Iranian Modern History Essay

As an assignment for my freshman history class, I wrote an essay on the modern history of Iran. Some of the formatting was lost in the transfer to the post, so it’s not in perfect MLA format anymore, but all the text is the same.



A middle-eastern country of over seventy-five million people (“World”), the country of Iran has undergone many government reforms in the past century and been a major force in international relations.

In the late 19th century, Iran (then named Persia) was in the midst of the Persian Constitutional Revolution. Taking place from 1905-1907, the revolution was the result of citizen unrest with the Persian government, especially the lack of limits of power of the Shah, and the spending choices of the current Shah, Mozaffar ad-Din. In 1906, the Shah signed a constitution largely based on the Belgian Constitution (Abrahamian, Loc 849). In the 1910s, Persia had a neutral stance during World War I, but there was still fighting and chaos in the area (Abrahamian, Loc 1035). In 1921, a man named Reza Khan lead a British-orchestrated coup to occupy Tehran, as part of an effort to gain control of all military forces in Persia. Khan soon became war minister, the highest ranking military official (Abrahamian, Loc 1094), and would become prime minister in 1923 (Abrahamian, Loc 153). Reza Khan was a self-educated military commander who had risen through the ranks of the Iranian military. Khan would be was granted the title of Shah in 1925 and would found the Pahlavi dynasty (Abrahamian, Loc 1126). He achieved a great deal during his reign, including expanding areas of trade, but eventually became disliked by many because of his dictatorial style of rule (Abrahamian, Chap 3). Iran officially became Persia’s new name in 1935 (Abrahamian, Loc 49).

Reza Shah’s German allegiances lead to the Anglo-Russian military occupying Iran in World War II. This resulted in many changes in positions of power. Reza Shah’s allies forced him to step down, so American troops could have safe passage to the Soviet Union. Reza Shah gave his position to his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi had been raised by his father to be the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces. In the years to come, he would successfully ward off those who tried to gain control of the armed forces (Abrahamian, Loc 131). In 1950, Mohammad Mossadeq, an Iranian nationalist, was officially elected as prime minister (Abrahamian, Loc 1602). In 1951 Mossadeq nationalized Iran’s oil industries, which was a popular idea among citizens. The industry had been controlled by the British, who then halted oil exports and attempted hit the economy by imposing an embargo and blockade (“Iran profile”). The Shah and Mossadeq had a battle for power (Abrahamian, Loc 1962), and the Shah left Iran, fearing for his safety in 1953 (Abrahamian, Loc 95). The CIA and the British organized a coup to overthrow Mossadeq and the democratic government. Mossadeq was overthrown and General Fazlollah Zahedi became prime minister. The Shah returned to Iran (Abrahamian, Loc 131, Loc 171).

The Shah Mohammed Reza pursued a policy of modernization in the following years, and undid Mossadeq’s nationalization (Abrahamian, Loc 135). In 1963, Reza launched the White Revolution, a program to advance and modernize the country’s social and economic aspects. The Shah became more and more dependent on his secret police, SAVAK, during the late 1960s, because of citizen unrest with his attempts at modernization and lavish lifestyle. The Shah’s secret police imprisoned, tortured, or murdered tens of thousands (Abrahamian, Loc 1929). In 1978 huge riots began, forcing the Shah into exile (Abrahamian, Chap 5).

Fifty-two Americans were captured by Islamic militants and kept hostage inside the United States embassy in Tehran. The militants had a number of demands, including their demand that the Shah, who was located in the U.S. receiving cancer treatment, return to Iran to face trial (Abrahamian, Loc 2437). Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to the country, after being exiled for 14 years for speaking out against the government. He then became the supreme leader, marking the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty, and the beginning of the Islamic Republic, a state governed by Islamic law (Abrahamian, Loc 81). He is still the spiritual leader of Iran today (“Profile: Ayatollah”). Abolhasan Bani-Sadr was voted in as the first president of this new government. His government began to work on a major program to nationalize the oil industries in the country (Abrahamian, Loc 79). After 444 days in captivity, the American hostages were released.

