Khūzestān (خوزستان) is one of the 30 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, Dasht-i Mishan/Dasht-e-Azadegan, Ramhormoz, Shadegan, Susa, Masjed Soleiman, Minoo Island and Hoveizeh.
Khuzestan is the most ancient Iranian province and is often referred to as the "birthplace of the nation," since this is where the Persians, one of the branches of Aryan tribes, first settled, assimilating the native Elamite population, and thus laying the foundation for the future dynastic empires of Achaemenid, Parthia and Sassanid. The pre-Islamic Partho-Sassanid Inscriptions gives the name of the province as Khwuzestan. Khuzestan is also where the medical college and the town of Gundeshapur was located.''
The provincial capital, Ahvaz, is the anagram of "Avaz" and "Avaja" which appear in Darius the Great' epigraph. This word appears in Naqsh-e Rostam inscription as "Khaja" or "Khooja".
Ahvaz was the seat of Khuzestan province in the old days. The modern city build over the foundation of Hoorpahir or Hormoz-Ardeshir, which was founded by Ardashir-Babakan the founder of the Sassanid Dynasty in 4th century AD.
The name Khuzestan, which means "The Land of the Khuzi" , refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the Khuzi people. The name Ahvaz also has the same origin as the name Khuzestan.
The southern half of the province (south of the Ahwaz Ridge), however, has also been called Arabistan or Arabestan at times, particularly starting during the reign of Tahmasp I in the 16th century, after the Arab Muhammad ibn Falah, leader of the Msha'sha'iya, initiated a wave of attacks on Khuzestan in AD 1440, leading to a gradual increase in the Arab population of Khuzestan.
Reza Pahlavi, however, restored the original name of the province in 1923.
With regard to natural conditions, Khuzestan has unrivaled potentials unrivaled by any other province in the country. Large permanent rivers flow over the entire territory contributing to the fertility of the land. Karun, Iran's largest river, 850 kilometers long, flows into the Persian Gulf through this province.
The climate of Khuzestan is generally hot and humid, particularly in the south, while winters are much more pleasant and dry.
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".
As was stated in the preceding section, the name Khuzestan is derived from the Elamites (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 splendour of the Achaemenian dynasty came to an end by the conquests of Alexander of Macedon. And after Alexander, the Seleucid dynasty ruled 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.
Over the centuries, Nestorian missionaries brought Christianity to the region, using the Aramaic language. From at least the 500s AD, the region was called "Beth Huzaye". As of AD 639, the Nestorian seat was at Mahoze, the complex encompassing Ctesiphon and Seleucia on the Tigris; and the Nestorian Catholicos was Ishoyahb II of Gadala.
During the early years of the reign of Shapur II (A.D. 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, Greece, 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.
The Arab invasion of Khuzestan took place in 639 AD under the command of Abu Musa al-Ash'ari from Basra, who drove the Persian Hormozan out of Ahvaz. Susa later fell, so Hormozan fled to Shushtar. There his forces were besieged by Abu Musa for 18 months. Shushtar finally fell in 642 AD; the Khuzistan Chronicle records that a Qatari living in the city befriended a man in the army, and dug tunnels through the wall in return for a third of the spoil. The Basrans purged the Nestorians - the Exegete of the city and the Bishop of Hormizd, and all their students - but kept Hormozan alive.
It is interesting to notice that there was much cooperation between Sassanids and non-Muslim Arabs during the Muslim conquest period, which shows that those wars were not Arab vs. Persian, rather Muslim vs. non-Muslims. For instance in 633-634, Khaled ibn Walid leader of the Muslim Army, defeated a force of the Sassanids' Christian Arab auxiliaries from the tribes of "Bakr", "'Ejl", "Taghleb" and "Namer" at "'Ayn Al-Tamr".
The Arab settlements by military garrisons in southern Iran was soon followed by other types of colonization. Some Arab families, for example, took the opportunity to gain control of private estates. . Like the rest of Iran, the Arab invasion thus brought Khuzestan under occupation of the Arabs of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, until Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, from southeastern Iran, raised the flag of independence once more, and ultimately regained control over Khuzestan, among other parts of Iran, founding the short-lived Saffarid dynasty. From that point on, Iranian dynasties would continue to rule the region in succession as an important part of Iran.
In the Umayyad period, large groups of nomads from the Hanifa, Bani Tamim, and Abd al-Qays tribes crossed the Persian Gulf and occupied some of the richest Basran territories around Ahvaz and in Fars during the second Islamic civil war in 661-665/680-684 A.D. .
During the Abbassid period, in the second half of the 10th century, the Assad tribe, taking advantage of quarrels under the Buwayhids, penetrated into Khuzestan, where a group of Tamim had been living since pre-Islamic times. However, following the fall of the Abbassid dynasty, the flow of Arab immigrants into Persia gradually diminished, but it nonetheless continued.
