On Sunday, 17 March, the early celebration of the Newroz festival, long a symbol for Kurdish resistance and protest, drew tens of thousands of people to the Kazlıçeşme square in Istanbul.
Despite the cold weather, people started to fill the square from 9 am onwards. On the stage, there was a picture of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as the slogan, “Freedom of Öcalan, Recognition for Kurds”.
Many people in the crowd carried BDP banners and pictures of Öcalan, but there were also flags of other political parties and organisations. There were scarves, bracelets and hats on sale in the colours red, green and yellow, the colours of the Kurdish flag.
People of all ages had come to the gathering, and there was halay dancing (a long chain of people dancing shoulder to shoulder) throughout the event.
Last year, there was much tension when official permission to celebrate on the weekend before 21 March was not given, and there were many clashes with the police. At previous Newroz events, images of Öcalan were smuggled past the security checks, but this year, his picture was already on stage.
People at the celebration were optimistic about peace.
Önder: I bring Öcalan’s Greetings
Sırrı Süreyya Önder, BDP MP for Istanbul and member of the Peoples’ Democratic Congress, addressed the crowd. He had been part of the recent delegation that visited Öcalan on the İmralı prison island:
“I bring you Öcalan’s greetings,” he said, and added that he hoped that this Newroz would bring peace.
He added that this was not the end of the struggle, but only the end of the bloodiest, most painful era. He said that the struggle for freedom for all oppressed peoples would continue.
He quoted Öcalan, who had said, “We will not live like before, and we will not fight like before.”
Sebahat Tuncel, also a BDP MP for Istanbul, remembered those who had died for the Kurdish struggle and said that the peace process had to be supported from within and not only watched from outside if it was to be successful.
Demirtaş: A Return of Rights
The final speaker was Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP. He emphasised that the current process was the result of the sacrifices of the Kurdish people.
He warned that any peace that was not based on rights and freedoms would not last: “Peace does not mean surrender, peace means the return of rights that were taken away.”
Various musicians supported the day with their performances. (NV/AG/KU)