Kurdistance: Newroz

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.

As stated before, celebrations in Iraqi Kurdistan/Southern Kurdistan came on the heels of memorials for the deaths at Halapja.

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.

a survivor

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!

10 comments

  • Thanks for the wealth of information you offer us in your insightful articles Deborah and Happy Newroz!

  • Regarding Newroz, here are two articles that clearly show its Assyrian origin. It was transmitted to the Kurds via the Persians (their relatives) when the Persians overthrew the Assyrian empire and adopted most if its customs, traditions, myths and (most importanly) artists, scientists and craftsmen.

    http://www.aina.org/articles/akituandnuroz.pdf
    http://www.aina.org/ata/20070320104929.htm

    Note, the popular legend among the Kurds (reproduced below) is a complete myth. For one thing, there is no Assyrian King named Dehak (the list of Assyrian kings is thoroughly researched and beyond doubt).

    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.

  • Deborah Ann Dilley

    Thank you for sending the articles. There are many cultures who claim Newroz as their own. As to the Kurdish legend, legends do not always have to be grounded in fact. And within the Kurdish community there is contention about the origin of the “evil Dehak”, or if in fact that was the particular ruler’s real name. All second guessing aside, it makes for a pretty cool story, and it is valued as such by a large amount of people.

  • How long ago is the Assyrian empire? Those articles have a strict political purpose: “The Northern-Iraqi lands are Assyrian”. Like this article:http://www.nineveh.com/Akitu%20and%20Newruz.html

    The author claims that the Assyrians are the rightfull owners of northern Iraq lands (Assyria). Sorry to disturb your nationalist unrealistic propaganda, but the current Assyrians, are not the same as the ancient ASSYRIANS. Secondly NO ONE RIGHTFULLY OWNS LANDS. People migrate, it’s natural! Kurds have also lived in these lands for thousands of years, the Kurdish goverment actually supported an autonomy plan for Chaldo-Assyrians/Christians in Iraq. But still Assyrians make propaganda against the Kurdish goverment. Why don’t they attack the Syrian and Turkish goverment for their policies towards minorities?

    Currenlty a majority of Kurds inhabits these regions and the Kurdish constitution protects the rights of Chaldo-Assyrians, Turkmen, etc. Newroz is not strictly Assyrian. Regardless of its origin Newroz is also an uniquely Kurdish tradition now. The story of the Assyrian king, doesn’t have anything to do with the hate towards Assyrians. In fact Assyrians and Kurds fought together against Saddam. By the way, orginally Europeans (Germany, Holland, etc) also celebrated “NEW DAY” with bonfires, etc. In some regions in Holland they still collect old christmas trees and burn these, to celebrate the NEW DAY! I think Iranians, Arabs, Arameans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Turks, Kurds have to work together to achieve peace. Not by playing these kind of games.

  • Vladimir van Wilgenburg: writes:

    “…the current Assyrians, are not the same as the ancient ASSYRIANS.”

    Exactly what Saddam’s Ba’athist said, exactly what some Kurdish nationalist say. The Assyrians are anything but Assyrian, they are Turkish Christians, they are Arab Christians, they are Kurdish Christians, they are Iranian Christians, but they are not Assyrians, of course! Hey, how about you ASK them what they are…they will say Assyrian, because that is simply and plainly who they are.

    Who are you to say that Assyrians are not Assyrians, they are not the same as the ancient Assyrians? How do you know? Have you written your PhD on this? Are you sure YOU are not speaking with a political purpose? It sure sounds like it to me. You are toeing the Kurdish/Arab/Iranian/Turkish line on the question of the Assyrians.

    Why do Kurds/Arabs/Iranians/Turks deny the Assyrian identity? Because these groups have expropriated Assyrian lands, and are still doing so. Because the Assyrians are the indigenous people of north Iraq, north-East Syria, south-east Turkey and north-west Iran. To acknowledge the Assyrian identity would open the legal case of the Assyrians against their oppressors (whom we can conveniently label “Muslims”).

