The Great Zab or Upper Zab (Arabic: الزاب الكبير (al-Zāb al-Kabīr), Kurdish: Zêy Badînan or Zêyê Mezin, Turkish: Zap, Syriac: ܙܒܐ ܥܠܝܐ (zāba ʻalya)) is an approximately 400-kilometre (250 mi) long river flowing through Turkey and Iraq. It rises in Turkey near Lake Van and joins the Tigris in Iraq south of Mosul. The drainage basin of the Great Zab covers approximately 40,300 square kilometres (15,600 sq mi), and during its course, the rivers collects the water from many tributaries. The river and its tributaries are primarily fed by rainfall and snowmelt – as a result of which discharge fluctuates highly throughout the year. At least six dams have been planned on the Great Zab and its tributaries, but construction of only one, the Bekhme Dam, has commenced but was halted after the Gulf War.
Landscape of a section of the Great Zab in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Map (in French) showing the course of the Great Zab (Grand Zab) in Iraq and the location of the Bekhme Dam (Barrage de Bekhme)
|Country||Turkey, Iraq (Kurdistan Region)|
|⁃ location||Taurus Mountains, Turkey|
|⁃ elevation||3,000 m (9,800 ft)approx.|
|Length||400 km (250 mi)approx.|
|Basin size||40,300 km2 (15,600 sq mi)approx.|
|⁃ average||419 m3/s (14,800 cu ft/s)|
|⁃ maximum||1,320 m3/s (47,000 cu ft/s)|
|⁃ left||Rubar-i-Shin, Rukuchuk, Rubar-i-Ruwandiz, Rubat Mawaran, Bastura Chai|
The Zagros Mountains have been occupied since at least the Lower Palaeolithic, and Neanderthal occupation of the Great Zab basin has been testified at the archaeological site of Shanidar Cave. Historical records for the region are available from the end of the third millennium BCE onward. In the Neo-Assyrian period, the Great Zab provided water for irrigation for the lands around the capital city of Nimrud. The Battle of the Zab – which ended the Umayyad Caliphate – took place near a tributary of the Great Zab, and the valleys of the river provided shelter for refugees from the Mongol conquest of Iraq. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Great Zab basin saw frequent uprisings of local Kurdish tribes striving for autonomy.
The Great Zab rises in Turkey in the mountainous region east of Lake Van at an elevation of approximately 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) amsl and joins the Tigris on its left bank in Iraq. In Turkey, the Great Zab traverses the provinces of Van and Hakkâri, whereas in Iraq it flows through Duhok Governorate and Erbil Governorate, both part of the Kurdistan Region. Together with the Tigris, the Great Zab forms the boundary between Erbil Governorate and Ninawa Governorate. In its upper reaches, the Great Zab flows through steep, rocky gorges. The stretch between Amadiya and the Bekhme Gorge, where the Bekhme Dam remains unfinished, has been called the Sapna valley and will have a large portion of it inundated with water if the project is completed. Numerous mountain streams and wadis join the Great Zab on its right and left banks. The Great Zab receives most of its waters from the left-bank tributaries; the Rubar-i-Shin, Rukuchuk, Rubar-i-Ruwandiz, Rubat Mawaran and Bastura Chai.
The length of the Great Zab has been variously estimated at 392 kilometres (244 mi) and 473 kilometres (294 mi). Approximately 300 kilometres (190 mi) of the river's course are located within Iraq. The average discharge of the Great Zab is 419 cubic metres (14,800 cu ft) per second, but peak discharges of up to 1,320 cubic metres (47,000 cu ft) per second have been recorded. The average annual discharge is 13.2 cubic kilometres (3.2 cu mi). Because of its torrential nature, Medieval Arab geographers have described the Great Zab – together with the Little Zab – as "demoniacally possessed".
Estimates of the drainage basin of the Great Zab vary widely – from a low 25,810 square kilometres (9,970 sq mi) to a high figure of 40,300 square kilometres (15,600 sq mi). Approximately 62 percent of the basin is located in Iraq; the remainder is in Turkey. To the south, the Great Zab basin borders on that of the Little Zab while on the east it adjoins the Tigris basin. The Zagros consists of parallel limestone folds rising to elevations of over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) amsl. The valleys – including that of the Great Zab – and the south-western foothill zone are filled with gravel, conglomerate, and sandstone; the result of water erosion. The Amadiya valley within the Great Zab drainage basin is the third-largest valley in the Iraqi Zagros, after the Shahrazor and the Ranya Plain.
