Greater Iran

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Map showing the geographic, political (partial), and cultural reach of Persia (Iran) and the Iranic peoples corresponding to the modern-day Greater Iran[1]
Faravahar background
History of Greater Iran
Median Empire (c. 600 BC)
Achaemenid Empire (550 BC–330 BC)
Parthian Empire (247 BC–224 AD)
Sassanid Empire (224–651)
Safavid Empire (1501–1722)

Greater Iran (Persian: ایران بزرگ‎‎, Irān-e Bozorg, ایران زَمین, Irān-Zamīn) refers to the regions of the Caucasus, West Asia, Central Asia, and parts of South Asia that have significant Iranian cultural influence due to having been either long historically ruled by the various Iranian (Persian) empires (such as those of the Medes, Achaemenids, Parthians, Sassanians, Samanids, Safavids, and Afsharids and the Qajar Empire),[2][3][4] having considerable aspects of Persian culture in their own culture due to extensive contact with the various Empires based in Persia (e.g., those regions and peoples in the North Caucasus that were not under direct Iranian rule), or are simply nowadays still inhabited by a significant amount of Iranian people who patronize their respective cultures (as it goes for the western parts of South Asia, Bahrain and China). It roughly corresponds to the territory on the Iranian plateau and its bordering plains.[1][5] It is also referred to as Greater Persia,[6][7][8] while the Encyclopædia Iranica uses the term Iranian Cultural Continent.[9]

The term Iran is not limited to the modern state of Iran (Persia), but includes all the territory ruled by the Iranians, including Mesopotamia, Eastern Anatolia, all of the Caucasus and Central Asia.[10][11] The concept of Greater Iran has its source in the history of the First Persian (Achaemenid) Empire in Persis (Fars), and is in fact synonymous with the history of Iran in many respects.

After the Arab conquests, Iran lost many of the territories gained under the Safavid dynasty, including Iraq to the Ottomans (via Treaty of Amasya in 1555 and Treaty of Zuhab in 1639), Afghanistan to the British (via Treaty of Paris in 1857[12] and MacMahon Arbitration in 1905[13]), and all its Caucasus territories to Russia during the Russo-Persian Wars in the course of the 19th century.[14] The Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 resulted in Iran ceding Dagestan, Georgia, and most of Azerbaijan to Russia.[15] The Turkmanchey Treaty of 1828, after the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828) permanently severed the Caucasian provinces from Iran, which had made part of its concept for three centuries,[16] and forced Iran to cede modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan and minor parts of Eastern Turkey, and settled the modern boundary along the Aras River.[17]

Due to this geographic diversity, newly independent nations under Russian or British involvement, while maintaining a cultural or linguistic connection with Persia, developed their own unique socio-political and cultural paths. Some of these nations and territories included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, Iraq, Dagestan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. In 1935 under the rule of Reza Shah, the endonym Iran was made the official international name.[18]


The name “Irān“, meaning “land of the Aryans”, is the New Persian continuation of the old genitive plural aryānām (proto-Iranian, meaning "of the Aryans"), first attested in the Avesta as airyānąm (the text of which is composed in Avestan, an old Iranian language spoken in northeastern Greater Iran, or in what are now Turkmenistan and Tajikistan).[19][20][21][22] The proto-Iranian term aryānām is present in the term Airyana Vaēǰah, the homeland of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism, near the provinces of Sogdiana, Margiana, Bactria, etc., listed in the first chapter of the Vidēvdād.[23][24] The Avestan evidence is confirmed by Greek sources: Arianē is spoken of as being between Persia and the Indian subcontinent.[20] However, this is a Greek pronunciation of the name Haroyum/Haraiva (Herat), which the Greeks called 'Aria'.[25] A land listed separately from the homeland of the Aryans.[26][27]

While up until the end of the Parthian period in the 3rd century CE, the idea of “Irān“ had an ethnic, linguistic, and religious value, it did not yet have a political import. The idea of an “Iranian“ empire or kingdom in a political sense is a purely Sasanian one. It was the result of a convergence of interests between the new dynasty and the Zoroastrian clergy, as we can deduce from the available evidence. This convergence gave rise to the idea of an Ērān-šahr “Kingdom of the Iranians,” which was “ēr“ (Middle Persian equivalent of Old Persian “ariya“ and Avestan “airya“).[20]


Richard Foltz notes that while "A general assumption is often made that the various Iranian peoples of 'greater Iran'—a cultural area that stretched from Mesopotamia and the Caucasus into Khwarizm, Transoxiana, Bactria, and the Pamirs and included Persians, Medes, Parthians and Sogdians among others—were all 'Zoroastrians' in pre-Islamic times... This view, even though common among serious scholars, is almost certainly overstated." Foltz argues that "While the various Iranian peoples did indeed share a common pantheon and pool of religious myths and symbols, in actuality a variety of deities were worshipped—particularly Mitra, the god of covenants, and Anahita, the goddess of the waters, but also many others—depending on the time, place, and particular group concerned.".[28] To the Ancient Greeks, Greater Iran ended at the Indus.[29]

