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The Fourth Annual Persian Parade in New York City Draws Huge Enthusiastic Crowd

Report by Davood N. Rahni

Photography by A. Afshar, A. Habibian & R. Sedighian





Perfect Sunny Spring weather with a mild temperature in the 50’s, enthusiastic cheering spectators, and a spectacular procession of floats and performance, brought out the best in Persian-Iranian Pride. By all accounts the spectacular extravaganza again surpassed last years.



Glitzy Madison Avenue in mid-town NYC’s Manhattan was once again the backdrop for the fourth annual Persian (Iranian) Parade. Tens of thousands of Iranian-Americans from all walks of life, representing every region of Iran danced, sang, cheered, clapped, smiled, kissed and hugged while gazing with joy at an exhilarating procession of the Persian Parade with much pride. They saw a great number of highly colorful and well decorated floats, numerous DJs, acclaimed singers and artists, dancing ensembles-some from as far as the California and Washington, D.C.- and many street, movies and theatre performers entertained the thousands of spectators comprised of Iranian-Americans, New Yorkers and tourists from all over the world.



The historical and cultural wonders of Iran-formerly known as Persia-such as Persepolis and Isphahan, the modern monuments of Tehran, the natural beauties of the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea and Mount Damavand (~19000-ft high), Iran’s rich display of historical and contemporary contributions to world literature, art, architecture, science and technology were displaced on the floats rolling down Madison Avenue for almost three hours.



The Persian Parade commemorates in part the annual Persian New Year, Norouz, which coincides with the vernal spring equinox. The idea of holding a parade as conceived by a few visionary Iranian-Americans just a few years back has now grown to a grassroots movement. Recognizing the growth of Iranian-American community of nearly one million, they envisaged the need to organize an annual Persian Parade to build up the spirit in the community, especially for second and third generations of Iranian-Americans, while countering possible xenophobia. The Parade was the most effective outlet to offset the stereotypical depiction of historical Persians in the recent Movie 300. Huge signs registered the community’s concerns over the possible ramifications of the movie.




The skeptics, who stayed away in earlier years, because they reckoned the Parade would be short-lived, participated this year with much applause for the hundreds of organizers and cadre of volunteers, and individual and corporate sponsors. Everyone was so gratified that an event of such majestic magnitude will be immortalized. This year’s parade had attracted a huge number of volunteers, dancers, and float riders from second and third generation Iranian-Americans. The Babak Nowruz DVD float, for instance, was a lively massive flowers bouquet with music, dancers and nearly one hundred children from toddlers to late teens, each with a huge smile extending from “one ear to the other” and with two Iranian flags painted on their cheeks.



Along the Parade route, one could not help but watch the spontaneous networking of Iranian-Americans with many tourists. A pretty petite lady was explaining the displays of the Parade to senior citizens, German tourists. Johanna Sterbin an Iranian Studies Scholar on the sidewalk called the Parade, “An illustrative synopsis of Iranian [rich] history that will be engraved in a non-Iranian mind for life. “



A Sofreh Haftsin was showcased. It is a traditional table beautifully decorated with hyacinth and daffodils, and seven items that begin with the Persian letter “S”. They are Sabzeh (wheat sprouts) for rebirth, Seeb(Apple) for health and beauty, Seer (garlic) for health and medicine, Serkeh (vinegar) for age and patience, Samanu (custard pudding) for affluence, Somagh (sumac) for sunrise, and Senjed (Oleaster fruit) for love.




Those actively engaged in organizing the Persian Parade are already planning for next year, recruiting volunteers, seeking sponsors, and gathering ideas. The Norouz festivities, lasting for two weeks, conclude with Sizdah Bedar, an all day picnic festival in the countryside.  There are several Sizdah Bedar picnic scheduled in and around New York City this year including one at Bear Mountain State Park on April 1.




Background on Norouz and Iranian history.


A series of excellently written articles as typified by Howard Cincotta, USINFO Special Correspondent of the Department of State titled, Iranian-Americans Celebrate Persian New Year March 20, appeared before the parade and this year’s Norouz. David Rahni has also provided ample articles on Norouz, the Persian Parade and other community endeavors of Iranian-Americans over the years.




The Norouz Festival, on which the Persian Parade is anchored, is immortalized in the Decree of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, granting national, cultural and religious freedoms to the peoples of Babylon and beyond in 542 B.C.E.:



When I entered Babylon (on Norouz) and other lands I conquered, I did not allow anyone to terrorize the land or its people... I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being.  The citizens of Babylon... I lifted their unbecoming yoke (slavery).  Their dilapidated dwellings I restored.  I put an end to their misfortunes. ...Thus said the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden (Isaiah, XLV-1-3).





Norouz, the new day or the New Year in Persian, is the cyclical celebration of the Spring Equinox. It is the most cherished and celebrated of all Iranian festivals; it has been observed by all peoples of the broad Iranian plateau for millennia. Commemorating the periodic rebirth and rejuvenation of nature, Norouz has been observed, in one form or another, since 3,000 B.C.E. by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia and southwest and south central Asia, namely, the Akaddians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, the Elamites, the Medes, the Sumerians, and the Persians.




Today, Norouz is still celebrated annually in a wide arc of territory extending from the Lake Aral and the Indus River to the east, the Caspian Sea to the north, the Black and Mediterranean Seas to the west, and the Persian Gulf to the south. Iranian peoples (Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Tajiks, Baluchis, Bakhtiaris and Gilanis), as well as other peoples in their proximity (e.g., Armenians, Assyrians, Afghanis, Kazakhs and Kashmiris) all participate in the Norouz celebration. It is interesting that the first day of spring was also observed by Europeans throughout the middle Ages, and the American pilgrims during the early 18th century as the "common" New Year.





The roots of Norouz can be traced to Zoroastrianism, which is believed to be the world's first monotheistic religion. Zoroastrianism considers Nowouz as the last day of the seven day creation epoch; thus the ritual of the Haft Sin, or the seven life-related, mostly plant based, symbolic heralds, all beginning with the letter "S" in the Persian language. During the Norouz holidays, families and friends visit each other, pay their respects to the elderly, reach out to reconcile with adversaries, visit the resting places of the deceased, and make donations to the impoverished and the sick. They give and receive presents during the thirteen day period that ends on April 1st called Sizdah Bedar when everyone spends the whole day in the countryside dancing, singing and playing.  The commemoration of Norouz recalls the seventh day of creation, when homage is paid to the Creator or Mother Nature, with rest, play and party activities. An annual Sizdah Bedar in New York area has traditionally been held at Bear Mountain State Park on or about April 1.




Norouz celebrates the Lord of Wisdom and the holy "halo" fire in anticipation of the Spring Equinox. The oldest archaeological evidence for Norouz celebrations comes from the records of over 2500 years ago.  An inscription on Persepolis Palace, the summer capital of the Achaemenid dynasty depicts the Persian Monarch, Darius, accepting gifts from diverse peoples who lived in a federation of territories, stretching from Asia to Europe and North Africa. His father, Cyrus the Great, was the world's first true supreme emperor who ruled his vast realm with compassion and justice, a legacy acknowledged by the Greek historian Herodotus. His declaration of Human Rights on a clay tablet is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York




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