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Iran

Where is it?:

In the Middle East, on the northern edge of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. To the east and northeast are borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. To the north is the Caspian sea. To the west is Iraq; to the northwest are smaller borders with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Across the Persian Gulf are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In U.S. land area comparison, the country is slightly smaller than Alaska. Iran rests on the both the gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, strategic position on a vital oil transportation route.

Capital:

Tehran, one of the largest cities in western Asia with a population of nearly 8.5 million, and the 32nd capital of Iran after a long history of relocations around the country. The region was home to people as far back as 6,000 B.C., as indicated by archaeological finds. Tehran was a village in the 9th century, and didn't become capital until 1795. The shahs in the 1920s and 30s instituted modern renovation projects in the city in which many historical buildings were destroyed. As a hub of migration in the 20th century, Tehran was left with many historical religious buildings of various faiths.

National symbols:

The Iranian flag has three horizontal bands, green, white and red, with a red Islamic emblem in the center white stripe, and the phrase "God is great" repeated along the borders with the color bands. The national food dish of Iran is chelow kabab, the official bird is the nightingale, and the official flowers are the tulip and the lotus. The lion is a national symbol.

Language:

Persian is the official language, spoken by 53 percent of the population, with Azeri, Turkic and Turkic dialects the next most common with 18 percent. Kurdish is spoken by 10 percent, Gilaki and Mazandarani at 7 percent, Luri at 6 percent, Balochi at 2 percent, and Arabic at 2 percent.

Population:

Nearly 78 million people live in Iran. The largest ethnic group is Persian, with 61 percent of the population, followed by Azeris (16 percent), Kurds (10 percent), and smaller percentages of Lur, Baloch, Arab, Turkmen and Turkic tribal peoples. The official religion is Islam, with 98 percent of the population Muslim and 89 percent of those being Shiite. Religious minorities include Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Baha'i. An estimated 60 percent of the population is under 30, a factor that has to led strength of recent opposition movements.

History:

Iran is home to some of the oldest civilization in the world, and first became an empire in 625 B.C. Through 633-644 the Muslim conquest of Persia occurred. The empire officially turned to Twelver Shiite Islam in the 16th century. The first parliament was established in 1906 within a constitutional monarchy. Iran was known as Persia until 1935. The 1979 Islamic Revolution sent the ruling monarchy -- the shah -- into exile and a theocracy was established with a Supreme Leader and other ruling clerics.

Economy:

The country heavily relies on oil subsidies, though Iran is a repeated target of international sanctions over its nuclear program that put this revenue stream at risk. Many highly educated workers seek employment in other countries, leading to a shortage of skilled labor in many sectors. The unemployment rate is estimated at over 13 percent.

Military:

The Islamic Republic of Iran Regular Forces includes ground, navy and air force; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps consists of ground, navy and air forces in addition to the Quds special-op forces and the law enforcement. The age of compulsory military service is 19, with an 18-month service obligation.

Type of government:

Iran is a theocratic republic, where all decisions can be overturned by the Supreme Leader, a cleric appointed by an Assembly of Experts. The voting age is 18, and are for the office of president and parliamentary posts. The Supreme Leader must approve the installation of a voted-in president.
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