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The Persecution of Hazaras

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

Who Are the Hazaras?

The Hazaras are one of the many ethnic groups from Afghanistan, and comprise of eight subtribes: the Dai Kundi, Dai Zangi, Polada, Jaghuri, Uruzgani, Dahla, Dai Khitai and the Dai Chopan groups. However, due to a high number of intermarriages between these groups, it is difficult to create a clear-cut distinction on who belongs to what subtribe. The Hazaras speak Hazaragi, a dialect of the Persian language, and they are predominantly followers of Shia Islam, a minority sect in Sunni dominated Afghanistan. The community predominately lives in the Hazarajat region, the central highlands of Afghanistan. There are a substantial number of Sunni and Ismaili Shia Hazaras, who live in north-eastern provinces of Parwan,Panjshir, Takhar, Qnduz, the western province of Badghis and eastern Hazarajat, respectively, Ibrahimi, N. (2017).

The ‘origins’ of the Hazaras is much debated. A prominent view, promoted by “western orientalists”, perceive Hazaras as descendants of Mongol soldiers who invaded Afghanistan in the 13th century. This view has been disputed by Hazara and non-Hazara scholars who believe that this version of history disconnects Hazaras from the previous civilisation which created “the massive statues, the cave complexes, and invented the oil painting.”(Caftanzoglou, R. 2001, pp.22), in reference to the pre-Islamic Buddhist history of Afghanistan. The word Hazaras is said to derive from ‘hezar’, a Persian word meaning a thousand, referring to perhaps, the Mongol army, but there is no historical evidence to justify this claim. Furthermore, the total number of Hazaras is said to be between three to eight million, but

[Peter Andrews/Reuters]

it should be noted that there has never been an accurate census on the population of Afghanistan and its many ethnic communities. In fact, according to (Farr, G. 2007), the past Afghan governments have intentionally undercounted the number of Hazaras, and have divided them along different provincial borders in order to minimise their collective political power.

Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901)

Hazaras have been persecuted and oppressed throughout the history of Afghanistan due to their religious belief as well as their distinct Central Asian features. Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, as part of his state-building strategy, waged a particularly brutal war against the Hazaras in 1891, which is commonly known as the Hazara War (1891-1893). The Amir’s endeavour in working to consolidate his central authority and exert control on the semi-autonomous regions of Afghanistan such as Hazarajat, (the native territory of the Hazaras) led to a devastating collapse of the political, social and economic structure of the Hazaras. The Amir not only succeeded in bringing the Hazaras under his control, but he brutalised and killed a substantial number of Hazara population, which subsequently depopulated Hazajarat during the war. The Hazaras who remained either fled the country, dispersed into other cities, or were sold into slavery, a practice that was not proscribed in Afghanistan until 1920 (Mousavi 1997). Hazaras who fled the country went in three directions: the Indian subcontinent to the south, Iran to the west and central Asia to the north, and it is noted that “The Hazaras of Quetta city of Baluchistan and other places in Sindh Province of Pakistan and of Khorasan province of Iran are decedents of those that fled the war and its subsequent destruction and devastation” Ibrahimi, N. (2017). Furthermore, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan completed the process of the depopulation of the Hazaras from their native territories, namely the Urozgan and Kandahar regions, by distributing their fertile lands as rewards to Pashtuns. Historian Hasan Kakar recalls that, “in Urozgan alone 12,000 Durani and 4,000 Ghilzai families were ordered to settle in the formerly Hazara lands” (1971), while “In 1899, all Hazaras living in [K]andahar, except the ill and unmarried, were collectively arrested and transferred under military escort to the direction of present day Behsud region in Wardak province” Shah, A. (1993). Consequently, Hazarajat was severely depopulated and the Hazaras became the servant class of the country, (Kukreja, S. 2015), during the Amir’s reign.

The Taliban Regime (1996-2001)

The Taliban regime waged an ethnic cleansing campaign against Hazaras. In August 1998 the Taliban killed 5000 to 6000 Hazara civilians in Mazar-e Sharif, mainly due to sectarianism and discrimination against Hazaras. The mass killings of Hazaras were described as “genocidal in its ferocity” by Rashid (2000, p.73), which continued systematically throughout Taliban rule. Examples of Taliban massacres against the Hazaras include:

  • Robatak: In May 2000, thirty-one bodies of Hazara civilians were found in Robatak pass, near Baghlan and Smangan provinces. The victims were detained, tortured and then executed by the Taliban forces. (Human Rights Watch, 2001)

  • Yakaolang: On the 8th of January 2000, the Taliban began a massacre of Hazaras in Yakaolang district of Bamiyan province, which continued for four days. The Taliban executed around 200 Hazaras civilians. (Human Rights Watch, 2001)

  • In 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime the remains of hundreds of Hazaras who were killed between 1997-1999 were found in an area called Kandi Posht, in Shah Joy district of the southern province of Zabul. The victims were mainly women and children.

Hazaras in Post-2001 Afghanistan

The Bonn Agreement of 2001 which took place under the auspices of the UN auspices, in December of that year laid out the basic framework for Afghanistan’s post-Taliban political order. In the agreement a multi-ethnic and fully representative government had been considered crucial in the internal peacebuilding and state-building endeavours of the international community in the country. As a result, for the Hazaras of Afghanistan, who had endured a century of perseuction and exclusion, the post-Taliban period presented a unique opportunity for the community to gain nationwide recognition and to be able to participate in social and political discourses in Afghanistan. The establishment of a semi-inclusive government enabled Hazaras to gain a few senior positions in the Afghan government. During this period Hazaras were appointed in various high-ranking governmental positions, for instance,

Habiba Sarabi was appointed as the governor of Bamiyan in 2005, which made her the first woman to hold such a position in highly conservative Afghanistan. Additionally, vice presidents and the cabinet have included Hazara ministers, mainly in transport, justice, women’s affairs and agricultural ministries, however at the same time Hazaras have been excluded from holding ministerial position in the ministries of interior, defence, or foreign affairs. The exclusion of Hazaras in these ministries continues to highlight the ethnically-biased power distribution in current the post-Taliban Afghan government. Hazara people were among the first groups that embraced peace, democracy and the civilian politics of the newly established state. In fact, their widescale support for democratic transition and electoral politics have been a success story for post-2001 Afghanistan. The Hazaras’ conscious choice of “qalam over shamshir” directly translated to “pen over gun” (Ibrahimi, N. 2017) has led them to acquire school and university education on an unprecedent scale. Accordingly, for the first time in the history of Afghanistan, Hazaras now make a substantial contribution to the “rapidly-expanding educated class” of the country. The achievements and success stories of Hazaras have been widely covered by western newspapers, with titles such as, “The Hazaras hustle to head of class in Afghanistan” “Afghanistan’s success stories: The Liberated Hazara Minority" and “Afghanistan’s Hazaras: Coming up from the bottom”. However, despite their significant achievements, Hazaras have been systematically discriminated against by the Pashtun-dominated central government, particularly in the implementation and distribution of developmental projects and international aid.

Author: Anis Rezaei

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