Richard Nelson Frye defines Greater Iran as including "much of the Caucasus, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, with cultural influences extending to China and western India." According to Frye, "Iran means all lands and peoples where Iranian languages were and are spoken, and where in the past, multi-faceted Iranian cultures existed."[30]

According to J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams most of Western greater Iran spoke Southwestern Iranian languages in the Achaemenid era while the Eastern territory spoke Eastern Iranian languages related to Avestan. .[31]

George Lane also states that after the dissolution of the Mongol Empire, the Ilkhanids became rulers of greater Iran[32] and Uljaytu, according to Judith G. Kolbas, was the ruler of this expanse between 1304-1317 A.D.[33]

Primary sources, including Timurid historian Mir Khwand, define Iranshahr (Greater Iran) as extending from the Euphrates to the Oxus[34]

Traditionally, and until recent times, ethnicity has never been a defining separating criterion in these regions. In the words of Richard Nelson Frye:

Only in modern times did western colonial intervention and ethnicity tend to become a dividing force between the provinces of Greater Iran. As Patrick Clawson states, "ethnic nationalism is largely a nineteenth century phenomenon, even if it is fashionable to retroactively extend it."[35] "Greater Iran" however has been more of a cultural super-state, rather than a political one to begin with.

In the work Nuzhat al-Qolub (نزهه القلوب), the medieval geographer Hamdallah Mustawfi wrote:

چند شهر است اندر ایران مرتفع تر از همه
Some cities of Iran are better than the rest,
بهتر و سازنده تر از خوشی آب و هوا
these have pleasant and compromising weather,
گنجه پر گنج در اران صفاهان در عراق
The wealthy Ganjeh of Arran, and Esfahān in Iraq,
در خراسان مرو و طوس در روم باشد اقسرا
Merv and Tus in Khorasan, and Konya (Aqsara) too.

The Cambridge History of Iran takes a geographical approach in referring to the "historical and cultural" entity of "Greater Iran" as "areas of Iran, parts of Afghanistan, and Chinese and Soviet Central Asia".[36] A detailed list of these territories follows in this article.

In Persian literature[edit]

Greater Iran has several displays in Persian literature.


Greater Iran is called Iranzamin (ایرانزمین) which means "The Land of Iran". Iranzamin was in the mythical times opposed to the Turanzamin the Land of Turan, which was located in the upper part of Central Asia.[37]

In the pre-Islamic period, Iranians distinguished two main regions in the territory they ruled, one Iran and the other Aniran. By Iran they meant all the regions inhabited by ancient Iranian peoples. That region was much vaster than it is today. This notion of Iran as a territory (opposed to Aniran) can be seen as the core of early Greater Iran. Later many changes occurred in the boundaries and areas where Iranians lived but the languages and culture remained the dominant medium in many parts of the Greater Iran.

As an example, the Persian language (referred to, in Persian, as Farsi) was the main literary language and the language of correspondence in Central Asia and Caucasus prior to the Russian occupation, Central Asia being the birthplace of modern Persian language. Furthermore, according to the British government, Persian language was also used in Iraqi Kurdistan, prior to the British Occupation and Mandate in 1918-1932.[38]

With Imperial Russia continuously advancing south in the course of two wars against Persia, and the treaties of Turkmenchay and Gulistan in the western frontiers, plus the unexpected death of Abbas Mirza in 1823, and the murdering of Persia's Grand Vizier (Mirza AbolQasem Qa'im Maqām), many Central Asian khanates began losing hope for any support from Persia against the Tsarist armies.[39] The Russian armies occupied the Aral coast in 1849, Tashkent in 1864, Bukhara in 1867, Samarkand in 1868, and Khiva and Amudarya in 1873.

"Many Iranians consider their natural sphere of influence to extend beyond Iran's present borders. After all, Iran was once much larger. Portuguese forces seized islands and ports in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire wrested from Tehran's control what is today Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, and part of Georgia. Iranian elementary school texts teach about the Iranian roots not only of cities like Baku, but also cities further north like Derbent in southern Russia. The Shah lost much of his claim to western Afghanistan following the Anglo-Iranian war of 1856-1857. Only in 1970 did a UN sponsored consultation end Iranian claims to suzerainty over the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain. In centuries past, Iranian rule once stretched westward into modern Iraq and beyond. When the western world complains of Iranian interference beyond its borders, the Iranian government often convinced itself that it is merely exerting its influence in lands that were once its own. Simultaneously, Iran's losses at the hands of outside powers have contributed to a sense of grievance that continues to the present day." -Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy[40]
"Iran today is just a rump of what it once was. At its height, Iranian rulers controlled Iraq, Afghanistan, Western Pakistan, much of Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Many Iranians today consider these areas part of a greater Iranian sphere of influence." -Patrick Clawson[41]
"Since the days of the Achaemenids, the Iranians had the protection of geography. But high mountains and vast emptiness of the Iranian plateau were no longer enough to shield Iran from the Russian army or British navy. Both literally, and figuratively, Iran shrank. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Afghanistan were Iranian, but by the end of the century, all this territory had been lost as a result of European military action."[42]

