Who Are The Hazara?
History In Afghanistan
The Hazara are an ethnic minority native to the mountainous region of central Afghanistan.The origins of the Hazara community are much debated. Although a common myth suggests that Hazaras originated from a contingent of the army of Genghis Khan in the 13th century, there is no historical evidence to support these claims. Other more plausible theories suggest that Hazaras are more likely to have descended from communities that inhabited the region well before the advent of Genghis Khan.
Hazaras speak a dialect of Dari (Farsi dialect) called Hazaragi and the majority of them follow the Shi’a (Twelver Imami) school of Islam. As a result, Shi’a Hazaras constitute a religious minority in a country where the majority practice Sunni Islam. Significant numbers of Hazaras are also followers of the Ismaili Shi’a school of Islam or are Sunni Muslims. Within Afghanistan, Hazaras are known for their distinctive music and literary traditions with a rich oral history, poetry and music. Hazaragi poetry and music are mainly folkloric, having been passed down orally through the generations.
The size of the Hazara community has also declined significantly as a result of forced migration, land grabbing and persecution. They were once the largest Afghan ethnic group, constituting nearly two-thirds of the total population of the country before the 19th century. Some estimates suggest that more than half of the Hazaras were massacred, forced to flee or taken into slavery during the 1891-93 Hazara War when the Afghan King Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880-1901) led a genocidal campaign of violence against Hazaras. Many of the Hazaras who fled the persecution by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan settled in the Indian subcontinent or Iran, laying the foundation of the Hazara communities that now live in the Pakistani city of Quetta and various districts in Iran’s eastern provinces. These communities have increased in size as more Hazaras who fled from Afghanistan over the past four decades have settled within them, especially in Quetta.
Shi’a Hazaras are historically the most discriminated ethnic minority group in Afghanistan and have long faced violence and discrimination. Partly, this is to do with religious faith; historically, the Shi’a minority, regardless of ethnicity, has faced long-term persecution from the majority Sunni population. During the reign of Amir Abdul Rahman (1880-1901), Hazaras suffered severe political, social and economic repression, culminating in a state-backed declaration of jihad or holy war against Hazaras from 1890 to 1893. Abdur Rahman Khan, a Pashtun, mobilized large contingents of government forces as well as ethnic and tribal militias in the war against Hazaras, promising them Hazara lands and men and women as slaves. Thousands of Hazara men were killed, their women and children taken as slaves, and their lands occupied and redistributed to Pashtun tribes. To strengthen the forces against Hazaras, he appealed to Sunni religious sensibilities to mobilize Tajiks and Uzbeks (both Sunnis) to help Pashtuns fight against the Shi’a Hazaras. Those Hazaras who survived the initial period of raids managed to escape to the north, while a significant number fled to then British India. Apart from Pashtuns, Uzbeks are also thought to have conducted slave raids on Hazaras in Bamyan and elsewhere.
The Hazarajat was occupied by Abdur Rahman’s forces in 1893. Subsequently, he instituted a system of rule that systematically suppressed Hazaras. This repression ranged from issuing unwarranted taxes to assaults on Hazara land and harvests, massacres, looting and pillaging of homes, enslavement of Hazara children, women and men, and replacement of Shi’a clerics with their Sunni religious counterparts.
Although slavery was formally abolished by King Amanullah Khan in 1923, the persecution of Hazaras continued. Hazaras faced political, economic and social marginalization and the stigmatization of Hazara culture and identity. In Hazarajat, Pashtun nomads who participated in the conquest of the region in the 1890s progressively took control of the region’s pasturelands and dominated its trade and other economic activities with the rest of Afghanistan. The government also collected exorbitant taxes and kept the region economically undeveloped, with no investments in roads or other infrastructure. To mitigate the impact of this discrimination, many Hazaras concealed their identities to obtain state identification. As late as the 1970s, some Sunni religious teachers preached that the killing of Hazaras was a key to paradise. As a result of these policies, many Hazaras lived on the edge of economic ruin in Afghanistan.
History Of Persecution
In Afghanistan, the majority of Shi’a Hazaras live in Hazarajat (or ‘land of the Hazara’), which is situated in the rugged central mountainous core of Afghanistan with an area of approximately 50,000 square kilometres. The region includes the provinces of Bamyan and Daikundi and several adjacent districts in the provinces of Ghazni, Uruzgan, Wardak, Parwan, Baghlan, Samangan and Sar-e Pul. There are significant Sunni Hazara communities in the provinces of Badghis, Ghur, Kunduz, Baghlan, Panjshir and other areas in the northeast of Afghanistan. Ismaili Hazaras live in the provinces of Parwan, Baghlan and Bamyan. In addition, Shi’a as well as Sunni Hazaras are based in substantial numbers in several urban centres of Afghanistan, including Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Herat.
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Well before the Taliban took control of Kabul on 15 August 2021, Hazaras faced an escalating campaign of violence by the Taliban and Islamic State – Khorasan as well as structural discrimination by the government in Kabul. A wave of violence that deliberately targeted Hazara mosques, cultural and educational centers in Kabul and other provincial centers claimed the lives of several hundred Hazara civilians. Since coming to power, the Taliban have dismantled the constitutional order that provided the basic rights of the citizens of the country and have re-established the Islamic Emirate, which institutionalizes sectarian and ethnic discrimination towards Hazaras. Hazaras have lost virtually all influential posts in the government in Kabul, and the Taliban have appointed Pashtuns in positions of authority across Hazarajat.
Hazaras also suffer particularly seriously from other Taliban policies such as their restrictions on civil society, women’s rights and freedom of expression. Some minority women, including Hazara women, have traditionally enjoyed more freedom in their society than other ethnic groups and benefited considerably from post-2001 political and educational reforms. Civil society and independent media also provided important opportunities for Hazaras to voice their concerns against policies that discriminated against them. These channels are now largely unavailable to them.
Furthermore, the Islamic State – Khorasan have continued a campaign of violence to cause maximum casualties among Hazaras. After the Taliban came to power, the group claimed responsibility for attacks on Shi’a mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar that killed scores of predominantly Hazara worshippers. Several attacks on passenger vehicles in Hazara neighborhoods of Kabul have claimed the lives of many others.
A key issue for the Hazara community is the general climate of impunity, whereby those who committed atrocities – both past and present – can evade justice. Hazaras are deeply concerned about the return of the Taliban to power, who they feel pose a direct threat to their community. The Taliban’s sectarian tendencies towards Hazaras are also likely to be reinforced by increasing ethnic tensions and incidents of violent clashes between Hazaras and nomadic tribes who, like the Taliban, are Pashtuns and claim rights to pasturelands throughout the Hazarajat region. Local Taliban have forcefully displaced hundreds of Hazara families from districts in the provinces of Daikundi and Helmand and have threatened Hazara communities with similar mass evictions in the provinces of Ghazni and Balkh. Pashtun nomads, who relied on government support since the late 19th century to claim the pasturelands of Hazarajat, have also returned to Hazara areas in large numbers.