In the latter part of the 16th century, the Bani Kaab, from Kuwait, settled in Khuzestan. And during the succeeding centuries, many more Arab tribes moved from southern Iraq to Khuzestan, and as a result, Khuzestan became "extensively Arabized". . According to C.E. Bosworth in Encyclopedia Iranica, under the Qajar dynasty "the province was known, as in Safavid times, as Arabistan, and during the Qajar period was administratively a governor-generalate."
In the mid 1800s Britain initiated a war with Iran in a failed attempt to dominate Khuzestan. Tribal forces led by Sheikh Jabir al-Kaabi, the Sheikh of Mohammerah, had been vital in successfully defending the province. In the past eighty years, except during the Iran-Iraq war, the province of Khuzestan thrived and prospered and today accounts for one of the regions in Iran that holds an economic and defensive strategic position.
Prior to 1925, although nominally part of Iranian territory, the area functioned for many years effectively as an autonomous emirate known as "Arabistan". The emirate was dissolved by Reza Khan with the aid of the british in 1925 and renamed 'Khuzestan' in 1936.
What used to be Iran's largest refinery at Abadan was destroyed, never to fully recover. Many of the famous nakhlestans (palm groves) were annihilated, cities were destroyed, historical sites were demolished, and nearly half the province went under the boots of Saddam's invading army . This created a mass exodus into other provinces that did not have the logistical capability of taking in such a large number of refugees.
However, by 1982, Iranian forces managed to push Saddam's forces back into Iraq. The battle of "the Liberation of Khorramshahr" (one of Khuzestan's largest cities and the most important Iranian port prior to the war) was a turning point in the war, and is officially celebrated every year in Iran.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not conduct any official ethnic census in Iran, thus it is difficult to determine the exact demographics. Beginning in the early nineties, many ethnic Persian Khuzestanis began returning to the province, a trend which continues to this day as the major urban centres are being rebuilt and restored. Restoration has been slow due to neglect by the regime of the Islamic Republic. The city of Khorramshahr was almost completely destroyed as a result of Saddam's scorched earth policy. Fortunately, Iranian forces were able to prevent the Iraqis from attempting to spread the execution of this policy to other major urban centres.
The Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980 was a siege of the Iranian Embassy in London initiated by an Arab separatist group. Initially it emerged the terrorists wanted autonomy for Khuzestan; later they demanded the release of 91 of their comrades held in Iranian jails. The group which claimed responsibility for the siege- the Arab Popular Movement in Arabistan- gave a number of press conferences in the following months, referring to what it described as "the racist rule of Khomeini". It threatened further international action as part of its campaign to gain self- rule for Khuzestan. But its links with Baghdad served to undermine its argument that it was a purely Iranian opposition group; there were allegations that it was backed by Iran's regional rival, Iraq. Their leader ("Salim" - Awn Ali Mohammed) along with four other members of the group were killed and the fifth member, Fowzi Badavi Nejad, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 2005, Ahvaz witnessed a number of terrorist attacks. The first came ahead of the presidential election on 12 June.(see Ahvaz Bombings)
According to the 1996 census, the province had an estimated population of 3.7 million people, of which approximately 62.5% were in the urban centres, 36.5% were rural dwellers and the remaining 1% were non-residents. According to the most recent census taken in 2004, the province had an estimated population of 4,277,998 inhabitants.
Khuzestan, unlike most other provinces in Iran, is inhabited by a number of ethnic minorities and peoples. Autochthonous Persians in major cities, Iranian Arabs, the Bakhtiari, Behbahanis, Mizrahi Jews, Laks, and Lurs of the north, the Turkic-speaking Qashqai and Afshari tribes, the peoples of Dezful, Shushtar and the inhabitants of the coastal regions of the Persian Gulf all make up the population of the province of Khuzestan. There are no official ethnic statistics released by Iran's government.
Khuzestan has long been the subject of many a writer and poet of Persia. Some popular verses are:
زبس کز دامن لب شکر افشاند
شکر دامن به خوزستان بر افشاند
"Her lips aflow with sweet sugar,
The sweet sugar that aflows in Khuzestan."
قد رعنای تو و قامت سرو کشمر
لب شیرین تو و شکر خوزستانی
که باشد که پیوند سام سوار
نخواهد از اهواز تا قندهار
Khuzestan is the major oil-producing region of Iran, and as such is one of the wealthiest provinces in Iran, though it is claimed that this wealth does not benefit the average citizen. The government of Iran claims the province to rank third among Iran's provinces in GDP.
Khuzestan is also home to the Arvand Free Trade Zone . It is one of six economic Free Trade Zones in Iran.
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 Masjed Soleiman, the site of their first oil wells in the Naftoon oil field. Karun is capable of the sailing of fairly large ships as far up as Shushtar.
Karkheh, Jarrahi, Shatt al-Arab, 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 resourses in this region, and are the main reason for the variety of agricultural products developed in the area.
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.
The province is also home to Yadavaran Field, a major oil field.
Some of the more popular sites of attraction include: