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A Brief History of Iran from 1851
1851-1906 -- The Qajars (ruling family) lost central Asian provinces to the Russians
and were forced to give up all claims on Afghanistan to the British. These two
European powers dominated Iran's trade and manipulated its internal politics. The
Qajars and influential members of their court were bribed to sell many valuable
concessions to the British, such as the Tobacco Concession which triggered a
massive popular uprising.
1906 -- Discontent with Qajar corruption and mismanagement led to the
Constitutional Revolution and the establishment of Iran's first parliament or
Majles. The constitutional aspirations for a limited monarchy were never to be fully
realized. Although Iran never became an actual colony of imperial powers, in 1907 it
was divided into two spheres of influence. The north was controlled by Russia and
the south and the east by Britain. By the end of WW I, Iran was plunged into a
state of political, social and economic chaos.
1921 -- Reza Khan, an officer in the army, staged a coup. Initially the minister of
war and then the prime minister, in 1925 Reza Khan decided to become the Shah
himself. Although Reza Khan's initial objective was to become the president of a
republic, the clergy, fearing a diminished role in a republic, persuaded him to
become the Shah.
1925-1940 -- Reza Shah Pahlavi's first priority was to strengthen the authority of
the central government by creating a disciplined standing army and restraining the
autonomy of the tribal chiefs. He embarked upon a series of modernizing and
secular reforms, some of which were designed specifically to break the power of
the clergy over Iran's educational and judicial systems. He provided public
education, built Iran's first modern university, opened the schools to women and
brought them into the work force. He initiated Iran's first industrialization
program and dramatically improved Iran's infrastructure by building numerous
roads, bridges, state-owned factories and Iran's first transnational railway. In
1935, he officially requested all foreign governments to no longer refer to Iran as
Persia, but as Iran. (The Iranian people themselves had always referred to their
country as Iran.) Politically, however, Reza Shah forcibly abolished the wearing of
the veil, took away the effective power of the Majles and did not permit any forms
of free speech. With the outbreak of WW II, Reza Shah, wanting to remain
neutral, refused to side with the Allies.
1941 -- In need of the Trans-Iranian railway to supply the Soviets with wartime
materials, the Allies invaded and occupied Iran for the duration of the war. Reza
Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and died in
South Africa in exile in 1944.
1946 -- Under American pressure, the Soviet Union was forced to pull out of Iran's
northwestern province. It was the first and only time that Stalin gave back a
WWII occupied territory.
1951- 1953 -- Iran's Majles passed a law sponsored by the nationalistic (soon to be
prime minister) Dr. Mossadeq to nationalize Iran's oil from British control. The
British, enraged by the threat to their oil concessions, froze all of Iran's Sterling
assets and took their case to the International Court of Justice. The Court ruled in
Iran's favor. Undeterred, the British placed a total trade embargo on Iran and
enforced it with their navy, leading to the collapse of Iran's economy. Citing the
threat of a communist takeover, British Intelligence and the CIA sponsored a coup
to topple Dr. Mossadeq's government. In the midst of the coup, the young Shah,
having thought the plan had failed, left the country. Shortly thereafter, Dr.
Mossadeq's government was overthrown and the Shah was put back in power.
1962-1963 -- The Shah introduced his White Revolution. It consisted of major land
reform, workers' rights and women's suffrage, among other initiatives. His reforms
did not develop as planned due to poor execution. In a series of public speeches,
Ayatollah Khomeini attacked these reforms. He was arrested and then exiled.
1963-1973 -- Iran experienced rapid economic growth and prosperity coupled with a
relatively stable political climate. Iran's infrastructure, public health and
educational institutions were expanded. A number of highways, roads, bridges,
railroad tracks, water and sewage projects, factories, schools, universities and
hospitals were built. Iran's military strength grew and its international prestige
1973-1979 -- The oil embargo quadrupled Iran's oil revenue to $20 billion a year.
This new wealth accelerated the Shah's timetable to make Iran "catch up" with the
West. The Shah's determination to modernize Iran virtually overnight and at any
cost led to cultural shock, alienation of the masses, inflation, corruption, economic
bottlenecks, massive urbanization, rising expectations and increasing
authoritarianism in dealing with these social, economic and political problems. By the
late 1970s, the Shah's opponents, of all political affiliations, united behind
Ayatollah Khomeini. The Shah was overthrown in 1979 by the Islamic Revolution and
died in Egypt a year later. After 2,500 years of monarchy, Iran's government was
changed to a theocratic republic, The Islamic Republic of Iran.
November 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.
1980 -- Iraq invaded Iran, commencing an eight-year war primarily over the
disputed Shatt al Arab waterway. 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. Chemical weapons were used by both countries.
Khomeini rejected diplomatic initiatives and called for the overthrow of Iraq's
president, Saddam Hussein .
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.
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.
1989 -- Khomeini died 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
1993 -- Rafsanjani was reelected president. The United States suspended all trade
with Iran in 1995, accusing Iran of supporting terrorist groups and attempting to
develop nuclear weapons.
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.
Late 1990’s -- Several European Union countries began renewing economic ties with
Iran: 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.
1999 -- As new curbs were put on a free press, pro-democracy student
demonstrations erupted at Teheran University and other urban campuses. These
were followed by a wave of counterdemonstrations by hard-line factions associated
with Ayatollah Khamenei.
2000 -- Reformers won a substantial victory in the 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.
2001 -- Despite the conditions continuing from 2000, President Khatami was
overwhelming reelected 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.
2003 -- Tensions with the United States increased after the Anglo-American
invasion of Iraq in March, 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 Western
European nations, to tougher international inspections of its nuclear installations.
Concern over Iran's nuclear program nonetheless continued,
2004 -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that the country had
failed to disclose all aspects of its nuclear program. 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 an 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. In mid-2004 Iran began
resuming the processing of nuclear fuel as part of its plan to achieve selfsufficiency
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 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's nuclear energy program remained a contentious international
issue in subsequent months.
2005 --The presidential elections were won by the hard-line 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. In August, Iran resumed 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.
Years 1851-1979 directly adapted from http://www.mage.com/TLbody.html
Years 1979-2005 directly adapted from
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"A Brief History of Iran from 1851." 123HelpMe.com. 30 Aug 2015