Modern Iran - The Shah of Iran and the Iranian Revolution
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Modern Iran

a big oil pipe with men standing around it
Taking Iran's oil for the British
navy in World War I

Nasser al-Din was shot and killed in 1896, when he was 65 years old. His son Mozaffar ad-Din ruled after him. But Iran fell deeper and deeper into debt to Russia and Britain, and was less and less independent. To pay the debts, Mozaffar sold more and more rights to Russian and British companies - oil rights, especially - and most of that money left Iran and went to other countries. The mood that brought revolution and political organizing to India, Russia and China about this time also reached Iran, and in 1907 Mozaffar signed a new constitution for Iran - just before he died.

white man with moustache and military uniform
Reza Shah Pahlavi

Despite the new constitution, Russia and Britain continued to call the shots. When Russia and Britain formed an alliance against the Ottoman Empire in World War I, they fought many of the battles in Iran. After World War I the British used Iran as a base to attack Russia to try to stop the Russian Revolution (as they had attacked France to try to stop the French Revolution a hundred years earlier). When Britain's attack on Russia failed, the Russian counterattack ended up taking a lot of Iran's land again.

white man with gray hair in white uniform with medals
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi

In 1921, a leading Iranian general, Reza Shah Pahlavi, took over the country with British support, exiled Mozaffar's powerless grandson, and ended the Qajar dynasty, ruling as a military dictator like Stalin, Chiang Kai-Shek, or Hitler. Reza Shah pushed Stalin back out of Iran, and made alliances with Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy to reduce British power in Iran. But when World War II began with Russia and Britian allied against Germany and Italy, and Reza Shah tried to keep Iran neutral, the Russian and British armies took control of Iran again. They forced Reza Shah to abdicate and leave his limited power to his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

old white man with glasses
Mohammed Mossaddegh

After World War II, with Britain weaker than before, the United States pretty much took over running Iran. Under the United States' prodding, Shah Mohammed recognized Israel, gave women the vote, and let foreign oil companies keep most of the oil money. Anyone who tried to object was killed or put in jail. In 1951, Mohammad Mossaddegh, the newly elected prime minister, tried to change Iran's direction: he got a democratically elected Iranian Parliament to vote to nationalize Iran's oil - to seize control of it from foreign oil companies. In response, the United States President Truman ordered United States CIA spies to push Mossaddegh out of power and into prison - which they did. The United States overthrew a democratically elected government to put the Shah back in power, mainly in order to keep the oil companies happy.

white man wearing black with bushy white beard
Ayatollah Khomeini

Nobody in Iran was happy about being under the Shah and United States power again. The Shah tried to get popular support through massive land redistribution in the 1960s, but he was never popular. In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini led a revolution in Iran, and the Shah fled to Egypt. The revolution forced the United States out of power in Iran, and led to a democratically elected government which controlled its own oil. Like many democracies, including in the United States, the Iranian democracy was hard on women: once again women were forced to cover their heads and their bodies, and kept far from political power. But the United States, angry about losing their colonialist power over Iran, has tried from 1979 to now to keep Iran from selling their oil to anybody, in order to keep Iran poor, and has also supported Iraq in attacking Iran.

Modern India and Pakistan
Modern Afghanistan
Safavids
Turks
Ottoman Empire
Uzbek Empire
Russia
Mughal Empire
Ch'ing Dynasty China

Bibliography and further reading about Iran:

More about Afghanistan
More about West Asia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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