Colonialism is closely connected to struggles for independence and freedom. History proves that every developing country experiences this phenomenon, resulting in large-scale internal conflicts. It shapes the political character of states. One of such examples is Iran. This country has a long history of different external strifes and wars, but the beginning of XX century became the determining period. Colonialism is an essential process of development; it shapes the country’s economic and political direction in the world. Iran’s geographical location did not contribute to open external interferences and preserved the state from global wars and conflicts. Nevertheless, it did not protect Iran from Russian and British, and later American, colonial interests. Two the most powerful countries of that period made Iran an arena for their direct and indirect confrontations. Although colonialism is a phenomenon of external interference, it contributes to powerful internal conflicts and shapes the political character of the country.


Colonialism became the key conclusive point in the political direction development against the background of competition of two most powerful phenomena – imperialism and national resistance. The social movements usually appear due to alien competition. The premise for these events was the emergence of two the most powerful countries on the global arena Russia and Britain. They protected their authority in the world, and the hegemony in Asia became their last challenge. The Iranian’s struggle for independence was faced with colonial pressure between the Anglo-Russian spheres of influence, which divided the country into the southern and northern confronting parts (Balaghi). The premises for external interference were quite uncomfortable. Iran was surrounded by two mounting systems in the geographical heart of Asia. However, it was not an obstacle for the colonization, as it was necessary for Russia and Britain to support their dominion in Asia. Thus, in 1907 the conflicting countries divided Iran into two parts (Balaghi). In addition, the internal political situation made the country weaker because of a national revolution, which caused additional premises for the colonization. Penny M. Sonnenburg insists that Iran has never been colonized formally, but Britain gained total control over the Iranian oil reserves (395). It was, actually, the primary reason for the colonization of the country in spite of the not-favorable conditions. The colonists consolidated their positions as a result of beneficial deals of the incompetent Iranian government, which was afraid of open military actions. However, it contributed to the development of internal political relations in general. Western influence and Russian socialism modernized the understanding of state system and changed the approach to the Islamic traditions. The events made the society advocate for reforms and insist on increasing the religious influence on state affairs. The shahs of Iran did not take any positive actions in direction of the colonists’ influence decrease. It resulted in active national movements and revolution, though Russia and Britain used Iran as an arena for political and ideological battles.

Russian interests in Iran

Although Russia and Britain had quite different interests in the colonization of Iran, Russia intended to penetrate the Persian Gulf as far as possible in order to get total hegemony in the sphere of economical and political relations. The biggest Russian intention was to exceed the areas colonized by Britain. However, even though Russian borders were physically closer to Iran, Iran bordered India – a colony of Britain (“Understanding the Iran-Contra”). Russia applied three different methods of influence for the implementation of the necessary goals – commercial, financial, and military. The colonizing country used the commercial monopoly program and controlled capital, and initiated the establishment of a special military structure – the Iranian Cossack Brigade. The shah’s power in Iran was not firm and he used the protection of Cossacks against national resistance. However, it gave an additional opportunity to Russia to strengthen its position with the help of colonists’ policies. Russia established strict monopoly on the trade railways. It was in Russian interests to prohibit the development of trade railways in Iran and obtain an absolute hegemony. The railway expansion caused mass national resistance and dissatisfaction. Besides, Russian colonialism had a quite aggressive character. The dissatisfaction transformed gradually into mass constitutional revolution. It was an attempt of the society to maintain their independence and reduce the pressure of colonization. However, as mentioned above, the character of Russian colonization was quite aggressive. With the help of British power, Russia broke all national intentions. The country applied military power when Iran refused to fulfill the ultimatum, which ultimately went against the independence of Iran (Balaghi). It was the first attempt of the society to get rid of the colonial status and attain absolute democratization. The brutal response of Russia broke the national spirit and caused widespread depression. Generally, Russia aimed at protecting the state interests, rejecting the Iranian rights. The British presence in Iran at that time was not as vivid as the Russian one.

