Land & Environment - Geology

By Prof. M.R. Izady

Kurdistan is geologically quite active. The land straddles the subduction zone between the colliding Eurasian and African tectonic plates. Locally, the breakaway Arabian microplate is being subducted under the Iranian and Anatolian microplates at the rate of a few inches a year, and as a result the Zagros mountains and Kurdistan-the point of this collision-are being compressed and pushed upward several inches a year. This continental collision, which began about 15 million years ago, pushed up the area of Kurdistan from the bottom of the Tethys Sea, which covered Southwest Asia, and is still adding elevation to the young mountains of Kurdistan.

The geologic province of the Kurdish foothills which faces the Arabian platform, is basically a continuation of the same land formation that lies farther south under the Persian Gulf-a remnant of the ancient Tethys Sea with its wealth of hydrocarbons. These formations run almost unchanged from the East Coast of the Mediterranean Sea at Antioch to the Straits of Hormuz. In fact, the waters of the Persian Gulf washed the Kurdish foothills until very recently in geologic terms, when they joined the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, separating Eurasia from Africa and Arabia. The petroleum-bearing geologic strata of the Persian Gulf thus ought to be credited for the wealth of petroleum and natural gas deposits in Kurdistan.

Massive volcanic outpourings have resurfaced large portions of Kurdistan in the north and Northeast. The greater and lesser Ararat peaks, as well as Mt. Nimrod (or Nimrut Dâgh) on the shores of Lake Vân, are three prominent results of this active geology. Also, Lake Vân and Lake Urmia are both the results of the natural damming of river channels by lava flows in the geologically recent past The rest of the land is thoroughly folded, with numerous fault lines crossing Kurdistan, mainly in a Northwest - Southeast direction, but more or less east-west in western Kurdistan. Igneous outpourings have enriched the land with many commercially valuable mineral resources. They have also painted the landscape with such richness in rock colors that it continues unfailingly to astonish outsiders on their first visit.

Its active geology has also rendered Kurdistan an earthquake-prone land. One result of this is that very few archaeological monuments stand above ground. At Kangawar in southern Kurdistan, the vast temples of the goddess Anahita bear dramatic witness to the force and persistence of these tremors. The far-thrown columns, shattered grand staircases, and crumbled masonry platforms and walls are vivid illustrations of 2,200 years of ceaseless quakes. The mangled colossal statues at Mt. Nimrut Dâgh (not to be confused with Mt. Nimrod, above) north of Adiy Aman in far western Kurdistan are other examples. The persistent folk tales and legends of cities and villages that were "swafiowed up by the earth" all point to this geologic activity throughout the ages.

Sources: The Kurds, A Concise Handbook, By Dr. Mehrdad R. Izady, Dep. of Near Easter Languages and Civilazation Harvard University, USA, 1992

Further Readings and Bibbography: CcIA1 Sengbr, The Cimmeme Orogenic Sptem and the Tectonics of Eurasia (Botdder: Geological Society of America, 1984); Ale International Petroleum Encyclopedia; Christopher Ryan, A Guide to the Known Minerals of Turkey (Ankara: Mineral Research and Exploration Institute of Turkey, 1960); I. Altin et al., "Ol@ekli Ttirkiye Jeoloji Haritasi" ("Explanatory Text of the Geological Map of Turkey"), sheets published loose at 1:500,000 scale for each Turkish province, accompanied by explanatory texts (Ankara: Mineral Research and Exploration Institute of Turkey, 1960-70); Scismotectonic Atlas of Iran (Teheran: Geological Survey of Iran, 1976); Herbert Wright, "Geologic Aspects of the Archaeology of Iraq," Sumer XI (1955).

General Bibliography
Some very good sources on the land and nature of Kurdistan in general are the British Naval Intelligence Division's Geographical Handbook series on Iran, Iraq, Turkey (2 vols.), and Syria (1940-43). The sheet maps and the accompanying text books of the Tiibinger Atlas des Voerderen Orients (TAVO) (Wiesbaden, Ludwig Reichert Verlag, ongoing) are valuable resources for this and many other topics discussed in this work. Also see Ali Tanoglu, Sirri Erine and Erol Tiimertekin, Tiirkiye Atlasi (Istanbul: Milli Egilim Basimevi, 1961); Sirri Erine, Dogu Anadolu Cografyasi ("Geography of Eastern Anatolia") (Istanbul: Istanbul University Press, 1953).