Newroz:  A resistance ritual

            Ritual is  the one of the basic practices of humankind. That’s why it is possible to witness rituals in every society both in our era and ancient times. While rituals can be seen in many periods and places, ritual as field of study is recent phenomenon. Analysis of a ritual with its symbolic pattern is central for most of ritual studies. For this reason, in many ritual studies, it is very important to focus on the symbols and images to understand the meaning of a ritual in its cultural context. However material component of a ritual is treated as secondary elements in many studies. Although it seems very reasonable to claim that this mainstream approach against material components is necessary for reading a ritual in its habitat, it must not be disregard the possibility of the fact that material components of ritual can be more important than its other elements.

            Is it possible to interpret a ritual by the help of material components? In other words is it possible to read material elements of ritual as substantial component while estimating its symbolic patterns as secondary ones. In this way, I think, it may be possible to see different interpretation strategies and, then question place and significance of material components in ritual studies.

            In this context it is worthy to mention the material components of ritual by focusing on Newroz Celebrations that have been celebrated by Kurds in Turkey from the beginings of 1980’s until today. Newroz is a new year fest, celebrated in March in some part of Asia and Middle East. Although celebrations in the Middle East have its roots in Ancient Mesopotamia, their modern versions are very different from traditional celebrations. Newroz celebrations, began to be celebrated a kind of resistance ritual in Turkey by 1970’s, can not be understood without the transformation of the material world and the socioeconomic transformation of Turkey in this period. Celebrations banned by the state became increasingly widespread in 1980’s and 1990’s and transformed into a festival by the first decade of 2000’s. The underlying condition of this transformation is the transformation in the material world. That’s why analysis must mostly depends on tools, clothes, instruments, vehicles, media devices etc. used in celebrations in trying to interpret their characteristics. For the last 30 years the transformation of material components of Newroz Celebrations has been easily noticed. I think to see their significance and meaning as a resistance against the state can provide us with a different angle for consider the relationships between ritual, power and resistance. While the ritual process support a kind of resistance culture against the actual political power patterns, on the other hand the same process seem as conclusion of integration with material ground of the world-system that has very different implicaitons about institutioanalisation of political power.    

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Comment by mustafa arıkan on September 28, 2013 at 7:26pm

  It is my pleasure to tell you in a bit more about changes in material components of Newroz Celebrations. Forgive me please because I could answer your question lately. First of all, I think, in ritual studies material components of a ritual is generally  treated as a secondary element  of trying to understand a ritual in it's cultural context. Because explaining the symbolic structure of a ritual has vital importance for understanding ritual in it's habitat. Indeed it is highly necessary to translate the meaning of a ritual from that culture in which it is performed to that culture whose trying to understand the ritual. That's why symbols -discrete or concrete- of a ritual must be translated to anthropologist's culture in the ritual study. I think there is a kind of forgetting about the material components of the ritual by considering the materials of ritual as secondary element for interpreting the meaning of ritual in it's cultural context. But I have doubts about this textual forgetting whether have ability to comprehend the meaning of material ground's transforming of especially context of modern times or not.

            On the other hand every ritual is an act to produce a symbol -concrete- from materials or transform the material to a symbol. That's why materials and symbols are interwoven in a ritual act and in addition to mobilize some materials for performing a ritual. What is the role of materials in performing a ritual in modern times? Is it possible and valuable to remember the importance of material components in the ritual act by forgetting some explaining that focusing a kind of decoding the meaning of ritual on the symbolic patterns of the cultures in which ritual is being performed in modern times in that commodity chains become the most powerful effect on earth in history of humankind? Or can we continue to treat that material transforming like a normal phenomenon in which we maintains our life? Do we need to refresh our memory about past of material world and it's impact on organization of rituals and organization of societies? In this line I want to try to understand Newroz Celebrations, it's transforming with relating to transforming of material world of Kurdistan of Turkey and read the contemporary celebrations by not forgetting the celebrations in last 50 years.

