After Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar defeated the last Zand ruler, he at the same year took Mashhad, which was at the time the residence of the last Afsharid king. In this way, he made himself master of the country and founder of the Qajar dynasty. Under his successors Fath Ali Shah, Mohammad Shah, and Naser al-Din Shah a degree of order and stability returned to the country. However, from the early 19th century on, the Qajars began to face pressure from two great world powers, Russia and Britain.
Britain’s interest in Iran arose from the need to protect trade routes to India, while Russia’s came from a desire to expand into Iranian territory from the north. In two disastrous wars with Russia, which ended with the Treaty of Golestan and the Treaty of Turkmenchay, Iran lost all its territories in the Caucasus north of the Aras River. Then, in the second half of the 19th century, Russia forced the Qajars to give up all claims to their territories in Central Asia. Meanwhile, Britain twice landed troops in Iran to prevent the Qajars from re-asserting a claim to Herat.
Under the Treaty of Paris, Iran ceded to Britain all the territories in present-day Afghanistan. The two great powers also controlled Iran’s internal affairs and trade. Naser al-Din Shah was the most capable of Qajar kings. Many of his reforms were carried out at the initiative of his efﬁcient prime minister, Amir Kabir. Naser al-Din Shah was assassinated in 1896 by a religious fanatic. His son, Mozaffar al-Din Shah, amiable, but afﬂicted by poor health, is famous for granting to his subjects the ﬁrst Constitution in the Middle East.
Upon Mozaffar al-Din Shah’s death, his son, Mohammad Ali Shah, ascended the throne of Persia. Displeased with the curtailment of his powers by the Majles (Parliament), he took the extreme step of bombing the Majles out of existence. As a result, many of the Iranian cities repudiated their allegiance to the Shah and rose in revolt. The Parliament was restored, and Mohammad Ali Was dethroned. In 1909 his son Ahmad was crowned. Meanwhile, Reza Khan staged a coup d’etat and took control of all the military forces. After the deposition of the last Qajar Shah, Reza Khan took the throne for himself and started to reign as Reza Shah Pahlavi, thus founding the last royal dynasty in Iran.
After this epoch and during the reign of Reza Shah, several reforms were instituted in an attempt to lay the basis of a modern state. Reza Shah initially enjoyed wide support, but some of his actions, such as taking away effective power from the Parliament, muzzling the press, and killing or exiling many of his former followers soon led to considerable dissatisfaction in the country. His sympathy for Hitler’s Germany in WWII occasioned an Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran. Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Mohammad Reza and was exiled to an island off the coast of ‘ Africa, where he died shortly afterward.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi faced the difﬁcult task of exercising his power over the large country. During his rule, his most important initiatives included land reform and a campaign against illiteracy. The country’s power structure was also radically changed as part of the program called the “White Revolution”.
Soon after the war, the Majles passed an act, introduced by Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq, nationalizing Iranian oil, and the British oil company withdrew. This successful government, however, was brought down in a coup staged at an American British initiative. The end of Mohammad Reza Shah’s reign was marked by strong collisions between the country’s clerical and secular powers. The arrest of Ayatollah Khomeini touched off public rioting. The rebellions were suppressed by force, and Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled.
From exile, he coordinated an upsurge of opposition, demanding the Shah’s abdication. Fifteen days before Ayatollah Khomeini’s return to Iran, the Shah fled the country. The Regency and Supreme Army Councils, which were established to govern in the Shah’s absence, proved unable to function, and the government headed by the Prime Minister, Shapour Bakhtiyar, could not control the country. Crowds of more than 1,000,000 demonstrated in Tehran in support of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Islamic Revolution and the national referendum that followed it proclaimed the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.