Turkey adopts Kurdish festival

The new Turkish government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz this week launched a bloodless takeover of Nevruz, the Kurdish spring equinox festival, an occasion the Kurds had made into a day of protest against Turkish oppression from the late 1980s.

A new jerry-built platform of Turkey's state ideology turned Nevruz into a re-discovered spring festival of all the 150 million people of the Turkic world.

One of the more bizarre results is that the spring festival is now officially encouraged in Turkey while liberal Germany has banned it because celebrations had turned into violent demonstrations by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

In Turkey, however, the PKK is banned and, despite new PKK threats against Turkish tourism and cities, it is militarily weakened after 11 years of fighting in which 18,500 people have died. The establishment is now debating what to do next.

Faint hints from Mr Yilmaz about allowing Kurdish broadcasting, education and free cultural expression have found few echoes. But the meaninglessness of the old state nationalism was underlined by the way the establishment was able to adopt the new Turkish-style Nevruz without missing a beat.

In the capital, Ankara, President Suleyman Demirel fired a pistol to start the First International Nevruz quarter- marathon. The Turkish national lottery had a special Nevruz draw. Pamphlets arguing the long "Turkish" tradition of Nevruz were posted to all and sundry.

Meanwhile, down in the Kurdish south-east, Kurds who used to use the day to defy the Turkish authorities - 100 people were killed in Nevruz clashes in 1992 - were encouraged to gather to celebrate in stadiums. Soldiers on checkpoints were ordered to greet wayfarers with the greeting "Happy Nevruz".

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