Hazaras’ History

The Hazara Mongols of Afghanistan represent one of the last surviving Mongol remnants in western Asia of the Vast empire which was conquered by the armies of Chinggis Khan in the early thirteenthcentury and consolidated by his descendants. The Mongol origin ofthe Hazaras is attested by their high cheekbones and sparse beards, which readily distinguish them from Afghan and Iranian neighbors. The name “Hazara”is derived from the Persian word hazara, meaning “thousand,” which came to be applied in the western Mongol empire to the military unit which the earlier Mongols called ming or minggan, “thousand”. Contrary to the tradition often reported in modern publications, there is no evidence that Chinggis Khan left garrisons south of the Oxus when he returned to Mongolia in A.D 1227. A study of historical records indicates that the Hazaras are descended from Mongols who entered what is now the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan at various times between A.D. 1229 and 1447. In 1229 a Mongol army was is patched to the west, of which a part was stationed in the region of Ghazni until 1241. In 1256 a grandson of Chinggis Khan, Hulagu (Hulegu), marched west against the muslim caliphs of Baghdad, and his descendants, the Ilkhans, ruled Iran for nearly a hundred years. On more than one occasion troops stationed in northeastern Iran revolted against the Ilkhans, and it is possible that some of these rebels sought refuge in the central mountains of Afghanistan, where they could more easily avoid punitive expeditions.

The largest number of ancestral Hazaras, however, seem to have come from Transoxiana, the appanage north of the Oxus which Chinggis Khan left to his son Chagatai. During the latter part of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries chagtaian armies swept repeatedly across the Hindu Kush and into India. Although they were unsuccessful in establishing a foothold in India, the Chagataian did gain control of the route to the Indus and, by the last decade of the thirteenth century, claimed as an appanage of Transoxiana the region, which includes the present Hazarajat. Later this territory came under the nominal control of the Ilkhans of Iran, but it was assigned by them to generals of Chagataian origin. Following the fall of the Ilkhanate in AD 1337, there is a hiatus in the historical records, but it would appear that the Chagataians remained as permanent residents in the area between Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul, and the Hindu Kush and became the chief ancestors of the Hazaras.

In AD 1380 another Chagataian, Timur, invaded Iran and laid claim to the provinces of Kandahar, Ghazni, and Kabul. Under his son and successor, Shah Rukh, troops and administrative officials were sent into the area, and it is probable that some of them remained when the Timurids returned north of the Oxus to Samarkand on the death of Shah Rukh in AD 1447. By the time another Timurid, Babur, invaded Afghanistan at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Hazaras were a distinct people, dwelling in approximately their present habitat.

The modern Hazara Mongols have no tradition of descent from Chinggis Khan or from any of his family or followers. Indeed, the name of Chinggis Khan appears to be unknown to them except for a few individuals who have been told of the great Mongol conqueror by Europeans.

Language and Religion
When Mongols moved into the appanage of chagatai in the thirteenth century, the area was occupied by Turkic-speaking peoples. The ancestors of the Hazara Mongols appear to have been influenced by thei Turkic subjects during their stay in Transoxiana, for many Turkic as well as Mongol words are present in modern Hazara speech. In Afghanistan the ancestral Hazaras became Persian-speaking. At the beginning of the sixteenth century some Hazaras still spoke Mongol, by the twentieth century, Mongol survived only as a minor vocabulary element. Bellew characterized the Hazara language as representing a thirteenth-century form of Persian. Morgenstierne, a trained linguist, more cautiously described Hazara speech as “a peculiar dialect of Persian”. No descriptive study has been made of any of the Hazaras as are literate

At some period after their entry into Afghanistan the ancestors of the Hazara Mongols adopted the Shi’a Muslim “twelver” faith of the Persians. All Hazaras dwelling within the Hazarajat are “twelvers”. Such
Hazaras on the periphery of the Hazarajat as have been converted to other Shia sects or to the Sunni Muslim religion are not regarded by the twelvers as being properly Hazaras.

Location and Population
The Hazaras proper traditionally occupied an area extending from the central spine of the Hindu Kush southward though the foothills to Ghazni, Mukur, and nearly to Kandahar and from the Paghman Range, just west of Kabul, to an undetermined point some distance east of Heart. The name “Hazarajat” has been given to this area south of the Hindu Kush. The Timuri, who live east of the Unai Pass toward Kabul, do not consider themselves as dwelling in the Hazarajat, although they are accepted without question as Hazaras. On the other hand, the Yek Aulang, who lives in the Yek Aulang Valley on the north slope of the main Kohi Baba Range of the Hindu Kush, is included in the Hazarajat.

