1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Khorasan

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KHORASAN, or Khorassan (i.e. “land of the sun”), a geographical term originally applied to the eastern of the four quarters (named from the cardinal points) into which the ancient monarchy of the Sassanians was divided. After the Arab conquest the name was retained both as the designation of a definite province and in a looser sense. Under the new Persian empire the expression has gradually become restricted to the north-eastern portion of Persia which forms one of the five great provinces of that country. The province is conterminous E. with Afghanistan, N. with Russian Transcaspian territory, W. with Astarabad and Shahrud-Bostam, and S. with Kerman and Yezd. It lies mainly within 29° 45′–38° 15′ N. and 56°–61° E., extending about 320 m. east and west and 570 m. north and south, with a total area of about 150,000 sq. m. The surface is mountainous. The ranges generally run in parallel ridges, inclosing extensive valleys, with a normal direction from N.W. to S.E. The whole of the north is occupied by an extensive highland system composed of a part of the Elburz and its continuation extending to the Paropamisus. This system, sometimes spoken of collectively as the Kuren Dagh, or Kopet Dagh from its chief sections, forms in the east three ranges, the Hazar Masjed, Binalud Kuh and Jagatai, enclosing the Meshed-Kuchan valley and the Jovain plain. The former is watered by the Kashaf-rud (Tortoise River), or river of Meshed, flowing east to the Hari-rud, their junction forming the Tejen, which sweeps round the Daman-i-Kuh, or northern skirt of the outer range, towards the Caspian but loses itself in the desert long before reaching it. The Jovain plain is watered by the Kali-i-mura, an unimportant river which flows south to the Great Kavir or central depression. In the west the northern highlands develop two branches: (1) the Kuren Dagh, stretching through the Great and Little Balkans to the Caspian at Krasnovodsk Bay, (2) the Ala Dagh, forming a continuation of the Binalud Kuh and joining the mountains between Bujnurd and Astarabad, which form part of the Elburz system. The Kuren Dagh and Ala Dagh enclose the valley of the Atrek River, which flows west and south-west into the Caspian at Hassan Kuli Bay. The western offshoots of the Ala Dagh in the north and the mountains of Astarabad in the south enclose the valley of the Gurgan River, which also flows westwards and parallel to the Atrek to the south-eastern corner of the Caspian. The outer range has probably a mean altitude of 8000 ft., the highest known summits being the Hazar Masjed (10,500) and the Kara Dagh (9800). The central range seems to be higher, culminating with the Shah-Jehan Kuh (11,000) and the Ala Dagh (11,500). The southern ridges, although generally much lower, have the highest point of the whole system in the Shah Kuh (13,000) between Shahrud and Astarabad. South of this northern highland several parallel ridges run diagonally across the province in a N.W.-S.E. direction as far as Seistan.

Beyond the Atrek and other rivers watering the northern valleys a few brackish and intermittent rivers lose themselves in the Great Kavir, which occupies the central and western parts of the province. The true character of the kavir, which forms the distinctive feature of east Persia, has scarcely 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 ft. above the Caspian, the water of these streams is supposed to form saline deposits with a thin hard crust, beneath which 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 treacherous incrustation of salt. Dr Sven Hedin explored the central depressions in 1906.

The surface of Khorasan thus consists mainly of highlands, saline, swampy deserts and upland valleys, some fertile and well-watered. Of the last, occurring mainly in the north, the chief are the longitudinal valley stretching from near the Herat frontier through Meshed, Kuchan and Shirvan to Bujnurd, the Derrehgez district, which lies on the northern skirt of the outer range projecting into the Akhal Tekkeh domain, now Russian territory, and the districts of Nishapur and Sabzevar which lie south of the Binalud and Jagatai ranges. These fertile tracts produce rice and other cereals, cotton, tobacco, opium and fruits in profusion. Other products are manna, suffron, asafoetida and other gums. The chief manufactures are swords, stoneware, carpets and rugs, woollens, cottons, silks and sheepskin pelisses (pustin, Afghan poshtin).

The administrative divisions of the province are: 1, Nishapur; 2, Sabzevar; 3, Jovain; 4, Asfarain; 5, Bujnurd; 6, Kuchan; 7, Derrehgez; 8, Kelat; 9, Chinaran; 10, Meshed; 11, Jam; 12, Bakharz; 13, Radkan; 14, Serrakhs; 15, Sar-i-jam; 16, Bam and Safiabad; 17, Turbet i Haidari; 18, Turshiz; 19, Khaf; 20, Tun and Tabbas; 21, Kain; 22, Seistan.

The population consists of Iranians (Tajiks, Kurds, Baluchis), Mongols, Tatars and Arabs, and is estimated at about a million. The Persians proper have always represented the settled, industrial and trading elements, and to them the Kurds and the Arabs have become largely assimilated. Even many of the original Tatar, Mongol and other nomad tribes (ilat), instead of leading their former roving and unsettled life of the sahara-nishin (dwellers in the desert), are settled and peaceful shahr-nishin (dwellers in towns). In religion all except some Tatars and Mongols and the Baluchis have conformed to the national Shiah faith. The revenues (cash and kind) of the province amount to about £180,000 a year, but very little of this amount reaches the Teheran treasury. The value of the exports and imports from and into the whole province is a little under a million sterling a year. The province produces about 10,000 tons of wool and a third of this quantity, or rather more, valued at £70,000 to £80,000, is exported via Russia to the markets of western Europe, notably to Marseilles, Russia keeping only a small part. Other important articles of export, all to Russia, are cotton, carpets, shawls and turquoises, the last from the mines near Nishapur.  (A. H.-S.)