After World War I, Reza Khan, a military officer riding a wave of nationalism and backed by Britain, seizes power from King Ahmad Shah. Reza Khan, shown here, is crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1926 and initiates reforms easing social restrictions on women, building the Trans-Iranian Railway and shoring up the nation's finances. The country also drops the name Persia in favor of the local name Iran. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, succeeds him as shah in 1941, and continues his efforts to modernize the country.
Succeeding his father, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, here with his third wife, Farah Pahlavi, and their two children, intensifies modernization efforts. But economic turbulence, Cold War politics and disaffection among religious clerics also increase. With backing from the United States, the shah launches a massive industrial and military buildup. But corruption, inflation and a growing disparity in wealth fuel discontent. At the same time, the shah's increasingly dictatorial style and the brutal tactics of his secret police intensify resentment toward the government and spark protests.
Conservative religious leaders begin a protest movement aimed at the elite. The movement spreads and evolves into violent attacks on the shah's regime and Western culture. The movement is further radicalized on Black Friday, Sept. 8, when government troops fire into a crowd of demonstrators and kill scores. Demands for a democratic Islamic state grow. Movement leaders call for the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a religious and political radical exiled in Paris.
The shah, announcing a brief vacation, leaves Iran and hands over governance to a moderate party, sparking celebrations throughout the country. Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Tehran from Paris to a rapturous welcome from millions of Iranians. Within weeks, his movement topples the new government. Although he talked about democracy while he was in exile, Khomeini establishes a strict theocracy led by Muslim clerics. "Revolutionary courts" mete out summary justice to former officials and pass measures to nationalize much of the economy. The Islamic Republic of Iran is established on April 1.
Iranian students occupy the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and take 66 Americans hostage. They demand the extradition of the shah, who is in the U.S. for cancer treatment. U.S. President Carter orders banks to freeze billions in Iranian assets. In April 1980, the U.S. secretly lands troops in Iran to rescue the hostages. The mission ends in disaster after a helicopter and a transport aircraft collide, killing eight U.S. soldiers. The hostages are finally freed, but the failed rescue effort damages Carter's re-election bid and the crisis mars U.S. attitudes toward Iran for decades.
Iraq invades Iran following border skirmishes and amid a dispute over a key waterway, beginning a bloody eight-year war. Washington and Moscow vow to halt arms sales to Iran and Iraq. But officials in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's administration orchestrate secret arms sales to Tehran, in part to fund anti-communist guerrillas in Nicaragua. This scandal becomes known as the Iran-Contra affair. In 1988, Iran accepts a cease-fire with Iraq. Estimates of the number of war dead range up to 1.5 million, and both sides keep thousands of prisoners of war. A final exchange of POWs occurs in 2003.
The U.S. cruiser Vincennes shoots down an Iranian Airbus airliner in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people. Naval authorities say the crew of the Vincennes, part of a force escorting oil tankers in the area, mistook the airliner for an attacking Iranian F-14 fighter, and U.S. investigators clear the ship's officers. The incident draws vows of revenge from Iranian extremists and condemnation from moderates. Here, Iranians view caskets of the Iranian dead.
The death of Ayatollah Khomeini's opened the way for gradual moderation in Iran's domestic and foreign policies. Shown here is the frenzied mourning that accompanied the ayatollah's funeral procession, during which the crowd broke open the casket. President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wealthy businessman who also has political and religious connections, leads the country for nearly a decade. He introduces economic reforms, but maintains Iran's distance from the West.
In 1997, Mohammad Khatami, shown on posters, is overwhelmingly elected president with strong support from young people and women. He makes symbolic changes, such as naming the first woman to a Cabinet position since 1979. U.S.-Iranian tensions begin to wane and Washington eases some sanctions and restrictions on Iran, trying to bolster reformers. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on U.S. targets, Iran vows to aid in the war on terror. Khatami wins a second term in 2001, but his presidency is marked by a difficult struggle with religious conservatives.
As Iranian moderates and conservative Islamists struggle for political supremacy, the administration of newly elected U.S. President George W.Bush takes a harder line toward Tehran. Skeptical of the prospects for gradual reform in Iran, the White House releases statements urging Iranians to change their government. Then, in January 2002, President Bush brands Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil," claiming that all three are pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror. The U.S. posture sparks a backlash on the streets of Iran, bolstering nationalism and undermining the progress of moderates.
Suspicions surface about Iran's nuclear program. Tehran insists it is a purely civilian pursuit, but satellite images and other intelligence suggest it also is pursuing nuclear weapons. EU negotiators press for more extensive inspections of Iran's facilities in return for economic and political perks, but they encounter growing Iranian intransigence. In 2005, hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumes the Iranian presidency and vows irreversible resumption of uranium enrichment. Negotiations falter, prompting the U.N. Security Council in late 2006 to approve targeted sanctions against Iran.
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the issue of Iran in his first primetime news conference, saying it’s important to engage in “direct diplomacy.” But tensions still run high between Tehran and Washington. Iranian students tear up a picture of the president-elect on his inauguration day. Yet there are hints of a more conciliatory attitude from Iran’s government, with Ahmadinejad telling a rally that his country is ready for dialogue, provided talks are based on mutual respect.
Former Iranian prime minister and presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi greets supporters during a campaign rally at Enghelab stadium, west of Tehran, on June 6. Mousavi, a moderate, emerged as the main challenger to hardline Ahmadinejad, who sought a second term in office.
Thousands of supporters of Ahmadinejad wave flags during a massive rally on June 14 after the government said he won re-election.
Tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Mousavi stage days of demonstrations. Islamic leaders promise a limited recount after five days of protests. Authorities ban foreign news reporting from the streets, making it difficult for Western media to confirm many reports, including attacks on demonstrators by a state-backed militia. Here, protesters carry the body of a man allegedly shot by the militia on June 15.