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  • 6/9/2011

Earthquake in Persia

part 2


Northeast of the Zagros central Persia corresponds broadly to a mosaic of Gondwanian plates, the details of which have not yet been sufficiently defined; altogether, they constitute a stable zone. Major earthquakes are rare there, and it is the region in which the largest number of early minarets are preserved (at Isfahan, Yazd, and Kerman; for Isfahan, see Ambraseys, 1979). Earthquakes there seem to be essentially local reverberations from major events in other regions. Movements resulting from the subsidence of the Zagros are, however, transmitted through the central Iranian plates toward the northern and eastern zones, tracing a gigantic triangle.

These northern and eastern zones thus experience the most intense seismic responses to the general drift of Arabia toward Eurasia. It is there that most serious earthquakes occur, throughout the length of the so-called Iranian Crescent, which extends from Azerbaijan through the Alborz, Khorasan and the Kopet Dag, Kuhestan, and Sistan east of the Dasht-e Lut as far as Makran, for which sources are rare.

Important earthquakes can also occur in the regions of central Persia along the edges of the Iranian Crescent, thus in the Tabas (earthquake of 27 Shahrivar 1357./16 September 1978, which left 6,300 dead, 3,600 in the town itself) or in the fault area around Kerman (15 Du’l-qada 1192/15 December 1778, in which more than 8,000 died).

This seismic activity between tectonic plates does not appear to depend on the apparent surface tectonics or on the major Quaternary faults; rather it is correlated with minor faults, tilted and sometimes very recent, that have cut across earlier instances. Relatively long periods of quiescence separate major paroxysms, which thus seem totally unpredictable. For example, Nishapur was affected by serious cataclysms in 605/1209, 669/1270, 808/1405 (leaving 30,000 dead), and 1084/1673 but has remained almost free of earthquakes since (Melville, 1980). Only Azerbaijan, particularly in the region of Tabriz, is distinguished by apparently continuous seismic activity. More or less severe shocks were experienced in the city in 244/858, 434/1042, 672/1273, 704/1304, 746/1345, 864/1459, 957/1550, 1060/1650, 1068/1657, 1075/1664, 1130/1717, 1134/1721, 1195/1780, 1235/1819, 1253/1837, 1259/1843, 1273/1856, 1314/1896, and 1349=1309 ?./1930; those of 434/1042, 1134/1721, and 1195/1780 were particularly destructive, each doubtless causing 20,000-50,000 deaths. It has been suggested that seismic activity alternates somewhat between the northern and eastern parts of Persia, the former seeming to be enjoying a period of relative calm at present (with the exception of the Rudbar earthquake in 1990), while the latter is undergoing a peak of activity (Ambraseys and Melville, p. 153).

Earthquakes in the beliefs and daily life of the Persians. In Persian popular belief the origins of earthquakes are attributed to the position of the globe on the horns of a bull, itself resting on a fish. When the bull is tired or, according to others, when there is too much injustice in the world, he becomes impatient and shifts the globe from one horn to the other, with resulting earthquakes. Some people claim that earthquakes occur where the earth falls directly onto the bull’s horn (Massé, Croyances et Coutumes I, p. 181). This notion is actually quite widespread all across the Islamic civilization of the Middle East, but Persian versions can be adduced, interpolation showing the influence of Shiism. The earthquake that destroyed Qucan in Khorasan in 1313/1895 was explained by the fact that a son of the Imam al-Reza (q.v.), whose tomb is located there, had gone to visit his father, who is buried at Mash'had, thus leaving the city defenseless against the elements (Donaldson, p. 264).

Other Links:

Persian Eagles: Part 1

Persian Eagles: part 2

Earthquake in Persia (part 1)

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