    Assyrians have been in north Iraq since 5000 BC, we just celebrated our New Year, the 6757th one. We are the legal owners of that land, though we are outnumbered (because of Genocide) and we don’t have the strength to claim our land. Not yet…

    “The men of Nineveh [Assyrians] shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” (Matthew 12:41).

  • Vladimir van Wilgenburg

    It’s you who has a political purpose. I’m not an Assyrian nationalist. There are Arameans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Nestorians, Jacobites/etc. They have their own names. Do these “Assyrians” speak Assyrian or Aramean? I recently saw a map of the 11th century, and I don’t see Assyrians in Hakkari/Tur Abidin, but Aremeans/Jacobites/Armenians. So, aren’t Assyrians Arameans? Instead of Assyrians? It’s a fact there is a group that see themselves as Assyrians now. That’s the course of history.

    No one has a legal right on land. Does it matter who was before someone? Greeks were orignally in Izmir/Istanbul, etc before the Turks. Probable some other people were before them. The majority of people living in Istanbul now are Turks. If Greece wants “Istanbul” back, it has to kill all non-Greek inhabitants of Istanbul. The same goes for the Assyrians. They are a very small minority in Iraq and most of them live outside of “Assyria”, in the diaspora. If they want to create a homogenous Assyria in cities like Duhok/Hewler/Kerkuk/etc, they have to kill all non-Assyrians or deport them. It looks like the Assyrians picked up a “victim” role, like the Kurds, too. They portray themselves as an ancient Christian people, doing nothing wrong, being killed by all Muslims (including Kurds). Is this true? I don’t think so. There were a lot of Assyrian militias in the past.

    KRG supports an Christian region in Nineveh (Mosul). And accepted the Assyrian-Chaldean identity (Chaldo-Assyrians). “Assyrians” are also an accepted identity in the Kurdish constitution. Kurds don’t deny anything.

  • Mehmet

    Talking about the historic origins of Nevruz, I believe it is noteworthy to mention the spells of violence that came to symbolize Nevruz in Turkey in the last 10-15 years. During the 1990 – 1993 time window, it wasn’t uncommon to see Turkish soldiers engaged in street to street urban fighting with Kurdish insurgents during Nevruz. The violence was so widespread that the shooting extended to outskirts of major cities such as Diyarbakir and Sirnak.

  • Vladimir van Wilgenburg says:

    It’s you who has a political purpose. I’m not an Assyrian nationalist. There are Arameans, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Nestorians, Jacobites/etc. They have their own names. Do these “Assyrians” speak Assyrian or Aramean? I recently saw a map of the 11th century, and I don’t see Assyrians in Hakkari/Tur Abidin, but Aremeans/Jacobites/Armenians. So, aren’t Assyrians Arameans? Instead of Assyrians? It’s a fact there is a group that see themselves as Assyrians now. That’s the course of history.

    Well, that’s exactly the kind of argument, I repeat, that anti-Assyrians will such as Arabs/Ba’athists/Kurds will use. The Assyrians are not a nation, of course, they are a denomination. How silly this argument. Is Catholic a nationality? Is Orthodox a nationality? Is Anglican? Assyrians are Catholic, Orthodox, Church of the East, Protestant, you name it. That’s their religion,not their ethnicity.

  • Someone

    I agree with Vladimir.
    What does assyrians want from the kurds? There are even assyrians in the parlament who represent the assyrian people!
    And no one owns a land thats true too, but even if you play it that way, then it’s still the kurds land.

    The Assyrian empire originated from the Akkadian empire who came from lower Mesopotamia for about 2000 b.c.

  • Somebody

    Gutians(guti/kurti)/hurrians/kassites/kardu/khaldi/mitanni/medes/kardouchs/korduene

    theese peoples are all identified with kurds. and they were in kurdistan long before any assyrian/akkadian came from south.

    and also the Gutis were known for making large fires (which is typical for the Newroz celebration).
    This means that Newroz is is not of assyrian origin or something likethat.

    The day that Newroz is celebrated is when day and night are equal.

    Even SWEDES celebrate “första maj” !!!! Did they get it from assyrians?!?!?! No.

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