Iran (Persian: ایران, also known as Persia or the Islamic Republic of Iran, Persian: جمهوری اسلامی ایران or Jomhuri-ye Eslāmi-ye Irān) is a Western Asian country, the 18th largest country of the world and the second most populous country in the Middle East after Egypt, currently holding about 80,000,000 people inside its 7,000,000 km perimeter. Iran has a vast variety of flora and fauna, much like a more compact version of the United States. Iran has many ethnicities living within its borders, which causes confusion. There is an Arab minority in the south from Shatt al-Arab all along the coastlines overlooking the Persian Gulf, however, the majority of Iranians are not Arabs and they will be very insulted if you call them that.
- Iran is an old country, dating back to 900 BCE. That counts only civilizations that had continuity with the modern country; if you count others, there was also Elam, attested since 3200 BCE. However, Elam was a rather different creature than Iran and spoke a language isolate. Nevertheless, it set the foundation for later civilizations of the Iranian Plateau and gave its name to a province in the southwest. Iran's history is divided into two parts by historians, Ancient Iran and post-Islamic Iran.
- "Iranian" can mean two different things depending on context. The popular definition is of course to denote any national of the Islamic Republic of Iran regardless of ethnicity. The scholarly definition, on the other hand, is to refer to a large Eurasian language family and its speakers. It is in turn a part of the Indo-European language family, having branched alongside the Indo-Aryan family (spoken in the Indo-Gangetic Plain) in the 3rd millennium BCE. Iranian and Indo-Aryan separated from each other not long afterward.note This has both a wider and narrower inclusion; it excludes certain nationals of Iran (specifically, the Arabic, Azerbaijani, and Turkmen speakers), but includes nationals of other countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.
- Iranian split off to form a Western and Eastern branches sometime in the 2nd millennium BCE. Persian, the official language of Iran, is a member of the Western branch alongside several other languages such as Kurdish, Lurish, Baloch, and Mazandaran, all mainly concentrated in the Iranian Plateau. The Eastern branch formerly had a range that spanned Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe, but was rendered almost extinct sometime in the 1st millennium CE due to invasion, assimilation, and other reasons. It leaves only a few survivors (though one of them has speakers of upwards 60 million).
- Indo-European includes some languages of Europe (and by some we mean most of them). As a result, Iranians (chiefly Persians) speak languages that's genetically closer to English, French, German, Greek, and Russian (all members of Indo-European) than Arabic, a member of the unrelated Afro-Asiatic family. Persian's similarity to Arabic is restricted to loanwords and script due to the Islamic influence; otherwise, the languages have few in common, as this video demonstrates.
- The relationship between Persian and Arabic can be likened to English and French. French loanwords in English mostly deal with technical and "high-class" issues, such as government (from gouvernment), while day-to-day words are of Germanic stock, like star, which is closer to the German Stern than French étoile, even if all three have the same root. Meanwhile, the Persian word for government is hokumet (from Arabic hukumah), while star is the obviously Indo-European setāre (the Arabic word is najm).
- Iranians have called their country "Iran" since ancient times, the name being ultimately derived from Airyanem kshathra, or "land of the Aryans". The first Iranian empire had its origins in Fars province (Parsa in Old Persian), so the Greeks called the country "Persis," whence "Persia" is derived. That name was used in the West until 1935, when the Shah politely asked everyone to start using the name Iran.
- "Aryan" means "noble" in the Proto-Indo-Iranian language. For the Iranian peoples, the term is used to call themselves and their land; other than the Islamic Republic, Afghanistan was known during antiquity as "Ariana", while a part of the Northern Caucasus settled by the Eastern Iranian Ossetians is known as "Alania". In Sanskrit, it is used as a term of respect for kings, nobles, and enlightened teachers. During the Age of Exploration, the Europeans learned about Sanskrit's relation and supposed seniority to European languages, deciding that "Aryan" must be an endonym for the entire Indo-European nation. Then entire turned into oldest, and oldest turned into superior, and well, you know the rest.
- Scientific racists did regard Iranians as part of the "Aryan" race◊. They also treated Gypsies (descendants of Indians and thus Aryans) like trash, so...
