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Iranian imperialism

From EverybodyWiki Bios & Wiki

Map of the Achaemenid Empire.
Evolution of the Sasanian Empire.
Extent of the Seljuk Empire.
Extent of the Safavid Empire.
Modern Iran.

Iranian imperialism or Persian imperialism is one of the main core figure of the history in West Asia/Middle East. The history of Iran has largely been defined from the root of its ancient expansion and territorial ambitions. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iranian imperialism is one of the main core subjects of wary in the region and discussion from abroad.


Early Iranian Empires[edit]

Iran is the home to one of the earliest civilizations on earth, and the Iranians, from its heartland in Iranian plateau, moved beyond its plateau to develop one of the world's first statehood.[1] As with any ancient nations at the time, territorial expansion was not ruled out. The Achaemenid Empire, founded by the legendary Cyrus the Great, was recognized as the first Persian Empire, conquered a mass amount of land ranged from modern-day Central Asia, northern India and Pakistan, to further Egypt, defeating various tribes and opposing nations.[2] Culturally, the Persians were instrumental on the development and spread of Zoroastrianism.[3] Cyrus was also recognized as the first Emperor in the world to announce the universal declaration of human rights and his universal respects of different cultures, which continues to have a significant impact in later history of Iran and the rest of the world.[4]

The Parthian Empire embarked on a much larger scale of military reconquest following the fall of the Achaemenid and managed to retain large control of what Cyrus achieved, albeit losing Egypt. This was continued by the Sasanian Empire, which managed to revive the lost influence of the Achaemenid and, became the greatest Persian empires in the antiquity before the Islamic conquest.[5] The Muslim conquest of Persia was considered to be the end of ancient Persian Golden Age, and beginning of Iran's dark age under Arab and Islamic subjugation, thus halted Persian imperialism.[6]

Medieval Iranian Empires[edit]

Following the decline of the Arab power and experienced revival of Persian culture by Ferdowsi, several medieval empires based in Iran was founded after Iran survived from the horrendous Arab persecution.[7] The Seljuk Empire was a Turko-Persian empire which managed to extend beyond the Iranian boundary to further Anatolia, capturing many modern-day Gulf Arab territories and conquered Central Asia, serving for survival of the Seljuk Turks to finally found the eventual Ottoman Empire.[8] After the fall of Seljuk Empire, the Khwarazmian Empire lost Anatolia and much of Arabian peninsula, but was able to hold Central Asia into its territory before being absorbed into the Mongol Empire, which inherited Persian cultures and customs.[9]

Following the collapse of Mongol Empire, the Safavid Empire was established. The Safavids became the first fully-established Persian Empire after the end of Mongol rule, but it was also the first empire to establish back Iran as a major power without Turkic or Arab influence.[10] Although of Turkic origin itself, the Safavids gradually developed and Persianized, abandoning its Turkic identity and regarding itself Persians and started the process of imposing Shia Islam and persecuting Sunnis, thus gave the rise of an indigenous Iranian Empire with a different background and served as a pretext for the eventual evolution of Iranian identity.[11] During that time, Safavid Iran managed to expand back to Central Asia, Afghanistan, northern India and frequently clashed with the Ottoman Empire over vying control for the Levant; meanwhile Safavids also managed to conquer a small amount of territory in the Arabian peninsula, mostly bordering the sea.[12][13] Despite collapse in 1736, the effect of the Safavid Iranians continues to be felt today.

Since the fall of Safavid Empire, the Qajar Empire had a harder time to maintain territorial gains, thus marked the decline of Persian imperialism. Although the Ottoman Empire had weakened, Qajar Iran had to face the increasingly powerful Russian Empire from the north, led to several Russo-Persian Wars that led to the despise against Russia among Persian rulers.[14] Qajar lost a number of territories in Central Asia and today's South Caucasus. Despite these losses, Qajar Iran was still able to keep on its remaining territories despite pressure from the Russian Empire and internal conflicts, thus laying the foundation of the modern boundary of Iran.[15]

Early modern Iranian imperialism[edit]

Since the fall of Qajar Empire in 20th century, the Pahlavi dynasty was founded, and had also stopped its desire to expand the territory in accordance to building a peaceful modern territorial border and to avoid unnecessary conflicts. Up until 1979, the Pahlavi Iran only tried to focus on establishing good relations with neighbors while forming alliance with the West to deter growing Soviet Union's communism.[16][17]

Since 1979[edit]

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution broke out, toppling the Iranian monarchy and, instead, installed an Islamic clergy into the nation and found the modern Islamic Republic of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had announced attention to export the Islamic Revolution.[18] In this extent, it is widely seen as the return of imperialism by Iran by covert religious activities.

