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1.3. History

Th e region was once part of the Neo Assyrian Empire. The name of Azarbayjan derives from Atropates, an Iranian satrap of Media under the Achaemenid empire, who later was reinstated as the satrap of Media under Alexander of Macedonia. The original etymology of this name is thought to have its roots in the ancient Zoroastrianism, namely, in Avestan Frawardin Yasht ("Hymn to the Guardian Angels"), there is a mentioning of: aterepatahe ashaono fravashim yazamaide, which literally translates from Old Persian as "we worship the Fravashi of the holy Atare-pata . Atropates ruled over the region of present-dayIranian Azarbayjan.
According to various sources cited in Encyclop?dia Iranica, the current province of West Azarbayjan was part of the Sassanid Azarbadegan satrap as far back as the 3rd century. The current ruins of Takht-i Suleiman in today's West Azarbayjan were the capital of the Azarbayjan Satrapy.
Permanent settlements were established in the province as early as the 6th millennium BCE as excavation at sites such as Teppe Hasanlu establish. In Hasanlu, a famous Golden Vase was found in 1958. Gooy Teppe is another significant site, where a metal plaque dating from 800 BCE was found that depicts a scene from the epic of Gilgamesh.
Ruins such as these and the UNESCO world heritage site at the Sassanid compound of Takht-i-Suleiman illustrate the strategic importance and tumultuous history of the province through the millennia. Overall, the province enjoys a wealth of historical attractions, with 169 sites registered by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran.
While some Islamic researchers have proclaimed that the birth of the prophet Zoroaster was in this area, in the vicinity of Lake Orumieh (Chichesht), Konzak City, recent scholarship indicates that Ardabil or sites in Central Asia are more likely.
The province continued to experience many wars over the centuries. Numerous Azeris arrived in the region, including to the west of Lake Urmia beginning around the 13th century.
The first monarch of Iran's Qajar dynasty, Agha Muhammad Khan, was crowned in Urmia in 1795.
Significant events in 19th and 20th century that took place are:

  • Shaikh Ubeidullah Revolts, west and south of Lake Urmia in 1880
  • Assyrian wars with the Ottomans and Kurds 1914-1918
  • Assyrian Genocide
  • Simko Insurrections, west of Lake Urmia from 1918 to 1922
  • the Soviet occupation in 1946
  • the foundation and destruction of the Republic of Mahabad in 1946

These separatist movements may have many motivations and origins; however, the colonialist policies of the Soviet Union and Imperial Russia encouraged such movements. In a cable sent on July 6, 1945 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the local Soviet commander in Russian held Azarbayjan (northern Azarbayjan) was instructed:
"Begin preparatory work to form a national autonomous Azarbayjan district with broad powers within the Iranian state and simultaneously develop separatist movements in the provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran, Gorgan, and Khorasan".
The city of Urmia in northwest of Iran, is considered one of the ancient cities of the country and a Cradle of civilization. The diggings in the ancient ruins around Urmia led to the discovery of utensils, some of which date back to some 2000 years B.C. Also research by Professor Minorski shows that there have been villages in the Urmia plain some 2000 years B.C., with their civilizationunder the influence of Van nation.

In the ancient times, the west bank of Urmia lake was called Gilzan, and in the ninth century B.C. an independent government ruled there which later joined the Urartu or Mana empire;
In the eight century B.C., the area was a vassal of the Asuzh government until it joined the Median Empire after its formation.
All and all, according to historical documents, the western part of the Urmia Lake has been a center of attention of the prehistoric nations, the evidence of which are the numerous ancient hills in the area, such as Gouy Tapeh, 6 kilometers southeast of the lake which competes with the oldest hills of Mesopotamia, Asia the Minor, and the Iranian Plateau.
Many old Islamic historians have acknowledged Urmia as the birthplace of Prophet Zoroaster, but this has been rejected by Iranologists and linguists.
The claim that the area was the birthplace of Zoroaster, or even the burial site of one or two of the Zoroastrian priests who allegedly traveled to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth indicate that the city has been one of the largest religious and scientific centers of the ancient times.
Urmia, according to some historians, is believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism. The Columbia mentions that Urmia was an important town in the region during the 9th century. In 950's the ruler of Urmia was Jastan bin Sharmazan, a devoted general of Daisam al-Kurdi, and the area was scene of power shift between Kurds and Dailamis. In 1040's, ruler of Urmia, Abu Hidja bin Rabib al-Dawla, chief of Hadhabani Kurds, defeated Ghuz tribes who tried to invade Urmia and killed thousands of Ghuz invaders. Eventually the city was reportedly sacked and destroyed by the Seljuk Turks in 1184.
The Ottoman Turks made several incursions into the city, but the Safavids were soon able to regain control over the area. The first monarch of Iran's Qajar dynasty, Agha Muhammad Khan, was crowned in Urmia in 1795.
In this province, Islam is the majority religion. However, there is also a large Assyrians Christian minority, who has historically lived on the west shore of Lake Urmia, as well as Armenians who are scattered throughout the province. Notably, the city of Maku in northern West Azarbayjan was the only city in Iran (before World War II) where Christians comprised the majority. Before World War I, Christian Armenians and Assyrians compromised a significant minority in Urmia, but that during the Ottoman and Russian Wars (during World War I) many left the region following the Assyrian Genocide.
St. Thaddeus Cathedral is located on the outskirts of Chaldoran, near the village of Qara-Kelissa. Besides being a religious site with a particular significance among Christians, particularly Armenians, this large church (monastery) is also a rare and valuable monument in architectural and artistic terms.
St. Thaddeus, also known as Jude Thaddeus or Jude Labbeus, was one of the apostles of Jesus Christ who traveled to Armenia, where he was later killed and upon whose grave the locals erected a small chapel in AD 301. The cathedral is known as Qara-kelissa ('Black church' in Turkish) to the locals, owing to the appearance of its western section. In 1329, the church was reconstructed in its present form after an earthquake destroyed the structure in 1319.
In all, thirty-one churches are registered by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran in the province. Many of these are historical landmarks and unusually rich in heritage. In 2008, UNESCO selected a group of these religious structures as part of the Armenian Monastic Ensembles in Iran World Heritage Site.

Major attractions of the province include:

  • 'Shalmash' fall of Sardasht county.
  • 'Hasanloo' hill.
  • 'Takhti Soleiman'
  • Saint Thaddeus Monastery (Qara Kelissa)
  • 'Sahoolan' cave.
  • Bookan dam
  • 3000 years old ancient city of Moosasir
  • 'Segonbad' (3 domes)
  • 'Nanemaryam' (Marya mom) church

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