- Iran's Arch-Enemy in ancient times was whatever the main cultural center was in Europe, be it Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, or the Byzantine Empire, until it was ultimately conquered by the Islamic Caliphate in the late 600's and converted to Islam. Centuries later, Iran resumed the tradition by being one of the main opponents of the Ottoman Empire.
- At one point or another throughout its history, Iran has had Egypt, Cyrenaica, Mesopotamia, the Levant, the Musandam peninsula, Yemen, Afghanistan, Transoxiana, Chorasmia, the Armenian plateau, the lower Caucasus, Anatolia, Cyprus, northern Greece, Dobruja, Crimea, and Punjab under its rule, all of which has been lost to various other empires, such as the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Russians and the British. As recently as the 19th century, Iran controlled the entire South Caucasus area (present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia (Europe)), which it lost after the wars with the Russian Empire.
- During the time of the Sassanids, Persians were settled in the Caucasus to strengthen the empire's defenses against the Byzantine Empire. Their descendants, the Tats, still live there to the present. In the 8th century, Persians worked as administrators and traders of the Caliphate's conquered lands in Afghanistan and Central Asia, spreading their language to locals, not unlike the medieval Ostsiedlung of Germans into Eastern Europe. This is why Persian is spoken as a native and official language in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in large numbers (under the names Dari and Tajik, respectively).
- Iran uses a solar calendar, invented by the famous Omar Khayyam. Each year starts at the first day of spring, celebrated by a traditional holiday named Nowrouz (meaning The Renewed Day). In the present day, Nowrouz has become one of the few secular holidays to be approved by the current Islamic government (there was briefly a campaign to stop it, but public backlash prevented it from happening), and it is widely celebrated indeed, even by the most ardent Muslim clerics.
- Iran is a very diverse country. In addition to ethnic Persians, there are Azeris, Kurds, Armenians, Arabs, Jews, and other groups living in the country. In fact, the country's Azeri community surpasses those in the titular country of Azerbaijan.
- There is a great diversity in how people look. Most Iranians have a tan or olive complexion with dark hair and eyes, but light skin, hair, and eyes are not unheard of. Ditto with East Asian look; ancient Turks were known for this, and while modern Iranian Turks are not that different from Persians, it still exists to a degree, particularly among the Turkmens. Some Iranians even have skin as dark as someone from Africa or southern India.
- Iran's official religion is Shi'a Islam. 98% of all Iranians are Muslim. Before Islam, most Iranians were Zoroastrian. A tiny community of Zoroastrians still live in Iran, but most Zoroastrians live elsewhere in modern times (particularly in India). Iranian Shiism is a surprisingly recent development: the conversion process only began around 1500, with the rise of the Safavid dynasty, and only took hold after a few centuries of concerted effort by the Safavids to get the Iranians to change their religion. Before that, Iran was noted as a bastion of Hanafi Sunnism.
- Despite this, Iran is not controlled by Shari'a Law. Iran's judicial law is made-up on the spot. Iran's political system is supposed to be a mixture of "what's good and evil according to the subtext." This is mostly because Shari'a is chiefly a Sunni concept, and relies on an interpretation of the way the judiciary ought to work that fell out of fashion in Shi'a circles several centuries ago. Mainstream Shi'a jurisprudence is of the Usuli branch of the Ja'fari school, which grants (among other things) extensive power to judges to interpret and re-interpret Qur'anic law as they see fit in a process known as ijtihad; ijtihad is seen in most Sunni circles as more or less impossible in modern times, and its revival and application to modern times is a very controversial issue among Sunni legal scholars.
- Due to the overarching influence of the Safavids, all major Muslim ethnic groups in Iran more or less submit to Shia Islam, even those that one wouldn't expect to be one, like the Arab minority. Outside of Iran, the Safavid influence also reaches some other countries in the region, most notably Iraq (Iraqi Arabs who were concentrated in the villages and towns in the south of Iraq where Safavid influence was strongest became Shi'ites, Iraqi Arabs in the major cities (e.g. Basra) and further north (what is now province of Babil and northwards) didn't convert. The demographic changes in these areas are much more recent, as any look into the demographics in Iraq in the 1920s would tell you), Bahrain (though many of whom are descended of Persian immigrants), Afghanistan (the Hazaras submitted to the Safavids, though the others didn't), and Azerbaijan (majority Azeris).
