Orumiyeh (Urmia, Urumiyeh), set in a very fertile plain on the west side of the lake, is the main city of West Azerbaijan. Known as Rezayeh during the Pahlavi era, Orumiyeh is a logical stop en route to southeastern Turkey. Its inhabitants are a mixed population of Kurds, Azeris, and a relatively large Christian community of Armenians, Nestorians, Chaldean Catholics, Roman Catholics, Protestants and a few Russian Orthodox.
Urmia is situated at an altitude of 1,330 m above sea level, and is located along the Shahar Chay river (City River) on the Urmia Plain. Lake Urmia, one of the world's largest salt lakes, lies to the east of the city and the mountainous Turkish border area lies to the west.
Urmia is the 10th most populated city in Iran. At the 2012 census, its population was 667,499 with 197,749 households. The city's inhabitants are predominantly Azeris, who live alongside minorities of Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians. The city is the trading center for a fertile agricultural region where fruits (especially apples and grapes) and tobacco are grown.
An important town by the 9th century, Urmia was seized by the Seljuk Turks (1184), and later occupied a number of times by the Ottoman Turks. For centuries the city has had a diverse population which has at times included Muslims (Shias and Sunnis), Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Nestorians, and Orthodox), Jews, Bahá'ís and Sufis. Around 1900, Christians made up more than 40% of the city's population, however, most of the Christians fled in 1918 as a result of the Persian Campaign duringWorld War I and the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides.
The name Urmia derives from the Kingdom of Urartu. This is due to Urartian accredited fortresses and countless artifacts found spanning across Azerbaijan and into of what is today the Azerbaijan province of Iran denoting a Urartian etymology. The city's Armenian population also complements the idea of a Urartian origin. According to Vladimir Minorsky, there have been villages in the Urmia plain some 2000 years B.C., with their civilization under the influence of the Kingdom of Van. The excavations of the ancient ruins near Urmia led to the discovery of utensils that date back to 2000 years B.C.. In the ancient times, the west bank of Urmia lake was called Gilzan, and in the ninth century B.C. an independent government ruled there which later joined the Urartu or Mana empire; in the eighth century B.C., the area was a vassal of the Asuzh government until it joined the Median Empire after its formation. Richard Nelson Frye also suggested a Urartian origin for the name.
T. Burrow connected the origin of the name Urmia to Indo-Iranian urmi- "wave" and urmya- "undulating, wavy", which is due to the local Assyrian folk etymology for the name which related "Mia" to Syriac meaning "water." Hence Urmia simply means 'Watertown" — a befitting name for a city situated by a lake and surrounded by rivers, would be the cradle of water. This also suggests, that the Assyrians referred to the Urartian influence in Urmia as ancestors of the inhabitants of the Sumerian city state Ur, referenced Biblically as "Ur of the Chaldees". Further association of the Urmia/Urartian/Ur etymology from the Assyrian folk legend is the fact that the Urartian language is also referenced as the Chaldean language, a standardized simplification of Neo-Assyrian cuneiform, which originated from the accreditation to Urartian chief god Ḫaldi or Khaldi. Thus the root of Urmia is an Assyrian reference to the etymology of the Urartu/Ur Kingdoms and the Aramaic word "Mia" meaning water, which as T. Burrow noted, referenced the city that is situated by a lake and surrounded by rivers.
As of 1921, Urmia was also called, Urumia and Urmi. During the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925–1979), the city was called Rezaiyeh (Persian: رضائیه) after Rezā Shāh, the dynasty's founder, whose name ultimately derives from the Islamic concept of rida via the Eighth Imam in Twelver Shia Islam, Ali al-Ridha.
Bountiful orchards made Orumiyeh the historically prosperous 'Garden of Persia'.
According to historical documents, the western part of the Urmia Lake has been a center of attention of the prehistoric nations, 6 km southeast of the lake which competes with the oldest hills of Mesopotamia, Asia the Minor, and the Iranian Plateau.
The claim that the area was the birthplace of Zoroaster (also called Zarahustra) is disputed because most experts agree Zoroaster was most likely born in the eastern part of Greater Iran, or even the burial site of one or two of the Zoroastrian priests who allegedly traveled to Bethlehem for Christ’s birth indicate that the city has been one of the largest religious and scientific centers of the ancient times.
The Ottoman Turks made several incursions into the city, but the Safavids were soon able to regain control over the area. The first monarch of Iran's Qajar dynasty, Agha Muhammad Khan, was crowned in Urmia in 1795.
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 XIX 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. Turkish armies and Samko managed to finally take and plunder the city in June/July 1918. Thousands of Assyrians were massacred, others found refuge under British protection in Iraq.
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.
The main commercial streets Imam Ave and Kashani St form a 'T' at attractive Enqelab Sq. Beheshti St, unanimously known as Daneshkadeh St, continues west to Pol-e-Qoyum junction around 3km beyond the museum.