilled; stuffed vine leaves; puddings made of rice, milk, honey, butter, eggs, and rosewater; and delicacies and sweets using countless aromatics. He mentions that peasants marinated their meat in brine and pomegranate juice.
Festivals. Festivals were frequent in ancient Persia. For the ancient Persian herdsmen and farmers, the revival of nature in the spring was a terrestrial renewal of life, so people equated the New Year with the spring equinox. Before the equinox, reverence for the seven Ēmshāspands (archangels) in the Zoroastrian religion was symbolized in seven cereals and pulses grown in clay pots to predict the quality of the next harvest. In the five leap days (the year being 360 days) preceding Nōwrūz (New Year's festival), festivities would begin. Food, including milk and honey, sweetmeats, nuts, and dried fruits, was prepared and bonfires were lit on rooftops to attract the Farvahars, or guardian angels of the ancestors, who would descend for the annual reception in which wining and dining continued for five days following Nōwrūz.
Yaldā is still celebrated, marking the birth of Mithra on the longest night of the year. Throughout the long night of Yaldā, fresh fruit specially preserved for the occasion, seven kinds of nuts, and a range of dried fruit were consumed in a joyous vigil held to drive out the darkness in anticipation of the sun's rebirth. Apart from Mēhrgān or Sadēh little is known of other such festivals.
After the Arab invasion in the seventh century, a great number of Zoroastrians migrated to India, taking with them their culinary culture. However, the art of Persian cookery and the etiquette of eating (ādāb-é sōfrēh ) at a spread (sōfrēh ) laden with a colorful array of food survived. These, in later years, highly influenced the Arab, the Ottoman, and the Indian culinary cultures.
In the eighth century, Iranians who helped the Abbasid caliphs gain power passed on the refined Sassanid recipes to Baghdad. This is apparent in a range of cookery books written in Arabic in subsequent centuries.
In the fifteenth century, the haute cuisine that evolved at the Ottoman court was in the style of the Teimurid court of Persia. From the sixteenth century, when a descendant of the Teimurid dynasty in Iran established the Moghul empire in Delhi, the first cookery books, written in Persian and Urdu by Iranian scholars of the imperial court, appeared. In parallel, cookery books were written in Iran by master chefs in the Safavid court and in the nineteenth century in the Qājār court of Na-ser od-Dīn Shāh, showing further refinement in the art of cooking, of rice, in particular.
Modern Iranian Cuisine
Rice. Rice in Iran is steamed to a unique perfection, bringing out its full flavor and fragrance, turning the grains into light, fluffy chēlōw (plain rice) that may be eaten with khōrēsh (stew) or grilled meat (chēlōw kabāb ). Rice can be steamed with meat, herbs, vegetables, sour cherries, or pulses in many varieties, colors, and mixtures (pōlōw ) as a crisp crust (tah-dig ) is formed at the bottom of the cooking vessel. It can be garnished with saffron, barberries, and slivers of orange peel, pistachio, and almond. Rice with beaten eggs, yogurt, and saffron, steamed with layers of cooked meat, eggplant (aubergine), or spinach turns into yet another sumptuous dish known as tahchin.
The best rice is grown in the Caspian provinces of Gīlān and Māzandarān; it is also cultivated in limited quantity in the Lenjān district of Ēsfahān and along the Qēzēl Ōzan River near Zanjān. The major grades of quality long-grain rice, with their elongated form and characteristic fragrance, Sadri Dōmsīah and Tārōm, are the best known for perfume and taste.
Stews. Iranian cuisine in general is the art of cooking the available nutrients in a way that pleases the eye and the palate and balances the functions of the body. Recipes consider food's properties and elements to formulate an equation in which the ingredients blend harmoniously, each counterbalancing the excess effect of the other on the digestive system.
Khōrēsh, derived from the Persian verb khōrdan (to eat), is a kind of stew prepared to these rules. The base for every khōrēsh is fried onions (garlic is added in the northern and southern regions), meat or poultry, the appropriate spices and seasoning. These are left to simmer in water to a desired consistency, then lightly fried vegetables, herbs, or fruit are added. Depending on vegetables and herbs in season, countless varieties are made all over Iran. For example, chopped mint and parsley would make khōrēsh-é na'najafari with celery, or, in the spring, rhubarb, greengages, acanthus, or young green almonds with verjuice (sour grape juice) as seasoning. The famous khōrēsh-é fēsēnjān, which turns into a thick light or dark brown sauce, is made of ground walnuts seasoned with pomegranate juice or paste and has a sweet and sour taste. The cooling effect of pomegranate juice balances the warm and rich property of walnuts. This is an autumn and winter khōrēsh customarily made with duck, or with chicken or meatballs as substitutes. In late autumn it can be made with ripe walnuts and pomegranate juice. In winter chunks of eggplant or pumpkin, dried prunes, and apricots may be added. It is then called mōtanjan. A further derivation is anār-āvīj (pomegranate paste or juice and herbs), prepared in the Caspian region. Another speciality is khōrēsh-é ghōrmēh-sabzi made with mixed herbs and red kidney beans (in the south, blackeyed beans) with whole dried limes used for fragrance, freshness, and seasoning. Also common is khōrēsh-e gheimeh (diced meat) with split peas, served plain or with fried potato sticks and dried lime as seasoning or eggplant, zucchini (courgettes), or celery with sour grapes as seasoning, quinces, or apples with sweetened vinegar as seasoning, etc. A luxury, known from the imperial court of the Qājārs (nineteenth century), is gheimēh-mōrassa' (jeweled diced meat), which in place of split peas uses skinned whole pistachios with ample saffron for aroma and color.
Khōrāk and side dishes. Khōrāk, also derived from the verb khōrdan ('to eat') cooked with or without meat, cover an extensive range and reflect the significant contributions of Gīlān and Azerbaijan provinces. Among these dishes are kabāb, a variation of charcoal-grilled meat, fowl, or fish; shāmi —meat cooked with split peas pounded and kneaded with eggs, ground cumin, and saffron, shaped in a round patty and deep-fried; kūkū, a form of thick puffed omelette or soufflé of different vegetables or herbs; dōlmēh— stuffed vegetables or vine or cabbage leaves; tās -kabāb, meticulously arranged layers of onion, meat, tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, potatoes, and quinces or apples (depending on the season), sprinkled with cardamom and cinnamon, chopped dried lime, and prunes steam-cooked in its own juice on low heat; kashk-bādēm-jān —fried eggplant topped with kashk (whey) and tastefully garnished; mīrzāghāsēmi, grilled eggplant cooked with garlic, tomatoes, and eggs. Side dishes are prepared with various vegetables cooked or raw and mixed with yogurt seasoned with aromatic herbs.
Fish. Fish is cooked in a variety of ways in the Caspian Sea provinces and alongside the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. In the Khuzistan region well-spiced baked fish seasoned with tamarind is among the specialities whereas in the Caspian area it is barbecued or stuffed with herbs, including dried pomegranate seeds, baked and served with bitter oranges. The Caspian caviar is an important item for export, and the large grey and the rare golden of the Iranian coast are famous among connoisseurs.
Bread. Bread or nān is revered as a gift from God. Except in the rice-growing areas along the Caspian coast, it is the staple food of Iranians. Khōrēshs and khōrāks are eaten with nān as well as rice. Made in a flat form, the most common varieties of bread are sangak (baked on pebbles), tāftūn, thin lavāsh, thick barbari, nān -é shīrmāl (dough mixed with milk), and crispy nān-é rōghani (dough mixed with butter).
Soups. Āsh is the general name for a thick soup made with herbs, rice, or pulses with or without meat, served plain or variably seasoned. It is another prominent and universal feature of Iranian cuisine. The recipe for āsh-e sac (spinach soup) has been passed down from the Sassanid era. Āsh cooked using barley, wheat, or noodles and kashk is a convenient dish in tribal life. Ābgūsht (literally meat juice) is made with mutton, onions, turmeric, chickpeas, pinto beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and dried lime; the stock is separated and the rest is pounded into a paste. It is the sustaining food of all classes. Other variations of ābgūsht are derived from this basic form. Another soup is known as kallēh-pācheh (sheep's head and pig's feet in a bouillon); when homemade, tripe is often added. Halīm is a homogeneous porridgelike soup made with wheat and pounded meat of lamb, turkey, or goose, garnished with melted butter and powdered cinnamon. Kūftēh refers to tiny to very large meatballs in onionbased soup. The kūftēh tabrīyi of Azerbaijan is so large that it can hold a chicken, an egg, prunes, barberries, orange peel, and almonds in its center.
There are cold soups for summer. Ābdūgh, a soup made from cucumber, raisins, and herbs in diluted yogurt is everybody's meal. Ēshkanēh, made with fresh fruit such as sour cherries, is both refreshing and filling.
Confections and preserves. A common confection is hālva, prepared from flour, butter, diluted sugar, saffron, and rosewater. Tar hālva, a sophisticated version of hālva, is prepared with ground rice instead of flour and with crushed orange peel or yellow rose petals. Other well-known desserts are shōllēhzard, made with rice, water, butter, sugar, saffron, and almond slivers and garnished with cinnamon and crushed pistachio; masqati, made with starch, water, sugar, butter, cardamom, and almond slivers; and yakhdarbēhēsht, prepared with starch, milk, and sugar. All are perfumed with rosewater or orange-blossom water.
Jams, preserves, torshis (pickles), and sherbets (soft and refreshing cold drinks) such as sērkangēbin, made of sugar water, vinegar, and mint, and others prepared with the juice of rhubarb or various fruits, are prominent features of Iranian culinary culture. The techniques of long conservation of herbs, vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy have been passed on from one generation to another and have been developed in homes mainly by women, the keepers of the household.
Cookies and pastries. Cookies and pastries in Iran are generally delicate in form with a subtle aroma, prepared with variation on basic recipes in different regions. Bāghlava, made with phyllo pastry, finely ground almonds or pistachio, sugar and light syrup, flavored with cardamom and rosewater, finely cut into small diamond-shaped pieces, is a popular confection. Now commercially produced, it was conventionally a homemade product except in Yazd, where confectioners, as a cherished tradition, have specialized in its production. Similarly, numerous petit fours, made with finely ground rice or chickpeas or coconut or almond, are produced. Apart from Yazd, as examples, Esfahān specializes in the production of gaz (nugat); Qum in sōhān (a kind of fudge made of germinated wheat, garnished with crushed pistachio); Kērmānshāh and Qazvīn in nān-é bērēnji (rice cookies) and kāk or nān-é yōkhēh (a fine phyllo made of flour, butter, eggs, and milk, rolled and cut into small pieces, baked and sprayed with powdered sugar); the specialty of Shīrāz is nōghl (sugared slivered almond or pistachio, or muskwillow seed). In rural and tribal areas, kōlūcheh, a kind of shortbread, is popularly produced, mainly for festivities.
Street food. Hot steaming beetroots, grilled pumpkins, baked potatoes, boiled broad beans, and cooked lentils served with powdered Persian marjoram seed sold by peddlers in winter, and liver kabābs rolled in flatbread with or without fresh herbs and chopped onions sold all year round are characteristic features of the popular culture. As further examples, a number of puddings and sweetmeats as well as dried barberry or prunella soaked in water for the juice can be added to the list.
Persian food has not reached the international market. Until the early decades of the twentieth century, people holding high functions or the aristocracy saw to their business in the outer quarters of their home. They were fed together with their employees, assistants, and guests by the kārkhānēh (workshop), as the kitchen was known in a big household. It was in such kitchens that great chefs trained cooks who specialized in certain branches of cooking and accepted apprentices to ensure the continuity of the tradition.
Commercial sale of food was limited to qahvēhkhē-neh (coffee or, in fact, tea houses), where basic dishes are prepared; chēlōw-kabābīs, where only rice and kabobs are served; and certain shops that function only very early in the morning or late in the evening, selling one item like rice pudding, halīm, or tripe. Restaurants are a post–World War I phenomenon mainly introduced by Armenian, Caucasian, and Russian émigrés from the former Soviet Union. They introduced their own cookery rather than commercializing the Persian cuisine.
Feasts and rituals. Cookies, dried fruit, nuts, and sweets are prepared for Nōwrūz (the New Year festival). The traditional dish for New Year's Eve is sabzi-pōlōw (rice with herbs) with fried or smoked fish. On New Year's Day rēshtēh-pōlōw (noodles with rice), spiced and artfully garnished, is served. Festivities end with a picnic on the thirteenth day, at which āsh-é rēshtēh (noodle soup made with herbs, pulses, and kashk ) and bāghēla-pōlōw (rice steamed with broad beans and dill) are the main features.
Observation of religious mourning is customary during the first ten days of the first month of the lunar Islamic calendar to commemorate the martyrdom of Hossein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The occasion includes offerings in the form of food and puddings to the poor. Rice and khōrēshs are served in the evenings. On the tenth day, the well-to-do offer puddings such as shōllēhzard or hālva to ensure good health for the loved ones. In the month of Ramadan a whole range of sophisticated condiments of fine quality are made available for those fasting and feasting during daylight hours.
See also Bread; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Herbs and Spices; Herodotus; Islam; Mesopotamia, Ancient; Rice; Soup; Stew; Zoroastrianism.
Abu Eshaq Shirazi, Mowlana. Divan-e At'ameh, edited and published by Mirza Habib Esfahani. Istanbul, a.h. 1302/ 1884–1885. Gives recipes in satirical poetry. The edition includes a glossary by the editor.
Afshar, Iraj, ed., Ashpazi-ye Dōwrēh-ye Safavi: Matn-e Dōw Rāsēlēh az ān Dōwrēh. Tehran: Entesharat-e Seda va Sima, a.h. 1360/1981. Includes two major works on cookery from the Safavid period, Kārnēmeh: dar Bāb-e Tabbākhi va San'at-e Ān of Hāji Mohammad Ali Bāvarchi Baghdādi, a.h. 927/1521 a.d, pp. 33–184; and Māddat al-Hayāt of Nurallāh, a.h. 1003/1594–1595 a.d., pp. 185–256. This also includes a valuable list of references to a number of Arabic and Persian manuscripts and rare nineteenth-century prints.
Āshpazbāshi, Mīrza Ali Akbar Khān. Sōfrēh-yé At'ameh. Tehran: Bōnyād-é Farhang-é Iran, a.h. 1352/1974. Written by the chef at the Court of Nāser od-Dīn Shāh in 1883–1884 at the request of Dr. Desire Tholozan.
Batmangelij, Najmieh K. A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cooking. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1999.
Briant, Pierre. Histoire de l'Empire Perse: de Cyrus à Alexandre. Paris: Fayard, 1996.
Daryabandari, Najaf. Kētāb-é Mōstatāb-e Āshpazi: Az Sīr tā Piyāz, in co-operation with Fahimeh Rastkar, 2 vols. Tehran: Nashr-e Kārnāmēh, a.h. 1379/2000.
Ghanoonparvar, Mohammad R. Persian Cuisine, Book Two: Regional and Modern Foods. Lexington, Ky.: Mazdâ, 1982–1984. In English and Persian.
Mōntazami, Rosa. Hōnar-e Āshpazi. 9th ed. Tehran: Shērkat Offset, a.h. 1361/1982, 1st edition printed in a.h. 1347/1968.
Richard, Josephine (Nēshāt-ed-Dōlēh). Tabbakhi-ye Nēshāt.
Richard Khan, Yūsēf (Mō'addab-al-Mōlk). Rēsālēh-yé Tabbākhi. Tehran, 1903.
Roden, Claudia. The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Rev. ed.
New York: Knopf, 2000.
Sancisi-Weerdenberg, Heleen. "Persian Food: Stereotypes and
Political Identity." In Food in Antiquity, edited by John Wilkins, David Harvey, and Mike Dobson, pp. 286–302. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995.
Shaida, Margaret. The Legendary Cuisine of Persia. Henley-on-
Thames, U.K.: Lieuse, 1992.
Simmons, Shirin. A Treasury of Persian Cuisine. East Sussex,
England: Book Guild, 2002.
Wilkins, John, David Harvey, and Mike Dobson, eds. Food in
Antiquity. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1995.
Yarshater, Ehsan, ed. Encyclopaedia Iranica. (Articles on cookbooks, cooking, berenj, and cookies.) London; Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983–1989; Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazdâ Pulishers, 1990–.
Zubaida, Sami, and Richard Tapper, eds. Culinary Cultures of the Middle East. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1994.
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc.
RecipesDolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)..................................... 82
Yogurt and Mint Sauce ............................................... 83
Kebab Morgh (Grilled Skewered Chicken)................... 85
Shirazi (Cucumber and Tomato Salad) ........................ 85
Halva .......................................................................... 86
Dugh (Sparkling Yogurt Drink).................................... 86
Lettuce Dipped in Honey and Vinegar Dressing........... 88
Shir-Berenj (Rice Pudding)........................................... 88
Iranian Rice Cakes ....................................................... 88
Maast (Homemade Yogurt)......................................... 91
Feta Cheese and Vegetable Tray.................................. 91
Desser Miveh (Persian Fruit Salad)............................... 91
1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
Iran is located in southwestern Asia. It covers an area of 1,648,000 square kilometers (636,296 square miles), slightly larger than the state of Alaska. Iran is geologically unstable, and experiences periodic earthquakes. In 1978, a deadly earthquake struck eastern Iran, killing at least 25,000 people.
