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Environment & Ecology

"The realm of Kurdistan begins on the coast of the Straits of Hormuz, which borders on the shores of the Indian Ocean. From thence, it extends forth on a straight line, terminating with the the provinces of Malatya and Marash. To the north of this line are the provinces of Fars, Persian Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia Minor and Armenia Major. To its southern side lay the Arab Iraq, Mosul and Diyarbakir.
And thus the branches of this nation have reached from the extremities of the lands of the East to the extremities of the lands of the West."

The Sharafnma, Prologue, 7-9.
Prince Sharafaddin Bitlisi, AD 1597


Over the past 100,000 years, Kurdistan has seen several cycles of dry and wet spells, resulting in the advance and retreat of lush vegetation in the region and drastic changes in the nature and abundance of local flora and fauna

Topographical Map of Kurdistan

Kurdistan is about 370,149 square kilometers.
It is about the areas of Germany and Britain combined, or roughly equal to France or Texas.
Kurdistan straddles the mountainous northern boundaries of the Middle East, separating the region from the former Soviet Union. It resembles an inverted letter V, with the joint pointing in the direction of the Caucasus and the arms toward the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Kurdistan consists basically of the mountainous areas of the central and northern Zagros, the eastern one-third of the Taurus and Pontus, and the northern half of the Amanus ranges. The symbiosis between the Kurds and their mountains has been so strong that they have become synonymous: Kurdistan ends where the mountains end.
Kurds as a distinct people have survived only when living in the mountains. The highest points in Kurdistan now are respectively: Mt. Alvand of southern Kurdistan in Iran at 3,580 meter, Mt. Halgurd in central Kurdistan in Iraq at 3,734 meter, Mt. Munzur at 3,840 meter in western Kurdistan and Mt. Ararat at 5,165 meter in northern Kurdistan, both in Turkey.
There are also two large Kurdish enclaves in central and north central Anatolia in Turkey and in the province of Khurasan in northeast Iran.

The mean annual precipitation is 150-200 cm per year in the central regions and 50-102 cm on the descent to the lower elevations. Most precipitation is in form of snow, which can fall for six months of the year, becoming the resource for many great rivers, such as the Tigris and the Euphrates in an otherwise arid Middle East. The overall mean annual temperature is 10-20 degC, getting cooler as one ascends the central massifs.

The land, once almost totally forested, has been massively cleared, especially in this century, with inevitable soil erosion and parched landscape. Contrary to the heavy damage sustained by the woodlands, the pasture lands remain in reasonably good condition and continue to be a productive to a nomadic herding economy alongside the basic agriculture.

Despite its mountainous nature, Kurdistan has more arable land proportionately than most Middle Eastern countries. Expansive river valleys create a fertile lattice work in Kurdistan.
This may well explain the fact that the very invention of agriculture took place primarily in Kurdistan around 12,000 years ago precipitated speedy domestication of almost all basic cereals and livestock in the region(with the notable exception of cows and rice).


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 collisionare 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 Gulfa 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 Dgh, on the western shores of Lake Van, are three prominent results of this active geology. Also, Lake Van and Lake Urmi 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 Kangwar 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 Dgh (not to be confused with Mt. Nimrod volcano, noted above) north of Adiyman 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.

Today Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, after the Arabs, Persians and Turks. Their largest concentrations are now respectively in:

  • Turkey (approx. 52% of all Kurds),
  • Iran(16%),
  • Iraq (15%),
  • Syria (5%) and
  • the CIS (2%)

If present demographic trends hold, as they are likely to, in about fifty years Kurds will replace the Turks as the majority ethnic group in Turkey itself.

Kurdish lands, rich in natural resources, have always sustained and promoted a large population.
While registering modest gains since the late 19th century, but particularly in the first decade of the 20th, Kurds lost demographic ground relative to neighbouring ethnic groups.
This was due as much to their less developed economy and health care system as it was to direct massacres, deportations, famines, etc.

The total number of Kurds actually decreased in this period, while every other major ethnic group in the area boomed.

Since the middle of the 1960's this negative demographic trend has reversed, and Kurds are steadily regaining the demographic position of importance that they traditionally held, representing 15% of the over-all population of the Middle East in Asia-a phenomenon common since at least the 4th millennium BC.

         There is now one Kurdish city with a population of nearly a million (Kirmashan),

  • two with over half a million (Diyarbekir, Kirkuk),
  • five between a quarter and half a million (Antep, Arbil, Hamadan, Malatya, Sulemani),
  • and quarter of a million people (Adiyaman, Dersim[Tunceli], Duhok, Elazig[Kharput], Haymana, Khanaqin, Mardin Qamishli, Qochan, Sanandaj, Shahabad, Siirt and Urfa).


Kurdish Language :

Kurds are speakers of Kurdish, a member of the north-western subdivision of the Iranic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, which is akin to Persian, and by extension to other European languages. It is fundamentally different from Semitic Arabic and Altaic Turkish.

Modern Kurdish divides into two major groups:

1.      the Kurmanji group and,

2.     the Dimili-Gorani group.

These are supplemented by scores of sub-dialects as well. The most popular vernacular is that of Kurmanji(or Kirmancha), spoken by about three-quarters of the Kurds today. Kurmanji divided into North Kurmanji(also called Bahdinani, with around 15 million speakers, primarily in Turkey, Syria, and the former Soviet Union) and South Kurmanji(also called Sorani, with about 6 million speakers, primarily in Iraq and Iran).

To the far north of Kurdistan along Kizil Irmak and Murat rivers in Turkey, Dimili (less accurately but more commonly known as Zaza) dialect is spoken by about 4 million Kurds. There are small pockets of this language spoken in various corners of Anatolia, northern Iraq, northern Iran and the Caucasus as well.

In the far southern Kurdistan, both in Iraq and Iran there are about 3 million Kurds speak the Gorani dialect. Gorani along with its two major subdivisions: Laki and Hawrami, merit special attention for its wealth of sacred and secular literature stretching over a millennium.

  • In Iraq and Iran a modified version of the Perso-Arabic alphabet has been adapted to South Kurmani (Sorani).
  • The Kurds of Turkey have recently embarked on an extensive campaign of publication in the North Kurmanji dialect of Kurmaji (Bahdinani) from their publishing houses in Europe. These employed a modified form of the Latin alphabet.
  • The Kurds of the former Soviet Union first began writing Kurdish in the Armenian alphabet in the 1920s, followed by Latin in 1927 , then Cyrillic in 1945, and now in both Cyrilic and Latin.
  • Gurani dialects continue to employ the Persian alphabet without any change.
  • Dimili now uses the same modified Latin alphabet as North Kurmanji for print.