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Afghanistan’s Hazaras: An Unknown Genocide?

The Persecution of the Hazara people

Time to read 17 min

Afghanistan is a multicultural country, with various ethnic, religious and tribal groups living side by side for centuries. This coexistence has come under pressure as a result of coup d’états, dictatorships, and interventions. One of the largest ethnic communities in Afghanistan, the Hazaras, are one of the most persecuted peoples in the country. This longread details the Hazara persecution throughout Afghan history.

Valley of Bamiyan

An early history of Hazara persecution

The Hazaras are one of fourteen ethnic communities mentioned in the pre-Taliban Afghan Constitution (2004). The 2004 Constitution was the first to explicitly acknowledge Afghanistan’s various ethnic communities, in turn building on some earlier Constitutions which had noted the multi-ethnic nature of the country. The Hazara people historically resided in the central provinces of Afghanistan, an area also known as Hazarajat or Hazaristan. They speak a dialect of Persian known as Hazaragi.

Some Afghans claim the Hazaras migrated from Mongolia to Afghanistan several hundred years ago, although there is little evidence for this. Others believe that the Hazara people are indigenous to the central provinces of Afghanistan, such as Bamiyan, Daikundi and Ghazni. It is claimed that the Hazaras built the famous 6th-century Bamiyan Buddha statues, and were therefore Buddhist before their conversion to Islam. The Hazara people are distinguishable from other ethnic communities in Afghanistan, due to their Asiatic facial features.

The Hazaras constitute the largest Shia Muslim community in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, although some Hazaras follow the Ismaili and Sunni sects of Islam. Both ethnicity and religion have been major factors in the marginalisation of the Hazaras, especially since the late 19th century. To protect themselves from persecution and discrimination, some Hazaras concealed their religious beliefs or claimed to belong to other ethnic communities, such as the Tajiks. Given the community’s history of oppression in Afghanistan, Hazara identity and Hazara ethnic consciousness have taken a long time to emerge.

For more information about the religious differences within the Hazara community, see: the Minority Rights Group.

The first Hazara war

In the late 19th century, the Sunni king of Afghanistan, Abdur Rahman Khan, declared a jihad (holy war) against the Hazaras of central Afghanistan. Until this time, this relatively isolated and autonomous community had been ruled by local leaders known as mirs or begs. Abdur Rahman Khan’s war brought an end to the community’s autonomy. The Hazaras suffered countless massacres; according to Hazara oral history, 65% of the community was killed during the war in the 1890s.

The geographical spread of the community was also inevitably impacted by the war. Prior to the war, some Hazaras had resided in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, mainly Kandahar and Helmand, but after the war the Hazaras were mostly concentrated in the central highlands of the country. Many Hazara women were raped during the conflict, and some Hazaras were captured and taken as slaves. Those who were able to fled to neighbouring Iran and British India, now Pakistan. This marked the first major outward migration of Hazaras. As a result, there are now sizeable Hazara communities in the cities of Mashhad and Quetta.

After the war, the Hazaras found themselves at the bottom of the country’s socio-economic hierarchy. As many Hazaras had been enslaved, they were subsequently perceived by other ethnic communities as the slave class, and in later decades as the labourer class. Although slavery was outlawed in the 1920s by King Amanullah Khan, the grandson of Abdur Rahman Khan, slave ownership persisted. It is claimed that Hazaras were the cheapest slaves in the country at the time.   

Portrait of Abdur Rahaman, Ameer of AfghanistanWikiCommons, Wellcome Collection

Hazara isolation from power

Due to their isolation, ostracism and low social status, the Hazaras lacked political representation for much of the 20th century. This predicament was reinforced by the assassination of former king Nadir Shah by a Hazara student, Abdul Khaliq, in 1933.

For much of the 20th century, Afghanistan was under monarchical rule. The last king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, was overthrown in a coup in 1973. This led to the formation of the Republic of Afghanistan under President Daoud Khan. Eighteen months after Daoud Khan’s assassination in 1978, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The subsequent Soviet-Afghan war lasted for almost a decade, until 1989.

