Amed Newroz, a memorable experience

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Sign the petition for Iraq's three-region solution March 31, 2008 Amed Newroz, a memorable experience

Kurdishaspect.com - By Luqman Barwari

For the Kurdish people in Turkey, who have been targets of the politics of annihilation and assimilation in Turkey, Newroz has evolved as a form of resistance to counter such state policies in Northern Kurdistan. For example, Mazlum Dogan’s suicide to protest Turkish pressures in the Amed Prison on 21 March 1982 was taken as the embodiment of this reconstructed myth; Mazlum Dogan was named as the “contemporary Kawa”. Given such a meaning of resistance, Newroz has been put into effective use in order to create counter-hegemonic struggle against the hegemonic Turkish state policies. Newroz has served well to create a rebellious Kurdish national unity.

Newroz serves as a common ground for Kurdish people not only in Turkey, but also in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, and in diaspora. In Northern Kurdistan, Newroz continues to signifying a separate Kurdish identity against the official discourse, and it is still a battlefield for ideological struggle.

This year Newroz preparations in Amed (Diyarbakir) began with much enthusiasm on March 13, 2008. The DTP Newroz Committee and organizers invited people for bonfires, music and dance every night from March 13th though March 19tth. These invitations were the preparations for a much larger and grander Newoz celebration, which was to be held on Friday, March 21, 2008, in a much larger field accommodating one million people just outside Amed. Each night a location in Amed was identified and selected to gather a group larger than 5000 people for a bonfire, live music, dance, and chanting to countdown for the Newroz celebration on March 21, 2008. I arrived in Amed on March 15th, due to my busy schedule; I was lucky to witness only two of those Newroz bonfire celebrations. The celebrations began around 7:00 pm, and continued for two or more hours. Delegations, as well as intellectuals, writers, artists, unionist and representatives of NGOs arrived from various European countries, including Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and other countries to take part in Newroz celebration.

I celebrated Newroz in Amed this year among nearly 1 million people. One word that best describes the feelings and I heard it often was "Newroz bi Cosh bu" (Newroz was powerful). The day started by people driving, some walking, for 10 km to the outskirts of the city, where a large field accommoded one million people (standing). The large 15-feet high stage was equipped with seven large speakers, hanging from each side of the stage by cranes. The stage was decorated with slogans of Newroz in Kurdish and, DTP flags.

I left my hotel around 9:00 am, accompanied by a French photo journalist, one American photo journalist, and one American documentary film maker. We took a taxi, and asked the taxi driver to drive us as close as possible to the field. Along the way, one could observe a sea of people flocking the streets, some walking, some driving their autos and buses. All were in a very celebratory mood, and most dressed in their national Kurdish clothes, waving various flags, holding slogan signs in Kurdish, and some in English. 

The taxi dropped us off about 1 mile from the field, and we decided to walk with the sea of people for the remainder of the way to our destination. Along the way we snapped photos, and chatted with the people. We then came across a large line of police, and military personnel, with large police and military vehicles, all equipped with protective gears, shields, and very large machine guns. Some of them were sitting on top of tanks or police vehicles, taking photos, and video-taping the people. 

At this point, I could feel the tension; some of the police and military personnel were approaching people to stop and question them at times. I and my colleagues were approached by several police and, and one of them spoke to me in Turkish, I replied in English, and notified him that I don’t speak Turkish. He then switched to English and asked for our IDs. We provided him with our I.Ds, and tolled him the purpose of our visit. Our names were recorded on a piece of paper. I then asked the police politely, why he had stopped us and recorded our names? He rudely replied: “I don’t speak English”, I reminded him, that his English was fine earlier. How soon could he forget to speak English? Before this could become ugly or escalate, we decided to walk on to reach the stage. 

It turned out to be a big challenge to cut through a sea of people. Thanks to the people of Amed, who were friendly, accommodating, and very helpful to us. They assisted us to reach our destination on the stage. On the stage, we had a very good view of the field, packed with people, standing in all directions facing the stage, waving their flags, and chanting slogans. The view was overwhelming; it was a view that I have never, ever experienced or imagined in my wildest dreams. 

By the time we had reached the stage, Koma Denge Dicle u Firat, consisting of more than 15 male and female members all dressed Kurdish-style was performing Newroz and Kurdish national songs. Unlike previous years, I was tolled that the theme for this Newroz was to have every organizer and speakers deliver their speeches in Kurdish and dress in Kurdish national clothes. It is important to state that, until recent years the Kurdish clothes were about to extinct and Kurdish language was strictly banned by the Constitution. Limited reforms to ease the pressures of European Union remained as token moves, and Kurdish is still not practiced in state and educational institutions. Upon the appeal of the Ministry of Interior, the State Council dismissed Mr. Abdullah Demirbas, the mayor of Sur district of Diyarbakir, due to a decision to use Kurdish in delivering some municipal services in the Sur region, where 72 % of people maintain their daily activities in Kurdish. Mr. Demirbas is also facing court cases due to his publishing various brochures in Kurdish, and besides Turkish, English and other languages.

