Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, and Akito, the Easter festivities for Christians in Syria, had a new reveler this year: David Brownstein, the US Deputy Special Envoy to Syria. Brownstein celebrated both Newroz and Akito with officials from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), and the local population in Hasakah, Syria.
The Kurdish New Year was celebrated on March 21 in Kurdish communities throughout the world, in annual festivals and events to welcome spring. Annual events involve wearing brightly colored clothing, ceremonial dances, and jumping over fires as an act of purification. Akito festivities were held from March 21, 2021 through April 1, 2021, and featured colorful dress, music, and dances.
Akito is Easter as celebrated by Syriac and Assyrian Christians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, and Acad. Akito is the oldest festival in recorded history and is believed to date back to the 6th millennium BC. Ritual theater references the story of Gilgamesh. Akito coincides with spring and the harvesting of barley, and festivities include music, dance, theater, ritual cleansing and displaying flowers, processions, and feasts.
Elezabeth Gawrie, the Deputy Chair of the AANES, a Syriac Christian woman, was present for the commemoration of Akito. Brownstein participated in a procession with Gawrie.
The head of Syriac Cultural Association in Qamishlo, Hanna Hanna in Qamishlo, discussed the association’s efforts to restore cultural and religious expressions of Akito after ten years of the Syrian crisis, and a long history of religious persecution against Christians in the region. Under the AANES, Christians and all other persons are free to practice their faith as they choose.
“Our area is multicultural, and the beautiful thing about it is the coexistence we share in our area,” said Hanna, “which is their policy of achieving our rights and freedom without any marginalization of anyone.
Brownstein attended Newroz festivities with top SDC, SDF, and AANES officials in Hasakah, Syria. He offered a brief speech at the festivities alongside Ilham Ahmed, President of the Executive Council of the Syrian Democratic Council, who was in traditional Kurdish ceremonial dress for the occasion.
“We will all continue to work together to find peaceful solutions to the problems we’re working on, and to continue to fight Daesh, so that all the children that we see here today can live a better and brighter future,” said Brownstein at the event.
Ilham Ahmed offered words of encouragement at the event for those who fight for freedom.
“We congratulate Newroz this year, and we hope that a political solution will be achieved and democracy will be achieved in Newroz next year. This is what we seek continuously through the sacrifices we have made together in the squares in the face of terrorism and tyranny,” she said. “We are still fighting for freedom, and we hope for security and stability.”
Brownstein later participated in a ceremony to light the Newroz fire with General Mazloum Abdi Kobani of the Syrian Democratic Forces.