The communist period was the only time in the 20th century when a Hazara held a senior government position. From 1981 to 1990, Sultan Ali Keshtmand, a Hazara politician, was the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Despite this, there was a failure to address historic Hazara grievances as well as the widespread negative societal perceptions of the community as labourers or religious deviants, owing to their Shia beliefs. The Hazaras’ limited political representation is perceived as having been purely symbolic and achieved very little for the community both during the 20th and 21 Century.

Between 1978 and 1992, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was governed by the Council of Ministers. Their chairman served as a prime minister.

Post-Soviet Afghanistan and the founding of Hezb-e Wahdat

The year 1989 saw the end of the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which had resulted in the deaths of one million Afghan civilians. It was also the year in which the Hazara-led Hezb-e Wahdat (Unity Party) was formed. Wahdat’s founder was Abdul Ali Mazari, a religious cleric turned political leader. A key aspect of Mazari’s politics was the demand for rights, equality and justice for Hazaras; he famously said that ‘being Hazara should not be a crime’.

Mazari is revered within the Hazara community for his role in bringing together various Hazara politicians and political factions. Not only did he lead the most influential Hazara political movement in the 1990s, but his message for and about Hazaras had a profound impact on Hazara community consciousness and political mobilisation in the years that followed.

Mazari’s demands for justice and equality for Hazaras were never met, as Afghanistan descended into civil war in the 1990s. In 1995, Mazari was killed by the Taliban. Mazari was 48 years old at the time. Instead of undermining Mazari’s political vision, however, the Taliban inadvertently strengthened it, as the Hazara community view him as a martyr. The anniversary of his death in March is commemorated by the Hazara diaspora around the world.

Mazari’s impact on the community almost three decades after his death is captured by the following quote from a British Hazara activist, Esmat Amean:

…when [Mazari] came to Kabul, he changed everything. He changed the way I see myself, as a Hazara. Before that, I was kind of, basically, was kind of, ashamed to speak Hazaragi, but after that, for me, it was kind of, a huge honour to claim that I am Hazara. Even till now I am proudly claiming that I am Hazara, but before that it wasn’t the case.

As cited in the dissertation On marginality and overcoming: Narrative, memory and identity among British Hazaras, by Rabia Khan (p. 115).

Hazara vulnerability since 1996

Eighteen months after Mazari’s death, the Taliban captured Kabul, marking the beginning of the first period of Taliban rule (1996-2001). During this time, the Taliban carried out multiple massacres against the Hazaras. In 1998, Mullah Niazi, a Taliban governor in the north of the country, said that if Hazaras did not leave Afghanistan or convert to Sunni Islam, they could be killed. There was no senior Taliban condemnation of Niazi’s remarks.

Niazi’s incitement of violence against the Hazaras occurred just prior to the massacre in Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh province in August 1998, when 8,000 Hazara civilians were killed. In 2002, mass graves were also discovered in Bamiyan province. Hazara civilians were killed in what is believed to be one of the Taliban’s last massacres before their collapse in 2001. It is still not known how many Hazara civilians were killed in the Bamiyan massacre.

In March 2001, approximately six months before the NATO intervention began and the Taliban were removed from power, the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues were demolished. This was done on the command of Mullah Omar, the founder of the Taliban, who claimed that the statues were idols and thus had to be destroyed as the presence of idols was against the Taliban’s extreme religious beliefs.

The destruction of the statues provoked a global outcry, given their great significance in the pre-Islamic history of Afghanistan. Their destruction was also perceived as a direct threat to the Hazaras who lived in the surrounding region. Given the key role that the statues played (and play) in Hazara folklore, as according to one local legend ‘the statues are of star-crossed lovers Salsal and Shahmama, whose doomed love ends tragically and they remain forever separated, petrified in stone, looking across the Bamiyan valley’. Therefore, their destruction was seen as an attack on Hazara history, culture and identity. For the Hazaras, the demolishing of the statues was not only a reflection of the Taliban’s extreme religious ideology, but it was also an attempt to undermine Hazara history and the community’s connection to the territory of Afghanistan. 

