thousands of Kurds in Southeast Turkey last week
celebrated Norouz, their traditional New Year, which
has been marred by tensions and bloodshed in the
Kurdish leaders who joined the celebration in
Diyarbakir, the main city of the predominantly
Kurdish region, urged Ankara to expand Kurdish
freedoms and end years of conflict that have claimed
some 36,500 lives.
“We expect the solution neither from the European
Union nor the United States, but from those who are
governing Turkey”, Tuncer Bakirhan, the chairman of
the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP),
told the crowd.
Ankara, long under international pressure to improve
the rights of the Kurds, has recently granted them a
number of cultural freedoms as part of reforms aimed
at boosting Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
The Kurds, however, say the reforms should be
enhanced and are pressing in particular for an
amnesty for Kurdish rebels who have fought the
government since 1984.
For the Kurds, Norouz has become an occasion to call
for their rights and demonstrate support for the
outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has
waged a 15-year separatist campaign against Ankara.
Scores of police kept watch as Kurdish men and women
danced and sang around traditional bonfires at the
festival venue in Diyarbakir.
Some revellers carried PKK flags and chanted slogans
in favor of the group’s leader, Abdallah Ocalan, who
is serving a life term for treason in a prison
In a statement carried by the pro-PKK MHA news
agency, Ocalan, from his prison cell, issued a
message advocating a loose confederal system of all
Kurdish communities that would rule out an
independent Kurdish state.
The authorities have often banned Norouz
celebrations in the past for fear they would trigger
In 1992, about 50 people were killed by security
forces during Norouz clashes. Two men were crushed
to death and dozens injured in a police clampdown on
Norouz demonstrations in 2002.
Norouz marks the awakening of nature at the March 21
equinox, and is also celebrated in Iran and other
Muslim communities in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
It is said to originate from an ancient Zoroastrian