The Great Zab rises in the highlands of the Zagros Mountains, where a climate with cold winter and annual precipitation in excess of 1,000 millimetres (39 in) prevails. From there, the river flows into the foothill zone of the Zagros, where rainfall drops to less than 300 millimetres (12 in) per year at the confluence with the Tigris. Average summer temperature in the foothill zone are generally higher in the foothill zone than in the mountains. The high Zagros is characterized by three different ecozones: the area above the treeline at 1,800 metres (5,900 ft) where shrubs and herbs dominate, the area between 1,800 and 610 metres (5,910 and 2,000 ft) that was in the past dominated by open oak forest (Quercus aegilops), and the wetter and sometimes marshy river valleys. Other trees besides oak that can be found in the forested zone including juniper at higher elevations; ash, hawthorn, maple and walnut at intermediate elevations; and pistachio and olive trees in lower, drier areas. In the foothill zone, many areas are now cultivated, but there remain small patches of natural vegetation dominated by herbs of the genus Phlomis.
To date, one large dam has been partially constructed on the Great Zab: Iraq's Bekhme Dam and Turkey's 24 MW weir-controlled run-of-the-river Bağışlı Hydroelectric Power Plant. Five others have been planned in the Great Zab basin by both Turkey and Iraq. Turkey's State Hydraulic Works plans to construct the Çukurca and Doğanlı Dams near Çukurca and the Hakkâri Dam near the city of Hakkâri. The Hakkâri Dam with a 245 MW power station is in final design and the Çukurca and Doğanlı Dams will support 245 MW and 462 MW power stations, respectively.
Iraq has commenced construction of the Bekhme and Deralok Dams and planned two others – the Khazir-Gomel and Mandawa Dams. Plans to build a dam in the Great Zab at the Bekhme Gorge for flood control and irrigation were first proposed in 1937. A feasibility study determined that the site was not suited for dam construction and the plan was abandoned. In 1976, another study proposed three different locations on the Great Zab, including the site suggested in the earlier study. This site was eventually chosen in 1989, when work on the dam commenced. Construction of the Bekhme Dam was interrupted by the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990 and the dam remains unfinished. After the war, the site of the dam was looted. The plans of the Bekhme Dam called for a 230-metre (750 ft) high rockfill dam and an underground hydroelectric power station housing six turbines with a total capacity of 1,560 MW. The reservoir that would have been created by the Bekhme Dam would have a storage capacity of 17 cubic kilometres (4.1 cu mi) and would have flooded numerous villages, the archaeological site of Zawi Chemi Shanidar and the access road to Shanidar Cave (although not the cave itself).
Evidence for human occupation of the Zagros reaches back into the Lower Palaeolithic, as evidenced by the discovery of many cave-sites dating to that period in the Iranian part of the mountain range. Middle Palaeolithic stone tool assemblages are known from Barda Balka, a cave-site south of the Little Zab; and from the Iranian Zagros. A Mousterian stone tool assemblage – produced by either Neanderthals or anatomically modern humans – was recently excavated in Erbil. Neanderthals also occupied the site of Shanidar. This cave-site, located in the Sapna Valley, has yielded a settlement sequence stretching from the Middle Palaeolithic up to the Epipalaeolithic period. The site is particularly well known for its Neanderthal burials. The Epipalaeolithic occupation of Shanidar, contemporary with the use of the Kebaran stone tool assemblage, is the oldest evidence for anatomically modern human occupation of the Great Zab basin. The following Protoneolithic, or Natufian, occupation is contemporary with the oldest occupation of the nearby open-air site Zawi Chemi Shanidar. M'lefaat on the Khazir River (a tributary to the Great Zab) was a small village of hunter-gatherers dating to the 10th millennium BCE that was contemporary with the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A in the Levant. An archaeological survey of the Citadel of Erbil, in the plain south of the lower course of the Great Zab, has shown that this site was continuously occupied at least from the 6th millennium BCE upward.