Quoted from the page 'Hazaras in Afghanistan' from the Minority Rights Group.

Afghan identities, warlords and the Taliban

The Taliban was founded in 1994 under the leadership of Mullah Omar. The name ‘Taliban’ comes from the word ‘ṭālib’, the name for the madrasa (religious school) students who joined the movement. The Taliban pride themselves on the movement’s Deobandi-Islamic religious ideology, Pashtun-nationalism and highly militant nature. Their extremely strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law was copied from the villages from which many of its original members came. Many Afghans see the Taliban as an exclusive and hard-line movement.

With their human rights abuses and use of collective punishments, the Taliban are an unforgiving and relentless force in Afghanistan. The movement appears hostile towards anyone who holds different religious or political views. As a result of this extreme cultural conservatism combined with a harsh and cruel interpretation of Islamic customs, unarmed and unsuspecting Afghan citizens are frequently subjected to punishment and retribution. Women who fail to wear the burqa as prescribed are subject to public beatings by the Taliban’s hard-line religious police force.

For more information about the religious ideology of the Taliban, see this article by Sohel Rana and Sumit Ganguly in The Conversation.

An eye for an eye

Whenever it has been in power, the Taliban has ruled with an iron fist. Although this harsh approach won the movement considerable support when fighting crime and corruption in the early 1990s, the Taliban’s brutality quickly span out of control. The regime is dominated by an ‘eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth’ philosophy; people who commit ‘crimes’ under the law and justice system are often dispatched swiftly. One such example, from November 1999, was the public execution of a woman accused of having killed her husband in his sleep. The Taliban’s courts are strict, merciless, male-dominated institutions in which extreme religious laws override basic human rights.

Modern Afghanistan continues to be riven by ownership disputes. Competing claims to land, water, food, cattle, and even social hierarchies often arise between ethnic and religious groups. The different ethnic communities form tangled webs . As no census has been conducted in Afghanistan to date, it is not possible to give exact figures for the country’s many ethnic groups. Many of the problems that are currently afflicting Afghanistan have been shaped by these complex historical, cultural and legitimacy-related factors.

Brutal civil war

The Taliban learned quickly during the brutal civil war, pouring resources into arming and training themselves against possible opponents. The movement used guerrilla tactics and short, powerful strikes against its enemies. Shootings and bombings in densely populated areas struck fear into those who opposed its rule, and proved to be an effective strategy. During the civil war, the Taliban quickly grew in size and strength, developing from a mere local insurgency into a full-scale national powerhouse. From 1996 to 2001, they were strong enough to patrol the streets of large cities such as Herat and Kabul, effectively ruling the country under their first Islamic Emirate.

Taliban patrol in Herat in 2001WikiCommons

The Taliban movement was shaped by its many alliances with regional warlords. In order to hold its territories together, it had to find ways to cooperate with local and regional leaders. This often meant siding with warlords in their disputes with other groups. The Taliban is dominated by Pashtun militants, however, meaning that they naturally side with many of their supposed brethren against ethnic Hazaras in conflicts relating to cattle and land ownership. The ethno-nationalist character of the Taliban is therefore of great concern to communities such as the Hazaras.

Map showing the various warring factions that have been active in Afghanistan over different periods (dated 2006).WikiCommons

The Taliban sides against the Hazaras in many ethnic conflicts. As the Taliban believes that revenge against civilians is justified in many conflict situations, this has worsened the violence endured by the Hazaras. The picture shows the ruins of a Hazara home. It was destroyed in a brutal raid by local Kuchi, supported by armed Taliban, in Behsud in Maidan Wardak province in July 2020. The reason for the dispute is unknown.

The Hazaras under the first Taliban Emirate, 1996-2001

The Taliban swiftly rose to power by aligning themselves with various mujahideen warlords, whilst intimidating those who dared to challenge them in the remaining areas. By September 1995, they controlled the large city of Herat and held the entire south the country. In the spring of 1996, the Taliban command gathered support from many Pashtun tribal leaders, allowing them to declare their first Islamic Emirate. Given the Taliban’s fundamentalist origins, it should come as no surprise that the first period of rule was marked by violent clampdowns, silencing, and an overall lack of humanity within state-controlled forces and judicial systems. The Taliban's tactics and hard-line character helped the movement to gain control over most of Afghanistan.

