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Novruz, quarantined

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For the first time in Azerbaijan's history perhaps the most important and beloved holiday in the country was marked amid a quarantine.

Translated from Persian, the word Novruz means "new day". It coincides with the day of the vernal equinox, which falls on 20-21 March each year. Novruz is a holiday that signals the arrival of spring according to the astronomical solar calendar of Iranian, Kurdish and Turkic peoples. Although Novruz is mainly marked in Muslim countries, it has nothing to do with Islam and is considered a religious holiday derived from Zoroastrianism.

At the state level, Novruz is marked in the Central Asian countries, Azerbaijan, Albania, and Macedonia.

In 2009, Novruz was included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Ever since, 21 March was declared International Day of Nowruz.

Novruz has been marked in Azerbaijan for five to six millennia now. A ban on celebrations, which was lifted in 1988, existed in Soviet times.. Since the day Azerbaijan gained independence, the official Novruz holiday season has been five days long. This year, the holiday season includes the period between 20 March and 28 March. However, Azerbaijanis spent these eight days at home due to the quarantine because of the coronavirus.

How is Novruz normally marked?

Preparations for Novruz begin a month in advance. Tuesdays are celebrated in the run-up to the holiday. The first Tuesday of Novruz – "Su Chershenbesi" (Water Tuesday) – falls on the last Tuesday of February. It is followed by "Od Chershenbesi" (Fire Tuesday) and "Yel Chershenbesi" (Wind Tuesday).

According to old beliefs, on "Water Tuesday" rivers are freed from their icy cover, on "Fire Tuesday" bonfires need to be made to warm the earth. On "Wind Tuesday" the breath of spring renews our spirit and, finally, on the last Tuesday the earth awakens from winter. It is believed that on the last Tuesday, soil is ready to be cultivated and sowing can begin. The last pre-Novruz chershenbe is marked on the last pre-holiday Tuesday. This year it fell on 17 March.

Since the holiday originates from fire worship, fire is one of the main symbols of Novruz. On all pre-Novruz Tuesdays and on the actual holiday evening, it is customary to make bonfires as dusk sets in and jump over them while uttering the words, "let all my hardships burn in the fire."

On 20 March, the Baku Boulevard and Fountains Square in the center of the capital city host grand-scale public festivities, a festive fair, and concerts.

How was it marked this year?

On 10 March Azerbaijanis learned that there would be no traditional boisterous celebrations or festivities in the country. It was on that day that the government announced that all traditional Novruz festivities were cancelled.

Preventive measures taken in Azerbaijan as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic made traditional Novruz festivities impossible.

True, Baku's central streets were traditionally decorated for the holiday, but they were empty. There were not too many people at the capital city's marketplaces, which are normally crowded and packed with customers during Novruz.

From 19 to 29 March, public transportation services between towns and regions of the country are stopped. Therefore, many people have had to give up on plans to travel to the districts to celebrate the Novruz holiday with relatives.

There was no one at cafes and restaurants, which closed at 2100 on 20 March in line with quarantine regulations. But there were not too many customers in them even before that either.

Things were slightly different on Novruz on the outskirts of the Azerbaijani capital. In some parts of Baku's dormitory areas people still made traditional bonfires. Someone even ventured out together with their children.

Yet another one of numerous Novruz traditions is the following: On the holiday evening, children knock on neighbors’ doors, put hats at their doorsteps and hide. The owners of those houses are supposed to return the hats with Novruz sweets in them and, sometimes, money. This time round, children wore medical masks when putting hats at doorsteps. An Azerbaijani Facebook user even joked that they had stockpiled on masks, alcohol and sanitizers especially for this Novruz. The user planned to put those items, not traditional sweets, in kids' hats, and advised others to follow suit.

Although the virus has driven Novruz from the streets into homes, Azerbaijanis are trying to mark their holiday the best way they can. This time, they are doing it quietly, surrounded by their families.

"The virus is out there, there is nothing you can do about it. But you cannot forget about Novruz either. After all, it is such a big part of our culture. You need to mark it, but take all precautions," a man who lives in one of Baku's dormitory areas tells us by a Novruz bonfire.

/With the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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Turkey may suspend ties with UAE over Israel deal, Erdogan says

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Turkey is considering suspending diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and withdrawing its ambassador over the Gulf state’s accord to normalize ties with Israel, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.The Turkish foreign ministry said history would never forgive the UAE’s “hypocritical behavior” in agreeing such a deal, which recasts the order of Middle East politics.Under the U.S.-brokered deal – the first between Israel and a Gulf Arab state – the Jewish state agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank which Palestinian leaders have denounced as a “stab in the back” to their cause.”The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.”Now, Palestine is either closing or withdrawing its embassy. The same thing is valid for us now,” he said, stating that he’d given orders to his foreign minister.”I told him we may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” he added. Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics The Turkish Foreign Ministry had earlier said Palestinians were right to reject the deal in which the UAE betrayed their cause.”History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behavior,” it said. “It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the (2002) Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.”Turkey has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, but relations have been strained for years.In 2010 Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.The deal makes the UAE the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
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After Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Erdogan turns another former church into mosque

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ordered another ancient Orthodox church that became a mosque and then a popular Istanbul museum to be turned back into a place of Muslim worship.

