The Arizona Republic
Celebration marks first day of Persian New Year
Nowruz event focuses on women’s right movement
Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix was home to the city’s second annual Nowruz festival on Saturday afternoon as the community gathered to celebrate the first day of the Persian New Year, a long-standing multicultural holiday that symbolizes renewal, hope and new beginnings.
Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari and two refugee-focused nonprofits collaborated to organize the Nowruz festival, though this year the focus was on honoring the global movement for women’s rights and standing in solidarity with women and girls in Iran and Afghanistan.
The festival, according to Ansari, is a time to celebrate the Persian New Year and a chance to provide a space to honor and represent cultures from around the world that don’t get much representation in Arizona. This year, that goal would not have been possible without honoring the women who are fighting for their human rights and freedoms on a global scale.
“Given everything that has been going on in Iran and Afghanistan, including the protests in Iran around women’s rights and demands for freedom, and Afghanistan’s similar crisis following the Taliban taking over the country, we wanted this celebration in particular to honor those women and to stand in solidarity with them,” Ansari said.
Ansari, who represents Phoenix’s seventh district and is the first Iranian American elected to office in the state of Arizona, said it is a somber time for the Iranian and Afghan communities in the United States. Their diasporas have been focused on supporting the uprisings in their countries, she said.
“In Iran in particular, hundreds of people have been murdered, tens of
thousands have been detained and tortured,” Ansari said. “We didn’t want to host a celebration without including a really strong focus on the situation.”
Nowruz, which means new day, aligns with the spring equinox to the exact minute, marking a new year and a sense of rebirth for the 300 million people across the globe who celebrate. The non-religious holiday dates back to ancient Persia, rooted in the belief that spring was a triumph over darkness.
Saturday’s festival highlighted community resources by featuring local nonprofit organizations tailored toward the refugee community. Among them was the Arizona Persian Cultural Center, a nonprofit that helped host the Nowruz festival.
“We are proud of our culture and proud of our history and happy to be in this beautiful country to share it with anybody and everybody who is curious,” said Saman Golestan, president of the cultural center. “Everyone is welcome.”
Golestan said the Arizona Persian Cultural Center promotes the Iranian culture by fostering a sense of community through social, educational and recreational activities. Art is one large way the center celebrates Iranian culture and history, displaying the work of artists Mitra Kamali and Amir Sasan Mostafavi on Saturday.
Kamali is an engineer, artist and activist who uses her artwork to provide a window into history. Many of her pieces depict a historical figure named Mandana, a female ruler of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire and the mother of Cyrus the Great, a Persian king known for writing the first declaration of human rights.
Kamali said Mandana represents the strength and equality women strive for today, while Cyrus represents the global need for empathy and human rights.
“Humans are the member of a whole. If somebody gets hurt, we should all feel it. It’s about empathy,” Kamali said. “No matter how negative life can be, we are going to conquer it.”
Amir Sasan Mostafavi is a calligraphy artist who creates art based on Old Persian cuneiform and Farsi, the Persian alphabet. Mostafavi teaches calligraphy classes to adults at the Iranian American Society of Arizona.
The International Rescue Committee — a global humanitarian aid, relief and development agency — also helped host the Nowruz festival on Saturday, emphasizing the importance of supporting Phoenix’s female refugee community following a tumultuous year.
“So many of the families here have family members that are still back in Afghanistan, so it’s been really tough since they got here for them to know what their female family members are going through back in Afghanistan,” said Aaron Rippenkroeger, executive director of Arizona’s International Rescue Committee branch.
Rippenkroeger said the struggle is particularly hard for refugee women and their families who experience the ripple effects of the women’s rights limitations in their home countries.