DAMASCUS – Kurdish militias embroiled in the final push to rout fighters from the Islamic State terror organization out of their last patch of territory in eastern Syria hope the Kurdish New Year coincides with the collapse of the so-called caliphate.
Soldiers from the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella militia dominated by the Kurdish YPG, burned bonfires and fired their guns into the air Wednesday night to celebrate the Newroz holiday in Baghuz, a Syrian town where they are stationed to battle the last die-hard IS fighters holed up along the banks of the Euphrates.
YPG fighters wearing full army fatigues and holding militia insignia aloft as gathered around bonfires on the eve of Newroz, according to images shared by the Rojava Media Center, an activist platform that works with the regional Kurdish administration, not recognized by Damascus.
Newroz, which literally translates as “new day” and coincides with the vernal equinox, is celebrated by Kurdish communities across the region and is also one of the most important festivities in Iran, where it is known as Nowruz, or the Persian New Year.
The tradition, which dates back millennia, is a time of gift-giving, spring cleaning and, for the Kurds in particular, fire-jumping.
Shuar Agha, head of the foreign affairs office at the de facto Kurdish regional administration in Rojava, as the Kurdish-dominated northeastern region of Syria is commonly known, said the Newroz celebrations were made extra special by the imminent defeat of the IS in Syria.
“The end of IS can be considered as the end of an era of blackness that last several years and is similar to what Kaveh the blacksmith did when he killed the tyrant more than a thousand years ago,” Agha said.
According to Kurdish Newroz folklore, Kaveh was a blacksmith who killed Zuhak, an evil Assyrian king who oppressed the Kurdish people, a population now spread across northern parts of modern-day Syria, southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and western Iran.
Legend has it that spring returned to the region upon the monarch’s demise.
In 2014, the IS invaded large swathes of northern Syria and extended its grip into neighboring Iraq.
The SDF, which is backed by the United States, has since recaptured most of the Syrian territory east of the Euphrates.
This year, Newroz was celebrated in numerous towns and cities across northern and northeastern Syria, including Raqqa, the former capital of IS’s so-called caliphate and now the largest city of the de facto Rojava territory.
Not only Kurds but local Turkmen, Arab Muslims and Christians joined in the festivities.
Many of the congregation’s revelers held up portraits of those who have died fighting against the IS as well as pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Turkish-based guerilla group the PKK, who has been in prison since 1999.
The PKK is regarded by Turkey and much of the international community as a terrorist organization.
Newroz is incorporated on Unesco’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.