Kurdish Newroz: Myths Renewed by Jin, Jiyan, Azadî

By Rojin Mukriyan

Newroz (Kurdish: نەورۆز /Newroz; Persian: نوروز /Nowruz) is one of the most ancient Aryan festivals. It is celebrated by different national groups and communities in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of central Asia. The celebration is an annual festival which marks the beginning of the new year among various national groups, mainly Kurds, Afghans, Azaris, Tajiks, Balochs and Persians. The celebration is a symbol of rebirth, novelty, fertility, freedom, and peace. It is often seen as a festival of reproduction and renewal, though not all of the above nationalities share the same view about the history of Newroz.

Kurdish vs Persian

They also celebrate it in different ways. For instance, the Persian Nowruz is a purely cultural festival.[1] For Kurds, who are a stateless nation, besides its cultural background, Newroz is a symbol of resistance and struggle for freedom against tyranny. It is very much a political festival.[2] It is a festival of the renewal of the oath of resistance. Even though Newroz marks the beginning of the Kurdish and the Persian new year, their calendars, myths, the way they celebrate, and their understanding of the festival’s origin are different.[3] The Kurdish and Persian celebrations are especially different this year. The revolutionary movement of Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (Woman, Life, Freedom) transformed the revolutionary meaning of Newroz. The People of Rojhilat and Iran are celebrating this Newroz not merely in cultural terms, but in a revolutionary, ideologically meaningful, and political way.

There are different views regarding the origin of the festival, its mythology, the way it is celebrated, and its cultural or political influence. The Kurds often trace the origin of Newroz to the epic of Kaweکاوە/Kawa/ Kāveh, the Blacksmith and his rebellion against Zuhak زوحاک/ Zahāk, the tyrant Assyrian king. The epic of Kawe and Zuhak was written in Shahnama by the Persian poet Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi around the 10th century. Zuhak was the tyrant with two snakes growing from his shoulders and needed to be fed the brains of two young children every day. According to the Kurdish myth, Kawe, who had lost many of his children, led a rebellion against Zuhak and killed him. To spread the word of his success to his people, he lit a bonfire on the mountain peak signaling the end of their oppression. This day then becomes a new day for Kurds and all the other Aryan ethnic groups who suffered under Zuhak. After that, Deioces دیاکۆ/ Deiokes was chosen by seven Kurdish tribes to build the Median Empire, which Deioces succeeded in establishing. That is to say that Kurds believe Newroz dates back to the emergence of the Median Empire around 700 BC. The event is annually celebrated at the time of the spring equinox, and the exact day of Kurdish Newroz is the 21st of March. As a result, Newroz is a political and cultural festival for Kurds, and Kurdish Newroz celebrations are different from those of other nations.

In the Persian version, Ferdowsi, in his Shahnama, did not emphasize the link between Nowruz and the story of Kawe and Zuhak. Rather, Ferdowsi explicitly linked this myth with the emergence of the Kurds. He proclaims that the Kurds are born of children spared from being eaten by the monstrous Zuhak.[4] The spared children, who took refuge in the mountains, became “the Kurds, who never settle in towns.”[5] In the same fashion, Sheref Xan al-Bidlisi, who wrote the Sherefnama in 1570, traced and elevated the origins and genealogy of the noble Kurdish families, and concluded that the Zuhak myth is the most credible story for the emergence of the Kurdish people.[6] However, based on recent studies, we know that the origin of the Kurds as a distinct people was developed in other myths as well.

