Kurds Ring in New Year


Providence Journal



An ethnic group with a language but no country to call its own, the Kurds turn to the new-year celebration symbol of hope and freedom.




PROVIDENCE - Mehmet Akbas lit the wick of a thick pillar candle entwined by circles of barbed wire, opening ceremonies at Brown University yesterday marking Newroz, the Kurdish New Year.


And with a nod to the new flame, Akbas called attention both to the renewal of the new-year and the chief honoree of yesterday's event, Leyla Zana, a Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament who had received the European Parliament's peace prize.


Zana, who has exposed human-rights abuses against the Kurds, is serving a 15-year prison term in a Turkish jail and has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, which uses the image of the candle as a symbol of hope.


In Kurdish, Newroz means "new day'! and stands as the name of the new year, which falls on the spring equinox, Akbas told a crowd of about 75 people attending the celebration in the Crystal Room of Alumnae Hall on the Pembroke campus. Dating back, to a rebellion in 612 BC which liberated Kurds and others in the Middle East, the new year's celebration has also come to mean freedom for oppressed people Akbas said.


Three people died in the Turkish city of Mersin last Thursday because of a government ban prohibiting Kurds from celebrating Newroz, according to a statement announcing yesterday's event.


As people, filed into the meeting hall, representatives Of Amnesty International handed out packets urging them to write to Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, calling for the immediate release of Leyla Zana.


Engin Akarli, a Turkish scholar in the history department at Brown, said the militant nationalism that shaped the Republic of Turkey is accompanied by a repressive cultural policy.


The Kurds, on the other hand, draw their idea of nationalism from a much earlier, liberal concept that encompasses a rich mixture of ethnic identities, said Akarli who was flanked on one side by the American flag and on the other by the Kurdish colors of red, green and yellow.


Yesterday's celebration featured Ozan Shehrooz on a traditional Kurdish stringed instrument called the saz and Ozan Sinan on the keyboard.


They played folk music about love, oppression, nature, and human relationships, Akbas said. A few Kurdish adults and children danced in step with an upbeat tune, although most of the songs were played in a minor key conveying the melancholy that runs through much Middle Eastern music.


A feast of hummus, pita, baklava and other Kurdish specialties awaited the guests at the end of the formal program, which was sponsored by the Brown University and Providence chapters of Amnesty International and the world affairs committee of the First Unitarian Church, as well as the Kurdish-American community in Rhode Island.


The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language and culture but no country of their own. Kurdistan, the ancient homeland, is a region that overlaps with parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Turkey has outlawed all expressions of Kurdish identify.




LOOKING TO THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE: Engin Akarli, a Turkish scholar in the history department at Brown University, speaks to those gathered at Brown to celebrate the Kurdish New Year.




3.21.2002 00:15 Day of events planned for Kurdish New Year


The Providence and Brown University chapters of Amnesty International and the World Affairs Committee of the First Unitarian Church will be holding a program in observance of the Kurdish New Year (Newroz 2614) on Sunday.


The event will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Crystal Room of Brown's Alumnae Hall. The event is free and open to the public.


The event will honor Leyla Zana, a Kurdish woman in Turkey who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for peacefully advocating Kurdish rights and for expressing her Kurdish identity.


Elected to the Turkish Parliament, Zana wore a headband with the Kurdish colors, yellow, green and red, at her inauguration, and spoke in Kurdish after taking the oath of office in Turkish. She has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.


The celebration will feature Kurdish music, with a performance by Ozan Chehrooz, singer and master of the Saz, a traditional Kurdish instrument, Kurdish poetry, and Kurdish refreshments.


The program will also include a short overview of the Kurdish story by Professor Engin Akarli, a Turkish scholar in Brown's history department, and Mehmet Akbas, a Kurdish-American born in Turkey.


For more information, call Marcia Lieberman at 831-0720, or Greg Arzoomanian at 454-8763.