West Azerbaijan Province is located at the end of the northwestern part of Iran, neighboring the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Zanjan, Kurdistan, and the countries of Iraq, Turkey, and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The center of the province is Urmia city, an Assyrian term meaning “City of Water.” Of its particular natural attractions include mountains, wetlands, spas, lakes, and caves.
The magnificent nature along with a rich history attracts a significant number of annual domestic tourists to the region. With an area of about 37411 square meters, the province is the 12th largest province in Iran. It has 17 counties, of which the most populated ones include Khoy, Bukan, and Takab. It holds about four percent of the country’s total population and the majority of its population are Azeri Turks. In addition to Turks, Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians also live in the province each of which with their own ethnic language.
The history of this area dates back to the Median Empire (678-549 B.C.). At the time of the invasion of Macedonian Alexander to Iran (330 B.C.), this area kept its sovereignty under the ruling of the brave commander Atropates whose name was derived for the current name of Azerbaijan. During the Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736), many bloody wars, most notably the Chaldoran War, took place in this region between Iran and the Ottoman Empire.
After the collapse of the Safavid Dynasty, Azerbaijan fell into the hand of Ottomans for a while and after World War I, Iran came under the influence of Britain. With Iran’s forced participation in World War II, the Soviet Union took control of the northern parts of the country. Eventually, Iran complained to the United Nations about the Azerbaijan occupation, leading to the evacuation of the foreign forces from this province.
The historical attractions of West Azerbaijan Province registered in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites include Takht-e Soleymān (Solomon’s Throne), the Holy Virgin Mary Church (Chapel of Dzordzor), and Saint Thaddaeus Monastery.
The province has many other historical attractions that are yet to be introduced to the world. The famous Ghotour Bridge in the Iranian-Turkish railroad track is one of the largest railway bridges in the Middle East, introducing it as a tourist attraction of the province. Other attractions include Lake Urmia (the most important permanent lake in Iran), Ghasemlou Valley, Sirdaghi Mountains, Bastam Citadel, and the ancient Teppe Hasanlu.
The province is also known for its handicrafts and traditional arts as well as its cuisine. The skilled masters of delicate woodworks, chessboard and chess pieces, and felt clothes are from this province. Varieties of sweets such as honey, Halva (a sweet paste dessert made of walnut, carrot, and wheat flour), and natural extracts of grapes (maybe mixed with walnuts, pistachios, and almonds) are among the main souvenirs of West Azerbaijan. The dishes called by the locals as Gatkh-Shurbasi (Yogurt Stew) and Ghorout-Shurbasi (Curd Stew) are the main local foods as typical examples of the cooking style in the region.