In the midst of light snow flurries, students came together Monday night to celebrate the Kurdish new year, Nowruz, which coincides with the spring equinox and symbolizes rebirth, rejoicing and the blooming of flowers.
The event, hosted by junior JuJu Abobakr, took place in the Back Alley and featured traditional Kurdish clothing, jewelry, paintings, maps, music, food and henna tattoos.
Abobakr was born in the Kurdish region of Iraq and fled to Turkey when she was nine years old. There her family applied to the United Nations as refugees. They resided in Turkey for four years until they relocated to Sioux Falls.
“What gave me the idea originally to organize this event was a paper I wrote in Dondelinger’s class,” said Akobakr. “I remember calling my mom saying ‘Mom, I’m researching all these things about the Kurds but all the credit is given to Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq. What is really ours?’”
Abobakr’s mother went on to explain the concept of cultural genocide which inspired the main theme of her paper. Her conclusion posed the question of what can be done to prevent the ethnic cleansing of the Kurds.
“My solution to the problem was to educate people. If we don’t teach people, then we’re just going to fade into history,” said Abobakr.
This led Abobakr to put together Augustana’s celebration of Nowruz. She asked a fellow Kurd, Qadir Aware, to help fund the event.
Aware, a Sioux Falls Kurdish community leader, was a freedom fighter for the Kurdistan Democratic Party that fought against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. He came to Sioux Falls in 1977 with his wife and daughter.
At the event, Aware gave a presentation of the history of the Kurds and the struggles they have faced as a stateless nation.
“Don’t take anything for granted; respect what you have,” Aware said. “There are a lot of other people struggling, and you should understand who they are and where they come from.”
The presentations, by both Abobakr and Aware, were followed by traditional Kurdish dancing led by Aware’s wife.
Students danced together in a circle, their hands intertwined.
Junior Abby Giambattista thought the event fulfilled its purpose.
“I want to have more widespread international knowledge, and I thought the event was phenomenal,” Giambattista said. “It was so much fun to watch and learn, and it was a privilege to hear people from the actual culture.”
Before the event ended, Abobakr shared a final thank you to everyone: “The fact that you would go out there and educate yourself means the world to any Kurd.”