Khuzestan is a region SW
Iran bordering on
Persian Gulf; chief city
Khuzestan Province is one of the 30 provinces of Iran. It is in the southwest of the country, bordering
Basra Province and the
Persian Gulf. Its capital is
Ahwaz. Other major cities include
Abadan, Andimeshk, Khorramshahr, Bandar
Shushtar, Omidiyeh, Izeh, Baq-e-
Shahr, Dasht-i Mishan/Dasht-e-
Susa, Masjed Soleiman, Minoo Island and Hoveizeh.
Historically Khuzestan is what historians refer to as ancient
Elam, whose capital was in Susa. The
Persian term for Elam was Hujiyā, which is present in the modern name. Khuzistan, meaning the Land of the Khuzi" refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the "Susian" people (Old Persian "Huza" or Huja (as in the inscription at the tomb of King
Dariush I at
Naghsh 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-
Sassanid Inscriptions gives the name of the province as Khwuzestan.
Persians settlers, by the 6th century BC, mixed with the native
Elamite population. The assimilation, however, does not seem to have concluded until after the Islamic invasion of the 7th century, when the
Muslim writers still mention "Khuzi" to be the primary language of the inhabitant of the province.
The seat of the province, for the most of its history has been in the northern reaches of the land, first at Susa (
Shoosh) and then at Shushtar. During a short spell in the Sassanid 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
Ardeshir 1, the founder of the
Sassanid Dynasty in 3rd century AD. This town is now known as Ahwaz. However, later in the Sassanid 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 Khuzestan, Ahwaz became a more suitable location for the provincial capital. The River
Karoon is navigable all the way to Ahwaz (above which, it flows through rapids). The town was thus refurbished by the order of the Qajar king,
Naseroddin Shah and renamed after him, Naseri. Shushtar quickly declined, while Ahwaz/Naseri prospered to the present day.
The province of Khuzestan is one of the centers 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".
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
Choghazanbil. 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.
Dariush the Great then erected a grand palace known as
Apadana there in 521 BC. But this astonishing period of glory and splendor of the Achaemenid 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 Ahwaz, Shushtar, and the north of Andimeshk.
During the early years of the reign of
Shapour 2 (A.D. 309 or 310-379),
Arabs crossed the Persian Gulf from
Bahrain to "
Fars and raided the interior. In retaliation,
Shapour 2 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 Ahwaz. Arabs named Shapour 2, as
Zolaktaf after this battle.
The existence of prominent scientific and cultural centers such as Academy of
Gondishapour which gathered distinguished medical scientists from
Rome, shows the importance and prosperity of this region during this era. The Gondishapour Medical School was founded by the order of Shapour 1. It was repaired and restored by Shapour 2 and was completed and expanded during the reign of
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 Ahwaz. 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 Khuzestan Chronicle records that a unknown Arab 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
Hormazd, and all their students - but kept Hormozan alive.
There followed the conquests of Gondishapour and of many other districts along the
Tigris. The battle of
Nahavand finally secured Khuzestan for the Muslim armies.
It is interesting to notice that there was much cooperation between Sassanid 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 Sassanid Arab auxiliaries from the tribes of "Bakr", "'Ejl", "Taghleb" and "Namer" at "'Ayn Al-Tamr".
Arab settlements 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
Abbasid Caliphates, until
Yaghub 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 Ahwaz and in Fars during the second Islamic civil war in 661-665/680-684 A.D.
During the Abbasid 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 Abbasid 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 population was assimilated. Under the Qajar dynasty "the province was known, as in
Safavid times, as
Arabistan, and during the Qajar period was administrated by a governor.
In 1856, in the course of the
Anglo-Persian War over the city of
British naval forces sailed up the Karoon River all the way to Ahwaz. However, in the settlement that followed, they evacuated the province. Some tribal forces, such as those led by
Sheikh Jabir al-Kaabi, the Sheikh of
Mohammerah, fared better in opposing the invading British forces than those dispatched by the central government, which was quite feeble.
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 Shah along with other autonomous regions of Persia, in a bid to centralize the state. The old, historic name of 'Khuzestan' came to be applied once again to the entire territory by 1936.
Being on the border with Iraq, Khuzestan suffered the heaviest damage of all Iranian provinces during the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988).
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.
Saddam Hussein attempted to control Khuzestan during the Iran-Iraq war, which forced thousands of Iranians to flee the province. He claimed Khuzestan belonged to Iraq because of the large number of
Arabic speaking persons in that province!