Spring officially began in most of the world yesterday, but those of us in Boston are witnessing a familiar and unpleasant sight – fresh, fluffy snow. Fortunately in Azerbaijan, citizens have finally cast off the gloom of winter in the most beloved holiday of the year, Novruz Bayramı – the New Year. Despite popular belief, Novruz (also spelled Nowruz, which literally translates as “new day“) is a secular holiday derived from Zoroastrian beliefs. Likewise, there are symbolic “characters”: Kechel, Kosa and Bahar gizi (spring girl), respectively representing nature, fertility, and the “landscaping” of nature. Unlike Western nations, the New Year is considered to be the spring equinox because it “symbolizes the awakening of natural life and marks the end of an old year and beginning of a new year” with the awakening of spring, and it is also a time to celebrate community unity and equality. Novruz is celebrated in Central Asia and parts of the Middle East, and by Iranians worldwide (and is typically referred to as the “Persian New Year”).
The most important preparations for Novruz begin nearly a month before on the four Tuesdays: Su Chershenbesi (Water Tuesday), Od Chershenbesi (Fire Tuesday), Yel Chershenbesi (Wind Tuesday), Torpag or Akhir Chershenbesi (Earth/Last Tuesday). On each Tuesday, people strive to awaken each of these elements to bring back harmony with nature. The weeks leading up to Novruz eve are also devoted to “spring cleaning” of the house in order to meet the new year with an uncluttered mindset (the popular saying used by many Azeris is the English proverb “A good beginning makes a good ending”). Many families also begin growing lentils or semeni (green wheat), so that on Novruz day they have grown tall enough to be noticed.
More spiritual aspects of the holiday are also practiced: the Semeni ritual is often done, including the song “Semeni, save me and I will grow you every year.” Semeni is also the centerpiece of the ceremonial table, where the most popular national pastries and pilafs are served. Bonfires are lit in backyards, and friends and family jump over them seven times to symbolize the purification and “burning away” of their fears and worries (it sounds dangerous, but people really enjoy it). Some also maintain one of the most ancient rituals, the divination tradition: young, unmarried women gather together and try to learn when they will get married or when they will satisfy their wildest dreams. Very few people believe in this ritual today, but it’s a fascinating example of how many societies are preserving ancient beliefs.
And of course, there’s something for the younger children: Novruz also consists of a Halloween-like tradition of knocking on neighbor’s doors, then hiding behind a bush and receiving candies in return, as well as leaving brightly-colored hats on neighbor’s doorknobs. Children also bring portions of the traditional meal to those less fortunate, so all may have a clean slate for the next year.
I’m not going to lie – I want to celebrate Novruz too! Fortunately, the Museum of Fine Arts here in Boston is holding a Nowruz celebration today, and you can find out more here. (I will also be ushering in spring at the Boston Ballet’s spring fling prior to tonight’s performance – if you will it, it will come!)
Tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh have flared up once again, and in response to Armenian rumors that Azeri soldiers were killed in the fighting, the Defense Ministry spokesman stated that Baku would not release the names of the dead because there were none – and as for why, it’s because “it means that soldiers from Karabakh have “bullet-proof magical jackets” and nothing happens to them.” I wish I was making this up.
The Eurovision Song Contest, beloved by nearly one billion viewers worldwide (though sadly not by any in the US), is just around the corner in Vienna, but controversy has already emerged following the first meeting of delegates. While Armenia’s song for 2015 is titled “Face the Shadow,” it was originally titled “Don’t Deny” and is sung by a group called “Genealogy” that features Armenians from many different countries – presumably in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Naturally, Turkish and Azerbaijani representatives cried foul at the “provocative move” to “promote a deliberate political message” – because as we might recall, Turkey and Azerbaijan deny that this “mythic ‘genocide'” ever occurred.
And while no news has emerged on Pakistani-Azeri relations, Azeribaijan is mulling bilateral relations with China and Afghanistan after visits from both nations. Particular recognition was given to economic relations with China, and the Azeri government’s continued peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.
Azeri news sources have also been featuring an op-ed written by Daoud Kuttab, a Pakistani-American journalist, regarding Netanyahu’s recent statements regarding a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine. Azerbaijan, like many other Middle Eastern nations, does not generally support Israel’s treatment of Palestinian and denial of Palestinian land claims. The op-ed is sponsored by the Project Syndicate non-profit, and can be found here.