Nowruz celebrations in Metro Vancouver 'solemn' amid political unrest in Iran

Visitors at the Nowruz market in North Vancouver chant and hold up their fists in solidarity with Iranian women fighting for freedom.  (Negin Pazira - image credit)
Visitors at the Nowruz market in North Vancouver chant and hold up their fists in solidarity with Iranian women fighting for freedom. (Negin Pazira - image credit)

The Persian celebration of the New Year is in full swing in B.C.

Known as Nowruz in Farsi, Navroz in the Ismaili Muslim tradition and Naw-Rúz in the Baha'i faith, it's a two-week-long holiday filled with food, community and the sharing of gifts to mark the end of the old and the beginning of the new.

But amid turmoil and ongoing unrest in Iran, this year's celebrations look a little different for some community members.

Joyous celebrations are tempered by the reality that in Iran, many women are fighting for their freedom after the arrest and death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini sparked months of anti-regime protests over human rights and security.

Yasmin Gandham/CBC
Yasmin Gandham/CBC

When guests walk through the doors of Delara, a Persian restaurant in Vancouver, they are greeted by a Haftsin, an arrangement of symbolic items often displayed at Nowruz.

On the menu, there's a new cocktail named the Mahsa Amini.

Owner Bardia Illbeigi says his restaurant serves as a gateway for customers to learn about and discuss the political unrest in Iran.

"People come in and they ask about the events and so opening up that dialogue, it helps us to talk about it but also increases the awareness globally," he said.

Yasmin Gandham/CBC
Yasmin Gandham/CBC

And while Nowruz is a time of celebration, he says those global issues are palpable.

"There is a solemn mood that exists in all Iranians. We are all thinking about the past events that started in September, so there is that layer of sadness," said Illbeigi.

Still, he said he is filled with hope that the new year will bring a better future both for his immediate community and the people of Iran. His restaurant is selling boxes of Persian cookies for Nowruz and donating the proceeds to IFA Crowd Fund, a non-profit organization that supports under-served communities in Iran.

'My heart is very heavy'

Event planner Termeh Ataollahi started hosting an annual public market for Nowruz last year at Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. The market was a celebration, featuring dancers and music.

But this year, the event carried a different mood.

"The difference is we are not that happy. ... My heart is very heavy," said Ataollahi.

Instead of featuring performers, organizers played music from the protest movement and asked vendors and visitors to stand and sing along.

"The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was crying," Ataollahi said.

Watch | Why Nowruz is being celebrated a bit differently this year

Photos of Iranian women who have died or gone missing were also displayed

Ataollahi said more than 10,000 people came to the public market this year, which was held over three days from March 10 to 12.

"Nowruz means new day and we want to start the new day, but we do not want to forget friends, family and the people in Iran who died because of this revolution," said Ataollahi.

Pushing against the regime

On Saturday, more than 100 people gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in support of those protesting in Iran.

It was the 27th time the rally was held in Vancouver since the death of Amini.

Demonstrators danced around the square, waving the Iranian flag and singing in both celebration and defiance.

"Today, it's going to be more festivity and that's what the Islamic regime doesn't like. They don't like people being happy, so we are going to dance and fight this regime as much as we can," said Abbas Mandegar, an organizer of the rally.

Negin Pazira
Negin Pazira

Despite the pain, he says the Iranian community in Vancouver will continue to celebrate Nowruz because life goes on, as does the fight.

"People are struggling for their freedom and they are not going to give up. Nothing will stop us from going forward for freedom and equality in Iran," he sad.

Rally-goer Mosatafa Saber said the protests in Iran are a perfect representation of Nowruz, which is Farsi for a new day.

"It truly feels like Nowruz, a new day, not just for us, for people in Iran, but … for the whole world. The message of this revolution doesn't stop at the border. It belongs to the whole of humanity."