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  • 3/14/2007

Norouz as celebrated by Kurds

Newroz refers to the celebration of the traditional Iranian new year holiday of Norouz for the majority of Kurds, mostly in the northern and eastern portions of Kurdistan. Norouz is celebrated throughout the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia such as in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. In Kurdish legend, the holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Kurds from a tyrant, and it is seen as another way of demonstrating support for the Kurdish cause. The celebration is commonly transliterated Newroz by the Kurds and coincides with the spring equinox which falls mainly between the 18th and 24th of March. The festival currently has an important place in the terms of Kurdish identity for the majority of Kurds, mostly in Turkey and Syria. Though celebrations vary, people generally gather together to welcome the coming of spring; people wear colored clothes and flags of green, yellow and red, the colors of the Kurdish people are waved.


In the Shahnameh an poetic opus written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around 1000 AD, Zahhak is an evil Arab king who conquers Iran and who has serpents growing out of his shoulders. Zahtak"s rule lasts for a thousand years during which two young men are sacrificed daily to provide their brains to the serpents to alleviate the pain that Zahtak felt. As discontent grows against Sahhak"s rule, the nobleman plan a revolt, being led by Kaveh, a blacksmith who has lost eighteen sons to Zahhak. Kaveh is able to eventually defeat Zahhak and instates Fereydun as king. The name Kaveh is written as Kawa in Kurdish.

In the 1930s, the Kurdish poet Taufik Abdullah, wanting to instill a new Kurdish cultural revival, used a previously known modified form of the story of Kawa. He connected the myths where people felt oppressed with Newroz, thus reviving a dying holiday and made it a symbol of Kurdish national struggle.

In the Kurdish myth, Kaveh, transliterated Kawa in Kurdish, lives for 2,500 years under the tyranny of Zuhak or Dehak, who is Assyrian. In the Kurdish myth, Dehak"s evil reign causes spring to no longer come to Kurdistan. The man who was charged with slaughtering the two young people instead killed one person a day, and one sheep, and mixed the brains; thus saving one young man a day. Then, these young children who were supposed to be fed to Zahhak, who according to Kurdish legend are the ancestors of the Kurds, are trained by Kawa into an army which on March 20 marches to Zahhak"s castle where Kawa kills the king with a hammer; he then sets fires on the hillsides to celebrate the victory, and spring returns on the next day. This story has also been mentioned by medieval Kurdish historian “Sherefkhan Bidlisi.

This myth is now used by the Kurds to remind themselves that they are a different, special people, and the lighting of the fires have since become a symbol of freedom. Others however state that the change in the myth have been instituted to serve the political agendas of the Kurdish people;[12] that the Persian legendary story has been changed such that Dehak has been made Assyrian in a hope to portray the Assyrians, both historical and contemporary, as enemies of the Kurds. In the original story in the Shahnameh, Zahhak is portrayed as an Arab.

In Modern times

The Kurdish association with Newroz has become increasingly pronounced since the 1950s when the Kurds in the Middle East and those in diaspora in Europe started adopting it as a tradition. In combination with the persecution they suffered in Turkey, the revival of the Newroz celebration become more intense and politicized and became a symbol of their resurrection. By the end of the 1980s Newroz was mainly associated with Kurdish identity and the attempts to express and resurrect it.

While the Kurdish celebration has taken the form of a political expression in Turkey, most Kurdish celebrations in Iran are identical to the national festivals. Izady states that the reason for this may be that the original tradition and folklore behind Newroz has been lost in the northern and western parts of Kurdistan (i.e. Turkey), where it was never as involving, as it was in the southern and eastern parts. Izady further states that Newroz might have gained prominence in the northern and western parts because of the prominence of the celebrations that the staunchest Kurdish adherents of Newruz, the Iraqi and Iranian Kurds, have enjoyed through their more frequent popular uprisings. Thus the western and northern Kurds seem to have resolved to the celebration of the new year as an unifying political expression.

In 2000 Turkey legalized the celebration of the spring holiday, spelling it Newruz and claiming it as a Turkish spring holiday.

 In the Kurdish regions of the country, specifically in Eastern Turkey, but also in Istanbul and Ankara where there is a large Kurdish population, people gather and jump over bonfires. Previous to it being legalized, the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, had chosen Newroz to stage terrorist attacks to obtain publicity for its cause; this had led to Turkish forces detaining thousands of people who were seen as supporters of the Kurdish rebel movements.

In Syria, the Kurds dress up in their national dress and celebrate the new year. According to Human Rights Watch, the Kurds have had to struggle to celebrate Newroz, and in the past the celebration has led to violent oppression, leading to several deaths and mass arrests .The government had stated that the Newroz celebrations will be tolerated as long as they do not become political demonstrations of the treatment of the Kurds.

Kurds in diaspora also celebrate the new year; for example Kurds in Australia celebrate Newroz, not only as the beginning of the new year but also as the Kurdish National Day; and the Kurds in Finland celebrate the new year as a way of demonstrating support for the Kurdish cause. Also in London organizers expected 25,000 people to celebrate Newroz during March 2006.

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