Air and water pollution are significant problems in Iran. Twenty-five percent of the rural people do not have pure water.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
Since the beginning of human civilization in present-day Iran, a series of peoples has invaded and conquered the region, exposing the area to new customs, beliefs, ideas, and foods, as well as bringing Iranian customs and foods back to their own home countries. The ancient Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Turks are just a few of the groups that have had an influence on Iranian culture and its cuisine.
Iranian cuisine is often referred to as "Persian." This is because, until 1934, Iran was known as Persia. The Persians are an ancient culture believed to have originated in central Asia as far back as 2000 B.C. At one time, Persian territory stretched as far east as India. Curry (a spice) was adapted from the people of India and incorporated into the Persian (now Iranian) cuisine. Modern spicy curry stews demonstrate India's influence.
The Indians also adapted foods from the Persians. When the Moghuls invaded India in 1526, they brought with them ingredients from the Persian cuisine, which they highly admired. A northern Indian cuisine called mughulai is modeled after what the Persians commonly ate: mounds of rice seasoned with saffron, topped with nuts, raisins, and various meats. Dishes such as kofta (KOFtah, meatballs) and pilau (POO-lau) are now common to both Iranians and northern Indians.
Several of Iran's most prominent dishes originated from the Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Russians. Greece invaded present-day Iran in the A.D. 200s, introducing stuffed grape leaves. Yogurt may have originated from either Greece or Turkey, where it is also a dietary staple. The Iranian food rules that categorize foods into "hot or "cold" is believed to have been derived from ancient Greek theories of medicine (See Mealtime Customs ). Dishes made of lamb, dates, and figs were brought into the Persian diet during the Arab invasion of the 600s.
Three hundred years later, the Turks expanded their Ottoman Empire into Persian territory. The idea of stuffing leaves, vines, fruits, and vegetables with various fillings (Turkish dolma ) was reinforced by the Turks. Dolma and kofte (meatballs) have become very popular throughout the Middle Eastern countries. The kebab (cubes of skewered meat) is probably the most important introduction by the Turks—it has become one of Iran's national dishes. Strong Turkish coffee was also introduced. Once a widely consumed Iranian beverage, it has now fallen behind the popularity of chây (tea). The strong, dark tea is brewed in an urn called a samovar, a Russian word. Tea most likely originated in Russia.
Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- 1 jar grape leaves (available at most Greek, Middle Eastern, and Italian markets)
- 1½ cups uncooked rice
- 1 medium onion, diced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
- ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil until light brown.
- Add rice and brown lightly.
- Add the water, salt, and pepper.
- Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until water is absorbed but rice is only partially cooked.
- Make certain rice does not stick or burn.
- Add all the ingredients except the lemon juice and mix well.
- Drain the grape leaves and place 1 Tablespoon of filling in the center of each leaf.
- Fold the sides in and roll the leaf up.
- Place stuffed leaves in a pot in even and tight rows covering the bottom of the pan. When the bottom layer is complete, start another layer. Continue rolling dolmas until all of the filling is used.
- Add ½ of the lemon juice and enough water to cover half of the rolled leaves.
- Place a plate on the top layer to hold the stuffed leaves down and to prevent them from unrolling while cooking.
- Simmer over low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
- Remove the plate and dolmas from the pan, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and serve. May be served warm or at room temperature. Serve with Yogurt and Mint Sauce (recipe follows) if desired.
Makes about 20 to 25.
Yogurt and Mint Sauce
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup fresh mint, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Lemon wedges
- Combine yogurt, mint, and garlic in a small bowl.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves, recipe precedes), cucumbers, or with any salad.
3 FOODS OF THE IRANIANS
Iranian food (also referred to as Persian food) is some of the most delicious and fresh in its region. It is also quite healthy, using only small amounts of red meat (usually lamb or beef), emphasizing larger amounts of grains (especially rice), fruits, and vegetables. Although it is often lumped under the category of general "Middle Eastern" fare, the Iranian cuisine is able to retain its uniqueness in a variety of ways. One of these ways is preparing meals with contrasting flavors, such as a combination of sweet and sour or mild and spicy.
The country's cuisine is largely based on berenj (rice). It is relatively inexpensive and grown locally, making it an affordable and readily available staple in the everyday diet. A typical Iranian meal is often a heaping plate of chelo (CHEH-loh; plain, cooked rice) topped with vegetables, fish, or meat. It also provides a cool contrast to spicy meat toppings. The two national rice dishes are chelo and polo (POH-loh; rice cooked with several ingredients). There are seemingly endless varieties of dishes that can be prepared with rice in Iran.
Nân (bread), a round, flat bread that can either be baked or cooked over a bed of small stones, is the other staple food of Iranian cuisine. There are several varieties, including lavâsh, a very thin, brittle bread served for breakfast, and sangak (sahn-GAHK), a thicker, chewier variety that is usually marked by small "dimples" in the crust. Villages often make their own nân, while those who live in the city are frequently seen leaving bakeries with armfuls of freshly made loaves.
Meat, particularly chicken and lamb, is most commonly eaten as kebabs (KEE-bahbs), pieces of meat served on a skewer. Âsh (soups) and khoresh (stews) make popular entrees to most Iranian meals and often contain such meat. Abgoosht (up-GOOSHT) is a hearty soup made of mutton (sheep meat) and chickpeas. Soups are drunk directly from the bowl. Koftas (meatballs), vegetables (such as eggplant), fruits (such as quince, an apple-like fruit), and even yogurt (an Iranian mainstay) are often added to soups and stews.
Quinces, pears, grapes, dates, apricots, and Iranian melons flavored with rosewater are typically eaten for dessert. Halva (HAHL-wah, a sesame treat) and baklava (bahk-LAH-vah, crisp paper-like pastry layered with nuts and honey) are common throughout the Middle East. Iranians also love ice cream and puddings. Although sugared chây (tea) is the country's most treasured beverage and ghahvé (coffee) is highly popular, Iranians (particularly children) often enjoy a sweet drink after large meals. Palouden (PAO-loo-den), a rose- and lemon-flavored drink, dugh (sour milk or yogurt mixed with sparkling water) and fresh fruit juices can be made at home or bought in cafes and at street stalls.
Kebab Morgh (Grilled Skewered Chicken)
- 2 onions, finely grated
- 6 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
- 4 Tablespoons melted butter
- Small pinch of saffron threads, dissolved in 2 teaspoons warm water (optional, but recommended)
- Mix the onion, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl.
- Add the chicken and marinate for at least 4 hours.
- Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers.
- Stir the melted butter and dissolved saffron into the marinade.
- Brush the marinade onto the chicken.
- Preheat broiler or grill. Grill the chicken for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Baste (occasionally moisten) and turn the chicken as needed.
Serves 8 to 10.
Shirazi (Cucumber and Tomato Salad)
- 4 medium-sized cucumbers
- 3 medium-sized tomatoes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1½ cups lime juice
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Peel the cucumbers, remove the inner pulp and seeds, and chop them into bite-size pieces.
- Wash the tomatoes and chop them the same-size.
- Remove all the tomato seeds and let the excess tomato juice drain.
- Mix all the chopped ingredients together in a bowl.
- Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to serve (no longer than 1 hour).
- Twenty minutes before serving, add the lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Serve in small salad bowls as a salad or side dish.
- It tastes particularly good with rice and kebabs or stews.
- Serves 4 to 6.
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup rose water (optional)
- 4 teaspoons liquid saffron (optional, but recommended)
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup flour
- Boil the sugar and water together until the sugar is dissolved, then add the rose-water and saffron. Remove from the heat (but keep warm).
- Melt the butter in a pan over low heat and gradually stir in the flour to a smooth paste.
- Continue to cook over a low heat until golden in color. Slowly add the sugar and water mixture, stirring constantly. Remove from heat immediately.
- While still warm, spread onto a plate and press down with the back of a spoon, making a pattern with the spoon.
- Cut into small wedges and serve cold with toast and tea.
Serves 8 to 10.
Dugh (Sparkling Yogurt Drink)
- Plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon pepper (optional)
- 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
- Dash of mint
- Seltzer water
- Ice cubes
- Fill a tall glass halfway with the yogurt.
- Add pepper, salt, and mint; stir with a spoon.
- Continuing to stir, add enough seltzer water to fill the rest of the glass; stir well and add ice cubes.
- If a thinner drink is preferred, add more seltzer. For a thicker drink, use more yogurt.
Makes 1 serving.
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Almost all (about 98 percent) of Iranians are Shi'ah Muslims. They follow Shi'ah Islam, the government religion, and celebrate Muslim holidays throughout the year. Many of the country's religious holidays celebrate the birthdays of imams (religious leaders). One such leader is the Prophet Muhammad, who is remembered each year with a celebration called Mouloud (moo-LOOD). Ashura is a day to remember the Prophet's grandson, Husayn, who was murdered in A.D. 680. On this day, parades typically crowd city streets and people give money or food to the poor if they can afford to.
Ramadan is the most sacred time of the year for Muslims. For an entire month, Muslims fast (do not eat or drink) from sunrise to sunset every day, hoping to cleanse their bodies and minds and remember those who are less fortunate. Restaurants and food stores are often closed or have limited hours during this holy month. Ramadan ends with the sighting of the new moon. The three-day festival marking Ramadan's end is known as Eid al-Fitr. During this time, the month-long fast is broken by community prayer, and then followed by a large feast with family and friends.
Now Ruz (no-ROOZ), the Iranian New Year, takes place on the first day of spring (March 21) and is probably the most important festival in Iran. Iranians of all ages eagerly await this day (literally meaning "new day"), and look forward to a new beginning and an abundance of delicious meals and sweets.
Festivities for Now Ruz begin nearly two weeks ahead of time—planting seeds, buying clothes, and cleaning homes. Haft sin (hoft-SEEN) is a tradition in which tables are decorated with seven items that symbolize triumph over evil, including sir (garlic) and senjid (olives). Samanu (sah-muh-NOO), a pudding made from flour, sugar, and walnuts, is also made at this time. For additional good luck, a mother will often eat one cooked egg for every one of her children.
Beginning on the day of Now Ruz and lasting for two weeks, feasting and visiting with friends and relatives takes place while schools and offices remain closed. Iranian sweets and snacks such as fruits, nuts, pastries, puddings, and tea, are placed on tables in anticipation of visiting guests. Iranian rice cakes and sabzi polo, a rice dish flavored with herbs, are popular foods. On the thirteenth day of the New Year, called Sizdeh Bedar (seez-DAH-bee-DAR), it is believed that homes are filled with bad luck. To help chase it away, sabzeh (wheat or lentil seeds grown during haft sin ) are thrown out the window and a picnic outdoors is enjoyed. At 5 p.m., it is customary to eat lettuce leaves dipped in a honey and vinegar dressing, accompanied by tea.
When Iranians make their container of sabzeh, or green sprouts, for Now Ruz, they sometimes simply scatter the seeds over a plate and keep them moistened with water as they sprout and grow. They may also choose to fill a porous clay pot or jar with water and attach the seeds to the outside of the jar with strips of cloth until they stick to the moist surface. The strips are then removed and the sprouts grow upward in sunlight—green and full.
Sprouts, similar to those grown by Iranians, can be grown by filling a bowl or other container with sterile potting mix from a plant nursery, and scattering lentils or grains of barley or wheat thickly across the surface of the potting mix. The mix should be watered until it is evenly moist throughout, and then the container should be covered loosely with plastic wrap to hold in the moisture. The seeds will sprout if the container is left on a sunny windowsill; the surface should be sprinkled with water once or twice a day to keep the seeds moist.
After three days, the seeds should have begun to sprout and the plastic wrap may be removed. When the sprouts are a few inches tall, they may be tied into a bunch with a pretty ribbon, or snipped and added to a salad.
Lettuce Dipped in Honey and Vinegar Dressing
This is prepared on the thirteenth day of Now Ruz, the Iranian New Year.
- 1 head of lettuce
- 1 cup honey
- ½ cup vinegar, or to taste
- Remove brown leaves from head of lettuce.
- Tear off crisp, green leaves and arrange on a large plate.
- In a bowl, combine the honey and vinegar; stir well.
- Pour dressing onto a small plate or bowl and place in the center of larger plate holding lettuce.
- To eat, dip lettuce leaves into dressing.
Shir-Berenj (Rice Pudding)
- 2 cups rice
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup rose water (optional)
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Sugar or jam
- Measure the rice into a saucepan, rinse it, and drain off the water.
- Add water and milk to rice in saucepan and cook, covered, over low heat for about 20 minutes, until rice is soft.
- Add the rose water and cook for another minute or so.
- Add the cream. Serve topped with sugar or jam.
Makes 8 servings.
Iranian Rice Cakes
- 2 cups rice
- 2½ cups water
- 1 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- Bring water and milk to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in rice and salt.
- Simmer over low heat, covered, for about 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand for 10 more minutes.
- Melt the butter in a skillet and add the cooked rice, pressing down with a spatula to form a flat cake the size of the skillet.
- Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour, flattening with the spatula every 15 minutes.
- The cake is done when it is golden brown on the bottom and the top edges are lightly browned.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and let the cake cool until it is just warm to the touch.
- Turn the skillet upside down over a platter, holding the top of the cake with your other hand. Let the cake gently slide out onto the platter.
- The rice cake may be eaten warm or cold. Cut into pie-shaped wedges to serve.
Serves 6 to 8.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
Upon entering an Iranian home and removing one's shoes at the door, a gift or reciprocated dinner invitation should be offered to the host. When the meal is ready to be served, the host will place large platters of food on top of the sofreh (sof-RAY, tablecloth) that rests on top of a floor rug. Diners sit cross-legged in front of individual settings of plates, bowls, and silverware (typically a fork and a spoon). Iranians of the opposite sex (unless related) do not sit next to one another while eating. Talking is also kept to a minimum.
Although most meals will offer bread, rice, and meat (often a kebab ), Iranians often choose what foods will be served by following a set of food rules that originated from ancient Greek medicine. Foods are classified as either "hot" or "cold," depending on the food's heating or cooling effect on the individual (rather than the food's actual temperature). Hot foods include meats, sweets, and eggplant. Yogurt, cucumbers, and fish classify as cold. Iranians try to serve a balance of hot and cold foods. After dinner, chây (tea) is commonly accompanies fresh fruit for dessert, although more elaborate meals or special occasions will include pastries such as baklava or halva.
Iranians consume three meals a day, including snacks (usually nuts, seeds, fruit, or a light yogurt dish). Soph'ha'neh (breakfast), separate from the typical Iranian fare of lunch and dinner, usually consists of hot tea, cheese, and fresh baked bread from the local bakery or home kitchen. Some choose to purchase it from "bicycle breadmen" who travel from door to door, selling leftover bread for a reduced price. Northern provinces prefer asal (honey) with cooked, cold rice and fish. Central Iranians enjoy yogurt and soft cream, while southern Iranians prefer cheese and dates.
A child's weekday (Saturday through Thursday) breakfast before school is often the same as that of adults: tea, honey, bread, and feta cheese. Similar to breakfast, the light lunch served by most schools typically includes fresh fruit, dates, pistachio nuts, bread, and cheese.
Maast (Homemade Yogurt)
- 4 cups (approximately) milk
- 1 heaping spoonful plain yogurt
- Scald the milk by heating it justs until it starts to boil.
- Allow it to cool until it feels warm to the touch without burning.
- Add the spoonful of yogurt and mix lightly. Place in a container with a closed lid.
- Cover with a thick cloth or towel for at least 5 hours well (to maintain warmth), or until the yogurt has thickened.
- Unwrap the container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes about 8 servings.
Feta Cheese and Vegetable Tray
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced into 2-inch pieces
- Feta cheese, crumbled
- Spicy pickles, sliced into 1-inch long pieces
- 1 red onion, sliced
- ½ pound of sliced turkey
- Small spinach leaves
- 2 or 3 tomatoes, sliced
- Roll up the slices of turkey.
- Arrange all the ingredients on a platter or large, circular dish.
- Serve chilled.
Makes 4 to 8 servings.
Desser Miveh (Persian Fruit Salad)
- 2 seedless oranges, peeled and cored
- 2 apples, peeled and cored
- 2 bananas, sliced
- 2 cups pitted dates, chopped
- 1 cup dried figs or apricots, chopped
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup almonds, chopped
- Place the fruit in serving bowl and pour the orange juice over the fruit and mix gently.
- Garnish with almonds or coconut.
- Cover and chill several hours before serving.
Makes 6 servings.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
About 6 percent of the population of Iran is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of five, about 16 percent are underweight, and roughly 19 percent are stunted (short for their age).
