The following story was written by Zanyar Omrani, a filmmaker and Kurdish human rights activist who produced the BBC documentary “Inside Kobane“. Omrani gave The Kurdish Project permission to publish the following story, which originally appeared on April 2nd, 2015 in Countercurrents.org.
Celebrating Kurdish Newroz in Rojava
by Zanyar Omrani
This year’s Kurdish Newroz (Kurdish New Year) had a bloody start with two suicide explosions. These incidents changed the atmosphere of the normally joyful Newroz times. The explosions happened in the two main squares of Hasakah, the main celebrations sites of Kurdish Newroz in Rojava. The explosions claimed at least 35 lives and 150 people were injured.
I was in Qamishli at the time of the explosions. We were getting ready to go the Newroz celebrations when we heard that lots of people have been killed and injured by these suicide attacks. Together with some local journalists, we headed toward Amuda to prepare some reports of the conditions of the injured in the hospital.
Travelling in the green meadows of Kurdistan after some hours of wet weather could have taken us to a never-never land, had it not been for the sad news we had just received.
Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), contrary to the common idea of a mountainous Kurdistan, is totally a land of meadows; meadows which made green the only color possible to see except for the Turkish barbed wire and border watches.
Helping the Victims
Agid Chuli, a Syrian Kurdish journalist, said, “The Asayish (the police) of the Kurdish self-rule had asked for the cancellation of the celebration based on the information they had obtained. But this was not taken seriously in Hasakah.”
Mohamad is 4, and he participated in the celebrations with his father. Now both are injured and hospitalized in Amuda hospital. I managed to get a few minutes to talk to his father in the midst of the chaos in the hospital and listen to his narration of what had happened, “Despite all the anxiety and my wife’s plead with us to not to go to the Newroz celebrations, Mohamad and I decided to go. Newroz has always been a very important day to us; we didn’t want to miss it.”
The management board of Amuda hospital has asked the fellow citizens to donate blood. Dr. Fares Hamo, head of the Hygiene and Health Council, said, “The majority of the casualties were women and children.” He added, “The people’s response to the blood donation call was great and admirable.”
After the Hasakah Newroz explosions, the co-leaders of Jazira canton condemned the suicide attacks and made a statement, “We offer our deepest condolences to those who lost dear ones, and we promise to make Jazira canton a safe place for all peoples.” And they declared three days of public mourning in memory of the lost ones.
History of Kurdish Newroz in Rojava
Newroz is celebrated very simply in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) every year. There are no complicated customs, no 13-Bedar, and no Haft-Seen, but there are specific strong political messages. People wear colorful Kurdish traditional outfits, and while playing zorna and dahol, they dance around the Newroz fire and jump over it. The Yazidis in Rojava, who live in a few villages, celebrate ÇarşembaSor on the Wednesday of the 3rd week in April. They believe that this year 6763rd Newroz was held. Everyone is talking about the Kaveh and Zahhak legend. Statues of Kaveh the blacksmith is seen at some squares in some Rojava towns.
The political aspect to Newroz has a long history. Farhad Yousif, a Kurdish journalist, explains, “The Syrian government used to resort to different tactics in different periods of time. Until 1985, any gatherings to celebrate Newroz was forbidden. In 1985 the Ba’th regime forces attacked the people in a gathering in Afrin and killed many of them. People defended themselves and managed to control a local police station. This shocked the Assad regime and forced them to decrease the security measures for Newroz in the years to come.” According to Farhad, the government did not want to get drawn into the Newroz issue, since their actions to make people forget Newrozwere counter-productive. First, they tried to change the name to Eid-Alshajar (tree holiday) or Eid-Arabi’ (spring holiday). “In their next move, they named it Mother’s Day and declared it an official holiday.”
In Farhad’s words, “At those times around 500 thousand people in Aleppo would gather to celebrate Newroz and even Syrian intelligence authorities would attend the gathering, too, but it was not stated officially. As the relations between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Hafiz Assad’s government darkened, and Abdullah Ojalan, the PKK leader, was arrested in 1999, stricter security measures were established for Newroz celebrations. Adana Agreement was the peak of these strict measures.”
It was in 2008 when the Syrian intelligence forces attacked the people in the gathering and killed three teenagers all of whom were called Mohammad. Speaking about the 2011 events and the establishment of the three Rojava cantons, Farhad added, “From 2011 on, Newroz celebrations have been held impressively and every year better than the previous one. This year too, the celebrations were going to be impressive in the three cantons, but they were cancelled in Jazira and Afrin cantons for security reasons and respect for the martyrs.”
A New Beginning
There was heavy raining at the time of the celebration in Kobane canton, but it did not affect the celebration and people attended enthusiastically. They need to start a happy spring, as they have been through a difficult winter. People in colorfully-patterned Kurdish outfits attended the celebration, while carrying YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) flags.
The celebrations in Kobane were held with a commemoration of martyrs Mazloum Doghan and Arin Mirkan and in celebration of self-ruled Rojava and hopes for democratic Syria. In the beginning, the audience observed a minute of silence for the martyrs. Anwar Moslem, the co-leader of Kobane canton, after congratulating the new year, talked about the Kobane resistance for some minutes. There were performances by the music and theater groups, too.
The majority of the people were watching Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakr (or Amad as called by the Kurds) on their TVs. Like every year, Abdullah Ocalan’s Newroz message is read out to people. Ocalan offered his specific salutations to Kobane resistance in this year’s message.
Some other people held a small Newroz celebration in a kindergarten in Qamishli. The children celebrating Newroz in Syria, who have hopes for better days to come, share 700 kilometers of borders with ISIS.