province of Khouzestan 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 Khouzestan to be
home to the Elamite civilization, a non-Semitic, and
non-Indo-European-speaking kingdom, and "the earliest civilization of
The name Khouzestan is derived from the Elamites (Uvja). In fact the
Elamites were "the founders of the first Iranian empire in the
geographic sense." Hence the central geopolitical significance of
Khouzestan, 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. And after Alexander, the Seleucid dynasty ruled the area.
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 Ahwaz. Arabs named Shapur II, as
"Shabur Dhul-akt?f" 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 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 Khouzestan took place in 639 AD under the
command of Abu Musa al-Ash'arifrom Basra, who drove the Persian Hormozan
out of Ahwaz. Susa later fell, so Hormozan fled toShushtar. There his
forces were besieged by Abu Musa for 18 months. Shushtar finally fell in
642 AD; the Khuzistan 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 Hormizd, and all their
students - but kept Hormozan alive.
There followed the conquests of Jondishapoor and of many other
districts along the Tigris. The battle of Nehavand finally secured
Khouzestan for the Muslim armies.
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.
In the past eighty years, except during the Iran-Iraq war, the
province of Khouzestan thrived and prospered and today accounts for one
of the regions in Iran that holds an economic and defensive strategic
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 Government,
along with other autonomous regions of Persia, in a bid to centralize
the state. The old, historic name of 'Khuzistan' came to be applied once
again to the entire territory by 1936.
Being on the border with Iraq, Khouzestan 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
Khouzestan'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 Khouzestan during the Iran-Iraq
war, which forced thousands of Iranians to flee the province. He claimed
Khouzestan belonged to Iraq because of the large number of Arabic
speaking persons in that province.
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
Khouzestanis began returning to the province, a trend which continues
to this day as the major urban centers 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 centers.
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 Khouzestan; 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 Khouzestan. 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.
Iran National Heritage Organization lists 140 sites of historical
and cultural significance in Khouzestan, 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 ofInshushinak, 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 andone 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 Elias, the long lived Hebrew prophet is.
- Iwan of Hermes, and Iwan of Karkheh, two enigmatic ruins north of Susa.