How is life for Hazara Community in Afghanistan

How is life for Hazara Community in Afghanistan

Enayatullah Hassani

On Saturday evening, May 7, 2021, when Hamida, Kamila, Suhaila and hundreds of other students like them were leaving the Sayed-el-shuhadda school for home, a car bomb detonated in front of their school, followed by two explosive devices, once students rushed out in panic, which resulted to hundreds of deaths and injuries. The school is located in the western part of Capital, the area called Dashte- Barchi, which is home to more than one million people mostly from Hazara ethnicity, a specific ethnoreligious group that has been the most wanted target for terrorist attacks by terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

Years before when I was an ambitious school kid, my father asked me what are you going to be once I grow up? “I want to be president,” I said. It was sometime after 2001, the time for the spark of a new vocabulary in Afghanistan, the emergence of words like election, republic and president. And I was hearing news about president activities every day from my father’s old fashioned Russian radio, and thereby I got to know being a president is something important. “Being a ruler is impossible for a Hazara, this never happened in history my son” father said’’. More than 20 years are gone from that day, and along with it I explored more and more about my identity as part of an ethnoreligious group who have systematically been excluded from the government, economic opportunities, and social dynamics and for centuries have experienced ethnic cleansing, slavery, land grabbing, unwarranted taxes, looting, and pillaging of homes.[6]

Being impossible to be a president was one out of the whole box of barriers Hazara has been faced during centuries which had become part of Hazara identity as was so vivid in my father’s memory. But in the last 20 – 30 years taking advantage of the new situation that emerged in Afghanistan after the civil war, the defeat of the Taliban regime, and the emergence of democracy in Afghanistan, youth like me, Hamida, Kamila, Suhaila and the whole new generation of Hazara, we tried to redefine the HazaraIdentity, and fight against impossibilities have been imposed on Hazaras, and in the war-torn country infected with ignorance, violence, terrorism, discrimination and poverty we started to fight by choosing education, as our only weapon, this was the reason my sister Shafiqa walked 3 hours every day to school to become the first girl to enter university from my small and remote village in central Afghanistan, and it was the reason brought Suhaila and Aqila to the Sayed-el-shuhadda after her carpet weaving session. In just less than ten years Hazarabecame the pioneers of education, art, sport and pioneer practitioners of democratic values in Afghanistan.

But going to war with gunmen using a pen has never been easy, and the Hazaras paid a heavy price for their thirst for education or perhaps just for their living as Hazara and Shia in Afghanistan territory.

Terrorist groups like the Taliban and ISIS targeted Hazaras more than any other social group in Afghanistan and declared their hate towards Hazaras explicitly. ‘’Being Shi’a and therefore both a religious and a visible ethnic minority, Hazaras are particularly vulnerable. Suicide bombings targeting Hazarapublic events have taken place with increasing regularity, most of which have been claimed by groups stating allegiance with ISI’’. [6]

Over the past five years, there have been at least 25 attacks on educational institutions, including schools, universities, private educational institutions, mosques, stadiums, places of worship, armed attacks and the hostage-taking of Hazaras, mostly in the west of the capital. At least 778 civilians, including schoolchildren, children, students, worshipers, travellers, workers and Hazara athletes, were killed and more than 1,700 were injured in the attacks, according to official figures. [1] Six years ago, in the fall of 2015, gunmen related to the ISIS-Khorasan branch and the Taliban in Zabul province, after months of hostage-taking, beheaded seven Hazara hostages, including a 9-year-old girl, two women and an old man. Later on that year, on three occasions, 40 Hazara civilians were taken hostage by these fighters from Zabul and Ghazni provinces. Of these, 27 were exchanged or released, and 13 other hostages were beheaded.

The following year, on the afternoon of August 23, 2016, when hundreds of protesters from the Enlightenment Movement protest in Kabul’s Dehmzang Square, two and a half kilometres from the Presidential Palace, two suicide bombers blew themselves up. The square was filled with corpses and blood. At least 87 people were killed and more than 500 were injured. The 82 victims of the attack were Hazara and most of them were university students, professors and scholars. Highlighting the growing frustration and discontent among the Hazaras regarding their share of national resources and foreign aid they fought for democracy and protested structural racism in the country. Also on an evening in the fall of 2017, a suicide bomber blew himself up among thousands of worshipers at the Imam Zaman Mosque in western Kabul. The attack killed at least 56 people and injured 55 others. All the victims were Hazaras.

The terrorist attack targeted a maternity clinic run by MSF in West Kabul in 2020, killing dozens of mothers and newbornchildren. The most recent one was the cruel attack of Sayed-el-shuhadda school, which took Hamida, Kamila, Suhaila, and 80 other young students from us, and left more than hundreds of them injured, which most of them were female students and all of them were Hazara and from low-income families .1. They lost their lives before they get the chance to realize what their sin was, but the terrorist knew well what their guilt was, they were born Hazara, and their family practised the Shia sect of Islam which is labelled by Sunni extremists as infidels and killing them is considered as the key to enter the promised heaven.