The decision to transform the Kariye Museum into a mosque came just a month after a similarly controversial conversion for the UNESCO World Heritage-recognised Hagia Sophia.Both changes reflect Erdogan’s efforts to galvanise his more conservative and nationalist supporters at a time when Turkey is suffering a new spell of inflation and economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.But the moves have added to Turkey’s problems with prelates in both the Orthodox and Catholic worlds.The Greek foreign ministry called the decision “yet another provocation against religious persons everywhere” by the Turkish government.’Steeped in history’               The 1,000-year-old Kariye building’s history closely mirrors that of the Hagia Sophia — its bigger and more famous neighbour on the western bank of the Golden Horn estuary on the European side of Istanbul.The Holy Saviour in Chora was a Byzantine church decorated with 14th-century frescoes of the Last Judgement that remain treasured in Christendom.It was originally converted into the Kariye Mosque half a century after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.It became the Kariye Museum after World War II as Turkey pushed ahead with the creation of a more secular new republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.A group of American art historians then helped restore the original church’s mosaics and opened them up for public display in 1958.But Erdogan is placing an ever greater political emphasis on the battles that resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans.Turkey’s top administrative court approved the museum’s conversion into a mosque in November.”It’s a place steeped in history which holds a lot of symbolism for a lot of different people,” said 48-year-old French tourist Frederic Sicard outside the building.”For me, (these conversions) are a little difficult to understand and to follow. But we would visit if it were a mosque. We might just have to arrange visits around prayer times.”‘Shame for our country’The sand-coloured structure visible today replaced a building created as a part of a monastery when Constantinople became the new capital of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.It features a minaret in one corner and small cascading domes similar to those of other grand mosques whose calls to prayer echo across the hills of Istanbul.But inside it is filled with magnificent frescoes and mosaics that represent some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in the Christian world.Turkey’s tumultuous efforts to reconcile these two histories form the underpinnings of the country’s contemporary politics and social life.Opposition HDP party lawmaker Garo Paylan called the transformation “a shame for our country”.”One of the symbols of our country’s deep, multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed,” he tweeted.Ottoman Empire historian Zeynep Turkyilmaz called the conversion “destruction” because the building’s walls are lined with Christian art that would have to be either covered up or plastered over — as it was by the Ottomans.”It is impossible to hide the frescoes and mosaics because they decorate the entire building,” the historian told AFP.Yet some locals fully supported the change.”There are dozens, hundreds of churches, synagogues in Istanbul and only a few of them have been opened to prayer as mosques,” said Yucel Sahin as he strolled by the building after the morning rain.”There is a lot of tolerance in our culture.”(AFP)

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Turkey’s Erdogan announces historic natural gas discovery in Black Sea

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A handout photo made available by the Turkish President Press Office shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes part of a video conference with Turkish drilling vessel Fatih during a press conference as he announces the biggest natural gas discovery in history in Istanbul, Turkey, 21 August 2020. ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey had made a historic discovery of gas in the Black Sea, but would still speed up contentious exploration in the Mediterranean that has pitted it against Greece and the EU.Turkey hopes the discovery can help wean it off imported energy, including from Russia, which comes at a high cost at a time when the local currency is weakening and the economy is more fragile because of the coronavirus.Erdogan said the 320-billion-cubic-metre deep sea find was made at a site Turkish vessel Fatih began exploring last month.He added that he hoped to see the first gas reach Turkish consumers in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern republic.”Turkey made the biggest discovery of natural gas in its history in the Black Sea,” a delighted Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace.”My Lord has opened the door to unprecedented wealth for us,” he enthused.The Fatih, Turkey’s first drilling vessel, is named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Constantinople — current-day Istanbul — in 1453.The vessel made the discovery in the Tuna-1 field off the coast of Eregli town in the northern province of Zonguldak after beginning the search on July 20, Erdogan said.’Reasons to be cautious’The Turkish lira gained value against the dollar on Erdogan’s promise on Wednesday to report “good news” on Friday, but fell after the size of the find was less than half of that suggested in initial reports.Analysts were also wary of overplaying the discovery’s significance, pointing out that deep sea drilling is expensive and takes time.”There are reasons to be cautious,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.”For one thing, it will take time for the necessary infrastructure to be put in place before the gas can be extracted,” he said in a research note.Tuvey added “the boost to Turkey’s external position may only be temporary.”Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, tweeted the discovery was “not bad at all (but) not a game changer either.”The volume of gas announced by Erdogan would cover Turkey’s total natural gas needs for six years, at current consumption rates.High energy import billTurkish Finance Minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, speaking aboard the Fatih, said the discovery and future potential finds could reduce Turkey’s import-heavy trade balance by cutting its high energy import bill.Turkey’s energy import bill corresponded to two percent of total economic output last year, according to Capital Economics, with most purchases coming from Russia, Iran and Iraq.Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority said in January the country’s annual cost of energy imports was between $12 billion and $13 billion (10.2-11.1 billion euros).This month, Erdogan ordered the resumption of controversial energy exploration off the southern coast close to a Greek island in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.The issue has put Turkey on a collision course with Greece, Cyprus and the European Union, and exacerbated tensions with France, which has stepped up its military presence in the region.But Erdogan showed no sign of yielding to the EU’s repeated call to immediately end the eastern Mediterranean search.”We will accelerate our activities in the Mediterranean with the deployment by the end of the year of (drilling ship) Kanuni, which is currently under maintenance,” he said.”God willing we expect similar good news,” Erdogan added.Turkey dispatched the seismic research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by warships to the region on August 10, angering Greece who said the move threatened peace.

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