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Timeline: Modern Iran

A black-and-white photo of a man in a white shirt and shorts, seen from behind, speaking and gesturing in a large square with several other people nearby

A black-and-white photo of an industrial area full of factories and oil refineries

A black-and-white photo of Mohammed Mossadegh raising his arm in a large crowd
Mohammad Mossadegh

A black-and-white photo of a large crowd marching down a street carrying a sign with a drawing of Mossadegh
Crowd holds Mossadegh picture aloft

A historic photograph of the Shah posing with Richard Nixon and his family
The Shah and his wife with the Nixons

A close-up of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

A crowd of men on the side of a road raising their arms and holding flags

The Ayatollah Khomeini touching the side of a child’s face
Ayatollah Khomeini

A black-and-white photo of several people disembarking from an airplane
Hostages return; Photo: DOD

Mohammad Khatami speaks into a microphone
Mohammad Khatami

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks into a microphone
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Formerly known as Persia, Iran has been ruled by various dynasties, starting from the second century A.D., when Zoroastrianism was the country’s main religion. In the mid-20th century, when other nations began to exploit the region for its oil resources, the country started its transition from a monarchy to an Islamic republic.

Learn about significant events in modern Iranian history—from nationalism to the Islamic Revolution—and the shifting relationships between Iran and the United States.

Russia and England ratify the Anglo-Russian Agreement, declaring Russia’s “sphere of influence” in northern Iran and Britain’s in southern Iran.

Following the discovery of oil, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) is established.

A black-and-white photo of Reza Shah Pahlavi, wearing a hat and several medals pinned to his jacket
Reza Shah Pahlavi

Reza Khan comes to power after staging a coup d'état in February. By April, he becomes prime minister and is crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Iran becomes the new official name of Persia.

Reza Shah Pahlavi aligns himself with the Axis powers during World War II and is ousted from leadership. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, succeeds him.

Nationalist Mohammad Mossadegh becomes prime minister after former leader Ali Razmara is assassinated. Iran’s parliament votes to nationalize the country’s oil industry, which is mainly controlled by the AIOC. Britain responds by inflicting an embargo, which stops oil exports and slows Iran’s economy,

Mohammad Mossadegh is overthrown in a violent coup plotted by American and British government intelligence agencies, both of which opposed his ousting of the AIOC. Mossadegh is convicted of treason, is exiled to a village in the Iranian countryside and spends his life under house arrest until his death in 1967.

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi begins the “White Revolution,” a program to modernize Iran’s social, land and economic policies. The secret police crack down on those opposing the Shah’s policies.

January: Forced into exile, the Shah and his family leave Iran after large-scale demonstrations and riots.

February: Islamic fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, formerly under exile in Iraq and France for opposing the Shah’s Westernizing policies, returns to Iran.

April: The Islamic Republic of Iran is established and replaces the country’s monarchy.

November: Militants take 52 Americans hostage inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and demand the return of the Shah to Iran to face trial.

Khomeini becomes Iran’s Supreme Leader and rules the country under Islamic law.

January: Abolhasan Bani-Sadir becomes the Islamic Republic of Iran’s first president.

July: The Shah dies of cancer in Egypt.

September: The Iran-Iraq War, which will go on to last eight years, begins. The United States backs Iraq.

After 444 days, the American hostages in Tehran are released.

Ayatollah Khomeini dies of a heart attack at 86.

The United States enacts trade and oil sanctions on Iran and alleges that it sponsors terrorism. Iran denies this.

Liberal Mohammad Khatami is elected president of Iran in a sweeping victory.

More than a thousand Tehran University students are arrested for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations and riots.

President Khatami is re-elected. The liberals and reformists also have control of Iran’s parliament for the first time.

U.S. President George W. Bush refers to Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” due to its development of long-range missiles.

A major earthquake strikes near the city of Bam in southeastern Iran, killing 40,000 people.

Conservatives regain control of Iran’s parliament after years of reformist rule.

Under international pressure, Iran agrees to lessen its uranium enrichment activities.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservative mayor of Tehran, is elected president, defeating cleric and former President Rafsanjani.

Iran resumes uranium conversion and claims it is for peaceful purposes and energy. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accuses it of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran hosts a conference on the Holocaust, including delegates who deny the Holocaust.

The United Nations Security Council votes to enact trade sanctions on Iran.

President Ahmadinejad states that Iran can now create nuclear fuel. The U.S. imposes large-scale economic and trade sanctions against Iran.

The U.N. Security Council establishes new resolutions against Iran’s uranium program.

Conservatives now control more than two-thirds of Iran’s parliament.

President Ahmadinejad congratulates Barack Obama on winning the U.S. presidential election. Obama voices his support for unconditional talks between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

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