An eight-year conflict between Iraq and Iran began in 1980. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein deployed troops on one of Iran’s most important oil-producing areas long-standing border dispute. Iran’s military had been largely weakened after the Iranian Revolution. Iran was able to gain small amounts of land from Iraq, but Iraq eventually claimed it all back. Much of the conflict involved bombings of oil refineries in both countries. The US and Soviet Union officially ceased to supply weapons, but the Americans offered secret arms deals in an attempt to win the release of hostages Lebanon. This event is now called the Iran-Contra affair. In 1988, Iran and Iraq accepted a ceasefire agreement, with support from the United Nations. Khomeini died in 1989 and President Ali Khamene’i became the next supreme leader. Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani became the new president. The US released over five hundred million dollars of Iran’s assets, which had been frozen. Iran stayed neutral after Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, and resumed diplomatic ties with Iraq. (Abrahamian, Loc 2462-2571).

The US and other countries have imposed oil and trade sanctions on Iran for various reasons in the past twenty years, creating unrest in international relations. There has also been citizen unrest with the Iranian government. In 1995, the US put sanctions on oil and international trading because of supposed Iranian support of terrorism, and attempted to gain possession of nuclear arms (“Q&A”). In 1997, the presidential election was won by Mohammad Khatami, by a large margin. Khatami, a liberal, was a past opponent of the Mohammed Reza. As the head of the government publishing house after the revolution, he would arouse conservative anger by lessening the strictness of censorship on books and films (Abrahamian, Loc 117). In 1998, Iran and Afghanistan positioned thousands of military fighters on the Iran-Afghanistan border, after the Taliban took responsibility for killing Iranian citizens. A year later pro-democracy students at Tehran University participated in six days of rioting and more than a thousand students were arrested. President Khatami was re-elected, and George Bush, the president of the United States, warned that Iraq, Iran and North Korea were attempting to gain possession of long-range missiles, and called the Middle East an “axis of evil”. These statements caused outrage from many citizens in Iran, regardless of political view (“Iran profile”). In 2003, Iran announced that it was ceasing to enrich uranium and agreed that its nuclear facilities could be thoroughly inspected, and it was determined that Iran didn’t possess long-range missiles. In 2005, Iran said that it was continuing to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and was found to be violation of the national nuclear agreements. The United Nations Security Council agreed to put more sanctions on international trading with nuclear technology and materials. In response to the sanctions, Iran sped up their efforts in uranium enrichment. The US assigned new sanctions to Iran in 2007, which were some of the most severe seen in the last thirty years. In 2009, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad easily won his second presidential election, and rival candidates claimed that the election was rigged. Supporters took to the streets and many were killed or arrested during protests (“Q&A”).

In 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected president, causing many changes in international relations. Rouhani, a skilled diplomat and negotiator, promised government reform, to work to ease sanctions, civil rights, to return dignity to Iran (“Profile: Hassan”). Iran is currently in the midst of negotiations about its nuclear program, which has been a prevalent issue for a decade. World powers believe that Iran hasn’t been truthful on the subject of nuclear activities. These world powers believe that Iran aims to construct a nuclear bomb. The Iranian government insists that its nuclear program is only for non-violent purposes, and that it has the right to nuclear energy. The U.S., along with the Europeans, have been pressing the Iranian government to cease uranium enrichment. However, all talks halted in 2005 with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The United Nations Security Council adopted a number of resolutions, some of which imposed sanctions on Iran, to halt uranium enrichment, and in 2012, added more sanctions on banks and oil, hurting Iran’s economy. However, the Iranian government continued the enrichment anyway, and the United Nations Security Council failed to make headway until the election of Rouhani in 2013. Negotiators have made a deal, and a final agreement is expected by the end of the year. Rouhani brought an open-minded attitude in international relations and agreed to negotiate with other countries about nuclear weapons. In early 2014, Iran agreed to cease its enrichment of uranium that is greater than 5% purity and allow inspectors from the United Nations easier admission to facilities. For doing so, Iran receives about seven billion dollars in sanctions relief. (“Q&A”).

In September 2014, terrorist group IS, which may have as many as 31,000 fighters, has proved to be a dangerous threat. Iran’s planned response to the threat is not yet clear, although it is possible that Iran will join the US coalition to eradicate IS (“What is Islamic State”). The possibility of co-operation between the US and Iran is a frequent topic of debate due to the rocky relationship between the US and Iran in the past, and Iran’s relationship with other countries (“Islamic State crisis”). The government of Iran’s stance on social issues is also a frequent debate topic, such as laws that violate rights, treatment of women, and other issues (“EXPLAINER”).



















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