|Date ||Major Events in Iranian History |
2700 BC - 600 BC [+]
| ||Elamite tribes originally populate the area of present-day Iran and are joined by nomadic Aryan migrants who also go on to populate parts of Europe and India (hence the origins of the name Indo-Europeans). |
After years of war with Mesopotamian powers in the region, as well as struggles between Persian and Median civilizations, Iran’s indigenous populations are united under the enlightened rule of the Achaemenid Persian King Cyrus the Great.
Cyrus goes on to create the Persian Empire, the greatest in the ancient world, conquering both Assyria and Babylon. It was in Babylon that Cyrus liberated the Jewish population.
600 BC - 400 BC [+]
| ||Cyrus rules over the Persian Empire until his death in 530 BC. His rule is characterized by the spread of a monotheistic religion known as Zoroastrianism, and his government is believed to have been the first to adopt a formal Charter of Human Rights, over a thousand years before Britain’s Magna Carta. |
After Cyrus’ death, his empire is extended further, coming to comprise much of the Middle East and Central Asia under his successors Cambyses and Darius I who complete innovative infrastructure and commercial projects.
This extension brings the Persian Empire into conflict with Greece. Decades of war with Athens and Sparta ultimately halt Persian expansion under Xerxes.
332 BC [+]
| ||Alexander the Great of Macedonia, having defeated the Greeks, invades Persia, defeats Darius III, and burns Persepolis. Persian culture is preserved by Alexander under his rule. |
Alexander’s empire is eventually dismantled by his successors. Persian populations are subjugated by Greco-Macedonian leaders until they gain their independence during the Parthian dynasty.
224 BC - 636 AD [+]
| ||Persian greatness and expansion are resurrected under the Sassanid Dynasty, which again privileges Persian over Greek culture. The ascendant Persian empire is in conflict with the Byzantine Roman Empire. |
In 622, the Prophet Mohammad makes his famous journey from Mecca to Medina.
| ||Arabs conquer the Persian empire and Islam triumphs over Zoroastrianism. |
661 - 680 [+]
| ||A secession battle within Islam over Mohammad’s successor ensues. There is war in Karbala – this is the beginning of the Shia-Sunni split. |
700 - 1000s [+]
| ||This is the golden age of Persian culture, marked by the emergence of Farsi language. Persian science, mathematics and art are recognized for their sophistication. Elaborate mosques are built. |
| ||Genghis Kahn and the Mongols defeat the Persian Empire. Widespread massacres and destruction follow. |
| ||The Mongols are defeated. Persia is again independent. |
| ||The Safavid Dynasty returns Persia to indigenous rule by a Shia sect. Shia Islam is declared the state religion. Sharia law is strictly enforced. |
1500s - 1600s [+]
| ||This is another golden age of expansion. Trade contacts with Europe are established; conflict with Ottoman Turks ends after 150 years of fighting in 1639. Shia Islam is consolidated. |
| ||The Safavid Dynasty declines and ends with accession of Nadir Shah to the throne in 1736. Persia briefly conquers Afghanistan and parts of India before falling into civil war. |
British East India Company is granted access to Persian port of Bushehr.
| ||The Qajar Dynasty begins. This era is marked by growing power, and frequent wars with Britain and Russia over expansion into Central Asia and the Caucuses. |
Persia’s dominance is eroded by the rise of maritime trade that allows commerce to bypass land routes through the country.
| ||Persian expansion is limited after losses to Britain and Russia. |
Shah begins to sell Persian concessions to British companies and agrees to grant exclusive military rights in Iran to Britain.
