The vernal equinox marks the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the beginning of the “New Year” or Newroz for the Kurdish people. The holiday is not limited to just the Kurds as cultures from Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, India, Turkey, Zanzibar, and from various countries of Central Asia also celebrate this event.
While the event is technically a cultural holiday, for the Kurds there is a political aspect to it as well. To the Kurds in Iraq the holiday comes after a period of mourning for the 1988 Anfal campaign where thousands of Kurds died in gas attacks. To the Kurds in Turkey, the event marks a opportunity to press for their rights as people. In any event, celebrations include large crowds of people, dancing, singing, and the occasional bonfire to jump over. Jumping over fire symbolizes passing the jumpers’ bad health and bad luck from the past year to the fire in exchange for the good. For a description of some of the various Newroz traditions, see here.
The dual cultural and political celebrations that Newroz evokes in the Kurds can be traced back to the legend of the beginnings of holiday.
The Legend of Kawa the Blacksmith-
There are many stories that tell the tale of the beginning of the celebration of Norouz; one of the more famous myths surrounding the holiday is the Kurdish Legend of Kawa the Blacksmith.
Once upon a time there was an evil Assyrian king named Dehak. The king and his kingdom were cursed because of his wickedness. The sun refused to shine and it was impossible to grow any food. The king Dehak had the added curse of having two snakes attached to his shoulders. When the snakes were hungry he was in great pain, and the only thing that would satisfy the hunger of the snakes were the brains of children. So every day, two of the children from the local villages were killed and their brains fed to the snakes.
Kawa was the local blacksmith and hated the king, as 16 of his 17 children had been sacrificed for the King’s snakes. When he received word that his last child, a daughter, was to be killed he came up with a plan to save her. Instead of sacrificing his daughter, Kawa had sacrificed a sheep and had given the sheep’s brain to the King. The difference was not noticed. When others heard of Kawa’s trickery they all did the same; at night they would send their children up to the mountains with Kawa where they would be safe. The children flourished in the mountains and Kawa created an army from the children to end the evil king’s reign.
When their numbers were great enough, they came down from the mountains and stormed the castle. Kawa himself cast the fatal blow to the evil king, Dehak. To tell the news to the people of Mesopotamia he built a large bonfire, which lit up the sky and cleansed the air of the evilness of Dehak’s reign. That very morning, the sun began to shine again and the lands began to grow once more. This is the beginning of the “New Day” or Newroz as it is spelled in Kurdish.
19 years ago, the west including UK, US and the so called UN agreed with Saddam Hussain witnessed by God to use chemical weapons and gass us, Kurds.
Halabja will always be my identity
And while the victims are still grieving, as can be seen here in a video posted by Vladimir who writes for From Holland to Kurdistan, many Iraqi Kurds such as Hiwa are still sending out their wishes for a happy New Year. If you would like to see video of celebrations in Northern Iraq/Southern Kurdistan we have video.
By the way, Radio Open Source will be hosting a program tonight on Iraqi Kurdistan, in which a few of the Kurdish bloggers that we cover here will be featured.
To the Kurds in Turkey, Newroz is a time to celebrate the new year and also promote the Kurdish cause, much to the dismay of some Turks who feel that the holiday should not be political at all. From Spooky Sense by Garfucius:
however, as the pkk and the kurdish question became more deeply engraved in turkish political society, naw-rooz, too, acquired a political character. first in the east, then the kurd populated sectors of large towns, it became an occasion where separatist slogans were shouted in demonstrations, occasionally acts of vandalism and pillage were staged, the turkish government was protested and clashes occurred with the police and the military law enforcement. the wood fire, too, was replaced with burning truck and tractor tyres which gave less flame but a thick, poisonous, pollutant and very visible cloud of smoke.
about 10 years ago, the state put its hand on naw-rooz. it was declared as a day to observe nationally, i.e., kurd, turk, what remains of armenian, greek and jew all together, as one soul. papers printed and tv's broadcast sights of bejacketed, necktied officialdom wearing black shoes and generals in full uniform jumping over the fire. tyre burning was of course outlawed, not because of environmental or health concerns, but because of the difficulties of policing it. thus, the spirit of revolt injected to naw-rooz by the kurds was enucleated.
yet, during the last few naw-roozes, the revolt was back. clashes, though not major, occurred in the east and big cities like ankara, izmir, adana, mersin, even antalya and of course the largest kurdish populated city in the world, istanbul, between the police and gendarmerie and the kurdish militants and youth, who now include a good many under 18.
tomorrow, march 21 is naw-rooz. information coming to newsrooms indicate there may be protests and demonstrations tomorrow in istanbul. at any rate, the police, in the name of taking precautions, may block, control and close down quite a few roads for security reasons, congesting the already paralyzed city traffic. those who travel around gaziosmanpaşa, tarlabaşı (taksim) and dolapdere should be particularly wary. their daily rhythms may be seriously upset.
happy naw-rooz, to all of us by the way. after all, it is originally a day for merry making. spring is here!
Kurdish blogger Rasti has a different take on the situation in Turkey.
There's been a lot of nationalist activity in Turkey in the last week, and it's specifically directed toward the Kurdish new year, Newroz. Last year, Turkish media worked itself into a frenzy with its usual predictions of violence during Newroz, but the violence didn't come to pass during the holiday. This being an election year in Turkey, the nationalist activity directed against Newroz is, in reality, another excuse to round up DTP politicians, and has become an issue for anti-“terrrorism” boards….
It never entered the thick heads of the Ankara fascists that maybe Kurds are weary of having to demonstrate, protest, and engage in legitimate armed resistance in order to gain the right to be treated as human beings. There's a bit of double-speak used here, though, because “to review security measures to be taken” against Newroz demonstrations can be translated to mean: “prepare provocations against the Kurdish people.”…
the “completely artificial” Turkish Nevroz (as opposed to Kurdish Newruz–remember the “W” is forbidden) will be the order of the day this year, as the Paşas have determined. Given that this year we have witnessed the Deep State murder of Hrant Dink; that a Turkish professor is facing charges of insulting Ataturk; that extremist nationalism is praised and the resulting violence is thereby encouraged; that Erdogan is trying to outdo everyone in nationalist sentiment in the battle for Cankaya; that 50-kilo mega-flags are considered the proper response to Kurds who wave red, yellow, and green hankies; and that BBP, the people who brought you Ogun Samast, is proclaiming “brotherhood,” “peace,” and “love,” and a general warm, fuzzy feeling for Kurds, means that it will be an interesting Newroz.
Regardless of politics, it is a new year. To my readers I would like to wish you a happy Newroz. Newroza píroz be!