Every year on March 21, the Kurds and other peoples across the Middle East celebrate the festival of Nowruz. It marks the beginning of the Kurdish New Year and coincides with the beginning of the Iranian New Year and has begun to carry symbolic significance for Iraqi Kurds.
Nowruz day (New Year’s Day) is the first day of the solar Hijri calendar (March 21) and is celebrated by Persians, Kurds and Turks alike. Nowruz is a Farsi word, with “Now-” meaning new, and “-ruz” meaning “morning light” signifying the coming of a new day.
Previously, the Kurds of Iraq celebrated this holiday and lit the flame of Nowruz by setting fire to rubber tires — something that was detrimental to the environment. Nowadays, Kurds use Nowruz as an opportunity to showcase Kurdish heritage, folklore, language and dress. The celebration aims to boost tourism and each year new events are added, while the tradition of the flame of Nowruz is kept alive, though firewood and fireworks have replaced burning tires.
According to the General Authority for Tourism Statistics in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, more than 150,000 tourists came to the Kurdistan Region during the days of Nowruz.
All of the streets are decorated with lights, millions of flowers, and Kurdish flags (red, green and white with a yellow sun disk in the center). Animals are slaughtered in public squares in preparation for the feast.
Every year the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq provides support to cultural and artistic institutions so that they may set up a variety of events and activities to enrich Nowruz festivities.
Once only celebrated for a single day, Nowruz celebrations now stretch on for more than 10 days after the ministry of education gave schools a 12-day spring break that coincides with the holiday. In addition, there is now a three-day official holiday for all government institutions March 20-22.
Federal government institutions in Baghdad still celebrate Nowruz for only one day. On that day, all government institutions and departments are given an official holiday, unlike the regional government, which gives a three-day holiday.
The Nowruz festival showcases Kurdish heritage and language by putting on concerts and inviting singers and bands from Kurdish communities from neighboring countries and non-Kurds from abroad to participate in cultural and artistic ceremonies.
This year in Erbil, Iraqi Kurds hope to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest dabke (a folk dance in which participants link arms) with 5,000 young men and women encircling the Citadel of Erbil in the presence of a Guinness special committee. Taher Abdullah, deputy governor of Erbil, told Al-Monitor that with this dabke they hope to keep Kurdish heritage alive through folk dance, encourage young people to take pride in their heritage and showcase their culture to the world.
During Nowruz festivities, Kurds don traditional loose Kurdish garb, especially the women, who spend months preparing their outfits for the event. Many visitors from the Arab world and elsewhere also wear traditional Kurdish clothes during Nowruz festivities.
The typical outfit for a Kurdish man consists of a long-sleeved shirt, loose pants, and a vest that opens across the chest and folds into a waist band, which consists of a piece of cloth four to five meters in length wrapped several times around the waist.
Kurdish women typically wear bright colors, with the most distinguishing feature of their outfit being the loose, colorful robe that stretches from their shoulders to the ground.
Persian, Azeri, Afghani, Pakistani and Indian peoples all celebrate Nowruz, a day that marks the natural shift to spring and the season of fertility, thus signifying renewed life for the cultures of many Asian peoples.
Abdel Hamid Zebari is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. A reporter from Erbil who works in print journalism and radio, he has published several reports in local and world media, including Agence France-Press and Radio Free Iraq (Radio Free Europe).
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