- Iran has an extremely tremendous impact on the direction the Muslim world is taking, thanks to its strong cultural and national foundation. Despite its humiliating defeat at the hands of the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century AD, Iran came back from the brink fairly quickly and reasserted itself in the politics of the Caliphate, forcing the rigid Umayyads to hand power over to the Abbasids, then when they thought that the latter weren't doing any good, broke away from the Caliphate entirely. While Middle Eastern civilizations like the Arameans and Egyptians fell to Arab hegemony, Iran not only resisted assimilation, but took over the hegemony in favor of their own; Baghdad was controlled by Iran, so all Abbasid caliphs there became tributaries of Persian empires to the east. Persian culture greatly influenced modern Muslim culture, including but not limited to architecture, music, literature, even the administrative structure of many earlier Muslim empires were modeled after the Sassanids. Without Iran, the Muslim world won't probably become as successful as it did in history. Sir Muhammad Iqbal put it this way:
If you ask me what is the most important event in the history of Islam, I shall say without any hesitation: The Conquest of Persia. The battle of Nehawand gave the Arabs not only a beautiful country, but also an ancient civilization; or, more properly, a people who could make a new civilisation with the Semitic and Aryan material. Our Muslim civilisation is a product of the cross-fertilisation of the Semitic and the Aryan ideas. It is a child who inherits the softness and refinement of his Aryan mother, and the sterling character of his Semitic father. But for the conquest of Persia, the civilisation of Islam would have been one-sided. The conquest of Persia gave us what the conquest of Greece gave to the Romans.
- Regarding the above Berserk Button of Persians being confused with Arabs, the answer is simple: Persians have a much longer and celebrated history than the Arabs (and many other peoples currently inhabiting the region, but mostly the Arabs) have. They have been a settled people for more than 2500 years, and if you know anything about civilization, settling down means that you get more time to consolidate and develop a culture. They were a contemporary of the great societies of the Ancient Middle East, who tended to look down on "barbarian" nomads, of which the Arabs were (and to some extent, are) part of. Plus, as mentioned above, Persians contributed some of the most influential achievements of the Islamic Golden Age. Persians are certainly Muslim now, but that doesn't mean that they have set aside the grudges against invaders who destroyed their golden age. For comparison, replace Persians with Greeks and Arabs with Turks and you get an idea how they perceive the situation.
- Since the inception of the Islamic Republic during the 1979 Revolution, Iran has garnered four different nations that qualify as their Arch-Enemy.
- Iraq was always a regional rival due to the oil issue, even under the Shah, but it wasn't until Saddam Hussein came into power that things really boiled over. Sensing the turmoil wrought from the Islamic Revolution, Saddam launched a military offensive in an attempt to gain control of Iranian oil, consequently instigating a war that lasted throughout the 1980s. Most countries supported Iraq, the largest contributors being the Soviet Union and France, with America even going so far as to ignore Saddam's use of chemical weapons, although Iran did receive foreign aid, most notably from China. It was only after the death toll reached a quarter of a million deaths that anybody was willing to negotiate a ceasefire. Ruhollah Khomeini, the orchestrator of the Revolution and the Supreme Leader of Iran, refused initially. It wasn't until Hashemi Rafsanjani, his deputy, persuaded him otherwise that he accepted the ceasefire. Tensions remained long after the war, and it wasn't until Saddam was dethroned that Iran and Iraq have started patching things up.
- Iran has long felt that Israel is an illegitimate state built upon unjust occupation of Palestinian inhabitants and a foreign "cancer" in the Middle East. Israel feels that its existence is threatened the prospect of Iran obtaining nukes (and vehemently maintains that Iran is looking to get nukes). Iran insists that their nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes, pointing to their being a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (something Israel has not signed due to their "nuclear ambiguity"). Khomeini prosecuted Jews (along with anyone he felt was insufficiently Muslim) by the thousands under his rule, although things have softened up somewhat since Ali Khamenei succeeded him, as Jews now have a member in the Iranian parliament. Nevertheless, Israel and Iran maintain their hostility. This has led to something of a proxy conflict between the two, as Iran funds Hezbollah in Lebanon (whose founders were followers of Khomeini) and Hamas.