Foreign interference in Persia is condemned by the people.
| ||Tobacco Riots force the Shah to rescind some British concessions. |
| ||Shah grants oil concessions to British; riots again follow. |
1905 - 1911 [+]
| ||The Constitutional Revolution limits the power of monarchy and creates a three-branch government based on the French model. The Constitution is introduced; Parliament or Majiles is founded. |
| ||Britain and Russia continue to vie for lucrative concessions in Persia. British navy converts ships to oil burning engines; Britain secures much of Southern Persia to maintain access to oil. |
WWI (1914 - 1918) [+]
| ||Though officially neutral, Persia is heavily damaged by battle and movement of troops across its territory. Nearly two million Persians die. Persian oil for British ships is seen as key to Allied victory. |
| ||The Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 grants broad concessions and trade benefits to Britain in return for financial aid and recognition of Persia’s sovereignty. |
Opposition grows to British influence, which ultimately dooms the Qajar dynasty.
1921 - 1926 [+]
| ||This is the beginning of the Pahlavi Dynasty as Reza Shah seizes power in a coup, and is named Prime Minister and ultimately Shah |
| ||Persia’s name is changed to Iran to reflect Indo-European (Aryan) roots. |
The country undergoes Westernization and secularization; it experiences modernization in banking, industry, trade, government, law, education, health care, and the status of women. Islamic traditions are downplayed; Sharia law is abolished. Wearing of the veil is banned. Shah’s philosophy is thought to be partly based on that of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey.
Massive infrastructure construction occurs, including the Trans-Iranian Railway.
| ||Shah’s loyalty and affinity to Hitler, as well as his refusal to grant the Allies control over Iranian oil and transportation systems, leads Britain and Russia to depose the monarch and install his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the Iranian throne. |
| ||The war results in heavy destruction and casualties, setting the Iranian economy back. |
Britain begins to relinquish its role in Iran to the US as the Cold War begins.
1946 - 1950 [+]
| ||At the urging of the US, the United Nations Security Council forces the withdrawal of Soviet troops remaining in Iran after the war. |
An assassination attempt on the Shah is used to justify a crack-down on dissenters.
| ||Resentment of foreign interference and of the Shah grows among a coalition of intellectuals, students, clerics, and merchants. |
After effectively sidelining the Shah, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh moves to nationalize the oil industry and seizes British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil concessions.
Britain retaliates with an embargo that severely impacts the Iranian economy. US worries that Mossadegh will turn to the USSR for support.
| ||Under siege and amidst protests, the Shah flees the country. |
In a covert action, American CIA and British Intelligence engineer a coup that removes Mossadeq from power and allows the return of the Shah. Mossadeq becomes a powerful symbol of American betrayal and interference. Much of the Iranian population turns against America for thwarting their anti-imperial revolution.
The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company returns as British Petroleum (BP) and the British embargoes are lifted. US firms are allowed in on oil deals.
The Shah embarks on another modernization campaign and continues secularist policies, angering Islamic clerics.
The Shah turns to pacts with Israel and the US to gain protection from the Soviets and Arab governments in the region.
CIA helps to establish a secret security force known as SAVAK to protect the Shah from internal critics.
| ||The Shah accelerates his modernization and Westernization campaign, launching the White Revolution comprised of land reform and massive infrastructure projects. |
Muslim clerics become more vocal in their opposition and are able to rally students, intellectuals, and merchants to their cause with calls to eliminate foreign (Western) influences in Iran and restore indigenous values. Disappointment with the White Revolution and charges of corruption against the Shah also play a role in igniting the opposition.
The powerful dissident cleric Ayatollah Khomeini is jailed, along with others opposed to the Shah.
Shah grants all American military personnel and their families stationed in Iran immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed against Iranian citizens.
Khomeini is exiled to Iraq where he disseminates anti-Shah books and speeches.
Britain officially extracts itself from the region “east of the Suez,” leaving the Americans as the dominant Western power.
OPEC is formed with Iran as a founding member.
1970 - 1978 [+]
| ||US President Nixon proclaims that Iran and Saudi Arabia are the “twin pillars” of US policy to contain the spread of Soviet Communist influence. |
Conflict between those loyal to the Shah and his critics increases. The Shah is seen as increasingly more corrupt and a puppet of the US.
