Friday, March 20, 2009

Kurdish New Year Celebrations


Last weekend was NewRoz or the coming of the Persian New Year. The celebration is shared by Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria,and the Kurds who form a large stateless community across these countries.
We were invited to share the celebrations with the local Kurdish community here in Doha by the teachers at school. We were told that the celebration would take all day, would be big and great fun.
Once we'd established that the function was being held at the Dosari Zoo we'd been to the previous weekend we were confident we would find the venue with no problems and set off to arrive at 11.00am.
On arrival we were ushered into the Welcome Hall by the Dosari workers and shown the display halls we'd seen the weekend previously. Whereas we'd been told we couldn't try on the Qatari costumes in the "Traditional Hall" this weekend we were encouraged to try them on. Neil, David & I seized the chance to dress-up and donned the thobe and gutra to pose at the entrance to the tent.

Alan the Arab - at home on the desert sands.

Once outside we were met by our hosts, given a pin of Red, Green and Yellow ribbons to wear, and ushered into the shade of the shrubby trees that fringe the picnic area at the Zoo.
The area had a large stage, decorated with a large Kurdish flag, a fringe of small Qatari flags and the same coloured ribbons as our pins, a mass of ubiquitous plastic tables and chairs, smoking barbeques, and groups of young Kurdish men with armbands or dressed in national costume welcoming and ushering arrivals to the celebration site.
We settled into the shade and chatted with our hosts as more and more men streamed into the site. Someone turned on a sound system and began playing folk tunes. This was the signal for the dancing to begin.
The dance leaders.
A group of four would form a line, each man linking little fingers with the man on either side, the men at the ends holding coloured cloths as markers, and begin a side-stepping, shoulder to shoulder dance. Gradually other men broke into the line until there were several hundred in the line forming an ever growing circle stamping dust into the ever hotter air.
The dance went on for a good 20 - 30 minutes with the spiral breaking every now and then as individual men broke out to challenge others to mirror their dance steps and then rejoin the line of men each with sweat dripping off their faces as they circled the arena.
Our hosts urged us to join in and after some persuasion we joined into the line to be initiated, under the already hot Qatari sun, into the celebration of another New Year and nationalism.

The Cognition team showing our Kurdish Heritage

Escaping from the dance line and the 30C heat we sheltered in the shade where Joy struck up conversation with a young abaya wearing Syrian woman, Sorya, who was there with her husband, six daughters and one son. Despite the limitations of our non-existant Arabic and Sorya's limited English family details were shared, comments about the celebrations and other common interests established. By mid afternoon Joy had been welcomed into a large group of women with the conversation growing more animated when they were joined by a younger woman whose English was reasonably fluent and could provide the translation that made communication all that much easier.

Sorya, her family, Shirley & Joy
Joy was rapt when Sorya and the other women invited her to her home where they could talk more and the translator's, Rosa's mother could be included in the conversation a lot more easily.
I thought Rosa's mother must be either short sighted or have good taste as she told Joy that she thought I looked like Leonardo diCaprio!!
Mind you the Turks who captured me, to share hot sweet tea and to satisfy their curiousity about why were there, thought I was either Russian or German so I could pass as any nationality... though I'm not certain about the Arab look I assumed earlier!

The afternoon was punctuated with speeches welcoming visitors, inviting us to contribute to the programme, plays that celebrated being Kurdish rather than Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi, Turkish and explaining why they were unique, recitations of poems recounting triumphant and momentous events in their history, food and even more dancing. We were assured that the celebration would continue long into the evening and were urged to stay until the end.

However, we decided that we should head for home around 6.00pm while it was still reasonably light but before we packed ourselves up our hosts suggested that it would be good if we offered something of ourselves to the audience, which had now grown to around 2000 men and about 50 women and their children. A quick discussion resulted in Joy being persuaded to sing Pokarekare Ana, which we thought was far better than a ragged version of the national anthem. So, escorted by one of the men who had been talking and translating to us all day, she headed for the stage where she was welcomed and introduced to the crowd. There was silence when she introduced herself, explained who we were and where we from, thanked our hosts for giving us the opportunity to share their celebrations and said she would sing a New Zealand song as a gesture of thanks.
She launched into Pokarekare Ana which became the signal for the Kurdish TV cameras to zoom in on her and for numerous men to head for the stage where they filmed her singing, photographed her and, when she was joined by Lyn, Lesley and Gail from our group, snapped even more pictures. When Joy finished and was ushered down from the stage she became an instant celebratory as the men captured her and posed to be photographed with her.

Joy singing to the crowd at the Kurdish New Roz celebrations.
Joy returned to the shade and our group where she was applauded by the group of local women she'd been talking to much of the afternoon. They were, they said, greatly impressed by her singing and very pleased to have heard a different song from a country many of them had little idea of where in the world it was.

Satisfied that we had acquitted ourselves with some honour we thanked our hosts, made our good byes and headed back to Doha.

The beginning of the day- the first of many dances to celebrate New Roz.

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