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Being Yourself just one Time a Year Invisible Kurdish Tool: Newroz

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Newroz (New Day, or the beginning of spring) celebrations on March 21st are widespread among people in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, Newroz has always been incredibly meaningful for Kurds in Turkey because it has been forbidden by Turkish authorities in most of the Kurdish region of Turkey. One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is from Newroz in my village in Southeastern Turkey/Northern Kurdistan. My dad and his friends were trying to light a fire in the village square, but Turkish soldiers put out the fire. People dispersed to the hills, and when the villagers lit a fire on top of one of the hills, the soldiers put out the fire. We were able to see the villagers and soldiers from the roof of our house; a kind of cat and mouse play. Why did the soldiers or state authorities not allow the villagers to celebrate Newroz? I knew that the Turkish Army and Kurdish insurgent militants had been fighting each other since 1984.

Don Mitchell’s book, The Right to the City Social Justice and Fight for Public Space (2003), offers comprehensive details about how different actors perceive and use public spaces to reach their demands/rights. Mitchell draws a picture of public spaces that were used by the homeless, students, and women to lay claim to the right be represented and heard. Town squares and fields can be indispensable tools for political leaders and movements to rally their followers. Kurdish Newroz celebrations are organized by the Kurdish political movement in big metropoles in Turkey. I attended Newroz in Amed, the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, in 2010 with around one million participants. Women and men wore their colorful Kurdish traditional clothes. This gathering is the largest festival that happens every year in Kurdistan. The location of the Newroz celebration was enormous, and it can be seen there how a space can be used by a political movement to send a message to its supporters and its opponents. The stage was decorated with the pictures of the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and the banned Kurdish colors, green, red, and yellow. On this day, Kurds are able to experience their highest level of Kurdishness because soldiers and police cannot attack this crowd. The Newroz field plays a very important role in the life of common people, political entities, and the state. The Kurdish people want to celebrate the event, fearlessly dancing with their loved ones. Newroz is also an instrument for the Kurdish political movement to gather people and express their demands. The state authorities panic every year on March 21st, as they wonder how to downplay participation in Newroz.

Iraqi Kurdish people carry fire torches up a mountain, as they celebrate Newroz Day, a festival marking their spring and new year, in the town of Akra

Iraqi Kurds carry fire torches for Newroz (Akre, 2017)

Bahattin Demir
MA student in History
Binghamton University


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