First off, Iran/Persia (the two are interchangeable) is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, going back 4,800 years. It has a current population of about 75 million and is almost 1,650,000 square miles in size (18th in the world). Although there are a number of languages, Persian/Farsi (also interchangeable) is the major language. The word “Iran” in Farsi means “Land of the Aryans,” emphasizing that the overwhelming majority of Iranians descended from Caucasian stock, and northern Iran is considered part of the Caucasus Region, along with part of Russia and numerous other countries. Iran is a strategic country, which shared borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Turkey. As a country with a border on the Caspian Sea, you could say it also shares seaside borders with Kazakhstan and Russia.
We skip ahead to 1941, when Britain and the USSR deposed Reza Kahn and installed a puppet, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in order to secure access to Iranian oil and a new trans-Iranian railway. Pahlavi’s Prime Minister negotiated a sweetheart deal with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (originally called APOC, and now called BP – British Petroleum). The AIOC was the latest holder of a sequence of ever-more-profitable exploitative deals going back as far as 1901, made under duress to the Brits.
By 1951, AIOC was collecting almost 85% of the profits on Iranian oil, with Iran getting just over 15%. Iranian oil workers were forced to live in mud huts with no running water or electricity and were paid 50 cents a day. (Compare to American-owned ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia, which split profits 50-50 with the Saudies.
In 1951, the desperate and outraged Iranians formed a parliamentary democracy and elected Dr. Mohammed Mosaddegh as Prime Minister. Their congress, the Majlis, voted overwhelmingly to cancel the deal with AIOC and nationalize their only seriously valuable natural resource. The British responded by pressuring and coercing foreign countries not to buy Iranian oil, also warning tanker owners that “the receipts from the Iranian government would not be accepted in the world market” [Iran Between Two Revolutions, by Ervand Abrahamian, 1981].
Prime Minister Churchill tried to get President Truman to join in a coup-d’etat to put their puppet, Mohammed Resa Pahlavi back on the Peacock Throne as Shah and absolute monarch (in exchange for Pahlavi rescinding the nationalization reinstating the AIOC deal).
Truman declined, but a year later, the new President, Dwight D. Eisenhower (or, more likely the Dulles brothers, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA chief Allan Dulles authorized joining the British in Operation TPAJAX Project, the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh and the return to absolute monarchy. Kermit Roosevelt, a CIA political action officer, led the U.S. effort. During the overthrow, the CIA paid mobs of the most violent mobsters, street thugs, the clergy, and army to stage a pro-Shah riot on August 19, 1953, toppling the government.
Shah Pahlavi ruled as monarch for the next 26 years, using his CIA trained and financed SAVAK secret police to arrest, torture, and execute anybody who publicly criticized or opposed him. By 1979, all moderate opposition to the Shah and SAVAK had been silenced or eliminated, and the only opposition was the radical clergy, led by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been exiled to France. By now, almost the entire population of Iran blamed the Shah’s brutal rule on America and Britain, and, when moderate opposition is suppressed, the only place to turn is radical opposition – namely, Khomeini. The revolution began in January 1978 and ended 13 months later. In December of 1979, the country approved a new Islamic constitution making Khomeini Supreme Leader (one month after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy by “student protesters.”
Under Khomeini, mass arrests, torture, and murders of opponents continued, and, after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1989, leading to almost a decade of death and bloodshed, by the 1990′s, the Iranian public was disillusioned with the Islamic State. They first elected a moderately reformist President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who favored a pro-business policy to strengthen the economy, and then in 1997, Mohammad Khatami, who served until 2005 advocating “freedom of expression, tolerance and civil society, constructive diplomatic relations with other states including European Union and Asian governments, and an economic policy that supported free market and foreign investment.” [Source: Wikipedia]. He had limited success, having to fight the clerics every step, but each step moved Iran a little further from the clerics’ rule and toward freedom. Iranians began looking to the United States, no as an enemy, but an ally in forging a democracy.
This was the state of Iran on September 11, 2001. Ironically, as the capitals of Arab countries were filled with joyous crowds celebrating the Islamic “victory,” all over Iran, silent mourners came out into the streets with lit candles to hold vigils of mourning for the victims of 9/11. [see Photos of Iranians in Mohseni Square - the text is Arabic, but there are a series of photos of one of the vigils, and a description is included an English].
Even as U.S. and Iranian diplomatic and military officials were conducting numerous secret talks before and after 9/11, President George W. Bush made his “Axis of Evil,” speech on January 29, 2002, less than six months after 9/11. Bush labeled Iraq, North Korea, and Iran as the axis of evil, making belligerant war-like statements addressed to all three countries.
Iran was included primarily because it was listed as a funder of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Ironically, in all of the Islamic world, the largest funder of Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda, and all other fundamentalist jihadi groups has been Saudi Arabia, which is also the overwhelming source of anti-Jewish and anti-Christian materials in children’s books, school books (which teach that Jews are apes and Christians are pigs) , television series, and numerous publications.
By the way, Iran still officially recognizes four religions; Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism. In the Iranian Assembly election of 2012, 5 Armenians, 4 Assyrian and Chaldean Catholics, 3 Jews, (a two-seat gain from 2008) and 2 Zoroastrians won seats.
Although Iran still had a reformist in pro-west President Khatami, the civilian portion of the Iranian government and the pro-democracy forces in Iran felt betrayed by Bush. Then, in 2003, when Bush invaded the first of the three Axis of Evil countries, Iraq, the Iranians got the clear message that, on any pretext, they’d be next. And, so, they turned away from the pro-democracy movement and voted in hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and over a decade of building a pro-democracy movement came to an end. Since the rigged elections in 2009 and 2011, a new resistance has formed, the “Green Movement,” but, though it is primarily democratic, it is no longer pro-American.