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Historical Context

Look at the clip below showing the historical context of Persepolis.

Video clip of historical context of Persepolis

Listen to Dr Lina Khatib discuss the context behind the clip.

(pdf transcript)

Timeline of Events

1. Marji's Grandfather is mentioned, 'He had royal blood. He was a Qajar Prince'. What does this mean?

This means that he belonged to the Qajar dynasty which ruled Iran from the late 18th century until the early 20th century.

2. In the clip we see two rulers who was the first Shah and when did he rule from?

The first Shah was the one who ended the Qajar dynasty. His name was Reza Khan. He was an army officer who staged a coup d'etat against the Qajars in 1921, and subsequently came to be known as Reza Shah.

3. During this clip we see the influence of the British on the future Shah, what influence did the British have in Iran? How long did this last?

The British backed Reza Khan in his coup d'etat. They had taken control of southern Iran for several years prior to the coup in a power struggle with Russia over Iranian territory. This was driven by interest in Iran's assets, including its strategic geographical position and oil. Britain occupied part of Iran during World War I, and did not stop official control of the country until it signed the Tehran Declaration in 1943 with Russia and the USA, accepting Iran's independence. But unofficial British influence continued as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (which later became British Petroleum) remained in charge of Iran's oil. This control ended when oil production in Iran was nationalised in 1951.

4. Who was the second Shah and when did he rule from?

The second Shah was the son of the first Shah. His name was Mohammed Reza and he started ruling in 1941 as the British and the Russians had forced his father to abdicate due to Reza Shah's support of Nazi Germany during World War II.

5. What are the differences between the ways the Shahs ruled Iran?

Both Shahs were interested in modernising Iran. Mohammed Reza carried on some of the incentives started by his father, such as improving health, literacy and industry infrastructures. But while the first Shah ruled under British and Russian control, the second Shah ruled an independent Iran that was closely affiliated with the West. The second Shah had more actual control over Iran than his father, and utilised this to silence his opponents. His opponents included both communists and the religious right affiliated with the clergy. There were therefore around 3000 political prisoners by the time his rule came to an end.

6. What was the 'White Revolution'? Its aims, outcomes and successes?

The White Revolution was known as such because it was a bloodless revolution that started in 1963. It was a series of actions taken by the second Shah to modernise Iran socially and economically. Its aims included eliminating illiteracy; emancipating women; land reforms that seized land from elites and distributed them among Iranian peasants; and electoral reforms that gave election rights to non-Muslims. Some of its successes were the gaining of the right to vote by women; the nationalisation of water resources; and making school education free and compulsory. One of its important outcomes was a reduction in the powers of the Muslim clergy, who criticised some of its measures like the extra rights given to women.

7. What was life like for ordinary people at this time?

Life for ordinary people at this time was contradictory: on one hand, they were enjoying living in a country that was being rapidly modernised. The arts were thriving and people could wear the latest fashions. Some roads in Tehran were being modelled after French ones, with elegant tree-lined boulevards. On the other hand, people were in fear of the Shah's secret police, the SAVAK, which could arrest them at any time if they spoke against him. Some religious people also were uncomfortable with the Shah's stance towards the clergy.

8. When did the Iran/Iraq war start?

In 1980 by an attack by Iraq on Iran.

9. What are the major factors that led to this conflict?

Iraq thought it was taking advantage of instability in Iran during the early days of a new state undergoing revolution. The main two reasons for the attack are border disputes between the two countries, and Iraq's fear that the rise of an Islamic state in Iran would encourage an insurgency by the Muslim Shiite majority in Iraq who had been suppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime, as he was the president of Iraq at the time.

10. When did it finish?

In 1988.

11. What was life like for ordinary people at this time?

Life was difficult for ordinary people. 87 Iranian cities were bombed, and thousands of people were killed. The economy underwent further decline. Many people lost their jobs and loved ones, or were forced to leave their homes.