Unemployment, caused by Iran's unstable economy, helps to contribute to urban and rural poverty. Such poverty often leads to hunger and undernourishment. An absence of cooked eggs, beans, lentils, and nuts from the diet can lead to protein deficiency. Similarly, a lack of fruits and vegetables can result in an overall vitamin deficiency. Many families affected by the country's shaky economy cannot afford to purchase or grow themselves the necessary foods for a healthy diet.
7 FURTHER STUDY
Greenway, Paul. Iran. 2nd ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1998. Rajendra, Vijeya and Gisela Kaplan. Iran. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1996.
Sanai, Hussein, ed. Iran: The Land of Norooz. Tehran, Iran: Iran Exports Publications Co. Ltd., 1994.
Spencer, William. Iran: Land of the Peacock Throne. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1997.
Epicurious. [Online] Available http://www.epicurious.com (accessed April 12, 2001).
FarsiEats.com. [Online] Available http://www.farsieats.com/recipes/ (accessed April 11, 2001).
Iran. [Online] Available http://knight3.cit.ics.saitama-u.ac.jp/hobbies/iran/food.html (accessed April 10, 2001).
The Iranian. [Online] Available http://www.iranian.com (accessed April 11, 2001).
Iranian/Persian Recipes. [Online] Available http://www.ee.surrey.ac.uk/Personal/F.Mokhtarian/recipes/ (accessed April 10, 2001).
Mezzetta. [Online] Available http://www.mezzetta.com/dolmas.html (accessed April 12, 2001).
PersianOutpost.com. [Online] Available http://www.persianoutpost.com/htdocs/album/food001.html (accessed April 11, 2001).
"The White Balloon." Iranian director Jafar Panahi, 1996. 85 minutes. This is a story of a seven-year-old Iranian girl named Razieh who asks her mother for money to buy a special goldfish for the Now Ruz celebration. (Goldfish in a bowl of water are traditionally placed on the table this time of year.) Eager to purchase one, Razieh travels through the city of Tehran on her journey to the pet store. As she does so, she meets people of many different cultures. The differences and similarities of people from all over the world become apparent in this charming film.
COPYRIGHT 2002 The Gale Group,
Official name: Islamic Republic of Iran
Area: 1,648,000 square kilometers (636,296 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Damāvand (5,671 meters/18,606 feet)
Lowest point on land: Caspian Sea (28 meters/92 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 3:30 p.m. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 2,250 kilometers (1,398 miles) from southeast to northwest; 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: 5,440 kilometers (3,380 miles) total boundary length; Afghanistan 936 kilometers (582 miles); Armenia 35 kilometers (22 miles); Azerbaijan proper 432 kilometers (268 miles); Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 179 kilometers (111 miles); Iraq 1,458 kilometers (906 miles); Pakistan 909 kilometers (565 miles); Turkey 499 kilometers (310 miles); Turkmenistan 992 kilometers (616 miles)
Coastline: 2,440 kilometers (1,516 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Iran is located in southwestern Asia between the Cash2an Sea and Persian Gulf, in the region known as the Middle East. The country shares borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmeni-stan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey. With an area of about 1,648,000 square kilometers (636,296 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Alaska. Iran is divided into twenty-eight provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Iran has no outside territories or dependencies.
Iran has an arid and semiarid climate with subtropical areas along the coasts. There are four seasons: spring, summer, a brief autumn, and winter. The central deserts and Persian Gulf coast are especially hot in summer, with some of the world's highest recorded temperatures occurring in the desert. The average annual temperature in northern Iran is 10°C (50°F). The average annual temperature in southern Iran is between 25°C and 30°C (77°F and 86°F). Iran's climate is dry, except for belts of high humidity along the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf. Strong seasonal winds often whip up dust and sandstorms.
Iran's average annual precipitation is 27 centimeters (11 inches) during non-drought years. Less than 14 percent of the land receives more than 52 percent of the precipitation. The most rainfall occurs along the Caspian Sea shore, past the Elburz range. For the most part, the rains arrive in the winter, when snow also affects the mountainous regions. In some areas, no precipitation occurs for long periods of time. Sudden storms with heavy rains a few times per year may provide those regions with their entire annual rainfall.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The topography of Iran consists of two main mountain ranges wrapped around a basin which contains deserts and salt marshes. The Caspian Sea is in the north and the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are in the south. Settlement is mainly in the mountain regions, along the coasts, and in some oases. In the areas where agriculture is viable, crops thrive as long as there is adequate water. Iran has a delicate environmental balance, however, as forests and farmland decrease and desert increases.
Iran lies on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate, which has some of the world's most active fault lines. The country's western border sits right above where this plate meets the Arabian Tectonic Plate. As the Arabian and Eurasian Plates push against each other, topographical formations are created, such as the bent and rippled layers of rock in the Zagros Mountains. In the southeast, the Eurasian Plate collides with the Indian Tectonic Plate not too far outside Iran's borders. Subterranean shifts in this area have produced numerous faults in the earth's crust. As a result, devastating earthquakes occur frequently, with the western region being hit the hardest.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Iran has a northern shoreline along the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. The sea extends approximately 1,210 kilometers (750 miles) from north to south and 210 to 436 kilometers (130 to 271 miles) from east to west. Its area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean depth is about 170 meters (550 feet), and it is deepest in the south.
Although connected to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Black Sea by extensive inland waterways, the Caspian Sea has no natural outlet. Pollution from agricultural chemicals (especially pesticides), industry, and oil drilling has had a serious adverse impact on the Caspian Sea shoreline environment.
Because of massive reserves of natural gas, demarcation of rights to the Caspian Sea's waters has become a contentious issue among all of its bordering countries.
The Persian Gulf lies to the southwest of Iran and the Gulf of Oman is to the southeast. Both bodies of water serve as extensions of the Indian Ocean's Arabian Sea. Pollution from oil tankers and military ships, overfishing, destructive fishing methods, agricultural chemical runoff, sewage, and industrial waste are problems in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
Sea Inlets and Straits
From the Persian Gulf, the 55-kilometer (34-mile) Strait of Hormuz, one of petroleum shipping's most strategic routes, leads into the Gulf of Oman.
The Persian Gulf coast contains Būshehr Bay and Naayband Bay in Būshehr province. Rocky shores and cliffs mark this coastal section, where the mountains come right down to the sea. This rugged coast, especially around Naayband Bay and the harbor of Bandar-e Lengeh, is considered particularly vulnerable to oil spills. At Hormozgān Province, the coastline curves inward sharply, sheltering Qeshm island, with seasonal creek outlets in Khamir Harbor across from Qeshm.
Chaabahar Bay and Gavāter Bay are on the Gulf of Oman, near the Pakistan border.
Islands and Archipelagos
Iran occupies sixteen islands in the Persian Gulf. Only eleven of the islands are inhabited. In late spring, the Persian Gulf islands are nesting sites for seabirds and for endangered sea turtles. The coral reefs around these islands are barely surviving temperature fluctuations, algae, and oil spills, as well as damage from pollution, tourists, and construction.
Qeshm is the largest island in the Persian Gulf. With an area of 1,335 square kilometers (515 square miles), this island is a mountainous oblong in the Strait of Hormuz. Other much smaller islands in and near the Strait of Hormuz include Kīsh (Qeys), Hormoz, Hendurabi, Farur, Sīrrī, Abu Musa, and Lāvān. Khārk Island is close to the northern end of the Persian Gulf.
Two islands in the Persian Gulf are occupied by Iran but are also claimed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE): Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb. Iran and the UAE jointly administer the island of Abu Musa.
Iran's Caspian Sea shoreline begins in the west at the border of Azerbaijan, sweeps southeast to the lagoon port of Bandar-e Anzali, and continues east to the Bandare Torkeman lagoon above Behshahr town. The coast then turns straight north to the Turkmenistan border. Much of the shore has been formed as the water recedes from the original seabed.
The Caspian Sea region has the largest forests, which have mostly deciduous tree species including oak, elm, beech, and linden. Golestān National Park in the Caspian region, near the Turkmenistan border, is highly biodi-verse, with deciduous and conifer tree species. Sisangan National Park, near the Azerbaijan border, is another Caspian forest.
Southwest Iran meets the northwest end of the Persian Gulf at the border with Iraq. At this end of the Gulf the coastal plain is wide, containing the delta of the Kārūn River, which adjoins neighboring Iraq's Tigris and Euphrates River deltas. Estuaries with mudflats and salt marshes are found in this region, and there are hundreds of seasonal creek outlets in non-drought years, many emptying into Moosa Bay.
The section of coast along the Strait of Hormuz has sandy beaches on a narrow coastal strip, including the white sand beach at Koohestak.
The Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman coasts have thick stands of palms and mangrove forests.
6 INLAND LAKES
The lakes of Iran are few and most of them are small. Many lakes and most shallow wet-lands of Iran dried up during the catastrophic drought of 1998–2001.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are eighteen sites in Iran that have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands. Caspian wetlands sites include the Anzali Mordab marsh complex (a bird migration area), Bandar-e Torkeman Lagoon, and other lagoons.
In western Iran, the Ramsar sites include the Shadegan wetland (delta mudflats on the Iraq border), the Parishan and Dasht-e Arjan marshes in southwestern Iran, and the Neyriz Lakes and Kamjan Marshes, in a wildlife refuge in the southwest. In the northwest, Lake Urmia, with its brackish marshes, birds, and fish species, is a Ramsar site, as is the dying Helmand Lake in the east.
Offshore wetlands sites include the Khuran Straits between the mainland and Qeshm island and its estuaries on the Strait of Hormuz, featuring mangroves and salt marshes that are significant bird wintering sites.
Many of Iran's wetlands dried up during the three-year drought just before the turn of the twenty-first century. Other threats include invasive plant species, pollution, agricultural water diversion, road building, and shrimp farming.
Lake Urmia (Orumiyé) is Iran's largest intact lake, with an average surface area of 4,868 square kilometers (1,879 square miles). It can vary in area from 3,000 to 6,000 square kilometers (1,158 to 2,317 square miles), depending on seasonal conditions. A salt lake, Urmia, is in the northwest near the Turkish border, at 1,297 meters (4,255 feet) above sea level.
Lake Helmand, a lake/wetland system extending into Afghanistan, is a freshwater lake used for irrigation and fishing. The lake system decreased from about 150,000 square kilometers (57,915 square miles) to 32,000 square kilometers (12,355 square miles) during the twentieth century, dwindling to about 3,200 square kilometers (1,235 square miles) in the dry seasons. Lake Helmand dried up almost completely during the 1998–2001 drought.
The lakes in Fars Province (southwest Iran) were hit particularly hard by the drought and most evaporated almost completely. Notable lakes in the southwest include (with their pre-drought sizes): Bakhtegān Lake, 750 square kilometers (290 square miles); Tasht Lake, 442 square kilometers (171 square miles); and Moharloo Lake, 208 square kilometers (80 square miles).
Important lakes of central Iran include: Namak Lake, 1,806 square kilometers (697 square miles); and Howz Soltan Lake, 106 square kilometers (41 square miles). Snowmelt feeds the 2,550-meter- (8,366-feet-) high twin Gahar Lakes in the Zagros Mountains.
The low basins of central Iran have extremely shallow lakes that dry up, leaving thick, broken salt crusts known as kavirs with mud marshes underneath. Iran also has major areas of coastal wetlands, including those bordering the Caspian Sea.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The length and depth of some rivers in Iran vary by season. Some rivers are dry most of the time but begin to flow from snowmelt in the spring.
The Kārūn River, at 890 kilometers (553 miles), is Iran's longest river and its only navigable one. Still, it is navigable for just 180 kilometers (112 miles), and only by shallow draft vessels. The Kārūn runs from the Zagros Mountains to the Persian Gulf delta region in western Iran. This region also contains the following related rivers: the Karkheh (755 kilometers/469 miles); the Dez (515 kilometers/320 miles); the Hendijan (488 kilometers/303 miles), and the Jarahi (438 kilometers/272 miles).
Other notable rivers of Iran include: the Sefidrood (765 kilometers/475 miles), Atrek (535 kilometers/332 miles); the Mand (685 kilometers/426 miles) in the southwest; and the Zayande (405 kilometers/251 miles), which flows through the city of Isfahan in the Zagros foothills.
More than 300,000 square kilometers (115,831 square miles) of Iran is covered with deserts. That coverage is increasing through the process of desertification, as farmland, grassland, and forests continue to lose vegetation and then soil. The drought of 1998–2001 increased desert area when lakes and wetlands dried up.
Iran's immense Lūt Desert covers some 80,000 square kilometers (30,888 square miles). It includes the Dasht-e-Kavīr and Dasht-e-Lūt, and the adjacent Namakzār-e Shahdād. It is one of the hottest places on Earth with temperatures reaching as high as 57°C (135°F). The Lūt Desert goes without rain for years at a time. Sand mountains rise up to 475 meters (1,558 feet) in the desert's eastern sector and there are also sand dunes moved by wind. The region contains an interior area lacking in all life forms, even bacteria. The similar Jaz Mūrīān Desert lies to the south of the Lūt Desert.
The outer deserts are scrubland, habitats for rare Asiatic cheetahs and koulans (Asian zebras). Inner desert areas are covered with hard layers of stones, gravel, and pebbles. Salt lakes and marshes create salt flats when they dry out. There are also salt-water springs and salt mines in the Iranian deserts. Scattered oases, linked by roads, are shaded by groves of date palms, poplars, and other trees.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Iran has no substantial pasture lands. There are some grasslands in upland areas, however, such as the hills around Isfahan and foothills in the southeast.
The foothills of Iran's mountain ranges are terraced for farming and housing, although wild pistachio forests are still found in the foothills of the southeast. The Elburz foothills follow the Caspian Sea shoreline. In the Zagros foothills, salt domes cover Iran's major oil fields. The Kandovan hills in northwest Iran are a group of rock formations with inhabited cave-dwellings.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The broken and irregular ranges of Iran's mountains, extending from Armenia and Azerbaijan in the north to Pakistan in the south, are barren, but the valleys between them are fertile. In the north of Iran, where the mountains reach 2,133 to 2,743 meters (7,000 to 9,000 feet), livestock grazing and settlements can be found above 1,219 meters (4,000 feet).
The narrow Elburz Range curves from west to east along the Caspian Sea shoreline. Iran's capital, the sprawling city of Tehran, is located on the south side of the Elburz range. The highest of Iran's mountains, Mount Damāvand (5,671 meters/18,606 feet), is a symmetrical volcanic cone located in the Elburz Range just northeast of Tehran.
The forbidding Zagros Range, a group of parallel mountain chains, runs northwest to southeast through Iran. Much of the Zagros Range towers above 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), until it declines in height in the southeast to an average of less than 1,500 meters (4,921 feet). The Zagros Range extends down to the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman coasts in rocky cliffs. There are forests of oaks and other deciduous trees in the Zagros Mountains. Iran's major oil fields are located in the Zagros foothills in the southwest.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Zagros Mountains have steep folds and eroded valleys, where streams and small rivers have created deep gorges. In the Zagros region are found the Kārūn River Canyon, Sezar River Gorges, Bactiara River Canyon, and other deep canyons in the vicinity of the Gahar Lakes.
The mountains and hills of the country contain numerous caves of various sizes. One of the most beautiful caves is the Ali Sadr, located near the city of Hamadan. Ali Sadr is a water cave containing a crystal-clear lake that stretches the cave to about 11 kilometers (9 miles). The underwater walls of the cave are covered by calcite crystal, which also spreads to about 3 meters (10 feet) above the water's service.
Another notable cave is the Cave of Shapoor, located near Bishapoor in the Zagros Mountain. One of the largest cave entrances in the country, Shapoor has a 12-meter (39 foot)-high entrance which leads to an underground hall that covers an area that is 50 meters wide and 100 meters long (164 feet wide and 328 feet long). The cave contains the remains of the eighteen-hundred-year-old statue of Shapoor I, an ancient Iranian leader. The Talar Cave (or Surakh Reis) is located in Niasar and is a combination of a natural and man-made cavern. It is a temple cave dedicated to the ancient Persian god, Mitra.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Silk Road is an ancient seven thousand-mile-long trading route that extended from east-central China through the present-day countries of India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It connected the region of the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. From there, costly Chinese silk could be transported throughout the Roman Empire. The Silk Road served not only as a transportation route for trade but also as a route of cultural exchange, as travelers and traders from different regions shared religious, political, and social beliefs and customs.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Iran is located on the Plateau of Iran, a high triangular plateau with average elevations of 914 to 1,524 meters (3,000 to 5,000 feet). Parts of the plateau spread to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Great salt deserts such as Dasht-eLūt and Dasht-e-Kavīr occupy the eastern section of the Plateau of Iran; mountains cut through the center and west of it. The plateau has an area of approximately 2,590,000 square kilometers (one million square miles), of which about 1,554,000 square kilometers (600,000 square miles) is in Iran. The region was formed and shaped by the uplifting and folding effect of three giant tectonic plates pressing against each other: the Arabian, Eurasian, and Indian Plates.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Iran has a huge network of underground water canals called qanats, with about 50,000 qanats covering an estimated 400,000 kilometers (248,548 miles). In the absence of major rivers, the qanats have served as Iran's traditional irrigation source, constructed with underground storage structures. Water-use analysts have called for a return to the qanat system and smaller-scale irrigation projects as the best ways to combat ongoing water shortages throughout Iran.
