Middle East Turkey bans Kurdish New Year celebrations in Istanbul, Ankara

Turkey bans Kurdish New Year celebrations in Istanbul, Ankara
Riot police fire tear gas to disperse pro-Kurdish demonstrators during a gathering to celebrate the spring festival of Newroz despite a ban from the governorship, in Istanbul's Gazi district, Turkey, March 20, 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - Turkish authorities in the city of Istanbul and the capital, Ankara, refused to give permission to hold Kurdish New Year celebrations this weekend.

The Kurdistan24 bureau in Ankara reported that both cities' governorates justified the ban on Kurdish New Year celebrations, also known as Newroz, on the grounds that, "persons or groups attending the gathering may cause provocations."

The ban came despite an appeal by the opposition Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), whose spokesperson, Osman Baydemir, last week urged the Turkish government to allow celebrations for "the sake of peace."

Festivities in Turkey's two largest cities, where several million Kurds live, were scheduled by the HDP and its sister organizations to be held on March 19, two days before the actual Newroz holiday.

But in Diyarbakir, the de facto capital of Turkey's Kurdistan, authorities decided to allow the Newroz celebration, which will take place on March 21.

In the provinces of Van and Sanliurfa, Turkish governors have banned all public gatherings, as the country continues to be under an extended state of emergency since a military coup attempt last summer against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It remains unclear whether local officials in other population centers will allow or ban Newroz.

In 2016, after authorities in numerous cities banned Newroz festivities following months-long clashes between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters and the Turkish army in the aftermath of a collapsed ceasefire, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse celebrants and detained hundreds.

For decades and despite strict bans, Newroz has served as a means of political expression for millions of Kurds whose identity and rights are suppressed in Turkey.

In 1992, Turkish government forces killed 103 peaceful civilians in several Kurdish towns as they gathered to celebrate Newroz, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released at the time.

After the year 2000, although successive Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments have eased restrictions on Newroz, the topic continues to be a matter of contention, as authorities are wary of its greater political implications.


Editing by Sam Kimball