Resistance under the Taliban

Securing control over the northern regions of Afghanistan proved difficult for the Taliban, especially as local insurgents there received the backing of Iran, Russia and India, who considered the Taliban a threat to regional stability. Meanwhile, the Taliban also faced problems in the central regions of the country, which were dominated by the Hazaras, not Pashtun warlords. In Hazarajat, the Hazaras proved a natural ally for the West in the latter’s fight against the Taliban, as they shared the goal of either overthrowing or at least limiting the Taliban’s control over these regions. Of course, this only worsened the relationship between Hazaras and the Taliban as time went on.

Taliban government in early 2001WikiCommons

The Yakaolang massacres

In January 2001 in central Afghanistan, during the first Islamic Emirate of the Taliban, the Hazara community was shaken by the Yakaolang massacres. This represented the first structured and pre-planned mass assault by the Taliban against the local Hazara populace. It followed the Hazara’s support for a brief incursion by Hezb-e Wahdat, during which Wahdat had executed multiple Taliban fighters over several days. The Taliban retook the area quickly, however, and struck back harshly against the Hazara rebels and the local population. The Yakaolang massacres lasted several days, during which the Taliban targeted local Hazara men, women and children. At least 300 unarmed men and some women and children were killed. The victims were murdered in a mix of individual and summary executions by Taliban occupiers.

Eye witness accounts from the massacres in Yakaolang

In 2001, Amnesty International published a report on the massacres in Yakaolang. In this report, they appeal to the Taliban to uphold international humanitarian law and call for further investigation into these massacres by the international community. Below are two eye witness accounts from the massacres as quoted in the report.

They set our homes on fire, cut down the trees with engine and electric saw, and sprayed our fruit trees and bushes with a nasty chemical: it was red and made the trees die within hours. They also splashed it on the trees - particularly apple and apricot trees - and this made the trees die even sooner. It was clear that they wanted to destroy our food. Why else should they burn our crops, set fire on our homes and loot our grains, flour and other food stuff? In this year of drought they left us with nothing to eat! Nothing! So we left.

 Amnesty International March 2001. AI Index: ASA 11/008/01


First they rounded up the people in the streets. They then went from house to house and arrested the men of the families except for the very old men. Nothing could stop them, and they did not spare any of the houses. In one house, the mother of a young man whom the Taliban were taking away held unto him saying she would not allow him to go away without her. The Taliban began to hit the woman brutally with their rifle butts. She died. They took away the son and shot him dead. They were our neighbours. When they arrested the people, they tied their hands behind their back and took them away. They took them to areas behind Bazar Kona and fired at them. They executed a lot of people. We believe they killed more than 300 people 

 Amnesty International March 2001. AI Index: ASA 11/008/01


Following the massacres, the UN demanded that the Taliban control its forces in the future. Mullah Omar responded by claiming that the reports filed against the Taliban were false and biased. He then barred any journalists from investigating the affected areas, as “they are biased people having a hostile behaviour [against the Taliban].”

Also quoted from the 2001 Amnesty International report on the massacres in Yakaolang.

Hazara resistance and persecution after 2001

During the Taliban rule (1996-2001), the Hazaras experienced massacres and the post-Taliban regime situation provided them with the opportunities to have their own political voice and to actively counter the internal land occupations that had taken place by Pashtun nomads in the past. On the other hand, the Pashtun nomads also tried to get back the pasturelands in Hazarajat in this era.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2001-2021)

Following the success of Western military missions from 2001, the Taliban regime collapsed and was replaced by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The new democratic system continued to be plagued by ethnic divisions and tensions. Despite this, Hazara bureaucrats and activists remained cautiously optimistic, as they gained greater representation on the national stage and aligned themselves against the Taliban.

