Written by Jack McGrath
Yesterday, the 25th of September 2021, the Hazara community and their friends commemorated all those who were murdered, sold into slavery, and brutalised during the 1890-1893 Hazara genocide which was perpetrated by the then emir of Afghanistan Abdur Rahman Khan. It is a genocide that continues to be disturbingly unacknowledged; most plainly so on the international stage.
In Afghanistan the Hazaras are a double-minority, being predominantly Shi’a Muslims (making them outliers in a predominantly Sunni nation) with central Asian features. In the particular case of 1890-1893 genocide, it was the fact that the Hazaras are predominantly Shi’a which Abdur Rahman Khan exploited to declare jihad against the Hazara and bring Hazarajat, the homeland of the Hazara, firmly under his control. Estimates suggest that 62% of the Hazara population were massacred between 1890-1893. In the same period, thousands upon thousands of Hazara men, women, and children were sold into slavery. In Qandahar, a tax of ten percent was levied on soldiers buying married women or young girls – the revenue on the tax was 70,000 rupees despite the fact that women and young girls were usually sold for between 60-120 rupees.* What is more, aside from being massacred and enslaved, Hazaras were forcibly displaced, their land having been confiscated and distributed to other ethnic groups.
Unfortunately, the 1890-1893 genocide set something of an awful trend. Since 1893, the Hazara people have been repressed by the communist Khalq government, the Mujahadeen, and the Taliban. In 1998 alone, anywhere from 2,000-20,000 Hazara were massacred by Taliban forces in Mazar-i-Sharif. At the time, Mulla Manon Niazi, the then governor of Mazar-i-Sharif, was reported to have said:
“Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shia. They are infidels…If you do not show your loyalty, we will burn your houses, and we will kill you. You either accept to be Muslims or leave Afghanistan…Wherever you [Hazaras] go we will catch you. If you go up, we will pull you down by your feet; if you hide below, we will pull you up by your hair.”
Following the massacre, proper burial was forbidden by the Taliban. The dead lay on the streets for weeks.
At this point, I do want to make one clarificatory note. The nature of this brief article necessitates a focus on the plight of the Hazara: but it is important to never lose sight of the fact that the Hazara are not just their plight. They are poets and historians [see, Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara], actors [see, Atossa Leoni], singers [see, Sarwar Sarkhosh], journalists [see, Malek Shafi’i], and much, much more. And, beyond their achievements, they have a deep and rich culture (to see that, I would recommend reading Mousavi’s The Hazaras of Afghanistan).
That said, what I think is perhaps most tragic of all in this, is the profound silence currently echoing around the international stage in the face of the forthcoming and certain persecution that the Hazara will face under the resumed Taliban rule in Afghanistan. There is no doubt our governments are aware of what is about to unfold. Their silence is a choice. And the Taliban have not changed – at least, not in any way that matters. Suggesting otherwise is just the crudest form of naivety. Crane-hangings, kidnappings, torture: one does not have to look far beyond mainstream news to see any of these things in today’s Afghanistan.
So, one thinks about imploring our governments, demanding them, to work toward cohesive international efforts to minimise the scale of the current and forthcoming atrocities in Afghanistan. But what is the point? What care do our governments have for the persecuted and downtrodden elsewhere? Very little, I would wager. Remember, their silence is a choice. They have decided upon appeasement.
But surrender to a darker world cannot be the answer. If our leaders are unwilling and uncaring, then the work for a better future belongs with us. We need to shake off the shackles of a rotten political class and will into power new leaders: leaders of nations who see themselves first and foremost as members of the international community. The one grounded not in particularity but in universality, in humanity. To do this, we need to continue becoming more educated, more political, more ambitious, and more human. And we need to do it together, against the established political order. This will be no easy or simple task. But no mountains, no matter how great they may appear to be and no matter how deep their roots may sink into the earth, could possibly withstand the overwhelming force of the whole sea.
No doubt, some will think these claims to be platitudinous. I agree. They are platitudinous. I do not think I am saying anything new, here. But that was never the point of this brief article. This article is about reflecting for a moment on our past – in particular, the past of the Hazara people in Afghanistan – and using that reflection to look ahead to something brighter. It is a reminder that misery can always point beyond itself to hope. And I want us to remember, and never forget, where hope lies.
So, admittedly, I haven’t presented anything close to a route to an answer to the issues that face anybody; the Hazara people least of all. But what I have done, I think, is present an inkling of hope: hope that one day we can all stand together united under an honestly international community. And some days aren’t for answers or strategies. Some days are for hope.
*Figure from the Siraj al-Tawarikh by Faiz Mohammad Katib Hazara.