Geological Secrets of the Zagros Mountains in Kurdistan

Geoscience deals with the processes that control the development of the Earth’s surface and distribute specific rock types at selected locations. It is the key to locating new reserves of natural resources and exploiting them in an optimal way.

At the same time, investment in research boosts innovation, advancement in science, and economic growth. As a leading example, U.S. expenditure on science was $656 billion in 2019, much of which came from the private sector. Such investment also yields a highly skilled technical labor force, the engine for growth in today’s economy.

Despite more than 100 years of oil discoveries and nearly 20 years of hydrocarbon exploration, it is still challenging to demystify the geologic evolution of the Zagros Mountains of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Yet this challenge provides opportunities for new discoveries and revisions of previous geologic interpretations.

As one plate goes beneath another one along the convergent margin, magmas and fluids are released from the downgoing plate. The ascending material interacts with its medium and makes its way to the surface as volcanoes. During this process, fluid-saturated melts may rest in the upper part of the crust (less than 10 km from the surface) and precipitate minerals during heat loss over time.

As the collision of two plates intensifies, rock layers deform, mountains form, and the earth’s crust thickens. Meanwhile, the erosion of mountain tops and deposition in the adjacent deflected lands form sedimentary basins.

The consensus regarding such convergent plate boundaries is that, even though they might be associated with natural hazards, they host a considerable amount of natural resources such as metals, minerals and hydrocarbons. However, to properly identify resources and mitigate the effects of natural hazards at convergent margins, understanding the timing and mechanisms of mountain formation is essential.

For instance, determining the timing of the engagement of the basement – the hard rock beneath sedimentary rocks – in the process of deformation helps to elucidate the timing of hydrocarbon migration and the spatial distribution of petroleum systems in terms of their construction and destruction. The inaccurate presumption of stacked, faulted sedimentary rocks via duplexing versus basement-cored deformation could lead to the misidentification of petroleum plays.

Constraining the timing of individual structures and the overall progression of the fold-thrust belt is also critical for evaluating petroleum-system processes, including assessing the relative timing of the formation of structural traps, as well as hydrocarbon generation and migration, to avoid drilling dry holes.

The Zagros Mountains are a prominent collisional orogen that stretches for roughly 2000 km across the Middle East, which formed over roughly 70 million years ago as a consequence of the Arabia-Eurasia convergence involving the subduction of the Neotethys oceanic plate beneath Eurasia and a subsequent collision of the Arabian and Eurasian continental plates.

This long period of deformation resulted in an amalgamation of different terrains between the Arabian and Eurasian plates. Since each tectonic accretion process overprinted the preceding configuration, reconstructing how the present-day Zagros Mountains were formed is daunting.

Geologically, the Kurdistan region of Iraq is the northwestern part of the Zagros belt, a strategic location where the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates met for the first time roughly 30 ± 5 million years ago. The area along the Iraq-Iran border is the suture of the two plates and includes rock masses that originally formed at 10s of kilometers deep and at various geologic settings within oceanic and along continental plates.

In recent years, researchers have shed new light on the geological development of the Zagros belt in the Kurdistan region by using cutting-edge technologies in geochronology and thermochronology to understand the order and style of events that shaped present-day geology. Fieldwork supported by laboratory analysis of rock samples also permitted the testing of new ideas.

After the development of a subduction zone within the Neotethys Ocean roughly 115 million years ago, piles of rocks from the Earth’s lower crust and upper mantle were emplaced on the northeastern margin of the Arabian plate roughly 70 million years ago. Eroding sediments from the uplifted rocks shed on the newly formed land depression adjacent to the rocks as evidenced from the detrital zircon provenance data and detrital zircon (U-Th)/He ages.

Afterwards, for about 30 million years, magmatic activity escalated along the Eurasian plate margin. Remnants of these rocks are partially preserved in the Arabia-Eurasia suture zone. The fingerprint of this magmatic activity is also indicated by the detrital zircon U-Pb and (U-Th)/He data in the sedimentary rocks.

