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Kawa the blacksmith: Kurdish symbol of resistance

3 min

Qamishli (Syria) (AFP)

Inside Syria's Afrin on Monday, the statue of a famous Kurdish hero hung battered and partly defaced from its mantle a day after Turkey-led forces overran the city.

Kurds have reacted with outrage after pro-Ankara fighters reportedly destroyed the statue of Kawa the blacksmith on Sunday, calling it an insult to their people.

But who is the mythical figure and what does he represent?

- Kawa who? -

A symbol of resistance, Kawa is a Kurdish hero famous for having led a revolt against a murderous king.

Several peoples including Syria's Kurds have told his story over the centuries, adding their own details. Here is one version.

Once upon a time, a blacksmith called Kawa lived in a city ruled by an evil king. The despot was ill and a doctor told him the only cure was to eat, twice a day, the fresh brains of two children.

The monarch carried out daily murder across the city until one day Kawa devised a plan. Working tirelessly at his furnace, he cast enough swords for an uprising.

In the mountains outside the city, the blacksmith gathered all its youth and armed them with the weapons. After Kawa's signal -- by lighting a fire -- they attacked the evil king's palace and burnt it down.

- 'Freedom' -

Beyond the tales of his rebellion, Kawa's name also appears in Kurdish songs.

In Kurdish tradition, Kawa represents hard "work, rationality... freedom, emancipation from slavery, uprising against oppression", said Faris Othman, a researcher in Kurdish history based in Qamishli.

Fighters tearing down Kawa's statue in Afrin is an "assault on all it symbolises", the writer said.

It signals "a return to authoritarianism, ignorance and oppression".

- Eve of a festival -

Images of the destroyed statue of Kawa have been shared widely on social media as Syria's Kurds prepare to celebrate their new year on March 21.

The festival of Nowruz is directly linked to Kawa, whose revolt against the tyrant is a symbol of new beginnings -- like the annual celebration at the start of spring.

During the festival, Kurds wear ornate traditional clothes and light fires, as did the blacksmith.

- Brutalised statues -

Kawa is one of several statues to have been demolished since Syria's war started seven years ago, most infamously by jihadists.

In 2013, fighters beheaded a statue of Abbassid-era poet and philosopher Abu al-Alaa al-Maari.

It was not clear who the vandals were, but people in the northwestern town of Maaret al-Numan blamed Al-Qaeda's then Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.

In 2015, Al-Nusra fighters reportedly also destroyed a sculpture of Syrian national icon Ibrahim Hanano in the city of Idlib.

In Syria and neighbouring Iraq, Islamic State group jihadists have repeatedly attacked representations of the human body, calling them "idols".

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