Provinces and regions[edit]

In the 8th century, Iran was conquered by the Abbassids who ruled from Baghdad, and the territory of Iran at that time was known to be composed of two portions: Persian Iraq (western portion) and Khorasan (eastern portion). The dividing region 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 Baïhaqī" of Abul Fazl Bayhqi, Faza'ilul al-anam min rasa'ili hujjat al-Islam (a collection of letters of Al-Ghazali) and other books. Transoxiana and Chorasmia were mostly included in the Khorasanian region.

Middle East[edit]


The "Ajam" and "Huwala" are ethnic communities of Bahrain of Persian origin. The Persians of Bahrain are a significant and influential ethnic community whose ancestors arrived in Bahrain within the last 1,000 years as laborers, merchants and artisans. They have traditionally been merchants living in specific quarters of Manama and Muharraq. Bahrain's Persians who adhere to the Shia sect of Islam are Ajam and the Persians who adhere to the Sunni sect are called Huwala, who migrated from Ahwaz in Iran to the Persian Gulf in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

The immigration of Persians to Bahrain began when the Greek Seleucid kingdom which was ruling Bahrain at the time fell and the Persian Empire successfully invaded Bahrain, but it is often believed that mass immigration started during the 1600s when Abbas I of Persia invaded Bahrain. After settling in Bahrain, some of the Persians were effectively Arabized. They usually settled in areas inhabited by the indigenous Baharna, probably because they share the same Shia Muslim faith, however, some Sunni Persians settled in areas mostly inhabited by Sunni Arab immigrants such as Hidd and Galali. In Muharraq, they have their own neighborhood called Fareej Karimi named after a rich Persian man called Ali Abdulla Karimi.

From the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC, Bahrain was a prominent part of the Persian Empire by the Achaemenids, an Iranian dynasty. Bahrain was referred to by the Greeks as "Tylos", the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus discovered it while serving under Alexander the Great.[43] From the 3rd century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Bahrain was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties, the Parthians and the Sassanids.

In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and controlled the area for four centuries until the arrival of Islam.[44] Ardashir, the first ruler of the Iranian Sassanid dynasty marched to Oman and Bahrain and defeated Sanatruq[45] (or Satiran[46]), probably the Parthian governor of Bahrain.[47] He appointed his son Shapur I as governor of Bahrain. Shapur constructed a new city there and named it Batan Ardashir after his father.[46] At this time, Bahrain incorporated the southern Sassanid province covering the Persian Gulf's southern shore plus the archipelago of Bahrain.[47] The southern province of the Sassanids was subdivided into three districts; Haggar (now al-Hafuf province, Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (now al-Qatif province, Saudi Arabia), and Mishmahig (now Bahrain Island)[46] (In Middle-Persian/Pahlavi it means "ewe-fish").[48]

By about 130 BC, the Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf.[44] through warfare and economic distress, been reduced to only 60.[49] The influence of Iran was further undermined at the end of the 18th century when the ideological power struggle between the Akhbari-Usuli strands culminated in victory for the Usulis in Bahrain.[50]

An Afghan invasion of Iran at the beginning of the 18th century resulted in the near collapse of the Safavid state.[51] In the resultant power vacuum, Oman invaded Bahrain in 1717, ending over one hundred years of Persian hegemony in Bahrain. The Omani invasion began a period of political instability and a quick succession of outside rulers took power with consequent destruction. According to a contemporary account by theologian, Sheikh Yusuf Al Bahrani, in an unsuccessful attempt by the Persians and their Bedouin allies to take back Bahrain from the Kharijite Omanis, much of the country was burnt to the ground.[52] Bahrain was eventually sold back to the Persians by the Omanis, but the weakness of the Safavid empire saw Huwala tribes seize control.[53]

In 1730, the new Shah of Persia, Nadir Shah, sought to re-assert Persian sovereignty in Bahrain. He ordered Latif Khan, the admiral of the Persian navy in the Persian Gulf, to prepare an invasion fleet in Bushehr.[51] The Persians invaded in March or early April 1736 when the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Jubayr, was away on hajj.[51] The invasion brought the island back under central rule and to challenge Oman in the Persian Gulf. He sought help from the British and Dutch, and he eventually recaptured Bahrain in 1736.[54] During the Qajar era, Persian control over Bahrain waned[51] and in 1753, Bahrain was occupied by the Sunni Persians of the Bushire-based Al Madhkur family,[55] who ruled Bahrain in the name of Persia and paid allegiance to Karim Khan Zand.

