On the 4th of October 2011, gunmen riding motorbikes stopped a bus carrying predominately Hazara Muslims who were heading to work on a vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta, the provincial capital of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. The attackers dragged the passengers off the bus, forced them to stand in line and then opened fire. Thirteen were left dead and six were wounded.
On 19 September, gunmen forced 40 Hazara people, on a pilgrimage to Iran to visit Shia holy sites, to disembark from the bus, they then shot 26 Hazara people dead and left six wounded. The Hazaras were separated from the four or five Balouch passengers, who were forced to stand and watch. They were lined up for an execution-style massacre. Whilst some managed to escape, three more were killed as they were trying to take wounded victims to hospital in Quetta. Lashkar –e- Jhangvi, a Sunni terrorist group, with links to Al Qaeda, took responsibility for this attack.
Over 100 Hazaras have fallen victim to such violence in Quetta in the past two months.
So, who are the Hazara people? What is their history and why have they become victims of such horrific violence?
The Hazaras are Afghanistan’s third largest ethnicity, making up roughly 20 percent of the population. They are considered, by many in Afghanistan, as outsiders; as Shiite Muslims in a predominately Sunni Muslim nation.
The Hazara’s roots are often disputed. Three main theories of their heritage persist; they are often thought to be of Turko-Mongol ancestry, descended from the fabled Genghis Khan’s army, who occupied Afghanistan in the 13th Century.
The second theory purports that their heritage stretches two millennia, to the Kushan Dynasty, when the Bamiyan region was a hub of Buddhist civilisation and home to the Buddha’s of Bamiyan, blown up in 2001 by the Taliban. Supporters of this notion also highlight the similar facial features of Hazara people with the Buddhist murals in the region as evidence of this theory.
However, the main consensus is that they are a mixed race. It is believed that groups of Mongol tribes travelled through Eastern Persia, implanting their roots and mixing with the local community. These groups’ descendants then created their own community which subsequently became the Hazaras.
During the reign of Amir Abdul Rehman, in the late 19th century, more than half of the Hazara population was brutally murdered or forcibly evicted from their land by Rehman’s troops who led multiple raids into the Hazara homeland in Afghanistan’s central highlands. This lead to a mass exile into neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.
At present, it is estimated that there is around 900,000 Hazara people living in Pakistan and over three million in Iran. In Pakistan today Hazara people remain an underprivileged community. At present, between 500,000 and 600,000 Hazaras live in Quetta, spread between two slums in the East and West of the city.
Amongst the many Hazara people currently in Quetta are the tens of thousands of new migrants, who are currently escaping the fury of the Taliban. Persecution of Hazara people in Afghanistan continues with terrifying fervour. In June this year, 26 Hazara villages were burned to the ground in the Hazara district of Ghazni. Their community leaders are routinely kidnapped and people live in constant fear of Taliban attacks.
Hazara people are being forcibly repatriated to Afghanistan from Iran, and deported on a daily basis from European countries back to Afghanistan. In major UK cities, thousands of Hazara people seeking asylum been forced into destitution and hiding when their asylum claim is rejected.
Their history, culture and years of persecution are ignored by the West and very few people know of their plight.
Rohullah Yakobi, a Hazara labour activist and PPE student living in Wolverhampton describes the situation for many of his friends and family living in Quetta and asks for our help:
“The social lives of the Hazara community in Quetta Pakistan have been stalled as a result of the continued targeted killings. Hazaras need help, they need support and so far they have had none. Hazaras feel betrayed and ignored by the International community and human rights organizations. I call on anyone who can help, please do your humanitarian duty and help the voiceless and helpless Hazaras in Quetta. You can help by writing to your MPs and urging them to ask the Prime Minister or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to do whatever they can to stop the target killings of the Hazaras.”
Image Credit- Javed Juya