For Persians, Nowruz is the day of the spring equinox that usually occurs on the 19th, 20th, or 21st of March. However, like the Kurds, they narrate the epic story of Kawe and Zuhak since it is a part of their folktales as well, first written down in Shahnama by Ferdowsi. But in Ferdowsi’s story, the person who eventually puts an end to Zuhak’s reign is a Persian King, not a Kurdish blacksmith. Kawe is mentioned, but only in passing as a wronged Persian citizen who attempts to achieve justice through assisting the Persian King named Fereydyn. Fereydyn was the son of one of the descendants of Jamshid. According to Shahnama, Jamshid was the fourth King of the world who commanded all the angels and demons. He was both King and the high priest of Hormoz, middle Persian for Ahura Mazda.[7] Fereydyn, with the assistance of Kawe, defeated Zuhak, though he did not kill him. Instead, he kept him tied with a lion’s pelt and nailed into the walls of a cavern, where Zuhak will remain until the end of the world. In this Persian version, Kawa’s identity and his Kurdishness is replaced with a Persian ‘citizenship’, while his role in defeating the tyrant reduced to that of a mere helper, or that of the servant to the true Persian hero. Surely, anyone familiar with the Kurdish uprising in Iran following the murder of the 22 year-old Kurdish woman Jîna Emînî, would see the eerie parallels with the contemporary Persian appropriation of her symbol in death. To say nothing of the quintessential Persianization of her Kurdishness and ‘citizenship’  alongside the cooptation of the Kurdish “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ slogan by Persians with its rich ideological foundations of women’s liberation underpinning a genuinely free and liberated life for the Kurds.

Nowruz is not mentioned as a related event in the epic story of Kawe and Zuhak as described in Shahnama. Rather it is described as a separate day spent celebrating the grace of the divine ruler and the coming of spring. Ferdowsi linked Nowruz with Jamshid the legendary ruler of the ancient Iranians. According to the Persian myth, Jamshid fought against winter, and went above the earth into the heavens where he continues to shine like the sun. The event was the beginning of a new day known as Nowruz. Therefore, Nowruz marked the day when the ruler, Jamshid, had domesticated the “demons,” and brought a new order into the world, upon which nature flourished and blossomed. Nowadays, Persian celebrations during Nowruz are cultural and have no link with their political aspirations. They annually start to celebrate in the last Wednesday before Nowruz that is called Chaharshanbe Suri (‘Festive Wednesday’), and they hold picnics after thirteen days of Nowruz. It is called Sizdah Be-dar (‘Thirteen Outdoor’). Likewise, they decorate a special table that is called the Haft-sin.[8] By all accounts, the Persian celebration of Newroz is indicative of the start of the spring equinox and has little to no political implications for them. Instead, it is more widely linked to the start of the spring season, the rebirth of nature and the bloom of the outdoors following the end of winter.

While the origins of Newroz remains unclear, Kardo Bokanî argues that, in historical terms, according to the historian Herodotus, the Assyrian empire had ruled and suppressed the Mesopotamian people for 525 years. However, on the 21st of March 612 BC, one of the Median generals named Cyaxares (Kiyaksar), with the help of the Babylonian King (Nabopolasar), attacked the city of Ninevah and killed the Assyrian tyrant and brutish King, Sîn-Šar-Iškun. Following this victory, the Medes established their Empire in 612 BC and liberated all Mesopotamian people. The people, who were liberated, expressed their happiness of liberation and freedom by going to the mountains and lighting fires. Since then, the 21st of March became the symbol of rebirth, resistance, freedom, and liberty for the Kurds. It is the day that is specified as a Newroz (new day), as a new start, as a day of liberation and freedom.[9]

The Russian historian, Igor Diakonov, also convincingly claims that Kiyakser’s attack marked a watershed in the history of the Medes. Previously, as long as the Assyrians had invaded them, they would have taken a defensive approach, retreating to their mountain strongholds. Yet that year, the Medes took a proactive approach, attacking their enemy in their capital city, and destroying the very last remnant of the most formidable ancient empire.[10] This paved the way for the establishment of the Median Empire, which became the master of West Asia, incorporating both the Persian and the Assyrian territories and populations.[11]

