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A Publication
on The Status of
Adivasi Populations
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Newroz In Self-Ruled Syrian Kurdistan

By Zanyar Omrani

02 April, 2015

This year’s Newroz (New Year) had a bloody start with two suicide explosions which changed the atmosphere of the Newroz times. The explosions happened in the two main squares of Hasakah, the Newroz celebrations sites. The explosions claimed at least 35 lives and 150 people were injured.

I was in Qamishli at the time of the explosions. We were getting ready to go the Newroz celebrations when we heard that lots of people have been killed and injured by these suicide attacks. Together with some local journalists, we headed toward Amuda to prepare some reports of the conditions of the injured in the hospital.

Travelling in the green meadows of Kurdistan after some hours of wet weather could have taken us to a never-never land, had it not been for the sad news we had just received.

Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), contrary to the common idea of a mountainous Kurdistan, is totally a land of meadows; meadows which made green the only color possible to see except for the Turkish barbed wire and border watches.

The small town of Amuda is the capital of the Jazira (Cizire) canton in the Kurdish democratic self-rule. At the hospital, I saw a desperate woman; she told me her 13-year-old daughter had been injured in the explosions, “Nazhbir and her sister went to the gathering to celebrate Newroz when suddenly the explosions happened.”

Mohamad Khidr, one of the injured people hospitalized in Qamishli hospital, said that, "In the afternoon, we went to the streets to celebrate Newroz. It was around 6 p.m. when suddenly a massive explosion happened near us. We were all scared and started to run away. The second explosion happened behind us. I was injured in my leg and I bled heavily. I walked like 200 hundred meters with the injured leg. A few minutes later, the YPG (People's Protection Units) cars arrived and we were rushed to the hospital.”

After the recent defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Kobane in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), now the Islamist fundamentalists have increased their assaults in Jazira (Cizire) canton. Jazira canton is located in northeast Syria, sharing borders with Turkey from the north and the Kurdistan Regional Government from the east. Amuda is the center of the canton, with Qamishli and Hasakah being the big towns of the canton.

AgidChuli, a Syrian Kurdish journalist, said, “The Asayish (the police) of the Kurdish self-rule had asked for the cancellation of the celebration based on the information they had obtained. But this was not taken seriously in Hasakah.”
Mohamad is 4, and he participated in the celebrations with his father. Now both are injured and hospitalized in Amuda hospital. I managed to get a few minutes to talk to his father in the midst of the chaos in the hospital and listen to his narration of what had happened, “Despite all the anxiety and my wife’s plead with us to not to go to the Newroz celebrations, Mohamad and I decided to go. Newruz has always been a very important day to us; we didn’t want to miss it.”

Another of the injured is a middle-aged man called Ahmad, who is severely burned. Ahamd too is getting treatment in the hospital. He is in a dire situation and it is very difficult for him to speak, “The blast wave hit me and I had a terrible vertigo. I felt like all my body was on fire.” He has a bizarre feeling when he looks in the mirror; “I can’t believe this is me in the mirror.”

The management board of Amuda hospital has asked the fellow citizens to donate blood. Dr. Fares Hamo, head of the Hygiene and Health Council, said, “The majority of the casualties were women and children.” He added, “The people’s response to the blood donation call was great and admirable.”

There are restrictions on the Syrian Kurdish populated areas due to their war against the Islamist forces. This includes medicine and treatments, too, and the hospitals are not in their best conditions, lacking enough facilities for the treatment of the injured. The doctors and the hospital staff are not happy with this.

After the HasakahNewroz explosions, the co-leaders of Jazira canton condemned the suicide attacks and made a statement, “We offer our deepest condolences to those who lost dear ones, and we promise to make Jazira canton a safe place for all peoples.” And they declared three days of public mourning in memory of the lost ones.

