According to legend, there was once a tyrannical Persian king called Rustom who used to suppress and torture his people. Kawa, a strong, young Kurdish ironsmith sickened by the oppression vowed to kill him.

Along with thousands of his fellow Kurds he agreed to light a fire on the highest peak in their mountainous neighbourhood as a sign to storm Rustom's palace. Kawa lit the fire and succeeded in bursting into the palace and murdering the tyrant. Kurds have been lighting fires on 21 March ever since. 

Joyful anniversary

Kurds, who live mainly in four Middle Eastern countries, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, celebrate the anniversary and in Iraq, Nawroz has been an official holiday for decades.

Some Arabs even celebrate the occasion with carnivals held in various Kurdish and Arab areas.

Sarwar Abd Allah, an Iraqi Kurd, told Aljazeera.net that he and his family usually celebrate Nawroz with their friends from different backgrounds.

"People here celebrate Nawroz with us as if it is a national day," he said. "All the people I know are keen to tell me and my family happy Nawroz just like they tell Muslims happy Adha and Christians merry Christmas.

"All of us are sad to see sectarianism and racism hit our beloved country nowadays. Iraqis have lived peacefully together throughout history." 

Stable relations
 
Kurdish people traditionally coexisted happily with Muslim Arabs, a relationship that was established when the Kurds willingly entered Islam in the 17th Hijri year (Islamic calendar), and became soldiers in the Muslim army. This positive relationship between was seen in the campaign of Saladin, who was a Kurdish military leader commanding an Arab army.

A Kurdish family has dinner at
home celebrating Nawroz

Dr Harith al-Dhari, secretary-general of the Association of Muslim scholars in Iraq, told Aljazeera.net that the association includes Arab and Kurdish members alike.

"I would like to seize this opportunity to tell our Kurdish brothers happy Nawroz, and also to correct a wrong conception, about the AMS," he said. "People think that we are an Arab Muslim Sunni association. This is wrong.

"The AMS includes Kurdish brothers who are as active as their Arab and Turkman peers. We are a Muslim association, and Kurds are our Muslim brothers, who share with us the same land and fate."

Unrest

Nevertheless, the denial of Kurdish rights in some countries has triggered certain factions to demand greater power. Even though the Kurdish language and culture was freely practiced in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdish militias have been fighting the central government in Baghdad for self-rule since the 1930s.

In 1970, the then Iraqi vice-president Saddam Hussein concluded a peace accord with the leader of the Kurdish militias, Mustafa al-Barazani, father of Masud Barazani, a member of the current US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. However, the peace accord collapsed shortly afterwards and fighting resumed in 1975.

Some 25 million Kurds live in the
Middle East

Iraqi Kurdish parties increased their demands from wanting devolved power to wanting a fully independent state after the 1991 Gulf war when they enjoyed US protected self-rule in three northern Iraqi governorates.

Kurdish parties supported the US and its allies in their endeavours to topple Saddam Hussein. That goal was achieved on 9 April 2003. Since then, Kurdish parties have been enjoying a greater say.

In Iran and Syria, Kurdish people are not happy with what they call "repression and denial of their national rights". Kurds in Iran have been in conflict with successive Iranian governments.

Turkish ban

After the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the last century Turkish Kurds regularly clashed with the Turkish government until the tension between the two parties nearly reached the point of no return. The Kurdish language and customs were banned in Turkey and the government deprived them of their identity by calling them Mountain Turks.

Sporadic rebellions occurred, and in 1974 a university student, Abd Allah Ocalan, formed the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), a Marxist organisation dedicated to an independent Kurdistan.

He led operations against government installations in eastern Turkey. PKK attacks and government retaliation led to a state of intermittent war in eastern Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s. Following Ocalan's capture in 1999, PKK activities were sharply curtailed. But Turkey is still set against any Kurdish gains in the region. It was the first to slam the Iraqi interim constitution, because it saw how it could benefit Kurdish demands.

In 2002, the European Union put pressure on Turkey to grant the minority more rights and as a result there is now Kurdish language broadcasting and education.