Even to the vast majority of CNN news junkies, the word "Hazara" is new. But we've all seen them in stock footages of Afghan marketplaces, villages, and refugee camps. They are the Mongolian/Chinese-looking Afghans in the crowd.
The Hazaras' origin in this Central Asian nation is controversial and unsettled. The most popular explanation is that they are descendants of Genghis Khan's 12th century army. Hazara means "thousand" in Persian, perhaps a reference to an army unit. In fact, the Hazaras speak a dialect of Farsi and practice the Shiite version of Islam.
In this nation of the poor and dysfunctional, the Hazaras occupy the bottom-most rung of the Afghan socioeconomic ladder. Their language, religion, and facial features make them automatic outcasts. Concentrated in the central Afghan mountainous region, the Hazaras have been persecuted for centuries. The Sunni Taliban massacred thousands of them.
The repression reached its apex when the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas, which the Hazaras have lived next to, protected, and revered for centuries. These symbols of the Hazara people, which were almost two thousand years old, were obliterated in four days. (The demolition took longer than expected because demolition engineering was not the Talibans' forte; they had to hire Pakistani and Saudi contractors to finish the job.)
Life for the typical Hazara is slightly better today. Many still live in the caves that dot the Bamiyan valley. No paved roads have yet reached any part of Bamiyan province. For the approximately 2.8 million Hazaras in Afghanistan, their only ally is their Iranian neighbor. So far, the attention attracted by the two now-defunct Buddhas has done nothing to raise international awareness of the Hazaras' plight.
Artwork courtesy www.warlordsofafghanistan.com