Ozlem Galip and Hoshyar Ali, members of the University of Exeter Kurdish Society celebrating Newroz with the Kurdish flag in the background.

New Year celebrations led by Kurdish students

Special New Year celebrations are underway in Exeter with students from the University’s Kurdish Society busy arranging an evening of cultural activities and a lecture to mark ‘Newroz’, the New Year, which falls on the 21 March.

The timing of New Year falls on or around the Spring equinox, celebrating new beginning and new life which was linked to the old Zoroastrian religious calendar. However, today Kurds follow the same calendar as the rest of Europe. The Spring New Year is also celebrated by Iranians, Afghans, Tajiks, Georgians and Turkish people across the world.

“Newroz Piroz!” is the Kurdish greeting to wish everyone a happy new year, and will be heard across campus. Red, green and yellow the colours in the Kurdish flag will be seen and traditional dancing and flag/scarf waving will be carried out late into the night. University of Exeter students will be invited to sample delicious food, such Dolme and Nane Shileki and encouraged to participate in the dancing and find out more about the history of Newroz celebrations for Kurds and the ancient Kurdish myths surrounding it.

Christine Allison, Professor of Kurdish Studies at the University of Exeter said, ''Newroz is celebrated across a huge area of Asia, but it has a very special meaning for the Kurds, and we are very glad that the Kurdish students are bringing the celebrations to Exeter.’

The Kurds are a people without a nation state and as a result their homeland is divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. They form the largest ethnic minority in the Middle East yet have a different ethnic identity and culture from the majority population. As a result, New Year festivities are of increasing importance to Kurds for drawing people together and expressing their Kurdish roots. Fires and torches feature in the Newroz celebrations as it is a traditional symbol of victory in the New Year festivities. Jumping over the fire on Newroz is also believed to bring good luck.

Shiler Amini, MA student and President of the University of Exeter Kurdish Society explained the mythology surrounding Newroz for the Kurds. She said, ‘The story of the hero Kawa the Blacksmith, whose sons (and many other young men in the villages) were sacrificed by the despot of Mesopotamia, Zuhak. The remaining young men escaped into the mountains where the Blacksmith followed them and trained them into soldiers.

She added, ‘These young men are supposed to be the ancestors of the Kurds who went onto to revolt against the tyrant by marching into the palace at the time of the Spring equinox. This uprising brought back liberty to the people and also the Spring, as it was said that during the reign of King Zuhak, Spring never came to Mesopotamia. After he was killed it returned.’

There will also be a lecture and a digital exhibition with photographs showing Newroz celebrations in Kurdistan and abroad. The lecture and evening festivities will be in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, on Thursday 18 March and will start at 17:30 and open to all students and staff.

Date: 18 March 2010

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