14 FURTHER READING
Bartol'd, V. V. (Vasilii Vladimirovich). An Historical Geography of Iran. trans. and ed. by Svat Soucek; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Fox, M. Iran. Chicago: Children's Press, 1991.
Schemenauer, Elma. Iran. Chanhassen, MN: Child's World, 2001.
Wearing, Alison. Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey. New York: Picador USA, 2000.
The Green Party of Iran: Geography. http://www.iran-e-sabz.org/link/geography.htm (accessed April 24, 2003).
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group, Inc.
Iran (also known as Persia) is a Middle Eastern country in Southwest Asia. The country's official name became the Islamic Republic of Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979, which abolished the monarchy of the Pahlavi dynasty and established a theocratic republic regime. The population of Iran is approaching 66 million (49% female), with 40 percent being younger than fifteen years of age in 1996. The area of the country is 1,648,000 square kilometers (38% rural). Infant mortality rate is twenty-nine per 1,000 live births, and life expectancy is sixty-nine years. The literacy rate for the total population is close to 80 percent (Marandi 1996).
Iran is a multiethnic country. The majority are Fars; other groups include Aazari, Kurds, Baloochi, Turkman, Lurs, and Arabs. The official language is Persian (or Farsi). The ethnic groups also speak their own languages or dialects. About 98 percent of the total population are Moslems (of the Shi-e sect, different from the Sunni sect to which a great majority of Arab Moslems belong), and the rest are Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians (officially recognized and represented by elected deputies in the national legislative body), and Bahais (Sanasarian 2000).
Iranian culture and social institutions have been shaped by Islamic values, blended with traditions inherited from the pre-Islamic national religion (Zoroastrianism) and ancient customs. Many Iranian nationalists identify themselves more with the Persian culture—and feel national pride as the inheritors of a great ancient civilization with a history of more than 2,000 years (Mackey 1996)—than with a particular religious faith or ethnic group (Amanat 1993).
Marriage in Iranian culture is viewed not only as the sole socially acceptable pathway to sexual access, but also as a permanent commitment to lifelong companionship, bonding not only the married couples, but also their families (Shapurian and Hojat 1985).
In Iranian culture, procreation is a primary goal of marriage. Some Iranians consider infertility an adequate justification for divorce. It has been reported that about 2 percent of all divorces in Iran occur because one spouse is unable to have children (Aghajanian 1986). The choice of a spouse in traditional families is often made or supervised by parents and older family members. Even in modern families, parental approval of the prospective spouse is an important factor.
Men and women each have marital pledges. Marital undertakings by the man include a bride-price sheer bahaa (literally milk price, or an agreed upon money or gift given to the bride's family), and mahri-eh (an agreed-upon sum of money, gold coins or property that women are entitled to receive at any time after marriage; more often, it is a source of financial security for married women in case of divorce or widowhood). Also, the groom's family pays the expenses for the marriage reception and ceremony. In return, the girl's family provides the dowry (jehizi-eh), which usually includes basic household items (e.g., rugs, bedding, furniture, cookware) needed by the newly wed couple to start their new lives in their new home.
In the rapidly urbanizing contemporary Iranian society, however, most people view the bride-price as demeaning to women (Afkhami 1994; Haeri 1994), although mahri-eh and jehizi-eh in some cases have become important status symbols. In more educated intellectual and religious families, these two customs are also considered demeaning and indicative of a lack of trust between the bride and the groom and their families. In these families, often spiritually valuable but inexpensive items such as a volume of the holy Qur'an are exchanged instead of mahri-eh, and the bride and groom mutually agree to share the expenses for purchasing the jehizi-eh.
Endogamy and Polygamy
Endogamy, especially marriage between parallel and cross-cousins, is common in Iran. An Iranian stating that marriage between cousins is summoned in Heaven indicates the popularity of this practice. According to a 1977 survey, about one-fourth of marriages reported in rural areas were endogamous (Givens and Hirschman 1994). The rate of such marriages is estimated to be about 50 percent among some ethnic minorities (Nassehi-Behnam 1985).
A man can have more than one wife. Although the Shi-e marriage law, now dominant in Iran, allows a man to simultaneously have up to four wives, polygamy lacks popular support and is rarely practiced in Iran.
In traditional Iranian families, arranged marriage proceedings begin with khaastegaari, or formal marriage proposal, by a delegation (usually of parents and elders) from the man's side. During the initial meeting, various aspects of the marital contract (e.g., the bride-price and dowry) are discussed.
In modern families, particularly among the upper and middle-class urban families, the couple intending to marry usually takes the initial steps based on mutual choice and leaves the formalities of khaastegaari to their parents. Arranged marriages in the form known in other Asian countries such as India or Pakistan (marriage decisions made by parents at an early age of their children) are rare, except among very traditional families.
Temporary Marriage (Sigheh)
A man (married or not), and an unmarried woman (virgin, divorced, or widowed) can enter a temporary marriage contract (sigheh or nekah-e monghate'e) in which both parties agree on the period of the relationship and the amount of compensation to be paid to the woman. This arrangement requires no witnesses, and no registration is needed. This form of temporary marriage, according to its proponents, is a measure for curbing free sex and controlling prostitution.
A man can have as many sigheh wives as he can afford, but the woman can be involved in no more than one such temporary relationship at any given time and cannot enter another contract before a waiting period (edda) of three months or two menstrual cycles elapse. This obligatory waiting period also applies to divorced women in permanent marriage and is intended to determine paternity in case the woman becomes pregnant (Haeri 1989). Sigheh has been very unpopular, particularly among the educated middle-class families and among women who tend to associate it with legalized prostitution. It is known to be practiced mainly by widowed or divorced women and is believed to be more common in theological seminaries and among the clergy (Haeri 1989).
The family has been valued as the main social institution in the Islamic and pre-Islamic cultures of Iran. In the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the family is defined as the fundamental unit of society and the major center for the growth and advancement of human beings (Tabari and Yeganeh 1982). In traditional Iranian culture, as in any other collectivist society, the kinship and family (khanevadeh, khanevar, tayefeh, eel-o-ashireh) is a closely linked network in which the highest priority is assigned to the welfare of the members, rather than to individual goals (Triandis 1995). The family in Iran is considered the most important factor in bonding people, and family ties take precedence over all other social relationships (Hojat et al. 2000).
Sociopolitical changes in Iran have affected young people's marital aspirations, preferences, and the function and structure of the family. Some indicators of this change are the marked rise in the age at first marriage; the tendency of many to remain unmarried until relatively late in life when they become financially independent; the widespread use of contraceptives and the consequent sharp decline in fertility rate and family size; and the gradual rise in divorce rates.
According to the majority of Shi-e theologians, the minimum ages for marriage for women and men are from seven to nine and twelve to fifteen years, respectively. At the close of the twentieth century, the age of marital consent for women was thirteen in Iran (Tohidi 1994). The emphasis on early marriage is partly based on the extremely negative attitude toward premarital sex and a belief that men and women who remain unmarried after early puberty risk engaging in forbidden sexual gratification.
Ironically, although the Islamic regime encouraged early marriage, the average age at first marriage during the period between 1976 and 1996 actually increased from 19.7 to 22.4 for women, and from 24.1 to 25.6 for men. Also, the proportion of women who married before age 19 decreased drastically during this period, from 34 to 18 percent (the corresponding proportions for men are 7% and 3%). Despite these tends, according to population statistics, over 90 percent of Iranian men and women are married by age 30.
Premarital Sex and Extramarital Relationships
Popular culture demands that a bride be a virgin for her first marriage. Mohammadreza Hojat and colleagues (1999) showed that the majority of Iranians believe that men seek to marry a virgin. Virginity, (bekaarat, dooshizegi), chastity (nejaabat), and authenticity or originality (family with good reputation, esaalat) are among the standards employed when men embark on a search for a spouse (Hojat et al. 2000). Women can ruin the family honor by not maintaining their virginity prior to marriage, or by involving themselves in extramarital affairs. Men, in contrast, may engage in premarital sex because of the double standards that prevail in many aspects of sexual and social life in Iran (Hojat et al. 1999; Mir-Hosseini 1999).
Sexual intercourse with person who is married to someone else can carry a harsh penalty according to the Islamic criminal code. Moreover, extramarital intercourse by women is viewed among traditional Iranians as a social disgrace and a grave insult to the whole family. Fornication (zena) by women can be punished by stoning to death. At the same time, although the penalties for nonmarital sex included in the current Islamic criminal code also apply to men (if the female partner is not married), they incur little or no social disgrace for illegitimate sex. If caught in such relationships, men can often escape punishment by producing evidence of temporary marriage to their partner.
Although not prohibited, divorce is strongly discouraged in Islam and disapproved by Iranian culture. A religious saying (hadith) attributed to the Prophet Mohammad says: "Of all things permissible, divorce is the most reprehensible" (Haeri 1989). Because of the low economic activity and social status of Iranian women and their dependence on the men for sustenance and social protection, divorce carries particularly heavy costs and consequences for women. Their situation is made worse because Islamic laws give men the right to custody of their children after age three (in the case of sons) or seven (in the case of daughters).
Nevertheless, married couples who find it inconvenient to live together have the option of getting a divorce. According to Islamic law, a man can in principle divorce his wife at any time by uttering the phrase "I divorce you" in the presence of one or more adult observers. In such cases, women are only entitled to their mahri-eh. In practice, the amount of mahri-eh is often not enough to support the divorced woman for a long time and, unless it is in the form of gold or property, it can easily be eroded by inflation. This has made some women's families seek very expensive mahri-eh, in the form of property or gold coins (which do not erode with inflation). This quest has also emerged as one of the main barriers to marriage by young people.
Before the Islamic revolution, the Family Protection Law (ghanoon-e hemaayat-e khanevadeh, enacted in 1967 and revised in 1975) curtailed some of the unilateral rights of men in divorce (Aghajanian 1986). After the Islamic revolution, this law was suspended and replaced by a Special Civil Court (daadgaah-e madani-e khaas) that restored some of men's exclusive rights in divorce. After they had noted widespread abuse of this right by men, the state authorities modified the law by providing women with more protection. Under this system, women could include any conditions in the written marital contract (e.g., the right to choose place of residence, study, work, travel abroad), and can take away the unilateral right to divorce from her husband or to make it conditional. In this case the court would decide if the conditions specified in the marital contract have been met to file for divorce.
Although Iranian men can still easily obtain a divorce, the rate of marital dissolution is relatively low, hovering around 10 percent (Sanasarian 1992). Marital dissolution is particularly rare in rural and tribal communities. In urban communities and metropolitan areas, the situation is different, and the rate of divorce is reported to be higher and rising (Nassehi-Behnam 1985). Nevertheless, in a survey of a sample of educated Iranians in Tehran, only a small minority of women (24%) agreed that divorce should be made easier, despite their very limited right of obtaining it (Hojat et al. 1999). This finding indicates the cultural disgrace associated with divorce. Research on divorce in Iran, however, shows that the rate of divorce is increasing among employed women, compared to women who are not employed outside the home (Aghajanian 1986).
In summary, marriage in contemporary Iran is looked upon as an important institution for the purposes of procreation, and it is undertaken as a permanent union. Marital relationships serve as resources to share happiness and enjoyment and as buffers to alleviate suffering and grief. Husband and wife, according a to a popular saying, are shareek-e shadi va gham (share their happy and sad moments).
The family is viewed as a secure haven, built upon marriage, and is valued as being a center for warmth and affection (kanoon-e garm-e khaanevadeh). Iranians believe that both marriage and the family have survival value for the society by satisfying biological, emotional, social, and financial needs.
afkhami, m. (1994). in the eye of the storm: women inpost-revolutionary iran. syracuse, ny: syracuse university press.
aghajanian, a. (1986). "some notes on divorce in iran." journal of marriage and the family 48:749–755.
amanat, m. (1993). "nationalism and social change iniran." in irangeles: iranians in los angeles, ed. r. kelly, j. friedlander, and a. colby. berkeley, ca: university of california press.
givens, b. p., and hirschman, c. (1994). "modernization and consanguineous marriage in iran." journal of marriage and the family 56:820–834.
haeri, s. (1989). law of desire: temporary marriage inshi'e iran. syracuse, ny: syracuse university press.
hojat, m.; shapurian, r.; foroughi, d.; nayerahmadi, h.;farzaneh, m.; shafieyan, m.; and parsi, m. (2000). "gender differences in traditional attitudes toward marriage and the family: an empirical study of iranian immigrants in the united states." journal of family issues 21:419–434.
hojat, m.; shapurian, r.; nayerahmadi, h.; farzaneh, m.;foroughi, d.; parsi, m.; and azizi, m. (1999). "premarital sexual, child rearing, and family attitudes of iranian men and women in the united states and iran." the journal of psychology 133:19–31.
mackey, s. (1996). the iranians: persia, islam, and thesoul of a nation. new york: dutton.
marandi, a. (1996). "integrating medical education andhealth services: the iran experiences." medical education 3:4–8.
mir-hosseini, z. (1999). islam and gender: the religiousdebate in contemporary iran. princeton, nj: princeton university press.
nassehi-behnam, v. (1985). "change and the iranian family." current anthropology 26:557–662.
sanasarian, e. (1992). "the politics of gender and development in the islamic republic of iran." journal of developing societies 13:56–68.
sanasarian, e. (2000). religious minorities in iran. newyork: cambridge university press.
shapurian, r. and hojat, m. (1985). "sexual and premaritalattitudes of iranian college students." psychological reports 57:67–74.
tabari, a., and yeganeh, n. (1982). in the shadow ofislam. london: zed press.
tohidi, n. (1994). "modernity, islamization, and women iniran." in gender and national identity: women and politics in moslem societies, ed. v. m. moghadam. london: oxford university press.
triandis, h. c. (1995). individualism & collectivism. boulder, co: westview press.
amir h. mehryar
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc.
|Official Country Name:||Islamic Republic of Iran|
|Region (Map name):||Middle East|
|Language(s):||Persian, Turkic, Kurdish, Luri, Balochi, Arabic, Turkish, other|
|Area:||1,648,000 sq km|
|GDP:||104,904 (US$ millions)|
|Number of Television Stations:||28|
|Number of Television Sets:||4,610,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||69.7|
|Number of Radio Stations:||82|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||17,000,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||257.1|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||4,000,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||60.5|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||250,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||3.8|
Background & General Characteristics
Islam has been the official religion of Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The media is accountable to Islamic Law and heavily censored by the ruling religious clerics. Conservative Iranians believe that Islam should be the rule of law in all of Iran: men and women cannot associate in public; the press cannot criticize government leaders who are also religious leaders; and other religious tenants must be upheld in social, cultural, and political arenas. There are many conservative publications in Iran such as Tehran Times, Joumhouryieh, and Resalaat. However, according to the "2001 World Press Freedom Review," a conservative editorial stance does not mean freedom from censorship and other forms of government control.
Reformists hold Islam in high esteem and want religion to maintain a prominent role in Iran. Reformists also desire freedom of association, freedom of the press, and a more open society: they believe a free press means a free people. Many reformist publications exist in 2002— for example, Iran Daily, Hayat-e-No, and Iran News — but all are frequent targets of censorship, confiscation, suspension, fining, and banning.
Journalism in Iran was a dangerous profession in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, particularly if an individual worked for a reformist publication or adhered to a journalistic ethic of truth regardless of personal fate, which could mean threats, arrest, imprisonment with or without formal charges, accusation of espionage, isolation, or even torture, lashes, banning, murder, and execution.
Religion is of paramount importance to most Iranians. They may not want the ruling clerics to have control of every aspect of Iranian life, but the majority of citizens want Islam to play a strong role in the country. Secularism is not supported, and the Shah is used as an example of the failure of removing religion from the official operation of the state. According to the U.S. Department of State, Shi'a Muslims are 89 percent of the Iranian population; Sunni Muslims are 10 percent; and the remaining 1 percent is Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i.
Iran has an ethnically diverse population: Persian (51 percent), Azeri (24 percent), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8 percent), Kurd (7 percent), Arab (3 percent), Lur (2 percent), Baloch (2 percent), Turkmen (2 percent), and other (1 percent). This ethnic diversity results in tremendous language diversity: Persian and Persian dialects (58 percent), Turkic and Turkic dialects (26 percent), Kurdish (9 percent), Luri (2 percent), Balochi (1 percent), Arabic (1 percent), Turkish (1 percent) and other (2 percent).
In this nation of 66 million, 1996 data from the CIA World Factbook estimated that 53 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line; nevertheless, some 82 percent of the population is able to read and write by 15, which is also the age of universal suffrage. The population has more than doubled from 1979, when the Islamic Revolution deposed the Shah, to 2002, with the majority (over 60 percent) of Iranians under 30 years of age.
