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The Islamic Republic of Iran, previously known as Persia, is the second-largest country in the Middle East. Iran is bordered to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the north by the Caspian Sea. Bordering countries include Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the Azerbaijan enclave of Nakhchivan.

Also part of Iran are several islands in the Persian Gulf, the inhabited islands being Abu Moussa, Bent, Buneh, Dara, Farsi, Farvar, Farvagan, Hendorabi, Hengam, Hormuz, Jonobi, Kharg, Kish, Larak, Lavan, Minu, Qabre Nakhoda, Qeshm, Shatvar, Shif, Shomali, Sirri, Lesser Tunb, and Greater Tunb. One island in the Caspian Sea, Ashuradeh Island, is also part of Iran.

One of the first known human settlements arose, in the lowland region of what is now the Iran province of Khuzestan, around 2600 BC. The Elamites were near Mesopotamia, and the two civilizations were regular opponents in war. By the 12th century BC, the Elamites controlled most of what is now West Iran, the Tigris Valley, and the Persian Gulf coast. Aryan tribes came from the north, settling in what is now the province of Fars, while the Medes settled further north, in what is now Northwest Iran.

Cyrus the Great became king of the First Persian Empire. Over the years since, Iran has been ruled by such people as Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and Iran has known several empires, including the Median Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, the Seleucid Empire, the Parthian Empire, and the Sasanian Empire, the latter of which lasted about four centuries before Persia came under the influence of Islam, ushering in the Caliphate and the Sultanate era.

In 633 AD, the Muslims invaded the Sasanian Empire when it was weak, after a bloody civil war. Several Iranian noble families turned against the Empire, and the conquest of Persia by the Muslims meant the end of the Sasanian Empire and led to the decline of Zoroastrianism in Iran. What followed was a succession of Muslim dynasties and periods in which Iran had broken up into feuding states.

After unifying the Mongols, Genghis Khan invaded Iran in 1219 after two diplomatic missions sent by Khan had been killed. Before his death in 1227, Genghis Khan's armies had reached Azerbaijan, destroying cities along their path. After his death, a succession of Khans ruled the region. After flirtations with Christianity and Buddhism, the Khans were forced to adopt Islam.

The discovery of oil in Persia in the early 1900s drew the interest of Europe, and the control over the region was contested between Britain and Russia. During World War I, Persia was occupied by British, Ottoman, and Russian forces. When Russia withdrew following the Russian Revolution in 1919, Britain attempted to set up a protectorate but was not successful. In 1925, Reza Khan became Reza Shah Pahlavi as the result of a coup, establishing the Pahlavi Dynasty.

In an attempt to modernize Iran and improve the status of women, Reza Shah mandated Western dress in public, and attempted to weaken the power of the Islamic religious establishment. This angered or upset many in Iran. During World War II, Reza Shah's support of Nazi Germany led to action by Britain and Russia. Reza was forced into exile in 1941 and his son, Mohammad Reza, succeeded him. In 1943, Britain, Russia, and the United States accepted the independence of Iran.

With the encouragement of the United States, Iran began a period of reforms, including further Westernization of the country. This was too much for the religious establishment, and the Ayatollah Khomeini began a gradual resistance to the shah in 1962. This led to a revolution in the 1970s, and Reza Shah fled the country in 1979. The Ayatollah Khomeini became the power broker in Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was formed in March of 1979, with 98.2% of the public voting in favor. Upon the death of the Ayatollah in 1989, power reverted to the former president, Ali Khamenei. Since then, the office has changed hands through elections several times.

The Iranian people are made up of several ethnic groups. The country has also taken in more than a million refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, while about five million Iranians have emigrated to other countries. Most Iranians speak Persian, the official language of Iran.

Historically, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism were dominant in Iran, but this changed through several centuries of Islamic rule. Today, Shia Islam is the official state religion, claiming the adherence of about 95% of the population. Most of the remainder are Sunnis Muslims, with a minority of Christians, Jews, Bahais, Yezidis, Yarsanis, and Zoroastrians. The Iranian government recognizes Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Sunni Islam as legitimate, with reserved seats in the Iranian Parliament. Bahá'í is not recognized



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