There were 2 M.C.’s hosting the Newroz celebration, a young man and a young woman, both dressed in Kurdish clothes. They worked perfectly as a team, complimenting each other as they resisted various Kurdish poems. They introduced speakers, performers, and always entertained the crowd by dancing hand in hand to the tune of the music on the stage. 

The program was followed by Mr. Osman Baydemir, the current mayor of his home town of Amed and member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP). Mr. Baydemir graduated from the Law Faculty at Dicle University in Diyarbak?r in 1995, he became the chair of the Diyarbak?r branch of the independent Human Rights Association. Mr. Baydemir was dressed in a beautiful blue traditional Kurdish outfit with a white shawl-- representing peace-- hanging over his shoulders. Mr. Baydemir delivered his powerful 17-minute speech in Kurdish with his soft and gentle voice to the Nerowz participants. He often made reference to calls for peace and democratic processes within Turkey. 

Mr. Baydemir’s speech was followed by Koma Rewsen, a Kurdish rock group, who performed for the next half hour or more. Then, Mrs. Leyla Zana was introduced as the next speaker. In 1991, Mrs. Zana became the first Kurdish woman to win a seat in the Turkish parliament. After being sworn in, she spoke a sentence in Kurdish language which led to immediate calls for her arrest. Leyla Zana, a key figure and symbol in the Kurdish struggle, was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Award in 1995. She was dressed in beautiful Kurdish clothes, holding a red, yellow and green scarf in her left hand, to represent the Kurdish flag. Mrs. Zana delivered her 23-minute speech to the audience. Just like Mr. Baydemir’s speech, Mrs. Zana’s speech was often interrupted by the crowd chanting their slogans. 

Mr. Ali Asker performed several Turkish songs with his soft and beautiful voice, and the crowd often joined him in singing along. The current DTP parliamentary member from Mardin province, Mr. Ahmed Turk, also dressed in brown Kurdish tirgal. Mr. Turk spoke both in Kurdish and Turkish. Ahmet Turk himself was among the Kurdish parliamentarians expelled from the Turkish Parliament in 1994. Thirteen years later Ahmet Turk entered the Turkish parliament again, this time also serving as the chair of the DTP parliamentary group.

Koma Car Newa, located in Germany and consisting of 6 band members, some of whom non-Kurdish German nationals, was the final music band to take the stage, and entertain the crowd with their music and songs. Many times, the security had to stop the young people from the crowd rushing the stage to touch, kiss or shake the hand of their beloved Koma Car Newa lead singer. 

The Newroz program ended with the speeches of Mrs. Ayla Akat Ata and Mr. Bengi Yildiz, DTP parliamentarians of Batman province. Ms. Akat was one of the youngest parliamentarians when she entered the parliament in 2007. Both Akat and Yildiz were also dressed in Kurdish clothes, and Yildiz spoke in Kurdish.

Unlike other cities of Northern Kurdistan, Amed’s Newroz celebrated without any unfortunate incidents. However, one could not avoid and see the F-16 Jets, military helicopters flying very low above the crowd, trying to intimidate the people and disturb the celebration. I can confidently state no one was intimidated, nor could they disturb the celebration. The sound of one million people chanting Newroz slogans, the strong voices of the brave speakers--Mr. Baydemir, Ms. Leyla Zana, Mr. Ahmet Turk, and others --were well above the roar of the F-16 Jet engines and propellers of the lousy military copters. I can also confidently state that I yet have to hear from a source that any where in the world one can gather 1 million or more people for any celebration for any reason. Yes, "Newroza Amede bi pir cosh bu." “Amed Newroz was very powerful”. 

Newroz celebrations were also powerful in Van, Siirt, Hakkari (Colemerg), Gevere, and several other places, where our brave people wished to celebrate Newroz on their soil. However, as Newroz celebrations were banned by Turkish authorities in these places, and as police attacked Kurdish people who insisted on celebrating their national holiday, celebration turned into fierce protest and Kurdish youth fought the panzers and bullets Turkish police and army forces with stones, Molotov cocktails and slogans. According to the news, two people were killed in Colemerg and Gevere, and more than 30 were injured, some severely, and more than 200 were detained by the Turkish police, and military personnel. According to the news, some of the Italian delegation members were among the detainees. 

On Monday, March 24th, 2008 a large crowd of protesters along with DTP members, and mayors, including Mr. Osman Baydemir, gathered in front of the DTP headquarters in Diyarbakir for a press conference. They denounced the inhumane act of killing people who celebrate their national holiday. Following the press conference, a delegation consisting of 45 DTP members headed to Culemerg (Hakari) and Van regions.

"Our people are brave, and ready to sacrifice; our leaders have to have unified voices, a concept, and a solid stance". Enough of this unilateral brotherhood calls by our leaders”. These were some of the statements I heard over and over from the locals.

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Newroz is the traditional spring festival of the Kurds, but it has gained overt political significance ever since the Kurdish struggle against Turkish oppression gained the character of a mass movement in the early 1990s. This year, once again, hundreds of thousands of people came out to celebrate Newroz in Amed (Diyarbakir) and the other cities of Northern Kurdistan.

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