During most of the eighteenth century, Bahrain was ruled by Nasr Al-Madhkur, the emperor of Bushehr. The Bani Utibah tribe from Zubarah exceeded in taking over Bahrain after a war broke out in 1782. Persian attempts to reconquer the island in 1783 and in 1785 failed; the 1783 expedition was a joint Persian-Qawasim invasion force that never left Bushehr. The 1785 invasion fleet, composed of forces from Bushehr, Rig and Shiraz was called off after the death of the ruler of Shiraz, Ali Murad Khan. Due to internal difficulties, the Persians could not attempt another invasion.[56] In 1799, Bahrain came under threat from the expansionist policies of Sayyid Sultan, the Sultan of Oman, when he invaded the island under the pretext that Bahrain did not pay taxes owed.[57] The Bani Utbah solicited the aid of Bushire to expel the Omanis on the condition that Bahrain would become a tributary state of Persia. In 1800, Sayyid Sultan invaded Bahrain again in retaliation and deployed a garrison at Arad Fort, in Muharraq island and had appointed his twelve-year-old son Salim, as Governor of the island.[57] [58]

Many names of villages in Bahrain are derived from the Persian language.[59] These names were thought to have been as a result influences during the Safavid rule of Bahrain (1501–1722) and previous Persian rule. Village names such as Karbabad, Salmabad, Karzakan, Duraz, Barbar were originally derived from the Persian language, suggesting that Persians had a substantial effect on the island's history.[59] The local Bahrani Arabic dialect has also borrowed many words from the Persian language.[59] Bahrain's capital city, Manama is derived from two Persian words meaning 'I' and 'speech'.[59]

In 1910, the Persian community funded and opened a private school, Al-Ittihad school, that taught Farsi amongst other subjects.[60] According to the 1905 census, there were 1650 Bahraini citizens of Persian origin.[61]

Historian Nasser Hussain says that many Iranians fled their native country in the early 20th century due to a law king Reza Shah issued which banned women from wearing the hijab, or because they feared for their lives after fighting the English, or to find jobs. They were coming to Bahrain from Bushehr and the Fars province between 1920 to 1940. In the 1920s, local Persian merchants were prominently involved in the consolidation of Bahrain's first powerful lobby with connections to the municipality in effort to contest the municipal legislation of British control.[61]

Bahrain's local Persian community have heavily influenced the country's local food dishes. One of the most notable local delicacies of the people in Bahrain is mahyawa, consumed in Southern Iran as well, is a watery earth brick coloured sauce made from sardines and consumed with bread or other food. Bahrain's Persians are also famous in Bahrain for bread-making. Another local delicacy is "pishoo" made from rose water (golab) and agar agar. Other food items consumed are similar to Persian cuisine.


Throughout history, Iran always had strong cultural ties with the region of nowadays Iraq. Mesopotamia is considered as the cradle of civilization and the place where the first empires in history were established. These empires, namely the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian, dominated the ancient middle east for millennia, which explains the great influence of the Mesopotamia on the Iranian culture and history, and it is also the reason why the later Iranian and Greek dynasties chose Mesopotamia to be the political centre of their rule. For a period of around 500 years, what is now Iraq formed the core of Iran, with the Iranian Parthian and Sasanian empire having their capital in what is modern-day Iraq for the same centuries long time span. (Ctesiphon)

The Cyrus Cylinder, written in Babylonian cuneiform in the name of the Achaemenid king, Cyrus the Great. It describes the Persian takeover of Babylon (the ancient name of Iraq).

Because the Achaemenid Empire or "First Persian Empire" was the successor state to the empires of Assyria and Babylonia based in Iraq, and because Elam is part of Iran, the ancient people of Iran were ruled by ancient Mesopotamians, which explains the close proximity between the people of south western Iran and the Iraqis even in modern days, in fact, the people of that part of Iran speak Mesopotamian Arabic and were put under the rule of modern Iran by the British. The ancient Persians adopted Babylonian cuneiform script and modified it to write their language, along with adopting many other facets of ancient Iraqi culture, including the Aramaic language which became the official language of the Persian Empire.

The Cyrus Cylinder, written in Babylonian cuneiform in the name of the Achaemenid king Cyrus, describes the Persian takeover of Babylon (the ancient name of Iraq). An excerpt reads:

An 1814 map of Persia, depicting the large western province of Irak (Persian Iraq), bordered on the west by Irak Arabi (Arabic Iraq) – under Georgian Mamluk rule at the time, and Kourdistan – under direct Ottoman rule at the time.

