celebrations held yesterday around the country during which people peacefully celebrated the beginning of the new year and the arrival of spring.
The government project, aimed at improving democratic standards, respect for human rights and differences in the country, brought about an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust not only among the people but also between the state's security forces and the people. Considered the beginning of the new year by many cultures, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia, Nevruz was peacefully celebrated at mass gatherings across Turkey. In festivities that took place from İstanbul to Mardin yesterday, no major incident was seen apart from several groups shouting slogans in support of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
Gül lights Nevruz bonfire
President Abdullah Gül lit a Nevruz bonfire at Altınpark in Ankara on Sunday while also celebrating International Forestry Day. Conveying messages on global climate change, President Gül said forest fires mean the "loss of the nation's territories." Stressing that environmental issues and climate change are the most important problems facing the world today, Gül underlined that it is necessary to preserve nature for future generations in the best way possible. Gül also stated that the optimal way to protect nature is to plant a tree. "This has something to do with culture and perception," the president said. Speaking during the ceremony, Osman Kahveci, the head of the Forestry General Directorate, said half of the world's forests disappeared in the past century, adding that nearly 13 billion acres of forestland are destroyed each year due to forest fires. Stating that 27 percent of Turkey is covered by forests, Kahveci said 49 percent of these forests have been partly destroyed. Emrullah Bayrak Ankara
Statements of support for a lasting peace marked Sunday's celebrations. "From this massive gathering and enthusiasm of the 21st century, I have a single call for the Kurdish people's conscience. It is now forbidden for Kurds and Turks to shoot at each other," said Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) while addressing almost 200,000 people who came to celebrate the beginning of the new year and the arrival of spring in the city.
"It is now time for us to extend an olive branch to each other. It is now time not for a bullet but for an olive branch to bridge guerilla and soldier. It is now time not for an operation but an olive branch to connect soldiers and guerillas. The time has come for Turkish and Kurdish mothers to embrace one another. It is a sin to lose more time. I believe this enthusiasm will bring peace and freedom to both Turks and Kurds," he said.
İstanbul was host to the second-largest celebration in the country, where more than 50,000 people welcomed Nevruz. Gathered at Kazlıçeşme Square in Zeytinburnu, people sang songs, danced folk dances and jumped over bonfires. In what has become a familiar scene from Nevruz celebrations each year, some groups carried posters of Öcalan and shouted slogans in support of him and the violent PKK terrorist organization. Most people came to the square with flags and banners of the BDP.
"Unfortunately, Nevruz was turned into a day of danger and enmity, and unwise past administrations tried to prevent the people from celebrating it. Unjust tension and unfortunate events took place. But now people have started to notice that Nevruz is no longer a matter of political demonstration," Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay told the Anatolia news agency on Sunday, highlighting the change in the way the festival has been celebrated over the years. Günay also noted that the state used to be afraid of languages other than Turkish and saw them as a threat but said there is now a 24-hour state channel broadcasting in Kurdish.
Residents of Diyarbakır (L), Mersin (top) and İzmir celebrated Nevruz with joy. Nevruz, also known as the first day of spring, is being celebrated throughout the Turkic world and the Middle East with festivals in main squares and city streets.
Colorful celebrations marked the day in other southeastern provinces as well. In Mardin and Siirt, the governors shared the people's enthusiasm by personally joining folk dances and jumping over bonfires, one of the most important rituals of the festival. Mardin Governor Hasan Duruer was accompanied by the city's chief of police, Serdar Meriç, and garrison commander, Brig. Gen. Selim Mert, in jumping over the fire.
Tunceli was yet another province where people came together with state officials. Governor Mustafa Taşkesen argued that Nevruz was an opportunity to consolidate peace in Turkey. "This is one of our special days, when joy peaks and friendship, unity and togetherness are reinforced. Nevruz is a means of consolidation of societal peace and brotherhood through historical, cultural and social bonds which make us who we are," Taşkesen stressed.
In Aydın, an official ceremony was held at Adnan Menderes University at which Deputy Governor Halis Peker was present. He said Nevruz is "Turkey's traditional day of joy" and added that it is the best example for the joining of man and nature.
"Let's see our future bright and leave darkness far behind us. Let's perpetuate this fire of friendship in unity and togetherness. Indeed, these kinds of festivals lead us in that direction," said Sivas Governor Ali Kolat following celebrations he attended with locals.