1921-1979 Pahlavi Dynasty

Many date the beginning of modern Iranian history to the nationalist uprisings against the Qajar Shah in 1905 and the establishment of a limited constitutional monarchy in 1906. The discovery of oil in 1908 would later become a key factor in Iranian history and development. In 1921, Reza Khan, an Iranian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, seized control of the government. In 1925, after finally ousting the Qajar dynasty, he declared himself Shah and established the Pahlavi dynasty, ruling as Reza Shah for almost 16 years.

Reza Shah forcibly enacted policies of modernization and secularization in Iran and reasserted government authority over the country's tribes and provinces. In 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the country's name to Iran to accentuate Persia's Aryan roots. During World War Two, the Allies feared that the Shah's close relations with Nazi Germany would jeopardize Iran as a source of oil and a vital supply link to the Soviet Union. In September 1941, following the occupation of western Iran by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ascended to the throne and would rule until 1979.

During World War Two, Iran had been a vital link in the Allied supply line for lend-lease supplies to the Soviet Union. After the war, Soviet troops stationed in northwestern Iran not only refused to withdraw but backed revolts that established short-lived, pro-Soviet separatist regimes in the northern regions of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In 1946, under U.S. and United Nations pressure, the Soviets were forced to withdraw their troops and the Azerbaijani revolt crumbled. The Shah's forces then moved in to suppress the Azerbaijani and Kurdish revolts.

In 1951, the government of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh (alternatively spelled Mossadeq) nationalized the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In the face of strong public support for Mossadegh, the Shah fled to Rome. Although Mossadegh was not a communist, the U.S. and U.K. feared that his links to the communist Tudeh party would cause Iran to align with the Eastern Bloc. Consequently, in August 1953, the U.S. and U.K. engineered a coup against the democratically elected Mossadegh, during which pro-Shah army forces arrested the Prime Minister. The Shah returned to Iran soon thereafter and, fearing further opposition, began to govern Iran in an increasingly authoritarian manner.

In 1961, Iran administered a series of economic, social, and administrative reforms--pushed by the Kennedy administration--that became known as the White Revolution. The core of this program was land reform. As a result of this program, which was driven by reform, modernization and economic growth proceeded at an unprecedented rate. This tremendous growth was fueled by Iran's vast petroleum reserves, which were then the third-largest in the world. However, while Iran's economy prospered, democratic reform and civil liberties deteriorated. The Shah's autocratic method of rule and the abusive practices of SAVAK (his internal security and intelligence service) alienated large sectors of the population, including the Shi'a clergy.

In 1978, domestic turmoil turned to revolution as a result of religious and political opposition to the Shah's rule, including abuses committed by SAVAK, the hated internal security and intelligence service. Several disparate groups--nationalists, Islamists, Marxists, and students--who joined together in opposition to the Shah. In January 1979, the Shah fled Iran for Egypt, later traveling to the U.S. to seek medical treatment for cancer; he died in exile in Egypt one year later.

Join the mailing list

Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:24 ZULU