Read more about this in the 2017 article The Dynamics of Nomad-Sedentary Conflict in Afghanistan by Abbas Farasoo. 

When the Western-backed Afghan government fell in 2021 and the Taliban returned to power, the social progress of Hazaras was severely affected. In turn, the political calculations made by the Hazaras between 2001 and 2021 proved to have been extremely costly for them, given the international community’s abandonment of Afghanistan after twenty years. Sayed Ali, a close associate of Hazara warlord and wanted criminal Hakim Shujayi, said, 'the Americans, they use you like a tissue paper and they throw you away'.

To gain more security and to increase their standing within embattled Afghan society, Hazaras were among the many communities to establish local armed paramilitary groups. These groups were often formed by local tribal elders. Unfortunately, it became practically impossible to keep track of and control many of these groups. In turn, local Pashtun tribes claimed that some Hazara warlords had started to target them without justification. This only worsened conflicts between Hazaras and other ethnic groups.

Ali is cited in the 2017 article The U.S.-Trained Warlords Committing Atrocities in Afghanistan by May Yeong.

The Ministry of Mines massacre

On 23 July 2017, a group of highly-educated Hazaras employed by the Ministry of Mines were targeted by Taliban bombings in central Kabul. Eight employees were killed and twenty-seven were wounded when their bus was struck by a magnetic bomb attached to a nearby minivan. The chaos worsened with a second explosion, this time caused by a suicide bomber who blew himself up just metres from their vehicle. This was followed by a third and final explosion hitting the bus itself, killing another seven civilians and wounding at least twenty more.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the first explosion, but denied involvement in the other two, stating that ISIS might have caused them. ISIS claimed responsibility for two explosions but did not specify which ones. According to the Taliban, its initial car bomb was meant to kill a dozen foreign agents aboard the bus. However, these three attacks appeared to have been a purposeful attack on well-educated government officials from the Hazara ethnic group.


The Mirza Walang village massacre

On 5 August 2017, the Taliban and ISIS briefly worked together on an operation that saw the murder of dozens of Hazara residents of the Mirza Walang village in Sar-e-Pul. A UN investigation estimated that at least twenty-seven civilians, including one woman, four teenage boys and thirteen men in their sixties were killed. Afghan government officials meanwhile estimated that there were at least fifty casualties.

It remains unclear why the Taliban and ISIS worked together on the assault. Al Jazeera claimed that a local conflict between an Afghan government militia and their Hazara backers against ISIS and the Taliban had provoked a revenge feud. The Taliban denied that it had needed ISIS’s assistance to capture the village, and also denied that any civilians had been killed in the siege.

Me, my brother Ghulam and my sister-in-law left our home to escape the horror that was happening in the village. When we reached the highway, the militants blocking it asked us to get out of the car and started hitting us. They beheaded my brother and the others in the car, who were with us trying to escape. I grabbed my sister-in-law’s hand and ran as fast as I could. They started firing, but we managed to escape. I can’t cope with the horror and pain. We’ve been through hell. 

 Sakhi, a resident of Mirzawalang village, as cited in Al Jazeera on 28 August 2017.

The Sayed al-Shuhada public school massacre

On 8 May 2021, the Taliban was accused of having bombed the Sayed al-Shuhada public high school in the Hazara-dominated Dasht-e Barchi neighbourhood in Kabul. As female students left the building during their Ramadan fasting break, a powerful car bomb detonated outside the school entrance. Two more bombs followed soon after, as did mortar shelling in an area packed with students. Around one hundred civilians, mainly young female Hazara students, were wounded in the attack, and over sixty died. The attack took place just a week after another bomb had killed twenty-one children in Logar province, just south of Kabul.

The massacre was one of the most gruesome and bloody attacks on the Hazaras in years. The president of the Afghan Republic at the time, Ashraf Ghani, blamed the Taliban for the attack. The Taliban, in turn, denied responsibility and blamed ISIS’s terrorist network, as it had carried out multiple similar attacks on schools and universities in preceding months. However, the attack occurred soon after the West had announced it was likely to delay its retreat from Afghanistan. At this time, the Taliban had again become increasingly vocal about banning girls from schools, leading many to suspect that the movement was indeed behind this slaughter.