Reactivation of Kawe

Nevertheless, as Delal Aydin argues, Newroz truly became a more explicitly symbol of political resistance in the 1970’s, under the banner of Kurdish progressive and socialist movements.[12] According to Aydin, the first written reference asserting Kawe as a revolutionary Kurd who overthrows Zuhak on Newroz in order to usher in a new time comes from the nationalist poet and politician Cigerxwin. Cigerxwin wrote the poem, Kîme Ez (Who am I?) in 1973 in Syria:

Kawe the Smith is my Ancestor

He cut off the head of Zuhak the enemy…

The Newroz day,

Winter Fades away and so do all days of Agony

 The Kurds are liberated [13]

Since the 1970s, Newroz transformed from being merely a way of celebrating the New Year through song, dance, and bonfires to being a direct symbol of resistance to political oppression. This is also found in the ways various governments, hostile to the Kurds have treated the festival. The idea that a ‘New Zuhak’ was oppressing the Kurds was wedded with an earlier festival where all Kurds dressed in their traditional cultural clothes, sang folksongs, and played games. The ancient political message of Newroz has been reanimated in the last past half century. Cigerxwin clearly combines Newroz’s emphasis on renewal and reproduction with ideas of resistance and liberation. From the 70’s up into the present, Newroz has become an intensely politicized celebration. It has becomes a festival that not only signifies natural and social renewal, reproduction, and Kurdishness, but also gives the contemporary political struggles a mythological bearing. That is, it has become a festival and story about the rebellious Kurds who were born from resistance on a New Year’s day. This unification has had profound implications for how the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) celebrate the festival. The PKK have made Newroz a festival for Kurdish ‘counter hegemony’[14] by formulating it as a “contemporary myth of resistance.”[15]

Mazlum Doğan, a political prisoner who killed himself by fire in the notorious Diyarbakir Prison No. 5 on March 21st 1982, reconnected the PKK with the mythological content of Newroz. He became ‘the contemporary Kawe,’ ‘the spirit of resistance,’ because he rejected the Turkish annihilationist policies, rules, and power. He defiantly burned himself in his cell in a ‘Newroz fire’ instead of appearing before the Turkish court and being forced to confess on television. In doing so, Mazlum Doğan gave new life to the declaration of Newroz through his self-immolation and re-interwind the struggle of Kurdish people for freedom with Newroz.

As such, Newroz for Kurds has become a paradigm of life as resistance against oppression and domination. In Gengiz Gunes’s perspective, Newroz thus became a discursive tool for the PKK, marking mythological “constructions of relations of difference” to Turkishness and the Turkish state. The PKK, while keeping the prior connotation to reproduction and renewal, restructured and reactivated the political content of Newroz.[16] Newroz is now one of the main days when Kurds both mourn martyrs lost in their war for autonomy and independence, and vow to continue fighting against all the forces which oppress and dominate them.

Current Fires

It is important to emphasize that the Newroz celebrations of this year, 2023, following seven months of protests throughout Eastern Kurdistan (northwest Iran) in the name of Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (Woman, Life, Freedom) is permeated with revolutionary political significance. ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ is a phrase which was born out of the PKK’s struggle against the new Zuhaks which dominate the Kurds, the four nation-states that divide and occupy them. This Newroz is one the most transparently political ones in years, which further demonstrates the stark contrast between the ways the Kurds and Persians celebrate this festival. For most Persians, Nowruz is again commemorated with the usual cultural significance they have long imbued it with. But, for the Kurds, Newroz is an opportunity to renew their political struggle against the Zuhakian tyranny of the authoritarian and patriarchal state of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The fire of resistance against state oppression has been rekindled during Newroz this year with the brutal murder of Jîna Emînî, a  female ‘Mazlum Doğan’ for Rojhilat.

