BAḴTĪĀRĪ MOUNTAINS, central part of the Zagros mountain range, more or less identical to the settlement area of the Baḵtīārī nomads. The Baḵtīārī mountains, also known under the name Baḵtīārī-Zagros, cover an area limited by the following natural boundaries: The Sezār river, the northwestern tributary to the Dez river (see āb-e dez), forms the boundary against Lorestān; the Kārūn Vanak, Ḵersān, and Mārūn delineate the boundary between the Baḵtīārī mountains and the Kūhgīlūya part of the Zagros. The watershed between the endorheic basins of central Iran and the Persian Gulf tributaries may be considered as the eastern margin, while the mountain front of the Zagros between the Dez and Mārūn rivers forms a natural boundary to the west (Figure 13).
Within these boundaries, the Baḵtīārī mountains represent not only the central, but also the highest part of the whole Zagros system, a number of crests exceeding 12,000 ft for many miles and some peaks reaching above 14,000 ft. Zardkūh, at 4,548 m/14,920 ft is the highest peak of the entire Zagros range. “The gradual rise from the northwest and southeast toward the Baḵtīārī Mountains merely reflects the longitudinal structure of the Central Zagros, and appears to be related to broad warping of the fold surface, which may still be in progress” (Oberlander, 1965, pp. 12-13).
The impressive basin-range-structure of the Baḵtīārī mountains, a result of the geological development of the Zagros system since late Cretaceous time and culminating in the orogenesis of Tertiary upfolding, is accentuated by the complicated and unique drainage system, which itself is the result of geology and topography. The Baḵtīārī mountains sensu stricto are part of the Folded Zagros and, as such, characterized by extensive north-northwest to south-southeast running ridges (anticlinal axes) and deeply incised valleys, connected with each other by numerous transverse gorges (tang). The vertical differences between some crest elevations and valley bottoms amount to more than 2,000 m; some of the narrow and extremely incised transverse gorges are more than 1,500 m deep. On the whole, the Baḵtīārī mountains represent the most intensively folded part of the Zagros system and thus are characterized by the most pronounced topography of any Iranian mountain range. This is also the reason for the past inaccessibility of the whole area, which only recently was penetrated by highways and railways. It also explains the preservation of an extremely well-developed cultural unity and identity in the mountain complex, which is today inhabited almost entirely by the Baḵtīārī nomads. As far as we know, the development of a specific highland way of life may date back to prehistoric times (cf. Zagarell, 1982).
Climatically, the Baḵtīārī mountains may be described as part of a comparatively humid and meso-thermal climate. Its main characteristics are a pronounced seasonality in annual precipitation and cold and snowy winters. Šahr(-e) Kord, e.g., a town 60 km west of Isfahan and situated 2,066 m above sea level, is considered to be one of the coldest places in Iran; its average January mean temperature in the period between 1956 and 1971 was -1.7°C, the annual average amounting to 12.0°C. Almost each winter, absolute minima of less than -20°C are recorded, the absolute minimum temperature during the mentioned period showing -28.5°C. Average elevation and exposure of the Baḵtīārī mountains to the moist west-winds of winter are the reasons for considerable precipitation, which amounts almost everywhere to more than 1,000 mm. In extremely exposed areas there may be even more than 2,000 mm, while, on the other hand, certain basins and valleys in the rain shadows of high ranges may receive considerably less. The predominantly winter precipitation is the reason for the existence of recent small cirque glaciers and numerous perennial firn patches, especially in the surroundings of the Zardkūh (cf. Grunert et al., 1978). The almost ubiquitous presence of large cirques in the highest parts of the Baḵtīārī mountains (Desio, 1934; Falcon, 1946; McQuillan, 1969) proves a considerable glaciation during the Pleistocene era.
Topography and climate are the basis of a natural vegetation which, in its original state, may be described as a “semi-humid oak forest” (Bobek, 1951) with Quercus brantii as the dominant tree. On the whole, the original vegetation of the Baḵtīārī mountains is that of “a somewhat dry, cold-resistant, and deciduous forest with broad-leaved, summer green oaks as its dominant members” (Bobek, 1968, p. 285). These forests remained more or less intact until the 13th/19th century, when rising demand for charcoal, increasing population pressure, and improved accessibility caused their rapid destruction (de Planhol, 1969). Today, tree cover is limited to steep slopes and backward areas, while brushes, shrubs, and steppe-like grass vegetation predominate.
The present-day economy of the Baḵtīārī mountains, dating back to the opening up of the region by the construction of the so-called Lynch road in the 13th/19th century (Ehmann, 1974; Zagarell, 1975), is characterized by a combination of agriculture and various forms of nomadism. Agriculture is concentrated in the basins of the different mountain ranges and along the irrigable terraces of the many perennial rivers. Wherever irrigation is possible, it is the basis of an intensive cultivation of various grains, grapes, vegetables (particularly onions), and fruit trees; in the basins rain-fed agriculture is widespread. The hills and the slopes of the different mountain ranges offer excellent pastures for summer grazing. Carpet weaving is one of the major sources of additional income, both in rural and tribal areas.
