BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (March 21, 2010) – Spring is here. The snow is melting, the trees are blooming and days are getting longer. And here in Afghanistan, spring marks the beginning of the Afghan New Year, Nowruz.
Nowruz, a Persian word meaning "a new day," is an ancient Persian tradition. It marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the new year on a solar calendar, and is celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, which is typically lands on March 21.
In honor of Nowruz, International Security Assistance Forces hosted Afgan National Security Forces and Afghan government officials at a formal dinner and a celebration, "Afghan Night Live," at Bagram Airfield, March 18.
"The event was organized by [Combined Joint Task Force – 82] to celebrate the Nowruz with our Afghan partners so they all can get together informally and celebrate," said Roya Sharifsoltani, research manager for the CJTF-82 Human Terrain Advisory Team.
"New Years is such an important celebration for the Afghans, we wanted to share it with them," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Karolyn Hooper, the deputy chief of staff for CJTF-82. "This gives us an opportunity to bring all of these people together as partners in fellowship."
The Nowruz celebration, Afghan Night Live, began as a BAF-wide celebration for U.S., Coalition and Afghan partners to share in this important Afghan tradition.
"We are all working very hard together. It is good to enjoy each other's company; it is one of the things that solidifies our partnership," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of CJTF-82.
There are several reasons for celebrating Nowruz here on BAF, explains Dr. James Emery, a cultural anthropologist with the Human Terrain Team, and Afghan Night Live founder and director.
"This will make our troops more motivated, comfortable and confident in spending time with Afghans outside the wire," said Emery. "This is crucial to the success of our mission, since everything good in Afghanistan happens through personal relationships."
The celebration also exposes aspects of Afghan culture to those unfamiliar with it. Emery's hope is to influence how our troops plan and execute missions by countering negative stereotypes.
Emery added that the celebration also improves relationships with the Afghans working on BAF.
"A warm smile and pleasant greeting go a very long way with our Afghan employees. It can create a groundswell of goodwill that will carry outside the gate and into the surrounding towns and villages," said Emery.
The celebration featured a variety of traditional Afghan food, musicians and Atan dancers.
"The dinner was followed by a national Afghan dance, which was very interesting with a lot of head and neck movement. For many people this was the first time they have seen the dance," said Sharifsoltani.
With the exception of Taliban rule, Nowruz has been celebrated and observed in Afghanistan since the adoption of the Persian calendar, in 1957.
"Nowruz was banned during Taliban rule and as soon as they were gone the celebration started again," said Roya Sharifsoltani.
In the future it is hoped that Nowruz celebrations, like Afghan Night Live, will take place on other ISAF bases and forward operating bases.
My wish is to help others experience even a fraction of the kindness, generosity, humor and friendship that I have enjoyed over many years of interaction with Afghans, said Emery.