Although it is a special day that is celebrated peacefully across the world, Nevruz has different connotations for the Turks. The word brings back memories of bloody terrorist attacks and tension regarding the Kurds of the country.
The terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has played a big role in what many call a “worrisome situation” as the organization turned the festivities into a show of power in recent years. It is saddening to expect violence ahead of Nevruz and to be worried about potential violence on this special day -- known as the herald of spring -- according to human rights activists.
“It [the violence] has nothing to do with Nevruz. It’s all about the political process that we are going through,” Human Rights Association (İHD) President Öztürk Türkdoğan told Sunday’s Zaman. Explaining that Nevruz is a time when the Kurds voice their political demands, Türkdoğan said the festivities would be different if the state granted further rights to Kurds concerning their identity and culture.
If the Kurds are celebrating Nevruz as a protest against the state for not handing them their rights, then what is needed is to make sure their demands are met, according to him, so that in the future Nevruz will be celebrated like other special festivals.
Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) President Ahmet Faruk Ünsal agrees, saying it is wrong to associate Nevruz with threats. “Nevruz means the arrival of spring everywhere around the world. It was celebrated in the past and it is still being celebrated in the present. It is the start of a joyful time,” he said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, adding, “We don’t want bombs -- not during Nevruz nor at any other time.”
Nevruz came to public attention nationwide with mass celebrations by Kurds in recent decades. Turkey made its peace with Nevruz in 2000 when a ban imposed on the massive celebrations was removed. The prohibition was put into effect after 57 civilians were killed on April 21, 1992, when security forces opened fire on people participating in Nevruz celebrations in Şırnak’s Cizre district.
This year’s Nevruz celebrations were slated for March 21 but the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and Democratic Society Congress (DTK), both pro-Kurdish, announced this week that they will be holding celebrations across the nation today. BDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and DTK Co-chairman Ahmet Türk said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the celebrations will take place in 130 different locations. With the slogan “Not war but negotiation, not isolation but freedom,” the two organizations aim to attract 1 million people. As a response to the move, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu on Thursday said he will not allow celebrations before March 21.
Türkdoğan pointed out that Nevruz is not only a Kurdish celebration, but that many people commemorate the occasion in different forms. He added that Kurds remind Turkey of Nevruz by celebrating it every year with festivities. For example, Kurds usually light a bonfire in the streets and jump over it while making a wish. For Kurds, Nevruz has a highly symbolic meaning. Turks, on the other hand, have different and less passionate forms of celebrations, such as playing games and having picnics with family members.
The İHD president criticized state bodies for holding official celebrations based on one culture’s form of festivities, saying people must celebrate it in their own way and according to their individual cultures. “Other peoples must remember their lost culture [of Nevruz],” Türkdoğan said. The perception of Nevruz differs according to the Kurds and the politicians and even their choice of words attests to that, he noted. Kurds call the celebration “Newroz.”
The roots of the Kurdish Nevruz can be found in the legend of Kawa, a courageous blacksmith who lived 2,500 years ago under a tyrannical king. In some state-sponsored festivities, iron is forged in memory of the myth.
Terrorist attacks feared
Media outlets have reported that large amounts of explosives were found during the week across Turkish cities, including İstanbul, which the police suspect could have been stored for use during Nevruz by the PKK. Intelligence reports have long been suggesting that the PKK is planning bloody attacks for the festival.
Yet military strategy expert Mesut Ülker, who is also a retired officer, does not forecast violence on this Nevruz. He said in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman that Nevruz is a good opportunity to achieve peace between people of different ethnic backgrounds in Turkey. Compared to other Nevruz celebrations, which saw mass demonstrations staged by the PKK, Ülker expects peaceful festivities and believes that the success of the country’s security forces will deter terrorist organizations from turning the day into a bloodbath.
“Nevruz can be a reaction against mindsets that see arms as insurance as well as a good opportunity to bury the arms,” Ülker added.
Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay does not expect violence during Nevruz either. He said on NTV on Thursday that it is wrong to see Nevruz as a platform for politics, adding that the police will take all necessary precautions to make sure the day is celebrated in peace.