British interests in Iran

Britain still had some influence on Iranian internal affairs, but its main interests were the strengthening of positions in India and the Persian Gulf. Consequently, Britain did not make aggressive interferences into the commercial system of the country, and the presence of Great Britain did not create any acute issues. However, powerful consolidation of the state in Iran was a step to the strengthening of imperialistic positions in India. In addition, Iran was some kind of a buffer zone between India and Britain and a certain strategic point of communication as it had an established telegraph system. The location of Iran was comfortable for commercial affairs, and Britain attained a tax immune status for the transit roads. The colonizing’ country was interested in the railway construction, just like Russia. In addition to it, Britain took a ruling place in the system of banking and mining. England achieved a certain concession on issuing a currency and organizing the National bank of Persia. However, the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company faced national resistance as the British oil dominion was the biggest problem for the national resource possession (Melvin and Sonnenburg 279). Although the British pressure was not as strict as Russian, the country applied a specific influence on the shah with the purpose of protecting their interests in a legislative way. The purpose was to attract the investors who were afraid of revolution. This open penetration of Britain into the Iranian economy provoked a collapse of the whole commercial system and caused a deep decay in all the spheres of national economy, as the colonists of the XX century tried to preserve their interests. Iran was a zone of imperialistic competition for the dominion in Asia. Nevertheless, the end of the World War II brought a new leader on the global arena – the USA.

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The USA interference

The US superpower position in the Middle East led to successful colonization of Iran. The struggle between USSR and the USA transformed into a powerful influence of communism and capitalism on Iran. However, Majid Mohammadi insisted that Iran had never been under the colonial rule, though the country had felt some influence of westernization (34). The biggest changes resulted from American and British interferences. In addition, the ruling of shah Reza was the beginning of new era of colonization since the shah was an open supporter of the pro-American political direction. His contribution to westernization and capitalistic ideology proclamation increased the power of the USA. However, it gave a strong impulse for the revolution ideology development and transformed into mass national resistance and dissatisfaction. The close relation of the shah with Americans bought him a powerful position in the world and undermined his influence in his native country. Actually, the American hegemony in the Middle East was the last period before the national revolution. Although the USA had quite a strong influence on Iran, the society was dissatisfied. The USA tried to achieve total oil dominion in Asia. Iran was a strategic point in this competition. However, the revolution and collapse of shah Reza’s power transformed the country of the western interests into an open anti-American state. The first step was a rejection of all the colonial rules and traditions. For instance, the authority of the country was not separated from religion. Thus, the revolution established old Islamic traditions. Religion and the state became inseparable notions in the aspect of internal and external Iranian policies.  It seemed that the colonial rules were completely destroyed, but the influence of the colonists was still obvious in the external and internal state affairs.

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The colonialism had a significant influence on the country’s development as it changed the social, political, and economic directions of the country. Colonialism became a key point in transforming Old Persian traditions into the modern Iranian political order. The country achieved some developments and modernization not only as a result of international western influences, but of social struggles against the phenomenon of colonialism. Revolution is an important part of national changes. Colonialism was an important part of those changes, though it was a period of decay and military pressure. The revolution and new authority deteriorated the relationships of western countries and the USA with Iran. The Islamic Republic was a destination of the postcolonial development. However, the authoritarian power of Khomeini had some elements of Russian influence. The brutal penetration of Russia and Britain caused a deep economic decay and brought the country to significant economic destruction. The colonialism had broken the national banking and business systems. The penetration of alien trade firms and companies did not leave a space for the national trade system development and made Iranian businessmen cooperate with the international investors in order to survive. The colonialism was a significant step in the development of contemporary political and economic life. External interference caused serious internal conflicts, which resulted in constitutional revolution and changed the political and commercial character of the country. Nevertheless, the colonialism in Iran was one of the hardest periods for the country, especially at the beginning of the XX century.

Thus, the external interference of the most powerful countries during the XX century transformed into colonialism in Iran. It caused many destructive issues and collapsed the national economy. However, it provoked the development of a new political direction and helped to attain a new status. Every instance of colonialism ended in revolution and provoked the transformation of state order. Iran experienced those transformations and achieved an oppositional Islamic regime in response to the colonial countries’ pressure. Actually, the influence of Russia, Britain, and the USA was the biggest. The purpose of colonialism was the extension of the imperialistic position in the Middle East and India and getting oil dominion. The super powerful countries tried to gain hegemony in political, commercial, and financial affairs. Although Iran experienced the hardest period of colonialism, it contributed to further economic, social, and political development of the country with elements of some westernization. Additionally, it helped Iran to establish the independent Islamic Republic.

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