Fire is an important symbol for New Year celebrations, especially for Kurds in Turkey and Syria.

Kurdish students celebrate New Year

New Year celebrations are taking place all over the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and here in Exeter.

Students from the Kurdish Society at the University are arranging an evening of cultural activities 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.

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.

“Newroz Piroz!” is the Kurdish greeting to wish everyone a happy new year, and will be heard across campus. Traditional dances will be created and folk songs about ‘Newroz’ will be performed by a popular Iraqi Kurd singer called Tara who will be jetting into Exeter for the celebrations. University of Exeter students will be invited to sample delicious food, such as stuffed vegetables with rice, mince meat and herbs, known as Dolme and Nane Shileki, which are similar to pancakes served with a honey based syrup.

Kurdish students at the University of Exeter will be in vibrant traditional clothing, wearing red, green, yellow and white. These are the colours of the Kurdish flag and are highly political colours for Kurds in Turkey.

Historically Kurds celebrate Newroz as part of a cultural tradition, however there is a difference in the way Kurds across the different parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean celebrate. PhD student Deniz Ekici explains, ‘Iraqi and Iranian Kurds go for picnics and have fun with the family. It is different too for Kurds in Syria and Turkey where I am from. We are a marginalised community that is not recognised by the state, so the New Year celebrations started to acquire a political meaning for it was banned by the Turkish state for decades. As a result it is highly politicised and has become an important part of national culture and identity for Kurds in Turkey.’

He added, ‘We celebrate by gathering together at big squares outside the towns, listen to live bands and shout political slogans for peace and liberty. Fires and torches also feature highly as it is a traditional symbol of victory in our New Year festivities. Jumping over the fire on Newroz is also believed to bring good luck.’

At this time of rapid change for Kurds across the world, it is significant that in April, the University of Exeter will be hosting a major international conference at this pivotal moment in Kurdish history and society. The University of Exeter has a Centre for Kurdish Studies and the University is the only British university to have a strong research focus on Kurdish society, culture, language and politics.

Date: 20 March 2009

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