Newroz has long been a symbol of resistance for the Kurdish people, and is celebrated by millions of Kurds on 21 March every year at the arrival of spring.
21 March has also been a day of struggle for the Kurdish people as many protestors have sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom.
“If the freedom was achieved easily, Zekiye would not have set her body on fire”, goes a Kurdish saying referring to Zekiye Alkan, who self-immolated on 21 March 1990.
Born in 1970, Alkan was studying medicine at Dicle University in Diyarbakır (Amed) when she first met the Kurdish freedom struggle.
At the time, 13 Kurdish female fighters had recently lost their lives in the Nusaybin (Nisebin) district of Turkey’s southeastern province of Mardin (Mêrdin).
Alkan was much affected by their deaths. At the same time she was reading stories about Mazlum Doğan, who set fire to himself with three matches to “celebrate” Newroz in Diyarbakır Prison, which is still known as one of the most notorious prisons in history.
On 21 March 1989, Alkan was sitting with her friends, when all of a sudden she stood up and burned all the money she had in her pockets.
“What are you doing?” her friends asked.
“Newroz is best celebrated with fire”, she replied.
On 21 March 1990, Alkan climbed the historical walls of Diyarbakır Fortress and set herself on fire.
“The actions of Zekiye Alkan, who set her body on fire during Newroz with the rising flames of freedom, is a symbol demonstrating that the struggle for freedom is not easy”, said Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader.
The fires in the Newroz celebrations, therefore, make reference to the resistance who sacrificed their lives during Newroz.
In all Newroz celebrations, Kurdish people commemorate the women and men just like Zekiye Alkan and Mazlum Doğan who sacrificed their lives for freedom.