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Culture - History & Ethnic Groups


  • The country Iran has always been Iran to Iranian people which means Land of the Aryan or “noble people”. The name Persia (from the ancient province of Persis; modern Fars, Iran) was given by the Greeks to the entire land occupied by various Iranian tribes from which the Achaemenid dynasty arose. In 1935, the government in Tehran asked the world to use the name Iran.

  • Iran is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The earliest inhabitants of this area are only known, at first, from their stone artifacts and, later, their pottery. Paleolithic and Neolithic sites have been found in various parts of the plateau, but distinctive painted pottery appears only in the Chalcolithic Period, about 3000 BC.

Iranian Girl
Iranian Girl

  • At archaeological sites such as Tepe Sialk, Tepe Hissar, and Tepe Giyan similar painted pottery has been found, indicating early connections among the inhabitants. More is known about the material culture of the peoples on the plateau in the 3d millennium BC, but the various groups assume a historical identity only with the advent of written records in cuneiform.

  • First, Elamites ruled over regions that is currently Khuzestan Province in southwest Iran whose principal city, Shush/Susa, was on the plain of Mesopotamia. The Elamite language has not been fully deciphered, but it was unlike any of the later languages of the region. In the 2d millennium BC the Elamites were found throughout southern Iran.

Jalali Nomads - West Azarbaijan
Jalali Nomads - West Azarbaijan

  • To the north in the mountains lived Kassites who also descended onto the plains of Mesopotamia. In present-day Azerbaijan province lived people called Manneans. South of the sea that bears their name lived the Caspians.

  • Aryans came in the 2d millennium BC. From the mixture of Elamites and Aryans three groups developed. Medes in the west, centered at Ecbatan (presently Hamadan), the Parthians in the far east, and the Persians in the south. Other groups (i.e. Assyrians, Urartians, Scythians) invaded some areas but with not much influence. Today, over 1.5 million are still living the nomadic life.

  • In 559 B.C., Iranians created the first world empire (map). The empire which nearly controlled two million square miles of territory in extent, from Egypt and the Aegean well into India, and from the Persian Gulf to beyond the Black and Caspian Seas. The empire population was about 10 million people.

Persepolis Dining Hall (l), Columns of Apadana (r)
Persepolis Dining Hall (l), Columns of Apadana (r)

  • Based on literature, Achaemenids kept the empire together not by force alone but also relied on continuously working on improving and extending communications system, a sophisticated governmental structure and tolerance for laws, religion and traditions of others. This was an important factor in securing the loyalty and obedience from people who they defeated.

  • An essential element in the ancient Iranian character was pride. Pride in their homeland and the way they viewed their lives.

Park in Anzali - Gilan
Park in Anzali - Gilan

  • Iranians throughout history have had a passion for gardens and were concerned with the conservation of nature. From the Persian word for "park" comes the word "paradise." There are many lovely gardens and parks in the cities of Iran today. Tehran parks. Mashad park.

Park Fountain
Park Fountains

  • Because of Iran's oil riches, trouble began immediately after World War II. The Tehran Conference of 1943, signed by the US, Great Britian, and Russia, declared Iran independence and territorial integrity. This provided oil concessions to all but the Russians, who responded by supporting revolts in northern provinces, placing Soviet-picked heads of government. These Russian-established governments collapsed by 1946 and the Iranian parliment rejected the oil concessions.

    The nationalist Premier Musaddiq had the Parliament nationalize the oil industry in 1951. The British responded with a blockade, which led to the collapse of the oil industry and economic problems.

    What followed in 1952 was a change of power between Mussaddiq and the Shah. Finally in 1953 the political elements supported by the British and Americans forced Mussaddiq out of office. Then in 1954 a consortium of British, American, Dutch, and French oil companies were allowed to control the oil industry, sharing half of the profits with Iran.

    In the 1960s Iran received large military and economic aid from the United States. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the Shah started a land reform program and other changes such as suffrage for women. The Shah's governing methods during the mid to late 1970s created widespread discontent that fueled the revolution of 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appointed a Revolutionary Council and refused to negotiate with the Shah and his aides. The Shah left Iran on Jan. 16, 1979. Khomeini returned from exile to a tumultuous welcome on Feb. 1, 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was proclaimed on Feb. 12, 1979.

    The Ayatollah Khomeini ruled Iran from 1979 until his death in 1989. The Iranian clergyman Hashemi Rafsanjani succeeded the late Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 as President and the clergyman Ali Khamenei succeeded Khomeini as Supreme Leader. Rafsanjani was a pragmatist but not a reformer. There have been elections for a number of years where reformers have gained seats in government. In 1997 another clergyman, Mohammed Khatami was elected the fifth President, as a reformer. The position of President is below that of the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Council of clerics still hold most of the power in Iran today (2001).

  • From a historians point of view the events of the last 50 years in Iran are too recent to determine how influential they will be within the entire history of Iran. The Iranians will survive and prosper as they have time and time again for well over 3,000 years.

We try to provide unbiased non-political information about Iran. We will consider any links to further the understanding of Iran and its people (email us history link information).
Other Iranian History Links

Iran Maps -  a great source for various maps; political, relief, historical.

Iran Map - current map in Persian and English.

The Story of the Revolution -  in Persian-language audio or English transcript form. From the BBC World Service.

Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) -  history of the conflict. Provides analysis of the ancient Persian-Arab conflict and the unresolved issues. From the Federation of American Scientists.

Confronting the Dark Past -  interview with Seyed Mohammed Mousavi Khoeiniha, the man behind the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, who is now one of the leaders of the Iranian reform movement. From Time Europe, July 10, 2000.

American-Iranian Council -  nonprofit independent research and educational institute that has produced a series of studies examining the relationship between the two countries.

Crisis in Iran -  examines the implications of the protests which shook Iran in July 1999, the most serious unrest in the country since the Islamic revolution of 1979. From the BBC.

Terror and Tehran -  overview of the history and relationship between the U.S. and Iran. From PBS' Frontline, May 2002.

The Iran Project -  examines changes in modern Iran. Features a one-hour radio documentary on the country, produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the American hostages from Iran. From The Stanley Foundation and KQED radio.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs -  is a 140-page magazine published 10 times per year in Washington, DC, that focuses on news and analysis from and about the Middle East and U.S. policy in that region. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs does not take partisan domestic political positions.

MERIP - Middle East Research and Information Project - is independent organization, it has no links to any religious, educational or political organizations in the US or elsewhere. The original conception of MERIP was to provide information and analysis on the Middle East that would be picked up by the existing media.

The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies - (CAIS) is an independent not-for-profit educational programme, with no affiliation to any political or religious group dedicated to the research, protection, preservation of the pre-Islamic Iranian civilisation.