The Story of Zahhak: Kurds and Newroz

The Story of Zahhak


Newroz is the Persian new year, celebrated on 21st of March; but it’s also very important to the Kurds of Syria and Turkey. I love the story behind the festival – it puts Easter to shame, that I can tell you:

Zahhak was an evil king who conquered Iran and had serpents growing from his shoulders. Zahak’s rule lasted for one thousand years. During this time, two young men were sacrificed daily and their brains were offered to Zahhak’s serpents in order to alleviate his pain. However, the man who was in charge of sacrificing the two young men every day would instead kill only one man a day and mix his brains with that of a sheep in order to save the other man. As discontent grew against Zahhak’s rule, a nobleman planned a revolt led by Kaveh (also known as Kawa), a blacksmith, who had lost six sons to Zahhak. The young men who had been saved from the fate of being sacrificed (who according to the legend were ancestors of the Kurds) were trained by Kaveh into an army that marched to Zahhak’s castle where Kaveh killed the king with a hammer. Eventually Kaveh was instated as the new Fereydun king.

There’s some great symbolism behind it, too:

For this reason, it is traditional to end quarrels, forgive debts within ability and overlook enmity and insults. It is a time for reconciliation, when forgiveness and cheerfulness are the dominant sentiments. Newroz celebratory table contains specific meaningful elements. First, there must be a mirror, which reflects the past and shows the future so people can make reasonable plans. Next there must be candles which the flame hark back to the sacred nature of fire in the Zoroastrian religion of ancient Iran, and personify the light, sanitary and energy of a righteous life. Upward moving of the flames state the progressing and improving of life’s quality and style.

The original spirit and actions of Newroz is struggling and resistance to overcome tyranny. It is a symbol of a popular solidarity to get strength and more power to end up injustice and oppression by overthrowing the evil tyrants, and then the oppressed people to enjoy the glorious new day.

Newroz in its deep rational concept does not just belong to the Iranian nations; it is a model and possession for all oppressed people in the world, to get freedom, democracy, gender equality, religious tolerance, and civilized prosperity, freedom of expression, individual dignity and national integrity. Newroz as a cultural meaningful traditions phenomenon is a historical symbol of liberty.

I believe this is from Qamishli earlier this week:


Never Forget: Halabja 25 Years On

The flag of Kurdistan.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on the town of Halabja: on March 16th 1988, as many as 5000 Kurds breathed as they did and then suddenly found that the air was poison. It was the most publicised event of the 1987-88 Anfal campaign: a systematic genocide of all the Kurdish and non-Arab peoples in the north of Iraq, leading to as many as 200,000 deaths. It should, I think, stand symbolic of the war against terrorism, however it manifests itself. There are some very distressing photographs online, but I decided against including them. Sometimes our imagination can capture horror well enough.

As the Kurdish ambassador said to Nick Cohen, “Everyone wants to remember Fallujah and no one wants to remember Halabja.” Well, for all the justifiable criticisms levied against the war 10 years on, we must never forget what the alternatives may have been.