ETHNONYMS: Barbari, Berberi, Chahar (or Char) Aimaq
In western Afghanistan and far eastern Iran, "Aimaq" means "tribal people," which distinguishes the Aimaq from the nontribal population in the area, the Persians (Fariswan) and Tajiks. Most of the population of 800,000 (1980) live in Afghanistan. In 1984, 120,000 Aimaq lived in Iran. They are considered to be Hanafi Sunni Muslims.
Linguistically, the Aimaq differ little from the majority of Persians surrounding them. The local dialects of the Aimaq tribes are very close either to eastern Khorasan Farsi or to Dari, the Herati dialect of Farsi.
The Char Aimaq (chahar, four), an administrative grouping of four seminomadic tribes, is the largest of twenty Aimaq groups. There are six other seminomadic or nomadic Aimaq groups in western Afghanistan, including the Timuri, Tahiri, Zuri, Maleki, and Mishmast. Other sedentary groups that may be considered Aimaq are the Kipchak, Chenghizi, Chagatai, Mobari, Ghuri, Kakeri, Damanrigi, and Khamidi. Geographically, the Char Aimaq live within an area stretching from the central hills of Bādghis north and northeast of Herat to the mountains of Ghor in the west of central Afghanistan.
The four tribes of the Char Aimaq are the Jamshidi, the Aimaq-Hazara, the Firuzkuhi, and the Taimani. The tribes of Char Aimaq date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the groups were unified by chiefs coming from outside the area. Descendants of these founders are still influential in tribal affairs, although they have lost their traditional power.
During the second half of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth century, the Jamshidi were forced to lead a nomadic life. All of the tribe or greater parts of it had been exiled in Persia, in Khiva, and in northeastern Afghanistan. Thousands of Taimani and Tajiks of Ghor were forcibly transplanted to the north of Herat, and the largest of the other Aimaq tribes, the Timuri, was nearly exterminated.
Tribalism is strong among all Aimaq groups. For example, feuds tend to be settled by tribal rather than by government authorities. The traditional concept of honor and shame, which is very important in tribal law, is still stronger than Islamic or state law.
The Aimaq, in sharp contrast with other societies in rural Afghanistan, accord women high status: women participate in group discussions, even when outsiders are present, and a girl may reject a groom chosen by her father. Bride-service is sometimes practiced; a groom lives in the compound of his future bride's parents and serves for a specific period of time (usually two years or more). After his bride-service is completed, the wedding takes place, and husband and wife begin their lives together. Where the influence of the orthodox Muslim clergy is stronger, however, as in the vicinity of Herat, such traditional practices are much less common.
Agriculture and animal husbandry form the basis of the Char Aimaq economy. Bādghis is one of the most fertile areas of Afghanistan. Water is plentiful and is used for irrigating fields of rice, cotton, and grapes. Wheat and melons are also grown. Herding is a primary subsistence activity. Fat-tailed sheep, including karakuls, graze year round. Herds, which graze on pastures near the villages, are cared for by one of several brothers in an extended family during the spring and summer. Shepherds take the flocks to the lower steppes along the former Soviet border in the autumn and winter. In most years, surplus agricultural products can be sold at markets in Herat or Qala Nau. Carpet weaving is another activity that earns cash.
There is less rainfall outside Bādghis, and yields from farming are much lower. In addition, cattle must be kept in stables during the severe winters, which limits the number of animals that can be herded. Groups outside of Bādghis are thus less densely populated and more economically restricted than is the population of Bādghis.
The Timuri were the most powerful and most numerous of the other Aimaq groups. Their original homeland is western Bādghis, where they adjoin the Jamshidi. In this area, high-quality Herat Baluch rugs are woven by women of some of the Timuri subtribes.
Many of the Timuri have moved to what is now Iranian Khorāsān, where thay have joined with various small groups of Jamshidi, Zuri, and other Aimaq. There are a few Jamshidi and Aimaq-Hazara living in the vicinity of Mashhad who have preserved traditional customs. The Timuri in Iran and some of those near Bādghis tend to be nomadic, whereas those near the oases of Herãt tend to be settled.
There have been few reports on the Aimaq since the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in 1979.
Grimes, Barbara F., ed. (1988). Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Janata, Alfred (1984). "Aimaq." In Muslim Peoples: A World Ethnographic Survey, edited by Richard V. Weekes, 14-18. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Singer, Andre E V. (1976). "A Study of the Impact of Social and Cultural Change upon Ethnic Identity in Eastern Iran." Ph.D. dissertation, Exeter College, Oxford.