The spirit of Kawe lives on in all those fighting in the streets and mountains for ‘Woman, Life, Freedom.’ Likewise, in Rojava, the ongoing occupation of Afrin by Turkey and its allied jihadist forces that continue to murder the culturally rich Kurdish city acts as another somber reminder. In fact, one of their first acts of anti-Kurdish hatred in Turkish-occupied Afrin was to topple and destroy the statue of Kawa that had been erected in the heart of the city. All of this as over a million Kurds in Northern Kurdistan have again defied the Turkish state threats by gathering in the Kurdish capital of Amed to rebelliously announce they still exist and will not be silenced by Turkey’s dictator. Everywhere there are Kurds there is dispossession, meaning that the burning spirit of Kawe, Doğan, and now Jîna will be present. As the smoke rises and the flames dance in the sky, Kurdistan is once again renewed this year with the determination that all of the tyrannical Zuhaks will lose their heads.


  1. Hewa Salam Khalid, H. S., (2020) ‘Newroz from Kurdish and Persian Perspectives – A Comparative Study,’Journal of Ethnic and Cultural, 7(1), pp:116-130 http://dx.doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/318
  2. Rudi, A (2018) ‘The PKK’s Newroz: death and Moving Towards Freedom for Kurdistan,’ The Journal of Critical Global South Studies, 2(1), pp. 92-114.
  3. Hewa Salam Khalid, H. S., (2020) ‘Newroz from Kurdish and Persian Perspectives – A Comparative Study,’Journal of Ethnic and Cultural, 7(1), pp:116-130 http://dx.doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/318
  4. Ferdowsi, A. Al-Q. (2016) Shahname: The Persian Book of Kings. London: Penguin Book.
  5. Ferdowsi, A. Al-Q. (2016) Shahname: The Persian Book of Kings. London: Penguin Book.
  6. Bidlisi, S.K (2005) The Sharafnam â , or, The History of the Kurdish Nation, 1597 (1). New York: Mazda Pub.
  7. Ferdowsi, A. Al-Q. (2016) Shahname: The Persian Book of Kings. London: Penguin Book.
  8. Hewa Salam Khalid, H. S., (2020) ‘Newroz from Kurdish and Persian Perspectives – A Comparative Study,’Journal of Ethnic and Cultural, 7(1), pp:116-130 http://dx.doi.org/10.29333/ejecs/318
  9. https://kardobokani.wordpress.com/
  10.  دیاکۆنۆڤ، ایگور. میخائیلوویچ. تاریخ ماد (تهران: انتشارات علمی و فرهنگی، ١٣٨٨) ص ٢٤٨
  11. Herodotus, 1996, p. 48-9-50; Diakonov, 2009, p. 248-72-3-84.
  12. Aydin, D. (2005) ‘Mobilizing the Kurds in Turkey: Newroz as a Myth.’ MA Diss., Ankara: Middle East Technical University.
  13. Aydin, D. (2005) ‘Mobilizing the Kurds in Turkey: Newroz as a Myth.’ MA Diss., Ankara: Middle East Technical University.
  14. Rudi, A (2018) ‘The PKK’s Newroz: death and Moving Towards Freedom for Kurdistan,’ The Journal of Critical Global South Studies, 2(1), pp. 92-114.
  15. Cengiz, g. (2012) ‘Explaining the PKK’s Mobilization of the Kurds in Turkey: Hegemony, Myth, and Violence.’ Ethnopolitics 12(3), pp. 247-267.
  16. Rudi, A (2018) ‘The PKK’s Newroz: Death and Moving Towards Freedom for Kurdistan,’ The Journal of Critical Global South Studies, 2(1), pp. 92-114.


  • Rojin Mukriyan

    Rojin Mukriyan is a PhD candidate in the department of Government and Politics at University College Cork, Ireland. Her main research areas includes political theory and Middle Eastern politics, especially Kurdish politics. She has published articles in the Journal of International Political Theory, Philosophy and Social Criticism, and Theoria. Her research has thus far focused on the areas of Kurdish liberty, Kurdish statehood, and Kurdish political friendship. She is also currently a researcher at Mojust.org

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