Passers-by would stop in surprise at the wide open gates out of which songs emanated in an unknown language and a group of people were performing a simple dance - two steps forward, two steps back - for a long, long time, to seemingly endless music.
The neighbors, however, did not stare out of their windows or gather in front of the two-story house. They were already used to this sight. Every year on that day, March 21, the Kurds celebrate their New Year.
Celebrations begin at night, with songs and dancing around a campfire. The festivities go on into the next day, with increasing enthusiasm, joy, and abundant tables.
Newroz is Kurdish for “new day”. According to the solar calendar, it is the first day of Spring. Nature awakens and a new life begins.
The beginning of Spring symbolizes rebirth both directly and indirectly, considering the origins of the festival of Newroz.
The Kurds have led nomadic lives for ages, so a large part of their traditional festivals are connected with farming.
At the foot of the Zagros mountains, in the 7 th century B.C., an Assyrian king named Dehak ruled in a fortress city inMesopotamia. The evil spirit Ahriman had placed him on the throne.
Ahriman then began to serve the king in the guise of his chief cook. Once, Dehak praised a meal prepared by the “cook”, who then asked to kiss the king's shoulders.
The king gave his permission. As soon as Ahriman kissed Dehak's shoulders, a powerful light burst forth and two giant snakes appeared on either side of the king. The false cook vanished into thin air. A physician appeared in his place, who told the king that he would never be free of the snakes. Moreover, when the snakes would get hungry, Dehak would be overcome with overpowering pain, which would ease only if the snakes were given the brains of young boys and girls to eat.
Thus, the young people of the city began to be sacrificed and their brains were given to appease the snakes. Seeing this, the sun refused to rise. The city plunged into darkness and cold. There was no harvest, flowers wilted, birds stopped singing. People were sad and shuddered in fear when they heard Dehak's name. They would sing sorrowful songs accompanied by a flute.
There was a blacksmith named Kava in that city. Thirteen of his children had already been killed on Dehak's orders. One day, an order came from the royal palace that his last living daughter was also to be sacrificed and her brain brought to the palace gates early in the morning for the guards to pick up.
Kava could not sleep all night. An idea came to him at dawn. He killed a lamb and took the animal's brain to the snakes.
News of Kava's act spread like wildfire through the whole city. Everyone began doing the same thing, secretly sending their children to theZagros Mountains, where they grew up in freedom. Kava would train them as soldiers, so that they would return to their native city one day and free it of the king converted to evil by the spirit Ahriman.
That day dawned. The warriors came down into the city and people joined them from each house that they marched past. Soon Kava's army consisted of thousands.
On March 21, he led the army into the palace and cut off the heads of the king and the snakes. He then went up the mountain and lit a gigantic bonfire so that the people ofMesopotamiawould know that they were finally free.
Everyone began lighting fires. The darkness was dispelled and light ruled. The sun came out again. Nature was revitalized.
People danced around the fires and sang, accompanied by flutes and drums.
At that time,Mesopotamiawas populated by Kurds, Persians, Afghans and other peoples, many of whom celebrate Newroz to this day.
This festival holds special meaning for the Kurds. After all, they continue to struggle for their independence even now. Many of those involved in the Kurdish freedom movement - Mazlum Doha, Zekiye, Ronahi, Berivan - have performed acts of self-immolation in the name of Kurdish independence specifically on the day of Newroz.
Kurds inArmeniacelebrate Newroz on different days inYerevanand the regions so that, in their words, everyone can attend celebrations wherever they want.
Tamara Hasanova, wife of the Kurdish community coordinator Knyaz Hasanov, told us a little about the traditions associated with Newroz. “Newroz is celebrated for four weeks. The weeks are dedicated to earth, fire (the Kurds, like the Yezidis, worship the Sun), water, and wind. During the week of water, a whole night has to be spent near a body of water body. Bonfires are lit during the week of fire. The deceased are remembered during the week of earth. People have to forgive and be reconciled during Newroz. If a household has recently had a wedding, people visit them and take presents to the new bride. Seven different dishes with different stuffing - symbolizing the seven days of the week - are prepared for Newroz.”
Spiced rice and fish are always prepared for Newroz. The Kurds paint eggs in different colors and arrange them in rows of sprouted wheat. They also bake cookies in which they hide a coin. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will have good luck in the New Year.
Newroz is always celebrated in the open air, in close proximity with nature.
A few women were dancing in a circle in the yard of the two-story house, swaying to the beat of live music. Watched by their men, other women were getting the table ready for the celebratory feast.
The walls were covered with huge posters of Abdullah Ocalan and other heroes of the Kurdish freedom movement. The dances were interrupted from time to time by patriotic speeches dedicated to “our leader” Abdullah Ocalan and “Free Kurdistan”.
Each of those speeches ended with cries of Newroz, Piroz Bi (Happy New Year) and Biji Newroz, Biji Kurdistan (Long live Newroz, Long liveKurdistan).
Photos by Nelli Shishmanyan