GEOLOGY & GEOMORPHOLOGY
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 sub-ducted 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. The process 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 waters of Persian Gulf?a remnant of the ancient Tethys Sea best known for it wealth of petroleum and natural gas deposits. 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 as well.
Nearly all petroleum and gas deposits are found at this exact tectonic subduction boundary, which is the actual line dividing the highlands from the plains. Since the Kurdish inhabited lands also end where the mountains do, these underground deposits, particularly in Iraq, frequently run parallel to the ethnic boundaries separating the Kurds on the above from non-Kurds below. Consequently, the Kirkuk oil fields, for example, begins under Kurdish-inhabited lands in the southeast, to continue northwest by under areas inhabited by the Turcomans, then Kurds again, then Arab, then Kurds, then Turcoman and Kurds yet again.
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 western shores of Lake Vân), are three prominent results of this active geology. Also, Lake Vân and Lake Urmiâ 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 north-west-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 Kangâwar in southeastern 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 plat-forms 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 volcano, noted above) north of Adiyâman in far western Kurdistan are other examples. The persistent folk tales and legends of cities and villages that were "swallowed up by the earth" all point to this geologic activity throughout the ages.
Further Readings and Bibliography: Celâl Sengör, The Cimmeride Orogenic System and the Tectonics of Eurasia (Boulder: Geological Society of America, 1984); The 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., "Ölçekli Türkiye 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); Seismotectonic Atlas of Iran (Teheran: Geological Survey of Iran, 1976); Herbert Wright, "Geologic Aspects of the Archaeology of Iraq," Sumer XI (1955).