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Accepted Paper:

Understanding continuities and discontinuities in the celebration of New Year Festivals from Ancient Mesopotamia to today’s Middle East through a multidisciplinary and theoretical approach  
Caroline Wallis (University of Helsinki) Celine Debourse (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper, co-presented by an Assyriologist and a Social Anthropologist, proposes a theoretical model that tries to makes sense of both continuity and discontinuities in the celebration of New Year Festivals in the Middle East over three Millenia.

Paper long abstract:

We will first formulate our theoretical model. The longue durée of New Year festivals rests on their very specific place in the astronomical and socio-economic fields. We suggest that religious and political practices are superimposed upon this base, but that they always remain permeable to the flux of time.

We will explore Mesopotamian New Year festivals in the First Millennium BCE and see how, despite long-lasting paradigms of a unified celebration through time and space, a close reading of cuneiform sources reveal important discontinuities. We will contextualize them by pointing out the changes of configuration between the religious and political elites that accompany the shift from one Empire to the next, with special attention to the effect of the political control shifting outside the Mesopotamian heartland with the takeover of the area by the Achaemenid and Seleucid rulers.

We will then fast forward to modern Turkey, where successive generations of Kurdish nationalists managed to turn the New Year festival into a wide-scale political ritual, Newroz, that brings together millions of people who describe the event as a symbol of Kurdish culture and resistance to the oppression of the Turkish state. We will see how this led the Turkish political elite to engineer a “Nevruz” festival and then successfully use it to serve specific geopolitical goals in Central Asia.

We will conclude by coming home, to Helsinki, and looking at how the current sanitary crisis impacts the New Year festivities organized by Kurdish communities.

Panel Perf03a
Old rituals, changing environments, new rules I [SIEF Working Group on The Ritual Year]
  Session 1 Tuesday 22 June, 2021, -