The festival of Newroz, marking the beginning of the vernal or spring equinox, is not just any new year for the Kurds. It’s the very symbol of the Kurdish fight to preserve their nationality.
For thousands of years, Newroz has been a reminder of ancient Kurdish culture and identity, but above all, how the resolve of the Kurdish nation has continuously overcome the fiercest of tyrants to mark new dawns.
According to Kurdish mythology, Kawa, a fearless Kurdish blacksmith ended the tyrannical reign of King Zahak. Fires were lit to mark the end of oppression and the beginning of a new dawn of freedom.
To this day, Kurds have continued to suffer hardships, repression and a battle for survival against all odds. Whether defying the Baathist regime in Iraq, dictatorial rule in Syria or challenging the harsh denial policies of Turkey, Newroz has come to symbolize the strong determination of the Kurds.
Although Kurdish lands were divided and people were separated against their will, Newroz served as a representation of the unity of the Kurdish spirit.
Today, Kurdish fortunes may have transformed, particularly with Kurds enjoying strategic standing in Iraq and Syria, but the symbolic power of Newroz is undiminished.
What should be a festival commemorated by joy and peace, more often, celebration have culminated in tensions, bloodshed and deeper divisions in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria but particularly in Turkey.
Citing security concerns about possible “tension and provocations between people who will participate in the celebrations and others,” the decision by governors of Ankara and Istanbul to ban Newroz celebrations this year is likely to fuel more tensions and violence.
With the festival heavily politicized, denial of Newroz celebrations has become synonymous with denial of Kurdish identity and rights.
Turkey is a far cry from the Newroz celebrations of 2013. Firstly, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, declared a ceasefire and start of peace talks, heralding an unprecedented chapter in the decades-old PKK-Turkey conflict.
Meanwhile, in the same year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Prime Minister at the time, in a powerful statement, took stage in Diyarbakir alongside the popular Kurdish singers Sivan Perwer and Ibrahim Tatlises.
With an increasing climate of hope and expectation at the time, Erdogan promised a future filled with peace and fraternity. Unfortunately, today, in Turkey, with tensions in Kurdish-dominated parts, curfews and return to violence, this message appears as distant as ever.
As Kurds celebrate across all parts of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region continues to serve as the greatest beacon of light in the Kurdish nationalist renaissance.
Faced with a bitter enemy, the Islamic State, it is carrying the global flag against terrorism.
In a public message marking Newroz, the Kurdistan Region President, Masoud Barzani, while reiterating his drive for statehood, stated, “the month of March has been the month of triumph, joy and also the suffering of the Kurdish people.” President Barzani added, “but it has also been the demise of the enemy and the start of new light and life, proving that sacrifice bears fruit.”
Indeed, the March 1991 uprising or “Raparin” that saw Kurds expel the tyrannical Saddam Hussein regime from their lands ended second-class citizenship and opened a new passage to the freedom and prosperity of today.
However, nothing would have been possible without the immense sacrifices of the Peshmerga and the Kurdish people throughout history, with a refusal to succumb to tyranny, no matter the odds or the strength of the enemy.
Today, many dangers and perils remain for Kurdistan. Newroz should serve as a reminder for the Kurds, to avoid slipping into a false sense of security, and that unity is needed as much as ever.
First Published: Kurdistan 24