In November 2001 Iran had the second largest population in the Middle East as well as the second largest economy, OPEC production, and natural gas reserves; however, economic problems persisted. High unemployment and isolation from the global community were causing problems and leading to backlash against clerical leaders who were beginning to realize that religion needs to find a more balanced place in society, so an entire generation, which desires religion and reform, is not lost.
Theoretically Iran offers constitutional protection for the press, but the lengthy Press Law outlining the purpose, licensing, and duties of the press shows the true limits placed on journalists. The Press Law details a long list of don'ts for journalists, preventing free publishing under threat of punishment, which is also detailed in the Law.
Iran's Press Law established the Committee for Suspension of the Press within the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance. In 2002 the Committee, dominated by reformists, monitors the press and brings charges. Any charges brought on a newspaper or journalist are heard by the conservative-dominated Press Court (Public Court 1410, Tehran); the Revolutionary Court is even known to intercede and hear cases, though press issues are not technically in the Revolutionary Court's jurisdiction. All Press Court hearings and trials are to be open to the public, but this is not what happens in reality. Juries are mostly conservative and often ignored, dismissed early, or consulted after decisions are issued. From April 2000 to mid-2002, the judges in the Press Court have been pressing charges against individuals and publications, and circumventing the Committee.
Press censorship is most common in the capital, Tehran. Censorship certainly occurs in the city, but it is self-censorship that is the largest concern in the provinces. Provincial journalists are cautious, lack funds, and have no modern printing operations. These small provincial papers have limited circulations; thus, the power of these papers as a source of news for the population is limited. Provincial Iranians have come to rely on international broadcast media—BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe—for information.
Between 1997 and 2001, Khatami's first term, "serial newspapers" and "serial plaintiffs" became common. A newspaper is labeled a "serial newspaper" when publication of a paper is closed down, and publishers reopen with the same staff and editorial stand but under a new masthead. Examples of such serials that include three or more publications are common. "Serial plaintiffs" are those journalists who are continually charged with defying the law and offending Islam in some way.
Many reformist voices are being actively silenced in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports, the reformist point of view can still be heard in Iran, Kar-o KarganAftab-e-YazdNoroozTosseh,Hayat-e No, and Hambasteghi. However, the CPJ also states that many of these newspapers have mellowed in tone. They still argue for reform, but they no longer write about government officials or issues that could be perceived as national security: censorship happens in-house.
Mohammed Khatami, a moderate midlevel Shi'a cleric, was reelected president in May 2001. Khatami is a reformist and seeks to offer Iranians more freedom in their daily lives: freedom of association, the press, expression, and so on. However, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a conservative committed to maintaining Islamic traditions and a more closed society, has the authority and opportunity to thwart Khatami's reform efforts, which include a freer press in Iran.
In 2002 the Islamic clerics ruling Iran held power over the media. Part democracy, part theocracy, Iran's Constitution establishes three branches of government, including an elected president and Parliament, and also offers the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, the ability to approve presidential and parliamentary candidates, and make judicial appoints. As a result Khamenei has loaded the courts with conservatives who support his positions.
According to the "World Press Freedom Review," on March 8, 2000, the conservative weekly Harim was banned and accused of mocking and criticizing President Khatami. Khatami, who has no control of the judiciary, pleaded over state radio on March 11 for an open jury trial for the publisher. He stated that if the press is not allowed to operate in Iran, "then people will turn to sources we have no control over."
In June 2002 the CPJ claimed that at least 52 newspapers and magazines have been closed between 1997 and 2001, despite President Khatami's reformist position on the press. These closings include student-run publications as well as licensed commercial publications. CPJ's "Iran Press Freedom Fact Sheet" confirms the following suspensions: 4 in 1998; 5 in 1999; 43 in 2000 (16 between April 23 and 24); and 16 as of September 2001.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
Conservative Iranians are worried that foreign media will destroy the Islamic morals of the population, but reformist Iranians believe the foreign media, free in their home nations, are a vital part of developing democratic social structures.
Foreign correspondents face many of the same problems with censorship, banning, and harassment that Iranian journalists endure. Many foreign journalists have been imprisoned and held incommunicado. The 1997-98 case of an Iranian journalist who resides in Germany, Farah Sarkuhi, illustrates the treatment of all journalists in Iran. Sarkuhi was arrested for "anti-state propaganda," subjected to a closed trial, jailed for a year, charged with espionage, cleared, released, abducted by the state, tortured, released, and finally allowed papers to return to his family in Europe.
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran's official news agency, will soon become an independent agency and no longer be state funded. The diverging ideas of the conservative authorities and the IRNA are illustrated in the May 10, 1998, court appearance of IRNA director general, Fereydoun Verdinejad.
Urban newspapers are not well circulated outside the cities, so the provincial readers cannot rely on an Iranian source for information on the county; this has led to a reliance on foreign broadcasts from the BBC, Voice of America, and other Western broadcast sources.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Iran had 72 AM, 5 FM, and 5 short-wave radio stations in 1998. Seventeen million radios were claimed to be in the country as of 1997 estimates, which meant one radio for every 3.8 people. Radio saturation is quite high, as many citizens get their news from this source.
Television's role as a disseminator of news is growing, too. Iran had 28 television broadcast stations, 450 low-power repeaters, and 4.61 million televisions, and there was 1 television for every 14.3 individuals in 1997.
The state controls most radio and television news outlets, and it is often these pro-government voices that disseminate the official hard-line rhetoric.
Electronic News Media
Many newspapers and news sources are available from Iran, and Iranians have tremendous access to information. The Internet is often the only source of information about the country, because newspapers are heavily censored, and the state-run broadcast media is not known for full disclosure. Traditional Islamic clerics are concerned about the Internet and its ability to alter the moral focus of young people and turn them away from Islam.
The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which owns several newspapers as well as broadcast media, both had extensive sites on the Internet in June 2002.
Education & TRAINING
The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) School of Media Studies provides long-and short-term training for journalists. The university system also offers media and journalism studies.
According to an extensive research study by Dr. Mehdi Mohsenian-Rad and Ali Entezari Rasaneh published in the summer of 1994 in A Research Quarterly of Mass Media Studies, 68 percent of journalists have university educations, but only a small percentage (4.6 percent) have training in communications. Between 1966 and 1994, 900 journalism degrees were awarded in Iran; 93 percent of these graduates do not work in the press. The authors and other experts speculate that the reason for this lack of journalists with journalism degrees, and the small number of those with university journalism training working for the press, is connected to the curriculum presented in the academy. Western media is studied more than Iranian media, and texts are most often translations of Western materials that do not understand the Iranian Islamic culture. In addition, most Iranian journalism curricula focus on newsgathering and interview, and pay little heed to essay writing, editorial work, and analysis.
The print media feels growing pressure from the use of broadcast and electronic media, especially among the young, those under 30 who represent over 60 percent of the population in 2001. This pressure will continue unless the conservatives are able to limit foreign broadcasting and Internet access in Iran: an unlikely possibility. However, the conflict between reformists seeking more press freedom and the hard-line conservatives is yet to be won by either side, even though the conservative clerics do hold more power and authority in 2002.
- 1997: Editor dead of multiple stab wounds; Khatami elected in landslide; Sarkuhi arrested, held for closed trial, imprisoned, accused of espionage, tortured, isolated, and abducted.
- 1998: 226 new publications are licensed, bringing the total number of publications to 1,138; circulation increases from 1.5 million in 1997 to 2.9 million.
- July 1999: Student uprising protesting conservative cleric policies and supporting President Khatami's moderate reform.
- April 2000: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives speech accusing several papers of "undermining Islamic and revolutionary principles" ("CPJ chronicles"); at least 43 newspapers and magazines shut down.
- March 2001: President Khatami speaks on state-sponsored radio calling for a freer press.
Amnesty International. "Annual Report 2000: Iran," 4 June 2002. Available from http://www.web.amnesty.org.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Iran." CIA Fact-book, 4 June 2002. Available from http://www.cia.gov.
"CPJ chronicles crackdown on Iran's news media," 16 Nov 2001. Available from http://www.freedomforum.org.
Friedman, Thomas L. "Tom's Journal." Public Broadcasting Service, 22 June 2002. Available from http://www.pbs.org.
"Iran: 2001 World Press Freedom Review," 29 May 2002. Available from http://www.freemedia.at.
"Iran's media cuts government links." Asia Times, 17 July 2001. Available from http://www.atimes.com.
Mohsenian-Rad, Dr. Mehdi, and Ali Entezari. "Problems of Journalism Education in Iran." Rasaneh: A Research Quarterly of Mass Media Studies , Summer 1994: 75. Available from http://www.netiran.com.
"Press Law," 22 June 2002. Available from http://www.netiran.com.
Sabra, Hani. "Iran Press Freedom Fact Sheet." Committee to Protect Journalists, 22 June 2002. Available from http://cpj.org.
United States Committee for Refugees. "Country Report: Iran." Worldwide Refugee Information, 6 June 2002. Available from http://www.refugees.org.
World Bank. "Country Overview: Iran," 6 June 2002. Available from http://lnweb18.worldbank.org.
Suzanne Drapeau Morley
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group
1,648,000sq km (636,293 sq mi) 65,540,226
Iranian 46%, Azerbaijani 17%, Kurdish 9%, Gilaki 5%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%
Iranian (or Farsi, official)
Shi'a Muslim 89%, Sunni Muslim 10%
Rial = 100 dinars
Climate and VegetationIran has hot summers and cold winters. There are wide regional variations in climate. Precipitation is highest in the n, often in the form of winter snow. Forest covers c.10% of Iran, mainly in the Elburz and Zagros mountains. Semi-desert and desert cover most of the country.
History and PoliticsAryans settled in Iran (Persian) in c.2000 bc. In 550 bc Cyrus the Great conquered the Median Empire, and established the Achaemenid dynasty, ruler's of Iran's first Empire. The Empire survived the Persian Wars (492–497 bc) against the Greek city-states, but fell to Alexander the Great in 331 bc. Iranian rule was restored by the Sassanids in ad 224. Arabs conquered Iran in ad 641, and introduced Islam. For the next two centuries, Iran was a centre of Islamic art and architecture. Seljuk Turks conquered Iran in the 11th century, but the land was overrun by the Mongols in 1220.
The Safavid dynasty (1501–1722) was founded by Shah Ismail, who established the Shi'ite theocratic principles of modern Iran. Nadir Shah expelled Afghan invaders. His despotic rule (1736–47) was noted for imperial ambition. The Qajar dynasty (1794–1925) witnessed the gradual decline of the Iranian empire in the face of European expansion. Britain and Russia competed for influence in the area. The discovery of oil in sw Iran led to the Russian and British division of Iran (1907). In 1919, Iran effectively became a British protectorate. In 1921, Reza Pahlavi seized power and established the Pahlavi dynasty. In 1925, he became Shah. He annulled the British treaty of 1919, and began a process of modernization. In 1941, British and Soviet forces occupied Iran. Reza Pahlavi abdicated in favour of his son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. The 1943 Tehran Declaration guaranteed Iran's independence. In 1951, the oil industry was nationalized. The Shah fled Iran, but soon returned with US backing and restored Western oil rights (1953). During the 1960s, the Shah undertook large-scale reforms, such as land ownership and extending the franchise to women (1963). Discontent surfaced over increasing westernization and economic inequality. The secret police crushed all dissent. Iranian clerics, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, openly voiced their disapproval of the secularization of society. In 1971, Britain withdrew its troops from the Arabian Gulf. Iran increased its defence spending to become the largest military power in the region. Following his expulsion, Khomeini called for the abdication of the Shah (1978).
In January 1979, the Shah fled and Khomeini established an Islamic republic. The theocracy was profoundly conservative and anti-western. In July 1979, the oil industry was renationalized. In November 1979, militants seized the US Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 American hostages. In September 1980, the Iraqi invasion marked the start of the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). The war claimed more than 500,000 lives. In 1986, the USA covertly agreed to supply Iran with arms, in return for influence over the return of hostages (see Iran-Contra affair). In June 1989, Khomeini died and was succeeded by Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani's regime began to ease relations with the West. Free-market reforms were adopted and Iran supported international sanctions against Iraq in 1991. Allegations of support for international terrorism and development of a nuclear capability led the USA to impose trade sanctions in 1995.
In 1997, liberal reformer Muhammad Khatami succeeded Rafsanjani. In July 1999, the police and military suppressed student protests against the conservatives' blocking of the reforms of Khatami. Decisively re-elected in 2001, Khatami pressed ahead with reforms. In 2003, an earthquake struck the town of Bam killing over 40,000 people.
EconomyIran's prosperity is based on oil production (2000 GDP per capita, US$6300). Oil accounts for 95% of its exports, and it is the world's fourth-largest producer of crude oil. The Iran-Iraq War devastated Iran's industrial base. Oil revenue has been used to diversify the economy and develop manufacturing. Industry now employs 26% of the workforce. Attempts have been made to reduce Iran's dependence on food imports. Agriculture employs 30% of the workforce. Iran is the world's largest producer of dates. Other crops include wheat and barley. Iran is famous for its fine carpets. Tourism has great potential, but the political situation discourages many visitors.
© World Encyclopedia 2005, originally published by Oxford University Press 2005.
Iran■ IRANIANS … 161
The people of Iran are called Iranians. People who trace their descent to Iran, sometimes called Persians (a historical name for Iran), are nearly half the total population of Iran. Kurds make up about 9 percent. Groups of Azerbaijanis live in Iran, especially in major cities like the capital city, Tehran. Nomadic groups migrate in spring and fall between high mountain valleys and hot, lowland plains. The important nomadic groups include the Qashqai, Qajars, Bakhtiari, Baluchi, and Turkmens. For more information on the Baluchi, see the chapter on Pakistan in Volume 7; and on the Turkmens, the chapter on Turkey in Volume 9.
COPYRIGHT 1999 The Gale Group,
The term "Persian" is used as an adjective— especially pertaining to the arts—and to designate the principal language spoken in Iran. The term is often used to designate the larger cultural sphere of Iranian civilization. This includes populations living in Iraq, the Persian Gulf region, the Caucasus region, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India. The formal name of the Iranian state is Jomhuri-ye Islami-ye Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Identification. The terms "Iran" as the designation for the civilization, and "Iranian" as the name for the inhabitants occupying the large plateau located between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf have been in continual use for more than twenty-five hundred years. They are related to the term "Aryan" and it is supposed that the plateau was occupied in prehistoric times by Indo-European peoples from Central Asia. Through many invasions and changes of empire, this essential designation has remained a strong identifying marker for all populations living in this region and the many neighboring territories that fell under its influence due to conquest and expansion.
Ancient Greek geographers designated the territory as "Persia" after the territory of Fars where the ancient Achamenian Empire had its seat. Today as a result of migration and conquest, people of Indo-European, Turkic, Arab, and Caucasian origin have some claim to Iranian cultural identity. Many of these peoples reside within the territory of modern Iran. Outside of Iran, those identifying with the larger civilization often prefer the appellation "Persian" to indicate their affinity with the culture rather than with the modern political state. This is also true of some members of modern Iranian émigré populations in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere who do not wish to be identified with the current Islamic Republic of Iran, established in 1979.
Location and Geography. Iran is located in southwestern Asia, largely on a high plateau situated between the Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south. Its area is 636,300 square miles (1,648,000 square kilometers). Its neighbors are, on the north, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkmenistan; on the east, Pakistan and Afghanistan; and on the west Turkey and Iraq. Iran's total boundary is 4,770 miles (7,680 kilometers). Approximately 30 percent of this boundary is seacoast. The capital is Tehran (Teheran).
Iran's central plateau is actually a tectonic plate. It forms a basin surrounded by several tall, heavily eroded mountain ranges, principally the Elburz Mountains in the north and the Zagros range in the west and south. The geology is highly unstable, creating frequent earthquakes. Several important volcanoes, including Mount Damāvand, the nation's highest peak at approximately 19,000 feet, (5,800 meters) also ring the country.
The arid interior plateau contains two remarkable deserts: the Dasht-e-Kavir (Kavīr Desert) and the Dasht-e-Lut (Lūt Desert). These two deserts dominate the eastern part of the country, and form part of an arid landscape extending into Central Asia and Pakistan.
Iran's climate is one of extremes, ranging from subtropical to subpolar, due to the extreme variations in altitude and rainfall throughout the nation. Temperatures range from as high as 130 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) in the southwest and along the Persian Gulf coast to -40 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius). Rainfall varies from less than two inches (five centimeters) annually in Baluchistan, near the Pakistani border, to more than eighty inches (two hundred centimeters) in the subtropical Caspian region where temperatures rarely fall below freezing.
Demography. Iran's population has not been accurately measured since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Recent population estimates range from sixty-one to sixty-five million. The population is balanced (51 percent male, 49 percent female), extremely young, and urban. More than three-quarters of Iran's habitants are under thirty years of age, and an equal percentage live in urban areas. This marks a radical shift from the mid-twentieth century when only 25 percent lived in cities.
Iran is a multiethnic, multicultural society as a result of millennia of migration and conquest. It is perhaps easiest to speak of the various ethnic groups in the country in terms of their first language. Approximately half of the population speaks Persian and affiliated dialects as their primary language. The rest of the population speaks languages drawn from Indo-European, Ural-Altaic (Turkic), or Semitic language families.
