Iran Recent History

By | December 16, 2021

From the Ṣafavids to the Qāgiār dynasty

Under the Afavids, Shiite Islam was adopted as the national religion, mostly opposed by the local dynasties. The territorial unity of the country was reconstituted roughly in the same borders as the Sassanid Empire. AO the Ottoman thrust was contained, while diplomatic contacts with Europe were strengthened until reaching, between the 16th and 17th centuries, a period of economic prosperity and administrative solidity.

In 1722 the nation was overwhelmed by an Afghan invasion, which was accompanied by Turkish and Russian incursions. The kingdom was resurrected by the Sunni adventurer of Khorasan, Nāḍir Shāh (1736-47), who drove the Afghans back and conquered the country (1738), but, when he disappeared, Persia fell back into chaos. A period of bloody civil wars followed, ending with the settlement of the Turkish Qāgiār dynasty (1794-1925). This was not always recognized by the local authorities and was characterized as a regime of political oppression while, on the economic ground, it ceded large parts of the national territory to European control and the exploitation of the most important resources of the country. With the treaties of Gulistān (1813) and Turkmanciāi (1828) Russia the Transcaucasian provinces and a large part of Azerbaijan were annexed, while important economic concessions went to Great Britain. The long reign of Nāṣir ad-Dīn Shāh (1848-96) marked the country’s greatest decline, but also saw the first hints of national awakening thanks to the work of an elite of intellectuals who tried to obtain the Constitution (1905-09) and to keep the country’s assets intact. For Iran history, please check


The victory over the absolutist resistances was frustrated by the outbreak of the First World War, during which the neutrality of the country was violated by both warring parties. After the war, Riḍā Pahlavī emerged, a nationalist military known as Riḍā Khān who, with the help above all British, expelled the Qāgiār, assumed the title of Shah and founded a dynasty (1925). His despotic government was at the same time aimed at a great effort to modernize the Persian state, which in 1935 officially took the name of Iran. In the Second World War, Russians and British, worried about the Germanophilia of the Iranian regime, occupied the country (1941), thus ensuring control of the oil and communication routes of the Middle East for the allied cause. Riḍā Shāh was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Muḥammad Riḍā.

The occupation ceased only in 1946, after difficult negotiations, in 1947 the country, refusing a Soviet option for the exploitation of oil wells, made a pro-Western choice of camp, which was accompanied by the ban of the pro-Soviet communist party Tudeh. The refusal of the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to renegotiate the distribution of oil revenues (the British got 85%) exacerbated the problem of economic independence while giving new vigor to nationalism. In 1951, following the victory of the new Prime Minister MH Mossadeq with the nationalization of the oil sector, Great Britain reacted with an economic embargo. The contrast between the shah, opposed to nationalization,

Thanks to the substantial financial help of the United States (US companies had taken over the exploitation of the oil fields), the Iranhe was placed in a position to overcome the financial difficulties, until the moment when he began to receive the income deriving from oil royalties. The early 1960s were characterized by the so-called ‘white revolution’, consisting of a series of reforms aimed at modernizing and westernizing the country, the key moment of which was the agrarian reform. The reforms were opposed by the Shiite religious hierarchy, hit by the expropriation of the lands it owned and hostile to political innovations extraneous to the Islamic rule.

As a sign of the country’s progress, the Shah in 1967 crowned the imperial crown with a sumptuous ceremony. On the international level, the intense relations with the USA and Western Europe were accompanied by collaboration with the USSR and the re-establishment of relations with China (1971), while the only tensions with regard to the Arab states were those with the Iraq, with respect to which Iran it claimed sovereignty on the left bank of the Shatt al-Arab, later welcomed by Iraq in 1975 (Algiers agreements) in exchange for the cessation of Iranian aid to the Kurds. In other respects, however, the changes that took place in Iranian society were unsatisfactory: large sums were absorbed by military spending and social inequality had increased, involving not only the popular strata, but also the middle classes. Rastakhiz), to remain on the throne. From 1977 the opposition to the regime intensified, quickly conquered by the Shiite clerics of Ayatollah Khomeinī, in exile in Paris since 1963, and in January 1979 the shah was forced to leave the Iran, paralyzed by strikes and demonstrations, while the army (the most powerful in the Middle East, after Israel), was disintegrating. Khomeinī, having returned to his homeland, took over the direction of the country.

Iran Recent History