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Newroz/Nowruz: The Equinox of Peoples,
A Photographic Journey with Essays
A Book Project by Kutay Derin Kugay

Project Summary:

The project will be based on the widespread observance of the vernal equinox, or Newroz, honored and celebrated in more than a score of distinct areas and nations in the world. The origins of this holiday date back to the religious observances of Zoroastrians in ancient Persia; it continues to be widely celebrated today across Asia. This pre-Islamic observance maintains an undercurrent continuity among participants as widespread as the Uighur of China, the Parsis of Bombay or the Yazidis of Iraq, stretching all the way to Albania, in Europe. The rites differ, as well as the manifold pronunciations and spellings of Newroz, Norouz, Nevruz, Navroze, Nowruz etc. but the observance means something unique to the celebrants all over the world: a mark of cultural belonging and identity, a political rallying point, a joyous celebration of the new year, a time free of religious dogma in an area rife with growing fundamentalist pulls. Even if it were a single example, the recent, huge Kurdish rallies in Turkey should be enough to indicate the importance of this traditional reference point in our time.

The project will make use of skilled photographers and documentarians, both seasoned professionals and members of local communities who will use the power of the camera and the pen to look at Newrooz and its celebrants within the specific cultural communities. Essays on the various cultural groups will contribute to a wider knowledge of the holiday. The voices will range from a scholar’s review to that of the emotionally committed celebrant.

The outcome of the International Living Newroz/Norouz Book Project will be a large-format pictorial book created by writers, photographers and other contributors from about 10-20 countries and cultures. This book, the first of its kind to be comprehensive and inclusive of all the cultures that historically celebrate Nowrooz, will build reciprocal understanding to facilitate a civil society approach to maintaining and sharing the Newroz heritage in its diverse living tradition. In the same spirit as the international, comprehensive Nowruz Festival that I have produced in 2005 and in 2010, it will initiate new relationships and dialogues between populations that celebrate and honor Newroz.

It is imperative that there needs to be two phases of this project; the first is limited to two years of research, identifying the stake holders; photographers and essayists and commissioning some of them to write and document the celebrations in a number of localities and most importantly start a well produced, comprehensive website where all the collected materials will be available for the public.

The second phase will be to use and prepare and expand the information, the articles and all the visual materials for publication.

Why is this book necessary? What purpose will it serve?

Inter-communal, inter-cultural and international dialogue and recognition of each other’s cultural heritage and significance through the eyes of the ancient Nowruz celebrants is the purpose of this book project. Introducing the phenomenal convergence of Nowruz celebrations in its myriad forms to the world is another aspect of the project. Our objective is not limited to exploring the holiday's meaning as exhaustively as possible; it should also enrich the lives of those involved in the effort and the members of the reading public who engage with the book. Individual communities should benefit from a commemoration of their cultural uniqueness in articles and photos that emphasize how Nowroz is celebrated in their region or cultural enclave. In turn, the individuals who are part of these communities may gain further acceptance of themselves through the positive perception of their cultural identity.

Perhaps more importantly, people from the communities represented in this book will necessarily read about the other cultures represented within it to realize their wider cultural kinship and links to the global community. Also, the presentation of such a collection of cultural information is expected to have a certain influence in the West, or the "Global North": past experience in the West shows that objective presentation of foreign cultures without a propagandistic and colonialist slant have generally contributed to soothing aggressive xenophobic moods in the general population and could do so again, especially in times like ours in which nominally "Moslem" populations are the target of powerful and adversarial propaganda in practically every Western country.

The focus of this book is a celebration that essentially links people to the Earth in an artistic expression. Art, often a tangible expression of internal experience, offers an insight that goes far beyond words into other people's unique reality. In this way, our grand hope for the book is that it serves as a practical instrument to condition the minds favorably to mediation over possible sociopolitical tensions that may oppose or drive apart the different cultural groups involved. In the process of getting attracted by the art of another culture, people spread that fascination to their immediate environment. Such attraction may well turn into admiration and communication, most needed in our day's political climate.

Project Description:

Many different nationalities, ethnic groups and religious communities in the Near/Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, like Assyrians, Persians, Azerbaijanis, Afghans, Uighur in China, Kurds in their several nations, Uzbeks, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmens, Baha'is, Parsis, Ismailis, Tajiks, Zoroastrians, Yezidis in Turkey, Iraq or Armenia and even some Albanians currently celebrate the arrival of spring at the equinox. This occasion, mostly celebrated on March 21st, in festivities that can last up to 3 weeks as they do in Iran, marks the beginning of the national or cultural calendar year.

