Province in northeastern Iran.
The northeasternmost province (ostan) of Iran, with its capital at Mashhad, Khorasan is dominated by a zone of mountain ranges, a continuation of the Alborz Mountains in northern Iran, running roughly northwest to southeast. It is the longest province in the country, covering 194,700 square miles. Khorasan is bounded on the north by the steppes and deserts of Turkmenistan and on the east by Afghanistan; to the west and south lie extensive landlocked deserts such as the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut. Khorasan receives adequate rainfall only in the more northerly mountain zone, where there is a relatively flourishing agricultural and pastoral economy and the population is quite dense. The southern region typically has an oasis pattern of life sustained by wells and irrigation systems called qanats (underground canals).
Khorasan's strategic position as a corridor between the steppe and the settled parts of the Middle East endowed it with a rich cultural and political history up until the modern period. Through Khorasan, armies of Alexander the Great of Macedonia (356–323 b.c.e.) passed to Central Asia and India, and Turkish people moved into the Middle East. In
the pre-Islamic times Khorasan was one of the four great provinces of Iran. In the early Islamic period Tus was one of the great cities of Central Asia. The seventh Shiʿa Imam, Reza, came to Tus in the early ninth century. He died in a nearby village, and his tomb then developed into a pilgrimage site. The village eventually developed into the city of Mashhad.
During the second half of the eighteenth century, parts of Khorasan passed into the hands of the Durrani Afghan chief Ahmad Shah for a short period of time. But in the late eighteenth century, Khorasan was fully restored to the newly established Qajar dynasty. As a result of continuous wars with the Uzbeks (Ozbegs) and Turkmens, however, life in the northern regions of Khorasan continued to be precarious. Commerce and agriculture declined, and many Iranians were captured as slaves by the central Asian emirates. Only Russian intervention and annexation of Khiva in 1873 and the crushing of the Turkmens in 1881, actions motivated by Russian political ambitions, finally ended the insecurity.
Meanwhile, relations with the amirs of Afghanistan continued to deteriorate. Yet another super-power intervention, this time British, put a halt to this hostility. Herat, also a part of Khorasan, was ceded to Afghanistan after a brief war between the Qajar ruler Naser al-Din Shah and the British in 1856 and 1857. The boundary dispute between Iran and Afghanistan was not settled until 1934 to 1935.
Variegated political and cultural influences on Khorasan have created a heterogeneous population in the region, including tribes such as Turkmens, Kurds, Baluchi, Arabs, and others. The population of Khorasan in 2002 was over 6 million, with over 1.8 million people living in Mashhad.
see also mashhad.