Everyday, gun fights and explosions rattle Turkey’s Kurdish capital Diyarbakir, as government forces battle separatist militias just miles away. But that didn’t keep locals from gathering today, March 21, to celebrate the Kurdish new year: Newroz.
In celebration of the first day of spring, Newroz festivities usually attract more than one million visitors to the city in peaceful times, but today’s crowd ranged between 200,000 and 300,000. Hotel owners in the city center complain their rooms have been sitting empty since fighting began here in Dec. 2015.
Following a recent string of bombings in Istanbul and Ankara, security was extra tight at this year’s event, with multiple pat-downs and bag searches, as well as army snipers positioned along rooftops. But by the day’s end, people danced, sang, and police fired just a few gas canisters at protesters—a relief for a nation wracked by ever-growing violence and instability.
Banned in the rest of the country, Newroz has a deep political meaning for Turkish Kurds, who see the holiday as a way to promote and preserve an identity whose existence was only formally recognized by the government in the 1990s. With a population of 30 million split between Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, Kurds remain the largest group of stateless people in the world.