Historically, as Persian and Turkic peoples and several other nomadic populations moved in and out of Central Asia, they learned and adopted the celebration of Navruz from the Zoroastrians. Just as the Saxon holiday of Ostara and the Near-Eastern one of Tammuz were embraced by Christianity to become Easter / Pascha in the West, Newroz traditions, having grown strong roots in the life of Eurasian farmers and townspeople, survived the coming of Islam to the area 1,400 years ago. Today, Newroz is celebrated widely and colorfully in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the western provinces of China, as well as among the Kurds of Turkey, Syria or Iraq and the Tatars and Bashkirs of Southern Russia. In the last ten years, Central Asian republics have recognized Newroz as an official holiday. Its celebration is marked by concerts in parks and squares, trade fairs, games, food preparations and national horseracing competitions.

I started my research of the Newroz celebration and its cultural significance about 12 years ago. In 2005 I organized the collaborative, international commemoration of Newroz/Nowruz in San Francisco as part of the San Francisco World Music Festival; later I organized a celebration of Newroz/Nowruz with a festival in March 2010 in Istanbul. Both events were well attended and successful.

This contributors and stakeholders in this project are multi generational, ages from 20s to 70s; multi ethnic and multi cultural, up to 20 nationalities; collaborating and communicating within the scope of this project and because of the dialogue platform this project provides. Ordinarily Nowruz is celebrated in their own insular, segregated communities and nations away from the general public or the world’s attention.

Goals and Objectives:

The main and final goal is the production of a large-format color print book, to be published at the end of 4 years of preparation consisting in research, documentation, photojournalism, editing of commissioned essays and printing.

The objective of the first two years is the production of an international, intercultural website, that will accumulate all the current photographs taken and essays written from the Nowruz celebrations and the cultural heritage from around the world; and a subsidiary goal is a documentary film on the production of this book, the creation of international / intercommunity / intercultural civil society communications.

Stages of Activity and Timetable:

The project should begin in February of 2011 and the book be published by the end of 2014.

The first phase of activity consists in identifying resources, including the financing, the collaborations and the different actors like writers, cultural stewards, photographers, printers, publishers and those in charge of vital supportive roles; and the setting up of the basic infrastructure. In 2011 a comprehensive, interactive website dedicated to the Nowruz Book Project will be started to facilitate the interaction of these actors among themselves and with the public.

The second phase should see the start of photograph and essay collection and the coordination of the different actors' roles. During this phase, the main goal is to test and ascertain the feasibility of the sectorial plans by starting the photographic and journalistic activity at the 2011 Newroz celebrations in pilot areas; to evaluate the initial experience and the public's input for determining the extension of historical, anthropological and other basic research; to collate and evaluate the first drafts of selected chapters of text; finally to establish a clear plan for the documentary movie of the making of this book. This second phase, in short, is that of finalizing a realistic, relatively stable plan for the last phase.

The final phase will include photography and interviews of the 2012 and 2013 events at all featured sites, including travel to designated locations by agency photographers, the writing up and editing of the text chapters, and the publishing activities.

Phase I includes:

  • Identifying the countries/cultural communities to include in this project
  • Securing financial and funding sources
  • Hiring a web designer and a web master and establishing a comprehensive website for the project that will be the central convergence for all the photographs and articles in the first two years of the project
  • Selecting photographers; developing criteria for the scope of their work
  • Directions for photographers: a) the date, time and exact place, b) how it relates to Nowruz, c) who and what was in the photo and what happed to the subject(s), d) detail description of the setting and place of the photograph, e) any additional information about the photograph
  • Clearing copyright for photography and contracting with photographers
  • Selecting writers and securing their commitment
  • Questions and directions for the writers; what does Nowruz mean for your culture and community, how is Nowruz celebrated in the past and currently, what are the colors and sounds of Nowruz, what is the significance of Nowruz for the people in your culture, anecdotes of Nowruz, interviews with cultural stewards
  • Writing up by local authors; first round of editing by regional (geographical or cultural) unit editors
  • Identifying the printing houses and publishers
  • Taking the samples of photographs and essays from the website to the potential publishers
  • Regional team meetings

Phase II includes the following activities:

  • Continue taking the samples of photographs and essays to the potential publishers until a publisher is found and committed to publish the book
  • Determining the number and content of chapters
  • Determining the languages for publication
  • Meetings (physical and/or virtual) of the main participants (photographers, writers, researchers, webmasters)
  • Regional team meetings
  • Local photographers and interviewers: preparatory interviews; preliminary photography at Nowruz 2011 (all possible sites); interviews and photography at Nowruz 2012 and 2013 (adding 2014 as necessary)
  • Continue writing up by local authors; first round of editing by regional (geographical or cultural) unit editors
  • Publishing preparation: graphics and text
  • Web site and maintenance
  • Management of public input and interaction with the authors
  • Documentary filming

Activities:

Below is only a summary description of some types of activity essential to the project:

Research: As a rule, enough research to satisfy stringent scholarly requirements for contributing to an account of the history and the principal synchronic variations in celebration and beliefs should be obtained if not readily available. This will take place in the first year in addition to all the documentation to put Nowruz in perspective. In addition to local researchers, dedicated personnel in a university center may become necessary for a limited time.

Travel: Consists mainly of travel to localities in February each year before the start of the Newroz celebrations in March, to set up equipment, get permits where necessary and generally assure logistical assistance, ensure in advance the best sites for photography and on-the-spot interviews. Travel during or outside the celebration dates may also be necessary for the purposes of assisting the local personnel with basic field research, writing or interviewing.

Writing: This activity is by necessity closely bound to both research and to presence at the celebrations, as it will encompass the following aspects whenever possible: local history of Newroz, variations in celebration, belief and political struggle, today's observance and its significance to its cultural actors, descriptions and direct interviews. Area editors in charge of a group of manifestations may have to travel to the different locales to oversee and understand the social milieu where the articles originate and photographs taken.

Photography: As already suggested, the main burden of visually documenting the celebrations will be on local and international photographers who are familiar with the places, beliefs and values. It seems certain already that additional professional photography in selected venues by agency-grade artists with a track record will be necessary to increase the book's appeal.

Co-ordination: The central role of connectivity among all stakeholders will the project website. All the research and requests for research, date calendars and similar shared resources will be shared on the internet with the entire group in order to allow fast and effective action. Starting in the 2nd quarter of 2011, the geographical / cultural area editors will start receiving the articles from the local writers about their own cultural practices, history, etc. pertaining to Nowruz. Some of these articles may need to be translated from the original language. The writings will be classified and entered into a database, for later review by the general editor.

All of the photographs will be collected, sorted and analyzed by both Kutay Derin Kugay and the general editor. Cooperation and communication between the editors and K. D. Kugay will be immediate and responsive, with regular phone or teleconferences and physical meetings as necessary.

GOLA Culture, Arts and Ecology NGO:

This project will be fiscally controlled by the staff of Gola, Culture, Arts and Ecology NGO, which has been producing the pioneering, alternative Green Yayla Culture, Arts and Ecology Festival for the past 5 Years under very challenging conditions in North Eastern Turkey; and several important events in Istanbul.

Under the able leadership of S. Refika Kadıoğlu, Gola NGO, located in Istanbul, has organized multilingual, multicultural and cross-ethnicity events at the Green Yayla Festival every summer on the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

As a non profit civil society organization with the track record summarized above, Gola is uniquely placed and qualified to manage the International Newroz/Nowruz Book Project, with its extensive experience in honoring the diverse cultures of the region and mediating among diverse nationalities and ethnicities.

I am particularly excited at the idea of working again with the dedicated, talented staff and enthusiastic volunteers of the Gola NGO in producing this unique work of international photography and writing to document the living international tradition of the Spring Equinox in a collectively produced Newroz Book, the first of its kind.

Project Personnel Staff:
Kutay Derin Kugay, Project Director
S. Refika Kadıoğlu, President, Gola NGO
Bengi Ertem, Project Coordinator

Consultants:
Theodore Levin (Central Asian Ethnomusicalogist, writer, US)
Yasmen Mehta (Indian Parsi cultural activist, living in US)
Jenya Amiryan (Kurdish Ezidi living in Armenia)
Mario Veris Beer ((language specialist from Turkey, living in US, MD)
Siyar Ozsoy (Kurdish scholar living in US)
Rafique Keshavjee (Indian Ismaili cultural scholar living in Kenya)

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