- Their premier enemy is the United States of America. The reason they have such a bitter feud is a long, complicated story, beginning with conflicts over Britain's sphere of interest over Southern Iran in the Victorian Era and US backing of it, to an invasion in World War II, to ending a complicated standoff by overthrowing the popular, relatively liberal Prime Minister in 1953 (who wished to nationalize his country's oil when it was a hot strategic commodity, resulting in his group making cause with the Soviets even if he personally disliked Communism) and re-instituting the authoritarian but pro-Western monarchy of the Shah. When the Islamic Revolution came around, Iranians took the American Embassy diplomats hostage for 444 days (and as Argo told - with some licenses and ensuing protests from the Iranian government - a few employees managed to hide in the Canadian embassy and were removed from the country with a Crazy Enough to Work plan). It should be noted America and Iran have tried to patch it up but, because of the inability to appease all factions within and outside them both and at least largely irreconcilable worldviews between the two, thus far it hasn't worked.
- Just about the only country more reviled than even America is Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saud are so diametrically opposed to one another that it's a miracle war has not broken out. For starters, the Saudis are in the Arabian Peninsula, the homeland of both the Arab pan-ethnicity and the entire religion of Islam; Iran is in the Iranian Plateau and mostly Persian, and has been conquered by Islamic Caliphates at various points in time. Saud is a leading member of the Sunni version of Islam, whereas Iran became the largest Shia-leaning Muslim nation (the schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims is better-explained here). Modern Iran was founded on populism (it's not called Revolution for nothing), Saudi Arabia was founded through tribal dynasties playing power politics while Western empires destroyed the last Caliphate. Iran is something of a theocratic authoritarian oligarchy that often settles internal oligarchical differences by polling, while Saudi Arabia is an Egopolis absolute theocratic monarchy that has a solid division of power between the royal family and theocratic Sunni instructors who run domestic policy. Both are major producers and developers of oil, so they tend to butt heads over the right to regional hegemony. To that end, Saudi Arabia sabotages the countries that are allied with Iran, such as parts of Lebanon and Syria, and rallies fellow totalitarian monarchies to gang up on Iran. Meanwhile, Iran supports predominantly-Shi'ite resistance groups such as the Houthis in Yemen and the protesters in Bahrain. Syria is the highest this conflict has ever reached, where many would consider it to be less of a Civil War and more of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia (and its allies) and Iran.
- Currently, Iran is under sanctions by United States. In 2015, the government of Iran and a coalition of several other governments, including the US, the UK, and Germany, came to an historic agreement that would involve lifting most of the sanctions in exchange for Iran discontinuing any plans for a nuclear weapon and submitting to random inspections to ensure they were not building one. Though lauded in some circles (notably, of course, Iran itself), conservatives in many coalition governments were mercilessly critical of the agreement; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called it a "stunning historic mistake," and American conservatives unfavorably compared it to Neville Chamberlain's infamous appeasement of Hitler. When one of those conservatives ended up with the office of president in 2016, he decided to pull the United States out of the deal and reinstate the sanctions. While other signatories are fighting hard to save the deal, it is effectively moot now.
- The president from 2005 to 2013 was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, widely noted for his antics and tongue-twister name. Widespread protests broke out over the results of his last election (2009), but were quickly put down. This was big news in the West, but then Michael Jackson died and they forgot about it. The President famously declared at Columbia University that Iran didn't have gay people like the United States did, and is an avowed Holocaust denier, as well as being anti-Israel in general. Internally, Ahmedinejad was noted as a populist and a leader of a movement of pietist laity: he was the first president not to be a cleric (he was a civil engineer and professor of engineering before going into politics full-time), and his faction was noted for mostly being made of hard-headed merchants and professionals, deeply religious and conservative but with a suspicion of clerics (he and Khamenei famously did not get along).
Ahmedinejad's successor is Hassan Rouhani, who surprisingly won the 2013 elections in one round. Rouhani is noted as a moderate cleric, from the same faction as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and a pragmatist engaged in serious diplomacy on the nuclear issue, of the same clout as former President Mohammad Khatami.
- Contrary to a popular interpretation of the Middle East, Iran has a variable geography defined less as desert and more as mountains.