The Shah helps to engineer a 276% increase in oil prices. The resulting windfall is lost to corruption, arms sales, and mismanagement. The well-being of the middle and working classes plummets; the wealth gap widens.
Khomeini grows in power as anti-Shah protests become more commonplace.
Oil prices plummet again. The Shah increases arms purchases from the US. Low oil prices combined with heavy military spending further impoverish the country.
Khomeini moves to Paris and spreads his message of revolution and Islamic fundamentalism via the international press; he even organizes a strike and large protests that paralyze the Iranian economy.
The protests turn violent. Martial law is imposed by the Shah.
| ||The Shah is forced into exile in January amidst growing protests. Before leaving, he appoints moderate Prime Minister Bakhtiar who allows Khomeini to return to Iran. |
Ayatollah Khomeini returns to cheering crowds from 14 years in exile and dissolves the pro-Shah government of Bakhtiar.
The Islamic Revolution begins. The US Embassy in Tehran is briefly seized and released. US recalls the majority of embassy personnel and begins shredding documents.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is officially proclaimed in April after a referendum vote. Ayatollah Khomeini is declared the Supreme Leader or Imam. Medhi Bazargan becomes Prime Minister.
The Carter Administration admits the Shah into the US for cancer treatment, sparking protests in Iran.
November 4, 1979: the US embassy is again seized by pro-revolution students in Tehran; 53 hostages are taken. Documents detailing US interests and activities in Iran are confiscated and released to the press. Khomeini is not thought to be involved in the seizure, but soon gives it his blessing.
Heavy sanctions are imposed by the US, along with an oil embargo and the freezing of Iranian assets in US banks. Amidst Carter’s refusal to negotiate with the students and one failed rescue attempt, the hostage crisis will ultimately last 444 days until the prisoners are released upon Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981.
Khomeini uses the hostage crisis to promote nationalism and support for the young Islamic regime. Conservative clerics or “hardliners” assume control of the Revolution. A new Constitution is adopted establishing a new and unique system comprising “mirroring” secular and clerical institutions in every branch of government. By 1981, ultimate authority comes to rest with Khomeini and the mullahs.
1980 - 1988 [+]
| ||Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invades Iran under the banner of Arab nationalism and in pursuit of Iran’s oil-rich Arab-majority region of Khuzestan. The invasion is repelled, igniting a bloody eight year war that will end in a stalemate, despite US support for Iraq. |
The Shah dies in exile in Egypt.
US and European hostages are taken in Lebanon by Iranian proxies. Hostage negotiations and hostages for arms deals are pursued throughout the 1980s.
One such deal whereby the US and Israel provided arms to Iran in return for the release of hostages taken by an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah in Lebanon, results in the Iran Contra Scandal (proceeds from US arms sales to Iran were diverted to Contra rebels fighting in Nicaragua).
Iran orchestrates attacks on the US Embassy and US Marine Barracks in Lebanon, resulting in hundreds of US casualties.
Skirmishing in the Persian Gulf between Iran and Arab Gulf nations seeking to move oil through the Strait of Hormuz. The US Navy is increasingly used to protect shipping against Iranian mines and interference.
A US battle ship in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shoots down commercial airliner Iran Air 655, killing nearly 300 people.
The Iran-Iraq war ends in 1988 with a UN-brokered ceasefire. Troops retreat to their pre-war boundaries. CIA estimates that the war cost Iran $160 billion over eight years with the total cost of repairing the country estimated at nearly $450 billion.
Between 500,000 and 750,000 Iranians were killed, including many young men recruited into martyr brigades known as the Basij. Forty thousand Iranians were killed by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons.
| ||New US President George H.W. Bush contemplates rapprochement toward Iran and hints at future negotiations to secure the release of remaining US hostages in Lebanon. |
Ayatollah Khomeini refuses these diplomatic advances and issues a fatwa (or religious edict) commanding Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie in response to his blasphemous depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in The Satanic Verses. US and European governments resume hardline positions against Iran. The fatwa will not be rescinded until 1998.
