Today’s Newroz holiday, as Kurds celebrate the flowering of spring and usher in their New Year, comes at a time important for its additional message: the victory of light over darkness, freedom over tyranny.
Many people are wishing the people of Kurdistan “Happy Newroz” at this time, and in many communities across the world they are celebrating with elaborate gatherings and the sharing of songs, dances, wonderful homemade food and beautiful traditional clothing with their families in event halls and outside in nature. Many communities will celebrate or mark this occasion in defiance of their oppressors, a symbolic gesture proving that their culture, way of life and traditions will remain.
Indeed, both Kurdish political and military muscle has proved stronger than imagined. True, the price paid thus far has been high, with a current estimated number of fallen Peshmerga over 1,000. However, fires during Newroz continue to burn. It has become clearer that time is not on the side of the enemies, and the clock is ticking faster and faster for those that would see these flames extinguished.
Both Kurdish political and military muscle has proved stronger than imagined.
The perennial motto of Kurds is that they have “no friends but the mountains.” However, if one takes a step back, looking at the larger picture, it appears that Kurds have many friends now. The amount of interest in Kurds and Kurdistan has exponentially increased over the last year, particularly since August 2014, when the plight of the Yezidis on Mount Sinjar (Kur/Shingal) became headline news the world over.
Using the internet as a barometer of such interest, online searches for “Kurdistan” or related keywords have skyrocketed since then, and it seems everyone is writing and speaking about Kurdistan. This initial interest has led to greater support, which continues to grow in many different ways: through humanitarian assistance, political engagement and military equipment.
Here are few choice examples of how much has changed since August 2014 and the beginning of the fight against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS): The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has gained more international and regional recognition and credibility, as have Kurds in Rojava (Western or Syrian Kurdistan). Despite missteps and differing political and ideological differences, both entities have largely come together in an unprecedented way to fight true enemies – ISIS -- repudiated by 99 percent of Kurds from Afrin to Mahabad. The world has taken notice that Kurds in Rojava and within the KRG have sheltered Yezidis, Christians and others, acknowledging that this is a clear and genuine departure from the actions of much of the Middle East that surrounds them.
Ordinary citizens, activists, non-government organizations, and government officials across the world have stood up and implored their governments to do more to help Kurdistan in their fight against extreme jihadism. In the US, the list of senators and congress people continuing to pressure President Barack Obama grows by the week, urging him to directly arm Erbil as soon as possible -- an unprecedented shift in US-KRG relations and, hopefully, a sign of further engagement toward military cooperation.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has gained more international and regional recognition and credibility, as have Kurds in Rojava.
Overall, more than 50 countries -- an astounding number in and of itself -- have supplied Kurdistan with humanitarian and military aid. Though this still does not meet the complete needs of the Peshmerga, the symbolism is loud enough for many to recognize that Iraq prior to 2014 and certainly prior to 2003 will never return, and that Baghdad is seen as inept at best, unable to secure the country through its own armed forces.
Moreover, the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) have been scratched off the US Tier III terrorist list, and recently a delegation from the PYD (Democratic Union Party) from Rojava arrived in the US capital.
Living in Kurdistan last year, there was a feeling spreading across Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan: of confidence and defiance. It was as if the collective whole knew that the old Iraq would not -- or could not -- return. This sentiment reached Rojava, and it is less and less likely Syria will be recognizable once the bloodied dust of the civil war has faded. Hopefully, soon this renewed sense of self-confidence will also pervade and spread throughout North and East Kurdistan (Turkish and Iranian Kurdistan). Sykes-Picot is no more.
When I was in Akre last Newroz I sensed the time of the Kurds was upon us, the warmth emanating from the flames on top of the mountains comforting this dream that soon the largest ethnic group in the Middle East will rightfully gain an independent state of its own and self-determination will become realized by millions.
Though I am physically far from Akre this Newroz, nevertheless the fires will somehow glow brighter. Biji Kurd u Kurdistan!