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Iranians mark the start of spring with Nowruz celebrations

PIEN HUANG, HOST:

Every year, Iranians around the world celebrate Nowruz. The Persian New Year is a two-week festival that marks the start of spring.

FATEMEH KESHAVARZ: Nowruz is the new day, so things renew themselves, and you should renew yourself as well. As a kid, I always felt that the sun was brighter and a bit more orange on Nowruz Day.

HUANG: That's Fatemeh Keshavarz. She says it's a day to make peace with friends and family. This year, the holiday comes six months into massive protests in Iran. Soraya Batmanghelichi says Nowruz this year is a way for people to channel their frustrations.

SORAYA BATMANGHELICHI: I was asking around how people celebrated Chaharshanbe Suri, which is the last Wednesday before Nowruz. And in Tehran, those who went to the parks and put on music and danced, it's like if the government says not to do it, they fight back even more by dancing. But it's not a dancing of happiness. It's a dancing of, I'm going to stick it to you. It's like a, I'm told to not show my hair, to wear hijab in a particular way. OK, I'm just going to wear my hair down. But it's really not just about hijab. It's about how to survive the moment and do it in a way where one can control his or her fate.

HUANG: According to Reza Goharzad, the holiday has long been associated with defiance.

REZA GOHARZAD: Celebration of the Nowruz during the history has been practice of the resistance and solidarity. When any kind of foreigners attacked Iran, Nowruz was the only one thing that people around the Nowruz gathered, and they say no to the government.

HUANG: Fatemeh, who we heard from earlier, hopes the new year turns a new leaf.

KESHAVARZ: My new year wish is to see Iran to be a full member of the world community and to be able to feel the same normal happinesses (ph) of life that everybody has everywhere.

HUANG: And Soraya's hopes...

BATMANGHELICHI: I'm the daughter of someone who believed, 44 years ago, that in his lifetime, he could go back to Iran. He's now 75 years old. I ask and I hope that my child will be able to do what he wanted to do, that it will be possible for her to know an Iran in which she can live in peace.

HUANG: Reza also hopes for changes in the situation that women face in Iran.

GOHARZAD: They are under the big pressure of the government. Forty-four years - don't do this, don't do that. Woman, life, freedom - (non-English language spoken). They want to be free out of this government. And this is the Iranian new revolution. Hopefully, we will win.

HUANG: And in the spirit of a holiday marked by food and poetry, Fatemeh shares a passage by the 13th century poet Rumi.

KESHAVARZ: (Speaking Farsi). Did you hear December, the crazy winter thief is in hiding? And the spring's prosecutors are seeking justice for everyone in grief. The spring blossoms. The spring's blossoming beauties, and the country are given free rein. They will be everywhere, making life vibrant and green again.

HUANG: That was Soraya Batmanghelichi associate professor for the study of modern Iran at the University of Oslo in Norway, Reza Goharzad, host of "Politics Today" on KIRN Radio and Fatemeh Keshavarz, director of the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pien Huang
Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.
Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.