Since the 1979 Islamic fundamentalist revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Middle Eastern country of Iran has been the world’s largest theocracy.
Geography: High desert plateau with large salt pans in the east. West and north are mountainous. Coastal land bordering Caspian Sea is rainy and forested.
Climate: Desert climate. Hot summers, and bitterly cold winters. Area around the Caspian Sea is more temperate.
People and Society: Many ethnic groups, including Persians, Azaris (ethnically related to Azeris), and Kurds. Militant Shi’a Islamism has dominated since the 1979 revolution. The mullahs’ belief that adherence to religious values is more important than economic welfare has resulted in declining living standards. Female emancipation has been reversed. Student-backed demonstrations favoring greater liberalism have been suppressed.
The Economy: A leading oil producer: 80% of exports. Government restricts contact with the West, blocking acquisition of vital technology. High unemployment and inflation. Sizable black market.
Insight: More than a hundred offenses carry the death penalty
Official Name: Islamic Republic of Iran
Date of Formation: 1502
Population: 74.2 million
Total Area: 636,293 sq. miles (1,648,000 sq. km)
Density: 117 people per sq. mile
Languages: Farsi*, Azeri, Luri, Gilaki, Mazanderani, Kurdish, Turkmen, Arabic
Religions: Shi’a Muslim 93%, Sunni Muslim 6%, other 1%
Ethnic Mix: Persian 50%, Azari 24%, other 10%, Kurd 8%, Lur and Bakhtiari 8%
Government: Islamic theocracy
Currency: Iranian rial = 100 dinars