The Second Islamic Emirate

Following the announcement of the retreat of Western forces from Afghanistan under the Biden Administration in 2021, the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan and declared the establishment of an Islamic Emirate. This political shift marked the return of brutal repression, denial of fundamental human rights, ultra-conservative traditionalism and fundamentalist cultural interpretations and punishments.

Abandoned by the international community, the fate of the Hazaras appears bleak. Due to their geographic and demographic position in some of the poorest, least industrialised and most dependent and vulnerable regions of the country, humanitarian crises such as droughts and food shortages affect the Hazaras to a catastrophic degree. The limited international aid to Afghanistan often fails to reach the Hazara community.

The Taliban celebrate their victory over Western forces in Afghanistan, in a parade around Kabul in September 2022WikiCommons

Hazaras in post-2021 Afghanistan

Prior to the return of the Taliban to power in August 2021, there were concerns among the Hazaras about their safety and security once international forces withdrew. Although the Taliban claimed their ideology had changed since the 1990s, there was no evidence for this. Even before the events of summer 2021, the Hazaras’ concerns were shown to be justified.

In August 2021, Amnesty International reported that the Taliban had killed nine Hazara men in Ghazni province in the previous month. In the same month they murdered thirteen Hazaras, including a teenage girl in Daikundi province. Three days after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban destroyed a statue of Abdul Ali Mazari in Bamiyan.

Hazaras have also been forcibly displaced by the Taliban from numerous provinces, including Daikundi, Helmand and Balkh, according to Human Rights Watch. Patricia Gossman, the associate director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, is quoted as saying: ‘The Taliban are forcibly evicting Hazaras and others on the basis of ethnicity or political opinion to reward Taliban supporters.’

In the summer of 2022, a humanitarian crisis unfolded in the northern Balkhab district in Sar-e Pol province. Under the guise of quelling an armed rebellion, the Taliban were accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the district. When it emerged that a humanitarian crisis was unfolding in Balkhab, including collective punishment, the Taliban prevented aid from reaching Hazara civilians in the area. Thousands of local Hazaras were subsequently displaced. The siege of Balkhab ended with the killing of former Taliban commander Mehdi Mujahid in August 2022.

Read the article by Amnesty International here.

Read the article from Human Rights Watch here.

Since the Taliban’s return to power, the targeted attacks against Hazaras in Kabul have continued. In April 2022 a Hazara school was attacked, claiming the lives of six students and wounding a dozen people. In September 2022, an education centre in the Hazara-dominated Dasht-e Barchi neighbourhood of the city was attacked. This suicide bombing resulted in deaths of over thirty-five girls, and more than eighty injured. In October 2023 a sports club in Dasht-e Barchi was also attacked, killing several people. Less than two weeks later a bus, was attacked in the same area, killing seven people and injuring over twenty.

Although many of these attacks are blamed on ISIS, there is no independent oversight committee or commission to investigate them. This is why some Hazaras believe that the Taliban carried out these attacks, or that extreme anti-Hazara and anti-Shia former Taliban members are responsible for the attacks under the mantle of ‘ISIS’. What is indisputable is that the Taliban has not, does not, and will not afford any protection to the Hazaras, given their history of persecution of the community in the 1990s.   

Religious freedoms have also been curtailed under the Taliban. In July 2023, a council of Shia scholars requested that the Taliban allow the Muharram commemorations in remembrance of Hussain, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, to go ahead. However, the Taliban placed restrictions on the display of religious flags and symbols in public places,  and on where Muharram processions could be held. As a result of the Taliban’s decision, Shia scholars asked mourners to limit their activities due to security concerns. A year earlier in 2022, Ashura, the day marking Hussain’s martyrdom, had already been removed from the national calendar.