The earliest historical reference to the region dates to the Ur III dynasty, when king Shulgi mentioned the city of Urbilum – the ancient name of modern-day Erbil. The great Assyrian capitals of Assur, Nineveh, Nimrud and Dur-Sharrukin were all located in the foothill zone where the Great Zab flows into the Tigris, and the Great Zab basin became increasingly integrated into the Middle Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian empires. Nimrud, the capital of the empire until 706 BCE, was located only 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) away from the confluence of the Great Zab with the Tigris. The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II constructed a canal called Patti-Hegalli that tapped water from the Great Zab to irrigate the land around Nimrud, and this canal was restored by his successors Tiglath-Pileser III and Esarhaddon. This canal ran along the right bank of the Great Zab and cut through a rock bluff by means of a tunnel and is still visible today. After the fall of the Neo-Assyrian empire, the Medes gained control of the area, followed by the Achaemenids in 550 BCE. The Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE – one of the decisive battles leading to the fall of the Achaemenid empire at the hands of Alexander the Great – supposedly took place north of the Great Zab in the vicinity of Mosul. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, control of the area shifted to the Seleucids.
In 750 CE, the last Umayyad caliph Marwan II was defeated by the Abbasid As-Saffah in the Battle of the Zab on the banks of the Khazir River, a tributary to the Great Zab. When the Mongols swept over Iraq in the 13th century and sacked Erbil, many survivors sought a refuge in the inaccessible valleys of the Great Zab. The Sapna Valley was home to both Christian and Muslim communities, as evidenced by Christian artefacts found at Zawi Chemi Shanidar. During the 19th century, the area was controlled by local Kurdish leaders. During World War I, heavy fighting took place in the area, and Rowanduz was pillaged by Russian soldiers in 1916. Following World War I, episodes of heavy fighting took place between the Barzani tribe – striving for the establishment of an independent Kurdish polity – and several other Kurdish tribes, and between the Barzanis and the Iraqi Government. The last of these uprisings started in 1974 and led to heavy bombardments of towns and villages in the Great Zab basin.
- Bosworth 2010
- Kliot 1994, p. 104
- Iraqi Ministries of Environment, Water Resources and Municipalities and Public Works 2006, p. 63
- Maunsell 1901, p. 130
- Solecki 2005, p. 163
- Iraqi Ministries of Environment, Water Resources and Municipalities and Public Works 2006, p. 64
- Kliot 1994, p. 101
- Shahin 2007, p. 249
- Isaev & Mikhailova 2009, p. 386
- Kliot 1994, p. 110
- Frenken 2009, p. 203
- Buringh 1960, p. 37
- Iraqi Ministries of Environment, Water Resources and Municipalities and Public Works 2006, pp. 45–46
- Buringh 1960, p. 43
- US Air Force Combat Climatology Center 2009
- Solecki 2005, p. 164
- Wright 2007, p. 216
- "Eastern Anatolia Project Master Plan" (PDF). ekutup.dpt.gov.tr. State Planning Organization. 2000. p. 324. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
- "Recently Completed Projects". Sarol. Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
- "Chapter 1: Administration and Finance" (PDF). Turkey State Hydraulic Works. p. 76. Retrieved 3 September 2010.[permanent dead link]
- Kolars 1994, p. 84
- Solecki 2005, pp. 166–167
- Solecki 2005, p. 168
- Benlic 1990
- Biglari & Shidrang 2006
- Braidwood & Howe 1960, p. 61
- Mohammadifar & Motarjem 2008
- Hunt 2010
- Solecki 1997, p. 15
- Kozłowski 1998, p. 234
- Nováček et al. 2008, p. 276
- Al-Soof 1968
- Villard 2001
- Oates 2005, pp. 46–47
- Davey 1985
- van de Mieroop 2007, p. 273
- van de Mieroop 2007, p. 300
- Sharon 1983, pp. 13–14
- Solecki 2005, p. 175
- Solecki 2005, p. 170
- Solecki 2005, pp. 171–173
- Al-Soof, Abu (1968), "Distribution of Uruk, Jamdat Nasr and Ninevite V Pottery as Revealed by Field Survey Work in Iraq", Iraq, 30 (1): 74–86, ISSN 0021-0889, JSTOR 4199840
- Benlic, S. (1990), "Underground works at the Bekhme Scheme", International Water Power and Dam Construction, 42 (6): 12–14, OCLC 321079949
