As the rest of the world rings in the Gregorian New Year, I watch with jealousy and anticipation. January 1st has never held much meaning for me, and this year, less than ever. My new year is over two months and half-a-world away, and I’ve never been so impatient for it.
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, falls on the first day of spring and is celebrated with gold coins, hyacinths and jasmine blossoms. And this year, fingers crossed, with a free and democratic Iran.
Since the fraudulent June elections after which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed a landslide victory, countless Iranians have joined together to protest the stolen election and an increasingly oppressive and militant regime. For over six months, demonstrators have taken to the streets on important national and religious holidays in an effort to remind the Iranian government and the world that they have not been broken by the mass arrests, show trials, torture, rapes and killings.
The most recent killings of mourners and pro-democracy demonstrators on Ashura—the sacred Shi’a holiday marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein—have set off a chain reaction that the regime will likely find itself powerless to stop. These Ashura murders have incited ever more public disdain and resentment for the regime, and the killings have only underscored the fact that this allegedly Islamic Republic has even less respect for Islam than for its own people.
By murdering protesters on Ashura, and creating at least eight new martyrs for the opposition, the regime has succeeded in giving an increasingly aggressive and intrepid pro-democracy “green” movement even more motivation to fight back. And it’s not hard to predict when they will be staging the greatest battles in this fight.
Over the next six weeks, the Greens will be planning for demonstrations in early February, on the anniversary of victory of the Islamic Revolution, which conveniently falls only several days before the anniversary of the martyrdom of the important Shi’a saint, Imam Reza. Having learned from the protests over the past six months and having a good amount of time to prepare, the demonstrations in February promise to be just as telling and momentous as those on Ashura.
And then comes March.
Iranians are suckers for symbolism, and while Ashura is the holiest of Shi’a holidays, the Persian New Year, Nowruz, is the most sacred of Iranian holidays. Literally translated, Nowruz means “new day.” Witnessing the relentless determination of the Iranian people since June, it’s easy to imagine this Nowruzushering in a new day in Iranian history.
The roots of Nowruz are purely Persian, widely believed to have been the brainchild of Zoroaster himself, thousands of years before the advent of Islam. It is an indelible remnant of ancient Persian civilization that even the self-proclaimed Islamic Republic has refused to replace with the Islamic New Year.
Schools and stores close, families go on holiday, gifts are exchanged, greeting cards fill mailboxes, and the party scene kicks into high gear. It’s the Iranian equivalent of Christmas, Easter and the fourth of July all wrapped up in one. No better day for a miracle. No better day for change.
So, on these cold winder days, as others wish me a happy new year, I am disoriented. My mind is thousands of miles away, and I worry about what will happen between the first day of 2010 and the first day of 1389. I make my new year’s wish a season too soon: To ring in this year from the peak of Mount Damavand—Iran’s highest point and a potentially active volcano—more afraid of a possible volcanic eruption at the top than of any more violent political ones at the bottom.