In the late 1880’s many of the Hazara tribes revolted against Abdur Rahman, the first ruler to bring thecountry of Afghanistan under a centralized Afghan government. Consequent on this unsuccessful revolt,
numbers of Hazaras fled to Quetta in Baluchistan and to the area around Meshed in northeastern Iran. Most active in the revolt were the Uruzgani, the southernmost of the Hazara tribes. Following their defeat, a considerable number of Uruzgani left the country, as did many Jaghuri, their nearest neighbors to the northeast. The territory, which they abandoned, was occupied by Afghans of the Ghilzai tribe. In 1904
Habibullah Khan, successor to Abdur Rehman as amir of Afghanistan, issued a proclamation granting amnesty to the Hazaras who had taken refuge in India and Iran and inviting them to return to Afghanistan. They were promised new land in Turkestan to replace that in the south, which had been appropriated by Afghan, and many took advantage of this offer. While considerable colonies remain around Quetta and Meshed, the majority of the emigrant Uruzgani, many Jaghuri, and fragments of other tribes are today to be found in the general area between Maimaneh and Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan.

The author was unable to visit Turkestan, and data obtained from informants in Meshed were not adequate for mapping the distribution of tribes in the north. This group of Hazaras seems to have been completely overlooked by travelers in the area who have published their observations. For the Hazarajat, the former locations of a number of tribes are shown on Survey of India maps, and these locations can sometimes be checked with other sources. However, the locations of tribes shown on Map I should not be taken as representing the present location. Afghan tribes have been encroaching from the south, and a recent publication shows that, in the west, former Hazara territory is now occupied by tribes of the Chahar Aimak. Just as the tribal map shown in this volume is out of date, so the tribal population estimates given below are over forty years old. Lacking more recent data, the map and the population estimates will serve as a point of departure for an analysis of social structure. They should not, however, be accepted as representing thepresent location and population of tribes in the Hazarajat

The largest and most stable of the Hazara tribes are the Dai Kundi (population 52,000), Dai Zangi (60,000), Besud (100,000), Polada (45,000), Jaghuri (117,500) and Uruzgani (65,000). The first four listed are traditionally considered as belonging among the “original” Hazara tribes, “Sad-i- Qabar”. The Uruzgani are said to be made up of two branches – the Dai Khitai and the Dai Chopan – which themselves formerly constituted independent “original” tribes. The Jaghuri are among those tribes considered as “Sad-i-Sueka”, of mixed descent. Of the other original tribes, the Sheikh Ali live north of the Hindu Kush and, because of their religion (Ismaili Shia and Sunni), are not accepted as part of the Hazara community. The Dahla, said by one informant to be extinct were listed by another informant as a section o the Polada. According to a scholarly Hazara informant, Mr. Khuda Nazar Qambaree, Dahla is a place name, the abode of the Zauli, who belonged to the Dai or tribe of Dala-Mezo, o which he Sultan Ahmad formed another branch. Dala-Mezo no longer exists as a tribe. An Uruzgani informant named the sultan Ahmad as the Uruzgani division to which he belonged and gave Zauli as another division of the Uruzgani.

Of the tribes not considered as among the original Hazara tribes, the Dai Mirdad, with an estimated population o 10,000, was named as a separate tribe by an informant familiar with the area as of 1910, whereas later it appears to have become a branch of the Besud. The Chahar Dasta (9,250), Muhammad Khwaja (16,650), and Jaghatu (42,350) are sometimes grouped together as the Ghazni Hazaras. The first two formerly constituted a single tribe which had branched off from the Dai chopan; but, whereas they are listed as Sad-i Sueka, that is, of mixed origin, the Dai Chopan are Sad-i Qabar, of “pure” origin. The Babuli and Chora, formerly independent tribes were listed by some informants as a consolidated subsection, known as the Sher Ahmad, of the Dai Khitai branch of the Uruzgani, although others regarded them as belonging to the Dai Kundi tribe. The Yek Aulang, mentioned earlier as dwelling just north of the Hindu Kush, are said to be an offshoot of the Dai Zangi. The Kalandar are said to be of the same stock as the Jaghuri. The Timuri, a tribe numbering about 1,000, with which this writer spent some time, are not mentioned by any of the earlier sources. The tribe seems to have been formed as a name group some time after the Great Rebellion, from lineages of Dai Kundi, Besud, and possibly other tribal origin.

Even before the Great Rebellion, as a consequence of which Afghans took over some of the territory of Uruzgani and Jaghuri sections, there had been a gradual encroachment of Afghans along the periphery of the
Hazarajat. Masson, who spent several years in Afghanistan in the 1830’s, wrote that the district o Wardak had formerly been “possessed by the Hazaras, who about one hundred years since, were expelled by the Afghans. The Hazaras would also seem to have held the country from Karabagh to Ghazni, but have been in like manner partially expelled. Indeed, the encroachments of the Afghan tribes are still in progress”. This encroachment continues today.

