Lodi, New Jersey
By Kani Xulam
Sunday, March 17, 1996
Dear friends, fellow Kurds,
First of all, I want to acknowledge the work of the Kurdish Community of New York for providing us with this wonderful setting to celebrate Newroz. In particular, I want to acknowledge the work of Dr. Ali, Muzaffer and Temo. Please join me in thanking them by a round of applause.
I also want to acknowledge our singers Diyar and Sehruz who have joined us for this occasion from Germany and Canada. I have seen Diyar on Med Television and I have had the good fortune of listening to Sehruz. Both are outstanding Kurdish singers. Please join me in giving Diyar and Sehruz a round of applause as well.
Tonight, we are celebrating Newroz. It is a special night not just for us Kurds but also for our neighbors: the Persians, the Assyrians, the Arabs and other natives of the Middle East. It is a night of bonfires, folk dances, delicious food and beautiful customs. It is also a time that signifies resistance, heralded the historical liberation of the Kurds and in our recent history marks the onward march of our national liberation struggle in northern Kurdistan.
Newroz which in Kurdish means a new day began on March 21, 612 before Christ in what we today call southern Kurdistan. On that day, legend has it, a Kurdish iron smith called Kawa killed the Assyrian tyrant known to his contemporaries as Dehak. The news of Dehak’s demise unleashed such joyous emotions that bonfires were made throughout the Middle East to spread the good news the fastest way they knew how at the time.
Ever since, Newroz has become an integral part of the Kurdish national consciousness. As oppression against us mounts the longing for the days of Newroz with its symbolic bonfires and folk dances becomes more acute. In our recent history the memory of one Dersim in which 40,000 thousand Kurds were slaughtered in 1938 is enough to shake all the Kurds. Halapja which became the testing ground for Saddam’s chemical weapons which caused the death of 5,000 Kurds will live in our consciousness forever.
Here I am reminded of a passage from a poem by Ahmedi Xani, the immortal author of Kurdish quest for freedom, through his works such as Mem-u-Zin. Reflecting heavily on the problems of our people of his time, he had this to say to his contemporaries some three centuries ago which he could have said to us here in this hall were he alive. Xani wrote:
“Bartender, for the love of God, please
pour some wine into the crystal glass
Let the glass and its wine show the world
Let there appear whatever it is that we wish
Let the events ahead of us come to light
Let us know if the future holds promise for us
Look! our misfortunes have reached their zenith,
Have they started to decline now, do you think?
Or will they remain so,
Until comes upon us the end of time?
Is it possible, I wonder, that for us, too
A Star will emerge out of the darkness?”
We are gathered here tonight to honor not just one Kurdish star but a growing number of them who shine like bright suns as patriots and martyrs. We are here to celebrate the memory of the Kurds who through the fire of Newroz have brought meaning to our lives, hope to our hearts and light to our days. Despite the pain and immense suffering that is borne by our people on a daily basis, we ought to feel proud, really proud of sharing a generation with the likes of Mazlum Dogan, Zekiye Alkan, Rahsan Demirel, Ronahi and Berivan.
1982 is not an easy year to remember for the Kurds. Thousands were put in Turkish jails condemned to a life of misery where death by torture became so common that years later Hozan Seyithan reminiscing about the infamous days would write the song, Hapsa Diyarbekire. The mayor of that city, Mehdi Zana has a book about the ordeal called Vahsetin Gunlugu, the Journal of Barbarity. There were others who did not survive. Mazlum Dogan not wishing to put up with the torture that was breaking the spirit of the Kurdish resistance, on March 21, 1982, set his body on fire to keep the hope of Newroz alive. Through that supreme act he hoped to spark the flame of liberation in Kurdistan. A decade and four years have passed. Mazlum’s dream is now ours: Kurdistan will be free, soon and forever.
8 years later, Zekiye Alkan, a Kurdish student in Diyarbakir Medical School climbed the famous Diyarbakir wall. Again, on March 21, she poured gasoline on herself and sparked another Newroz fire to remind her beloved city of her hate of oppression and of her love of liberation. In 1992, the governor of Sulaymania in southern Kurdistan raised a statute to her memory. We are grateful to the PUK leadership for this solemn act. Again, like Mazlum, she lived not for herself but for us Kurds and Kurdistan.
In 1992, the fire of Newroz was lit again and again on Newroz day. This time it was Rahsan Demirel. The Kurds of Izmir were shocked to see their Rahsan on the ground as a pile of bones and ashes. She had left a note behind for the Kurds who were fleeing to western Turkey. She was urging them not to forget the pain and the suffering of those who were being bombarded by the Turks day in and day out. She was calling on them to unite, to resist and to move onward with the struggle of Kurdish martrys who had began the march for the independence and Kurdistan.
That year saw the unprecedented attack by the Turkish state on the Kurds who had gathered for Newroz celebrations in Sirnak, Cizre and Nusaybin. 117 people were killed in broad day light by government troops who were carrying orders from the top. The people in the government thought they could make laws that would ban Newroz. But the spirit of Newroz is older than the government and this generation of the Kurds is not scared of guns or their bullets.
The Newroz fire that began in Diyarbakir with Mazlum and Zekiye and moved to Izmir with Rahsan then crossed borders and was lit again this time in the heart of Europe by two Kurdish women, Berivan and Ronahi. They too had a message for the one million or so Kurds who had settled in Europe but who were facing increasing hostility from the governments to abandon the struggle of the martyrs for Kurdistan. They left the following note behind, “To the brave people of Kurdistan: We congratulate your Newroz, today. We remind you of the goal to live our humanity as Kurds. We urge you, as our party leader Serok Apo does, of the necessity to be ever more resilient. We undertake this act of self-immolation, as part of our resistance. To you, we now entrust the sacred struggle. To the Kurdish diaspora, we say, do own the struggle for the humanity of the Kurds. Make the Kurdish revolution in Kurdistan a reality.”
The struggle for the liberation of Kurdistan is now entering its twelfth year. In these years, some 30,000 people have died. 3,000 Kurdish villages have been leveled to the ground. Some 3 million Kurds have become refugees.
As Kurds we need to feel the pain and suffering that is visiting our brothers and sisters who have lost all they have had throughout their lives. The best way to share this pain would be for each of us as much as our resources permit to take trips to Dersim, Serhat, Amed, Botan and Tolhildan. We need to tell our fellow Kurds that even in America we are with them in our thoughts and through our support for their liberation from the foreign yoke. Newroz has been with us for some 2,600 years now. No one has the power to take away this celebration of liberation from us so long the Kurdish people continues to exist.
Cejna Newroz piroz be! Biji Newroz!