- The Iranian Plateau (and so the country) is almost entirely of orogenic origin, with the Zagros making up the longest mountain range. Of the 10 most populous cities, only one (Ahvaz) does not exceed 900 meters/3000 feet above sea level. Tehran is located on a mountainous valley◊, while its climate closely resembles Denver. Earthquakes have therefore been a perennial problem in Iran since ancient times and are objectively more pressing than any threat of foreign invasion. The Bam earthquake of 2003, which killed more than 26,000 people and flattened the titular historic city, still gives many people nightmares today. There have been talks to move the capital to a less earthquake-prone area, but none so far has been agreed upon, as the candidates are all located within the peripheries (Tehran, for all its faults, is very strategically located).
- Damavand is the highest volcano in Asia and, after Elbrus (whose name is derived from Damavand's mountain range, Alborz), is the second-highest mountain in Eurasia west of the Hindu Kush. The mountain is sacred in Zoroastrianism and features a lot in Iranian folklore.
- In the Caspian Sea coast, the land abruptly lowers until it hits below sea level. The coast and surrounding mountains are lush and green, with a climate reminiscent of the Southern United States. Historically, the region was known as Tabaristan and was the Last Stand of Zoroastrian Iranians, having resisted Islamization until well into the 9th century.
- The southwestern Khuzestan Province is one of the few lowland regions of the country. A part of the Mesopotamian Marshes, it is geographically identical to Lower Iraq and contains just as much oil, gas, and arable land. As the heart of ancient Elam, it is also the oldest region of Iran. As with the surrounding area, the province is extremely hot climate-wise; Ahvaz routinely exceeds 50°C (122°F) during summer.
- The southeastern Dasht-e-Lut desert, meanwhile, is contending for the title of the hottest desert on Earth.
- Iran has the second-highest execution rate in the world, just behind China.
- Iran is controlled by an interesting conglomeration of a government (de jure: Unitary Khomeinist presidential Islamic republic; de facto: Unitary theocratic-republican authoritarian presidential system subject to a Supreme Leader). There is a Supreme Leader (currently Ali Khamenei), a President (currently Hassan Rouhani), a vice president (currently Eshaq Jahangiri), a chief justice (currently Ebrahim Raisi) and the Majles, the Iranian parliament headed by a parliament speaker (currently Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf). The Supreme Leader is exactly as powerful as the name implies; elected officials only have however much authority the Supreme Leader sees fit to delegate to them. While the President is usually the most visible member of the government, especially in the West, his influence is usually over economic policy.
The Majles reserves five seats for religious minorities, including two for Armenians and one each for Assyrians, Jews (Iran hosts the Middle East's third-largest Jewish population, after Israel and Turkey), and Zoroastrians. This is a policy dating back to the 1906 Constitutional Revolution.
- Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran adheres to an extreme interpretation of a theocratic political system known as the velayat-e faqih ("Protectorship of the Islamic Jurists"), in which Muslim jurists (faqih) have a big influence in all sectors of the country, including the military, legislative, executive, and judicial branches. There is a 12-member advisory board called the Guardian Council, composed of six members of the Majles and six faqih. The Supreme Leader is held by a marja — better known in the West as "Grand Ayatollah" — the highest-ranking position in Usuli Twelver Shia Islam. Some Western media call him simply as "the Ayatollah", implying that the position is interchangeable with the Supreme Leader. In fact, there are over 80 living Maraji as of 2017 who are spread over many different countries, let alone ordinary Ayatollahs, who number in the hundreds.
- The Guardian Council puts the "Islamic" in Islamic Republic of Iran. They are meant to interpret the law based on Muslim doctrine, they can veto bills from popularly-elected officials and they have authority to approve or disqualify parliamentary candidates. It repeatedly vetoes bills in favor of women's rights, electoral reform, the prohibition of torture and ratification of international human rights treaties.
- Since the 1979 Revolution, there have been two Supreme Leaders. The first, Ruhollah Khomeini, who served from 1979 until his death in 1989, was an architect of the Revolution and oversaw the early tumultuous events in the Islamic Republic's history, including the Iran-Iraq War. He was succeeded by Ali Khamenei, who serves to this day.
