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ETHNONYMS: Berberis, Khawaris, Sayyeds, Hazara Sayyeds


Identification and Location. Hazaras are also known in Iran as Berberis or Khawaris. There is a subtribe of the Chahar Aimaq known as Hazara and it is Sunni, unlike most Hazaras who are Shi'ite. Other groups believed to be related to the Hazaras but identified by other names are Taimanis and Tatars. Taimanis were formerly clustered on the eastern and western peripheries of Hazara territories; those the west have in the twentieth century been associated with the Aimaq. The Tatars (sometimes "Tajiks") of Kahmard and Sayghan were formerly known as Hazara Tatars and retain phenotypic and cultural similarities with the Hazaras; they are now Sunnis. The Moghuls of Ghor may also be related to the Hazaras. Among the Hazaras, and culturally indistinguishable from them, are "Sayyeds" (or "Hazara Sayyeds") who claim descent from Muhammad.

Hazaras are a Mongoloid people historically associated with the Hazarajat of central Afghanistan, once known as Barbaristan and later as Gharjistan; they are now dispersed in neighboring countries. The Hazarajat has been shrinking over the last hundred years. Currently it includes all of Bāmiān Province and the western portions of Ghazni and Wardak provinces and the northern portion of Uruzgān.

Hazaras are also found in Baghlān, Samāngan, Balkh, Jawzjān and Qala-y Naw; there are perhaps as many as four million Hazara refugees in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Although their traditional homelands are rural there are large numbers of Hazaras in the Afghanistan cities of Kabul (200,000 to 300,000), Mazār-i Sharīf (200,000), and Pul-i Khumrī (250,000), and also in Mashhad, Iran (400,000), and Quetta, Pakistan (500,000).

Demography. Early in the 1980s the number of Mousavi (the Hazaras of Afghanistan) was estimated to be less than a million; in 1998 Mousavi believed their number, including those in neighboring countries, to be four million, and in 2001 it may have reached 7.5 million. Details on their growth rate are vague, but it may exceed 3 percent. The average Hazara woman is said to give birth to seven children, two of whom are likely die before the age of five.

Linguistic Affiliation. Hazaras speak a dialect of Persian known as Hazaragi, notable for its relatively high number of Mongol and Turkic words. Persian is in the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

History and Cultural Relations

The origins of the Hazaras are obscure. They seem to be an amalgam of mainly two types of peoples, the Indo-Iranian peoples long ensconced in this region (Tajiks, Persians) and the various Mongol-Turkic peoples who have entered this region for thousands of years. Mousavi argue on several grounds, including the images on the Bāmiān frescos, that a strongly Mongol-Turkic people scarcely different in appearance from the modern Hazaras was already present in this area more than two thousand years ago. Culturally these peoples have been Persianizing for several hundred years. The term hazār ("thousand") seems to be a Persianized form of the Mongol word minggan ("thousand"), which could designate a fighting unit, or at least a "tribe" able to field a force of that size.

By the fifteenth century the term Hazara meant a "mountain tribe," a shift in meaning corresponding to a retreat into the mountains of the Hazarajat owing to pressure from other groups: on the south and west by Pushtun (Afghan) tribes, and on the north by Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.

In the nineteenth century the Afghan rulers pushed their influence more firmly into the Hazarajat, although initially only in the form of minor tribute demands. When Abdul Rahman took power in Kabul in 1880 the Hazara Mirs generally supported his struggle against his Afghan challengers, supposing that they would continue as before. But once the Amir was firmly established he began to increase his demands on them. Because some Sheikh Ali Hazaras had supported the rebellion of the Amir's cousin Ishaq Khan in 1888 the Amir required much larger payments, and in 1890 the Sheikh Alis rebelled. After the rebellion was crushed the Amir introduced oppressive measures in many parts of the Hazarajat, and his troops and officials abused their powers. An outraged group of Hazaras rebelled in the spring of 1892 and support came quickly from other Hazaras as well as from the Uzbeks of Maimana and Hazaras from Kabul. The Amir sought help from Sunni clergy who authorized an all-out religious jihad against the "godless" Shi'a; the Amir himself promising land, wealth, and women as a reward to those who joined. A massive army quenched the rebellion, with difficulty, late in 1893.

