Kurdish Culture

Nawroz (New Day)

by Yassin Aref

Nawroz is a Persian word (“naw” means “new” and “roz” means day). For Kurds and Iranians, Nawroz is the beginning of the new year. It falls on March 21, the first day of spring. It’s not easy to find the exact root of this day, there are many stories about it, but it’s really hard to confirm them. Some stories are just ancient tales. Kurds, Persians and Afghans celebrate Nawroz and each look at it as their national day, but Kurds look at it as independence day and the historical day for our “big victory.” From many theories about [the origin of] Nawroz, these three are reasonable!

1. Some believe Nawroz’s root goes back to the Persian fire worshippers [Zoroastrianism]. Opening a fire and dancing and singing around it was just one form of their worship of fire. From them, this practice came to us.

2. It is just the sign for the new season (spring), and people celebrate it because the snow and winter will end and the weather will start to warm up. People don’t have to remain in their homes anymore, and they open the fire on the mountain to show that the snow is going to melt.

3. The Kurdish version of Nawroz is that there was a tyrant named Zuhak who wanted to end the Kurds and genocide them. Historical storytellers say that Zuhak got sick and two snakes came onto his two shoulders and refused to eat anything except human brains. So Zuhak, to spare his own brain, had to slaughter two youths every day and give their brains to the snakes. Of course, he chose to sacrifice Kurds, and his gardener would bring two Kurdish heads for him every day. This went on for awhile.

But a Kurdish blacksmith in the city named Kawa had three sons, two of whom already had been taken to Zuhak. When they came back to take Kawa’s last son and give his brain to the snakes, Kawa said “No!” and started calling out to the people, and kept beating the iron anvil with his hammer until many people in the city came to him. He told them, “Listen, they are going to slaughter all of us one by one, and we should do something to stop them.”

The people asked, “What can we do, and how can we stop them?”

Kawa told them, “We should go all together, and maybe we can kill Zuhak, or maybe we will all die together—which is much better than dying separately, after we have lost all our children and endured all kinds of humiliation.”

The people said, “If you lead us, we are with you.”

Kawa agreed, and they marched toward Zuhak’s castle. When they reached the gate Kawa broke the lock and opened the gate. When Zuhak’s guards saw that, they started to flee. No one stayed to defend Zuhak, so Kawa and his people went inside and brought Zuhak out.

And they got rid of him.

Now they needed to inform people and give them the glad tidings that none of their sons would be taken anymore, but how could they tell the people? There was no radio at that time, no TV, no phone, no newspapers…so they went to the top of the highest mountain or hill and opened a fire. Then to inform people that this fire was the sign of happiness, they started dancing and singing around it. Many people saw them and got the message.

Since then, this day has been the beginning of the Kurdish year*, and Kurds look at this day as independence day and celebrate their victory by opening a fire on the highest place they can reach, and by singing patriotic songs and dancing Kurdish dances around the fire. This is the most accurate narration about Nawroz (without the snakes story), and the only one that is acceptable to Kurds. This is why Kurds still celebrate Nawroz: we look at it as our national day for independence. For us, there were many reasons to celebrate Nawroz, but certainly none of them had anything to do with religion or any action of worship. For us it is the day of freedom, the history of justice, and the nation’s victory.


            These are the three main reasons and meanings of Nawroz for Kurds:

1. Nawroz is a challenge

This is the biggest reason: we challenge the Kurdish denial and the genocider, and demonstrate Kurdish nationality and existence. By Nawroz, we send the enemy a message:

    • We are Kurds, we still exist, and we have a history. No one can end us.
    • No matter how much they kill and disappear us—we are Kawa’s nation and a dictator’s end will be the same as Zuhak’s. [In my experience,] the dictator [Saddam] understood this, and that’s why [the army] used to prevent us from celebrating, and would arrest whoever participated and disappear many of our youth for participating in Nawroz. Then it was changed from a Kurdish holiday to the spring holiday and trees day, to let people celebrate it as the beginning of spring—but we refused! We celebrated it only as Nawroz, Kawa’s victory, and our independence day!

