The first Iranian state was the Persian Empire, which rose in the first millennium BC and was for centuries the largest in the world.
It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, and later overwhelmed by Arab Muslim conquerors in the 7th century AD Iran became part of the Abbasid caliphate and its culture was both Islamic and itself exerted an influence on the rest of Islam.
The Persian language and a distinct Iranian culture survived, to be reasserted and reinvented by most of the region's rulers.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, the caliphs lost effective control of Iran to Persian and Turkish rulers, and in the 13th century the region was conquered by the Mongols, who themselves later converted to Islam.
Mongol control diminished, and by the 16th century the Safavids, a powerful family from the north-west emerged to unify Iran for the first time in the Islamic era under Islam.
He proclaimed himself shah, and made Shia Islam Iran's state religion.
Iran was weakened by wars in the 17th and 18th centuries and new dynasties followed the Safavids, notably the Turkic Qajars.
New rivals emerged in Russia-to whom Iran lost much of the Caucasus and central Asia in 19th-century wars-and Britain, which sought a buffer between expanding Russia and nearby India.
The two European powers came to dominate Iran. By tacit agreement, Russia took a sphere of influence in the north and Britain in the south, and each power interfered in local politics and forced trade concessions on its part of Iran.
Large oil deposits were discovered in 1908, and when the monopolist Anglo-Persian Oil Company was formed in 1909, Britain controlled a majority share. Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, country in southwestern Asia, located on the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf with an area of 1,648,195 square kilometers, Iran lies at the eastern most edge of the geographic and cultural region known as the Middle East and it is the second largest country in this area.
The country is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and Turkmenistan; on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; on the south by the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf; and on the west by Iraq and Turkey. It is divided into 28 provinces and has 241 towns and cities.
Iran's capital and largest city is Tehran, located in the northern part of the country.
The country's population, while technically and linguistically diverse, is almost entirely Muslim. For centuries, the region has been the center of the Shia branch of Islam.
Nearly all of Iran's numerous rivers are relatively short, shallow streams unsuitable for navigation. The country's only navigable river, the Karun, flows through the city of Ahvaz in the southwest.
More than half of Iran's international border of 4,430 km (2,750 mi) is coastline, including 740 km (460 mi) along the Caspian Sea in the north and 1,700 km (1,100 mi) along the Persian Gulf and adjacent Gulf of Oman in the south. Both the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf have important ports and contain extensive underwater deposits of oil and natural gas.
Iran's largest harbor, Bandar-e 'Abbas, is located on the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow passage separating the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran's extensive petroleum and natural gas deposits are located primarily in the southwestern province of Khuzestan and in the Persian Gulf. Iran also has one of the world's largest reserves of copper; deposits are located throughout the country, but the major lode lies in the central region between the cities of Yazd and Kerman.
This region also serves as a center for the mining of bauxite, coal, iron ore, lead, and zinc. Additional coalmines operate throughout the Elburz Mountains; iron ore mines also exist near Zanjan in the northwest, near Mashhad in the northeast, and on Hormuz Island in the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran also has valuable deposits of aluminum, chromites, gold, manganese, silver, tin, and tungsten, as well as various gemstones, such as amber, agate, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. Despite the great climatic variety of Iran, its average annual precipitation is about 250-300 millimeters.
On this account, Iran is ranked among the semi- arid countries of the world. However with the great efforts made by Iranian experts to construct dams and to domesticate wastewater within the past two decades, it is hoped that the problem of water shortage will be solved in a not so remote future.
It is worth mentioning that only a quarter of Iran's area is endowed with fertile lands and mild, favorable climate. Small as may seem this figure in comparison with the whole surface area, it represents an area larger than Germany, Belgium and Netherlands grouped together. The population of Iran was estimated at 67.000.000 in 2001, 36.8 million live in urban, and the rest in rural areas.
This figure is more than double the 1975 population of 33,379,000. 44 percent of the population was under age 15, 53 percent was between 15 and 64, and only 4 percent was aged 65 or older.
Overall population density in 2001 was 40 persons per sq km (104 per sq mi).
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