The defeat of the Hazaras was total. Several tribes were wiped out (Zavoli, Sultan Ahman, and Ajristan) and the ruling elite of virtually all the tribes were either killed or carried off. The traditional hierarchical structures and the domination of the Hazara Mirs were eliminated and their administrative powers were given to "maliks" or "arbābs," appointed (usually with some community approval) by the government. As many as half of the population were killed or dispersed into the neighboring countries of Iran (mainly Mashhad), British India (Quetta), and Czarist Russia (Bukhara). Prior to the war the bulk of all Hazaras lived the Hazarajat, but their dispersal created expatriate communities that would develop their own distinct traditions. Within the Hazarajat, new rights of pasturage were given to the Pushtun pastoralists who had participated in the war against the Hazaras, and they herded their flocks into the lush highland glens and meadows of the Hazarajat every summer. The Hazaras have been the most despised and oppressed people in Afghanistan since that time. Even into the 1970s Sunni Pushtun clerics were teaching that killing Hazaras was a religious service.

During the anti-Communist war of 1980 to 1992 the Hazaras took an active part on both sides. The Communists gave important positions to Hazaras in their administration and Hazaras in Kabul were treated more equitably than ever before. In Bāghlān Sayyed Mansur Nadiri, head of the Isma'ilis, took the side of the government. But unlike the urban Hazaras and the Isma'ili Hazaras the Shi'ite peoples of the Hazarajat sided with the anti-communists. When Pakistan established the military organizations to oppose the Afghan Communists it ignored the Hazara and Shi'a peoples, but many Hazara organizations formed independently. The most notable early resistance organization of the Hazaras was the Shurā-i Ittifāq-i Islāmī ("Unity Council of the Islamic Revolution") headed by Sayyed Ali Behishti and a group of notable Shi'ite clerics and elders.

In the period 1983-1989 the attempts of Iran to influence these resistance activities created havoc in the Hazarajat. Frustrated with the independence of the Shura organization the Iranians supported Sāzmān-i Nasr, but eventually gave up on that party, forming instead an Afghanistan version of their own Sepāh-i Pasdarān. These and other Hazara parties fought for dominance. Thousands of Hazaras were killed and others were obliged to flee to Kabul and Pakistan and Iran. Eventually an alliance of several parties was formed in 1987 but failed because of the continued influence of Iran. Finally, in 1989 the totally independent Hizb-i Wahdat Hazara party was instituted in Bāmiān and by 1992 virtually all the Hazara resistance groups had joined it.

During this period a strong nationalistic consciousness took form among the Hazaras, expressed notably in the writings of Muhammad Isa Gharjistani and in the preaching of Abdul Ali Mazari. This nationalistic awareness was enhanced by the strategic importance the Hazarajat gained for resistance parties during the war, as it was the nexus of the off-road traffic that nourished their activities. Also, the rise of armed groups among the Hazaras during the war restrained the Pushtun nomads from entering the region during the summer months so that the Hazaras reclaimed the summer pasturage. The Hazarajat flourished during the latter 1980s.

In August 1992 when the Communist government collapsed the Tajik dominated party, Jamiat-i Islami, took over the government in Kabul. At this time there was a large concentration of Hazaras in West Kabulindeed the Hazaras believed they constituted nearly half the total population of the city. Tensions arose between the Jamiat government and the Hazaras, who had been shut out of the administrative coalition, and fighting broke out in May 1992. Eventually several Sunni dominated parties took the side of Wahdat. According to Hazara sources the defeat of this coalition in 1995 was caused by involvement of a new force, the Taliban. The Taliban were opposed to the Tajiks, but they failed to hold their own against the Tajiks, and at the same time they sought to disarm the Hazaras. After the Wahdat forces withdrew from Kabul, their leader, Abdul Ali Mazarí, was captured and killed by the Taliban.