The Hazara diaspora

Given the continued persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan, the diaspora in the West has been very active in campaigning to raise awareness about human rights violations against their community, as well as lobbying politicians to do more to help the Hazara people. Social media has become a key tool for organising demonstrations, ‘Twitter storms’ take place, and information about Hazaras and their oppression is shared.

One popular movement that has gained widespread support online, especially since the return of the Taliban in 2021, is the ‘Stop Hazara Genocide’ campaign and hashtag. On Twitter/X, the hashtag ‘#StopHazaraGenocide’ is frequently used in the aftermath of targeted attacks against Hazaras in Kabul. It is also used on the anniversary of previous attacks or when events on Hazara persecution are organised, and forms a popular slogan on placards during Hazara-related or Afghanistan-related demonstrations. There has been a concerted effort among the community to refrain from referring to attacks against Hazaras as massacres and instead to call them a genocide, given the ‘intent to destroy’ the community both in the 1890s and again since 2016 by both ISIS and the Taliban.  

In November 2022, Melbourne Council voted to recognise the Hazara genocide. As such, it was the ‘world’s first government body to recognise the Hazara genocide’. The Hazara diaspora in the UK has also been very active in engaging with local MPs. Due to this engagement and lobbying, politicians have raised the issue of targeted attacks against Hazaras in Afghanistan and the community’s predicament in the British Parliament on multiple occasions since 2021. In May 2023, a meeting was held at the Canadian Parliament to discuss the Hazara genocide. A key campaign issue within the diaspora is the need for Hazaras to be recognised as a vulnerable community for refugee resettlement overseas.  

Hazara’s in Afghanistan today

Given the decline of the free press in the country since the Taliban returned to power in 2021, it is now hard to verify the number of civilian casualties in targeted attacks against Hazaras. Unsurprisingly, some believe that the Taliban deliberately deflate the figures they present to international media about the numbers of Hazaras killed in Kabul since August 2021.

What is different about the current situation in comparison to earlier persecution, is that Hazaras are now governed by a regime that has openly called for their annihilation. Although the 2004 constitution of Afghanistan explicitly recognised Shia jurisprudence, its official abolition in 2022 means that no similar provision exists under the Taliban. Nor are there any Hazara – meaning no Shia – representatives in the Taliban cabinet.

Thus, even on a superficial level the Taliban has not tried to appease Afghanistan’s Hazaras or other Shia communities. Furthermore, the continued attacks since 2021 indicate that the Taliban is either directly responsible for violent attacks against the Hazaras or is failing in its duty as the de facto authority to protect the community. The flagrant violation of human rights by the Taliban show that the group is not intent on changing its ideology or behaviour, implying that religious minorities will continue to suffer while they are in power.    

Given the events of the last two years, it comes as little surprise that the Asia Forum for Human Rights and Development stated in August 2023 that the Hazaras in Afghanistan are at risk of a ‘slow genocide’. The Taliban appear set on implementing oppressive decrees and violating fundamental freedoms. Protecting vulnerable communities is not on their political agenda. Given the ideology of the Taliban and the fact that there is no viable political alternative at present, the Hazaras of Afghanistan face a bleak future. There is thus an urgent need for international support in assisting Afghanistan’s most at-risk community.    

Literature list

  • Khan, Rabia Latif (2020), On Marginality and Overcoming: Narrative, Memory and Identity among British Hazaras. PhD thesis, SOAS University of London.
  • Mousavi, Sayed Asker (2020), The Hazaras of Afghanistan. London: Routledge.
  • Ibrahimi, Niamatullah (2022), The Hazaras and the Afghan State: Rebellion, Exclusion and the Struggle for Recognition. London: Hurst & Company.
  • Monsutti, Alessandro (2005), War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. New York: Routledge.
  • Poladi, Hassan (1989), The Hazāras. Stockton, CA: Mughal Publishing Company.
  • Kakar, M. Hasan (1973), The Pacification of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. New York: Afghanistan Council.
In this story


Text and research
Rabia Khan
Mitchel Stuffers

Scientific supervision
Uğur Ümit Üngör

Vivien Collingwood
Katie Digan

This longread was first published in March of 2024.

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