April 1st, when Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979
Iran's Ambassador to UK
H.E. Mohsen Baharvand
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 Princes Gate, London, SW7 1PT
UK's Ambassador to Iran
H.E. Mr Simon Shercliff CMG OBE
British Embassy Tehran, 172 Ferdowsi Avenue, Tehran, 11316-99813, Iran
Although situated at the edge of the Middle East, Iran and its people are central to the story of the region.To its South and West, Iran borders the Arab world, to its North the Caucuses and to its East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan. For two millennia therefore, Iran’s culture has been influenced by its various neighbours. But Iran has also kept a distinctly Iranian – or for many Persian – identity.
Iran’s strategic position linking continents and cultures (it was a key thoroughfare on the Silk Road) and its diverse and vast supply of natural resources, has made it throughout history a target for invaders. Many today point to the long record of invasions and foreign influence over it as a key reason behind the distrust of others and extreme sense of the need for self-reliance in the country’s politics today.
Culture and identity
But the story of Iran is not just one of foreign domination. The vast cultural outputs of dynasties like the pre-Islamic Achaemenids, the Shi'ite Saffavids, alongside distinct poetic and architectural traditions, have contributed to an identifiably Iranian culture.
The arrival of Islam in the country was a key moment in the development of Iran’s identity. While Islam was brought to the country by Arabs, it was adopted quickly by Iranians who disseminated an increasingly Persianate form of the religion and the contemporary Shia Islam of Iran remains a distinctly Iranian concept.
However, with one of the largest and most productive diaspora communities of any nation and an uninterrupted contribution to world culture for thousands of years, it would be naïve to view Iran and its people without the abundance of nuance they deserve.
Today, the Islamic Republic continues to pursue an isolated path for Iran that many blame for much of the instability the Middle East has seen over the past 40 years. The international community often points the finger at Iran-backed military entities such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist group, or the Al Quds force, which reports directly to the Supreme leader of Iran.
Iran's nuclear programme has also been a cause of instability and international disquiet. In 2015, Iran and western powers including the UK, China, France, Germany, the EU and Russia, signed a nuclear deal, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), giving the international community a number of binding guarantees in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
In April 2017, the US under President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA and reimposed sanctions against Iran. Under his successor, President Joe Biden, there is currently rented impetus for the US to return to the JCPOA. In September 2021, President Biden told the UN that the US would return to the JCPOA and remained committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Reza Khan crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi
The Shah's pro-Axis allegiance in World War II leads to the Anglo-Russian occupation of Iran and the deposition of the Shah in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Prime Minister Mossadeq is overthrown in a coup engineered by the British and US intelligence services. General Fazlollah Zahedi is proclaimed prime minister, and the Shah returns from temporary exile
The Shah's policies alienate the clergy and his authoritarian rule leads to riots, strikes and mass demonstrations. Martial law is imposed. As the political situation deteriorates, the Shah and his family are forced into exile
Islamic clerical opposition leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns from 14 years of exile in Iraq and France. The Islamic Republic of Iran is proclaimed following a referendum
Start of Iran-Iraq war, which lasts for eight years
US announces sweeping new sanctions against Iran, the toughest since it first imposed sanctions almost 30 years ago
After years of negotiations, world powers reach deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for lifting of international economic sanctions. The deal gives UN nuclear inspectors extensive but not automatic access to Iranian sites
President Trump announces the US withdrawal from the 2015 international deal on Iran's nuclear programme. Iran in turn warns that it will begin increasing its uranium enrichment capacity if the deal collapses as a result of the US move