According to Iranologist Richard N. Frye:

Testimony to the close relationship shared by Iraq and western Iran during the Abbasid era and later centuries, is the fact that the two regions came to share the same name. The western region of Iran (ancient Media) was called 'Irāq-e 'Ajamī ("Persian Iraq"), while central-southern Iraq (Babylonia) was called 'Irāq al-'Arabī ("Arabic Iraq") or Bābil ("Babylon"). And the name Iraq comes from the ancient Mesopotamian city Uruk, which suggests an even older relationship.

For centuries the two neighbouring regions were known as "The Two Iraqs" ("al-'Iraqain"). The 12th century Persian poet Khāqāni wrote a famous poem Tohfat-ul Iraqein ("The Gift of the Two Iraqs"). The city of Arāk in western Iran still bears the region's old name, and Iranians still traditionally call the region between Tehran, Isfahan and Īlām "ʿErāq".

During medieval ages, Mesopotamian and Iranian peoples knew each other's languages because of trade, and because Arabic was the language of religion and science at that time. The Timurid historian Ḥāfeẓ-e Abru (d. 1430) wrote of Iraq:

The Imām Husayn Shrine in Karbalā, Iraq is one of Shīa Islām's holiest sites and a place of great annual pilgrimage, receiving tens of millions of visitors each year.

Iraqis share religious and certain cultural ties Iranians. The majority of Iranians are Twelver Shia (an Islamic sect established in Iraq), although the majority of Iranians were Sunni Muslims and did not convert to Shia until the Safavids forced Shi'ism in Iran.

Iraqi culture has commonalities with the culture of Iran. The spring festival of Nowruz that is celebrated in Iran and some parts of Iraq roots back to the Akitu spring festival (Babylonian new year). The Mesopotamian cuisine has also similarities to the Persian cuisine and has common dishes and cooking techniques. The Iraqi dialect has absorbed many words from the Persian language as well.[66]

There are still cities and provinces in Iraq where the Persian names of the city are still retained. e.g. ’Anbār and Baghdad. Other cities of Iraq with originally Persian names include Nokard (نوكرد) --> Haditha, Suristan (سورستان) --> Kufa, Shahrban (شهربان) --> Muqdadiyah, Arvandrud (اروندرود) --> Shatt al-Arab, and Asheb (آشب) --> Amadiya,[67] Peroz-Shapur --> Anbar (town)

In the modern era, the Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly reasserted their hegemony over Iraq in the periods of 1501–1533 and 1622–1638, losing Iraq to the Ottoman Empire on both occasions (via the Treaty of Amasya in 1555 and the Treaty of Zuhab in 1639). Ottoman hegemony over Iraq was reconfirmed in the Treaty of Kerden in 1746.

Following the fall of the Ba'athist regime in 2003 and the empowerment of Iraq's majority Shī'i community, relations with Iran have flourished in all fields. Iraq is today Iran’s largest trading partner in regard to non-oil goods.[69]

Many Iranians were born in Iraq or have ancestors from Iraq,[68] such as the Chairman of Iran's Parliament Ali Larijani, the former Chief Justice of Iran Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, who were born in Najaf and Karbala respectively. In the same way, many Iraqis were born in Iran or have ancestors from Iran,[68] such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was born in Mashhad.

Nevertheless, most (if not all) of Iraqi do not have a sense of belonging to such an entity, and there was never a political or social movement in modern Iraq calling for unity between the Iraqi and the Iranian peoples. However, Arab Nationalism was very popular during the 50s and the 60s, in addition to Iraqi Nationalism which has also been popular in the last century and even sometimes in parallel with Arab Nationalism. Pros of Iraqi Nationalism see modern Iraqis as the descendent of the ancient and medieval Mesopotamian civilizations.


Culturally and historically Kurdistan has been a part of what is known as Greater Iran. Kurds speak a Northwestern Iranian language known as Kurdish. Many aspects of Kurdish culture are related to the other peoples of Greater Iran, examples include Newroz[71] and Simurgh.[72] Some historians and linguists, such as Vladimir Minorsky,[73] have suggested that the Medes, an Iranian people[74] who inhabited much of western Iran, including Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, might have been forefathers of modern Kurds.



Map showing Irans's northwestern borders in the 19th century, comprising nowadays Eastern Georgia, Dagestan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, prior to being forcefully ceded to Imperial Russia per the two Russo-Persian Wars of the 19th century.