Middle East[edit]

Since 1980s, Iran has slowly worked in order to exert its influence in the Arab world. This has impacted on Iran's relations with the Arab nations, due to Iran's open ambitions to expand influence. This was often followed with religious imperialism and ambitions, such as Hezbollah and Iranian proxies serving for Tehran's interests across Iraq, Syria and even as far as Sudan. Thanked for the rhetoric words fueled with anti-Israeli sentiment, anti-Western sentiment and anti-Zionism, it had provided the Iranian government's power to exert control.[19] This has only faced recent challenges for the secularist forces in the Arab world that participated in the protest against corruption and Iranian control, which protests in Iraq, Lebanon and increasing political instability in Syria served as examples.[20][21]

Iran also has conflict in territorial claims over Bahrain, a small Gulf nation with majority speak Arabic language. The government of Bahrain long sees Iran as trying to encourage Shiites to revolt against Bahraini Royal family, which is Sunni-dominated, in order to grab influence in Bahrain and directly control the island.[22]


Iran has been accused of fomenting pro-Iranian forces to destabilize Azerbaijan, the Turkic country in the Caucasus. The root could be traced from 1945, when the Soviet-backed Azerbaijan Democratic Party called for unity between then-Soviet Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan to counter Iranian imperialism.[23] This view has inherited into the modern Azerbaijani society, where Iran is often being seen for having imperialistic ambitions against Azerbaijan.[24] Further complicated the issues, Iran-backed groups have been omnipresent within Azerbaijan, often advocates the idea of Azerbaijan being unified back to Iran and assimilated into mainstream Iranian identity.[25]

Outside territorial ambitions and conflicts, Azerbaijan also accuses Iran of helping Armenia despite Iranian attempt to plead for mediation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[26]

Pakistan and Afghanistan[edit]

Iran is accused of trying to demonstrate its ambition to influence two countries throughout the Shi'a proxies, even Shiite population is just the minority in both countries. Iran has been using Shiites to provide a significant imbalance in relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, hoping to exert influence and control over these countries, despite Islamic Iran's rhetoric anti-imperialist tones.[27][28]


Iran developed a friendly relationship with Omar al-Bashir's Sudan until 2015, and, for two decades, have frequently been used by Iran in hope of exporting Shi'a radicalism in fomenting Iran's political Islamism.[29] The ousting of Omar al-Bashir was expected to give some hope for Iran to re-establish back foothold, although it is considered slim due to strong opposition from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.[30]

Outside Sudan, Iran also developed a close tie to Algeria. Moroccan officials viewed Iran as a major threat due to its support for Polisario as an attempt by Iran to expand influence and threaten Morocco's backyard.[31]


Iran has attempted to expand its control beyond the limit of Middle East and Africa. In 1990s, following the Bosnian War, Iran provided to Sunni Bosniaks significant number of lethal arms and sent fighters to assist the Bosniaks, including Hezbollah fighters.[32] As for the result, Bosniaks developed a pro-Iranian attitude, the most among all Sunni population in Europe, and have embraced Iranian activities in the Balkans which was deemed to be Iranian imperialist movement.[33][34]

Iran has lesser success in Albania, another majority Muslim-dominated country, largely unlike Bosnia, Albania embraced a secular ideology which conflicted with Iran's grandeur interests. This was intensified when Albania broke down a massive Iranian network trying to instigate attacks against exiled Iranians in 2020, resulting with the expulsion of Iranian officials by Albanian government.[35][36]

Different interpretation of Iranian imperialism[edit]

Iranian imperialism has been largely differed by varieties of interpretation, due to its distinguished history and its impact on social development.


