Syrian Kurds celebrate Newroz amid tensions

This year's celebrations were bolstered by recent Kurdish declarations of an autonomous federation in northern Syria.

Andrea DiCenzo, Jonathan Brown | | Humanitarian crises, War & Conflict, Human Rights, Arts & Culture, Middle East

Qamishli, Syria - Large crowds of Syrian Kurds gathered in towns and villages outside Qamishli in northern Syria on Monday to ring in the Kurdish new year.

This year's Newroz celebrations were bolstered by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allied groups' declaration of a "federal democratic system" in Kurdish regions of Syria's north. "Even if Newroz wasn't happening, we would still be celebrating," Rukan Butan, 23, told Al Jazeera in Amude, a village outside Qamishli.

In the days leading up to the celebration, municipal workers in Qamishli could be seen stringing large banners picturing Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), across the city's four-lane streets. The banners were emblazoned with the slogan: "Freedom of the Kurdish leader is freedom of the Kurdish people."

In recent months, the city has been targeted by a string of bombings, attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. Last year in Hasakah in northern Syria, an ISIL bombing attack on the city amid Newroz celebrations claimed the lives of more than 20 people.

Despite the celebratory atmosphere in Qamishli, events marking the new year were subdued compared with previous years because of security concerns, locals told Al Jazeera. Kurdish intelligence officials have taken stringent measures to guard against further attacks. Imports to the region were limited before the holiday, while motorcycles, which were used to launch previous attacks, were banned inside the city in the days leading up to the celebrations. The location for the day's events was announced on the morning of Newroz.

"We can be under attack at any moment," Kameran Said, a commander in a volunteer protection force, told Al Jazeera.

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