Armenia was a province of various Persian Empires since the Achaemenid period and was heavily influenced by Persian culture, sharing millennia long relations with Iran. Even though often in history the region has been associated as a native Iranian region since the time of the Achaemenids till the early 19th century during the Qajar Dynasty era, Armenia however, has historically been largely populated by a distinct Indo-European-speaking people who merged with local Caucasian peoples, rather than being directly associated with the Iranian peoples. Ancient Armenian society was a combination of local cultures, significant Iranian social and political structures, and Hellenic/Christian traditions.[75] Many dynasties that ruled the territory of Armenia were of Iranian origin, such as the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, which was an eponymous branch of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia. Most of the Armenian lands were predominantly Zoroastrian in the late Parthian era, prior to the official acceptation of Christianity.[76] Armenia has, intermittently, been an integral part of Iran for millennia since the Achaemenids all the way to the Qajar Dynasty, before ultimately irrevocably being ceded to the Russians per the latter's victory in the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828). Thus, in the course of the 19th century, Iran was forced to cede its Armenian territories to neighboring Imperial Russia, which would later, in the course of the 20th century, become the modern Armenian state.

Iran continues to have a millennia old sizeable Armenian minority, the largest in the Middle East, and amongst the largest and oldest in the world, that links Armenians to Iranian culture, and the people of Iran and Armenia still share significant cultural and ethnical ties. Armenia also has a sizeable recent Iranian community. Many Armenians such as Yeprem Khan were directly involved and are remembered in the more contemporary history of Iran. Armenian language retains large influence of Iranian languages, such as Parthian language and Persian language.


According to Tadeusz Swietochowski, the territories of Iran and the republic of Azerbaijan usually shared the same history from the time of ancient Media (ninth to seventh centuries b.c.) and the Persian Empire (sixth to fourth centuries b.c.).[77]

Intimately and inseparably intertwined histories for millennia, Iran irrevocably lost the territory that is nowadays Azerbaijan in the course of the 19th century. With the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813 following the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) Iran had to officially cede Georgia, its possessions in the North Caucasus and many of those in modern-day North Azerbaijan ("Republic of Azerbaijan"), which included Baku Khanate, Shirvan Khanate, Karabakh Khanate, Ganja Khanate, Shaki Khanate, Quba Khanate, and parts of the Talysh Khanate. Derbent (Darband) Khanate of Dagestan was also lost to Russia. These Khanates comprise most of what is today the Republic of Azerbaijan and Dagestan in Southern Russia. By the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 following the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828), the result was even more disastrous, and resulted in Iran being forced to cede the Nakhichevan Khanate and the Mughan regions to Russia, as well as Erivan Khanate, and the remainder of the Talysh Khanate. All these territories together, lost in 1813 and 1828 combined, constitute all of the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, and southern Dagestan. The area to the North of the river Aras, among which the territory of the contemporary republic of Azerbaijan were Iranian territory until they were occupied by Russia in the course of the 19th century.[78][79][80][81][82][83]

Many localities in this region bear Persian names or names derived from Iranian languages and Azerbaijan remains by far Iran's closest cultural, religious, ethnic and historical neighbor. Azerbaijanis are by far the second largest ethnicity in Iran, and comprise the largest community of ethnic Azerbaijanis in the world, vastly outnumbering the amount in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Both nations are the only officially Shia majority in the world, with adherents of the religion comprising an absolute majority in both nations. The people of nowadays Iran and Azerbaijan were converted to Shiism during exactly the same time in history. Furthermore, the name of "Azerbaijan" is derived through the name of the Persian satrap which ruled the contemporary region of Iranian Azerbaijan and minor parts of the Republic of Azerbaijan in ancient times.[84][85] In 1918, the Azerbaijani Musavat party adopted the name for the nation upon the independence of the former territories under the Russian Empire.


Prince Muhammad-Beik of Georgia, 1620. Artist is Reza Abbasi. Painting is located at Berlin's Museum Für Islamische Kunst.

Georgia and in particular its regions of Kartli and Kakheti, were Persian Provinces since Achaemenid times, through Sassanid times (particularly starting with Hormozd IV), with occasionally losing it, all the way up to the Qajar Dynasty in the 19th century. However, sometimes other regions such as Imereti and the complete western part of the country were added and put under Iranian suzerainty, such as under Shah Abbas the Great and Nader Shah respectively. Georgia played very high importance in Iran since Safavid times, where many members of the Georgian elite were involved in the Safavid government, royal house, civil administration, army and harems. Hundreds of thousands of Georgians were moved to Iran since the era of the Safavids all the way till the Qajars. It is estimated that at the end of the 16th century under Iranian Safavids rule, some 250,000 Georgians were living in Iran.[86] Just some of the many notable individuals of Georgian descent are Amin al-Sultan, former Prime Minister of Iran, who was the son of a Georgian father,[87] general Bahram Aryana, Shah Safi, Manucheher Khan Motamed-od-Dowleh, Heydar Ali (son of Tahmasp I, actor Cyrus Gorjestani, Sima Gorjestani, Nematollah Gorji, poet Nima Yooshij, Dr. Leila Karimi (originally known as Goginashvili), footballer Mahmoud Karimi (Mahmoud Karimi Sibaki), Reza Shah, harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, and many, many others.

