In Iran, people 'fight against regime with fire of Nowruz'

Persian New Year festivities marred by months of bloodshed and the country's economic woes

Kurdish people carry fire torches as they celebrate Nowruz in the Iraqi town of Akra on Monday. Reuters
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Six months have passed since the death of Mahsa Amini, prompting nationwide protests in Iran in which more than 500 people have been killed.

As people gather to mark the Persian New Year, or Nowruz — during which homes are decorated with symbols of rebirth — many have mixed feelings following months of bloodshed and economic woes.

In the western city of Saqez, the family and friends of Ms Amini, who was known to her family and friends by her Kurdish name Zhina, gathered at her grave on Sunday with flowers, candles and pictures in remembrance.

“This year has been very bad for us and all the people of Iran and Kurdistan,” Ms Amini's cousin Erfan, who lives in the Kurdish region of Iraq and travelled to Saqez for the ceremony, told The National.

“The killing of our children by the Islamic republic, these [have been] our worst days.”

Parents, spouses, children and friends of the victims of Tehran’s clampdown on protesters have decorated their tombstones in accordance with the traditional Haftsin arrangement.

Pictures shared online showed graves adorned with wheatgrass and flowers, and surrounded by grieving relatives from across the country.

Erfan said people in the Kurdish town of Saqez were also taking advantage of Nowruz to reignite public demonstrations that have waned in recent months.

People are fighting against the regime with the fire of Nowruz, he said, referring to large bonfires set to mark the occasion.

However, others not celebrating the occasion told The National that the atmosphere was different this year.

“We lost so many young souls during the protest this year,” said Akram, 68, a retired architect.

“In my capacity as a mother, how can I be indifferent to what happened and celebrate?

“We used to count the days until spring when we were young, but those days are long gone now … as we do not see our youths growing or progressing in society, there is nothing to look forward to.”

Vahid, a student, said he could not bring himself to celebrate Nowruz this year as “we have lost too many people”.

Iran’s economy was already under great pressure following years of sanctions before the protests began last autumn.

Since then, sanctions have increased and despite the recent rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, the consequences of the past remain a daily issue for many.

Ajil, a traditional mixture of nuts, seeds and dried fruits that is integral to Nowruz celebrations for many, is almost impossible to afford.

“If you compare the prices last year, which were still high, to now, the difference is closer to 50 years rather than one. All of us have decent jobs but this year we cannot afford to purchase ajil for the family,” said Ali, a software engineer who is hoping to relocate to Canada.

“This year, Nowruz holds no significance for me. Spring does not seem to be coming and I do not have the usual enthusiasm for a new year.”

The UN said more than 18,000 people were imprisoned during the protests but Tehran revealed that the number was higher after it claimed to have pardoned 22,000 people arrested in the demonstrations.

Several people were executed for protesting while thousands were wounded — including teenagers blinded by bullets shot by security forces.

“My mind is turned to the parents whose children have lost their sight. It is almost paralysing to feel this sense of helplessness,” said Nahid, 50, a homemaker.

“In my heart, I feel the pain of those mothers whose loved ones were buried before their eyes. The new year is just another reminder of their loss to me.”

'We must keep living'

Others such as Mona, a teacher, cling strong to the protest slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom” — and say they should hold on to life in the face of oppression.

“It is precisely because of the movement that we must keep living and celebrating. It means the oppression has won if we stop,” she said.

“It is important to me to preserve the traditions and teach my children to keep going regardless of obstacles. We have nothing left if we lose hope.”

People across Iran have continued recent festivities, including the fire festival Chaharchanbeh Suri, and used the gatherings to both celebrate and protest, hopeful that the movement will stay alive.

“We need to keep our spirits high and not lose hope. We must keep our spirits up and keep moving forward,” said Hossein, 46.

“We will eventually get there but it will take time.”

Updated: March 21, 2023, 8:47 AM