            Although it is generally assumed that Newroz celebrations have roots in ancient times in mesopotamia, contemporary Newroz celebrations is so recent. Despite Newroz celebrations was treated a kind of resistance ritual in some Kurdish movements until last periods of Ottoman Empire , begining of performing Newroz with meaning similar to nowadays was in 1960's and 70's. And this period is so important for understanding the socio-economic structure of Turkey. Because the process of integration with world-economy became more effective than past. Rural-urban migration and growing unequality with resistance against the state were characteristic phenomenons of this period. It is meaningful that Newroz was begun to performing a kind of resistance ritual that include like amalgam consist of consciousness of Kurdish and left movements. And a legend named as Kawa who lead revolt against a cruel king the Dehhak was became a part celebrations. And in this period celebration was banned by the state. Newroz was performing with fire, and performers was holding govend -a kind of folk dance- around the fire while singing folksongs in Kurdish. Indeed it is not possible to imagine the newroz celebrations without fire, folksongs and govend. I think govend, folksongs and especially fire were at the core of celebrations and these elements of ritual are still very important in the contemporary celebrations.

            Newroz not just a textual acclaim but a ritual performed in social context was so clear in the end of 70's. Build the great fires on streets, top of hills and open spaces was the most common activity of celebrations. Fire was at the heart of celebrations. It can be said that fire was the major symbol of that ritual easily. That's why it is so important to answer the question how fire was produced as a symbol. And this means that it is necessary to think about materials of ritual. It was very common that producing fire from ex tyres; in this context to build a newroz fire is bringing to life a symbol from ex tyres. Tyres are a part of automobile and automobiles are characteristic part of modern material world that is part of an economic system and a production style of modern world-economy. I am not sure about the relationship between tyres and celebrations but I am sure that this is not just an incidence. Newroz celebraitons can be imagined as small local celebrations in very different parts of eastern regions of Turkey (The photos tagged 90's may help to imagine the performing style of celebrations in this period). Celebrations intensfied in the poor districts of cities and especially in poor cities of region. But the core of the ritual -fire, dance and folk songs- that means a kind of resistance against the state is common in every celebration. And in this context Kurdistan Workers' Party was calling people to celebrate Newroz as uprising against the State in this period and this calling was so powerful in some parts of the region. Celebrations became rebellion repeatedly in 90's. A lot of activities that include villages and cities, streets and open spaces, theatre stages and receptions etc spread out in Marchs.  On the other hand some Kurdish parties were established despite these parties were banned in this period. And these Kurdish Parties were trying to transform rebellion celebrations to legal celebrations untill 2000's. It can be seen some traditional clothes, flags of Kurdistan Workers' Party, people holding govend around the fire, some basic ornaments in yellow-red-green symbolise Kurdistan Workers' Party, fighting between police, soldier and peole and it can be heard slogans, anthems and folk songs in Newrozs. But these materials that were so basic of ritual would changed deeply dating from last of 90's and 2000's(Photos tagged as 90's and 2000's).

            Organisation of celebrations changed deeply by the end of 90's but fire was still at the core of celebrations. Fire known as built by Kawa for calling people to uprise against cruel king. Economy politics of Turkey was changing and material world of the country integrate with world economy and international commodity chains sof ast ın the last periods of 80's and 90's. One of the major results of this process was so effective especially on technology of communication and transporting. Newroz started to celebrate by mass in this period. And it is necessary to mobilize more materials - like handbills, newspapers and periodicals, announcements by by sound systems on minibuses, ornaments-flags-placards-headgears made of carton-umbrellas with amblems or colours of Kurdish political movement, thousands of aprons for employees organising the celebration area, platform on that Kurdish politicians speaking to mass and famous singers singing songs, huge loudspeakers that carrying by winchs, huge tele screens, tons of woods for fire which is burned on huge torch, hundreds of vehicles for transporting people to celebration arena..etc - than celebrations in previous period (photos tagged as 2000's). On the other hand some small street celebrations around burning tyres was performing all over the country at the same time. Huge platform instead of fire is at core of ritual  that is being celebrated as a huge carnivals by tousands of people. This transforming of the ritual materials and mobilizing materials for performing the ritual is very relating to material world of society that include critically important implications about eceonomic structure and politics. That's why it is so worth to reflect on relationship between ritual materials, material world, power and resistance.

p.s. photo can be seen on photos of openanthropologycooperative. all photos without description for 2000's

Comment by John McCreery on September 21, 2013 at 9:30am

To focus on material components of ritual is an interesting angle, indeed. Could you tell us in a bit more detail about the changes in the material components of Newroz Celebrations on which you are focusing?

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