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Iran (Farsi: ایران ), known officially as the Islamic Republic of Iran since the revolution of 1979, is the modern name, since 1935, of the country formerly known to Europeans as Persia, called Persia in ancient times by the Greeks and Jews, and later called Parthia in ancient times by the Romans, following the conquest of Alexander the Great. Iran is the name given to the country by its inhabitants, The name was officially adopted in 1935 by Reza Shah of the  Pahlavi dynasty.

Iran lies to the east of Iraq, beyond the Persian Gulf and the Shat al Arab waterway, and has over 70 million inhabitants in an area of about 1.65 million square kilometers, To the east, Iran borders on Afghanistan and Pakistan. To the north lie the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan and Azerbeijan. The capital of Iran is Tehran. Principle cities include Teheran, the capital, Mashhad and Qom. The Farsi majority are not Arabs and adhere to the Shia sect of the Muslim religion, rather than the majority Sunni belief.  Unlike most countries of the Middle East, Iran was never part of the Ottoman Empire and has a continuous national tradition dating back to ancient times. The majority of the inhabitants are Farsi and speak Farsi, a non-semitic Indo-Aryan language written with the Arabic alphabet and with a strong admixture of words derived from Arabic  The principle ethnic minorities of Iran include Arabs, Kurds and Jews. Minority religious beliefs include Assyrian Christians, the Bahai faith, Sunni Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, life has been unpleasant for non-Muslim minorities. In particular, Bahai shrines were desecrated and Bahai schoolteachers were executed.

Iran is an "Islamic Republic." It is nominally a democracy, but is in fact a police state ruled by a few religious leaders, and in particular by the head of the Supreme Council, the Ayatollah Rafsanjani. The current president of Iran is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, He was reelected amid widespread charges of election fraud, which were brutally suppressed.

See larger Map of Iran

Ami Isseroff

October, 2010.


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Persia

Further Information: A Brief History of modern Iran Map of Iran, Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud, Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruholla  

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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