Uromiyeh (Urmia / Orumiyeh)
Iran: ethnic map (479K!!)South Azerbaijan comprises three provices currently part of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Western Azerbaijan, with its capital in Uromiyeh, Eastern Azerbaijan, with its capital in Tabriz and Ardebil, whose capital is also called Ardebil. A forth Iranian province Zanjan, with the capital in the city of the same name, also has a dominant Azeri population and there are important Azeri communities in and around Hamadan, in Tehran, around Qom and Saveh, Khorasan province, and are scattered throughout many other parts of Iran.

Kurdish lady from south AzerbaijanUromiyeh is a large city with a population of 400.000. Formerly known as Rezaiyeh (after Reza Shah), it is built at an altitude of 1,340m on a plateau, about west 25km from the lake of the same name, halfway between Tabriz and the Turkish border (in European languages both the city and the lake are often called Urmia). The southern part of the city is crossed by the Shahar river, taking its waters east to the lake.

Uromiyeh is said to have been founded about 3500 years ago. The remains of several ancient settlements are scattered over the plain. It fell to arab invaders in the 7th century, who introduced Islam and was later conquered by Turks and Mongols.

In 1900 Christians formed nearly half the population, and an independent Armenian state was proclaimed by Marshimun. However in 1918 with the advance of Turkish troops, many Armenians left -  most of the remainder were massacred  by the Turks in the wake of the retreat of the Russian Army from the area. The Armenian and Assyrian genocides committed by the Ottoman Turks erased most of the Christian population of west Azerbaijan.
Bazargan  (Western Azerbaijan / Azarbayjan-e Gharbi): looking at the big and small Ararat (photo by J.Kaman)Presently in and around Uromiyeh the majority of the population is Azeri, followed by a large Kurdish community, and smaller Armenian, Assyrian and Persian communities. In spite of a troubled past these communities live side by side peacefully. The languages spoken everywhere are Azeri and Kurdish, both written in the Arabic script. Official signs and documents are written in Farsi. The western part of the Western Azerbaijan province has a Kurdish majority, and in the aftermath of W.W.II  the city of Mahabad was briefly the capital of an independent Kurdish state.

Uromiyeh - Friday mosque over the bazaarToday several beautiful buildings still survive, of which the most important are the large square Friday Mosque in the bazaar area, the Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Naneh Mariyam) and a 12th century mausoleum tower. The city is mostly flat, centred around Vilayet Fagih square, where the main commercial artery, Iman avenue, starts. The city museum, focusing on local history an handycrafts, is located on Shahid Beheshti street.

The Iranian government assures a reasonable degree of religious freedom and Islam and Christianity live together, both steeples and minarets contribute to the beauty in the horizon. The city is the seat of a Chaldean (Catholic archbishopric) and claims to have been the birthplace of Zoroaster and to have been visited by the three wise men on their way to Bethlehem.
Lake Urmia - rocky islandsAround the city you'll find a large fertile plain that yields grains, fruits, tobacco, and other crops. Lake Uromiyeh with 4700 square kilometres is almost a small sea, and is now quite salty, in fact so salty that most fish cannot live in it, but in bygone ages the water was sweeter and the area even more fertile. Inspite of lacking fish, the lake has a very rich bird life. The banks are rather barren and there are several rocky islands, the largest one 'Kabud' has a mountain reaching 1600 metres. Around the lake there are a few small hotels and a few other resorts.

There are ferryboats connecting the two sides of the lake. A bridge across the lake was started in the 1970s, but was abadoned after the Islamic Revolutin, with one third of it still missing. So although Uromiyeh is only 120 kilometres from Tabriz, it takes about 5 hours to drive between the two cities, around lake Uromiyeh, through bad roads.

There no rail connections to Uromiyeh but there are buses to Tabriz, Tehran, Mahabad and other destinations. The bus station lies in the northern part of the city. You can also take some domestic flighs, the airport is located about 20 kilometres north of the city - airport code OMH.
see also: hotels in Uromiyeh, history, Ardebil, Tabriz, Zanjan, South Azerbaijan, Iranian visas, maps, summary, places, photos of Azerbaijan, photos of Iran

A to Z of Azerbaijan / A dan Z ye Azerbaycan