Khuzestan Province (Persian: استان خوزستان, Ostān-e Khūzestān) ، is one of the 31 provinces of Iran. It is in the southwest of the country, bordering Iraq's Basra Province and the Persian Gulf. Its capital is Ahvaz and covers an area of 63,238 km². Other major cities include Behbahan, Abadan, Andimeshk, Khorramshahr, Bandar Imam, Dezful, Shushtar, Omidiyeh, Izeh, Baq-e-Malek, Mah Shahr, Susangerd, Ramhormoz, Shadegan, Susa, Masjed Soleiman, Minoo Island and Hoveizeh.
As the most ancient Iranian province, it is often referred to as the "birthplace of the nation," as this is where the history of the Persian Empire begins. Historically, Khuzestan is what historians refer to as ancient Elam, whose capital was in Susa. The Achaemenid Old Persian term for Elam was Hujiyā, which is present in the modern name. Khuzestan, meaning "the Land of the Khuz" refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the "Susian" people (Old Persian "Huza" or Huja (as in the inscription at the tomb of Darius the Great at Naqsh-e Rostam, (the Shushan of the Hebrew sources) where it is recorded as inscription as "Hauja" or "Huja"). This is in conformity with the same evolutionary process where the Old Persian changed the name Sindh into Hind/Hindustan. In Middle Persian the term evolves into "Khuz" and "Kuzi". The pre-Islamic Partho-Sasanian Inscriptions gives the name of the province as Khwuzestan.
The seat of the province has for the most of its history been in the northern reaches of the land, first at Susa (Shush) and then at Shushtar. During a short spell in the Sasanian era, the capital of the province was moved to its geographical center, where the river town of Hormuz-Ardasher, founded over the foundation of the ancient Hoorpahir by Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Dynasty in the 3rd century CE. This town is now known as Ahvaz. However, later in the Sasanian time and throughout the Islamic era, the provincial seat returned and stayed at Shushter, until the late Qajar period. With the increase in the international sea commerce arriving on the shores of Khuzistan, Ahvaz became a more suitable location for the provincial capital. The River Karun is navigable all the way to Ahvaz (above which, it flows through rapids). The town was thus refurbished by the order of the Qajar king, Naser al-Din Shah and renamed after him, Nâseri. Shushtar quickly declined, while Ahvaz/Nâseri prospered to the present day.
Currently, Khuzestan has 18 representatives in Iran's parliament, the Majlis, and 6 representatives in the Assembly of Experts. Khuzestan is known for its ethnic diversity; the population of Khuzestan consists of Lurs, Iranian Arabs, Qashqai people, Afshar tribe, indigenous Persians and Iranian Armenians. Khuzestan's population is predominantly Shia Muslim, but there are small Christian, Jewish and Sunni minorities. Tensions on religious and ethnic grounds have often resulted in violence through the last decade, drawing much criticism of Iran by international human rights organizations.
The word "Khouzi" refers to people who make raw sugar from sugar cane fields of northern Sassanian plains up to the Dez River side in Dezful. Khouzhestan has been the land of Khouzhies who cultivate sugar cane even today in Haft Tepe. The name Khuzestan means "The Land of the Khuzi", and refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the "Susian" people (Old Persian "Huza", Middle Persian "Khuzi" (the Shushan of the Hebrew sources)) in the same evolutionary manner that Old Persian changed the name Sindh into Hind"). The name of the city of Ahvaz also has the same origin as the name Khuzestan., being an Arabic broken plural from the compound name, "Suq al-Ahvaz" (Market of the Huzis)--the medieval name of the town, that replaced the Sasanian Persian name of the pre-Islamic times.
The southern half of the province (south of the Ahvaz Ridge) was still known as "the Khudhi" or "the Khooji" until the reign of the Safavid king Tahmasp I and the 16th century. By the 17th century, it had come to be known—at least to the imperial Safavid chancery as Arabistan. The great history of Alamara-i Abbasi by Iskandar Beg Munshi, written during the reign of Shah Abbas I the Great, regularly refers the southern part of Khuzestan as "Arabistan". The other half of Khuzestan was known as Khooji due to its large Lurs population.
There have been many attempts at finding other sources for the name, but none have proved tenable.
Geography and climate
The province of Khuzestan can be basically divided into two regions, the rolling hills and mountainous regions north of the Ahvaz Ridge, and the plains and marsh lands to its south. The area is irrigated by the Karoun, Karkheh, Jarahi and Maroun rivers. The northern section maintains a Persian (Lur, Bakhtiari, Khuzi) majority, while the southern section had an Arabic speaking majority until the great flood of job seekers from all over Iran inundated the oil and commerce centers on the coasts of the Persian Gulf since the 1940s. Presently, Khouzestan has several minority and ethnic groups of Lurs-Bakhtiari, Arabs and Persians from periods of history that Arabs were not mentioned anywhere.