The Taliban turned out to be intensely opposed to the Shi'a and at times deliberately sought to exterminate them. The clashes between them could only be called "ethnic cleansing." In May 1997 when Taliban troops entered Mazār-i Sharīf Hazaras and Uzbek militias cut them down, killing perhaps as many as three thousand. In August 1998 the Taliban returned to Mazār-i Sharīf and took their revenge by killing two to five thousand civilians, mostly Shi'ite Hazaras. They later seized Baghlān and Bāmiān. In the period from 1997 to 2001 there were frequent and bloody battles between Hazara forces and the Taliban in Yak Awlang.

The Hazaras are and have generally been poor. In addition to the hardships brought on by the political disruptions there have been severe droughts. A drought in the 1970s forced many Hazaras to flee to the cities. Also, in the period from 1998 to 2001 a drought in much of Central and South Asia owing to weak snows on the Hindu Kush and Himalayas devastated the Hazarajat, and another wave of Hazaras fled. By 2001 Iran and Pakistan were trying to restrain the flow of refugees, many of them Hazara, into their countries.


Hamlets (āghel ) containing several joint households are constructed on the edge of irrigable land. Normally members of a hamlet are related through the male line; they also venerate the same religious authority and share and help each other; there are, however, some exceptions in which even small hamlets are riven by sectarian and other rivalries. Some communities occupy fortresses (qalā ), which perhaps reflect earlier attempts to protect themselves from slavers who raided the Hazarajat until late in the nineteenth century.


Subsistence. The mountainous terrain of the Hindu Kush is favorable for transhumance and it is evident that in medieval times the Hazaras were mainly dependent on animal husbandry, grazing their flocks in the surrounding lowlands, mostly to the south of Koh-i Baba, in winter and in the high-land glens and meadows of the range in summer. They kept flocks of sheep and goats and raised horses for fighting. In the modern period, after their defeat by Amir Abdul Rahman in late nineteenth century those who remained in the Hazarajat became more dependent on agriculture. They live mainly by irrigating grain crops and keeping a few sheep and goats as well as a draft animal. Where the terrain allows, families move into the highlands with their flocks in summer, where they live in yurts.

The most important yields come from irrigation but wherever possible the people also cultivate dry lands. The most important products are wheat and barley; where necessary these grains are rotated with fava bean. Milk products are the main sources of protein.

Commercial Activities. Carpets, gilams, and woven gloves and mittens have been produced for western consumption. Wheat is the main cash crop, although poplar trees, used in construction, have also been grown as a cash crop.

Industrial Arts. Wool is a source of fiber, woven by the women into a heavy woolen cloth called barak, prized not only in Afghanistan but also elsewhere. Wool is also used for carpets, rugs, and spreads; they also make felt for the floors and for their temporary yurts.

Division of Labor. Everyone in the household works in the fields at different times. Women and children help with the weeding. Men do the plowing and gathering of brush for burning. All the housework is done by the women. Children shepherd the sheep and goats.

Land Tenure. Pasturage rights are collective, belonging to members of the whole community or sometimes to several closely-related communities in a single valley. Rights to tillable land normally fall to the sons.


Kin Groups and Descent. Hazaras reckon rights and status of authority by the father's line. A hierarchical bias of the society is indicated in the terminological distinction between older and younger siblings. In the past the patrilineages were ranked putatively by order of the apical ancestors' births and the dominant lineage was headed by a Mir or Beg. The ranking of lineages and individuals must once traditionally have favored a relatively "deep" memory of descent lines, at least among those of higher status, but the removal of the top echelons of Hazara leadership after the Hazara-Afghan war of 1890-1893 reduced the significance of deep kinship connections; by the 1960s many of the younger generation could name no ancestors further back than their grandparents.

