Language and History

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Persian Language

  • Persian Handbook (PDF)- created by the National Middle East Language Resource Center

Articles about Iranian Culture

A Timeline of Iranian History in the Twentieth Century

1795-1925: Qajar kings, ruling Iran in alliance with Shi'i clerics since, continue their despotic rule, but are weakened under a modernization drive led by European-educated intellectuals.

1903: Oil is discovered in Iran; British Petroleum begins to exploit it.

1905-1911: Iran's Constitutional Revolution limits the historically near-absolute power of Iranian monarchy; Iran 's first constitution is a translation of the Belgian constitution of 1831.

1907: Nineteenth-century superpowers Russia and England divide Iran into two spheres of influence.

1915-1917: Russia and England occupy western and southern Iran during WWI.

1917: The Russian revolution mobilizes Iranian intellectuals; first leftist and communist parties are formed.

1921-25: Reza Khan, an army officer, rises through the ranks eventually to abolish the Qajar dynasty and become king; the new dynasty is called Pahlavi.

1925-1941: Reza Shah's reforms include change in the dress code, unveiling of women, establishment of both the army and the system of higher education; he also tames Iran's parliament and disregards the constitution.

1930s: Reza Shah's nationalist policies make him a natural ally of Hitler; he dreams of an "Aryan" nation.

1939-45: WWII; the allied forces occupy Iran in 1941; Reza Shah abdicates and is sent to exile.

1941: Reza Shah's European-educated son, Mohammad Reza, becomes Shah at 22; he rules for 37 years.

1941-53: period of freedom and parliamentary supremacy; political parties are formed; a nationalist movement initiates the oil nationalization drive.

1950-53: Premier Mosaddeq leads Iran's oil nationalization drive against Britain; Iran is blockaded; the Shah and Mosaddeq have a fall-out over oil nationalization policy and the powers of the monarchy; US teams up with Britain and the Shah to oust Mosaddeq in a coup d'etat in August 1953.

1957: The CIA assists the Shah in establishing the SAVAK, a notorious secret police organization; the political situation deteriorates.

1960-63: The Kennedy administration tries to persuade the Shah to initiate a series of reform projects, particularly a land redistribution program; rampant Westernization begins.

1963: The Ayatollah Khomeini leads a bloody and unsuccessful revolt against the Shah's "reforms."

1968-70: Iran's writers try to form a Writers Association; the government crushes the movement after two years.

1963-77: Copying his father, the Shah succeeds in reducing the parliament to a rubber-stamp institution; all opposition is stifled.

1970: Two guerrilla movements are formed in Iran, the Fadaiyan-e Khalq inspired by Marxism, the Mojahedin-e Khalq inspired by an egalitarian interpretation of Islam.

1973: The quadrupling of oil prices leads to huge revenues for Iran; the Shah initiates a series of grandiose projects which lead to huge economic and social dislocations and widespread discontent; at the same time, the Nixon administration allows massive export of weaponry into Iran.

1976: The election of Carter brings the issue of human rights to the forefront of American foreign policy; Iranian dissidents agitate against monarchy.

1977: The 10 nights of poetry reading highlights the intellectual opposition to censorship and surveillance; the monarchial regime tries to accommodate the protests.

1978-79: An anti-monarchial revolutionary coalition takes shape between the forces of religious right, the nationalists, and the left; the Ayatollah Khomeini emerges as the revolution's leader.

1979: The Pahlavi dynasty is toppled, Iranian monarchy comes to an end; an "Islamic Republic" takes its place.

1979-1981: Militant Islamic students occupy the American embassy in Tehran in response to the deposed Shah's trip to the US and in retaliation for the coup d'etat of 1953; relations between US and revolutionary Iran deteriorate.

1979-81: The revolution's leadership goes to the Shi'i clerics; the revolution assumes an increasingly "Islamic" cast.

1979- 1989: Over a million Iranians, mostly professionals, leave their homeland; various exile communities emerge in Western countries.

1980-88: The Iran-Iraq war, Iran's only major war of the century, erupts when Iraqi forces invade the southwestern parts of the country; it leaves over 500,000 Iranians dead and vast areas of the country in ruins, before ending inconclusively after eight years.

1981-88: The war allows the Islamic State to consolidate its power; the Islamic Republic systematically suppresses all the other partners in the revolutionary coalition.

1989: The Ayatollah Khomeini, charismatic leader of the Iranian revolution, dies; after a brief power struggle, Ali Khameneh'i is elevated to the position of spiritual leader.

1989-97: President Hashemi-Rafsanjani undertakes a reconstruction effort, but the human rights situation continues to deteriorate.

1997: In the seventh presidential election since the revolution, Iranians elect Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, to presidency; he promises to expand freedoms and work to create a civil society; US expresses support, but sanctions against Iran remain in place.

1998: The Ministry of Information launches a campaign of terror against Iranian dissidents; this leads to a series of chain assassinations, where a number of writers and political activists are kidnapped and/or murdered.

2000: Tensions between the reformists led by the President and the conservatives under the command of "The Spiritual Leader" escalate, each side accusing the other of undermining the Islamic Republican state; the judiciary begins a campaign of intimidation against freedom of expression; many reformist journals are shut down.

2001: President Khatami is elected to a second term; clashes with the conservatives escalate, leaving the president incapable of carrying the reform agenda forward.

2005: In a presidential election marred by widespread manipulation, an ultra-conservative dark horse candidate by the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad replaces the reformist President Khatami.

2006-2009 - ....