The principal non-Persian Indo-European speakers include Kurds, Lurs, Baluchis, and Armenians, making up approximately 15 percent of the population. Turkic speakers constitute approximately 20 to 25 percent of the population. The largest group of Turkic speakers lives in the northwest provinces of East and West Azerbaijan. Other Turkic groups include the Qashqa'i tribe in the south and southwest part of the central plateau, and the Turkmen in the northeast. Semitic speakers, constituting approximately 10 percent of the population, include a large Arabic-speaking population in the extreme southwest province of Khuzestan, and along the Persian Gulf Coast, and a small community of Assyrians in the northwest, who speak Syriac. The remains of a miniscule community of Dravidian speakers lives in the extreme eastern province of Sistan along the border with Afghanistan.
It is important to note that, with some minor exceptions, all ethnic groups living in Iran, whatever their background or primary language, identify strongly with the major features of Iranian culture and civilization. This also applies to many non-Iranians living in Afghanistan, Central Asia, northern India, and parts of Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.
Linguistic Affiliation. In English, "Persian" is the name for the primary language spoken in Iran. It is incorrect, but increasingly common in English-speaking countries to use the native term, "Farsi," to identify the language. This is somewhat akin to using "Deutsch" to describe the principal language of Germany.
Modern Persian, a part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages, is a language of great antiquity. It is also a language of extraordinary grace and flexibility. Over many centuries, it absorbed Arabic vocabulary and many Turkish elements, swelling its vocabulary to well over 100,000 commonly used words. At the same time, over the many centuries when Arabic was dominant, Persian lost much of its grammatical complexity. The resulting language is mellifluous, easy to learn, and ideally suited for the unsurpassed poetry and literature Iranians have produced over the ages. The language is remarkably stable; Iranians can read twelfth century literature with relative ease.
The majority of Iranian residents whose first language is not Persian are bilingual in Persian and their primary language. Persons whose first language is Persian are usually monolingual.
Symbolism. Iranian culture is rich in cultural symbolism, much of which derives from prehistoric times. Iran is the only nation in the Middle East that uses the solar calendar. It is also the only nation on earth marking the advent of the New Year at the spring equinox.
The Islamic and the pre-Islamic world have both provided national symbols for Iran, and these have come in conflict in recent years. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah who was deposed in 1979, tried to make the twenty-five-hundred-year-old monarchy itself a central symbol of Iranian life. He designed a series of lavish public celebrations to cement this image in the public imagination. The ancient emblem for the nation was a lion holding a scimitar against a rising sun. This emblem was a symbol not only of Iran, but also of the ancient monarchy, and was prominently displayed on the national tricolor flag of red, white, and green. The Persian lion is now extinct, and since the 1979 Revolution, so is this emblem. It has been replaced by a nonfigurative symbol that can be construed as a calligraphic representation of the basic Islamic creed, "There is no god but God." The tricolor background has been maintained.
Much symbolism in daily life derives not just from Islam, but from the "Twelver" branch of Shi'a Islam that has been the official state religion since the seventeenth century. It is essential to note the central symbolic importance of Imam Hassain, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, who was martyred in Karbala in present-day Iraq during the Islamic month of Muharram in the seventh century. His martyrdom is a "master symbol" in Iranian life, serving as an inexhaustible source of imagery and rhetoric.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The Iranian nation is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic populations occupied caves in the Zagros and Elburz mountains. The earliest civilizations in the region descended from the Zagros foothills, where they developed agriculture and animal husbandry, and established the first urban cultures in the Tigris-Euphrates basin in present day Iraq. The earliest urban peoples in what is today Iranian territory were the Elamites in the extreme southwest region of Khuzestan. The arrival of the Aryan peoples—Medes and Persians— on the Iranian plateau in the first millennium b.c.e. marked the beginning of the Iranian civilization, rising to the heights of the great Achaemenid Empire consolidated by Cyrus the Great in 550 b.c.e. Under the rulers Darius the Great and Xerxes, the Achaemenid rulers extended their empire from northern India to Egypt.
Down to the present, one pattern has repeated again and again in Iranian civilization: the conquerors of Iranian territory are eventually themselves conquered by Iranian culture. In a word, they become Persianized.
The first of these conquerors was Alexander the Great, who swept through the region and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in 330 b.c.e. Alexander died shortly thereafter leaving his generals and their descendants to establish their own subempires. The process of subdivision and conquest culminated in the establishment of the entirely Persian Sassanid Empire at the beginning of the third century c.e. The Sassanians consolidated all territories east to China and India, and engaged successfully with the Byzantine Empire.
The second great conquerors were the Arab Muslims, arising from Saudi Arabia in 640 c.e. They gradually melded with the Iranian peoples, and in 750, a revolution emanating from Iranian territory assured the Persianization of the Islamic world through the establishment of the great Abbassid Empire at Baghdad. The next conquerors were successive waves of Turkish peoples starting in the eleventh century. They established courts in the northeastern region of Khorassan, founding several great cities. They became patrons of Persian literature, art, and architecture.
Successive Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century resulted in a period of relative instability culminating in a strong reaction in the early sixteenth century on the part of a resurgent religious movement—the Safavids. The Safavid rulers started as a religious movement of adherents of Twelver Shi'ism. They established this form of Shi'ism as the Iranian state religion. Their empire, which ranged from the Caucasus to northern India, raised Iranian civilization to its greatest height. The Safavid capital, Isfahan, was by all accounts one of the most civilized places on earth, far in advance of most of Europe.
Subsequent conquests by the Afghans and the Qājār Turks had the same result. The conquerors came and became Persianized. During the Qājār period from 1899 to 1925, Iran came into contact with European civilization in a serious way for the first time. The industrial revolution in the West seriously damaged Iran's economy, and the lack of a modern army with the latest in weaponry and military transport resulted in serious losses of territory and influence to Great Britain and Russia. Iranian rulers responded by selling "concessions" for agricultural and economic institutions to their European rivals to raise the funds needed for modernization. Much of the money went directly into the pockets of the Qājaār rulers, cementing a public image of collaboration between the throne and foreign interests that characterized much of twentieth century Iranian political life. A series of public protests against the throne took place at regular intervals from the 1890s to the 1970s. These protests regularly involved religious leaders, and continued throughout the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979). These protests culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1978–1979, hereafter referred to as "the Revolution."
National Identity. The establishment of the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini marked a return to religious domination of Iranian culture. Khomeini's symbols were all appropriately appealing to Iranian sensibilities as he called on the people to become martyrs to Islam like Hasan, and restore the religious rule of Hasan's father, Ali, the last leader of both Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. Now, more than twenty years after the Revolution and following Khomeini's death, Iran is once again undergoing change. Its youthful population is demanding liberalization of the strict religious rule of its leaders, and a return to the historic balance of religion and secularism that has characterized the nation for most of its history.
Ethnic Relations. Iran has been somewhat blessed by an absence of specific ethnic conflict. This is noteworthy, given the large number of ethnic groups living within its borders, both today and in the past. It is safe to conclude that the general Iranian population neither persecutes ethnic minorities, nor openly discriminates against them.
Some groups living within Iranian borders do assert autonomy occasionally, however. Chief among these are the Kurds, living on Iran's western border. Fiercely independent, they have pressed the Iranian central government to grant economic concessions and autonomous decision-making powers. However, outside of the urban areas in their region, the Kurds already have formidable control over their regions. Iranian central government officials tread very lightly in these areas. The Kurds in Iran, along with their brethren in Iraq and Turkey, have long desired an independent state. The immediate prospects for this are dim.
The nomadic tribal groups in the southern and western regions of the Iranian central plateau have likewise caused problems for the Iranian central government. Because they are in movement with their sheep and goats for more than half of the year, they have historically been difficult to control. They are also generally self-sufficient, and a small minority are even quite well-off. Attempts to settle these tribes in the past have met with violent action. At present they entertain an uneasy peace with Iranian central authorities.
The Arab population of the southwestern trans-Zagros Gulf province of Khuzestan has entertained political aspirations of breaking away from Iran. These aspirations have been encouraged by Iraq and other Arab states. In times of conflict between Iran and Iraq, Iraqi leaders have supported this separatist movement as a way of antagonizing Iranian officials.
The severest social persecution in Iran has been directed at religious minorities. Periods of relative tolerance have alternated with periods of discrimination for centuries. Under the current Islamic republic, these minorities have had a difficult time. Although theoretically protected as "People of the Book" according to Islamic law, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians have faced accusations of spying for Western nations or for Israel. Islamic officials also take a dim view of their tolerance of alcohol consumption, and the relative freedom accorded to women. The one group that has been universally persecuted since its nineteenth century founding is the Baha'i community, because its religion is viewed as heretical by Shi'a Muslims.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Until recently Iran was primarily a rural culture. Even today with rampant urbanization, Iranians value nature and make every attempt to spend time in the open air. Because Iran is largely a desert, however, the ideal open space is a culturally constructed space—a garden. At the same time Iranians will try to bring the outdoors inside whenever possible. The wonderfully intricate carpets that every family strives to own are miniature gardens replete with flower and animal designs. Fresh fruit and flowers are a part of every entertainment, and nature and gardens are central themes in literature and poetry.
This underscores a fascinating central motif in Iranian architecture—the juxtaposition of "inside" and "outside." These two concepts are more than architectural themes. They are deeply central to Iranian life, pervading spiritual life and social conduct. The inside, or andaruni, is the most private, intimate area of any architectural space. It is the place where family members are most relaxed and able to behave in the most unguarded manner. The outside, or biruni, is by contrast a public space where social niceties must be observed. Every family creates both kinds of spaces, even if living in a single room. Until the nineteenth century, Iranians did not use chairs. They normally sat cross-legged on the floor, preferably on a carpet with bolsters or pillows. In the twentieth century, furniture became the hallmark of the biruni, and now every family of any standing has a room stuffed with uncomfortable furniture for receiving important visitors. When the guests leave, family members give a sigh of relief and go to the andaruni where they can relax on the plush carpet.
An Iranian home is one where any room, with the exception of those used for cooking and bodily functions, can be used for any social purpose— eating, sleeping, entertainment, business, or whatever else one can conceive. One spreads a dinner cloth, and it is a dining room. After dinner, the cloth is removed, cotton mattresses are spread, and the room becomes a bedchamber. Contrast this to an American home where each room has specific functions, or is designated the specific territory of a given family member. As a result, Iranian families can live and entertain many guests in much less space than in the West. This is a social necessity, since the members of one's extended family, and even their friends and acquaintances, have an ironclad claim on virtually unlimited hospitality. One must be prepared to entertain many overnight guests at a moment's notice.
In addition to intimacy, the notion of the andaruni pertains to modesty for women. This is a consideration in all public arrangement of space, especially since the advent of the Islamic Republic. Some zealots will not allow men to sit on a spot that is still warm from a woman's presence. By contrast, public space occupied by persons of the same sex can be very close and intimate with no hint of eroticism or immodesty.
The historical Iranian city is constructed around the commercial center—the bazaar. Architect Nader Ardalan has likened the city to the human body. The bazaar is the spine of the city. Emanating from it are all the institutions needed by the urban population. At the top of the bazaar sits the "head" of this body—the great congregational mosque where all citizens gather on Friday for common prayers and perhaps a sermon. The bazaar is divided into sections inhabited by the various trade guilds. Thus all the carpenters are in one section, the goldsmiths in another, and the shoemakers in yet another.
The bazaar is punctuated with the "outside brought inside" in the form of pools and running water, and even perhaps a religious school with a small garden. The urban space surrounding the bazaar is likewise punctuated by the "inside brought outside" in the form of enclosed public gardens for private discourse in public. Houses in residential neighborhoods are built with abutting walls, each home having its bit of the outside in the form of an open courtyard with a pool, and a tree and a few flowers or a kitchen garden.
In the twentieth century, however, the needs of modern motor transportation and increased urban population density have destroyed much of the texture of the traditional city. Wide avenues have been cut through the traditional quarters in almost every city, disrupting the integrity of the old neighborhoods. Faceless apartment buildings have sprung up depriving residents of their gardens, save for a pot or two of flowers on a small balcony.
Public architecture has always been the essence of biruni in Iran. Grandiose in style, it almost demands formal social behavior. This has been true since Achaemenid times, as a visit to the ruins of their capital, Persepolis, will attest. The grandiose public mosques, shrines, and squares of Isfahan, Mashhad, Shīrāz, and Qom are overwhelming in their beauty and architectural excellence. Unfortunately, the great public buildings of Tehran built in the twentieth century have the bad fortune to have been built to emulate the most stark Western architectural styles.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. As one might expect from Iran's geographic situation, its food strikes a medium between Greek and Indian preparations. It is more varied than Greek food, and less spicy and subtler than Indian food with a greater use of fresh ingredients.
Iranians have a healthy diet centered on fresh fruits, greens and vegetables. Meat (usually lamb, goat, or chicken) is used as a condiment rather than as the centerpiece of a meal. Rice and fresh unleavened or semileavened whole-grain bread are staple starches. The primary beverage is black tea. The principal dietary taboo is the Islamic prohibition against pork.
Breakfast is a light meal consisting of fresh unleavened bread, tea, and perhaps butter, white (feta-style) cheese, and jam. Eggs may also be eaten fried or boiled. Meat is not common at breakfast.
The main meal of the day is eaten at around one o'clock in the afternoon. In a middle-class household it usually starts with a plate of fresh greens— scallions, radishes, fresh basil, mint, coriander, and others in season. This is served with unleavened bread and white cheese. The main dish is steamed aromatic rice (chelow ) served with one or more stews made of meat and a fresh vegetable or fruit. This stew, called khoresht resembles a mild curry. It centers on a central ingredient such as eggplant, okra, spinach, quince, celery, or a myriad of other possibilities. One particularly renowned khoresht, fesenjun, consists of lamb, chicken, duck, or pheasant cooked in a sauce of onions, ground walnuts, and pomegranate molasses. In addition to its preparation as chelow, rice may also be prepared as a pilaf (polow ) by mixing in fresh herbs, vegetables, fruit, or meat after it is boiled, but before it is steamed.
The Iranian national dish, called chelow kabab, consists of filet of lamb marinated in lemon juice or yogurt, onions, and saffron, pounded with a knife on a flat skewer until fork tender and grilled over a hot fire. This is served with grilled onions and tomatoes on a bed of chelow to which has been added a lump of butter and a raw egg yolk. The butter and egg are mixed with the hot rice (which cooks the egg), and ground sumac berries are sprinkled on top. A common drink with a meal is dough, a yogurt and salted water preparation that is similar to Turkish ayran, Lebanese lebni, and Indian lassi.
Sweets are more likely to be consumed with tea in the afternoon than as dessert. Every region of the country has special confections prized as travel souvenirs, and served casually to guests. Among the most famous are gaz, a natural nougat made with rose water, and sohan, a saffron, butter, and pistachio praline. After a meal Iranians prefer fresh fruit and tea. In fact, fruit is served before the meal, after the meal—indeed, at any time.
The evening meal is likely to be a light meal consisting of leftover food from the noon meal, or a little bread, cheese, fruit, and tea. Urban dwellers may eat a light meal at a café or restaurant in the evening.
Outside of large cities, restaurants are not very common in Iran. On the other hand, teahouses are ubiquitous, and widely frequented at all times of day. One can always get some kind of meal there.
Alcoholic beverages are officially forbidden in Iran today under the Islamic republic, but their consumption is still widely practiced. Armenian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian communities still produce wine, and local moonshine is found everywhere in rural areas. The principal alcoholic beverage is "vodka" distilled from grain, grapes, or more commonly, raisins. It is consumed almost exclusively by men in the evening or at celebrations such as weddings.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Ritual foods fall into two categories—foods that are eaten in celebration, and foods that are prepared and consumed as a charitable religious act.
A few foods are traditional for the New Year's celebration. Fish is widely consumed as the first meal of the New Year, along with a polow made with greens. One food appears on the ritual New Year's table, but is rarely eaten. This is a kind of sweet pudding made of ground sprouted wheat called samanou.
During the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan, no food or drink is consumed from sunrise to sunset. Families rise before dawn to prepare heavy breakfasts that look like the noon meal. The process is repeated at sundown. Special crispy fried sweets made from a yogurt batter and soaked in syrup are frequently served. Two forms are popular: zulbia, which looks a bit like a multi stranded pretzel, and bamieh, which looks a bit like the okra pods it is named after.
Food is frequently prepared for distribution to the community as a charitable religious act. When a sheep is slaughtered for a special occasion it is common to give meat to all of one's neighbors. To give thanks for fulfillment of a desire, a community meal is frequently prepared. Likewise, during the mourning ceremonies for Hossein during the months of Muharram and Safar, communal meals are paid for by charitable individuals. The most common food served on these occasions is a polow made with yellow peas and meat.