The Sayed-el-shuhadda school is located near the mountain called Chel- Dokhtaran, which means ‘’forty girls’’ a folklore story and also a historical novel in this name by Younes Salehi, Shirin, the story that refers to the cruel massacre of Hazaras by king ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khān. Hazaras were largely autonomous until the 1890s when they were forcefully and brutally integrated into the Afghan state by the armies of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khān. who wiped out about 62 per cent of them, Hazara men, women, and children were slaughtered [4], and caused a myriad of people to be driven out of their villages, Since then they have faced significant marginalization, persecution, and displacement. [2] Before the genocide, Hazarasmade up more than half of Afghanistan’s total population. Although once the largest ethnicity, they were now a minority. Accordingly, to stifle Hazara influence Shah ʿAbd al-RaḥmānKhān fragmented Hazarajat and demarcated it so that it would encompass numerous other provinces. [3]

After that too, Hazara people faced lots of massacres and genocides because of their identity from different resources, like the Afshar massacre in 1993, by the Islamic State of Afghanistan government led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, its allied Ittihad-i Islami, and Shuray-e-Nazar-e Shamal militias who killed more than 2,000 Hazara families [5], and also the Mazar-e-Sharif mass murder of Hazaras by Taliban in 1996, which 10,000 Hazara civilians were brutally murdered.5

It was the year 2014, which I left my village in the remote mountain part of Ghazni province for Kabul to have access to the basic educational centres and resources which was not available there, it was hard for me to be away from my family but the hard part was something else, passing the ‘Death Road’ and reaching safely to Kabul, like always my mother prayed for me wiping her tears and fortunately I won lottery life and reached Dashte- Barchi, Kabul. My story is one out of millions of stories of Hazara people who bear difficulties in the hope of a better life. Poverty and insecurity drive many Hazaras to migrate to cities such as Kabul. But, the journey to Kabul from Hazarajat in the centre of the country is not easy and has proven sometimes to be a matter of life and death. The main roadway between the two areas – dubbed ‘Death Road’ – has been the site of kidnappings and other deadly Taliban attacks on Hazaras in recent years. As a result, having successfully arrived in Kabul, Hazaras have often been unable or afraid to return to their previous homes. This violence on the main roadway has further isolated and thereby stalled the development of Hazarajat, which requires labour and materials from Kabul to build facilities such as schools and clinics. Both these factors have contributed to the high numbers of Hazara currently residing in Kabul, with many concentrated in one overcrowded area, Dasht-e Barchi. Although life in Kabul is relatively improved for Hazaras since 2001, they have continued to occupy lower-status jobs and face harsh discrimination, including in access to facilities and provision of essential services. [6]

Though Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nation, only the Pashtun ethnicity has ruled the country throughout kingdoms and presidencies. Pashtun nationalism is against the very essence of democracy because it excludes other major ethnicities from high-ranking government positions and critical decision-making processes. As an ethnic group, Hazaras have always lived on the edge of economic survival in Afghanistan. The recent persecution of Hazaras was not instigated by the Taliban but had existed for centuries – during which Hazaraswere driven out of their lands, sold as slaves and lacked access to the essential services otherwise available to the majority of the population.

Just some days before the Sayed el shuhadda high school car bomb attack, hundreds of school students in Dashte-Barchi were protesting for not receiving books and teachers, in the area which is in the west part of the capital itself, the students had slogans in their hands saying ‘’we want books’’ and ‘’we want teacher’’. Some days later the problem was solved and the students did not need teachers anymore, as there were no students in the school. This is also one of the many more instances that the central government is discriminating against Hazaras people.


1. Khadem Hussain Karimi. Breaking the silence in the face of a genocide; What are the protection options?

2. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Ḥazāra”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 Apr. 2020, Accessed 11 May 2021.

3. Dawlatabadi, Hazaraha az qatl-e aam ta the-e howiat

4. B. A. Dawlatabadi, Hazaraha az qatl-e aam ta ehyae-e howiat(Hazaras from Massacres to Revival of Identity) (Qom: Ebterkar-e Danish, 2009)

5. Dawlatabadi, Hazaraha az qatl-e aam ta ehyae-e howiat

6. Minority Rights Group > Directory > Countries > Afghanistan > Hazaras,

7. Rustam Ali Sirat, There Is a Crisis of Empathy in Afghanistan, The Wire,


*This is the original work by Enayatullah Hassani – a Kectil2020 Colleague.

Enayatullah is a fresh graduate in Political Science, he have a background in social and cultural activities. In Afghanistan, he worked with local NGOs concerning social issues, peacebuilding, youth empowerment, and also volunteer works of teaching in rural areas schools in his hometown. He has also been involved in International youth networks. He have worked with AIESEC India and also represented Afghanistan in World Youth Forum 2018 in Egypt. Besides that, Enayatullah write about social issues, minority rights, and socio-political affairs.