- Biglari, Fereidoun; Shidrang, Sonia (2006), "The Lower Paleolithic Occupation of Iran", Near Eastern Archaeology, 69 (3–4): 160–168, ISSN 1094-2076, JSTOR 25067668
- Bosworth, C.E. (2010), "AL-Zāb", in Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C.E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W.P. (eds.), Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Leiden: Brill Online, OCLC 624382576
- Braidwood, Robert J.; Howe, Bruce (1960), Prehistoric investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan (PDF), Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 31, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, OCLC 395172
- Buringh, P. (1960), Soils and soil conditions in Iraq, Baghdad: Ministry of Agriculture, OCLC 630122693
- Davey, Christopher J. (1985), "The Negūb Tunnel", Iraq, 47: 49–55, ISSN 0021-0889, JSTOR 4200231
- Frenken, Karen (2009), Irrigation in the Middle East region in figures. AQUASTAT survey 2008, Water Reports, 34, Rome: FAO, ISBN 978-92-5-106316-3
- Hunt, Will (2010), Arbil, Iraq Discovery Could be Earliest Evidence of Humans in the Near East, Heritage Key, retrieved 4 August 2010
- Iraqi Ministries of Environment, Water Resources and Municipalities and Public Works (2006), "Volume I: Overview of present conditions and current use of the water in the marshlands area/Book 1: Water resources", New Eden Master Plan for integrated water resources management in the marshlands areas, New Eden Group
- Isaev, V.A.; Mikhailova, M.V. (2009), "The hydrology, evolution, and hydrological regime of the mouth area of the Shatt al-Arab River", Water Resources, 36 (4): 380–395, doi:10.1134/S0097807809040022, ISSN 0097-8078
- Kliot, Nurit (1994), Water Resources and Conflict in the Middle East, Milton Park: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-09752-5
- Kolars, John (1994), "Problems of International River Management: The Case of the Euphrates", in Biswas, Asit K. (ed.), International Waters of the Middle East: From Euphrates-Tigris to Nile, Oxford University Press, pp. 44–94, ISBN 978-0-19-854862-1
- Kozłowski, Stefan Karol (1998), "M'lefaat. Early Neolithic site in northern Iraq", Cahiers de l'Euphrate, 8: 179–273, OCLC 468390039
- Maunsell, F.R. (1901), "Central Kurdistan", Geographical Journal, 18 (2): 121–141, ISSN 0016-7398, JSTOR 1775333
- Mohammadifar, Yaghoub; Motarjem, Abbass (2008), "Settlement continuity in Kurdistan", Antiquity, 82 (317), ISSN 0003-598X
- Naval Intelligence Division (1944), Iraq and the Persian Gulf, Geographical Handbook Series, OCLC 1077604
- Nováček, Karel; Chabr, Tomáš; Filipský, David; Janiček, Libor; Pavelka, Karel; Šída, Petr; Trefný, Martin; Vařeka, Pavel (2008), "Research of the Arbil Citadel, Iraqi Kurdistan, First Season", Památky Archeologické, 99: 259–302, ISSN 0031-0506
- Oates, David (2005), Studies in the Ancient History of Northern Iraq, London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, ISBN 0-903472-19-8
- Shahin, Mamdouh (2007), Water Resources and Hydrometeorology of the Arab Region, Dordrecht: Springer, ISBN 978-1-4020-5414-3
- Sharon, Moshe (1983), Black banners from the East, The Max Schloessinger memorial series, Jerusalem: Hebrew University, OCLC 65852180
- Solecki, Ralph S. (1997), "Shanidar Cave", in Meyers, Eric M. (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, 5, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 15–16, ISBN 0-19-506512-3
- Solecki, Ralph S. (2005), "The Bekhme Dam Project in Kurdistan Iraq. A Threat to the Archaeology of the Upper Zagros River Valley", International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 19 (1/2): 161–224, ISSN 1073-6697
- US Air Force Combat Climatology Center (2009), Climate of Iraq, NOAA, retrieved 4 August 2010
- van de Mieroop, Marc (2007), A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000–323 BC. Second Edition, Blackwell History of the Ancient World, Malden: Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-4051-4911-2
- Villard, Pierre (2001), "Arbèles", in Joannès, Francis (ed.), Dictionnaire de la civilisation mésopotamienne, Bouquins (in French), Paris: Robert Laffont, pp. 68–69, ISBN 978-2-221-09207-1
- Wright, Herbert E. (2007), "Pleistocene glaciation in Iraq", Developments in Quaternary Science, 3 (2): 215–216, doi:10.1016/S1571-0866(04)80126-X