Starting between 26 and 36 million years ago, a significant reduction of magmatism was observed. Supported by evidence, this period represents the timing of the collision between the Arabian and Eurasian plates from the beginning to the complete suturing in the NW Zagros. After the collision, the Zagros collisional zone underwent uplift and erosion starting about 22 million years ago. Later, between 4 and 14 million years ago, a further enhanced uplift of mountains took place from the mountainous area toward the interior of the Arabian plate.

Fine tuning these events and revealing the details of each process, will help better understanding geological concepts and identifying potential areas for mineral accumulation in associated extinct magmatism. Field observation shows widespread igneous and metamorphic rocks in the suture of Arabia and Eurasia.

As an example, among other metallic minerals, existing preliminary investigations show indicators of copper (Cu) deposits occurrence, a much-needed mineral for future green technologies.

In short, the imperative to optimize the utilization of natural resources and secure new reserves for sustainable growth will render investing in geoscience scientific research necessary.

Dr. Renas Ismael Koshnaw is a postdoctoral researcher at Georg-August-University Göttingen, Germany.


Homeless in Eden: The Importance of Malaye Jaziri’s Poetry

Sheikh Ahmad (c. 1570-1640 CE), better known by his pen name Malaye Jaziri, was the most important Kurdish poet of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His poetic oeuvre, or diwan, is one of the most significant works in all Kurdish literature, representing the fundamental genesis of modern Kurdish poetry.

Malaye Jaziri was the first to deploy Classical Perso-Arabic forms in Kurdish verse, adopting and adapting the ruba‘iqasida and, most notably, the ghazal as verse forms for poetry in the Kurdish language. In doing so, he established a written medium for the Kurdish poetic tradition, which, prior to his pioneering work, had been almost exclusively oral.

As a language of literacy, in Malaye Jaziri’s handling, Kurdish emerged as viable vehicle for poetic expression in the schools, royal courts, and written records of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, and his work left an indelible influence on Kurdish poetry that endures to this day. It was in those courtly and scholarly contexts that Malaye Jaziri found a fleeting oasis for his creativity.

As the Kurdish homeland was carved up by imperial adversaries, and the Kurdish people themselves were scattered across a diaspora that still characterizes their existence today, the poet found himself homeless in a contested Eden, penning poetry that underscored the dignity of a people and their language in the face of genocidal campaigns.

“… each of his units of paired lines constitute discrete poetic expressions in their own right yet remain interdependent in relation to the poem as a whole.”

Malaye Jaziri’s full diwan comprises 142 poems. Seventeen of these are ruba‘i, short poems of four lines, while the longest poem, reflecting the poet’s fondness for symmetries, is a qasida that runs to a total of 142 lines.

In terms of matter and manner, his adaptations of the Classical Perso-Arabic forms emphasize the sustained correspondence of sounds. Consistent end-rhymes are a hallmark of this tradition, along with frequent use of internal rhymes and alliterations.

Each poem also maintains lines of uniform length — that is, lines consistent in duration within a particular poem but open to variation across poems within the same genre. His poems in the ghazal and ruba‘i forms address a Beloved of unspecified, indeterminate gender, and often close with a parting signature by his poetic persona (“Mala” or “Nishani”), signaling the poem’s end and reflecting upon the nature of the poem and its addressee.

More than a mere couplet (bayt), each of his units of paired lines constitute discrete poetic expressions in their own right yet remain interdependent in relation to the poem as a whole. Every couplet sets up images in tension, emotions straining toward an articulation that seem always to elude reductive treatment.

Our English translations approximate the Kurdish rhymes with English assonance and half-rhymes, which, in English-language poetry, achieve a less heavy-handed, more palatable effect. We also endeavor to balance the feminine and masculine traits of the addressee, never explicitly indicating whether the Beloved is male or female, to preserve the poet’s deliberate ambiguity on this point. In keeping with this indeterminacy, the poems invite supple interpretations, capable of adapting each poem’s sequence of surprising imagery to apply to a human lover, a deity, or a homeland.

The qasida, as the longest and most discursive among the forms that Malaye Jaziri employed, gave freer rein to his range of themes beyond love. With its roots in pre-Islamic poetry, the qasida can feature satire, panegyric, lament, or philosophical musings.

