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Festivities, Mood of Hope Mark Afghan New Year - 2002-03-21

Afghans have marked their new year with a joyous celebration of music, singing, and dancing, activities that had been banned by the former Taleban government. There was also a mood of hope and optimism in the air.

Afghans celebrated Nowruz, New Year on the Afghan calendar, with boisterous exuberance. The entire nation found a release of the pent-up spirit that had been repressed by the dark rule of the Taleban. There was dancing, music, singing, and perhaps most significant, smiles.

Ghulam Nabi of Taloqan said it was a very special Nowruz because it celebrated the beginning of spring and the end of the Taleban.

"It is a very special New Year's celebration because the cruel people who were here are no longer here. We got rid of them," he said. "I am optimistic because the people were freed from the atrocities and gloomy period of the Taleban. I can say that all these people that you see around, they are all happy and no one is gloomy or sad."

Nowruz falls on March 21, the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The date has deep significance for Afghanistan because it marks the start of the planting season in a country where agriculture is the dominant way of life.

The origins of the celebration are very, very old, believed to date back to the ancient, nearly extinct religion of Zoroasterism. The Taleban banned Nowruz celebrations as being pagan and un-Islamic.

Thousands of people crammed into Ghazi Stadium in Kabul for the official celebration. A parade of farmers from each province came marching past, bearing livestock; bulls, cows, goats; and produce.

On one horse-driven cart an old man sat, holding aloft a shaft of wheat. Another pair of men carried two roosters, which they would periodically place on the ground for an impromptu cockfight.

Along came a group of Sikhs playing music and having an intricately choreographed stick fight.

Several bands of children marched, chanting poetry. And there were several groups of dancers, all male, whirling around.

Dancer Nik Mohammad of Paghman explained his joy. "The dance that you see is called the national 'atan.' Atan is the name of this dance. And it is a very traditional and old dance. And we are very happy because for the first time in five years, we are able to dance this dance," he said.

One unusual parade float included a fire, some burned beams and logs, and a paper-mache' Taleban figure, wielding a whip. Salim Shah, a farmer from Kohdaman, said the people of the area wanted to send both a reminder and a message of hope.

"These are the signs of the atrocities the Taleban committed. They burned down a lot of houses there. They burned down and cut a lot of trees. These are all those trees. And that blue-green that you can see is the sign that we are trying to plant more trees again with the help of God in our area," Mr. Shah said.

From the loudspeaker system, came the voice of a child, pleading for a safe and secure Afghanistan once again.

He said, "I am an Afghan child. A happy New Year! Let us start rebuilding our country. Let us get the chance. The grass is growing everywhere, and the singing birds are returning back."

Joy and optimism, twins who were cast out by the Taleban, have returned home to Afghanistan on this New Year's day.