Iranian imperialism and its historical impacts have been widely celebrated by historians from outside the Arab World, many see the expansion of Iranian Empires as a major historical achievement, and also, due to its universal respect to human rights, and also by its distinguished history of developments on respective arenas.[37] Thus, unlike the case of other imperialism like Chinese, European and American ones, Iranian imperialism have largely escaped from being demonized and antagonized due to the historic pride and possessing rich cultural heritage, which is widely perceived due to lack of academic research.[38][39]


Iranian imperialism and its historic ambitions, alongside with modern conflicts owning by the Islamic government ruling Iran, have intensified the growth of anti-Iranian sentiment, especially strong in the Arab world, in accusation that Iran has attempted to subdue and conquer Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.[40] Outside the Levant, Iranian ambitions had also faced significant opposition in the Gulf Arab monarchies.[41]

Anti-Iranian sentiment is also strong in Azerbaijan, due to accusation of Iran's meddling into Azerbaijan's secular system and restless attempts to remove Azerbaijani government.[42]


  1. "Persian Civilization". December 17, 2013.
  2. "The Achaemenid Empire | World Civilization".
  3. "Zoroastrianism: An Obscure Persian Religion that Changed the World".
  4. "History of Natural Law & Basic Freedoms, Cyrus the Great". United for Human Rights.
  5. Amiri, Sajad (May 26, 2016). "The Parthian and Early Sasanian Empires: Adaptation and Expansion".
  7. "2020: Millennium of Persian Poet Ferdowsi".
  8. "1090–1120 The Seljuk Era".
  9. "Expansion Throughout Central and Western Asia | World Civilization".
  10. Alireza Shapur Shahbazi (2005), "The History of the Idea of Iran", in Vesta Curtis ed., Birth of the Persian Empire, IB Tauris, London, p. 108: "Similarly the collapse of Sassanian Eranshahr in AD 650 did not end Iranians' national idea. The name "Iran" disappeared from official records of the Saffarids, Samanids, Buyids, Saljuqs and their successor. But one unofficially used the name Iran, Eranshahr, and similar national designations, particularly Mamalek-e Iran or "Iranian lands", which exactly translated the old Avestan term Ariyanam Daihunam. On the other hand, when the Safavids (not Reza Shah, as is popularly assumed) revived a national state officially known as Iran, bureaucratic usage in the Ottoman empire and even Iran itself could still refer to it by other descriptive and traditional appellations".
  11. "History of Iran: Safavid Empire 1502 - 1736".
  12. "State Building, Expansion and Conflict - Safavid empire".
  14. Amanat, Abbas (1993). ""Russian Intrusion into the Guarded Domain": Reflections of a Qajar Statesman on European Expansion". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 113 (1): 35–56. doi:10.2307/604195. JSTOR 604195 – via JSTOR.
  16. Faghfoory, Mohammad H. (1986). "Reviewed work: The Soviet Union and Iran: Soviet Policy in Iran from the Beginning of the Pahlavi Dynasty until the Soviet Invasion of Iran in 1941, Miron Rezun". Iranian Studies. 19 (2): 193–195. JSTOR 4310530.
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  19. Feltman, Jeffrey (January 17, 2019). "Hezbollah: Revolutionary Iran's most successful export".
  20. "Iran and Its Proxies Face the Costs of Imperialism". Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. November 25, 2019.
  21. Board, Post Editorial (December 8, 2019). "Revolting against Iran's imperialism".
  22. "Iran and Bahrain: Ancient Ambitions, New Tactics". Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. March 7, 2018.
  23. Soleimani Amiri, Mohammad (June 9, 2020). "Azerbaijan Democratic Party: Ups and Downs (1945-1946)". Revista Humanidades. 10 (1): 156–168. doi:10.15517/h.v10i1.39936 – via SciELO.
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  29. Makinda, Samuel M. (1993). "Iran, Sudan and Islam". The World Today. 49 (6): 108–111. JSTOR 40396511 – via JSTOR.
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  31. "Iran's Involvement in the Western Sahara". JISS. September 4, 2018.
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  33. Bardos, Gordon N. (2013). "IRAN IN THE BALKANS: A History and a Forecast". World Affairs. 175 (5): 59–66. JSTOR 43554740 – via JSTOR.
  34. "People of Bosnia and Herzegovina express solidarity with Iranian people".
  35. "Albania reveals it has discovered an Iranian paramilitary network". Al Arabiya English. October 23, 2019.
  36. "Between Tirana and Tehran".
  37. Adhikari, Saugat (October 8, 2018). "Top 10 Inventions and Discoveries of Persian Civilization".
  38. "A History of Imperialism in Iran". ArcGIS StoryMaps.
  39. "Why Are Academics Ignoring Iran's Colonialism?". December 27, 2019.
  40. "Let's stop pretending Iran is anything but an imperialist power". Let’s stop pretending Iran is anything but an imperialist power.
  41. "The Return of Imperialism: The Islamic Republic of Iran". Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. April 4, 2018.
  42. "Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Hit the Rocks Over Iranian Meddling in Azerbaijani Internal Affairs". Middle East Institute.

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