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Iran History - Introduction

Persia is called Iran by the natives. Persia is the Pars or Fars of Ezekiel, a name later given to a southern province of the Shah's kingdom only. The native name Iran applies to the whole upland country from Kurdistan to Afghanistan, of which the older inhabitants were "Aryans." Although the history of Persia, as a prominent kingdom, begins with the reign of Cyrus after the capture of Babylon, still, Persia Proper furnishes annals of a much more ancient date.

The Aryan race is mentioned in Old Persian sources from around 500 BC onwards. The word Iran itself means 'the Land of Aryans.' Indians and Iranians consider themselves Aryan. In 19th century Europe the meaning of the term Aryan was distorted after the discovery of the Indo-European language family. It gave rise to the theory that all white Europeans descended from an ancient people called the Aryans.

In modern political geography the two terms Persia and Iran are synonymous; the kingdom which called Persia the Persians themselves called Iran. But each of the words has a somewhat complicated history, a brief sketch of which will best explain the connexion between the several subjects which naturally demand notice under one or other of the names.

Persia, or rather Persis (Greek), is the Latinized form of a name which originally and strictly designated only the country bounded on the N. by Media and on the N.W. by Susiana, which of old had its capital at Persepolis or Istakhr, and for almost twelve centuries since had it at Shlraz. This country and its people were anciently called Parsa (now Pars or Fare). The oldest certain use of the name is in Ezekiel (xxviL 10, xxxviii. 5).

The name of Persian was naturally extended to the great monarchy of the Achaemenians who came forth from Persis; and so again, when a second great empire, that of the Sasanians, arose from the same land, all its subjects began to be called Persians, and Persis or Persia was sometimes used of the whole Sasanian lands- (Ammianus, xxiii. 6, 1). The prevalent language of this empire (Pahlavi) had a still better right to be called Persian, for it seems to have had its basis in the language of the old Persis. The same thing is true of the so-called New Persian, which has been a literary language for the last thousand years.

Historically, then, the term Persian is fitly applied to the two great empires which rose in Pars or Persis - and not unfitly to the modern state which embraces Persis and its sister lands, and in which a descendant of the ancient tongue of Persis is still the official and literary language.

The name Iran, on the other hand, was originally of much wider signification than Persia, and the whole upland country from Kurdistan to Afghanistan may, in accordance with the native use of its ancient inhabitants, be called the Iranian upland. The inhabitants of this upland, together with certain tribes of the same race in adjacent lands, shared with their near kinsmen in India the name of Aryans (Ariya, Airya of the Avata; Sk. Arya). King Darius called himself "Persian son of a Persian, Aryan son of an Aryan," and Herodotus (vii. 62) knows an old name of the Medea. The ancient nobles affected names compounded with Arya, - Ariyaramna (Apiapaprqs), Ariobarzanes, and the like. The lands of the Aryans, as a whole, were called Ariyana (Airiyana of the Avesta); Eratosthenes and after him Strabo and others, are certainly wrong in limiting Apiavot to eastern Iran (Afghanistan, Baluchistan).

Persia - History

Powerful rulers dominated the Iranian world and influenced the great ancient cultures that surrounded it, until the native dynasties succumbed to the unrelenting push of Islam in the early seventh century CE. Persian culture and society were then fundamentally altered, yet the interplay between the older era and the Islamic era yielded a new, uniquely Iranian amalgamation.

The centuries thereafter were little more than a medley, with numerous short-lived dynasties which seized upon various provinces of the decrepit Caliphate and then tumbled to pieces mainly from internal dissensions. The advent of a new power, the Seljuk Turks, constituted a notable epoch in the history of the Middle and Near East, if only because it swept away these insignificant and divided dynasties and once again united Islam under a single powerful sway, stretching from Turkestan to the Mediterranean Sea. More than this, the Seljuks, with the fervor of recent converts, revitalized Islam, just as the Norsemen revitalized Christendom, and when Europe under Norman leaders attacked the East under the impulse of the Crusades it was the light horse of the Seljuks which met the heavy horse of the Crusaders.

From the fall of the Samanids to the invasion of the Mongols five or at most six important dynasties held sway over Persia, while some forty small dynasties enjoyed a measure of local autonomy. During the whole of this period the Abbasid caliphs had been nominally reigning throughout the Mahommedan world with their capital at Bagdad. But with hardly any exceptions they had been the merest puppets, now in the hands of Turkish ministers, now under the protection of practically independent dynasts. The real rulers of Persia during the years 874-1231 were the Samanids, the Buyids, the Ghaznevids, the Seljuks, the Salgharids and the Khwarizm shahs. What followed was a new period in Persian history, when the numerous petty dynasties which succeeded the Seljuks were all swallowed up in the great Mongol invasion.

The growth of a new and strong dynasty under the Azerbaijani Safavids (CE 1501-1736), with the backing of Anatolian and Syrian Turkomen in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the importance of Iran to European mercantile interests, especially under the British East India Company, explained the growth of materials about Iran and the countries held within its empire. Prior to the Qajars, what is now Iran was the center of several Persian empires and dynasties, but whose reach shrank steadily over time. Since the 16th century, Iranian empires lost control of Bahrain (1521), Baghdad (1638), the Caucasus (1828), western Afghanistan (1857), Baluchistan (1872), and Turkmenistan (1894). The foreign relationships that arose in that era with the Ottoman Empire and Russia to the north and the European countries of the west, continued their influence in Iran right into the twenty first century.

Many of the contemporaneous histories of these times survive, but some are in a hopeless state of muddle. No two copies are alike ; and, as the text stands, a mere jumble of words without any observance of grammatical rules.

On February 1, 1979, exiled religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from France to assume control of the revolution and established himself as Supreme Leader of a new, theocratic republic guided by Islamic principles. Following Khomeini's death on June 3, 1989, the Assembly of Experts chose the outgoing president of the republic, Ali Khamenei, to be his successor as Supreme Leader in what proved to be a smooth transition externally. There was debate amongst senior clerics regarding Khamenei's relative lack of religious credentials.

The 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 war with Iraq transformed Iran's class structure politically, socially, and economically. During this period, Shia clerics took a more dominant position in politics and nearly all aspects of Iranian life, both urban and rural. After the fall of the Pahlavi regime in 1979, much of the urban upper class of prominent merchants, industrialists, and professionals, favored by the former monarch, the shah, lost standing and influence to the senior clergy and their supporters. Bazaar merchants, who were allied with the clergy against the Pahlavi shahs, also have gained political and economic power since the revolution. The urban working class has enjoyed somewhat enhanced status and economic mobility, spurred in part by opportunities provided by revolutionary organizations and the government bureaucracy. Though the number of clergy holding senior positions in the parliament and elsewhere in government has declined since the 1979 revolution, Iran has nevertheless witnessed the rise of a post-revolutionary elite among lay people who are strongly committed to the preservation of the Islamic Republic.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:21 ZULU