Khuzestan has great potentials for agricultural expansion, which is almost unrivaled by the country's other provinces. Large and permanent rivers flow over the entire territory contributing to the fertility of the land. Karun, Iran's most effluent river, 850 kilometers long, flows into the Persian Gulf through this province. The agricultural potential of most of these rivers, however, and particularly in their lower reaches, is hampered by the fact that their waters carry salt, the amount of which increases as the rivers flow away from the source mountains and hills. In case of the Karun, a single tributary river, Rud-i Shur ("Salty River") that flows into the Karun above Shushtar contributes most of the salt that the river carries. As such, the freshness of the Karun waters can be greatly enhanced if the Rud-i Shur could be diverted away from the Karun. The same applies to the Jarahi and Karkheh in their lower reaches. Only the Marun is exempt from this.
The climate of Khuzestan is generally hot and occasionally humid, particularly in the south, while winters are much more cold and dry. Summertime temperatures routinely exceed 40 degrees Celsius and in the winter it can drop below freezing, with occasional snowfall, all the way south to Ahvaz.
The ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil in Khuzestan was a magnificent structure of the Elamite Empire. Khuzestan's Elamites were "precursors of the royal Persians", and were "the founders of the first Iranian empire in the geographic sense."
The province of Khuzestan is one of the centres of ancient civilization, based around Susa. The first large scale empire based here was that of the powerful 4th millennium BC Elamites.
Archeological ruins verify the entire province of Khuzestan to be home to the Elamite civilization, a non-Semitic, and non-Indo-European-speaking kingdom, and "the earliest civilization of Persia". The name Khuzestan is derived from the Elamite (Ūvja).
In fact, in the words of Elton L. Daniel, the Elamites were "the founders of the first 'Iranian' empire in the geographic sense." Hence the central geopolitical significance of Khuzestan, the seat of Iran's first empire.
In 640 BC, the Elamites were defeated by Ashurbanipal, coming under the rule of the Assyrians who brought destruction upon Susa and Chogha Zanbil. But in 538 BC, Cyrus the Great was able to re-conquer the Elamite lands. The city of Susa was then proclaimed as one of the Achaemenid capitals. Darius the Great then erected a grand palace known as Apadana there in 521 BC. But this astonishing period of glory and splendor of the Achaemenian dynasty came to an end by the conquests of Alexander of Macedon. After Alexander, the Seleucid dynasty came to rule the area.
As the Seleucid dynasty weakened, Mehrdad I the Parthian (171-137 BC), gained ascendency over the region. During the Sassanid dynasty this area thrived tremendously and flourished, and this dynasty was responsible for the many constructions that were erected in Ahvaz, Shushtar, and the north of Andimeshk.
During the early years of the reign of Shapur II (AD 309 or 310-379), Arabs crossed the Persian Gulf from Bahrain to "Ardashir-Khora" of Fars and raided the interior. In retaliation, Shapur II led an expedition through Bahrain, defeated the combined forces of the Arab tribes of "Taghleb", "Bakr bin Wael", and "Abd Al-Qays" and advanced temporarily into Yamama in central Najd. The Sassanids resettled these tribes in Kerman and Ahvaz. Arabs named Shapur II, as "Shabur Dhul-aktāf" after this battle.
The existence of prominent scientific and cultural centers such as Academy of Gundishapur which gathered distinguished medical scientists from Egypt, India, and Rome, shows the importance and prosperity of this region during this era. The Jondi-Shapur Medical School was founded by the order of Shapur I. It was repaired and restored by Shapur II (a.k.a. Zol-Aktaf: "The Possessor of Shoulder Blades") and was completed and expanded during the reign of Anushirvan.
Many Khuzestanis are bilingual, speaking both Persian and one of the following languages/Dialects: Khuzi languages such as Dezfuli/Shushtari, Behbahani, Ramhormozi, Ghanavati and Mahshahri or tribal languages such as Luri, Bakhtiari, Arabic, Bahmee, and Qashqai. Mandaee language is spoken among minority Mandaeian mainly in Ahvaz & Dezful. It is ancient Mandaee language mingled by some aspect of Khuzi. The Arabic spoken in Khuzestan is Mesopotamian Arabic, the same dialect as is spoken in Iraq. Susangerd, Hoveizh, Shadegan & lately Khorramshahr are main cities with people speaking Arabic . But main Arab ethnic groups are in nomadic and rural regions along Iran-Iraq border in southwest of province to the ahvaz urban areas. The Persian and Lurish groups of western Khuzestan all speak distinct dialects unique to their areas. It is also not uncommon to find people able to speak a variety of indigenous dialects in addition to their own. The most widely spoken dialect in Khuzestan is Bakhtiari. Except in Susangerd & Hoveizh, Bakhtiari is found everywhere.
