Kurds across the world were celebrating Newroz, the first day of their traditional calendar, on Tuesday. Festivities in Iraq’s Kurdish region began the previous evening, marking the start of a public holiday that allows families to come together and celebrate.
The ancient festival marks the first day of spring and the vernal equinox. Akre, a town of around 20,000 people nestled between the mountains of northern Iraq, hosts one of the most popular and visually spectacular celebrations, drawing visitors from throughout the region.
Despite the ongoing war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in its Mosul stronghold, attendance was high. Families dressed up for the occasion, with men in traditional clothing, modern suits or military uniforms, and women in layers of bright, sequined fabrics.
Fireworks lit up the skies even during the daytime, while at dusk, torchlit processions snaked their way through the mountains. The flames refer to the legend of a blacksmith named Kaveh who defeated an evil king and then set the hillsides ablaze in celebration, while also signifying the light of spring and hopes for a bright future.