Kinship Terminology. Basic distinctions are made between agnates and affines, and between older and younger siblings. Normally everyone in a community, except for the women who have married in, is by some means reckoned a kinsman on the father's side. The distinction between older and younger siblings is recognized in ego's generation only. Older relatives are addressed by a kinship term, younger ones by name. Older persons in the first ascending generation in the community are addressed as a relative on the father's side (father's brother, father's sister, father's brother's wife). Older relatives two generations removed are addressed as "grandfather" or "grandmother."

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage to a cousin on the father's side is considered desirable. First cousin marriage is allowed; intracommunity marriages are fairly frequent (about 40 percent in one community) in order to avoid dispersing land rights to outsiders. First rights to marry a girl born in a community fall to men within the community, that is, to her close agnates. First rights to a widow fall to the close agnates of her husband. Polygyny is feasible for the wealthy.

Domestic Unit. The basic unit in Hazara society is the patrilineal patrilocal joint household, which may consist of relatives of many sorts. In the Hazarajat this unit normally occupies a single dwelling and jointly owns the livestock, land, and equipment. Families who are able build awlīs for themselvesdwellings consisting of several rooms, usually one for each nuclear family unit, plus a room for cooking; they also enclose a courtyard that shields from the outside. Among those able to afford it there is also a memān khāna ("guest room"), where visitors are entertained and, if they stay overnight, sleep. In winter the whole household may occupy the kitchen, where the oven, built into the floor, provides heat. Less well off families live in a single room, the kitchen. Houses often have two stories, and the animals are kept downstairs during the severe winters.

Inheritance. According to Hanafi law property should fall to the children, the sons receiving twice that of daughters. In practice land was often claimed only by sons, although daughters sometimes complained to a judge who might honor their claim.

Socialization. In the latter part of the twentieth century the Hazaras distinguished themselves by their interest in education. During the Communist period (1978-1992) they came to see education as a way to advance their place in society, and they increased the number of their schools, including schools for girls. Funds for the schools are raised internally and internationally. The curriculum is wider than that of the Sunni madrassas, including, where possible (for instance, in Pakistan), English and computers. There are several Hazara nongovernmental organizations that, along with the mosques, foster development and education.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Formerly the society was dominated by Mirs, heads of the dominant lineages, who in many ways were able to control and subjugate the ordinary Hazaras. But the Hazara-Afghan wars of 1890-1893 resulted in the complete removal of the dominate elite. The Mirs were replaced by representatives, maliks or arbābs, whose powers were gradually reduced.

A Hazara intelligentsia flourished during the Communist period, but after the collapse of that regime, most of them fled to neighboring countries. They have strong nationalistic ambitions that have been frustrated. Some are Iranian-backed mullahs, but there has been a move away from Iranian influence. The condition of the Hazaras, once so promising, became tragic in the twenty-first century, because of war and drought.

Political Organization. The wars of the 1980s and 1990s produced another kind of leader, a warlord, whose powers were based on the ability to muster military support. His power was partly personal but also circumstantial, as it entailed not only the ability to gain and keep loyal followers, but also to obtain military supplies. The coalitions that formed around these men were often affected by personal and family loyalties.

Social Control. One of the reasons for the notorious internal feuding among the Hazaras is the tendency for the interests of cousins to clash. Cousins often inherit land once held by a common ancestor, but in the division there can be disputes, as there is no cadastral survey and the boundaries are rarely precise. Cousins also often compete for wives in a field that is always short of girls because of the practice of polygyny.

Conflict. Despite this feuding, Hazaras tend to stand together against their historic enemies, the Pushtuns. There have been mortal clashes between these ethnic types for generations and the conflicts of the late twentieth century generated deep grudges. The Taliban, who are mainly Pushtun, have made Pushtun ethnicity and Sunnism a defining feature and have in some instances sought to exterminate the Hazaras.