Basic Economy. Historically Iran has been an agricultural nation with fairly rich resources both for vegetable crops and animal husbandry. In the twentieth century, Iran's economy changed in a radical fashion due to the discovery of oil. By the time of the Revolution the nation received more than 80 percent of its income from oil and oil-related industry. While in 1955 more than 75 percent of the population lived in rural areas, distribution has reversed. Now more than 75 percent of Iranians live in urban areas, deriving their incomes either from manufacturing or from the service sector (currently the largest sector of the economy).
The goals of the Islamic Republic include a drive for self-sufficiency in food and manufacture. At present, however, only about 10 percent of the nation's agricultural land is under cultivation, and subsistence farming is all but dead. Iran remains a net importer of food and manufactured goods, a condition that will not change soon. Inflation is a continual problem. Were it not for oil income, the nation would be in difficult straits.
Land Tenure and Property. Absentee landlords in Iran held traditional agricultural land for many hundreds of years. They employed a sharecropping arrangement with their tenant farmers based on a principle of five shares: land, water, seed, animal labor, and human labor. The farmer rarely supplied more than human and animal labor, and thus received two-fifths of the produce. Additionally landlords hired some agricultural laborers to work land for them for direct wages.
Sharecropping farmers received the land they farmed in the land reform movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but the wage farmers received nothing, and largely abandoned agricultural pursuits.
Nomadic tribes claim grazing rights along their route of migration, with the rights parceled out by family affiliation. Government officials have contested and opposed these rights at various times on environmental grounds (overgrazing), but they have not been able marshal effective enforcement. Tribal members also maintain agricultural land both at their summer and winter pasture headquarters.
Religious bequest (waqf ) land plays a large role in Iranian life. Large landowners on their death have willed whole villages as well as other kinds of property to the religious bequest trust. Nearly the entire city of Mashhad is waqf land. Individuals in that city can buy houses and office buildings, but not the land on which they stand. Part of the strategic plan of the Pahlavi rulers was to break the economic power of the clergy who controlled this vast property by nationalizing it, and placing its administration under a government ministry. This was one of the government actions most vehemently opposed by the clergy before the Revolution. Nevertheless, the waqf is still administered by a government ministry.
Major Industries. Iran today has a steel plant, automobile and bus assembly plants, a good infrastructure of roads, a decent telecommunication system, and good broadcast facilities for radio and television. These have all been extended under the Islamic Republic, as has rural electrification. Mining and exploitation of Iran's extensive mineral wealth other than oil is largely moribund. Moves to privatize industry have been slow; 80 percent of all economic activity is under direct government control.
Trade. Aside from oil products, the nation's exports include carpets, caviar, cotton, fruits, textiles, minerals, motor vehicles, and nuts. A small amount of fresh produce and meat is exported to the states of the Persian Gulf.
Classes and Castes. Iranian society presents a puzzle for most standard social science analysis of social structure. On the one hand there is an out-ward appearance of extensive social stratification. When one peers beneath the surface, however, this impression breaks down almost immediately.
In Iran one can never judge a book by its cover. A traditional gentleman in ragged clothes, unshaven, and without any outward trapping of luxury may in fact be very rich, and as powerful as the mightiest government official; or he may be a revered spiritual leader. On the other hand a well-dressed gentleman in an Italian suit driving a fine European car may be mired in debt and openly derided behind his back.
Social mobility is also eminently possible in Iran. Clever youths from poor backgrounds may educate themselves, attach themselves to persons of power and authority, and rise quickly in status and wealth. Family connections help here, and hypergamy (marriage into a higher class) for both men and women is very important.
High status is precarious in Iran. There is a symbiotic relationship between superior and inferior. Duty is incumbent on the inferior, but the noblesse oblige incumbent on the superior as a condition of maintaining status is often greater, as the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, discovered in the Revolution.
Nevertheless there are genuinely revered figures in public life. Public respect is largely accorded by diffuse and generalized acclimation, this being a form of status recognition that Iranians trust. The public has a tendency to dismiss awards, promotions, and public accolades as the result of political or social intriguing. The clerical hierarchy in Shi'a Islam is a good model for genuine advancement in social hierarchy because clerics advance through the informal acknowledgment of their peers.
Government. Iran has made the transition in the last twenty years from a nominal constitutional monarchy to a democratic theocracy. As the United States has checks and balances in its governmental system, so does Iran. There is a strong president elected for a four-year term, and a unicameral legislature (majles ) of 270 members, elected directly by the people, with some slots reserved for recognized minorities. The position of speaker is politically important, since there is no prime minister. Suffrage is universal, and the voting age is sixteen. The president selects a Council of Ministers, an Expediency Council, and serves as the head of the Council of National Security.
Over and above these elected bodies there is a supreme jurisprudent selected by an independent Assembly of Experts—a council of religious judges. The office of chief jursiprudent (faqih ) was created for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at the time of the Revolution. It was designed to implement a controversial philosophy unique to Khomeini's teachings—a "guardianship" to be implemented until the day of return of the twelfth Shi'a Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is in occultation (being hidden from view). Alongside the chief jurisprudent is a twelve-member Council of Guardians, six selected by the chief jurisprudent, and six by the Supreme Judicial Council ratified by the majles. The Council of Guardians rules on the Islamic suitability of both elected officials and the laws they pass. They can disqualify candidates for election both before and after they are elected. Another council mediates between the Council of Guardians and the legislature.
The judiciary consists of a Supreme Judge and a Supreme Judicial Council. All members must be Shi'a Muslim jurisprudents. Islamic Shari'a law is the foundation for the court's decisions. Freedom of the press and assembly are constitutionally guaranteed so long as such activities do not contradict Islamic law.
The units of governmental division are the province (ostan ), "county" (sharestan ), and township (dehestan ). Each governmental unit has a head appointed by the Ministry of the Interior.
Military Activity. Although there is a standing army, navy, and air force, the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran-e Engelab ), organized shortly after the Revolution, dominate military activities, often coming into conflict with the standard military forces. The Revolutionary Guards either accompany or lead all military activities, both internal and international. A national police force oversees urban areas, and a gendarmerie attends to rural peacekeeping.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
The Islamic Republic of Iran is replete with charitable organizations. It is incumbent upon all Muslims to devote a proportion of their excess income to the support of religious and charitable works. This contribution is voluntary, but the government collects this tithe and uses the income to support hospitals, orphanages, and religious schools. The government is also committed to rural development projects. A movement called the "sacred development struggle" (jihad-e sazandegi ) was launched early in the Islamic Republic and was successful in bringing important development projects—electrification, drinking water and roads—to remote rural areas. There are many small private charitable organizations organized to help the poor, fatherless families, children, and other unfortunate citizens. The Iranian Red Crescent Society (the local version of the Red Cross) is active and important in the instance of national disaster. Iran is a net exporter of charity to neighboring countries. It has assisted with disaster relief in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf region.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
There are very few international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating independent development or health programs in Iran at present, except in conjunction with Iranian governmental organizations. The current regime views independent NGOs with deep suspicion, and in its aim for self-sufficiency views the work of many international charities as unnecessary. The United Nations (UN) is the one important exception. Iran has supported the UN since its inception, and a number of UN programs in health, development, population, and the preservation of cultural antiquities are active. The nation's Mostazafin ("downtrodden people") Foundation and the Imam Khomeini Foundation have operated in the international sphere.
Gender Roles and Statuses
The Relative Status of Women and Men. The question of gender roles is one of the most complex issues in contemporary Iranian society. Women have always had a strong role in Iranian life, but rarely a public role. Their prominent participation in political movements has been especially noteworthy. Brave and often ruthlessly pragmatic, women are more than willing to take to the streets for a good public cause. Moreover, although the world focuses increasingly on the question of female dress as an indicator of progress for women in Iran (and indeed, in the Islamic world altogether), this is a superficial view. In the years since the Revolution, women have made astonishing progress in nearly every area of life.
Both the Pahlavi regime and the leaders of the Islamic Republic have gone out of their way to emphasize their willingness to have women operate as full participants in government and public affairs. Women have served in the legislature and as government ministers since the 1950s. The average marriage age for women has increased to twenty-one years. Iran's birthrate has fallen steadily since before the Revolution, now standing at an estimated 2.45 percent. Education for women is obligatory and universal, and education for girls has increased steadily. The literacy rate for women is close to that of men, and for women under 25 it is over 90 percent, even in rural areas.
Female employment is the one area where women have suffered a decline since the Revolution. Even under the current Islamic regime, virtually all professions are theoretically open to women—with an important caveat. The difficulty for the leaders of the Islamic republic in allowing women complete equality in employment and public activity revolves around religious questions of female modesty that run head-to-head with the exigencies of public life. Islam requires that both women and men adopt modest dress that does not inflame carnal desire. For men this means eschewing tight pants, shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and open collars. Iranians view women's hair as erotic, and so covering both the hair and the female form are the basic requirements of modesty. For many centuries women in Iran have done this by wearing the chador, a semicircular piece of dark cloth that is wrapped expertly around the body and head, and gathered at the chin. This garment is both wonderfully convenient, since it affords a degree of privacy, and lets one wear virtually anything underneath; and restricting, since it must be held shut with one hand. Makeup of any kind is not allowed. In private, women dress as they please, and often exhibit fashionable, even daring, clothing for their female friends and spouses.
Any public activity that would require women to depart from this modest dress in mixed company is expressly forbidden. Professions requiring physical exertion outdoors are excluded, as are most public entertainment roles. Interestingly, film and television are open to women provided they observe modest dress standards. This has created an odd separate-but-equal philosophy in Iranian life. Some activities, such as sports events, have been set up for exclusively female participants and female spectators.
Westernized Iranian women have long viewed obligatory modest dress in whatever forms as oppressive, and have worked to have standards relaxed. These standards certainly have been oppressive when forced on the female population in an obsessive manner. Revolutionary Guards have mutilated some women for showing too much hair or for wearing lipstick. But the majority of women in Iran have always adopted modest dress voluntarily, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future no matter what political decisions are made on this matter.
The emotional roles of Iranian men and women are different from those in the United States and many other Western countries. In particular, it is considered manly for men to be emotionally sensitive, artistically engaged, and aesthetically acute. Women, by contrast, can be emotionally distant and detached without seeming unfeminine. Open weeping is not shameful for either sex. Both sexes can be excessively tender and doting toward their same-sex friends with no intention of eroticism. Kissing and hand-holding between members of the same sex is common.
By contrast, physical contact between members of the opposite sex is assiduously avoided except between relatives. Western men offering to shake a traditional Iranian woman's hand may see her struggling between a desire to be polite, and a desire not to breech standards of decency. The solution for many a woman is to cover her hand with part of her chador and shake hands that way. Under no circumstances should a proper man or woman willingly find themselves alone in a closed room with a member of the opposite sex (except for his or her spouse).
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. In Iran women control marriages for their children, and much intrigue in domestic life revolves around marital matters. A mother is typically on the lookout for good marriage prospects at all times. Even if a mother is diffident about marriage brokering, she is obliged to "clear the path" for a marriage proposal. She does this by letting her counterpart in the other family know that a proposal is forthcoming, or would be welcome. She then must confer with her husband, who makes the formal proposal in a social meeting between the two families. This kind of background work is essential, because once the children are married, the two families virtually merge, and have extensive rights and obligations vis-á-vis each other that are close to a sacred duty. It is therefore extremely important that the families be certain that they are compatible before the marriage takes place.
Marriage within the family is a common strategy, and a young man of marriageable age has an absolute right of first refusal for his father's brother's daughter—his patrilateral parallel cousin. The advantages for the families in this kind of marriage are great. They already know each other and are tied into the same social networks. Moreover, such a marriage serves to consolidate wealth from the grandparents' generation for the family. Matrilateral cross-cousin marriages are also common, and exceed parallel-cousin marriages in urban areas, due perhaps to the wife's stronger influence in family affairs in cities.
Although inbreeding would seem to be a potential problem, the historical preference for marriage within the family continues, waning somewhat in urban settings where other considerations such as profession and education play a role in the choice of a spouse. In 1968, 25 percent of urban marriages, 31 percent of rural marriages, and 51 percent of tribal marriages were reported as endogamous. These percentages appear to have increased somewhat following the Revolution.
In Iran today a love match with someone outside of the family is clearly not at all impossible, but even in such cases, except in the most westernized families, the family visitation and negotiation must be observed. Traditional marriages involve a formal contract drawn up by a cleric. In the contract a series of payments are specified. The bride brings a dowry to the marriage usually consisting of household goods and her own clothing. A specified amount is written into the contract as payment for the woman in the event of divorce. The wife after marriage belongs to her husband's household and may have difficulty visiting her relatives if her husband does not approve. Nevertheless, she retains her own name, and may hold property in her own right, separate from her husband.
The wedding celebration is held after the signing of the contract. It is really a prelude to the consummation of the marriage, which takes place typically at the end of the evening, or, in rural areas, at the end of several days' celebration. In many areas of Iran it is still important that the bride be virginal, and the bedsheets are carefully inspected to ensure this. A wise mother gives her daughter a vial of chicken blood "just in case." The new couple may live with their relatives for a time until they can set up their own household. This is more common in rural than in urban areas.
Iran is an Islamic nation, and polygyny is allowed. It is not widely practiced, however, because Iranian officials in this century have followed the Islamic prescription that a man taking two wives must treat them with absolute equality. Women in polygynous marriages hold their husbands to this and will seek legal relief if they feel they are disadvantaged. Statistics are difficult to ascertain, but one recent study claims that only 1 percent of all marriages are polygynous.
Divorce is less common in Iran than in the West. Families prefer to stay together even under difficult circumstances, since it is extremely difficult to disentangle the close network of interrelationships between the two extended families of the marriage pair. One recent study claims that the divorce rate is 10 percent in Iran. For Iranians moving to the United States the rate is 66 percent, suggesting that cultural forces tend to keep couples from separating.
Children of a marriage belong to the father. After a divorce, men assume custody of boys over three years and girls over seven. Women have been known to renounce their divorce payment in exchange for custody of their children. There is no impediment to remarriage with another partner for either men or women.
Domestic Unit. In traditional Iranian rural society the "dinner cloth" often defines the minimal family. Many branches of an extended family may live in rooms in the same compound. However, they may not all eat together on a daily basis. Sons and their wives and children are often working for their parents in anticipation of a birthright in the form of land or animals. When they receive this, they will leave and form their own separate household. In the meantime they live in their parents' compound, but have separate eating and sleeping arrangements. Even after they leave their parents' home, members of extended families have widespread rights to hospitality in the homes of even their most distant relations. Indeed, family members generally carry out most of their socializing with each other.
Inheritance. Inheritance generally follows rules prescribed by Islamic law. Male children inherit full shares of their father's estate, wives and daughters half-shares. An individual may make a religious bequest of specific goods or property that are then administered by the ministry of waqfs.
Kin Groups. The patriarch is the oldest male of the family. He demands respect from other family members and often has a strong role in the future of young relatives. In particular it is common for members of an extended family to spread themselves out in terms of professions and influence. Some will go into government, others into the military, perhaps others join the clergy, and some may even become anti-government oppositionists. Families will attempt to marry their children into powerful families as much for their own sake as for the son or daughter. The general aim for the family is to extend its influence into as many spheres as possible. As younger members mature, older members of the family are expected to help them with jobs, introductions, and financial support. This is not considered corrupt or nepotistic, but is seen rather as one of the benefits of family membership.
Infant Care. The role of the mother is extremely important in Iran. Mothers are expected to breast-feed their babies for fear the babies will become "remorseless."
Child Rearing and Education. Mothers and children are expected to be mutually supportive. A mother will protect her children's reputation under all circumstances. Small children are indulged, and not just by their parents. They are magnets for attention from everyone in the society. Some parents worry about their children becoming vain and spoiled, but have a difficult time denying their wishes.
Older children often raise younger children, especially in rural settings. It is very common to see an older child with full responsibility for care of a toddler. Children are usually more than up to this task, and develop strong bonds with their siblings. There is some rivalry between children in a family, but the rule of primogeniture is strong, and older children have the right to discipline younger children.
The father is the disciplinarian of the family. Whereas most fathers dote on their small children, they can become fierce and stern as children approach puberty. It is the father's responsibility to protect the honor of the family, and this means keeping close watch on the women and their activities. A girl is literally a treasure for the family. If she remains chaste, virginal, modest, and has other attributes such as beauty and education she has an excellent chance of making a marriage that will benefit everyone. If she falls short of this ideal, she can ruin not only her own life, but also the reputation of her family.
Boys are far more indulged than girls. Their father teaches them very early, however, that the protection of family honor also resides with them. It is not unusual to see a small boy upbraiding his own mother for some act that shows a lack of modesty. This is the beginning of a life long enculturation that emphasizes self-denial, collectivism, and interdependence with regard to the family.
Families place a very strong emphasis on education for both boys and girls. For girls this is a more modern attitude, but it was always true for boys. The education system relies a great deal on rote memorization, patterned as it is on the French education system. Children are also strongly encouraged in the arts. They write poetry and learn music, painting, and calligraphy, often pursuing these skills privately.
