Kurds rally for Newroz celebrations in Istanbul ahead of March 31 vote

Thousands of Kurds in Istanbul rally on Sunday for the popular Kurdish spring festival of Newroz ahead of March 31 local elections, Turkish news site Gazete Karınca reported

Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) is holding rallies from Istanbul to predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakır a week before the nation-wide local elections while several top party politicians and members are behind bars in the country. The party's co-chair Pervin Buldan will speak in the celebrations in Istanbul's Bakırköy district which is most likely to be an election speech. 

The party has nominated candidates for the March 31 vote in the southeast where the ethnic Kurds are in majority but is sitting out critical races in Turkey's major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara. The pro-Kurdish party aims to send HDP votes to the main opposition party to help challenge Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party and its nationalist ally. Millions of ethnic Kurds will vote in the upcoming election.

Turkish authorities permitted the celebrations in the southeast but a massive amount of police officers were called on duty to follow the rallies. The annual Kurdish celebrations are a highly contentious issue in Turkey, which is home to some 15 million Kurds. 

Ankara sees the festivities as a manifestation of separatist nationalism and maintains heavy control over them often banning events in large cities as in Istanbul and Ankara.

The festival has an important place in terms of Kurdish identity for the majority of Kurds, mostly in Iraq, Turkey and Syria. With the long-disputed Kurdish question in Turkey,  the revival of the Newroz celebration has become more intense and politicised. Turkey has been fighting an over-three-decade war against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which it designates as a terrorist organisation.

Earlier this week, Turkish police detained a delegation of activists from Norway and a group of French politicians after they as they entered Turkey en route to attend celebrations in Diyarbakır.  

Newroz is rooted in Iranian and Zoroastrian cultures and is celebrated by Kurds and Iranians, in addition to nations in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

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