- The Supreme Leader commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an armed forces created after the 1979 Revolution and separate from the Iranian Army, which exists since before. Its task is to protect the revolutionary establishment. The IRGC includes the Basij, a paramilitary force created during the Iran-Iraq War and made up of mostly young volunteers, as well as the Quds Force, an intelligence unit responsible for unconventional military operations. Since the new millennium, the Quds Force has gained notoriety in the world and especially the West, because it has built a wide network of political patronage in countries aligned with Iran and discreetly or publicly supports many insurgents/freedom fighters in others. Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Houthis of Yemen, the various Shia paramilitary groups in Iraq that arose after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and Hamas of Palestine all have deep connections with the IRGC. For this reason, Iran is designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States, and the IRGC itself is designated a terrorist group by the US, Canada, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
- Legally, everyone in the Islamic Republic has to respect the Supreme Leader's decisions, which are binding. In practice, of course, not everyone does. Velayat-e faqih is actually a rather controversial mode of governance, as it is seen as vesting too much political power on the clergy, which, like Christian priests, has never been universally regarded as trustworthy. Shia Muslim leaders outside of Iran not affiliated with the Supreme Leader or the IRGC are especially distrustful; Iraq's highest-ranked Marja, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who prefers a limited role for the jurists, has publicly voiced his disagreement with Iran's interpretation of the system.
- Iran's major export, and best known, is oil. It also exports goods to the landlocked countries of Central Asia, such as foodstuffs. It has also started exporting cars to other countries; some are license-built European items, but others are homegrown. Iran also has its hand in electronic consumerism, but just enough for the domestic use.
The Iranian economy is very interesting to economists, as it has robust GDP growth, but both inflation and unemployment are high—and having all three together is supposed to be impossible. As it turns out, when you factor out oil, Iran's economic growth rate is rather small—in other words, Iran is facing stagflation. Although sanctions haven't exactly helped Iran's economic circumstances, it does mean that Iran's current economic policy—which is highly inflationary (to the point of near-hyperinflation in late 2012)—is exactly the opposite of what it should be doing from a purely economic standpoint. (Mainstream economics holds that when faced with stagflation, the first priority should be contractionary monetary policy to fight inflation, taking the hit to growth and employment while prices stabilize; for political reasons, Iran can't do this, as a hit to growth or employment might cause political instability, resulting in the whole complicated political system outlined above crashing down.)
- The Cyrus Cylinder, issued by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C., proclaims the benefits of Cyrus' rule, and has been called the first human rights charter in history. Despite being an ancient propaganda piece, Cyrus was indeed known for his enlightened rule. Iranian reformers count Cyrus and the Cylinder among their sources of inspiration.
Regarding Cyrus the Great, his ludicrously-massive accomplishments almost border on the stuff of legend. He created Iran's first multi-national empire: The Achaemenid Empire, which stretched all the way from northwestern Indian subcontinent to Greece, then down to Egypt◊. It was the largest empire in the ancient world had known by that point, even surpassing the Roman Empire, which only reached such extent about five centuries later. Such accomplishment obviously netted him many titles, including the King of Kings, Great Leader (this time, that pretentious title is justified), and believe it or not, Messiah. The last part was even written in The Bible; Cyrus' annexation of Babylonia happened when the Jews were in the midst of their exile. Being known for his leniency against minorities, he allowed the Jews their safe return to the Holy Land and even approved the building of the Second Temple, two things that the Jews will never forget him for. For this reason, he is the only Gentile (i.e. non-Jew) to explicitly be called by their prophetic title: Messiah.
- Along with the Celts, ancient Iran was one of the most egalitarian societies with regards to gender. Women served as warriors, generals, and civil administrators. Today, women face numerous restrictions on dress and behavior, enforced with varying degrees of zeal. Despite this, there is a strong women's movement in Iran.
- Iran has had a friendship with Armenia going back to ancient times, despite religious differences, though this strains Iran's relations with Azerbaijan as a result...which may seem strange at first, since more Azeris live in Iran than in Azerbaijan, and Tabriz, the capital of Azeri culture, is in Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei (the current Supreme Leader) himself is Azeri on his father's side.
- Iran's neutrality in the Nagorno-Karabakh War with Armenia was what really irked Azerbaijan. And Azeri nationalism being what it is, some of the more extreme nationalists believe northern Iran rightfully belongs to Azerbaijan (if anything, it's the other way around; see the General section above). When Azerbaijan first became independent in 1918 it took its name from the northern Iranian province (it was known as Caucasian Albania in antiquity; Azerbaijan was the name of the satrapy installed by the Sassanids, which did encompass both sides of the border. However, the Azerbaijan of the past was Iranian, not Turk. It's complicated); Iran suspected this naming as a ploy for the country to eventually annex the province at some point in the future. In response to this tension Israel has been grooming Azerbaijan as a possible ally, selling them weapons.