Higher Education. All Iranians would like their children to pursue higher education, and competition for university entrance is fierce. The most desired professions for children are medicine and engineering. These fields attract the best and the brightest, and graduates receive an academic social title for both professions (doktor and mohandess ). The social rewards are so great for success in these professions that families will push their children into them even if their interests lie elsewhere. Many young people receive an engineering or medical degree and then pursue a completely different career.
The social lubricant of Iranian life is a system known as ta'arof, literally "meeting together." This is a ritualized system of linguistic and behavioral interactional strategies allowing individuals to interrelate in a harmonious fashion. The system marks the differences between andaruni and biruni situations, and also marks differences in relative social status. In general, higher status persons are older and have important jobs, or command respect because of their learning, artistic accomplishments, or erudition.
Linguistically, ta'arof involves a series of lexical substitutions for pronouns and verbs whereby persons of lower status address persons of higher status with elevated forms. By contrast, they refer to themselves with humble forms. Both partners in an interaction may simultaneously use other-raising and self-lowering forms toward each other. Ritual greetings and leave-takings such as ghorban-e shoma (literally, "your sacrifice") underscore this sensibility.
In social situations, this linguistic gesture is replicated in behavioral routines. It is good form to offer a portion of what one is about to eat to anyone nearby, even if they show no interest. One sees this behavior even in very small children. It is polite to refuse such an offer, but the one making the offer will be sensitive to the slightest hint of interest and will continue to press the offer if it is indicated.
Guests bring honor to a household, and are eagerly sought. When invited as a guest a small present is appreciated, but often received with a show of embarrassment. It will usually not be unwrapped in front of the giver. It is always expected that a person returning from a trip will bring presents for family and friends.
An honored guest is always placed at the head of a room or a table. The highest status person also goes first when food is served. It is proper form to refuse these honors, and press them on another.
One must be very careful about praising any possession of another. The owner will likely offer it immediately as a present. Greater danger still lies in praising a child. Such praise bespeaks envy, which is the essence of the "evil eye." The parent will be alarmed, fearing for the child's life. The correct formula for praising anything is ma sha' Allah, literally, "What God wills."
Iranians can be quite physically intimate with same-sex friends, even in public. Physical contact is expected and is not erotic. In restaurants and on buses and other public conveyances people are seated much closer than in the West. On the other hand, even the slightest physical contact with non-family members of the opposite sex, unless they are very young children, is taboo.
A downward gaze in Iran is a sign of respect. Foreigners addressing Iranians often think them disinterested or rude when they answer a question without looking at the questioner. This is a cross-cultural mistake. For men, downcast eyes are a defense measure, since staring at a woman is usually taken as a sign of interest, and can cause difficulties. On the other hand, staring directly into the eyes of a friend is a sign of affection and intimacy.
In Iran the lower status person issues the first greeting. In the reverse logic of ta'arof this means that a person who wants to be polite will make a point of this, using the universal Islamic salaam or the extended salaam aleikum. The universal phrase for leave-taking is khoda hafez —"God protect."
Religion Beliefs. The state religion in Iran is Ithnaashara or Twelver Shi'ism, established by the Safavid Dynasty in the seventeenth century. This branch of Islam has many distinctive practices and beliefs that differ from the Sunni Islam practiced in most of the Muslim world. Shi'a Muslims revere the descendants of Fatimah, daughter of the prophet Muhammad, and her husband, Ali, Muhammad's cousin. There are twelve Imams recognized by this branch of Shi'ism. All were martyred except the twelfth, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who disappeared, but will return at the end of time with Jesus to judge mankind. A common symbol seen throughout Iran is an open hand. This is a complex symbol with a number of interpretations, but one is that the five fingers represent the "five bodies" central to Shi'ism—Muhammad, Fatimah, Ali, and the two sons of Fatimah and Ali, Husayn and Hassain.
It is Hassain, however, who is the true central figure in Iranian symbolic life. Hassain was martyred in a struggle for power between rival sects, later concretized as Shi'a and Sunni. This martyrdom is ritually observed throughout the year on every possible occasion. Pious individuals endow recitation of the story by professional panegyrists on a regular basis. The Islamic months of Muharram and Safar are months of ritual mourning for Hassain, with processions, self-flagellation, and ten-day dramatic depictions of the events of the martyrdom.
Just as Hassain is a central figure, everyone associated with him and his descendants who lived in Iran are equally revered—in particular Imam Reza, the eighth leader of Shi'a Muslims. Whereas all other Shi'a Imams are buried in modern Iraqi territory, Imam Reza is buried in the northeastern Iranian city, Mashhad. His astonishingly lavish shrine is one of the major pilgrimage destinations for Shi'a Muslims.
Although the vast majority of Iranians are Twelver Shi'a Muslims, important religious minorities have always played an important role in Iranian life. Zoroastrians date back to the Achaemenid Empire more than two thousand years ago. Iranian Jews claim to be the oldest continuous Jewish community in the world, dating back to the removal to Babylon. Armenians, an ancient Christian people, were imported by Iranian rulers for their artisanry, and Assyrian Christians, who follow a non-Trinitarian doctrine, have been continually resident in Iran since the third century. Sunni Muslims are represented by Arab and Baluchi populations in the south and Turkish populations in the north and west. One religious group is homegrown. The Baha'i movement, a semi-mystical nineteenth-century departure from Shi'ia Islam, won converts not only from Islam, but also from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Considered a heresy by many Shi'a Muslims, Baha'i has spread from Iran to virtually every nation on earth.
Religious Practitioners. There is no formal certification for Islamic clergy. Technically, all sincere Muslims can establish themselves as religious practitioners. Women cannot preach to men, but female clerics ministering to women are not uncommon. In the normal course of training a young man attends a religious school. He takes classes from revered scholars who give him a certificate when he has completed a course of study to their satisfaction. After some time he may receive a call to take up residence in a community needing a cleric.
In time, he may acquire a reputation as a mujtahed or "jurisprudent," capable of interpreting Islamic law. Since there is no fixed theological doctrine in Shi'ism beyond the Koran and the Hadith (traditions of the prophet Muhammad), believers are free to follow the religious leader of their choice, and his interpretation of Islamic law. In time, as a mujtahed gains respect and followers, he may rise to become an ayatollah (literally, Reflection of God"). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who in the 1970s had the largest number of followers of all religious leaders, led the Iranian Revolution.
Mysticism plays an important role in Iranian religion. Religious orders of Sufi mystics have been active in Iran for many centuries. Sufis focus on an inward meditative path for the pursuit of religious truth that may include group chanting and dance. Because they believe religion to be a personal spiritual journey, they eschew the outward trappings of social and economic life, and are highly revered.
Rituals and Holy Places. Shrines of Islamic saints are extremely important in Iranian religious practice. Most of these burial places, which receive regular visits from believers, are purported graves of the descendants of the prophet Muhammad through the Shi'a Imams. A pilgrimage to a local shrine is a common religious and social occasion. Longer pilgrimages to Karbala, Mashhad, or Mecca are greatly respected.
Most holidays in Iran are religious holidays revolving around the birth or death of the various Shi'a Imams. There are thirty of these days, all calculated according to the lunar calendar, which is always at variance with the Iranian solar calendar. This can complicate people's lives. It is necessary to have a Muslim cleric in the community just to calculate the dates. Most of these holidays involve mourning, at which time the story of Hassain's martyrdom at Karbala is recited. The exception is the birthday of the Twelfth Imam, which is a happy celebration.
Medicine and Health Care
Health care in Iran is generally very good. Life expectancy is relatively high (70 years) and the nation does not have any severe endemic infectious diseases. The principal cause of death is heart and circulatory disease. Many physicians emigrated at the time of the Islamic Revolution, but a sufficient number, supplemented by doctors from South Asia, continue to serve the population.
Health care programs in recent years have been highly successful. Malaria has been virtually eliminated, cholera and other waterborne diseases are generally under control, and family planing programs have resulted in dramatic decreases in fertility rates. The infant mortality rate remains somewhat elevated (twenty-nine per thousand) but it has declined significantly over the past twenty years. AIDS figures are suppressed.
Opium addiction has been a continual medical concern in Iran. The Pahlavi regime attempted to phase out its use by licensing the sale of state-produced raw opium only to certified addicts born after a specified date. It was thought that all the addicts would eventually die, and the problem would be solved. Of course, the availability of opium on the free market simply guaranteed that it would be resold to younger people at a profit, and the problem continued. The use of opium persists as a casual drug for all classes of society, with a small proportion of continued addicts.
A folk belief prevalent in Iran revolves around dietary practice. This philosophy tries to maintain balance between the four humors of the body— blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—through judicious combinations of foods. Although more sophisticated Iranians use the full range of four humors in their dietary calculations, most adhere to a two-category system: hot and cold. For example, visitors quickly learn that their friends will not allow the simultaneous consumption of watermelon and yogurt (both cold foods), for fear that this combination will cause immediate death.
Most holidays in Iran are religious in nature. The few secular holidays relate to pre-Islamic practices, or modern political events.
The Iranian New Year's Celebration (Now Ruz ) is the nation's principal secular holiday. The Now Ruz celebration is replete with pre-Islamic symbolism, beginning with the practice of jumping over bonfires on the Wednesday before the equinox. An array of symbols emphasizing agricultural renewal is displayed throughout the long period of celebration, which lasts for thirteen days. Accompanying the festivities is the celebratory presence of a black-faced clown, Hajji Firouz. In some parts of the country a "king" of the New Year is selected and catered to during the holiday. On the thirteenth day he is ritually sacrificed.
In some parts of Iran the winter solstice is celebrated in a special manner. Watermelons are saved from the summer and hung in a protected place. On the longest night of the year, family and friends stay up all night, tell stories, and eat the watermelons.
The nation also celebrates Islamic Republic Day on 1 April to mark the 1979 Revolution.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. The role of the arts in Iran is highly complex. On the one hand, Iranians have one of the richest and most elaborate artistic traditions in the world. On the other hand, Islamic leaders disapprove of many forms of artistic expression. Under the Pahlavi regime, especially under the patronage of the empress, Farah Diba, the arts were heavily supported and promoted. Under the Islamic republic this support has continued, but with many fits, starts, and caveats. Moral censorship has invaded virtually every form of artistic expression, but the inventive Iranians somehow manage to produce marvelous art despite these restrictions.
Two Islamic prohibitions affect arts in the most direct way: a prohibition against music, and one against the depiction of humans and animals in art. The prophet Muhammad disapproved of music because it acted to transport listeners to another mental sphere, distracting them from attention to the world created by God. The depiction of humans and animals is disapproved on two grounds: first, because it could be construed as idolatry; and second, because it could be seen as an attempt to create an alternate universe to that created by God. Additionally, the early Muslims considered poetry to be suspect, since it was thought to be inspired by jinn. For these reasons the Koran, certainly one of the most poetic works ever created, is explicitly not poetry. Chanting of the Koran is likewise not music. Over the centuries Iranians have taken these prohibitions somewhat lightly.
Literature. Iranian poets have penned some of the most wonderful, moving poetry in the history of humankind. The great poets Firdawsī, Hāfez, Sa'adī, and Jalāl ad-D n ar-R m and a host of others are an intimate part of the life of every Iranian. Modern poets writing in non-metric styles are equally revered, and the nation has developed a distinguished coterie of novelists, essayists, and exponents of belles lettres, both male and female.
Graphic Arts. Persian miniature paintings illustrating Iranian epics and classic stories are among the world's great art treasures. These miniatures depicted both humans and animals. Another tradition, more religiously approved, is the artistic development of calligraphy. This is a highly developed Iranian art, as it is throughout the Middle East. Iran has its own styles of Arabic calligraphy, however, and has developed many modern artists who fashion common words into figurative art of great beauty. Iran's modern painters often use classic themes from miniatures combined with calligraphy for a uniquely Persian effect. Geometric design is also approved, and is seen in architectural detail and carpet design.
No discussion of Persian art would be complete without mention of carpet making. Carpets are Iran's most important export item after oil, and their creation is an art of the highest order. Carpets are hand-knotted. The finest take years to complete and have hundreds of knots per square inch. The designs are drawn from a traditional stock of motifs, but are continually elaborated upon by weavers. Each region of Iran has its own traditional designs. Carpets are not only beautiful works of art, they are investments. Older carpets are worth more than new carpets. Every Iranian family will try to own one, with the secure knowledge that if they take care in their purchase it will always increase in value.
Also of significance are the centuries-old traditions of silverwork, wood-block printing, enamel ware, inlay work, and filigree jewelry manufacture. These arts were revived during the Pahlavi era in government-sponsored workshops and training programs. This support has continued after the Revolution, and owning excellent examples of these artistic products has become a hallmark of good taste in Iranian homes.
Performance Arts. Persian classical music is one of the most elaborate and inspiring artistic forms ever created. The musical system consists of twelve modal units called dastgah. These are divided into small melodic units called gusheh, most of which are associated with classic Persian poetic texts. A full performance of classical music consists of alternating arhythmic and rhythmic sections from a single dastgah. The instrumentalist and the vocal artist improvise within the modal structure, creating a unique performance. Traditional instruments include the tar,: a lute like instrument with a body shaped something like a figure eight; the setar,a smaller lute with three strings and a small, round body; the nei, a vertical flute; the kemanche, a small vertical fiddle with a long neck and a small body; the qanun, a larger, broader vertical fiddle; the santur, a hammer dulcimer; the dombak, a double-headed drum; and the daf, a large tambourine. Popular music forms are largely based on the more melodic structures of classical music, and are highly disapproved by the religious authorities. Many popular Iranian musicians now live abroad, where they record and export their music back to Iran. Women are not allowed to perform music in public under the current government.
Iran has two unique traditional dramatic forms. The first, ta'zieh, is an elaborate pageant depicting the death of Imam Hassain. In its full form, it lasts ten days during the month of Muharram, and involves hundreds of performers and animals. The other dramatic form is less elevated, but equally unique. It is a comic improvisatory form known commonly as ru-howzi theater, because it was typically performed on a platform placed over the pool (howz ) in a courtyard. Ru-howzi theater is performed by itinerant troupes at weddings and other celebrations, and is greatly appreciated. It has undergone a revival since the Revolution. Modern Western drama entered Iran at the end of the nineteenth century and attracted a number of fine playwrights whose works are regularly performed in live theater and on television.
Iranian film has captured the interest of the entire world in recent years, winning major international prizes. The Iranian film industry is decades old, but in the 1970s it began to develop as a serious art form under the sponsorship of National Iranian Radio and Television. Young film makers remained in Iran after the Revolution to create masterpieces of film art, despite censorship restrictions. This is somewhat confounding for the religious officials of the Islamic republic, since the most conservative officials condemned film attendance as immoral before the Revolution. Now they realize that Iranian film makers give Iran a progressive, positive image, and they grudgingly lend their support to the industry.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
Iran has had a long and proud national tradition in mathematics and the sciences. Iranians view this as an emanation of their cultural heritage. During the period from the ninth to the twelfth centuries the greatest scientists in Baghdad, often thought of as Arabs, were in fact Iranian scholars. Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) is perhaps the most famous of these. The high regard for medicine and engineering has produced the strongest education and research programs in the country. More than half of all university students are enrolled in these fields.
There are forty-four universities (fifteen in Tehran) currently active in Iran along with a number of other institutes of higher learning and technical training. Approximately 450,000 students are enrolled, men outnumbering women two to one. The University of Tehran, Tehran Polytechnic University, the University of Isfahan, the University of Shīrāz, and the University of Tabrīz are premier educational institutions operating at a high international standard.
One of the more interesting developments following the Revolution was the establishment of the Islamic Open University. This was largely due to student discontent with the restrictive admission policies of the existing universities. Set up throughout the country, it is truly a university without walls, enrolling nearly 400,000 students. Although admission examinations are required, it is not necessary for applicants to submit standard high school diplomas for admission.
A third innovation in higher education has been the establishment of a correspondence institution, the Remote University. This is open to everyone, but in practicality it serves primarily government officials, teachers, and civil servants who wish to further their education.
The nation has enough applied scientists to carry out the functions of infrastructure maintenance and health care. Nevertheless, research institutes have suffered severe declines since the Revolution. Many of the country's best scientists and researchers emigrated to Europe and the United States. A few have returned, but the combination of the massive brain drain and the relatively young population of the nation indicate that it will be some time before much rebuilding can take place.
The government has realized that this is a problem and has increased appropriations to research institutes in recent years. The National Research Council formulates national research policy. The Industrial and Scientific Research Organization of the Culture and Higher Education Ministry carries out research for the government. Other institutes, such as the Institute for Theoretical Physics and Mathematics and the Institute for Oceanographic Research, are given little support.
Social science research is somewhat underdeveloped in Iran. Where it exists it has been developed on French models. The University of Tehran has strong faculties in sociology, psychology, and linguistics, and an active Institute for Social Studies and Research. The University of Shīrāz also has instruction and research in anthropology and sociology.
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—William O. Beeman
COPYRIGHT 2001 The Gale Group Inc.
© Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes 2007, originally
published by Oxford University Press 2007.