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The Islamic Republic of Iran

Tehran
Tehran. Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

Iran (officially the Islamic Republic of Iran) was known as Persia until 1935. This country became an Islamic republic in 1979 after overthrowing the ruling monarchy and forcing Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi into exile.

Iran is located in southwest Asia. It is bordered to the north by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, the Caspian Sea. To the east Iran is bordered by Pakistan and Afghanistan, while to the south it is bordered by the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. To the west Iran is bordered by Turkey and Iraq. Iran also has sovereignty at about 12 islands in the Gulf. The total area of this country is 1,648,195 square kilometers.

The capital Tehran is a sprawling city at the foot of the southern Elburz Mountains. Known for its beautiful architecture and green gardens, Tehran fell somewhat in poor shape in the decades following the Islamic Revolution. This is despite the efforts that were later made to preserve the historic architecture of the city.

Iran has long played an important role in the region as an imperial power. As a result of its strategic location and abundant natural resources – especially oil – this country has become a factor in rivalry between great powers.

map Iran
Map of Iran. Photo: Fanack

The roots of the Persian state as a distinct culture and society date back to the Achaemenid period, which began in 550 BC. Since that time, the region that later became “Iran” has been affected by waves of indigenous and foreign invaders and migrants, including Hellenistic, Seleucids, Parthians, and Native Sasanians. Persia was also invaded by Muslim Arabs in the seventh century AD. This conquest has had the most lasting impact on Iranian culture, as the Persian characters has been Arabized.

The original Persian Islamic dynasties began to emerge with the rise of the monists in the early ninth century. The region fell under the influence of successive waves of Persian, Turkish, and Mongol invaders. This influence lasted until the rise of the Safavids, who instilled the Twelver Shi’a doctrine as the official creed of the country in the early sixteenth century.

A synthesis was formed between Persian culture and Shiite Islam; a mixture within which the Persian culture and the Shiite Islam have an unforgettable impact on each other.

Reza Pahlavi rose to power in the country in 1925. His eldest son ascended the throne in 1941 AD. However, a widespread dissatisfaction led to the overthrow of his rule after the outbreak of the 1979 revolution. This revolution brought to power a regime that combines parliamentary democracy with an Islamic rule led by the country’s clergy.

The population of the country is estimated at 84.92 million in 2020. the Persian language is the official language of the country. Other languages include Azeri, Turkish dialects, Kurdish, Jilaki, Mazandrani, Lori, Balochi, and Arabic.

The Iranians, for the most part, are Shiite Muslims (90-95%). However, there is a Sunni minority ranging between 5 and 10%. Islam is the state religion and the source of legislation in it. Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity are estimated at 0.3%.

Local currency is riyal which is officially linked to a bundle of currencies. The natural resources include petroleum, natural gas, coal, chrome, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc and sulfur.

In terms of military strength, Iran is ranked 14th out of 137 among the countries included in the 2019 Global Firepower Report.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), whose chief is appointed by the Supreme Leader, has a monopoly on terrestrial broadcasting in Iran. The authority operates 12 national channels, 33 regional channels, two online channels and 10 international channels. Television is the most popular medium in the country, with an estimated 80% of citizens relying on television as a primary source of news.

The media environment in Iran is repressive and tightly controlled. Iran is ranked 169 on the 2016 Freedom of the Press Index made by Reporters Without Borders. The Iranian constitution, amended in 1989, stipulates that “publications and the press enjoy freedom of expression unless they harm the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.”

Prominent faces in Iran include the new Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani, the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, in addition to Sadiq Larijani, the head of the Iranian judiciary in the service of the Supreme Leader.

Football is the most popular sport in Iran. According to the FIFA rankings for June 2019, the Iranian national team is ranked 20 internationally and first in Asia. The Iranian Premier League, also known as the Persian Gulf Cup, is the highest tier of football club tournaments in Iran. The two most popular clubs, Persepolis and Esteghlal, are from Tehran. When teams head off into the Tehran derby, the stands are crowded with Persepolis fans in red and Esteghlal fans in blue.

Wrestling has a long history in Iran and is considered a national sport. The most popular wrestler and Iran’s national champion is Gholamreza Takhti (1930-1968). Takhti won Iran’s first gold medal at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.

Iran is a dry country with long hot summer in most regions. Winter is usually short and cold in Iran. January is the coldest month while August is the hottest one. It is worth mentioning that most Iranian territories are arid or semi-arid. However, territories along the Caspian coast are semi-tropical.

Iran’s terrain is characterized by a rugged mountainous edge, a central high basin with deserts and mountains, and small, intermittent plains along its coast.

The prominent touristic destinations in Iran include Azadi Tower, Golestan Palace in Tehran, Tuchal Ski Resort, and Ali Qapu Palace in Isfahan.

Vehicles driving in Iran is right sided as are the rest of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The time range of Iran is (GMT +4:30) in summer and (GMT +3:30) in winter, while the international calling code is 89+.

Further Reading

Page with a chronological overview of the country file articles published on the Chronicle website.
Currently subject to an Islamic republican system, Iran is characterized by many distinct historical stages and fluctuations. This country, which adheres to the system of guardianship of the jurist, played a pivotal role in the Su...
Basic facts and figures regarding Iran's geography, politics, economy, and population.
Fanack presents an overview of the geography of Iran including its state borders, climate, natural resources, land fertility and energy.
An overview of Iran's governance, including a description of its branches of government and governance challenges.
The concept of human rights has become a well-known and widely accepted term to use. An overview of human rights in Iran.
Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves. Economic activity and government revenues still depend to a large extent on oil revenues and therefore remain volatile.
Iran is ethnically diverse, although the government does not disclose any information about ethnicity in its statistics. However, most sources confirm that Persians represent 61 per cent of the population, followed by Kurds (10 pe...
Persia is one of the great historico-cultural centres of the world, with a rich heritage from architecture and art to literature and a refined cuisine
Get to know influential people in Fanack’s ‘Faces’ section.

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