Like other Persian, Indo-Persian, Arab, and Turkish poets, Malaye Jaziri worked within a highly regulated set of poetic conventions, but the poetic strictures did not constrain the range of his vast sources of inspiration. He drew on voices from regions stretching from the Iranian plateau to the Turkish steppe, from the back alleys of Konya to the bazaars of Delhi, casting into sharp relief the interpenetration of apparent contrasts: metaphysical and material, transcendent and quotidian, death and desire, sacred and profane, the ephemeral and the eternal.

Within his poems’ formal parameters, he assayed thematic innovations, crafting a poetics that blended Sufi Islam with non-Muslim traditions of Kurdistan more widely (Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Yezidi, among others). The diwan showcases the geographical and thematic range on which Malaye Jaziri drew and introduces a Kurdish voice that stands comparison with leading Sufi poets across the ages.

The Kurdish diaspora in North America, with its main concentrations in Toronto, New York City, San Diego, and Nashville (“Little Kurdistan”), celebrates the traditional Kurdish Newruz by reciting Malaye Jaziri’s ghazals and dancing in a circle to welcome spring. His poetic expression stands as a salutary reminder of the complex, human experience behind the headlines and beyond national borders: ecstasy, laughter, dread, and love.

Although he wrote four centuries ago, his imagery remains strikingly innovative today and, for its transcendent treatment of human worth and beauty, wields a compelling relevance at a time when international attention is again trained upon the Kurdish regions.




یەنگی تە ژ شەنگی ب درەنگی وە کەشاندن

سەد تیر و خەدەنگی ب چ ڕەنگی تە ڕەشاندن

سەرپەنجە ب ئشکەنجە تە وەک غونچە لڤاندن

هەستی وە ب مەستی ل مە ڤێڕا هەڕشاندن

You stretched your eyebrow’s bow, full taut and slow,

and launched a hundred arrows hewn of yew, arrows of a hundred varied hues.

You wagged your fingertip, a rosebud storm-tossed to and fro

and menacing my life with your intoxicating wounds.




خالا تەیە مشکین کو بوویە نوقطەیێ نوونان

وەک ئسم و طلسمان بوویە تەعویذێ عویوونان

چەشمێن د سیەه ڕادکرن فتنە ئوخوونان

لەو خوون ژ دو چەهڤێن مە دزێت شوبهی عویوونان

Your beauty mark is like a jot to grace the letter i.

A sacred name, a talisman, it wards off evil eyes.

Your own dark eyes cause turbid strife and blood to rise,

by which my eyes are wellsprings of the blood I cry.

ئسمێ تەیە مەکتووب د دیوانێ قدەم دا

Songs of Worlds to Come

ئسمێ تەیە مەکتووب د دیوانێ قدەم دا

حەرفەک قەلەمێ علمی ب تەقویمێ ڕەقەم دا

Your name is pristine writing in the everlasting book, inscribed

in letters that the Sage’s pen ordained before the maps of time.

ئەشکال و خەتێن دائرەیێ نوقتەیێ علمن

ئەڤ نەقش و مسالن د خەیالاتێ عەدەم دا

These shapes and shadows orbiting the central point of wisdom’s Sun

foreshadow all the stories, images, and songs of worlds to come.

میم مەتلەعێ شەمسا ئەحەد ئایینە سفەت کر

لامع ژ عەرەب بەرقێ ل فەخخارێ عەجەم دا

M made the morning rays of monotheist faith a mirror clear,

an Arab thunderbolt that breached the pagan arch when M appeared.

دا شاھدێ ئەسما ب ھەمی وەجھی بناسین

یەک مەستی سەمەدکر، ب یەکێ نەقشێ سەنەم دا

Now let us fully understand the facets of the names of God,

who made one drunk on the divine, while others turned to idols’ fraud.

یەک گرتییە زولفێ ویەکی خال نومایی

ئایینە ب ئەسکەندەری وجام ب جەم د

One tears his hair, while others contemplate a beauty mark for hours.

He granted Jamshid’s Cup and Alexander’s Mirror all-seeing powers.

