“The Iranian state configures perfectly with the Iranian plateau. This sounds obvious, but actually, it’s not. It’s an unusual circumstance. To Iran’s north and east, all the roads are open to Central Asia, no other Middle East state can say that. And to the west, all roads are open to Mesopotamia, to Iraq. So it’s a formidable geographical position. And from that formidable and natural geographical position, Iran has developed, over the millennia, a great culture and great civilizations and empires.”
Robert D. Kaplan (2012)
Where Is Iran?
Iran or Persia
Persia, the land of Persian people, was the historical name Iran used to be called by the western world. On 1939, Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran, asked the world to formally use the term “IRAN” which was the endonym of the country. After the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, which was the end of a 2500 year kingdom, the form of the government changed to democratic and the name of the country was officially announced “the Islamic Republic of Iran” (I.R.I).
Iran On Map
Iran is a country in Western Asia, the Middle East to be exact. Turkey and Iraq are its neighbors to the west, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east, Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan to the northwest, and Turkmenistan to the northeast. Iran shares maritime borders with some countries to the north by the Caspian Sea and to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
Iran is located in Eurasia. As a linking area between the East and West, the country has been considered of great commercial and strategic significance throughout history. It was one of the bridges on the ancient trade network route, the Silk Road in the past and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open oceans through the Gulf of Oman, is now one of the main reasons of the geopolitical importance of Iran.
Located between latitudes 25° 3′ – 39° 47′ north and longitudes 44° 5′ – 63° 18′ east, Iran is a four-season country with so many types of land and climate ranging from plains to mountains, deserts to forests, lakes to seas,.. . In addition, different types of weather can be seen simultaneously at each point in the country; while you experience skiing on the snowy mounts in the northwest, one can walk on the hot sands of the southern beaches.
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“May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. … The people of Babylon blessed my kingship, and I settled all the lands in peaceful abodes.
“Cyrus The Great – The Cyrus cylinder (c. 538 B.C), as translated at Livius.org
How Did Iran Become A Country?
In some northern areas of Iran, at Kashafrud basin and Ganjpar for instance, discoveries have proven the oldest human occupation in Iran dates back to Lower Paleolithic Age i.e. more than 800,000 years ago, by some stone artifacts found during the excavations. Some other artifact findings in Zagros region, at Warwasi and Yafteh sites for example, show Neanderthal habitation, from the 10th to the 7th millennium B.C which belong to the Middle Paleolithic age.
Shahr-e Sukhteh (The Burnt City), Located in Sistan and Baluchistan province, dates back to 3200 B.C. It was one of the largest and most advanced cities of the Bronze Age, an independent civilization with a modern urban fabric, unique lifestyle and trade relations with other civilizations like the ones in Mesopotamia and Turkmenistan. The world’s earliest artificial eyeball implantation, the first brain surgery, the earliest urban water and wastewater network, the first ever animation on an earthen chalice, a ruler with 0.5 mm accuracy, and so many other discoveries are just what have been found so far in the city.
Susa, located in the lower Zagros, is one of the ancient cities in the near east, which used to be of great importance in Elamite, Achaemenid, Seleucid, Sasanid empires and after, emerged about 4400 B.C and was one of the oldest settlements of the region discovered so far. It was also the center of Elam civilization. The name of the city has been mentioned in early Sumerian records as well as the Hebrew Bible.
There were many other dispersed cities and tribal settlements all over the region, but it was during the second millennium B.C that the ancient Median, Parthian and Persian tribes arrived from the Eurasian Steppe and started to settle down rivaling the native dwellers of the area. As they dispersed into the wider area of Iranian Plateau and beyond, the boundaries of Iran were actually set.
So many tribes and people tried to gain the kingdom, but Elam civilization was defeated by Ashurbanipal, the king of Assyria, in 639 B.C and this kingdom along with all other kingdoms fell under the domination of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Assyria became the largest empire the world had yet seen, stretching from the Caucasus in the north to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in the south, and from Cyprus and the east Mediterranean in the west, to central Iran in the east.
The Medians and Persians, as well as some other Iranian people like Scythians and Cimmerians, entered in an alliance with Babylon and defeated Assyrian Empire by attacking them. Later, the unification of the Median tribes by Deioces in 728 B.C led to the foundation of the Median Empire which, by 612 B.C, controlled almost the entire Iran and eastern Anatolia.
Cyrus the Great started the Persian Revolt to separate the ancient Persis from the Median Empire, he didn’t stop there and eventually, by defeating the Median Empire in 549 BC, he founded the Achaemenid Empire, the first official Persian kingdom. Under his kingdom, the empire unified all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East and finally conquered most of Western Asia and much of Central Asia. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire of the world so far.
- Cyrus The Great
Cyrus the Great’s kingdom lasted 30 years. He administered the whole empire by local governors called Satraps. Cyrus established his empire in Pasargadae by first conquering the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire, and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus the Great entered the city and dubbed himself the King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world. Respecting the customs and religions of the lands he conquered, he dedicated the famous Cyrus Cylinder to the chief god of Babylon, Marduk.
- Cyrus Cylinder
It is a document on a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian Cuneiform, placed in the foundations of the Esagila, the temple of Marduk in Babylon. It explains how Cyrus the Great amended the lives of the Babylon people, returned displaced people and restored the temples. Although not mentioned specifically in the text, the repatriation of the Jews from their Babylonian Captivity has been interpreted as one of his goals.
The United Nations has declared the relic to be the first declaration of human rights.
