Iran is a country of about 70 million situated East of Iraq, beyond the Tigris River, Shatt Al-Arab waterway and East of the Persian Gulf, across from Saudi Arabia. To the North, it borders on former Soviet Central Asian countries including Armenia Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea. It also borders on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the East, and Turkey to the West.
As ancient Persia, which included parts of Iraq, Iran has a long, creative and glorious history. Unlike many other Middle Eastern countries, Iran managed to remain independent throughout much of its history. Today it has a population of about 70 million persons. Principle ethnic groups are Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7% and Arab 3%. Iran is a Muslim country, with 89% Shi'a and 10% Sunni Muslims. The remaining 1% belong to Jewish, Bahai and Zoroastrian faiths. The Bahai and Zoroastrian faiths originated in Iran. Major Languages of Iran are Persian (Fars) and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Baluchi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%. Since 1979, Iran is an Islamic Republic.
Iran has a semi-arid climate for the most part, but it is extremely rich in natural resources. In particular, it has nearly 10% of the worlds proven oil reserves and nearly 16% of the worlds gas reserves. Iran has the second largest gas reserves in the world. Additionally, it has considerable quantities of fairly low grade uranium. However, poor economic planning, sanctions by Western countries, low literacy, high birthrates and a long and bloody war with Iraq have kept Iran poor, with a GDP of about $7000 and unemployment of about 16%. In recent years, government programs that encourage family planning and significant emigration have reduced the rate of population increase to about 1% a year. Birth rate is now about 17 per thousand, comparable to Western industrialized countries, and literacy is up to 79%.
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