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 Azerbaijanis who speak the Azerbaijani language. There are also 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.
The Christian history of Urmia is well preserved, and is especially evident in the city's many churches and cathedrals.
An important town by the 9th century, 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 during World War I and the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides by Ottoman Empire.
Richard Nelson Frye suggested Urartian origin for the name while T. Burrow connected the origin of the name Urmia to Indo-Iranian urmi- "wave" and urmya- "undulating, wavy", which comes from the local Assyrian folk etymology for the name which related mia to a Syriac word meaning "water". Hence Urmia simply means "Watertown" – a name befitting a city situated by a lake and surrounded by rivers, a kind of "cradle of water".
As of 1921, Urmia was also called, Urumia and Urmi. During the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925–1979), the city was called Rezaiyeh[nb 3] (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.
According to Vladimir Minorsky, there were villages in the Urmia Plain as early as 2000 BC, with their civilization under the influence of the Kingdom of Van. Excavations of the ancient ruins near Urmia led to the discovery of utensils that date to the 20th century BC. In ancient times, the west bank of Urmia Lake was called Gilzan, and in the 9th century BC an independent government ruled there, which later joined the Urartu or Mana empire; in the 8th century BC, the area was a vassal of the Asuzh government until it joined the Median Empire.
During the Safavid era, the neighboring Ottoman Turks, who were the archrivals of the Safavids, made several incursions into the city and captured it on more than one occasion, but the Safavids successfully regained control over the area. When in 1622, during the reign of Safavid king Abbas I (r. 1588–1629) Qasem Sultan Afshar was appointed governor of Mosul, he was forced to leave his office shortly afterwards due to the outbreak of a plague. He moved to the western part of Azerbaijan, and became the founder of the Afshar community of Urmia. The city was the capital of the Urmia Khanate from 1747–1865. The first monarch of Iran's Qajar dynasty, Agha Muhammad Khan, was crowned in Urmia in 1795.