Other notable Iranian Georgians from the Safavid and Qajar times include Gurgin Khan (Georgia XI of Kartli), Daud Khan Undiladze, Qajar statesman Dowlatshah, Rostom-Khan Saakadze, Rustam Khan (Rostom of Kartli), Parsadan Gorgijanidze, Aliquli Jabbadar and many others.

Rostom (also known as Rustam Khan), Safavid viceroy of Kartli, eastern Georgia, from 1633-1658.

Eastern Georgia was under the intermittent suzerainty of Persia from 1555 until 1783 when Erekle II of Kartli and Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, formally abjuring any dependence on Iran, and laying the authority over all Georgian matters in the Russian hands, most importantly, in case of renewed Iranian ambitions to bring Georgia back within the Iranian territories. Iran led by Agha Mohammad Khan of the recently ascending Qajar dynasty, did, like all shah's before him view Georgia as an integral Iranian province. After having secured mainland Iran following the civil war that had erupted with the death of the last Zand ruler, he turned his gaze upon the Caucasus, which had, with the ongoing chaos in mainland Iran, mostly broken away into Khanates, apart from Georgia which became to a degree unified. In 1795, after having made several amends to Erekle II, the king of Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti and a formerly appointed Iranian viceroy over the Georgian lands, to denounce the 1786 treaty with Russia and to voluntarily re-accept Iranian rule (which he denied), he invaded, captured, and sacked Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, bringing Georgia effectively back within the Iranian territories, after being separated from each other for just some decades. However, following a turn of events and the death of Agha Mohammad Khan as well as the devastated state of Georgia, Russia found itself easily able to annex Georgia in 1801. These turn of events directly led up to the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), as Iran was unable by all means to let go its integral territories in the Caucasus, which had always been seen on an even got as the Iranian territories in mainland Iran. Following Iran's defeat in the war, it officially gave up its claims to Georgia according to the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813. Persian culture made a huge impact on Georgia and its peoples. The word Georgia itself is derived from the Persian designation of the Georgians, gurğ, ğurğ, borrowed around the time of the First Crusade, but ultimately derived from a Middle Persian varkâna, meaning "land of wolves".

During the Safavid, Afsharid and Qajar era, most Georgian nobles and royals were patrons of Persian culture, such as Teimuraz I of Kakheti and many others. Today, the people of Georgia and Iran still share significant cultural ties and to a lesser degree ethnical ties. Iran maintains a large minority of Georgians inside their country, and it is estimated that the amount of Iranians with Georgian ancestry exceeds that of the total amount of Georgians in Georgia.


Early in antiquity, Narseh of Persia is known to have had fortifications built here. In later times, some of Persia's literary and intellectual figures from the Qajar period have hailed from this region. Under intermittent Iranian suzerainty since antiquity, it was also separated from Iran in the mid-19th century, by virtue of the Gulistan Treaty and Turkmenchay Treaty.

که تا جایگه یافتی نخچوان
Oh Nakhchivan, respect you've attained,
بدین شاه شد بخت پیرت جوان
With this King in luck you'll remain.

North Caucasus[edit]

Sassanian fortress in Derbent, Dagestan. Now inscribed on Russia's UNESCO world heritage list since 2003.

North Caucasus region in today's southern Russia including the republics of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and other republics and oblasts of the region long formed part of Persia, most notably under the Safavids and Afsharids, and of the Iranian cultural sphere until they were conquered and annexed by Imperial Russia over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Strong Persian cultural influence can be traced up as far as Tatarstan in central Russia. Dagestan remains the bastion of Persian culture in the North Caucasus with fine examples of Iranian architecture like the Sassanid citadel in Derbent, strong influence of Persian cuisine, and common Persian names amongst the ethnic peoples of Dagestan. The ethnic Persian population of the North Caucasus, the Tats, remain, despite strong assimilation over the years, still visible in several North Caucasian cities. Even today, after decades of partition, some of these regions retain a sort of Iranian identity, as seen in their old beliefs, traditions and customs (e.g. Norouz).[88]

Central Asia[edit]

Khwarazm is one of the regions of Iran-zameen, and is the home of the ancient Iranians, Airyanem Vaejah, according to the ancient book of the Avesta. Modern scholars believe Khwarazm to be what ancient Avestic texts refer to as "Ariyaneh Waeje" or Iran vij. Iranovich These sources claim that Urgandj, which was the capital of ancient Khwarazm for many years, was actually "Ourva": the eighth land of Ahura Mazda mentioned in the Pahlavi text of Vendidad. Others such as University of Hawaii historian Elton L. Daniel believe Khwarazm to be the "most likely locale" corresponding to the original home of the Avestan people,[89] while Dehkhoda calls Khwarazm "the cradle of the Aryan tribe" (مهد قوم آریا). Today Khwarazm is split between several central Asian republics.

