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Nowruz, The Afghan And Iranian New Year

March 21, 2010

One of my long-standing criticisms of the way we Canadians have approached our involvement in Afghanistan is that so few of us have bothered to learn much of anything about Afghan culture, history or society – and of course, I’m as guilty as anyone. For example, I learned only today that our vernal equinox is also the day of Nowruz, an ancient Persian new year festival that is still celebrated not only in Iran but also in Afghanistan and many other countries in the region.

Canada extended official recognition to Nowruz just last year. In Afghanistan, Nowruz was banned while the Taliban were in power, I presume because the festival has pre-Islamic origins that extend back to Zoroastrianism and possibly beyond. Regardless, the Afghan version of Nowruz is now back with a vengeance in spite of war, poverty and suicide bombings. Here’s some footage of Nowruz festivities on Maranjan Hill in Kabul in 2007. Were they typical? I have no idea.

US President Barack Obama also took time out from his desperate health care reform efforts to address a rather patronising Nowruz message to the Iranian people, only to be slapped down by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Rather than indulge in this sort of thing, I think I’ll just wish any Afghans who may be reading this a joyous Nowruz, combined with apologies for my state of egregious ignorance regarding a part of the world that has been central to Canadian foreign policy for nearly a decade now. To any Iranian readers, best wishes to you as well, and I hope our countries can be better friends in the future. To everyone else, a happy Nowruz or spring equinox, as the case may be.

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