Timeline: Iran Since The 1979 Islamic Revolution

Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative former judiciary chief, was elected president in June 2021, in a vote marked by low turnout.

Iran on the Map


Iran on Monday announced the death of president Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in a helicopter crash.

Here are landmark events in the history of the country since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established an Islamic republic.

1979: Islamic republic

After months of protests against his rule, on January 16, 1979, the US-backed shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, leaves the country.

Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini makes a triumphant return from exile in Paris on February 1.

Ten days later, the shah’s government falls. Public radio hails “the end of 2,500 years of despotism”.

An Islamic republic is proclaimed on April 1.

1979-81: US hostage crisis

Students backing Khomeini take 52 Americans hostage at the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, to protest the ex-shah’s admission to hospital in the United States.

Washington severs diplomatic relations in 1980. The hostages are only freed on January 20, 1981.

1980-88: Iran-Iraq war

Iraq attacks Iran on September 22, 1980, after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein tears up a 1975 treaty on the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway.

This triggers a gruelling eight-year war that is estimated to have cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides.

It ends on August 20, 1988 with a UN-brokered ceasefire.

1989: Salman Rushdie fatwa

Khomeini issues a religious edict, or fatwa, on February 14, 1989, calling for the death of author Salman Rushdie for what the supreme leader deemed the blasphemous nature of his book “The Satanic Verses”.

Rushdie spends years in hiding. More than three decades later, in August 2022, he is seriously wounded in a stabbing on stage at an event in New York.

1989: Khamenei takes over

Khomeini dies on June 3, 1989. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, president since 1981, becomes supreme leader.

Moderate conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is elected president weeks later.

Re-elected in 1993, Rafsanjani orchestrates a relative opening up of the government and post-war reconstruction.

1999: Student protests

Rafsanjani’s reformist successor, Mohammad Khatami, runs up against conservative opposition during his two terms from 1997 to 2005.

In 1999, the government faces the biggest protests since 1979, pitting pro-Khatami students against the police.

2002: ‘Axis of evil’

In the aftermath of the September 11 attack, US president George W. Bush names Iran as part of an anti-American “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea, accusing Tehran of supporting terrorism.

2005: Ahmadinejad era

Populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected president in June 2005.

During his tenure, Iran resumes uranium enrichment, which it had agreed to freeze previously. That alarms Western powers which suspect Tehran of wanting to produce a nuclear weapon, something Iran has consistently denied.

A crackdown on nationwide protests against Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009 hobbles the reformist movement.

2015: Landmark nuclear deal

The election of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani as president in 2013 marks a warming of relations with the West.

Iran reaches a deal on its nuclear programme with world powers, including the United States, on July 14, 2015 after 21 months of negotiations.

It gives Tehran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its atomic activities.

2018: US quits nuclear deal

US president Donald Trump on May 8 abandons the nuclear deal and begins reimposing unilateral sanctions on Iran.

A year later Tehran begins gradually stepping back from its own commitments. Negotiations in 2021-2022 to revive the deal repeatedly stumble.

2019: Mass protests

A petrol price hike in November 2019 sparks major protests.

A crackdown on demonstrations across Iran leaves 304 people dead, according to Amnesty International.

2020: Top Guards commander killed

A US drone strike on January 3, 2020 kills top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq.

Five days later, Iran launches a volley of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but the standoff later eases.

In November, top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is killed in an attack on his car near Tehran. Iran blames the killing on Israel.

2021: Ultraconservative president

Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative former judiciary chief, is elected president in June 2021, in a vote marked by low turnout.

2022: Hijab protests

Mahsa Amini, 22, dies in police custody in September 2022 after her arrest in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules for women.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, are killed as authorities crack down on women-led street protests across the country.

2023: Saudi normalisation

Saudi Arabia and Iran announce in March 2023 a surprise Chinese-brokered rapprochement and restore diplomatic ties after a seven-year rupture.

The diplomatic crisis between the two regional heavyweights was sparked by the 2016 execution in Saudi Arabia of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr which triggered attacks Iranian protesters on the kingdom’s diplomatic missions.

2024: Israel attack

With regional tensions soaring months into the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, Iran on April 13 launches its first-ever direct attack on arch foe Israel.

It came in retaliation for an earlier air strike widely blamed on Israel that levelled Tehran’s Damascus consulate and killed two Revolutionary Guards generals.

Most Iranian drones and missiles are intercepted with help from Israeli allies and partners including the United States.

Raisi dies

The Iranian government announces on May 20 the death of Raisi, foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and others in a helicopter crash a day earlier in Iran’s northwest.

Mohammad Mokhber, Iran’s first vice president, is appointed Raisi’s interim successor, with elections to be held within 50 days.