In other countries the Hazaras have faired little better than they have inside Afghanistan. Even those who have been in Pakistan for one hundred years are still regarded as outsiders. In the early twenty-first century newly arrived Hazaras had no legal standing and were singled out and persecuted in Peshawar and Karachi, although the influence of Prince Karim Aga Khan in the twenty-first century helped protect the Isma'ili Hazaras. Iran has been dependent on Hazara laborers in the construction industry but the local population has come to resent them because they accept lower wages. In the twenty-first century they were being forced back into Afghanistan.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Most Hazaras are Shi'a. Perhaps 5 percent are Sunni and 1 percent is Isma'ili. The Sunni Hazaras are mostly from Sheikh Ali, Qunduz and Qalay-Naw. The Hazara Isma'ilis are mostly from Wardak, Parwān, and Baghlān; they have a strong presence in Kabul, Karachi, and Rawalpindi. Since the 1980s a small number of Hazaras have espoused Christianity.

Religious Practitioners. Hazara Sayyeds in the past were important but seem to have been relegated to a less prominent status in the war years (after an initial prominence in the Shura party). The Shi'ite clergy looked to Iran for leadership and many of them have studied in Qum and Mashhad. Ayatollah Khomeini was popular among the Hazaras when he came to power but his influence declined after the rise of Abdul Ali Mazari, who promoted a Hazara nationalism that offended Iran. Isma'ilis pledge allegiance to Karim Aga Khan, their forty-ninth Imam.

Ceremonies. Hazaras celebrate some rites of childhood but not the birth of a child, as child mortality is so high. Women celebrate the appearance of the first tooth. A child's first year of life is marked by shaving the head. Circumcision is prescribed for all males prior to their participating in the Islamic prayers; the rite is normally performed between the ages of one and five and often in the fall of the year. Marriage is marked by a series of gatherings, one to celebrate the engagement ("shirinī khorī"), one to mark a continued commitment to marriage that may not be consummated for some time ("toykhorī"), and the marriage ceremony itself, done according to Islamic formulas. Religious holidays are observed according to Islamic stipulations.

Arts. Women are especially adept at embroidering. They make and wear colorfully embroidered hats, and their "distarkhāns" (a cloth on which food is spread) exhibit especially fine workmanship.

Medicine. Forms of curing follow Islamic traditions of treatment. Hazaras traditionally believe that charms prepared by their Sayyeds will cure diseases. They also believe that some of them can divine the future.

Death and Afterlife. Hazaras as Muslims accept the Islamic teachings about death and the afterlife and follow common rituals of burial.

For the original article on the Hazara, see Volume 9, Africa and the Middle East.


Bacon, Elizabeth (1951). "An Inquiry into the History of the Hazara Mongols of Afghanistan," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7: 230247.

(1958). Obok: A Study of Social Structure in Eurasia. New York: Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Canfield, Robert L. (1973a). Faction and Conversion in a Plural Society: Religious Alignments in the Hindu Kush. Anthropology Papers, number 50. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

(1973b). Hazara Integration into the Afghan Nation: Some Changing Relations Between Hazaras and Afghan Officials. New York: Afghanistan Council of the Asia Society.

Emadi, Hafizullah (1993). "Minority Group Politics: The Role of Ismailis in Afghanistan's Politics." Central Asian Survey 12(3): 379392.

(1995). "Exporting Iran's Revolution: The Radicalization of the Shiite Movements in Afghanistan." Middle Eastern Studies 31(1) (Jan): 112.

(1997). "The Hazaras and Their Role in the Process of Political Transformation in Afghanistan." Central Asian Survey 16(3): 363387.

Ferdinand, Klaus (1959). "Preliminary Notes on Hazara Culture." Historiskfilosofiske Meddelelser: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab 37: 5. Copenhagen.