The Atmosphere in the Other Cantons

Newroz is celebrated very simply in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) every year. There are no complicated customs, no 13-Bedar, and no Haft-Seen, but there are specific strong political messages. People wear colorful Kurdish traditional outfits, and while playing zorna and dahol, they dance around the Newroz fire and jump over it. The Yazidis in Rojava, who live in a few villages, celebrate ÇarşembaSor on the Wednesday of the 3rd week in April. They believe that this year 6763rdNewroz was held. Everyone is talking about the Kaveh and Zahhak legend. Statues of Kaveh the blacksmith is seen at some squares in some Rojava towns. However, the political aspect to Newroz has a long history. FarhadYousif, a Kurdish journalist, explains, “The Syrian government used to resort to different tactics in different periods of time. Until 1985,any gatherings to celebrate Newroz was forbidden. In 1985 the Ba’th regime forces attacked the people in a gathering in Afrin and killed many of them. People defended themselves and managed to control a local police station. This shocked the Assad regime and forced them to decrease the security measures for Newroz in the years to come.” According to Farhad, the government did not want to get drawn into the Newroz issue, since their actions to make people forget Newrozwere counter-productive. First, they tried to change the name to Eid-Alshajar (tree holiday) or Eid-Arabi’(spring holiday). “In their next move, they named it Mother’s Day and declared it an official holiday.” In Farhad’s words, “At those times around 500 thousand people in Aleppo would gather to celebrate Newroz and even Syrian intelligence authorities would attend the gathering, too, but it was not stated officially. As the relations between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Hafiz Assad’s government darkened, and Abdullah Ojalan, the PKK leader, was arrested in 1999, stricter security measures were established for Newroz celebrations. Adana Agreement was the peak of these strict measures.”

It was in 2008 when the Syrian intelligence forces attacked the people in the gathering and killed three teenagers all of whom were called Mohammad. Speaking about the 2011 events and the establishment of the three Rojava cantons, Farhad added, “From 2011 on, Newroz celebrations have been held impressively and every year better than the previous one. This year too, the celebrations were going to be impressive in the three cantons, but they were cancelled in Jazira and Afrin cantons for security reasons and respect for the martyrs.”

There was heavy raining at the time of the celebration in Kobane canton, but it did not affect the celebration and people attended enthusiastically.
They need to start a happy spring, as they have been through a difficult winter.

People in colorfully-patterned Kurdish outfits attended the celebration, while carrying YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) flags.

The celebrations in Kobane were held with a commemoration of martyrs MazloumDoghan and Arin Mirkan and in celebration of self-ruled Rojava and hopes for democratic Syria. In the beginning, the audience observed a minute of silence for the martyrs.

Anwar Moslem, the co-leader of Kobane canton, after congratulating the new year, talked about the Kobane resistance for some minutes. There were performances by the music and theater groups, too.

“Na’imo, the mad” too participated in the celebration. He is a young man from Kobanewho is called mad by the people. He stayed in the town until the end of the Kobane siege, although he was wounded. It is said that when people were leaving the town, he would stand at the border gate and, looking into people’s eyes, would say, “You’re leaving, too? Ok! Go then!”

There are currently on-going heavy clashes in Til Hamer and Sarikani fronts. The military forces also celebrated Newroz by making fires. RashoQamishlo, who is in the Til Barak front, said, “We will not abandon Newroz because of ISIS war, since the fire flames raise our morale. We will not abandon our goals.”

In Amuda, the capital of the Jazira canton, Newroz was different. After the Hasakahsuicide explosions, people were shocked and worried. The bazaars were closed and the town was calm, and some people were busy cleaning up trash. Announcements and posters for Newroz gatherings from different parties and organizations could be seen on the walls.

Few people were in the calm streets and people gathered only in local teahouses. The Hasakah explosions had made the town quiet and without any excitement. The owner of Awrin Sweetshop was worried. We had a short chat. He had prepared lots of sweets and confectionary for Newroz, but the cancellation of the celebrations precluded any selling. Wandering around the town, I went to a fruitshop owned by Ahmad Abdullah. He complained that the situation is not satisfactory; “We aren’t in good conditions; the borders are closed down and Newroz wasn’t well received.”

The Majority of the people were watching Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakr (or Amad as called by the Kurds) on their TVs. Like every year, Abdullah Ojalan’sNewroz message is read out to people. Ojalan offered his specific salutations to Kobane resistance in this year’s message.

Some other people held a small Newroz celebration in a kindergarten in Qamishli.

The children celebrating Newroz in Syria, who have hopes for better days to come, share 700 kilometers of borders with ISIS.

Zanyar Omrani is a filmmaker and Kurdish human rights activist.

Translated by: FarhadKhoshyar






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