ئەرواحێ موقەددەس شەبێ قەدران تە دخوازن

نوورا تەیە مسباحێ د قەندیلێ حەرەم دا

The Night of Power, Laylat al-Qadr, pure souls call you to pray.

Around the Kaaba, lanterns gleam: your radiance reflects their rays.

دا وەقتێ لقایێ ب تە حەی بین د بەقایێ

من نەقدێ دل و جان د فەنایێ ب سەلەم دا

To live forever in the moment of our meeting, take my all,

full payment in advance: I fully give my body, life, and soul.

یاقووت فرۆشان د کەف ئەلماسی شکەستن

ئەڤ سەفحەیێ ئەلماسێ کو نەققاشی قەلەم دا

The jewelers crushed their diamonds in their fingers when the Painter traced

that diamantine script and living portrait on the page’s face.

یا رەب ژ چ ڕوو لەب ب ثەنایا تە گوشایم

سبحانك لن أحصي في شأنك حمدا

O Lord, my feeble lips, my failing breath, can scarcely form a phrase.

All praise to You! Of all my words, not one suffices for Your praise.

مننەت ژ خودایی کو ب عەبدێ خوە مەلایی

ئکسیرێ غەمێ عشقێ -نە دینار و درەم- دا

Praise God who gave His servant Mala little in the way of wealth,

but lavished him with the elixir of love’s sorrow for his health.

Dr. Tyler Fisher (DPhil University of Oxford) is Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Central Florida. He has published English translations of poetry from Spanish, Catalan, Aramaic, and Kurdish. 

Dr. Haidar Khezri (PhD University of Damascus) is the University of Central Florida’s first Assistant Professor of Arabic. He teaches Kurdish, Arabic, and comparative literature at UCF, and has published translations out of and into Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, and English. He is the author of Central/ Sorani Kurdish: An Elementary Textbook (forthcoming from Georgetown University Press, 2023), and is currently co- editing The Oxford Handbook of Kurdish Linguistics.



Aramaic Christians in the Kurdistan Region: A Sharing of History and Values

The Background

The Aramaic Christians have shared the land and history of the Muslim Kurds, Yezidi Kurds, and Jews for millennia. The bonds of land, values, language and folklore have merged these ethnicities and religions into one common socio-cultural society where differentiation only occurs in detail.

This image of Kurdistan society sharply manifested itself in the early decades of the twentieth century to the 1960s. Kurdish villages next to Aramaic Christian villages were undistinguishable in ways of life, language, dress and folklore: both communities danced to the same music and sang the same songs, in Kurdish. This tradition is very much preserved now in social events, even after so many Christians have emigrated to Western countries.

This socio-cultural, ethnic, and religious mosaic was fragmented many times by the central government of Baghdad. Most notably, the government of Tawfiq al-Suwaidi in the mid 1950s expelled the Jewish communities in Kurdistan and Iraq through law No. 1 of 1950, revoking the nationality of those who had lived in Iraq for 2,500 years and who constituted more than 50% of Baghdad’s population at the time. The Semele killings of the Assyrian Christians by the Iraqi army in 1936 was another example.

The central government army attacked the fabric of Kurdistan’s society from the early 1960s to 2003, which saw the degradation and destruction of Kurdish and Christian villages and brought major demographic changes, with local populations emigrating both internally and externally from their native homelands. By late 1989, hundreds of villages and orchards from Zakho city to the west down to Dera Luk in the east were destroyed and their inhabitants forced to flee.

The Duhok area and governorate in addition to the Nineveh plain are the de facto ancestral homelands for the Aramaic Christians (Chaldeans and Assyrians). During these stressful times, those who didn’t emigrate abroad ended up in Mosul, Basra, and (mostly) Baghdad, where neither the Aramaic language nor Kurdish was spoken and so they had to learn Arabic. The resettlement was gradual and painful. Subsequently, Kurdistan lost most of its Aramaic Christians after losing its Jewish communities.

The new phase of the displacement of Christians started after 2003 and peaked in 2005-2007 in Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. Christians in these cities mostly of Aramaic origin were systematically and viciously attacked by religious fanatics, repeating what happened to the Jewish community in the mid-twentieth century.

