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Azerbaijan: Reflections on Novruz

This weekend marked the official start of Novruz, the Zoroastrian holiday marking the beginning of spring. Celebrated in many countries where Iranian influence has been strong, preparations started long before the actual festival, as last year's post on Global Voices Online detailed. In Azerbaijan, as elsewhere, Novruz is eagerly awaited and popular among foreigners and locals alike.

This year, for example, a number of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in the largest of the South Caucasus countries celebrated the event with Lost in Azerbaijan providing a thorough introduction to the holiday.

Today marks every Azerbaijani’s favorite day of the year: Novruz.

Novruz takes place on March 20-21st but the entire month prior to today people are preparing and anticipating the holiday.

Novruz means “new day” and is the start of the New Year in the Iranian calendar, welcoming spring, new life and a fresh start. It’s technically an Iranian holiday but celebrated by many Islamic cultures. Throughout the past month Azerbaijani’s have been cleaning out and painting their houses, planting trees in their yards, cooking special dishes and visiting friends and relatives.

During the Soviet Union Novruz was prohibited and people were persecuted for following the traditions. Now all Azerbaijani’s proudly celebrate and look forward to this time of the year.

The four Tuesdays prior to the holiday each have a name: Water (to purify), Fire, Wind, and Earth (new life). On each of these evenings at dusk families make small bonfires in their yard and everyone takes a turn jumping over the fire seven times reciting “Give me your redness and take my yellowness” which means “Take my hardships, give me your lightness.” [...]

Perhaps the symbol most associated with Novrus is the sprouted wheat called “samani’. These grass seeds are grown on a plate prior to Novruz and can by close to half a foot tall on the holiday. Each family usually places the samani on the center of their table with a red ribbon tied around it.

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Happy Novruz! Happy Spring, everyone! Wishing you peace, health, prosperity and wonderful new beginnings! by AZ Cookbook

Aaron in Azerbaijan tells his readers that they're “missing out on the knowledge of a tradition that stretches back a few thousand years, in dozens of countries throughout Asiaon the last Tuesday before Novruz.

Last night was the last Tuesday (Çərşənbə) of Novruz. That means that Miri, my host mom, and a random friend, Orxan, set about jumping over fires (for Novruz, you celebrate each of the four Tuesdays leading up to March 20/21. [...] Apparently, you’re supposed to jump over fire seven times, so we lined up seven piles of the straw-type stuff and lit ‘em up. We jumped over each one and I did a few extra rounds for folks who weren’t here to enjoy the fun of jumping flames. [...]

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If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come… by ♥ Lala ♥

In last year's post about Novruz on Global Voices Online, one Armenian commented and noted the similarities between the holiday and her own Trendez, another Zoroastrian holiday absorbed and changed by the Church when Armenia adopted Christianity in 301AD.

This year, the similarities prompted an interesting discussion on Twitter between an ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani.

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Indeed, in her own post, Ianyan comments on Novruz, detailing the shared cultural influences in the region as well as her own personal identity.

I would be lying if I said that I solely identified myself as an Armenian. With my family from Tehran and a maternal grandmother from Tabriz who spoke Armenian, Farsi and Turkish, I have as much Iranian influence running through my veins as I do Armenian and American.

My parents grew up during a time in Iran when life was good. [...]

As Armenian as they were, they were also Persian and everything – from the food, to the music, to the traditions have been passed down to my sister and I in the most charming way. Not because it was forced, or written into our daily lives, but because we were genuinely interested.

[...]

To me, being Armenian doesn’t symbolize an all inclusive club where only one set of traditions are observed and one language spoken. We are an amazingly diverse group of ancient people, who have, through the years, influenced and been influenced by a set of beautifully rich and magnetizing cultures, and denying this would be doing a disservice.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that simply speaking, diversity is good. Embrace it. [...]

Happy New Year!

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the haft sin table/ © ianyanmag

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