Habitat and Economy
The Hazarajat is a country of high mountains and narrow valleys. It is estimated that the average elevation of the peaks is around 10,000 feet, and many rise to 12,000, 13,000 or even 15,000 feet. In the northeastern corner of Besud, narrow rapid streams drain eastward into the Ghorband, a tributary of the Kabul River. In the Dai Zangi territory, just north of the Kohi Baba ridge, rise some of the sources of the Heri Rud. Much of the Hazarajat, however, is oriented toward the Helmand River and its tributaries, which flow in a long, sweep southwestward toward the Sistan border of Iran. In the lower reaches of the rivers, the valleys are deep and marked with frequent gorges. The upper valleys are usually shallower and more open. Although occasional fertile plains are to be found, Broadfoot’s description of one region is applicable to many parts of the Hazarajat: “I never saw anything wilder or more desolate. A steep footpath now descends the face of the hill, and ends in the valley of Jarmatu, a ravine between barren hills with a few yards of soil at the bottom”.

In this high, interior area the winters are severe. The first slight snows begin in October, and heavy snow lies on the ground from December into March or April. During this time many communities in the upper valleys are snowbound. In April the snows begin to melt and for the next month or six weeks heavy rains swell the rivers. During the summer months no clouds dim the bright sky, and warm days are followed by cook, brisk nights. Except for an occasional wild almond in some of the upper valleys, no trees break the naked sweep of mountain and valley and only grasses and scattered shrubs soften the contours of the mountain slopes.

In such a habitat the Hazaras must painstakingly utilize every resource in order to survive. The narrow level floor of valley which can be irrigated are intensively cultivated. In some places, where the mountain slopes rise directly from the riverbanks, the lower slopes are terraced for crops. Irrigation channels, carefully banked with stone, are laboriously constructed, sometimes over a course of several miles, in order that unwatered level areas may be cultivated. Dry farming is practiced on such upper meadows as are available, but for the most part the vast stretches of mountainside are suitable only for grazing.

As a consequence, the Hazara economy is carefully balanced between agriculture and stockbreeding, with the latter playing a major role in the less fertile regions. The staple crops are barley, wheat, several kinds of
legumes, and, in some regions. Maize. Cucumbers and melons are often raised, and poplar or fruit trees are sometimes planted along the edges of the fields. Rotation of crops is practiced, and alfalfa or clover is planted when needed to enrich the soil. Great flocks of sheep are kept some of which are sold or bartered for additional grain or for commodities not available in the Hazarajat. Where the grass is rich, horses are raised for riding, and in the south, toward Ghazni and Kandahar, camels. A few cows and oxen are kept for milk and for drawing plows, ponies or mules serve as pack animals, and goats are also found, but the animal wealth of the Hazaras do not raise fodder for their animals. In the late summer, men and boys may be seen scattered about the mountainside for miles around every village, gathering wild grass and shrubs for use as winter fodder. Other plants and shrubs are collected for use as fuel. Hunting is unimportant in the economy.

Two tribes engage actively in trade – the Dai Mirdad and the Timuri, who send caravans deep into the Hazarajat to obtain good for sale in outside markets. The chief products obtained by Timuri merchants for sale in Kabul are roghan (clarified butter), baraq (a kind of woolen cloth for which the Hazaras are noted), and pileless woven rugs. The other tribes do not professional trading. The few imported goods they require, such as embroidery silks, cotton cloth, and spices, are obtained from itinerant Indian merchants.

In spite of the most careful utilization of resources, the Hazaras cannot always obtain a living from the land. Many Hazaras go every winter to seek employment at Kabul, Kandahar, and Quetta, returning home in the spring. This is particularly true of the Besud and Ghazni Hazaras and to a lesser extent of the Jaghuri. A number of Hazaras live in Kabul throughout theyear, returning to their homes only for visits.

The Hazaras live in fortified villages called qale set on the lower slope of the mountain just above their cultivated fields. Until the twentieth century many tribes spent the summer with their flocks in pastures a short distance from the villages, leaving only a few workers to look after the fields. Timuri informants could not remember a time when they had lived in tents during the summer, and it is probable that most of the Hazaras now live the year round in their villages.


About Hamid Hussain

Worked at London Educational Academy (Teacher), Went to Gawhershad Model High School, Lives in Quetta, Pakistan, In a relationship, Knows American English, Dari, Persian, Urdu, Pashto, From Jaghuri, Ghazni, Afghanistan, Born on July 17, 1991

Posted on March 29, 2009, in Hazaras, Historical. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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