Iran (i/ɪˈrɑːn/ or /aɪˈræn/; Persian: ایران – Irān [ʔiːˈɾɑn] ( listen)), also known as Persia(/ˈpɜrʒə/ or /ˈpɜrʃə/), officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and Azerbaijan; with Kazakhstan andRussia across the Caspian Sea; to the northeast by Turkmenistan; to the east by Afghanistan andPakistan; to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and to the west by Turkey andIraq. Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), it is the second-largest nation in the Middle East and the 18th-largest in the world; with 78.4 million inhabitants, Iran is the world’s 17th most populous nation. It is the only country that has both a Caspian Sea and an Indian Ocean coastline. Iran has long been of geostrategic importance because of its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of theProto-Elamite and Elamite kingdom in 3200–2800 BC. The Iranian Medes unified the area into the first of many empires in 625 BC, after which it became the dominant cultural and political power in the region. Iran reached the pinnacle of its power during the Achaemenid Empire founded byCyrus the Great in 550 BC, which at its greatest extent comprised major portions of the ancient world, stretching from parts of the Balkans (Thrace, Paeonia and Macedonia) in the west, to theIndus Valley in the east, making it the largest empire the world had yet seen. The empire collapsed in 330 BC following the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Parthian Empire emerged from the ashes and was succeeded by the Sasanian dynasty (Neo-Persian empire) in 224 AD, under which Iran again became one of the leading powers in the world, along with the Roman–Byzantine Empire, for a period of more than four centuries.
Rashidun Muslims invaded Persia in 633 AD, and conquered it by 651 AD, largely replacingManichaeism and Zoroastrianism. Iran thereafter played a vital role in the subsequent Islamic Golden Age, producing many influential scientists, scholars, artists, and thinkers. The emergence in 1501 of the Safavid dynasty, which promoted Twelver Shi’a Islam as the official religion, marked one of the most important turning points in Iranian and Muslim history. Starting in 1736 under Nader Shah, Iran reached its greatest territorial extent since the Sassanid Empire, briefly possessing what was arguably the most powerful empire in the world. In the course of the 19th century, Iran irrevocably lost swaths of its territories in the Caucasus region which made part of the concept of Iran for three centuries, to neighboring Imperial Russia. The Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 established the nation’s first parliament, which operated within a constitutional monarchy. Following a coup d’état instigated by the U.K. and the U.S. in 1953, Iran gradually became very close allies with the US and the rest of the West, remained secular, but grew increasingly autocratic. Growing dissent against foreign influence and political repression culminated in the 1979 Revolution, which led to the establishment of an Islamic republic on 1 April 1979.
Tehran is the capital and largest city, serving as the cultural, commercial, and industrial center of the nation. Iran is a major regional and middle power, exerting considerable influence ininternational energy security and the world economy through its large reserves of fossil fuels, which include the largest natural gas supply in the world and the fourth-largest proven oil reserves.It hosts Asia’s 4th-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Iran is a founding member of the UN, ECO, NAM, OIC and OPEC. Its unique political system, based on the 1979 constitution, combines elements of a parliamentary democracy with a religious theocracy governed by the country’s clergy, wherein the Supreme Leader wields significant influence. A multicultural nation comprising numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, most inhabitants are Shi’ites, the Iranian rial is the currency, and Persian is the official language.
The name of Iran is the Modern Persian derivative from the Proto-Iranian term Aryānā, meaning “Land of the Aryans“, first attested inZoroastrianism‘s Avesta tradition. The term Ērān is found to refer to Iran in a 3rd-century Sassanid inscription, and the Parthianinscription that accompanies it uses the Parthian term “aryān” in reference to Iranians.
Historically Iran has been referred to as “Persia” or similar (La Perse, Persien, Perzië, etc.) by the Western world, mainly due to the writings of Greek historians who called Iran Persis (Περσίς), meaning land of the Persians. As the most extensive and close interaction the Ancient Greeksever had with any outsider was that with the Persians, the term became coined forever, even long after the Persian rule in Ancient Greece and beyond had ended and other dynasties were now ruling the regions. In 1935, Reza Shah requested that the international community refer to the country as Iran. As the New York Times explained at the time, “At the suggestion of the Persian Legation in Berlin, the Tehran government, on the Persian New Year, Nowruz, March 21, 1935, substituted Iran for Persia as the official name of the country. Defenders of the name change, point to its use by the Greek historians citing that “Aryan” means “noble”. In truth during the rise and fall of the Persian Empire the land was known to its people as ‘Aryanam’, which is equated to the current “Iran” in the proto-Iranian language. During the reign of the Sassanids it became Eran – meaning “land of the Aryans”. Opposition to the name change led to the reversal of the decision, as also the work of Professor Ehsan Yarshater, editor of Encyclopædia Iranica, Columbia University, who propagated a move to use Persia and Iran interchangeably, which was approved by Mohammad Reza Shah. Today both “Persia” and “Iran” are used interchangeably in cultural contexts; however, “Iran” is the name used officially in political contexts.
The historical and cultural wider usage of “Iran” is not restricted to the modern state proper. Irānshahr or Irānzamīn (Greater Iran)corresponded to territories of Iranian cultural or linguistic zones. Besides modern Iran, it included portions of the Caucasus, Mesopotamia,Anatolia, and Central Asia.
Early history in Iran
The earliest archaeological artifacts in Iran, like those excavated at the Kashafrud and Ganj Par sites, attest to a human presence in Iran since the Lower Paleolithic era. Neanderthal artifacts dating back to the Middle Paleolithic period have been found mainly in the Zagros region at sites such as Warwasi and Yafteh Cave.[page needed] Early agricultural communities such as Chogha Golan in 10,000 BC began to flourish in Iran along with settlements such as Chogha Bonut in 8000 BC, as well as Susa and Chogha Mish developing in and around theZagros region.[page needed]
The emergence of Susa as a city is determined by C14 dating as early as 4395 BC. There are dozens of pre-historic sites across the Iranian plateau pointing to the existence of ancient cultures and urban settlements in the 4th millennium BCE. During the Bronze age Iran was home to several civilisations such as Elam, Jiroft and Zayandeh Rud civilisations. Elam, the most prominent of these civilisations developed in the southwest of Iran alongside those in Mesopotamia. The development of writing in Elam in 4th millennium BC paralleled that in Sumer. The Elamite kingdom continued its existence until the emergence of the Median and Achaemenid Empires.
From the 2nd millennium BC, the Assyrians incorporated swaths of western Iran into their territories up to 612 BC, as well as settled in the region.