The Christians in these cities declined to a level that former Christian-majority quarters such as Dora in Baghdad had no more Christian residents, and a reverse internal migration occurred to their ancestral havens and homelands in Kurdistan. Many were the second and third generation of those who had emigrated under duress from Kurdistan to the south. Looking for a haven, Kurdistan always welcomed its returning sons and daughters and helped Christians rebuild their lives, providing them with sanctuary and accommodations and building new churches.

In 2014, ISIS attacked Kurdistan, and a third wave of Christian migration began. ISIS also attacked Nineveh plains and Mosul, home to ancient Aramaic Christian villages. Tens of thousands of Christians and Yezidis fled to Erbil and Dohuk.

Who are the Aramaic Christians (Chaldeans and Assyrians)?

In ancient Mesopotamia, two known major kingdoms co-existed: Chaldea with its capital Babylon to the south and Assyria with its capital Nineveh to the north. The Chaldeans and Assyrians consider themselves descendants of those two ancient kingdoms. The Jews who were exiled from Judea and Israel roughly 2,500 years ago settled in Mesopotamia in both Chaldea and Assyria.

The shared Aramaic language continued from antiquity to today. Morris Jastrow (1914) shows a cuneiform text from Chaldea and Assyria that reads: “um nukh libbi shabattum,” which translates into “the day of rest of the heart” in reference to Saturday “shabattum.” In modern Aramaic (Syriac, neo-Aramaic, suruth or vernacular), it reads: “yoma d’niakha d’libbi.” The Chaldo-Assyrian people from Iraq would recognize the first cuneiform text as such.

Christians formed major schools of thought, namely the school of Jundiaspoor (southern Persia), Harran, and Nisibis in ancient Syria-Byzantium, producing a literature of science and philosophy in both Aramaic and Greek that persisted up to the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates. That literature was translated into Arabic by Christian philosophers such as Ibn Hunein. The Abbasid Caliphate during the reign of Al-Mammon was the golden age of Aramaic philosophers, translators, writers and physicians.

Today, the Christians of Kurdistan live peacefully side-by-side with Muslim and Yezidi Kurds and do not face discrimination and racism. Kurdistan has been a haven for Christians and other religious and ethnic groups who face persecution in Iraq.

In contemporary Kurdistan, the KRG leadership consistently engages in acts of public solidarity with its Christian populations. Moreover, especially in the aftermath of ISIS, continued vigilance and leadership must be shown at all levels of government to ensure that hateful ideologies are not allowed any space to take root.

Dr. Kamal Kolo is a professor at Soran University, Erbil. He is a native of Kurdistan of Chaldean Heritage. He worked on minorities heritage and history with Belgian Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts and Vrije Universiteit Brussels. He was a guest lecturer at the European Parliament, the University of Antwerp, and the University of Central Florida. His authored and co-authored books include: “Es War Einmal in Aradin”; “Das Ende Des Babylonischen Exiles”; “Inside Out: Textorientierte Erkundungen des Werks von Annemarie Schwarzenbach; and “Iraqi Kurdistan Region A Path Forward”.


The Kakai People: Hidden Religious Practices and Struggle for Recognition

This story delves into the captivating narrative of the Kakayi Kurds, also known as Kakais or Ahl-e Haqq. As a religious minority residing predominantly in the Kurdistan regions of Iraq and Iran, they uphold a unique and ancient belief system that intricately weaves together components of Islam, Zoroastrianism, and ancient Mesopotamian traditions. Renowned for their syncretic faith, the Kakayis embrace mystical practices and engage in spiritual rituals that are shrouded in secrecy, offering a glimpse into their enigmatic and deeply rooted cultural heritage.

Rangin Marf, 45, looks more stylish in her Kurdish outfit and a cap. With a soft smile, she talks about the pot of yogurt in front of her, which she had brought to the Masti Qalati (the Castle of Yogurt) ceremony in Hawar village.

The Masti Qalati ceremony, also known as the Giving Day ceremony, is a significant occasion for the Kakai religious community. Held annually in May, it has religious and social significance for the Kakais who live in the Hawraman Lhon region, specifically in the villages of Hawar, Hawarakon, and Daratwe in Halabja province.