- Also, with the economic sanctions in place, Armenia is one of the only bordering countries that will still trade with Iran (not that it has much of a choice, since two out of the four countries that border with it have closed their borders). As a result, the two countries have a vested interest in keeping one another happy.
- Most of Iran's allies are similarly geopolitical pariahs. It is one of the few countries that supports the Syrian government in its ongoing civil war. It also gets along well with Russia, India and North Korea.
- Though Iranians do not like to say they imitate Western culture per se, in reality the country is extremely multicultural and open to foreign influences. Not much has changed in 2000 years.
- Despite having an Islamic government, the country has a relative tolerance for religious minorities.note Christians, Jews, and even a few Zoroastrians have had communities in Iran for centuries. This is surprising when compared to neighboring Turkey, which also has a Islamic majority but a secular government, and yet are far less welcoming to minorities.
- Iran has a one-day weekend, one of the only two to adopt it in the entire world, alongside Djibouti. Friday is the sole day off of the week as mandated by the law. This is not just a mere rule; Friday is the equivalent of Sabbath in Islam, and, considering that Islam shapes up the society of modern Iran, the rule is strictly upheld. Setting up Friday as a holiday is actually quite common in countries that observe Islamic governance, but they also adopt a different day as a complementary weekend, while Iran, for some reason, doesn't.note
- Iranians have a rich background when it comes to science. You can check The Other Wiki for more information.
- Iranian cuisine is very interesting and tasty. Those unfamiliar with it should think of a blend of Pakistani/North Indian, Caucasian and Middle Eastern, with Middle Eastern more dominant, as well as some Mediterranean and Russian thrown in for good measure. Of course, it isn't so much a blend as a part of a larger spectrum of cuisines; many dishes considered characteristically North Indian, Caucasian or Middle Eastern have their origins (if not in their current forms) in Iran (e.g. kofta for the Middle East, piti for The Caucasus and naan for Pakistan/India), while Iran has itself imported, modified, and naturalized a large number of dishes from its neighbors. Naturally, the Iranian kitchen produces many delicious dishes:
- Chelo-Kabab: Turkish kebab with rice cooked in the Iranian way. First rice is cooked with steam until it becomes soft and floppy like a marshmallow. Then it is dried and cooked again until it loses all the nutrients, but gains more flavour.
- Khoresh-Ghorme-Sabzi: Biff, a special mix of vegetables and beans with spices. Eaten with rice.
- Khoresh-Gheime: Biff, split pea with whatever you want, eaten with rice.
- Koofte: Meatball. In Turkish parts of Iran, they're made with rice and vegetables. They're also called "Koofte-Tabrizi".
- And many, many more.
- The Bazaar of Tabriz is famous as the world's largest covered bazaar and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Dash-Mashti: Favorite stereotype of older Iranian movies. See below.
- Laat: Douchebags who waste their time, rarely doing anything.
- Bache-mosbat: Young bookworms who have autistic-like behavior.
- Jakesh: The world literally means pimp, but it's used to describe loud-mouthed assholes in general.
- Tork: Meaning Turk, this word is used to describe dumb people.
- Bache-Sosol: Hipsters, in general.
Movies about Dash-mashtis (see above) were also popular at that time. These people had a promiscuous love interest, and even wives, but they preferred having sex with their favorite prostitute. They had master degrees in knife fighting, and they were all raised in poor neighborhoods by housemaid mothers. Although most of the above movies were extremely cheesy, there's one masterpiece, which is considered the best movie of early Iranian cinema, called Gheisar. In this movie, Gheisar, our dash-mashti, seeks revenge after death of his brother and sister. His sister committed suicide after being raped by her friend's brother, and his brother was murdered for going after that dude. Long story short, he spends most of the movie running from cops.
Another good movie from this era is an adaptation from a short story called Gav (cow). This story is about a simple, rural man who, after his cow dies, goes crazy and thinks he's a cow. There's also The House Is Black, a memorable 1963 documentary short about life in an Iranian leper colony.
