Khuzestan Province ( Ostān-e Khūzestān) is one of the 31 provinces of Iran. It is in the southwest of the country, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Its capital is Ahvaz and it covers an area of 63,238 km 2 . Since 2014 it has been part of Iran's Region 4.
As the Iranian province with the oldest history, it is often referred to as the "birthplace of the nation", as this is where the history of the Elamites begins. Historically, one of the most important regions of the Ancient Near East, Khuzestan is what historians refer to as ancient Elam, whose capital was in Susa. The Achaemenid Old Persian term for Elam was Hujiyā when they conquered it from the Elamites, which is present in the modern name. Khuzestan, meaning "the Land of the Khuz", refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the "Susian" people (Old Persian "Huza" or Huja, as in the inscription at the tomb of Darius the Great at Naqsh-e Rostam). They are the Shushan of the Hebrew sources where they are recorded as "Hauja" or "Huja". In Middle Persian, the term evolves into "Khuz" and "Kuzi". The pre-Islamic Partho-Sasanian inscriptions gives the name of the province as Khwuzestan.
The seat of the province has for the most of its history been in the northern reaches of the land, first at Susa (Shush) and then at Shushtar. During a short spell in the Sasanian era, the capital of the province was moved to its geographical center, where the river town of Hormuz-Ardasher, founded over the foundation of the ancient Hoorpahir by Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Dynasty in the 3rd century CE. This town is now known as Ahvaz. However, later in the Sasanian time and throughout the Islamic era, the provincial seat returned and stayed at Shushtar, until the late Qajar period. With the increase in the international sea commerce arriving on the shores of Khuzistan, Ahvaz became a more suitable location for the provincial capital. The River Karun is navigable all the way to Ahvaz (above which, it flows through rapids). The town was thus refurbished by the order of the Qajar king, Naser al-Din Shah and renamed after him, Nâseri. Shushtar quickly declined, while Ahvaz/Nâseri prospered to the present day.
Khuzestan is known for its ethnic diversity; the population of Khuzestan consists of Lurs, Iranian Arabs, Qashqai people, Afshar tribe, indigenous Persians and Iranian Armenians. Khuzestan's population is predominantly Shia Muslim, but there are small Christian, Jewish, Sunni and Mandean minorities. Half of Khuzestan's population is Bakhtiari.
Since the 1920s, tensions on religious and ethnic grounds have often resulted in violence and attempted separatism, including an uprising in 1979, unrest in 2005, bombings in 2005–06 and protests in 2011, drawing much criticism of Iran by international human rights organizations. In 1980, the region was invaded by Ba'athist Iraq, leading to the Iran–Iraq War. Currently, Khuzestan has 18 representatives in Iran's parliament, the Majlis. Meanwhile, it has six representatives in the Assembly of Experts, including Ayatollahs Mousavi Jazayeri, Ka'bi, Heidari, Farhani, Ali Shafi'i, Muhammad Hussain Ahmadi.
The name Khuzestan means "The Land of the Khuzi", and refers to the original inhabitants of this province, the "Susian" people (Old Persian "Huza", Middle Persian "Khuzi" or "Husa" (the Shushan of the Hebrew sources). The name of the city of Ahvaz also has the same origin as the name Khuzestan, being an Arabic broken plural from the compound name, "Suq al-Ahvaz" (Market of the Huzis)--the medieval name of the town, that replaced the Sasanian Persian name of the pre-Islamic times.
The entire province was still known as "the Khudhi" or "the Khooji" until the reign of the Safavid king Tahmasp I (r. 1524–1576) and in general the course of the 16th century. The southern half of the province—south, southwest of the Ahwaz Ridge, had come by the 17th century to be known—at least to the imperial Safavid chancery as Arabistan. The contemporaneous history, the Alamara-i Abbasi by Iskandar Beg Munshi, written during the reign of king Abbas I (r. 1588–1629), regularly refers to the southern part of Khuzestan as "Arabistan". The northern half continued to be called Khuzestan. In 1925, the entire province regained the old name and the term Arabistan was dropped.
There is also a very old folk etymology which maintains the word "khouz" stands for sugar and "Khouzi" for people who make raw sugar. The province has been a cane sugar-producing area since the late Sassanian times, such as the sugar cane fields of the Dez River side in Dezful. Khouzhestan has been the land of Khouzhies who cultivate sugar cane even today in Haft Tepe.
There have been many attempts at finding other sources for the name, but none have proved tenable.