Taliban again cancels Mazar’s Solar New Year festival

For years, Mazar-e-Sharif hosted the annual Nowruz, or Persian New Year, festival which also marks the arrival of spring, but as the new solar year approaches, it appears there will be no festivities again this year.

In the past, under the former government, Mazar-e-Sharif Municipality had already started putting up Nowruz decorations by early March – but since the Taliban came into power, the festival – around March 20 – no longer takes place.

Other activities were also held including the ritual of cleaning the Rawze-e-Sharif, or Hazrat Ali Shrine; planting of trees; along with decorating the city.

In addition, thousands of people from across Afghanistan flocked to Mazar-e-Sharif every year to celebrate the new year and the arrival of spring. They would converge on the Rawze-e-Sharif and on other historical sites in the province.

Last year, however, the Taliban canceled the annual festival.

Nematullah, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif who used to visit the shrine over Nowruz, said: “In previous years, the shrine of Hazrat Ali was cleaned, but this year, none of them [Taliban] are ready to maintain it.”

Local residents complain that the Taliban is not maintaining the shrine and that the historical site is at risk of destruction.

Sayeed Zahir Adeli, a professional member of the historical department of the Balkh Department of Information and Culture, said that maintenance work of the Rawze-e-Sharif, which was started by the National Development Company under the former government, has been left unfinished and that many parts of shrine are on verge of destruction.

The gathering at Hazrat Ali’s shrine took place every year, but under Taliban rule it is not considered Ihram (sacred) within a religious context.

Nowruz was celebrated on the first day of the new solar year at the Rawze-e-Sharif in Balkh and at the Ziyarat-e Sakhi, a shrine and mosque in the Kart-e-Sakhi area, in Kabul. The festival is also celebrated in Iran and other Central Asian countries.

The Taliban, however, consider the Nowruz festival to be Haram.