Due to the exceptional climatic position of the Baḵtīārī mountains and their richness in perennial rivers, which has caused their characterization as “an island of moisture” in comparison to both their forelands (Oberlander, 1965, p. 15), the mountains have developed since 1960 as a center of major dam construction projects. Dez, Kārūn, and Mārūn have been or will be equipped with dams for irrigation projects and energy generation. Moreover, the divide between the endorheic basins of central Iran and the exorheic basins of the gulf tributaries has recently been penetrated by a 3 km-long tunnel near Kūhrang (broken through?), in order to divert water from the headwaters of the Kārūn to the upper reaches of the Zāyandarūd, thus stabilizing the water supply of Isfahan and its environs.
The Baḵtīārī mountains were first penetrated by the construction of the Lynch road in 1899. Since that time the region has developed as one of the main thoroughfares between central Iran and the southwest, especially Ḵūzestān (Ehmann, 1974). The Trans-Iranian railway also partly follows the valleys of the Baḵtīārī mountains. In connection with highway and railway construction such major towns as Alīgūrdaz and Aznā came into existence. On the whole, however, the entire region is still sparsely populated, with the population concentrated in the basins and the narrow valley bottoms.
See also BAḴTĪARĪ TRIBE.
I. Bishop, “The Upper Karun Region and the Bakhtiyari Lurs,” The Scottish Geographical Magazine 8, 1891, pp. 1-14.
H. Bobek, “Die natürlichen Wälder und Gehölzfluren Irans,” Bonner Geographische Abhandlungen 8, Bonn, 1951.
Idem, “Vegetation,” in Camb. Hist. Iran I, pp. 280-93.
C. A. de Bode, “Travels in Luristan and Arabistan,” 2 vols., London, 1845.
R. Burn, “The Bakhtiari Hills: An Itinerary of the Road from Isfahan to Shushtar,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 65/2, 1897, pp. 170-79.
A. Desio, “Appunti geografici e geologici sulla catena dello Zardeh-Kuh in Persia,” Memorie geologiche e geografiche di Dainelli 4, 1934, pp. 141-67.
D. Ehmann, “Verkehrsentwicklung und Kulturlandschaftswandel in Bakhtiyari (Mittlerer Zagros),” Sociologus, N.S. 24, 1974, pp. 137-47.
N. L. Falcon, “The Bakhtiari Mountains of South-West Persia,” The Alpine Journal 46, 1934, pp. 351-59.
Idem, “The Evidence for a Former Glaciation in the S. W. Persian Mountain Belt,” Geographical Journal 107, 1946, pp. 146-47.
J. Grunert et al., “Rezente Vergletscherungsspuren in zentraliranischen Hochgebirgen,” Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart 28, 1978, pp. 148-66.
J. V. Harrison, “The Bakhtiari Country, South-Western Persia,” Geographical Journal 80, 1932, pp. 193-210.
A. H. Layard, “Ancient Sites among the Bakhtiyari Mountains: Extracted from a Communication by A. H. Layard, Esq. With Remarks on the Rivers of Susiana, and the Site of Susa, by Prof. V. P. Long,” JRGS 12, 1842, pp. 102-09.
H. F. Mac Millian, “The Flora of the Bakhtiary Country. With Some Hints on Collecting and Drying Specimens,” The Naft. Anglo-Persian Oil Company Magazine 4, 1928, 22, pp. 20-23.
H. McQuillan, “Small Glacier on Zardeh Kuh, Zagros Mountains, Iran,” Geographical Journal 135, 1969, p. 639.
T. M. Oberlander, “The Zagros Streams: A New Interpretation of Transverse Drainage in an Organic Zone,” Syracuse Geographical Series 1, 1965.
Idem, “The Origin of the Zagros Defiles,” in Camb. Hist. Iran I, pp. 195-211.
X. de Planhol, “Le déboisement de l’Iran,” Annales de géographie 430, 1969, pp. 625-35.
H. C. Rawlinson, “Notes on a March from Zohab, at the Foot of Zagros, along the Mountains of Khuzistan (Susiana), and from Thence through the Province of Luristan to Kirmanshah, in the Year 1836,” JRGS 9, 1839, pp. 26-116.
H. A. Sawyer, “The Bakhtiyari Mountains and Upper Elam,” Geographical Journal 4, 1894, pp. 481-505.
A. Zagarell, “Nomad and Settled in the Bakhtiari Mountains,” Sociologus, N.S. 25, 1975, pp. 127-38.
Idem, The Prehistory of the Northeast Baḥtiyari Mountains. Iran: The Rise of a Highland Way of Life, Beiheft zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Series B (Geisteswissenschaften), no. 42, Wiesbaden, 1982.
See also Camb. Hist. Iran I, index, p. 768.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 551-553