“Masti Qalati (Giving Day) is a special and important occasion for us Kakais, so we prepare ourselves in the most beautiful way,” says Rangin.

As members of the syncretic religion, Kakais are also known as Ahl-e Haqq or People of the Truth, found in Kirkuk, Halabja, Nineveh, and Iranian Kurdistan. The Qalate ritual, so named because it takes place in the Qalate area overlooking the shrine of Mir Askandar, a respected Kakai religious figure from the past, entails a meeting of Kakai people who bring milk and other crops for contribution. As a result, it’s known as the Castle of Yogurt.

During the ceremony, the Kakais visit sacred sites and shrines in addition to exchanging dairy products and livestock. Families also practice reconciliation and exchange visits, as well as provide grain, wheat, and food for birds and animals.

Rangin notes that the ceremony used to be held exclusively in Qalate due to the small number of Kakai households in the three villages. However, with the increase in the Kakai population, the ceremony now is held in Hawar village as it attracts Kakais from Halabja and other cities, as well as some Muslims.


Concealed practices

Apart from Masti Qalate, the Kakais have other religious ceremonies, although they are not openly celebrated.

Ako Shaweis, a 53-year-old Kakai, reveals that religious events are held in hidden locations known as Jam Khana among the Kakai community. The reasoning behind this concealment is that they believe religion is a private matter between individuals and their God that does not require public disclosure.

According to Ako, the Kakais believe that the more hidden and concealed the religious ceremonies are, the more acceptable they become, strengthening the relationship between individuals and their God.

The historical oppression faced by minorities justifies the Kakais’ choice to keep their ceremonies secret. Ako highlights the importance of concealment in avoiding rivalry and probable persecution from the majority religion. As he puts it, “These rituals have always been kept secret, and Kakais have the right to do so because minorities have always been oppressed. To avoid such persecution, these rituals should be performed in secret, as they are intended for God, not for humans.”

Ako goes on to say that the Kakais are a marginalized group in their own country. “In this country, the Kakais are an oppressed class. This, I believe, is in part due to the Kakais’ inability to communicate their demands to the government. At the same time, I believe the Shiites and Islamic groups have sought to avoid portraying the Kakais as a distinct branch of Islam.”

Although there are no accurate statistics on the Kakai population, the head of the Mithra Organization for the Development and Culture of Yarsani Kakais estimates that there are 120,000 Kakais living in Iraq and the Kurdistan region. Even though the Kakais are Kurdish, it is noteworthy that 70% of them reside outside the administration of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Rajab Asi, also known as Rajab Kakai, the president of the Mithra Organization for Yarsani Development and Culture, states that Kakais have no barriers in practicing their beliefs in the disputed areas between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region. These locations include the Bainan villages in Nineveh province, the villages of Daquq in the south of Kirkuk province, and Khanaqin in the north of  Diyala province.


Ongoing threats

Kakais are free to practice their faith within the confines of their homes. However, Rajab stated that extremist groups in the region continue to pose a threat to Kakais.

Rajab categorizes these radical organizations into two sorts. The first comprises of radical Salafi factions that despise the Kakais and reject anyone with opposing ideas. The second category comprises the Iraqi Shiite political parties, which Rajab considers to be more dangerous. They aggressively encourage Kakais to convert to Shiism and engage in confrontations with Kurds and Sunnis, even if they do not resort to physical violence. Rajab emphasizes that these Shiite political groupings endanger not just the Kakais but also Kurdish national security.

The threats towards Kakais escalated significantly after the Kurdish independence referendum in 2017. As a result, Kakais were forced to evacuate a village in Khanaqin and eleven villages in the western Daquq district of southern Kirkuk province. Rajab attributes these threats to political and security motives, citing the expansion of Shiite influence in these areas as a concern.

Rangin, a participant in the Masti Qalate ritual, emphasizes her strong desire for Kakais to be recognized as an independent religion in the Kurdistan Region and Iraqi constitutions.