Khomeini dies after naming the Iranian President Ali Hoseini Khamenei as his successor.
Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, pragmatist and reformer, becomes President.
Early 1990s [+]
| ||An earthquake kills 40,000 Iranians. |
Iran and Iraq resume diplomatic ties. Iran remains neutral when Iraq invades Kuwait.
Iraq’s defeat at the hands of the US-led coalition alters the balance of power in the Middle East, empowering Iran.
Fall of the USSR removes the Soviet threat to Iran’s north and creates Muslim nations in Central Asia.
Radical Islamist groups such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamic Jihad develop throughout the region, largely inspired by the success of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran sees affiliation with them as an opportunity to increase its influence and spread the revolution through proxies.
Tehran reaches out to Muslim groups outside the region as well, including the Khartoum government in Sudan, rebels in Bosnia, and guerillas in Kashmir.
Iran purchases former Soviet military equipment at fire sale prices. It also buys conventional arms and nuclear hardware from Russia, China, and the Pakistani nuclear arms dealer A.Q. Kahn.
The Clinton Administration formally adopts a policy of Dual Containment, recognizing that both Iran and Iraq are hostile to US interests. Iran is treated less harshly than Iraq.
Iran’s government institutes mandatory family planning in an effort to reverse Khomeini’s call for an Islamic population explosion. Birth rates drop from an average of 7 births per woman to 2.7, bringing Iran into line with Western developed countries.
1995 - 1996 [+]
| ||US imposes sanctions on Iran, including an embargo on the import of Iranian oil into the US. |
The Iran-Libya Sanctions Act or ILSA forbids countries from investing $40 million or more, annually, in Iran’s (and Libya’s) oil and gas industry.
Iran’s involvement with terrorist groups in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as its pursuit of nuclear weapons and resistance to the Arab-Israeli Peace Process, are cited as reasons for sanctions.
In contrast, European powers pursue a policy of dialogue, providing incentives for Iranian cooperation on matters of international concern.
US sanctions are undermined by European, Russian, and Chinese trade with Iran. EU challenges the legality of ILSA.
US launches “overt covert” action to empower dissidents against the regime in Iran. The program is exposed and ignites further Iranian hostility toward the US.
Iran also implicated in suicide attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia through its proxy Saudi Hezbollah. The attack kills 19 Americans.
In violation of WTO rules, US launches program to impose “secondary sanctions” on any third country trading with Iran.
| ||Reformer and moderate Mohammad Khatami becomes President in a landslide victory that challenges the power of conservative hardliners. |
Khatami begins an era of liberalization, economic development, and moderation of Islamic dress codes and social mores.
Khatami pursues rapprochement with the West and the US, and grants an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. He also makes conciliatory statements toward Israel.
| ||Iran comes close to invading Afghanistan in retaliation for attacks on Iranian diplomats by the Taliban. |
Clinton offers a semi-apology for past Iranian grievances against the US. Secretary of State Albright offers a “road map” to rapprochement.
Khatami’s efforts at liberalization and rapprochement are meet with opposition by hardline groups.
| ||Reformists win a landslide victory in local and municipal elections. |
Hardliners move to shut down reformist newspapers, triggering violent protests by student groups.
After days of rioting, Khatami announces he will no longer protect the students protesting on his behalf. Failure to sustain the revolutionary current alienates much of Khatami’s support.
US repeals some sanctions against Iran and offers waivers on secondary sanctions.
| ||Reformists sweep Parliamentary elections. Hardliners unleash more violence against liberals and roll back dress code reforms. |
US offers multiple gestures of rapprochement, easing sanctions and restrictions further. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright makes a historic speech containing more apologies for US behavior in 1953 and beyond and offering to open up full dialogue with Iran.
Khamenei rejects US overtures.
President Clinton offers one last conciliatory gesture, sitting through Khatami’s speech at the UN General Assembly.
