BBC: Tens of millions of people are celebrating Nowruz, a spring festival believed to have originated thousands of years ago in ancient Persia. By Pam O’Toole
Tens of millions of people are celebrating Nowruz, a spring festival believed to have originated thousands of years ago in ancient Persia.
Nowruz, which means new day in Farsi, marks the solar New Year and the beginning of the calendar year in Iran.
It is the country’s biggest holiday of the year.
But it is celebrated across a vast region, from largely Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and Turkey, to Central Asian countries and Western China.
In Iran, schools close down for several weeks, people buy presents and special foods, observe specific rituals, and visit friends and family.
This year, Iran’s oil ministry has given the country’s motorists – hard-pressed by petrol rationing for the past nine months – a special Nowruz gift, allowing them to buy extra petrol during the holiday period, albeit at higher prices.
Azerbaijan is one of a number of former Soviet states to have recognised Nowruz as a holiday and enthusiastically embraced its traditions.
But in Baku, steep prices rises over recent months have left some Nowruz shoppers struggling.
“Just before the holidays, prices are going up, but we have to buy food for the celebrations, we have no choice,” one Iranian woman said.
“Maybe the traders have to buy at a higher price and so they have to sell us their products at more expensive prices too,” she said.
Nowruz is also New Year for Iraq’s Kurds, many of whom head to the countryside or mountains to picnic.
But it is often a more tense affair in neighbouring Turkey.
Known there as Newrouz, it has traditionally become a time when some Turkish Kurds to take to the streets to demonstrate support for the armed Kurdish militant group, the PKK – something which has often provoked violent clashes with Turkish security forces.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the main Nowruz ceremonies will be taking place amid tight security, following the increasing violence of the past year.
But many Afghans will also use the time to watch traditional buzkashi matches or camel fights, go to funfairs, attend picnics, or listen to special Nowruz music.