After the revolution, films changed to fit the law. Also many children's movies with cute puppets were made during the 80s and 90s, because producing animation was too expensive and time-consuming. In recent years the relatively thriving underground movie scene from before the revolution has seen a come back, with many anti-gov films being made either clandestinely in country or abroad by expats.
Iranian cinema has become popular in Europe. Some notable post-revolution Iranian movies are:
- Mother: A mother who has 5 children is dying, so she invites them to her house. The children have been apart for many years, and when they find each other living under the same roof again, instead of attending their soon-to-be dead mother, they spend their time conflicting with each other.
- Kamal-ol-molk: Biography of the famous titular painter, Mohammad Ghaffari.
- Storks Dream Without D: A surreal work from Hussein Yari.
- Puppet Thief: Sci-fi children's work, Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- The White Balloon: A young girl wants to buy a balloon for Nowruz. A simple movie with a simple plot, it is nevertheless a well-crafted one. Directed by then-fledgling Jafar Panahi.
- School of Mice: Puppet movie mice who are escaping from a cat.
- Kolah-Ghermezi and Pesar-Khale: Possibly the most famous children's movie, about some boy who wants to be on TV (with more laughs). Two main characters (Ghermezi and his cousin) are played by puppets.
- Pari: A Mind Screw movie, but a well-done one.
- Dorna: A live-action children's movie.
- Dog Massacre: In the early days of the Shah's fall, a man has sent his wife to clean up his fraudulent history so he can start a new life in the new government.
- The Red: About a very, very dysfunctional couple.
- Mom's Guests
- Taste of Cherry: Probably the most famous movie of Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, about a man seeking help with his suicide. Suprisingly un-depressing for some reason.
- At Five in the Afternoon
- A Separation: About the disintegration of a marriage, Iranian-style, which has won quite a few awards. First Iranian film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
- Children of Heaven: An inspiring movie about a brother and sister who live in relative poverty in Tehran.
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: "the first Iranian vampire western", released in 2014. Actually made and financed in the USA, although the writer-director and many of the actors are Iranian, and all the dialogue is in Farsi.
- Cafe Setareh
- The Salesman: Husband-and-wife actors have to cope after an incident of shocking violence. Second Iranian film to win the Foreign Language Film Oscar.
As for TV, Iran produced good shows with original plots before they became soap opera-esque drama. Foreign shows have little to do with time slots; reruns are rarely found in Iranian TV. Some notable Iranian TV series are:
- Hezar Dastan: From the director of Mother and Kamal-ol-molk, this show had such a great location that it's still being used by other historical shows.
- Amir Kabir
- After the Rain: A TV series set in olden days, centering around a Jerkass land owner who has a dickhead brother in law. There's some Guy-love between the two, enough that after the feudal "Arbab" remarries another woman, the in-law kills him and burns his house.
- The Nights of Barrareh: A journalist is deported to a village called Barrareh, home to some completely dimwitted people who believe that Alexander the Great once set foot there and tripped, Victor Hugo was theirs and peas are the only food on the planet.
- The Magic Lamp: Probably the only Iranian show that's comparable to American shows.
- Nezami Ganjavi: Wrote romantic poems. Most famous in the West for writing Layla and Majnun, the classic love story of Persian literature.
- Obeid Zakani: His famous poem Cat and Mice is probably the predecessor of Tom and Jerry, with a cat who drinks and kills mice, then repents, but then he gets so mad about a mouse that he gathers an army to fight with them (and the mouse gathers an army, too). He has a Jook too, which mostly consists of homophobic and racist jokes.
Some modern Persian poets are:
- Nima Yushij
- Forough Farrokhzad
And some notable Iranian writers are:
- Sadegh Hedayat: Angst Fuel writer. Known for his Mind Screw book, The Blind Owl.
- Mohammad Jamalzade: Although he left Iran when he was 9, he has many Persian books. He also lived for 101 years.
- Hoshand Moradi Kermani
- Marjane Satrapi: A graphic artist notably known for Persepolis and Chicken With Plums.
The Ghazal, a form of poem consisting of 12-14 couplets all ending with the same word, originated in Iran sometime in the 1200s.
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- Unitary presidential constitutional republic
- Supreme Leader: Ali Khamenei
- President: Hassan Rouhani
- Speaker of Parliament: Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf