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Names of territories during the Caliphate, Khorasan was part of Persia (in yellow).

Greater Khorasan (Persian: خراسان بزرگ) (also written Khorasaan, Khurasan and Khurasaan) is a modern term for a historical geographic region spanning (in clockwise order) north-eastern and east of Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, western and northern Afghanistan. The name "Khorasan" is said to derive from Middle Persian khor "sun" + ayan "out of", hence meaning "land where the sun rises". For other suggested etymologies, see Khwarezm.

First established as a political entity by the Sassanids in the 3rd century[citation needed], the borders of the region have varied considerably during its 1600-year history. It acquired its greatest extent under the Caliphs, for whom "Khorasan" was the name of one of the three political zones under their dominion (the other two being Eraq-e Arab "Arabic Iraq" and Eraq-e Ajam "Non-Arabic Iraq or Persian Iraq"). For the Abbasids, "Khorasan" was the zone that lay east of a virtual boundary that ran in northwest-southeast direction between Ray and Bandar Abbas, and included (in clockwise order) all of present-day northeastern Iran, the Transoxiana portions of Central Asia, all of (pre-Durand line) Afghanistan, and all of present-day Iran's Sistan/Baluchistan province. In general however, "Khorasan" did not extend so far east or south. Following the assassination of Nadir Shah Afsar in 1747, wars over the region caused its division into western and eastern parts, with the western half held by the Qajars, and the eastern half held by rulers of the Durrani Empire. By 1800, the name Khorasan applied only to a fraction of Greater Khorasan, with the northeastern section having become part of Afghanistan and parts of the Russian Empire respectively, and the western section having been vertically subdivided into Khorasan (in the north) and Kohistan (in the south). Khorasan and Kohistan were subsequently re-split, with the western/southwestern parts of each then merging with the then-small Yazd province to become the large Yazd province of today, and the remaining Khorasan/Kohistan being united as a new Khorasan province. That new Khorasan remained Iran's largest province until 2002, when it was subdivided into three sub-provinces. The formerly Russian-held part of Greater Khorasan now spans Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The principal cities of Greater Khorasan are Mashhad, Nishapur, Tus (now in Iran), Herat, Ghazni, Kabul and Balkh, (now in Afghanistan), Merv (now in Turkmenistan), Samarqand, Bukhara and Khiva (all now in Uzbekistan), Khujand and Panjakent (now in Tajikistan).

These days, the adjective greater is partly used to distinguish it from Khorasan province, in modern-day Iran, that forms western parts of these territories, roughly half in area [1]. It is also used to indicate that Greater Khorasan encompasses territories that were perhaps called by some other popular name when they were individually referred to. For example Transoxiana (covered Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), Bactria, Khwarezm (containing Samarkand and Bukhara)

Until the devastating Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century, Khorasan was considered the cultural capital of Persia. It has produced scientists and philosophers such as the Avicenna, al-Farabi, al-Biruni, Omar Khayyám, al-Khwarizmi (the founder of Algebra) and Shi'a theologians, namely Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and Shaykh Tusi, as well as Sunni theologians, namely Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Imam Bukhari, Imam Bayhaqi, Abu Dawood, Tirmizi, Al-Ghazali, Abu Mansur Maturidi, and Fakhruddin al-Razi. Ferdowsi, the author of Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, and Rumi, the famous Sufi poet, were also from Khorasan.

Contents

Geographical distribution

According to Mir Ghulam Mohammad Ghobar, Afghanistan's current territories formed the major part of Khorasan[2]. According to these latter sources, Khorasan province of Iran roughly comprises half of Greater Khorasan.[3] Khorasan's boundaries have varied greatly during ages. The term was loosely applied to all territories of Persia that lay east and north east of Dasht-e Kavir and therefore were subjected to change as the size of empire changed.

"Masjid-i Jami" Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan, a city which was known in the past as the Pearl of Khorasan.

In the Middle Ages, Persian Iraq and Khorasan were the two most important parts of the territory of Greater Iran. The dividing region between these two was mostly along with Gurgan and Damaghan cities. Especially the Ghaznavids, Seljuqs and Timurids, divided their Empire to Iraqi and Khorasani regions. This point can be observed in many books such as "Tārīkhi Bayhaqī" of Abul Fazl Bayhqi, Faza'ilul al-anam min rasa'ili hujjat al-Islam (a collection of letters of Al-Ghazali) and other books.

one of many maps of Khorasan

Ghulam Mohammad Ghubar, a historian from Afghanistan, talks of Proper Khorasan and Improper Khorasan in his book titled "Khorasan"[4]. According to him, Proper Khorasan contained regions lying between Balkh (in the East), Merv (in the North), Sijistan (in the South), Nishapur (in the West) and Herat, known as The Pearl of Khorasan, in the center. While Improper Khorasan's boundaries extended to Kabul and Ghazni in the East, Sistan and Zabulistan in the South, Transoxiana and Khwarezm in the North and Damaghan and Gurgan in the West.

In Memoirs of Babur, it is mentioned that Indians called non-Hindustanis (non-Indians) as Khorasanis. Regarding the boundary of Hindustan and Khorasan, it is written: "On the road between Hindustān and Khorasān, there are two great marts: the one Kābul, the other Kandahār." 1 Thus, Improper Khorasan bordered Hindustan (old India).

Historical overview

An early turquoise mine in the Madan village of Khorasan.

Greater Khorasan is one of the regions of Greater Iran. Before being conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, it was part of the Achaemenid and Median Persian Empire. In 1st century AD, the eastern regions of Greater Khorasan fell into the hands of the Kushan empire. The Kushans introduced a high grade Buddhist culture (though they were also Zoroastrians) to these regions and from there Buddhism began to spread through Khorasanian monks to China and even to Japan. Numerous Kushanian fire temples and Buddhist temples and buried cities with treasures in the northern and central areas of Khurasan (nowadays mainly Afghanistan) have been found. However the western parts of Greater Khorasan remained predominantly Zoroastrian as one of the three great fire-temples of the Sassanids "Azar-burzin Mehr" is situated in the western regions of Khorasan, near Sabzevar in Iran. The boundary was pushed to the west towards the Persian Empire by the emigrating Kushans. The boundary kept changing until the demise of the Kushan Empire where Sassanids took control of the entire region by conquering and merging with the Kushans (Kushano-Sassanian civilization). In Sassanid era, Persian empire was divided into four quarters, "Xwawaran" meaning west, apAxtar meaning north, Nīmrūz meaning south and Xurasan (Khorasan) meaning east. The Eastern regions saw again some conflict with Hephthalites who became new ruler of entire Khorasan but also for a short time of the entire Iranian plateau, but the borders remained much stable afterwards until the Muslim invasion.

Being the eastern parts of the Sassanid empire and further away from Arabia, Khorasan quarter was conquered in the later stages of Muslim invasions. In fact the last Sassanid king of Persia, Yazdgerd III, moved the throne to Khorasan following the Arab invasion in the western parts of the empire. After the assassination of the king, Khorasan was conquered by the Islamic troops in 647. Like other provinces of Persia it became one of the provinces of Umayad dynasty.

The village of Meyamei.

The first liberal movement against the Arab invasions was led by Abu Muslim Khorasani between 747 and 750. He helped the Abbasids come to power but was later killed by Al-Mansur, an Abbasid Caliph. The first independent kingdom from Arab rule was established in Khorasan by Tahir Phoshanji in 821. But it seems that it was more a matter of political and territorial gain. In fact Tahir had helped the Caliph subdue other nationalistic movements in other parts of Persia such as Maziar's movement in Tabaristan.

The first dynasty in Khorasan, after the introduction of Islam, was the Saffarid dynasty (861-1003). Other major dynasties in Khorasan were Samanids Ghaznavids Ghurids (1149-1212), Seljukids (1037-1194), Khwarezmids (1077-1231) and Timurids (1370-1506). It should be mentioned that some of these dynasties were not Persian by ethnicity, nonetheless they were the advocates of Persian language and were praised by the poets as the kings of Iran.

Among them, the periods of Ghaznavids of Ghazni and Timurids of Herat are considered as one of the most brilliant eras of Khorasan's history. During these periods, there was a great cultural awakening. Many famous Persian poets, scientists and scholars lived in this period. Numerous valuable works in Persian literature were written. Nishapur, Herat, Ghazni and Merv were the centers of all these cultural developments. Some eastern Khorasani regions were then parts of the Moghul Empire, while the Safavids conquered the western regions. For Moghuls, Khorasan was always a region with great economic and cultural importance.

Demographics of Greater Khurasan

Originally the region of Khorasan was inhabited only by Bactrians, Soghdians, Parthians, Sakas etc. who called themselves Aryans and their country as Aryanam-Vaej (Land of Aryans). But during all periods Khorasan became a new home for different people with different origins or was conquered, though most of these people were Indo-Europeans. In pre-Islamic times the Iranian tribes became mixed with each other, especially with the Persians. Because of its popularity, wealth, and legends that were made about Khorasan, many western Iranians, particularly Persians, were seeking for a new home and a better future, especially after civil wars. They moved to Bactria, Kabul, Sogdhiana, Gandhara and even to India (Gujarat and Bombey, f.exp.) and to other regions. Also some Achaemenids and Sassanians were resettling Persians from western Iran to eastern Iran when the population was overspilling and the pollution was increasing. Before the Islamic invasion began, the Eastern-Iranians were already merged with the West-Iranians, mostly Persians. Modern Persians have a very important Sogdian and Parthian (and also Bactrian) ancestry. A very small part of them became assimilated and another part was able to remain ethnically unchanged until the conquest of the nomadic Turko-Mongolians (and until today). This Altaic wave brought new peoples to Transoxania and Greater Khorasan from the north and east of Asia. Some of these Turks and Mongols became Islamized by the urban and educated population so they were able to establish with their help and bureaucracy powerful Persianated empires and become to a certain grade also settlers or in some regions of central Asia (like in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey) turkifying the Iranian and other Indo-European population either by language or traditions and culture. Sometimes, as their Iranian precursor, their empires reached as far as India and Indian merchants, craftsmen, historians, teachers and scholars began moving to Greater Khorasan. The turbulent history of Khorasan is still reflected by its population. Nearly every ethnic group of Indo-European and Non-Indo-European origin can be found in Khorasan. From Turks like Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Afsharis and Mongols such as Arghunes and Persian-speaking Hazaras, to Iranians including Tajiks (Persians), Pashtuns, Pashais and Ormurs.

Further reading

  • Lorentz, J. Historical Dictionary of Iran. 1995 ISBN 0-8108-2994-0AFGJANISTAN

References

  1. ^ Dabeersiaghi, Commentary on Safarnâma-e Nâsir Khusraw, 6th Ed. Tehran, Zavvâr: 1375 (Solar Hijri Calendar) 235-236
  2. ^ Ghubar, Mir Ghulam Mohammad, Khorasan, 1937 Kabul Printing House, Kabul, Afghanistan
  3. ^ Dabeersiaghi, "Commentary", Nâseer khusraw, Safarnâma, 6th Ed. Tehran, Zavvâr:1375 (Solar Hijri Calendar) 235-236
  4. ^ Ghubar, Mir Ghulam Mohammad, Khorasan, 1937 Kabul Printing House, Kabul, Afghanistan
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