1902 Encyclopedia > Khorasan


KHORASAN, i.e., "land of the sun," a geographical term originally applied to the eastern quarter of the four, named from the cardinal points, into which the ancient monarchy of the Sassanians was divided. After the Arabic conquests the name was retained both as the desig-nation of a definite province and in a looser sense. Under the new Persian empire the expression has gradually be-come restricted to the north-eastern portion of Persia proper, of which it now forms the largest province. The boundaries of this vast region have scarcely anywhere been accurately determined, and have constantly fluctuated, especially towards the north and east. Speaking generally, however, the province is conterminous on the east with Afghanistan and Sistan, north with Astrabad and the re-recently organized Russian trans-Caspian territory, north-east with the Turkoman country, west with Mazandaran and Irak-Adjemi, south with Farsistan and Kirman. It lies mainly within 33° 30-38° 30' N. lat. and 53°-61° E. long., extending 500 miles north-west and south-east and 300 north and south, with total area of about 150,000 square miles, and a population estimated at from 800,000 to over 1,000,000.

The surface in the north, south-west, and partly in the east is distinctly mountainous to a far greater extent than is commonly supposed. The ranges generally run in two or more parallel ridges, enclosing extensive longitudinal valleys, and running in the normal direction from north-west to south-east. The whole of the north is occupied by an extensive highland system forming a continuation of the Hindu Kush and Paropamisus, and stretching from the
Herat valley between the Iranian plateau and the Turkestan depression north-west to the south-east corner of the Caspian. This system, for which there is no general name, but which is now sometimes spoken of collectively as the Kuren-Dagh or Kopet-Dagh, from its chief sections, forms in the east three ranges, the Hazar-Masjid, Binalud-Kuh, and Jagatai, enclosing the Meshhed-Kuchan valley and the Jagatai plain. The former is watered by the Kashaf-rud, or river of Meshhed, flowing east to the Hari-rud, their junction forming the Tejend, which sweeps round the Daman-i-Koh, or northern skirt of the outer range in the direction of the Caspian or Usboi (old bed of the Oxus), but now losing itself in the desert long before reaching them. The Jagatai plain is watered by the Kal-Mura river formed by the junction of the Kara-su and several other head streams, and flowing south-west to the Great Salt Desert. In the west the northern highlands also develop three branches, the Kuren-Dagh stretching through the Great and Little Balkans to the Caspian at Krasnovodsk Bay, the Ala-Dagh forming a continuation of the Binalud-Kuh and the Astrabad mountains merging south-westwards in the Elburz system. The Kuren and Ala Daghs enclose the valley of the Atrek, which flows mainly west to the Caspian at Hasan Kuli bay. The western offshoots of the Ala Dagh and the Astrabad mountains enclose in the same way the valley of the Gurgan, which also flows westwards to the south-east corner of the Caspian. The outer range has probably a mean altitude of 8000 feet, the highest known summits being the Hazar-Masjid (10,500 feet) and the Kara-Dagh (9800); it is crossed by the Maidan-Kuni and Allaho-Akhbar (4200 feet) passes leading from Kuchan north to the Daragez district. The central range seems to be still higher, culminating with the Shah Jahan Kuh (11,000 feet), the Kuh Ala Dagh (12,300), and Kuh Khorkhud (12,500). The southern ridges, although generally much lower, have the highest point of the whole system in the Shah-Kuh (13,000 feet) at the junction of the Astrabad and Elburz ranges.

Another system runs diagonally right across the province from Yezd in the south-west to the Hari-rud valley in the north-east, throwing off the Kuh Shorab, Kuh Shutari (10,000 feet), and Kuh Nastanji (8000 feet) in the Tabbas district. Towards Sistan the country is also very moun-tainous, with several nearly parallel ridges stretching from near Tun south-east to the Hamun lake or swamp.

Beyond the Atrek and others watering the northern valleys there are scarcely any rivers, and most of these are brackish and intermittent, losing themselves in the Dasht-i-Kavir or Great Salt Desert, which occupies the central and western parts of the province, and which is separated by the diagonal range from the more sandy and drier desert of Lut in the south. The true character o{ the kavir, which forms the distinctive feature of east Persia, has scarcely yet been determined, some regarding it as the bed of a dried-up sea, others as developed by the saline streams draining to it from the surrounding highlands. Collecting in the central depressions, which have a mean elevation of scarcely more than 500 feet above the Caspian, the water of these streams is supposed to form a saline efflorescence with a thin whitish crust beneath whiclt the moisture is retained for a considerable time, thus producing those dangerous and slimy quagmires which in winter are covered with brine, in summer with a thick incrustation of silt. " The waters of all springs and rivers contain salts in minute quantities, but the rivers of Persia are often so salt as to be undrinkable. The salts brought down by the rivers are deposited in the marsh, which thus gets Salter year by year. It dries up during the fierce summer heats, to become a marsh again when the winter floods occur. This process is repeated for ages, and in the course of time the whole soil over which the marsh extends becomes encrusted with salt."

The surface of Khorasan thus consists mainly of high-lands, saline swampy deserts, and fertile well-watered upland valleys. Of the last, occurring mainly in the north, the chief are the longitudinal valley stretching from near the Herat frontier through Meshhed, Kuchan, and Shirvan to Bunjurd, and the Daragez district, which lies on the northern skirt of the outer range projecting into the Akhal Tekke domain, now Russian territory. These fertile tracts produce rice and other cereals, some cotton, tobacco, saffron, and especially melons and other fruits in great profusion, 45 lb of splendid grapes being sold in Daragez for ninepence. Other products are manna, gums, and great quantities of asafoetida, which is not used by the natives but exported to India. The chief manufactures are the famous Khorasan sabres, firearms, stoneware, armour, fine carpets and rugs, velvets, woollens, cottons, and sheepskin pelisses.

The population is far from homogeneous, consisting of Iranians (Tajiks, Kurds, and Baluchis), Mongols, Tatars, and Arabs, as under :—

== TABLE ==

The Persians proper have always represented the settled, industrial, and trading elements, and to them the Kurds (removed to the north by Shah Ismail) and the Arabs have become largely assimilated. Even many of the Tatar nomad tribes, collectively called Iliat, have become Shakr-nishin, i.e., "townsfolk," or settled. But all the Baluchis are not only still Sahra-nishin, i.e., "country or desert folk," but have lately resumed their old predatory habits, covering incredible distances on their swift camels, and harassing the country as far west as the Yezd district. On the other hand the raids of the Turkoman marauders have almost entirely ceased since the reduction of the Akhal Tekke Turkomans by the Russians in the spring of 1881. In religion great uniformity prevails, all except the Baluchis and Turkomans having conformed to the national Shiah sect.

The administrative divisions of the province seem to be Daragez, Kuchan, Turshiz, Tabbas, Ghayn, Khaf, Meshhed, Nishapur, Shahrud, and Damgan. The chief towns are Meshhed, Kuchan, Mohammadabad, Shirvan, Bostan, Turshiz, Tiin, Tabbas, Khaf, and Ghayn. (A. H. K.)

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