(1962). "Nomad Expansion and Commerce in Central Afghanistan." Folk 4: 123159.

(1965). "Ethnographical Notes on Chahar Aimak, Hazara, and Moghol." Acta Orientalia 28(34): 175204.

Gharjistani, Mohammad Isa (1988). Tarīkh-e Novīn-e Hazārajāt. Quetta: Farhangi-e Islami.

Harpviken, K. B. (1995). "Political Mobilization among the Hazara of Afghanistan: 19781992." Ph. D. dissertation. Oslo: Department of Sociology, University of Oslo.

Mousavi, Sayyed Askar (1998). The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study. Surrey, UK: Curzon. Contains an extensive bibliography.

Poladi, Hassan (1989). The Hazaras. Stockton, CA: Moghal.

Schurmann, H. F. (1962). The Mongols of Afghanistan: An Ethnography of the Mongols and Related Peoples of Afghanistan. The Hague: Mouton.

Uhrig, Reinhard (1999). "Die Ethnie der Hazara in Afghanistan," Internationales Asienforum 30(12): 2746.



views updated May 29 2018


ETHNONYMNS: Hazaragi, Hezareh, Hezare'i

Most Hazara live in central Afghanistan in an area known as the Hazarajat. Others live in areas north of the Hindu Kush. The Hazarajat and other Hazara territories are mountainous. The climate is severe in winter, with heavy snowfall; summers are mild but short, particularly at higher elevations. The Hazarajat, considering its harsh terrain, is densely populated.

The Hazara are roughly estimated to number between 1 and 1.5 million in Afghanistan and between 17,000 and 70,000 in Pakistan, but some estimates suggest a total of 6 million Hazara. Other ethnic minorities are sometimes considered to be Hazara or Hazara-related. The Taimani, who live at the eastern and western edges of the Hazarajat, are related to the Hazara, but the Taimani on the western edge are associated with the Aimaq. The Tatars, sometimes known as Tajiks, were once called Hazara Tatars and are considered physically and culturally similar to the Hazaras. The Moghols (Mongols) of Ghor, although probably related, are considered ethnically distinct from the Hazara.

Hazara are thought to have several affinities with the Mongols, including physical appearance, language, and kinship system. Although the Hazara lack the characteristic epicanthic eyefolds, many believe they are clearly Mongoloid. Hazaragi, the traditional language of the Hazara, is an Indo-Iranian language with many Mongol loanwords. Hazaragi is spoken in the home and, in the more isolated areas, it is also the language spoken in public affairs. Another indication of Mongol influence is the Hazara designation of older and younger siblings by different terms.

The term hazara is a Mongol-Persian blend. It means "thousand" in Farsi, and is believed to be the Persian equivalent of the Mongol word for thousand, minggan. The Mongols called a fighting unit by this term because the unit consisted of a kinship group that provided a thousand horsemen. Therefore, the word actually means "tribe." After the Hindu Kush Mongols acquired Farsi, the Farsi equivalent replaced the Mongol word. By the fifteenth century, "hazara" meant "mountain tribe," and, later, it came to refer to the group now known as "Hazara."

The Hazara were traditionally nomads who subsisted by herding sheep and goats; they also raised horses for fighting feuds. Mixed grain farming is now their primary subsistence activity. Most of the farming takes place on the alluvial floors of the valleys, but the higher ground is also used in various ways. Irrigation is used wherever possible. Small numbers of sheep and goats are herded in the valleys in winter, in the mountains in summer. Major crops include wheat and barley; fava beans are planted in rotation whenever necessary. Milk products are the main source of protein. Wool is a source of fiber, and Hazara women make woolen rugs of the Gilam type.

Hazara kinship is organized in lineages; descent is traced through the male line. The males in a specific area consider themselves descendants of a common ancestor. Although memory of tribal lineages traditionally extended back seven or eight generations, people probably remember no more than half that number today. Leading men within a village resolve any social conflicts by consensus.

