Photos: Celebrating the Kurdish New Year in a ruined city

Diyarbakir, Turkey

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.

Diyarbakir residents survey damage in a commercial alleyway that recently reopened to the public, after being designated off-limits for more than three months. (Diego Cupolo)

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.

Fire plays a central role in Newroz festivities as a symbol of freedom from oppression. (Diego Cupolo)
A man patches up the bullet holes in his bakery, which was used as a hideout by PKK-militants.
Recording the event to share on social media. (Diego Cupolo)
A crater left by a bomb blast in Diyarbakir. Fighting began shortly after a curfew was imposed on the city on Dec. 2, 2015. (Diego Cupolo)
A girl poses with Abdullah Ocalan earrings. Ocalan founded the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group formed in the late 1970s to begin an armed struggle for a Kurdish autonomous state. (Diego Cupolo)
Children pose with flags baring Ocalan’s face. Until the 2000, it was illegal to teach the Kurdish language in Turkish schools. (Diego Cupolo)
A woman watches police run away from clouds of tear gas after a brief clash between security forces and attendees at the end of the Newroz celebration. (Diego Cupolo)
Groups of teenagers encircled the crowd, chanting political slogans and waving flags with the face of Abdullah Ocalan. (Diego Cupolo)
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