The following article was originally published in Rudaw.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurds across the Kurdistan Region marked the arrival of Newroz differently from previous years in light of the fall of Afrin to the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies and the October 16 events, which saw Kurds withdraw from Kirkuk – widely considered the Jerusalem of Kurdistan.
Akre: Kurdish Newroz capital
Following the long-held Kurdish tradition, locals and visitors from the Kurdistan Region and beyond have begun the climb to bring the Newroz fire to the top of Akre mountain in the city’s unique celebration of the new year.
According to estimates from the Akre Tourism Department, some 25,000 people were expected to witness the lighting of Newroz fires in mountainous town of Akre in Duhok governorate.
“We expect a larger number of people visit Akre this year for Newroz,” Didar Ramazan, head of the tourism department, earlier told Rudaw. “We expect a large number of visitors to come from East Kurdistan [Iranian Kurdistan] and central and southern Iraqi provinces.”
Also speaking to Rudaw, activist Layla Ramazan said: “Our aim is to increase the number of visitors year after year to see the beauty of Newroz in Akre.”
The people of Akre say their town is the capital of Newroz – and want to make it official. Just as Sulaimani is known as the ‘Kurdish capital of culture’, Akre could officially take the title ‘capital of Newroz’.
Kurdistan flags fly high over Kirkuk
Kurdistan flags are flying high over Kirkuk as people gather at the city’s historic citadel to celebrate Newroz. It is the first time the Kurdistan flag has been raised in the disputed city since it fell to Iraqi forces last fall.
Taking control of the city in October, the central government immediately banned Kurdish parties from raising the flag, even atop their party buildings.
The constitution recognizes Kurdistan Region’s official flag, but Baghdad argues that only the Iraqi flag should be raised over state-buildings in the disputed areas, such as Kirkuk.
An armed convoy of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)’s Counter Terrorism Group (CTG) was deployed to Kirkuk on Monday, accompanying the head of the force, to take part in a Newroz event in the disputed city on Tuesday.
Lahur Talabany, the head of the PUK’s anti-terror force, said that he was happy to attend the Newroz fire in Kirkuk and wished prosperity for all Kurds around the world, especially in Afrin.
Speaking on Monday, he urged the people of Kirkuk to cast their ballots in Iraqi elections this year to impose what he called the Kurdistani identity of the multi-ethnic city.
“We have made all the preparations and agreed with all the Kurdistani parties to go on top of the citadel and raise the Kurdistan flag,” Rawand Mullah Mahmood, deputy head of the PUK office in Kirkuk, earlier told Rudaw.
He said they would read a report on the situation of Kirkuk and its shortcoming “without a fear.”
The Kirkuk administration has not made any preparations for Newroz 2018, unlike previous years when a budget used to be allotted for the events.
“A powerless and sabotaged authority of [the Kirkuk Provincial Council] and a useless administration are the reason for preparations not being made. The city’s administration is against Kurds and it is never ready to work for Kurds.”
During the 2017 Newroz festival, when Kurdish forces were in control of Kirkuk, a giant Kurdistan flag was hoisted over the qala– Kirkuk’s citadel.
This year, security officials issued a set of regulations for the historic event.
“Newroz festival will take place the way it was in past years and nothing has changed,” Maan Saad, commander of Kirkuk Province security announced.
“Kurds in a normal way will celebrate their festivals as they have done it in the previous years.”
Parties and festivals must take place in the designated areas, he said.
The same applies to the Arabs and Turkmen of the city, he added.
Various activities were scheduled in Erbil to mark Newroz. However, the capture of Afrin has changed the focus to ‘solidarity with Afrin’.
Haval Abubakir, the Sulaimani governor, announced on Sunday “starting from today until the evening of March 21, 2018, there is going to be a public mourning across the Sulaimani province.”
Abubakir said there would be no public parties during the Newroz festivities in Sulaimani.
“We will turn this year’s Newroz into the Newroz of Support and we will stop Newroz parties and turn it into the Newroz of mourning in solidarity with the people of Afrin,” he said.
Kurdish resistance in Afrin has featured in Sulaimani’s celebration of Newroz
A man dressed as Kawa the Blacksmith, donning white, carrying a hammer, and sporting a full beard in the likeness of the legendary Kurdish figure associated with the Kurdish new year.
Turkish-backed Syrian forces destroyed a statue of Kawa in Afrin when they took control of the city on the weekend.
“Long live Afrin resistance,” people could be heard shouting on Sulaimani’s streets, waving the Kurdistan flag.
Celebrations have also begun on Mam Yara mountain where the famous Kurdish intellectual and poet Tawfeq Mahmoud Hamza, known as Piramerd, used to commemorate the event in the last century. He is widely credited for reviving Newroz celebrations in the Kurdistan Region.
Others are following recent traditions, parading through Saholaka and Salim streets in the city’s center.
Khanaqin: family of Peshmerga killed in ISIS war join Newroz celebration
Many people lit the Newroz fire in the city of Khanaqin, a disputed city that came under Iraqi control last October. The city’s population is mainly Shiite Kurds.Family members of Peshmerga killed in the war against ISIS took part in the occasion.”Khanaqin is Kurdistani,” said one woman, dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes and the Kurdistan flag. She had lost her husband in the war and urged the people to celebrate such Kurdish occasions as Newroz.
This article was originally published in Rudaw.