The Hazara prefer to marry first cousins on their father's side, as is the Muslim practice, and there are many intravil1age marriages. Hazara seldom marry outsiders, and, when they do, it is usually women who are given to men of other groups. The children of such unions are not usually considered Hazara.

Tribal authority was formerly vested in mirs or khanates, but, after the Hazara-Afghan war of 1891, Hazara power was weakened. There are two kinds of political leaders today, the khanawada, or khan, and the araab or malek. The khanawada's influence is based on personal wealth, kinship, and social alliances. The araab is an appointed representative. Holders of these positions are generally relatives and allies.

The sayyid, an Islamic authority, is also an influential person among the Shia Hazara. Sayyids claim descent from the Prophet Mohammed and are highly venerated by the Hazara. A group of sayyids live among the Hazara, and, because they take wives from the Hazara, they now resemble the Hazara in culture and appearance. These authorities use their sacred status to serve the religious needs of the people, and they are part of a large informal network that has been mobilized to exert influence on public affairs.

The Hazara are one of Afghanistan's most impoverished ethnic groups and one of the most resistant to central-government control. Although there have been few studies in recent years, it is believed that the Hazara have been virtually free of government control since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the civil unrest following the end of Soviet occupation.


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Ferdinand, Klaus (1965). "Ethnographical Notes on Chahar Aimak, Hazara, and Moghol." Acta Orientalia 28(3-4): 175-204.

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Kakar, M. Hasan (1973). Pacification of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. New York: Afghanistan Council of the Asia Society.


views updated May 29 2018


Ethnolinguistic group in Afghanistan.

The Hazara live in the high central mountains of Afghanistan in a region called the Hazarajat, and they number between one and two million. The Hazara are racially distinct from the rest of the Afghans, with Mongoloid physical features, including the epicanthic fold of the upper eyelid commonly seen in the people of central Asia. Although Hazara legend has it that they are the descendants of the army of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, scholars now believe them to be descendants of Chaghatai from Transoxiana, who entered the area as soldiers under Timur and his son Shah Rukh in the fifteenth century. Originally Sunni Moslems, the Hazara were converted to Shiʿism during the time of the Safavid King Abbas I (15881692), when this part of Afghanistan was controlled by Iran. The Hazara speak a dialect of Persian known as Hazaragi, which contains some Turkic and Mongol words.

The Hazara lived a relatively independent existence in Afghanistan until the 1890s, when they were brought under the control of Kabul in a series of wars during the reign of Abd al-Rahman (18801901). Looked down upon by other Afghans, the Hazara are the poorest of the Afghan ethnolinguistic groups. Some have migrated to Kabul and the other major cities, where they work in menial jobs. During the Afghan war of resistance, the Hazara were able to expel the government representatives from the Hazarajat, and in 1979 they established a quasi-independent government under a council led by Sayyid Ali Beheshti. By the mid-1980s, however, the Hazarajat came under the control of the Iranian-backed Shiʿite groups of Nasr and Pasdaran. In the early 1990s the Hazara political groups united in an organization called Hezb-e Wahadat (Unity Party), led by Mohammed Karim Khalili. This group played a major role in the formation of the Mojahedin government in 1992.

The Hazara, through Hezb-e Wahadat, fought against the Taliban movement, which captured Kabul in 1996, and joined the United Front in the fight against the Taliban government. As a result, the Taliban government carried out a number of massacres against Hazara civilians, both in the Hazarajat and in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, between 1998 and 2000. When the Taliban government was driven from Kabul in December of 2001 the Hazara played an active role in the formation of the interim government of Hamid Karzai, and held several important seats in the interim government.

See also afghanistan; bamyan; shiʿism.


Adamec, Ludwig. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Farr, Grant. "The Rise and Fall of an Indigenous Resistance Group: The Shura of the Hazarajat." Afghanistan Studies Journal 1 (1988): 4861.

Rubin, Barnett R. The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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