Superimposed on and overlapping with Chorasmia was Khorasan which roughly covered nearly the same geographical areas in Central Asia (starting from Semnan eastward through northern Afghanistan roughly until the foothills of Pamir, ancient Mount Imeon). Current day provinces such as Sanjan in Turkmenia, Razavi Khorasan Province, North Khorasan Province, and Southern Khorasan Province in Iran are all remnants of the old Khorasan. Until the 13th century and the devastating Mongol invasion of the region, Khorasan was considered the cultural capital of Greater Iran.[90]


The national anthem in Tajikistan, "Surudi Milli", attests to the Perso-Tajik identity, which has seen a large revival, after the breakup of the USSR. Their language is almost identical to that spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, and their cities have Persian names, e.g. Dushanbe, Isfara, Rasht Valley, Garm, Murghab, Vahdat, Zar-afshan river, Shurab, and Kulob ([4]). It is also important to note that Rudaki, considered by many as the father of modern Persian Language, was from the modern day region of Tajikistan.


Home of the Parthian Empire (Nysa). Merv is also where the half-Persian caliph al-Mamun moved his capital to. The city of Eshgh Abad (some claim that the word is actually the transformed form of "Ashk Abad" literally meaning "built by Ashk", the head of Arsacid dynasty) is yet another Persian word meaning "city of love", and like Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, it was once part of Airyanem Vaejah.


Uzbekistan has a local Tajik population. The famous Persian cities of Afrasiab, Bukhara, Samarkand, Shahrisabz, Andijan, Khiveh, Navā'i, Shirin, Termez, and Zar-afshan are located here. These cities are the birthplace of the Islamic era Persian literature. The Samanids, who claimed inheritance to the Sassanids, had their capital built here.

ای بخارا شاد باش و دیر زی
Oh Bukhara! Joy to you and live long!
شاه زی تو میهمان آید همی
Your King comes to you in ceremony.


The Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County regions of China harbored a Persian population and culture.[91] Chinese Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County was always counted as a part of the Iranian cultural & linguistic continent with Kashgar, Yarkand, Hotan, and Turpan bound to the Iranian history.[92]

The culture of the Muslim Uyghur people of Xinjiang has been strongly influenced by Persian culture.

South Asia[edit]


Afghanistan was part of Greater Khorasan, and hence was recognized with the name Khorasan (along with regions centered on Merv and Nishapur), which in Pahlavi means "The Eastern Land" (خاور زمین in Persian).[93]

Nowadays region of Afghanistan is where Balkh is located, home of Rumi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Sanāī Ghaznawi, Jami, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari and where many other notables in Persian literature came from.

ز زابل به کابل رسید آن زمان
From Zabul he arrived to Kabul
گرازان و خندان و دل شادمان
Strutting, happy, and mirthful
---Ferdowsi in Shahnama


There is considerable influence of Iranian-speaking peoples in Pakistan. The region of Baluchistan is split between Pakistan and Iran and Baluchi, the majority languages of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan are also spoken in Southeastern Iran. In fact, the Chagai Hills and the western part of Makran district were part of Iran till the Durand Line was drawn in the late 1800s. According to Arrian Indica, India ended at Malana (present-day Ras Malan in Baluchistan) and Persia began.

Pashto which is spoken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA of Pakistan and Afghanistan is an Iranian language.

Historical and modern maps of Iran[edit]


See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Marcinkowski, Christoph (2010). Shi'ite Identities: Community and Culture in Changing Social Contexts. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 83. ISBN 978-3-643-80049-7. 
  3. ^ "Interview with Richard N. Frye (CNN)". Retrieved 2007. 
  4. ^ Richard Nelson Frye, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1962), pp. 261-268 I use the term Iran in an historical context[...]Persia would be used for the modern state, more or less equivalent to "western Iran". I use the term "Greater Iran" to mean what I suspect most Classicists and ancient historians really mean by their use of Persia - that which was within the political boundaries of States ruled by Iranians.
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  6. ^ Lange, Christian. Justice, Punishment and the Medieval Muslim Imagination. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88782-3.  Lange: "I further restrict the scope of this study by focusing on the lands of Iraq and greater Persia (including Khwārazm, Transoxania, and Afghanistan)."
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  9. ^ Columbia College Today:Encyclopaedia Iranica
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External links[edit]