Arasbaran, formerly known as Qaradagh or Qaraja dagh, is a large mountainous area stretching from the Qusha Dagh massif, south of Ahar, to the Aras River in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran. The region is confined to Aras River in the north, Meshgin Shahr County and Moghan in the east, Sarab County in the south, and Tabriz and Marand counties in the west.
Since 1976, UNESCO has registered 72,460 hectares of this region as biosphere reserve. Arasbaran is home to 215 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, 48 species of mammals and 17 species of fish. The local flora include hornbeam, sumac and berberis. The large walnut and cornelian cherry (zoghal) trees, wildly grown alongside water-streams, provide an important income source for inhabitants but there are also more exotic plant species, such as redcurrant, truffle and herbs with application in traditional medicine.
There were several Turkic tribes in this area and characteristic aspects of their culture, developed around Nomadic pastoralism, have persisted to our times. Nomadic population at present has been estimated to be about 36000.
The spoken languages are Azerbaijani or Oghuz, a branch of the Turkic language family but most inhabitants are familiar with Persian language.
Arasbaran carpets are in between Persian carpets and Azerbaijani rugs. Still, there is also an indigenous style known as Balan Rug. The peak of carpet weaving art in Arasbaran is manifested in Verni (Azerbaijani rug), a carpet-like kilim with a delicate and fine warp and woof, which is woven without a previous sketch.
Verni weavers employ the image of birds and animals in simple geometrical shapes, imitating the earthenware patterns that were popular in prehistoric times. A key décor feature is the S-element that means “dragon” among the nomads. At present, Verni is woven by the girls of Arasbaran Tribes, often in the same room where the nomadic tribes reside and is a significant income source for about 20000 families.
Many elements of the indigenous culture, particularly local music, have survived to the present day. More recently a slow but persistent cultural revival has been in progress. The Ashughi music is central to this shared identity.
A recent study has indicated that Mikandi valley, Aynali forests and Babak Castle have the highest potential for ecotourism. Another potential touristic attraction could be the summer camps of semi-settled tribes of Arasbaran, known as Ilat, who spend 5 months of year in uplands for grazing their livestock. There are also cornelian cherry (zoghal) festivals in Kaleybar and a yearly pomegranate festival in Mardanaqom village with Ashugh music performances.
See also: List of biosphere reserves in Iran
Sources: Wikipedia | Arasbaran, Mehr News Agency | Photos, IRNA | Photos, ISNA | Photos