A traditional Nowruz haft seen (seven S) table, prepared in Vienna. Photo Nazila Barraghi

"Awaken, the Morning Nowruz Breeze is Showering the Garden with Flowers"

Those lines are uppermost on the minds of millions of people in at least 21 countries – plus millions more migrants around the globe – as they begin the celebration of Nowruz, which is the beginning of spring and also often known as Persian New Year.

The festival is marked in a great swathe of the planet from the Caucasus mountains on the edge of Europe to the Tian Shen mountains on the western Chinese border.

And this year it will be very, very different.

Feridoon Barraghi is Senior Regional Resources Management Officer in IOM’s Vienna Regional Office, which covers most of the countries that celebrate the moment that the sun crossed into Aries from Aquarius (at 04:49:37 CET, 21 March 2020).

 “Usually this is a big celebration for us,” says Iranian-born Feridoon. “We wake early to mark the precise moment, and the rest of the day is about tradition and celebrating with family and friends.”

The celebrations of this ancient festival will be muted this year, but the traditions of placing seven items beginning with S on a table (it’s complicated – Google it!), releasing a golden fish into the water, and growing wheatgrass will continue.

“One of the most important aspects of Nowruz is greeting our elderly people,” says Feridoon. “I suppose families  will have to take care this year, and do it by telephone or video-conferencing if they can.”

Like all the staff in the Vienna Regional Office, which covers the region from the Western Balkans over to the furthest tip of the Russian Federation, Feridoon has set up his office at home.

“It’s a very different and somewhat difficult Nowruz for all of us,” he says, “and we can only dream of going for the traditional walks in the forest and big family picnics which are central to the celebration.”

At the far end of the area covered by IOM Vienna Regional Office lies the landlocked former Soviet Republic of Tajikistan. While no cases of COVID-19 have been officially reported so far, borders are closed and IOM is working with the government to prepare for what appears to be the inevitable.

“This new year is challenging the way the world operates and the many things we have taken for granted for so long,” said Cristina Tranca Gheorghe, Chief of Mission, speaking from the capital Dushanbe. “I expect we will emerge wiser and stronger from the COVID crisis. At the moment, we focus on the many things to be done and stay fully committed to working to carry out our mandate, to pull together and move into better times.”