Afghanistan returns to the Taliban. Which future for the Hazaras?

Updated: Feb 2

by Massimiliano Nima Lacerra

1. Introduction

In the complex ethnic reality of Central Asia, Afghanistan occupies a position of primary importance. As geographical, cultural and linguistic crossroads, the Afghan valleys have witnessed the passage of generations of Silk Road merchants towards Kashgar, the gateway to Xinjiang and the Celestial Empire. The Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Baha'is, Sikhs, Hindus communities are the heirs of the millenary ethnic-religious dynamics that have involved this territory.

The complex ethno-demographic Afghan reality remains a distinctive feature that still today influences national and international policies. In 2007[1], out of a population of about 22 million inhabitants, it was estimated that there were about 50 ethnic groups and about thirty languages spoken. However, the statistics are constantly evolving; as of today, after just 14 years, the estimates show a population of almost 39 million inhabitants[2].

Fig.1 Ethnographic map of Afghanistan and relative percentages of ethnic groups (M.Izady)

Hazara, Pashtun, Tajiki, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Arabs, Kirghizis, Jamshidi, Taimuri, Firozkohi, Taimani, Baraki, Nuri: these are just some of the largest ethnic groups present in this territory, testifying the complex cultural symbiosis.

2. The Hazara

Fig. 2 Hazara children, Bamiyan province. (balazsgardi)

The Hazaras are one of fourteen recognized [3] ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Their Persian name (هزاره, Hazāra) means "the thousand" and refers to a legend according to which this ethnic group descends from the 1.000 armies of Genghis Khan who led them to the Mongol conquest of Eurasia. In fact, the Hazaras possess physical characteristics typical of Central Asian populations, traits that make them highly distinguishable from the other ethnicities of Afghanistan. However, Alessandro Monsutti[4] reports three theories on the genesis of this population: “The first establishes that it is a group descended from the Mongols (or Turkish-Mongols) and perhaps directly from the armies of Genghis Khan; the second hypothesis favors the element of autochthony of the Hazara, for which they would have been present in the region even before the Indo-European invasions of the second millennium BC; the third hypothesis focuses on the different migratory waves that would have led to the formation of Hazara settlements with different origins…

The Hazaras represent a substantial portion of the population within the changing Afghan demographic scenario. The exact numbers are not known since the last official national census was carried out in 1979[5]. It is estimated that this ethnic group comprises between 10 and 20% of the population - between 4 and 8 million-, but other estimates[6] instead refer to about 15% of the total population of Afghanistan, settling around 6 million individuals. The Hazara community itself claims that its number is deliberately underestimated by official organizations in order to deny funding and political representation, estimating the percentage at 25%, 10 million approximately of individuals.