Explaining Kurdish Songs: Naser Rezazî’s “Newroz”

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Around 400 million people are celebrating New Year’s Eve right now. Yes, right now. Mardin Baban knows why.

Happy new year! Or ‘Newroztan Pîroz’ in Kurdish. You might think it is a bit odd that I wish you a Happy New Year in the middle of March, but it’s not. I’m going to tell you why I do.

Newroz is celebrated by around 400 million people around the world today, and the name means “A new day”. It refers to the celebration of the Kurdish, Iranian and Afghan New Year. The reason why it is celebrated today is due to it being linked to the Northward equinox, i.e. when the sun crosses the celestial equator and heading northward, or in other more common terms, when the day becomes as long as the night. It is a celebration of light, welcoming spring and celebrating the end of winter. Fire has a central role in the celebrations, descending from the pre-Islamic religion of Zoroastrianism, where fire was worshipped. People gather around a big fire, dancing around it, giving the fire all the sorrow and grief that has been collected over the year, and also receiving its strength and warmth back.

Back to the roots

There is a lot to be told about Newroz, why and how it is celebrated. I’d like to do that by sharing one of my favorite Kurdish songs – a song that is played on this day that has a special place in most Kurds’ hearts.

Before doing that though, I’m going to share a bit about the Kurdish mythology surrounding the celebrations. I would also like to stress that the reason why I haven’t included Persian or other nations mythology surrounding this day is due to limitation of space.  Newroz has poetic and historical roots in Kurdish mythology. The mythological story has played an important part in shaping the Kurdish relation to Newroz.

Written in a Kurdish opus by Sharaf Khan Bidlisî in 1597, the story entails one central figure, namely “Kawa the blacksmith”. Kawa was an ordinary hard-working man living in ancient Iran (Persia) that later became a revolutionary legend tired of the tyrant Zahak’s oppression. Zahak ruled ancient Iran with great evil for a thousand years – with serpents growing from his shoulders needing be fed by the brains of two sacrificed males each and every day. Kawa, having lost six of his sons to Zahak, became the natural leader of an uprising that finally put an end to the evil rule of Zahak. It is said that Kawa and the rebellions were ancestors to the Kurds today, thus giving Kawa a special place among Kurds for being the first rebellion to fight for Kurdish freedom. This is, of course, mainly if not all together fictional. However, it has shaped the romantic portrayal of Kurdish nationalism that still plays an important part in Kurdish folklore.

A melody of tradition

The songs which lyrics you can read below are a translation from Kurdish to English. The lyrics of the song were written by one of the most famous Kurdish poets of all times, Pîremêrd, in 1948. This version of the song is performed by a living legend among Kurds, Naser Rezazî, although the most known version of the song is performed by another, unfortunately not living, legend, Hassan Zîrek.  I chose to show you this video because it visualizes how Kurds traditionally celebrate Newroz.

The New Year’s day is today. Newroz is back.
An ancient Kurdish festival, with joy and verdure.
For many years, the flower of our hopes was downtrodden
The fresh rose of spring was the blood of the youth.
It was that red colour on the high horizon of Kurd
Which was carrying the happy tidings of dawn to remote and near nations.
It was Newroz which imbued the hearts with such a fire
That made the youth receive death with devoted love
Hooray! The sun is shining from the high mountains of homeland.
It is the blood of our martyrs which the horizon reflects.
It has never happened in the history of any nation
To have the breasts of girls as shields against bullets
Nay. It is not worth crying and mourning for the martyrs of homeland
They die not. They live on in the heart of the nation.

– Pîremêrd 1948

A political message

As you see, the lyrics have quite a strong political undertone. The reason for this is clear. Newroz, although it is mainly a cultural occasion, shared among many different nations, is without a doubt a celebration with political and nationalistic undertones within the Kurdish context. Even the mythological part of the celebrations are in the Kurdish context very much formulated in order to capture and evoke nationalistic feelings, feelings that shall be directed towards fighting any oppression of the Kurdish nation. Due to the oppression and division of the Kurdish nation after World War 1, Newroz has become the day where Kurds from all four parts of Kurdistan unite to express their unity and wish for freedom.

The lyrics are a tribute to not only the Kurdish nature, but above all a tribute to the young men and women that have sacrificed their lives in order to bring about a Kurdish spring. The metaphorical elements are right there, Newroz being the day where spring pushes away the cold grip of winter in the same way that Kurds shall push away those who have oppressed them. It is a song about the hope to see something new, a brighter tomorrow; leaving the hardships and grief behind in order to witness a Kurdish nation arise.

If one takes a brief look at Kurdish history and the present situation of millions of Kurds, one will hopefully be sympathetic towards why the message of Newroz, as portrayed in this song, has such political undertones.

Btw,

Don’t miss to read about the Newroz celebrations in the city of Amêd (or Diyarbakir) tomorrow in Northern Kurdistan (Turkey). Millions of people will gather around together and celebrate Newroz, a tradition that was strictly forbidden in Turkey just a couple of years ago.

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Did you find this interesting? Hêja explained another Kurdish song: Omer Dizeyî’s “Xewn le xewda”.

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