An Open Letter to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
March 28, 2011

Re: Greetings from the Prime Minister, on the Occasion of Nowruz

Dear Prime Minster, Thank you very much for your message of congratulation (March 20, 2011) on the occasion of Nowruz, the first day of spring and a day that marks the New Year for thousands of Canadians-including us, the Azerbaijani-Canadians. In the spirit of strengthening our Canadian multiculturalism and celebrating the diversity of communities and traditions both within and outside Canada, we would like to humbly remind you that:

1. While in its current usage the term Nowruz is a Persian/Farsi word, the rich ritual, tradition and celebration signified by this term is in no way limited to the Persian ethnic group but include a wide variety of ethnicities, cultures and communities from the Middle East to Central Asia, Caucasia, Indian Subcontinent and the Turkic world. The historical roots of Nowruz festivities are safely traced back to the ancient Sumerians who celebrated the coming of spring as the beginning of their new year at least 2000 years prior to the arrival of Persian groups to current Iran. Thus it is historically inaccurate to situate Nowruz within “the Persian Empire;” just as it is wrong to identify it as “the Persian New Year.” The Persians are only one of at least a hundred groups and communities who celebrate Nowruz.

2. Despite various Orientalist misrepresentations, the Persians are but one ethnic group within an extremely multicultural and multiethnic Iran. In addition to the Persians, there are Azerbaijani-Turks, Kurds, Baluchies, Arabs, Turkmens, Lors and other major ethnic groups, living in Iran who, combined together, constitute the numerical majority of Iran’s population. Not surprisingly, all these ethnic groups have strong presence and vibrant diasporic communities in Canada. All these communities (and many others such as the Zoroastrians, Baha’is, Ismailis and so on) celebrate Nowruz as their New Year. Defining Nowruz exclusively as “the Persian New Year” inflicts spiritual injuries on these communities and does epistemic violence to their sense of history, culture, tradition and peoplehood.

3. In line with the spirit of our rich Canadian multiculturalism, we expect that the honourable representatives of our federal (as well as provincial) governments take into full account the multiple meanings and practices of Nowruz and avoid any act of appropriation and expropriation of this important cultural event to the advantage of any single community. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for your kind attention to this issue. We look forward to hearing from you and certainly welcome further discussion around this and similar issues.


Cultural and Linguistic Association of Iranian Azerbaijan – Canada