- The Flag
The current flag of Iran consists of three equal horizontal bands of green at the top, white in the middle, and red at the bottom, with the national “Allah” symbol in red, centered on the white band, and the “Takbir” written 11 times in white at each inner margins of the green and red bands. In the Persian culture, Green symbolizes growth, happiness, unity, nature, vitality and the Iranian languages. Historically, a green and white flag in a triangular form used to be the flag of the Parses. White symbolizes freedom and peace. Finally, Red symbolizes bravery, fire, life, love and warmth. Historically, a red and white flag in a triangular form used to be the flag of the Medians.
“Iran was indeed Islamized, but it was not Arabized. Persians remained Persians. And after an interval of silence, Iran reemerged as a separate, different and distinctive element within Islam, eventually adding a new element even to Islam itself. Culturally, politically,food culturally and most remarkable of all even religiously, the Iranian contribution to this new Islamic civilization is of immense importance.” Bernard Lewis, (2007)
Who Are Iranians?
Are Iranians Arabs?
In seventh century, Arabs invaded Iran. Sassanid Empire was defeated by Rashidun Caliphate which led to gradual Islamization of Iran by their swords, targeting the Zoroastrian majority. They killed whoever didn’t convert into Islam, burnt libraries and destroyed temples, also tried hard to change the people’s local customs to Islamic and their language to Arabic, they were not very successful though. Iranian’s language was and still is Persian or Farsi, but was so much influenced by Arabic. This was the beginning of the following, prolonged conflicts between Persians and Arabs that later resulted in the emergence of Shia Islam and reunification of Iran as an independent state by the Safavid dynasty.
Zoroastrianism was once the major religion in Persia, but after the Muslim Arabs conquest of Iran, they propagated Sunni Islam throughout the nation. From 1501, the Safavids began consolidating their control over Iran and give it a distinct identity among the Islamic nations, where most of the Persian population were still Sunnis. On the other hand, the Safavids had to unify the whole nation to be able to counter the threats of their Sunni enemies or within the country. So they established Twelver Shiism as the official religion of their empire, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of Islam and Iran.
After the Safavids, Shia Islam remained the main religion in Iran, but lost its position as the official religion dictating the government policies until the 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran which led to the extinction of the Pahlavi dynasty, the last kingdom, and the beginning of the political sovereignty of Islam over the nation.
Around 90% of Iranians associate themselves with the Shia branch of Islam, the official state religion, and about 9% with the Sunni and Sufi branches. The remaining less than 1% involves non-Islamic religious minorities, including Bahais, Mandeans, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three religions are officially recognized and protected, and have reserved seats in the Iran parliament.
Because of Iran’s ethnic and social diversity, there are some different languages with many dialects and accents being spoken by the people including Persian or Farsi, Turkic (mostly Azerbaijani, some Turkmen, Qashqai, and Afshar), Kurdish, Gilaki and Mazandarani, Luri, Arabic, Baluchi, etc. As mentioned in the constitution, Persian is the Lingua Franca of Iran and the only language that must be used through all official government communications and educational system.
Culture and Art
Iranian culture is one of the oldest in the universe which has directly influenced cultures and people from the Far East to the West and it has one of the richest art heritages in world history and involves many disciplines including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and stonemasonry, etc. Iranian art has experienced several phases, but generally, it can be divided into two main phases: before and after Islam. The unique pre-Islamic aesthetics of Iran is manifested, for instance, in Persepolis or in the mosaic paintings of Bishapur. The Islamic era brought drastic changes to the styles and practice of the arts, at each dynasty with their particular view, influencing architecture and literature in particular. The Qajarid era was the last stage of classical Persian art, before modernism was imported and suffused into elements of traditionalist schools of aesthetics.
-Persian Rugs: Persians are believed to be the first people in history to weave carpets and Persian rugs have always been an inseparable part of the Persian culture and art. Besides, due to the long history of fine silk and wool rugs of Iran, Persian rugs are world famous as some of the most beautiful and precious rugs available.
-Women: Women have always played fundamental, crucial, and representative roles in the long history of Iran and maintained a high level of social status. The Sassanid princess Purandokht, daughter of Khosrau II, for instance, ruled the Persian Empire for almost two years. After Islamization of Iran, these roles began to decline, especially due to the compulsory Islamic Hijab i.e. women are bound to cover themselves up in presence of men. By the emergence of Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, which was the beginning of the modernization in Iran, women had once again the opportunity to regain their position in the society. Women could be elected to the parliament, appointed as judges and ministers in the cabinet, etc. Soon after the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979, hijab was once again mandatory for women but this time it couldn’t disturb their social position. Iranian women now can possess almost anything men can.
-Hospitality: “Guest is God’s friend”. This is not only a Persian proverb, but also a belief among Iranians. They love guests and try their best, with no expectation, to have them feel at home. Tourists who visit Iran confess that they have never seen such a hospitality anywhere else.
Are Iranians Terrorists?
Since the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, the government of Iran has been accused by some countries, including the United States, of funding, providing equipment and weapons, training and giving sanctuary to terrorists. These are some political stereotypes caused by propaganda war which have made the people throughout the world believe Iranians are all terrorists. The United States, for example, claimed after the September 11 that Iranians had major roles in the terroristic attacks, which was never proved though. Investigations could not prove the presence or any kind of role of even one single Iranian in the attack.
Iran is a peaceful region in the ever-in-war area of the Middle East and the people have not ever witnessed any terroristic activities on the streets. Thanks to the virtuous people, armed forces and the police, Iranians experience a secure and peaceful life, and tourists a trip to the country with no worries about any possible terroristic activities.