The terror group known as ISIS has carried out brutal attacks and executions across parts of Iraq and Syria it controls. Now ISIS has threatened to burn 21 men alive during a Kurdish holiday.
According to Mat Wolf and Campbell MacDiarmid of the Daily Beast, ISIS threatened to time its mass execution on the Kurdish holiday of Newroz, known as the "Kurdish New Year" celebration of light at the beginning of spring. However, Kurdish government spokesman Safeen Muhsin Dizayee indicated that the Kurdish government has adopted a somber tone for this occasion.
"Newroz is a day that under the most difficult circumstances in the past has been celebrated in one way or another," Dizayee said. "But because of the war with ISIS and the people who have been killed or wounded, the government is not having any official celebration."
However, Wolf and MacDiarmid reported that ISIS captured the 21 Kurdish men last year, making them wear the infamous orange jumpsuits. However, it remained unclear whether or not ISIS actually made good on its threats and carried out the executions yet.
"In a grim sort of tease, ISIS released a video on Thursday purportedly showing the beheading of three Kurdish prisoners," Wolf and MacDiarmid wrote. "Whether they were among the 21 paraded in orange jumpsuits and cages earlier this year is not clear."
Despite the grim odds facing the 21 hostages, the Daily Beast noted that local Newroz festivals went on as scheduled. Concerns have grown that those men could possibly face the same fate as what Jordanian pilot Muadh al Kasasbeh suffered at the hands of ISIS.
"We're all thinking of them," 21-year-old Ivan Ahmed said about the Kurdish hostages. "ISIS, they're not Muslims, the way they do these things."
According to the Daily Beast, Newroz festivals predate the arrival of Islam in that part of the world. ISIS is known for tearing down sites and institutions that it considers as "graven images."
"It's taken to smashing and destroying a number of ancient Assyrian and Christian monuments in northern Iraq, and has even demolished structures holy in mainstream Islam like Jonah's Tomb in Mosul, which it considers idolatrous," Wolf and MacDiarmid wrote.
The Daily Beast elaborated on the legend and meaning behind Newroz. Although the actual content of the tale can vary even among the Kurds, the basic premise focused on a blacksmith named Kava, who took on the evil Assyrian tyrant, Zahak.
"In the basic outline, Kawa challenges Zahak because the ruler demanded child sacrifices," Wolf and MacDiarmid wrote. "Zahak's snakes eat the brains of his child victims, which gives him extended life. In the legends, Kawa strikes Zahak with a killing blow from his blacksmith's hammer, and the ensuing sparks set the peaks on fire to tell the world of Kawa's victory."
Wolf and MacDiarmid observed that fire played an important role in Newroz festivals, given that they are lit to commemorate Zahak's defeat and so people can jump over them for good luck in the new year. However, ISIS has tried to ironically repurpose the fire to burn its hostages.
"The symbolism in Kawa's tale isn't lost on the Kurds either, who in the ancient liberation myth see a parallel between their own struggles with outside aggressors today," Wolf and MacDiarmid wrote. "The legend was kept alive in their decades battling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and it's now been repurposed for the fight of the Kurdish region's military, the Peshmerga, against ISIS."
Ahmed Abdulrahman, 49, told the Daily Beast that despite the Newroz celebrations, "the martyrs are very much on everyone's minds." He contended that ISIS will be beaten back by the Kurds.
"ISIS will lose and the Peshmerga will be victorious," Abdulrahman said. "The end of ISIS will be a Peshmerga festival."