2. Nawroz is independence day for Kurds

Today, every nation and country has a day that is called “national day” or “independence day.” These are used as opportunities to feed the people and make them patriots. The Kurds used Nawroz for this purpose very successfully. For centuries, there have been thousands of patriotic songs, poems and stories about Nawroz, and the fire of Nawroz burned our youths’ hearts and minds and made them not escape [shy away] from anything, and pushed them to sacrifice their lives for their nation and freedom. There is no Kurdish [tradition], people only memorize songs and poems about this, but many of the songs became Kurdish revolutionary songs, and for decades one was used as a national song:
which means, “Today is the new year, Nawroz has come back. The historic Kurdish festival brings happiness.”

            Nawroz told us: as long as it will take, and however much winter will be cold and hard, Nawroz will come, and spring is in front of us! And no matter how much our enemy will kill and destroy, Kawa will come, and victory is for us!

            I do not believe there is any Kurdish poet, especially in the 20th century, who has no poem about Nawroz. Many [of these] poems were collected in 1986 in a book named Nawroz Letters. I was just 16 years old when Mohamed Abdul Rahman Zangana collected the first book of Nawroz Letters.  I wrote a poem [about Nawroz] and sent it to him. He said the first volume was done, but he would put it in the second volume. After that, I don’t know what happened, but certainly my first poem was about Nawroz:

Our national day, Kurdish celebration
Happy Nawroz to all Kawa’s nation
When I say Nawroz is our day
I tell the world that we have history
Our history is clear, full of sacrifice
That’s why I see that the future is bright

            In the same year, I wrote another poem that was similar to this one, which will be published in my book, Son of Mountains, in the section where I tell one of my Nawroz celebration stories.
here is that poem:

Behold the lily (nergz)
With the sweet scent of spring.
How wonderful the spring
That starts with Nawroz.
Nawroz tells me of history
Shows me the way to victory
Teaches me the meaning of freedom
And of living proudly with dignity.

3. Nawroz is a time to breathe

            For many Kurds, winter is like house arrest: snow and cold weather do not allow them to come out of their houses, especially in the villages in the mountain areas. Patiently they wait for spring, so they can see the nergz and celebrate Nawroz, and for all the Kurds Nawroz is a time to have some fun and let out some of the sadness from the unfairness and the unjust rulers. That’s why everyone waits for Nawroz—to let some stress out, to look at the fire, to smell the nergz, to listen to the patriotic songs. It is the great “stress reliever” and a big inspiration for us about the future.

For us, it’s not that the Nawroz fire has anything to do with the Persian fire worshipers, we never look at it that way. For us, this is the fire that Kawa opened to tell people that Zuhak is over, and to bring the glad tidings of victory; the fire that burned the castle of injustice and ended the dark day of history; our way of telling the world that we are a nation, we have the longest history, we exist! Look at us, look at the fire, it will burn whoever denies us our rights or our existence, our nationality, our history, whoever kills our youth and destroys our land. Until now, and forever, Kurds will celebrate Nawroz as the beginning of the new life, as our national and independence day, in memory of Kawa’s victory. Happy Nawroz! [NAWROZ PIROZ BE!]

* Here Yassin requested that I find the Kurdish year for 2008. According to the Encyclopedia of Kurdistan :

         “The Standard Kurdish Calendar starts at 612 BC. According to this if we use the Georgian [Gregorian] calendar as a reference for our calculation then we realise that the simple equation will give us the correct Kurdish year on the 20th or 21 March depending on the Georgian [Gregorian] year; like:
1+ (Actual Georgian [Gregorian] Year + 611) = Kurdish Year”

So 2008 is Kurdish year 2620. The first day of spring (and thus Nawroz) in 2008/2620 is March 20.

Posted 3/20/08

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