Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
Iran traces its national origin to Persia, an empire that emerged in the 6th century BCE under the Achaemenid dynasty. This vast empire controlled areas from present day Greece to northwestern India. Indeed, the name Persia is derived from Persis, the ancient Greek name for the empire. Alexander the
Great conquered Persia (on his third attempt), but soon after Persia regained its independence in the form of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires. The latter was defeated by the Islamic Arab forces in the 7th century.
The 16th century saw renewed independence with the Safavids and then other lines of kings or shahs. During the 19th century Persia came under pressure from both Russia and the United Kingdom leading to a process of modernisation that continued into the 20th century. By the 20th century Iranians were longing for a change and thus followed the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905/1911. In 1953 Iran's prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who had been elected to parliament in 1923 and again in 1944 and who had been prime minister since 1951, was removed from power in a complex plot orchestrated by British and US intelligence agencies ("Operation Ajax").Many scholars suspect that this ouster was motivated by British-US opposition to Mossadeq's attempt to nationalize Iran's oil. Following Mossadeq's fall, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran's monarch) grew increasingly dictatorial. With strong support from the USA and the UK, the Shah further modernised Iranian industry but crushed civil liberties. His autocratic rule, including systematic torture and other human rights violations, led to the Iranian
revolution and overthrow of his regime in 1979. After more than a year of political struggle between a variety of different groups, an Islamic republic was established under the Ayatollah Khomeini by popular vote.
The new theocratic political system instituted some conservative Islamic reforms and engaged in an anti-Western course. In particular Iran distanced itself from the United States due to the American involvement in the 1953 coup, which supplanted an elected government with the Shah's repressive regime. The new government inspired various groups considered by a a large part of the Western World to be fundamentalist. As a consequence many countries, currently led by the USA, consider Iran to be a hostile power.
In 1980 Iran was attacked by neighbouring Iraq and the destructive Iran-Iraq War continued until 1988. However, in more recent years, the democratic political structure has led to the election of many reformist politicians including the president, Mohammad Khatami. The struggle between reformists and conservatives over the future of the country continues today through electoral politics.