Mafic–ultramafic Quaternary lava flows form the Tigris volcanic field (covering 1750 km2) at the northeastern tip of Syria and extend into Turkey. This volcanic field occurs between the Euphrates graben and the Bitlis–Zagros collision suture that forms the boundary between the Arabian and Eurasian plates. The rocks are made up of labradorite, clinopyroxene, olivine and opaque phases. The Tigris lavas are compositionally restricted to basanites and alkali basalts, having a narrow range of major element compositions (SiO2, 42.2–48.2 wt%; MgO, 5.7–9.0 wt%, with Mg numbers ranging from 0.51 to 0.62; TiO2, 1.7–3.2 wt%), and are alkaline in nature. The rocks are enriched in HFS elements such as Zr (119–231 ppm), Nb (14–43 ppm) and Y (17–22 ppm). The REE patterns are strongly fractionated ((La/Yb)N = 10.6), indicative of a garnet-bearing source. The 143Nd/144Nd isotopic compositions range from 0.512803 to 0.512908, and 87Sr/86Sr from 0.70327 to 0.70403 (εNd = 3.2–5.3) suggesting strong affinities to ocean island basalts. Modelling using a variety of mantle source materials and different degrees of partial melting indicates that the magma was produced by a small degree of batch partial melting (F = 1.5%) of a primitive, garnet-lherzolite fertile mantle source. The overall petrological/chemical nature supports this interpretation. Shear heating at the base of the lithospheric mantle of the northern boundary of the Arabian plate, caused by a change in plate motion as the Arabian plate moved in a more easterly direction during the Plio-Quaternary, could represent a possible source of the heat necessary for partial fusion and magma generation. Adiabatic decompression and melting represents a more likely process for the generation of the Tigris magma. Elemental ratios such as K/P (4.6), La/Ta (12), La/Nb (0.90), Nb/Y (1.22) and Th/Nb (0.09) indicate that the magma was subjected to minimal crustal contamination.