“As Kakais, we wish that Kakais be recognized as an independent faith in the constitutions of the Kurdistan Region and Iraq; this is not only my wish but that of every Kakai,” said Rangin.

Omar Aziz is a journalist and videographer from Halabja, specializing in Kurdish media since 2012. With a media degree and a passion for storytelling, he captures impactful moments and sheds light on important issues through his work.



Safekeeping National Memory

At the Zhin Center, a non-profit foundation dedicated to preserving Kurdish history and heritage, no stone is left unturned and every detail matters.

The center serves as a historical repository of the political, social, cultural, and intellectual life of Kurdistan, and as it claims, is “the guardian of [the Kurdish] national memory,” said Rafiq Salih, the director of the Zhin Center and one of its founders.

“We collect every document and evidence related to Kurds, and, although our center is based in Sulaymaniyah, it belongs to all people from the four parts of Kurdistan,” the director underscored.

A meticulous craft

The center employs an extensive and meticulous procedure to safeguard historical documents, utilizing a range of specialized steps, such as scanning, microfilming, conservation, and restoration, to maintain a library of manuscripts, photos, audio and video recordings, and written records pertaining to Kurdish heritage. Its collection contains books and documents that date to the 19th and 20th centuries or even earlier.

Within the manuscript department, the primary objective is to acquire historical documents penned by renowned Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Kurdish authors and subsequently compile bibliographies and indexes for these manuscripts, ensuring that each piece is accurately categorized within its respective collection.

“We do this because we want to know what the manuscript is about, which field it can be classified as, who wrote it, who re-wrote it, how many pages it has, and how old it is,” said Ali Wahab, the head of the department.

While a significant portion of the manuscripts revolve around Islamic history and sciences, due to the profound geopolitical impact of Islam on Kurdistan, there is a diverse array of subjects covered within these documents, including the fields of medicine, astronomy, engineering, philosophy, and literature.

Literature also occupies a significant place in the collection. Notably, the center houses the works of renowned Kurdish writers such as Rafiq Hilmi, Najmadeen Mala, Piramerd, Taufiq Wahby, Sheikh Mohammed Khal, and Abdul Karim Mudarris.

“In addition to these works, we have the divans of Nali and Mahwi, which were re-written by some famous writers. We have some unique kashkols – anthologies – of Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish poems, and one of them is 700 pages. We have a copy of Mahmud Pasha’s kashkol, which was written before 1900,” said Wahab.

According to the center’s records, there are a total of 1,388 manuscripts distributed across 800 volumes stored within Zhin’s facilities. A notable portion of these date back 250 to 300 years, with some exceptionally rare ones dating as far back as 400 years.

The manuscript department operates in close collaboration with two other departments: the scanning department and the conservation and restoration department. The initial step involves sending the manuscripts to the conservation and restoration department, a specialized laboratory staffed by trained professionals. There, the manuscripts undergo meticulous cleaning and restoration to address any damage caused by previous mishandling or improper storage.

Next, the manuscripts are transferred to the scanning department, where they are scanned for online accessibility. This technique has been developed by the center to facilitate convenient access for researchers and academics, allowing them to easily retrieve and utilize these valuable manuscripts for their scholarly work and papers.

Passionate about the past

Wahab, aged 29, initially started as a volunteer at the Zhin Center in 2017 and subsequently transitioned to a full-time employee. During his university days, he made regular visits to the facility to obtain specific documents and manuscripts for his academic research in Islamic studies at the University of Sulaimani.

“After meeting some of the people at the center, they recognized my potential and thought I could be useful, as I have been passionate about history in general and the history of Kurds and Kurdish scholars since I was a child. That’s why they loved me and gave me this job, and I still continue with passion because what I do is crucial for generations to come,” said Wahab.

The center was quite small when it opened in 2004 in a small house in Sulaymaniyah. It was founded by Rafiq Salih and his brother Sidiq, who now manages the center’s publication and examination departments.

“It’s common practice here that when an establishment is founded, it should have a large number of employees so that it can be recognized as a prominent foundation. But we thought differently. We began very modestly, with the aspiration that we must continue. So, we started in a rented house, and our core duty was just publishing books,” said Rafiq Salih.

