Friday, March 21, 2014

For Many in Iran, Newroz Means More Worries

Kurds in Bokan celebrate Newroz in 2013. Photo: ziryan.com
Kurds in Bokan celebrate Newroz in 2013. Photo: ziryan.com
Toronto, Canada – For many Kurdish families in Iran, where economic growth is stuck in a ditch and inflation is running wild at 40 percent, Newroz is not a welcome celebration: It is a time to worry about how to afford the added expenses of the New Year holidays.
“Over Newroz, I have to tie a scarf around my forehead, turn the lights off and pretend I am sick, so my son won’t know we cannot afford guests over, let alone go on a trip,” says 45-year-old Soraya, who has a 15-year-old son and works as an elementary school teacher.
Her husband, a full-time employee of the Kurdistan School Board, tells Rudaw that sometimes his wife walks home from work because she cannot afford a bus ticket. 
Newroz celebrations in Iran include buying fruits, pastries and dried nuts and entertaining guests. New clothes are also traditional, as is changing the furniture, for those who can afford it.
For the masses who cannot afford such luxuries -- in a country that is oil-rich, run by a clerical Islamic regime and whose economy is crumbling – Newroz is a dread, especially in the Kurdish regions, which remain among Iran’s poorest and most neglected.
Families, which until a few years ago were middle-class, have been pushed under the poverty line. These are mostly farmers, teachers and clerks whose salaries have eroded as inflation has galloped ahead.
Every year prices soar over Newroz, not only for goods and utilities, but also for gasoline and other fuels.
Iranians, particularly Kurds, have not seen any sign of the economic improvement promised by President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August. Nevertheless, authorities continue to send hopeful messages to the public. 
Ali Taibnia, Iran’s economy minister, proudly announced that fiscal growth is zero, in the year  1392 on the Iranian calendar. He hopes for better next year, but many Iranians are worried this will not happen.
M. Heidari, a 50-year-old from Mariwan, tells Rudaw that many Kurds struggle to make ends meet. She  believes that “Rouhani is under a lot of national and international pressure and can only do so much with so little support.”
R. Naghshbandi, 35, from Sanandaj, says that, “Not only do prices suddenly soar near Newroz, the store keepers become very rude and at times aggressive, as they see people have to shop anyways.”
Shaho S., from Saghez and a 25-year-old graduate student at Kurdistan University, says sarcastically that inflation has been good for him: “When I asked for a loan to start my business I was truly frightened that I may not be able to pay my monthly installments. Over the last two years, inflation has been so high that my monthly payments no longer look scary.”  
Last Newroz, the now former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered a one-time payment of roughly $25 in the bank accounts of many Iranians. This year, Rouhani tried to give away food baskets, whose implementation created a fiasco and led to his public apology.
“We thought things would get better,” says Ako H. from Bokan. “We are losing hope in the future and I don’t know what a young person without hope can or should do.

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