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Hazāra

By:
William Maley
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Hazāra

The Hazāra are an ethnic group concentrated in the region of central Afghanistan known as the Hazārajāt. Hazāra are also found in smaller numbers in many other parts of Afghanistan; in the vicinity of Quetta in Pakistan, where Afghan emigrants sought asylum during the nineteenth century when confronted with persecution in Afghanistan; and in still smaller communities in more remote parts of the world, to which Afghan refugees fled following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

Hazāra” is simply the Persian word for “thousand,” and one myth of origin among the Hazāra traces the population back to companies of one thousand troops accompanying the Mongol conquest of Eurasia. The size of the Hazāra population in Afghanistan is unclear, as no census has ever provided a reliable ethnic map of the country, but estimates of the percentage of Hazāra in Afghanistan range from 10 percent to 25 percent of the country 's population. A majority of the Hazāra are Shīʿah, with the prominent Dovazdah Imāmī (“Twelver”) and Ismāʿīlī schools being represented in their ranks. Sunnī Hazāra are limited to small groups such as the Firozkohi and Badghisi of Qala-e Naw.

The Hazāra in many cases display a distinctive Central Asian phenotype that makes them easily recognizable in a population in which other phenotypes predominate. This has exposed them to ready discrimination at different times in their history, which their largely Shīʿī orientation in a Sunnī-majority environment has exacerbated. This discrimination has added to their own sense of distinctiveness.

The structure of Hazāra society is complex, and leadership comes in a number of different forms. Traditional leaders, known as amirs, can function both as authority figures in communities and as mediators between communities and the state. Sayyids, descendants of the Prophet, enjoy social standing, while shaykhs exercise religious leadership. Although the Hazāra are sometimes described as being divided into subtribes and tribes, it is preferable to use the local terms tāyafa and qawm, implying a network and a cluster of networks.

The history of Hazāra in Afghanistan has long been a troubled one. During the reign of the ethnic Pushtun Amīr ʿAbd al- Rahmān Khān (1880–1901), there was a concerted and successful attempt from 1891 to 1893 to assert the domination of the centralizing authorities over the Hazārajāt region. Hazāra were slain in large numbers, with survivors enslaved or left impoverished, some forced to extremes such as eating grass or selling their children to survive. It was only by decree of Amīr Amānullāh in 1921 that slavery was formally abolished.

Despite this act, the Hazāra continued to be relegated to the more menial occupations in the workforce through most of the twentieth century, although some individuals, such as the historian Faiz Muhammad, rose to positions of prominence. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 resulted in the Hazāra Sultan Ali Keshtmand serving as Chairman of the Afghan Council of Ministers from June 1981 to May 1988, but elsewhere, Hazāra were engulfed in turmoil. Different political forces emerged in the Hazārajāt: one (Shūrā-yi Ittefāqh) a “traditionalist” force, and two others (Sāzmān-i Nasr and Sipah-i Pasdārān) influenced by radical Islamist ideas, especially of Iranian origin. In a civil war in the Hazārajāt from 1982 to 1984, the Islamists prevailed; finally, in 1990, different parties united under Iranian pressure to form the Hizb-i Wahdat, or “Party of Unity.”

Since the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, Hazāra fortunes have fluctuated. Hizb-i Wahdat forces were active combatants in the struggle between various resistance groups for control of the Afghan capital Kabul between 1992 and 1995, but a massacre of Hazāra occurred in the Afshar district on February 11, 1993, and Wahdat leader Abdul Ali Mazari was captured and killed by the radical, Pakistan-backed, Sunnī Taliban movement in March 1995. Between the Taliban occupation of Kabul in September 1996 and the Taliban 's ejection by U.S. forces in November 2001, further massacres of Hazāra occurred, notably on August 8, 1998, in Mazār-i Sharīf, where perhaps 2,000 individuals were killed, and in Yakaolang in January 2001. These incidents triggered the flight of young Hazāra into neighboring states and beyond, some traveling through smuggling networks as far as Australia.

With the overthrow of the Taliban regime, some threats to Hazāra diminished, and in the September 2005 elections for the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) of the Afghan National Assembly, thirty seats, or 12 percent of the total, were won by Hazāra. However, while some Hazāra areas such as Bamiyan are relatively secure, new massacres of Hazāra by resurgent Taliban forces have been reported in other parts of the country. There is reason for Hazāra to fear that until institutions are more strongly consolidated and human rights are further protected, their position in Afghan society will remain tenuous.

Bibliography

  • Barfield, Thomas. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. Princeton University Press, 2012.
  • Ferdinand, Klaus. Preliminary Notes on Hazara Culture: The Danish Scientific Mission to Afghanistan 1953–55. Copenhagen, Denmark: Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 1959.
  • Monsutti, Alessandro. War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. New York and London: Routledge, 2005.
  • Mousavi, Sayed Askar. The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic, and Political Study. New York: St Martinʾs Press, 1997.
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