Eastern Kurdistan (Ku: Rojhilatê Kurdistanê, shortly Rojhilat or Rojhelat) is the Iranian-occupied part of Kurdish homeland. It covers portions of West Azerbaijan Province, Kordestan Province, Kermanshah, Ilam, parts of Luristan and Hamadan.
Eastern Kurdistan borders Iran and South Azerbaijan to the east, KRG and Turkish occupied Kurdistan to the west, Iraqi-occupied Feyli Kurdish areas to the southwest, Lorestan and Khuzestan to the south and Nakhchivan to the north.
In history, Rojhelat gave birth to a lot of Kurdish states (principalities, emirates, even empires). Kurdistan Republic of Mahabad -however it didn’t last long- was one of the most prominent Kurdish republics. The republic’s founder Qazi Muhammad is a towering figure in the history of Kurdistan.
Two significant events in history shaped the eastern part of Kurdistan: Battle of Dimdim (1609-1610) and Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin.
Dimdim Castle was a Kurdish fort on the top of Mount Dimdim which locates south of Urmia city and west of Lake Urmia. The castle had a long history but in 1609 Kurdish ruler Amir Khan Lepzerin (Emîr Xan Lepzêrîn) of Bradost reconstructed it to protect his people from Safavid’s incessant massive offenses.
Battle of Dimdim took place between Safavid Empire and Kurdish Bradost Principality. Although the Kurds, who were extremely outnumbered and outgunned, staged a heroic resistance; Dimdim eventually fell to the Safavids. Fall of Dimdim led to genocide and mass exodus of Kurds living on the west coast of Lake Urmia. Safavid Empire deported thousands of Kurdish families to Khorasan and replaced them with the Turkic Qarapapaqs and Afshars . As a result, a large Kurdish territory was lost to the modern Azerbaijanis.
Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin also called as Treaty of Zuhab was the first one of two accords (The other one was Lausanne, 1923) that split the Kurdish land into pieces. While the Ottomans and Safavids resolved their territorial disputes, Kurdistan was irreversibly divided. The treaty signed on 17 May, 1639 confirmed the Safavid rule over Kurdish regions in modern Iran & Caucasus and recognized the Ottoman rule over Bakur and Iraqi Kurdistan. Briefly, it drew the western borders of today’s Islamic Republic of Iran.
GEOGRAPHY AND BORDERS
It’s not possible to estimate Rojhilat’s area since its borderlines can not be accurately defined.
First reason is that some historically Kurdish territories -for instance Khoy- don’t have Kurdish majorities anymore. On the other hand, some regions like Northern Khorasan have Kurdish majority but are not considered as Kurdistan.
Second, there are disputes over identities. For instance, Donboli tribe based in Khoy is Kurdish by origin but linguistically Turkified. Some Lurs and Bakhtiaris consider themselves Kurds and some don’t. And there are continuous Iranian attempts to separate the Laks from Kurds.
Another important reason is that there are a lot of mixed cities and towns in the region, especially in West Azerbaijan Province.
Rojhilat has a mountainous terrain. Zagros mountain range occupies ca. 90% of the region. This area is scientifically designated as Kurdo-Zagrosian zone: Kurdo-Zagrosian Forest, Kurdo-Zagrosian steppe etc.
Eastern Kurdistan is rich by water. Thanks to the mountains, melting snow produces freshwater and supplies the rivers. On the other hand, dams which were built by the Iranian Regime is making the Lake Urmia disappear.
Kurds are the dominant ethnic group in Rojhilat. Northern part is mixed with Azerbaijani Turks while the south is mixed with Lurs. Smaller ethnic minorities are Assyrians (Nestorians) in Urmia and Arabs in Ilam. And Persians who are not an established community (Mostly officials) in the region can be found in every settlement.
In West Azerbaijan Province, Kurds are Sunni and Azerbaijanis including the Turkified Donboli tribe are Shia. The Christian minority consists of Armenians and Nestorians (Modern Assyrians).
Kordestan (Kurdistan) Province has a Sunni-majority population. Shia minority is concentrated at the southeast corner of the province. There is also a small Jewish minority of several thousand people.
Kermanshah, Lurestan and Ilam are Shia-dominated provinces with significant Yarsani minorities. The Western side of Hamadan which is Kurdish-populated and part of Rojhilat is Shia-dominated as well.
Other religious groups are Zoroastrians and Bahaiis. They live in urban areas and have good relations with the local Sunni Kurdish community.
Rojhilat’s economy is based on agriculture and farming. Owing to the geograghy and climate, the varity of agricultural products is wide. Additionally, water resources faciliates the development of fishery while the mountainous zones offer apiculture.
Tourism is the second most important source of income since the region has a rich cultural heritage. Further, people of the region who live abroad visit their homeland make a contribution to the region’s tourism.
1. Encyclopaedia Iranica: Dimdim
2. The Encyclopaedia of Islam: v.10: Vol 10
3. Encyclopaedia Iranica: Donboli
4. World Wildlife Fund