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Orumiyeh (Urmieh)

History

Bountiful orchards made Orumiyeh the historically prosperous ‘Garden of Persia’. For centuries various Christian groups (Chaldeans, Armenians, Assyrians and Nestorians) lived harmoniously here alongside local Azari Muslims and a thriving Jewish community. However, in the 19th century overzealous Protestant and Catholic foreign missionary activities resulted in a harsh backlash against all non-Muslims. This was initially led by Kurdish groups fearing the possible loss of territory should a Christian-Armenian state be declared. In 1880 the Persian army stormed Orumiyeh to counterattack Kurdish nationalist leader Sheikh Ubayd Allah. Christians were massacred by both sides and orchards were devastated. In 1918 most of the Christian population fled from Orumiyeh, Salmas and Khoy, wisely fearing that invading Ottoman Turks could repeat the butchery that they had perpetrated on the Armenians of eastern Turkey. Most of those who stayed were slaughtered. Some escapee Christians returned when the Turks retreated and today six different Christian faiths remain active. However, with a continual exodus of emigrants to the US and Scandinavia, the total non-Muslim population has dwindled to an estimated 4000 (excluding clandestine converts from Islam).