British ethnomusicologist Veronica Doubleday wrote Three women in Herat, the most complete legacy existing about daily life and music of Afghan women. She lived there in the 70s, before the devastating and poisoning period of the several wars that destroyed the country. When she describes Latif Khan, the father of one of the 3 women, she remarks: “in the past there had been sectarian disharmony in Herat city and many Sunnis still held misconceptions about Shiahs and openly disliked them. As a musician and a Shiah, Latif Khan’s position in the community was double sensitive. Religious prejudices against music persisted: some mullahs taught that music was the work of devil and distracted people from prayer and correct living.”
Afghanistan borders in the west with a predominantly Shiite area, culturally Persian: current Iran. Notwithstanding, it’s a multicultural country where Sunni people such as the Pashto (between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s border) coexist with others such as the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Turkmens, the Aimaqs among others. The Hazara, settled in the core of Afghanistan, in the Hazarajat, are easily recognizable due to their mongoloid physiognomy because, despite their mixed nature as other Afghans, they have bounds with other peoples in the Mongolian area. Genetic studies confirm that they could be descendant of Genghis Khan’s troops; even some Hazara family names derive from some names of their soldiers.
The Hazara are the Shiite of Afghanistan, one of the muslim’s branches who believe that the only legitimate descendant of Prophet Mohammed is Alí ibn Abi-Talib, his cousin and married to his daughter Fatima. According to them, only their descendants could lead the faithful. Rivalry between the Shiites and the Sunni has been a constant in the religious conflicts in the Middle East. This tense relationship has also existed in Afghanistan, and was specially fostered by the Talibans at the end of the 90s, because they strongly uphold the Sunnite nature of the Islam, and consider Shiism a betrayal. As an example of the relevance of this rivalry, the celebration of Imam Hussain (widely spread in other Shiite communities) has recently increased among the Hazara practices, so as to give a political meaning relating it with the Taliban massacres against the Hazara.
Indeed, the abuses and massacres of the Talibans against Hazara people are documented by the NGO Human Rights Watch, especially in the 2001’s report where the crimes in Yakaolang and Robatak, in the central region of Hazarajat are documented. HRW says: “Ethnic minorities, particularly Hazara people, have been vulnerable in the areas in conflict, and the Taliban forces have committed large scale abuses against Hazara civils in total impunity.”
In 2002, just after the fall of the Talibans, I visited the country accompanied by a Hazara woman who became afterwards a relevant politician, Habiba Sarabi (Minister of Women’s Affairs and Governor of Bamyan province). Having the knowledge of some of the most frightening stories in the recent story of Hazara people, we visited an internal displaced Hazara people’s camp, set in Kabul, who came from the prosperous region of Shomali Valley. The scene was dantesque, ruin on ruin. People were living in demolished buildings destroyed by lordwars in the cruel war just before the uprise of the Talibans. Before this war the building had been a Russian settlement in the period of the Soviet invasion. The annihilation sensation of the ruins was the devastation background of human people living on the rubbish of the destroyed city of Kabul after the fall of the Talibans, without any income to feed themselves.
The women in the community, wrapped with smoke of an improvised bread oven, the only nourishment available week after week, explained to us: “Those destroyed buildings were inhabited by Russian families before the Mujahideens (lordwars) expelled them in the Kabul attack. We were expelled from the Shomali region. We arrived here when the Talibans occupied our valley, deported the people and brought us direct to these destroyed buildings. We lived here for three years. The Talibans have already fallen, but nobody pays attention to us. Some humanitarian organizations have come here to distribute some humanitarian help forms, but our names were erased from the lists. We are left without food distribution and we are here without any kind of attention. Many of us are widows who take care of our grandchildren, while our daughters are begging on the streets.”
Other families went to other quarters of the city such as Khar Khona: “When the Taliban took our village in the Shomali Valley, we were forced to leave. A lorry took us to Jalalabad, and from there they wanted to take us to the old buildings of the Russian Embassy. But we escaped, and from Jalalabad we went here to Khar Khona, in Kabul. When the Taliban reached our village, we locked ourselves in our houses shouting: “we don’t want to leave our houses”. They told us that it would only be for three days, and then we would be able to come back. Now it’s three years since we haven’t been here, without a home and far away from our village.”
Even harder were the testimonies of the attacks committed in 1998 in Mazar-e-Sharif where 8.000 people are estimated to have been killed. Hazara people were the main target of the Taliban. A group of women explained to me their personal experience of the massacre: “Men were brought to the central square where they were killed, while others were killed when they were found in the middle of the street. A man was killed in the middle of the street accompanied by his son: he was standing, and a Taliban hit his head until being beheaded. Even a child asked them about his parents, and they answered to him that they were thrown dead on the ground. They had killed them all. Afterwards they took all the dead bodies and buried them in a mass grave. They plucked their skin and defaced them, but we recognized them by the clothes or their size… a mother always recognises her son.”
Finally, it should be mentioned abuses committed against the Hazara people during the destructive siege in Kabul between April 1992 and March 1993, before the Taliban period. Neither faction gets rid of the responsibilities of these atrocities (for instance the Shii party Harakat-e Islami is responsible for a large number of crimes), but the atrocities against the Hazara neighbourhoods are specially frightening. Nowadays the problem is that these criminals are part of the government after the Taliban, leading the transition of the country without justice. A problem that touches the 100% of the population.
“We were attacked by Pashto militias. I’ve seen with my own eyes that, if a woman wore a ring, they could cut her finger to steal it. Also, they cut their breasts and they mutilated them. They raped them. They beheaded a 6- month-old baby and they hanged him at the entry of the village. All my children were killed. What else can they do to us? Their crimes are irreparable, but nobody listens to us.
We always wonder: why all this pain? My three children have been killed: what was their crime? They were just children, they have not even become adults. Even children haven’t escaped from their crimes! Where are our leaders to talk about justice? Our enemy is the only one who escaped from justice: our poured blood will never get justice.”
Published in catalan in Dialogal, December 2013