Iran has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism for its activities in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world and remains subject to US, UN, and EU economic sanctions and export controls because of its continued involvement in terrorism and its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The major cultural changes started during the reign of Fath Ali Shah (1797–1834), the second shah of Qajar dynasty, who spent his time attempting to change his tribal behavior and to bring it in line with the manners of the previous shahs of Iran. He commissioned palaces and mosques and their related artwork, such as their tiling, stone reliefs, murals, and paintings. Moreover, he recognized the chief values of government functionaries who had already worked for the Zand dynasty (1757-1794) and who were familiar with the ruling system in Iran; the monarch brought them to his court and gave them governmental positions.
Qajar shahs and aristocrats deeply believed in Europe’s superiority in civilization. As the leading patrons of schools and the educational system, they transferred such a belief to the people. The Qajar monarchs and aristocrats, therefore, focused their attention on European culture by visiting Europe, sending their sons and talented students there to study, opening European-style schools in Iran, hiring European teachers, importing new inventions, translating books, and even wearing European-style clothing, which became more fashionable after the time of Fath Ali Shah.
Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), ranks among the world's top four holders of both proven oil and natural gas reserves. In 2010, Iran was the third-largest exporter of crude oil globally after Saudi Arabia and Russia. However, falling production and increases in domestic consumption will continue to squeeze the volumes of oil available for export in recent years.
International sanctions enacted in the summer of 2010 have slowed progress across the energy sector, especially affecting upstream investment in both oil and natural gas projects. The United States, United Nations, the European Union, and a number of European and Asian countries have targeted the Iranian energy sector with sanctions of varying degrees of stringency. These have prompted a number of international energy companies to pull out of upstream projects. Sanctions have also impeded the import of refined products, prompting efforts to boost domestic production and curb rising demand in Iran.
More than half of Iran's 68 million people are Persian. Other ethnic groups include Azeri, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Kurd and Arab.
About 70 percent of Iran's population is under the age of 30.
Shi'iah Islam is Iran's national religion, practiced by 89 percent of the population. Sunni Muslims make up another 9 percent.
The major languages spoken in Iran include Persian (also known as Farsi) and Persian dialects, Kurdish, and Turkic and its dialects.
War between Iran and Iraq (1980–88), claimed by the former to have begun with the Iraqi offensive on 21 September 1980, and by the latter with the Iranian shelling of border posts on 4 September 1980. Occasioned by a boundary dispute over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, it fundamentally arose because of Saddam Hussein's fear of a weakening of his absolute power base in Iraq by Iran's encouragement of the Shiite majority in Iraq to rise against the Sunni government. An estimated 1 million people died in the war.
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who came to power in 1941, perpetuated a pattern of autocratic rule extending back to Cyrus the Great, whose Persian Empire reached its zenith in the sixth century B.C. Aided by the U.S., the shah initiated social and economic reforms financed by petroleum exports. His opponents reviled Westernization for tainting Iran's Islamic purity and cultural identity.
Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown and Shah Mohammad Reza PAHLAVI was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces established a theocratic system of government with ultimate political authority vested in a learned religious scholar referred to commonly as the Supreme Leader who, according to the constitution, is accountable only to the Assembly of Experts - a popularly elected 86-member body of clerics.
An estimated seven million Iranians have access to the Internet, which has been used to circumvent government censorship. In December 2003 a massive earthquake struck the southeastern city of Bam, killing more than 30,000 people.