CPT team celebrates Newroz in solidarity with Kurds in Turkey

People celebrating Newroz in Amed, Kurdish region of Turkey. Photo by: Julie Brown.

By: CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Team

"We are the people of Kurdistan," echoes from the many powerful amplifiers throughout the enormous park. "We are the people of Kurdistan!" hundreds of thousands voices respond in one voice and shake the earth and our hearts. The powerful chant together with the dark smoke of the Newroz yellow-red fire rise towards the cloudy sky where a police helicopter circles around. A kaleidoscope of colors of traditional Kurdish dresses, scarves and flags coalesce into a dance. It is the 21st of March and our Iraqi Kurdistan team stands witness to this deeply special moment with the multitude greater than I have ever seen in my life.  

We are in the ancient city of Amed, through which the river Tigris flows, inhabited for millennia by various peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. A century ago, in this city, more than 150,000 Armenians and Assyrian Christians were massacred and deported. The Turkish state that succeeded the fallen Ottoman Empire renamed the city Diyarbakır and made it a center of its military presence in the region. In the 1990s, the Kurdish population of this city swelled when it became home to an additional one million Kurdish people, roughly a third of those who fled the bloody war and violence of the Turkish state against Kurdish Guerrilla fighters and civilians. In 2016 the European Union signed multi-billion Euro deals with Turkey. The aim was to stop people fleeing war in Syria and Iraq from reaching Europe. Meanwhile, the Turkish military was bombarding the old city of Amed and other towns in the Kurdish region of Turkey. Their "anti-terror" military operations killed hundreds and displaced between 355,000 and half million people, mainly Kurds

Even though we stay at a hotel in Amed's old city and can walk in a part of the area surrounded by ancient black stone city walls, we are able to see only one block of houses leveled to the ground and several walls pierced by bullet and rocket holes. The whole area with over 2,000 destroyed or damaged houses is off-limits, entry streets are barred by concrete blocks or police checkpoints, not only for the eyes of outsiders but especially from the 24,000 residents hoping to return

. The city is heavily militarized and the occupation feels very tangible and heavy. Armored cars roam the streets between the ever present security forces armed with rifles, checkpoints, police stations and military bases, each surrounded by anti-explosion walls. We can hear fighter jets taking off from the nearby airport and breaking the sound barrier over our heads on their way to drop bombs on Iraqi Kurdistan or Syria.    

For Kurdish people Amed is a symbolic center of resistance and struggle for the rights of Kurds and other minorities in Turkey and beyond. The main pro-Kurdish and Turkish civil rights movements and political parties are based here. Even though many of the party leaders, activists, teachers, parliament members, local mayors and community leaders are being silenced in jails, their colleagues speak boldly today from the stage at the Newroz celebration. Their message to the people of Turkey and the world: "We are all brothers and sisters and we all deserve the same rights and respect," and, "NO, to the expanding dictatorship powers of Erdogan over the people of Turkey."

Newroz is a Kurdish New Year festival of Spring and celebration of liberation from a tyrannical oppressive power. Each year, around a million people attend the Newroz celebration in Amed. This year, our Iraqi Kurdish CPT colleagues also wanted to attend and so our team went.  Some of our team are foreigners with high passport privilege, we traveled overland by bus. Because of the EU/Turkish deal, Iraqi citizens need a prearranged visa and can enter Turkey only by air through Istanbul. Only one of our two Kurdish comrades made it all the way to Amed. The Turkish intelligence detained our teammate Rezhiar at Istanbul airport even before the passport control. After interrogating him, going through his phone and online presence, and holding him in a cell for around 14 hours he was deported back to Iraqi Kurdistan on "terrorist charges". His only crimes were being a Kurd who wanted to come for Newroz and posting several articles critical of Turkish politics on the internet.

For our group of five, the Newroz celebration in Amed is a deeply emotional and powerful experience even with all the armed forces surrounding the park, checking and filming all who enter and leave and confiscating from them questionable materials and flags. In the midst of all of this, there is a million unwavering souls committed to resist, persist, and to reshape the current regime and rebuild the society to one based on true democracy and pluralist respect.