The center’s name is rich with meaning. In Kurdish, zhin signifies being, existence, or the essence of life. Naming the center Zhin is symbolic of its mission to breathe new life into old books and other significant materials. It also pays homage to Zhin magazine, which was published in Istanbul in 1918-1919 in both Kurdish and Turkish. Additionally, it honors Zhin newspaper, founded by Piramerd, a celebrated Kurdish poet and journalist, in Sulaymaniyah in 1939. The newspaper continued to be published even after his passing, running until 1963 with a total of 1,714 issues.

A digital repository

It was not until 2009 that the center had its breakthrough. The Sulaymaniyah municipality provided it with its current four-story building, which has a big library consisting of four categories: the core collection, the periodicals collection, the rare books collection, and the personal collections of renowned Kurdish and Iraqi scholars.

“To be honest, it is the government’s duty to try to preserve Kurdish history, but we took it upon ourselves,” said Salih.

He believes that the center’s library is one of the richest in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), containing 70,000-80,000 titles in Kurdish, Turkish, Persian, Arabic, English, and other European languages, most of which have been digitized. “We give priority to digitizing old books from the 19th century through the 1980s to preserve them and so that people can access them. Up until now, we have managed to digitize more than 1,000 Kurdish books,” said Salih.

Among the center’s extensive collection there are crucial historical records and documents related to the Kurdish people. These include materials on the Kurdish revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries across all four parts of Kurdistan (Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria); documents from Kurdish political parties; Ba’ath party records; and notably, documents from the Ottoman Empire, which governed Kurdish territories for over five centuries.

The records department maintains written documents, photo, audio, and video materials. Kirmanj Zirar, 25, is an employee whose responsibility is to organize and collect written documents.

The documents undergo the same procedure as the manuscripts and Zirar’s role is to categorize these materials according to their respective categories. This systematic categorization process ensures that the documents are well-organized and can be readily retrieved when needed by researchers.

“We have managed to collect documents from 1900 to 2003, and the oldest one is an official decree from the Ottoman Empire to important Kurdish individuals,” said Zirar. “We also have documents related to British rule in Iraq and the history of the country from the monarchy to the republican system. All these documents were either collected by the center or were received from important families in the KRI.”

Zirar joined the center’s team in 2020 after graduating from the history department at the University of Sulaymaniyah in 2019. He explains that his work at the center is closely aligned with his academic background, and this fuels his passion for his daily work. He believes that he is contributing to a greater purpose – safeguarding Kurdish heritage.

Synergistic teamwork

Chia Sidiq, 30, is another employee working at the center and is responsible for collecting audio, photo, and video materials through which she identifies important cultural and political figures. These materials can be VHS videos, cassettes, or photographic films. There are 700-800 photographs kept in the department.

“I analyze every detail from every picture or video so that I can identify Kurdish political figures who could not be recognized in other videos or pictures. So, every material has importance,” said Sidiq.

The center employs just 15 individuals and has been consistently receiving a monthly government grant of approximately 15 million Iraqi dinars (equivalent to $9,500). Although this funding was totally cut from 2014 to 2018 due to the economic crisis affecting the KRI, the center managed to endure this setback thanks to its prudent management and previously saved funds. The center has also garnered support from individuals through donations and has benefited from facility renovations provided by various governmental figures, among them the governor of Sulaymaniyah.

Rafiq Salih firmly believes that the center’s success hinges on the synergy of teamwork and sound management. He envisions expanding the center’s activities in the future to accommodate a workforce in the hundreds, a goal he is confident can be achieved when the center broadens its operations. This goal also aligns with his conviction that a facility should have the appropriate number of employees commensurate with its operational needs.

“The key to our success is that every employee works the equivalent of four to five individuals in collaboration with an effective management team. With the expansion of our work and the improvement of our financial status, we would very much like to see 200 to 300 people work here to collectively restore and preserve our nation’s history,” said Salih.

Kakalaw Abdulla, an independent journalist residing in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, has made significant contributions to numerous local and international media platforms. He specializes in reporting on political, economic, and social matters within the Kurdistan Region.