HISTORY: FROM THE ARAB CONQUEST TO THE ATTEMPT AT AN ENGLISH PROTECTORATE
The Arab conquest (634-651) inserted Iran into the Muslim empire that was being created in the first years after Muhammad’s death, spreading Islam in the country which almost completely replaced the ancient Zoroastrian religion. Under the Umayyad caliphs (661-750), who ruled from Damascus, Iran remained in a somewhat marginal position, while it regained its importance with the Abbasid caliphate, whose rise was mainly due to Iranian elements, and who placed their capital in Baghdad, on the territory of the ancient Sassanid empire. With the political disintegration of the Caliphate empire they were affirmed starting from the century. IX in various areas of Iran local dynasties, (820-872) in Khorāsān and Transoxiana, with their successors Saffarids (868-908), and particularly the Samanids (874-999), who founded a vast and important state from Khorāsān and Sistān to Tashkent. These states, as a result of religious schisms and pressure the Central Asian peoples, had to yield to the Turkish origin dynasties, such as Gasnavidi (sec. X-XII) with the center in Afghanistan, and the Seljuks (sec. XI-XIII) that formed a vast kingdom including Iran and Asia Minor, or of Mongol origin: such were the Ilkhānids, successors of Hülägü, who ruled vast areas of Iran under the sovereignty of the Great Khān of Mongols, and the Timurids. A “national” revival took place under the Shiite flags with the Safavids (1502-1736). The founder of the dynasty, Ismāʽīl I, after a succession of rapid conquests, clashed in vain against the Ottoman obstacle: ʽAbbās I led it brilliantly in the early years of the seventeenth century thanks to an organized European army. But after ʽAbbās I’s death a period of rapid decline followed: Baghdad, Armenia and Kurdistān were recovered by the Turks. In 1722 the Afghans sacked Esfahān, the capital. The Persian empire lost its Caucasian provinces, divided between Turks and Russians. The power of Iran appeared at sunset, when Nādir Shāh, a soldier of fortune, succeeded in reviving its fortunes. Afghans, Turks and Russians were defeated or forced by threats to leave the torn territories. Subsequently Nādir invaded India (1739) and annexed Afghanistan and the regions to the west of the Indus; he then turned north, conquering Khiva and Bukhara. On the death of Nādir (1747) the vast empire fell apart. Nādir’s successors, the Zand and the Cagiari (1786-1925) collected only a part of his inheritance: moreover they soon had to deal with the double pressure of Russian and English. In 1828 the Caucasian regions were definitively ceded to Russia, while England prevented the Persians from reconquering Afghanistan (1857). The early years of the twentieth century underlined the serious evils that afflicted the country: Russia and England in 1907 proceeded to a virtual partition of Persia; inside, the most enlightened forces snatched a Constitution from the Shah Muzaffar ad-Dīn, in 1906 (shortly before his death). During the First World War, Persia was neutral, but at the end of the conflict the British, taking advantage of the crisis affecting Russia, tried to impose their protectorate on the country. The maneuver failed. Check homeagerly for Iran democracy and rights.
HISTORY: FROM THE PAHLAVĪ DYNASTY TO THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC
From the post-war chaos came a strong man, Reẓā Khān, who in 1925 ousted the last of the Cagiari, inaugurating the Pahlavī dynasty. Rezā (1925-41) restored the authority of the central government, promoted an intense modernization campaign “from above” on the shah of the Kemalist model, and tried to put foreign relations on an equal footing. But he could not cancel the British oil concessions and in 1941 his pro-German neutrality provoked an Anglo-Russian intervention. The Shah abdicated in favor of his son Moḥammad Reẓā. During the conflict and in the immediate postwar period, the USSR tried to secure control of large areas of Iran, but Western countries opposed these initiatives. In 1951 the nationalists, led by Moṣaddeq, had the upper hand and decreed the nationalization of the oil companies. The reaction of Westerners and internal conservative forces was not long in coming: in 1953 a coup d’état directed by General Zāhedī deprived Moṣaddeq of power and opened the way to an agreement with the oil companies which, albeit at the price of certain concessions, the positions previously held substantially recovered. In 1955 Iran joined the Baghdad Pact and, while cultivating a good neighborly policy with the USSR, he always maintained a decidedly favorable attitude towards the United States and subsequently (1971) established normal diplomatic relations with China. In 1963 the shah launched a reform campaign, aimed at redistributing the large estates among the peasants and accelerating the modernization of the country, but soon had to resize it. In 1975 he abolished legal opposition by merging it into a single party, the National Political Resurrection Movement (Rastakhiz). But the opposition to the shah manifested itself equally with demonstrations and strikes (1977 and 1978) and assumed such dimensions that he decided to leave the country (January 16, 1979). The return from exile of the religious leader Rūḥollāh Khomeini (February 1, 1979) prompted the army to withdraw, a few days later, its support for Prime Minister Chapur Baktiar who was taking refuge in France, where he would later die in 1991 (Paris) victim of an attack by the followers of the ayatollahs. Khomeini, who became the de facto leader of the country, appointed Mehdi Bazargan as prime minister. Through two successive popular referendums, also in 1979, the Islamic Republic was established and then the new Constitution was approved which designated Khomeini as the supreme religious head for life, a position that centered effective political power. Meanwhile, various tensions erupted in the country over the autonomy claims of Iranian ethnic minorities, while some Iranian students kidnapped the staff of the US embassy (November 4, 1979), demanding in exchange the return of the shah from the US to put him on trial. The issue, which was resolved thanks to the Algerian mediation with the release of the hostages (January 1981), however, took a back seat with the invasion of some areas of Iranian territory (September 1980) by Iraq for border disputes. The Eighties, therefore, were marked by the conflict with the Iraq, which lasted until August 1988, in a situation of substantial stalemate and almost total isolation for Iran, and ended with the acceptance of the 1975 borders, according to the UN resolution. As for internal politics, in January 1980 Bani Sadr, a member of the Khomeini Islamic Revolutionary Party, was elected president of the Republic, who soon disagreed with the party on the appointment of the ministers of the new government, in June 1981, he was replaced by Moḥammad Alī Rajai, killed a few months later in an attack.