Traditions and religion
Khuzestani folk music is colorful and festive, and each native group has their own rich traditions and legacy in this area.
The people of Khuzestan are predominantly Shia, with small Sunni, Jewish, Christian and Mandean minorities. Khuzestanis are also very well regarded for their hospitality and generosity.
Karun river is the only navigable river in Iran. The British, up until recent decades, after the discovery by Austen Henry Layard, transported their merchandise via Karun's waterways, passing through Ahvaz all the way up to Langar near Shushtar, and then sent by road to Masjed Soleimanthe site of their first oil wells in the Naftoon oil field. Karoun is capable of the sailing of fairly large ships as far up as Shushtar.
Karkheh, Jarrahi, Arvand Rud, Handian, Shavoor, Bahmanshir (Bahman-Ardeshir), Maroon-Alaa', Dez, and many other rivers and water sources in the form of Khurs, lagoons, ponds, and marshes demonstrate the vastness of water resources in this region, and are the main reason for the variety of agricultural products developed in the area.
The abundance of water and fertility of soil have transformed this region into a rich and well-endowed land. The variety of agricultural products such as wheat, barley, oily seeds, rice, eucalyptus, medicinal herbs; the existence of many palm and citrus farms; having mountains suitable for raising olives, and of course sugar cane - from which Khuzestan takes its name - all show the great potential of this fertile plain. In 2005, 51,000 hectares of land were planted ith sugar cane, producing 350,000 tons of sugar. The abundance of water supplies, rivers, and dams, also have an influence on the fishery industries, which are prevalent in the area.
There are several cane sugar mills in Khuzestan province, among them Haft Tepe and Karun Agro Industry near Shushtar.
The Karun 3 and 4, and Karkheh Dam, as well as the petroleum reserves provide Iran with national sources of revenue and energy. The petrochemical and steel industries, pipe making, the power stations that feed the national electricity grid, the chemical plants, and the large refineries are some of Iran's major industrial facilities.
Iran National Heritage Organization lists 140 sites of historical and cultural significance in Khuzestan, reflecting the fact that the province was once the seat of Iran's most ancient empire.
Some of the more popular sites of attraction include:
Choqa Zanbil: The seat of the Elamite Empire, this ziggurat is a magnificent five-story temple that is one of the greatest ancient monuments in the Middle-East today. The monolith, with its labyrinthine walls made of thousands of large bricks with Elamite inscription, manifest the sheer antiquity of the shrine. The temple was religiously sacred and built in the honor of Inshushinak, the protector deity of the city of Susa.
Shush-Daniel: Burial site of the Jewish prophet Daniel. He is said to have died in Susa on his way to Jerusalem upon the order of Darius. The grave of Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, who rose against the oppression of the Umayyad Caliphate, is also located nearby.
Dezful (Dezh-pol), whose name is taken from a bridge (pol) over the Dez river having 12 spans built by the order of Shapur I. This is the same bridge that was called "Andamesh Bridge" by historians such as Istakhri who says the city of Andimeshk takes its name from this bridge. Muqaddasi called it "The City of the Bridge."
Shushtar, Home to the famous Shushtar Watermills and one of the oldest fortress cities in Iran, known as the "City of Forty Elders" in local dialect. In and around Shushtar, there are many displays of ancient hydraulic engineering. There are also the Band Mizan and Band Qeysar, 2000 year old dams on the Karoun river and the famous Shadervan Bridge which is over 2000 years old.The Friday Mosque of Shushtar was built by the Abbasids. The mosque, which features "Roman" arches, has 54 pillars and balconies.
Izeh, or Izaj, was one of the main targets of the invading Islamic army in their conquest of Persia. Kharezad Bridge, one of the strangest bridges of the world, is situated in this city and was named after Ardeshir Babakan's mother. It is built over cast pillars of lead each 104 meters high. Ibn Battuta, who visited the city in the 14th century, refers to many monasteries, caravanserais, aqueducts, schools, and fortresses in the town. The brass statue of The Parthian Man, kept at the National Museum of Iran, is from here.
Masjed Soleiman, another ancient town, has ancient fire altars and temples such as Sar-masjed and Bard-neshondeh. It is also the winter's resting area of the Bakhtiari tribe, and where William Knox D'Arcy dug Iran's first oil well.
Abadan is said to be where the tomb of Elijah, the long lived Hebrew prophet is.
Iwan of Hermes, and Iwan of Karkheh, two enigmatic ruins north of Susa.