Yesterday evening at 6 o’clock, the hills and mountains surrounding Erbil, and outside the Main Gate of the Citadel itself, went on fire. It is the eve of Nowruz when Kurds everywhere light bonfires and dance.
Today the city is quiet, Kurds in traditional clothing have taken to the hills for family picnics. For many, these days, this is the only time, apart from weddings, that men and women wear their traditional clothing.
For men, this consists of brown or khaki coloured baggy trousers caught at ankle in a narrow band and at the waist with a large colourful piece of material wound round like a cummerband. The ladies and young girls dress in vibrant, diaphanous, shimmering colours of reds and yellows, the long sleeves and long baggy pants caught at ankle and wrist.
The souqs have been besieged all week with families buying traditional clothes and readying for the picnic.
Although this festival has its roots in the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which began in ancient Persia, it is uniquely Kurdish affair and affirmation of their identity, synonymous with revolution and resistance – the continual pursuit of freedom for the Kurdish people through the centuries.
This nation of about 30 million (according to Wikipaedia), an unreliable figure since Turkish census do not record ethnicity of Kurds in their census, is the single biggest group of people without statehood anywhere in the world. The message of Nowruz has never been as sweet as in these times in the Kurdish enclave of north Iraq.
After UN created safe-haven and no-fly zone for Kurdistan in 2003, for the first time in their history, Iraqi Kurds have been able to freely observe their New Year celebration.
The tradition behind Nowruz, as I understand it, is that long ago the Kurds were ruled by a tyrant named either Zhakroj or Zuhak. Two large black snakes lived in his shoulders, which had to fed with human blood every day.
A blacksmith called Kawa vowed to rid the land of the tyrant. He told the people that if he was successful he would light a fire on the mountain to tell everyone of his victory and their newly-won freedom.
Needless to say, victory was won and the fire was lit.