Mar 20, 2015

Celebration of Nawruz at the White House and Afghan Traditional Dance

On March 11, the First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a celebration of Nawruz, at the White House. Participants were mostly from community diasporas including Afghans, Iranians, Tajiks and Kurds. I felt honored to be invited by the White House and celebrate Nawruz with Mrs. Obama. Nawruz, as part of the United State's presidential greetings, was introduced by Georg H.W. Bush, in 1992. Since then, though sporadic, Nawruz, has keenly been celebrated.

Georg H.W. Bush, uninformedly called Nawruz as Iranian new year, a tradition that is widely celebrated across the region and Iran is part of it. In fact, if we call Nawruz as an Iranian new year, we belittle the historical importance, the traditions and its relevance in a larger context of Khorasan, a historical region comprising Afghanistan and some parts of Central Asia. The word Iran derives from eran, in Pahlavi dialect which once spoken in northeast Iran, where it meant aryans. Though old, the word "Iran" is used in the modern context and in a sense, it excludes other ethnic groups - like Turks, Kurds and Arabs - inside the Iranian territory who claim to be ethnically Aryans. But as it appears, ethnic groups in Iran are not only not sensitive to it, but proud of it, unlike Afghanistan, whose some ethnic groups are sensitive to be called Afghan, because up until mid-twentieth century, the word referred to Pashtun and in fact, still referred that way. Non-Pashtuns prefer to be called Afghanistani, instead of Afghan, a word that makes Pashtuns unhappy. 

Moreover, Iranian scholars credit Shahnameh in which the word Iran is repeated more than seven hundred times. It was written by Abul-Qasim Firdawsi around 1000 CE, and guess, where it was completed? In Ghazni, located in the central east of Afghanistan. And by the way, the majority of the cities mentioned in the epic stories of Shahnameh are in Afghanistan. Just for reminder, you would be better off not to mention this to some Iranians for not to make their blood boil.

Regardless of what has said here, Nawruz is an important holiday for people in Iran and thanks to them who preserved such a great tradition against the early conquest of Muslim Arabs who wanted to eradicate Nawruz and all other pre-Islamic traditions.

Happy Nawruz and I wish you all the best as you embark on 1994!
If you are curious to know how Nawruz is being celebrated in Afghanistan, you can read my article which I wrote for CNN, in 2010.

Here, enjoy a short video of Afghan traditional dance which I recorded on March 11, at the White House.


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