US gains international credibility for reaching out to Iran while hardliners in Tehran use anti-Americanism to rally support against Khatami’s reforms.
| ||Khatami is reelected President. |
Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington bring Iranian statements of sympathy.
In retaliation for the attack, US invades Afghanistan.
Iran provides significant logistical and intelligence support to NATO troops, helping them defeat the Taliban.
Iran and the US collaborate on post-Taliban reconstruction of Afghanistan.
| ||Israel intercepts a ship allegedly carrying arms to Palestinian terror groups from Iran. |
President Bush denounces Iran as a member of the Axis of Evil (with North Korea and Iraq), ending the US-Iranian alliance in Afghanistan and sparking renewed anti-Americanism across Iranian society.
| ||Tensions accelerate in government and on the streets in Tehran between reformers and hardliners. |
Iranian intelligence officials are detected in Iraq as the US mounts its invasion of the country.
Following the US defeat of Saddam Hussein, Iran reaches out to the Americans to offer its assistance in post-war reconstruction of Iraq. US rebuffs the offer.
A series of truck bombs explode in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing twenty people, including seven Americans. Al Qaeda is blamed. It is suspected that the attacks took place with Iranian support.
The UN-supervised IAEA begins investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. UN finds Iran to be in violation of some reporting requirements. Iran agrees to comply with future inspections.
Another earthquake kills 40,000.
Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi becomes the country’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner.
A fax arrives in Washington offering terms from Tehran for normalizing relations (see Key Foundation Documents). It is published by the New York Times; some Bush Administration officials question its authenticity. No reply is sent to Tehran.
| ||The Council of Guardians disqualifies thousands of reformist candidates from parliamentary elections. Hardliners regain control of the legislature and many reforms are rolled back. |
IAEA finds Iran to be in violation of inspections agreements. EU brokers a deal to cease Iranian uranium enrichment.<
| ||Term limits prevent Khatami from running for a third term as President. |
Ultra-conservative Mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected. Ahmadinejad appeals to voters on a populist, Islamist, anti-corruption, and anti-American platform.
Ahmadinejad announces that Iran is resuming uranium enrichment, in violation of IAEA regulations, the EU-brokered agreement, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
| ||IAEA conducts inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, confirms the violations, and refers the matter to the United Nations Security Council. |
The deadline passes on the UNSC demand that Iran cease its uranium enrichment program. Ahmadinejad proclaims that Iran has succeeded in completing the fuel cycle and has no intention of abandoning its endeavor, even in the face of newly imposed UNSC sanctions (enacted on top of existing US sanctions).
Ahmadinejiad hosts controversial Holocaust Denier Conference in Tehran and increases anti-Western rhetoric.
Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah fight a 34 day war that ends in a stalemate.
US imposes restrictions on banks doing business with Iran.
| ||IAEA predicts that Iran will have nuclear weapons capacity within three to eight years. |
US imposes harshest sanctions yet. More UN sanctions are threatened.
Fifteen British sailors are captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as they patrol the Iran-Iraq maritime border in the Persian Gulf. They are held hostage briefly and released.
Protests erupt in Iran over economic woes, gasoline rationing, and fear of further sanctions.
US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) downgrades the threat of Iran’s nuclear program.
| ||IAEA finds Iran continues to be in violation of NPT and other agreements. Stricter UN sanctions are imposed. |
Conservative hardliners sweep Parliamentary elections again. Despite this, opposition mounts against Ahmadinejad, even among his conservative base who oppose his performance on the international stage.
EU offers incentive package in return for cessation of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran declines. UNSC is unable to impose new sanctions over the resistance of Russia.
| ||The Obama Administration proclaims it is open to dialogue with the Islamic Republic. |
Ahmadinejad responds that Tehran might be interested in “dialogue with respect,” but that engagement must occur without preconditions, and reiterates his refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
Former President Mohammad Khatami announces that he will oppose Ahmadinejad in the June elections, raising the hope of reformers in Tehran and in the US.