Three ambassadors to Norway, from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, got together in Oslo this week to share an old spring tradition with local guests. Their message of hope at the Nowruz Festival they jointly hosted was received by, among others, a former Norwegian prime minister who now heads a center for peace for and human rights.
“I know you are a peace-loving people,” the former prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, told the gathering at the Red Cross Conference Center in Oslo on Monday, referring to years of war and conflict in all three countries. “You can be proud of your cultural heritage.”
His remarks came after Afghan Ambassador Manizha Bakhtari, Iranian Ambassador Majid Nili Ahmadabadi and Iraqi Ambassador Sundus Omar Albayraqdar welcomed guests to an afternoon of music, handicrafts, food and information about the history of Nowruz (which literally translates to “new day”). It’s celebrated by an estimated 300 million people around the world, and among the roughly 80,000 people living in Norway who come from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bondevik, who travels extensively in trouble areas, noted how cultural and political differences are often misused to stir up new, violent conflicts. Bakhtari, who has been Afghanistan’s ambassador to the Nordic countries since 2009, stressed her own memories of celebrating Nowruz and always hoping for the “new day, new year and new life” it symbolizes.
The event was also attended by several other ambassadors to Norway, from Venezuela, Romania, Brazil and the Philippines among others. The head of the Norwegian Red Cross, Åsne Havnelid, used the occasion to promote the Red Cross’ efforts not least in the troubled areas of the Middle East, where humanitarian aid is carried out through the affiliated Red Crescent. “They’re just different symbols,” Havnelid said, as she also made an appeal on behalf of Syrian refugees who lack food, shelter and medicine and likely are unable to celebrate Nowruz themselves.