The Hazara are a Persian-speaking people who are largely concentrated in the province of Hazarajat in the central highlands of Afghanistan, in Hazara Town in Baluchistan, Pakistan, and in Iran. The total population of the Hazara is estimated to be between 5 and 8 million. About 6 million of them live in Afghanistan, 900,000 in Pakistan and 134,000 in Iran. There is a sizeable Hazara diaspora in Europe, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, UK and Indonesia.
The Hazara have Mongoloid ancestry. They are believed to be the descendants of Mongol soldiers in Chengiz Khan’s army who swept through Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia in the 13th century. The majority of the Hazara – over 95% -- are followers of the Shi’i creed. They speak Hazaragi, a variant of Dari dialect.
Due to their Mongoloid features and their Shi’i beliefs and rituals, the Hazara are perceived as different from the rest of Afghanistan’s population and have often experienced discrimination, marginalization and persecution. Until the 19th century, many Hazaras were sold as slaves. Thousands of Hazaras were executed in the aftermath of the aborted Hazara uprising against the Pashtun king Emir Amir Abdur-Rahman Khan in 1888-90. Until the 1970s the Hazara were barred from holding any public office or government position and lived as a despised underclass. The 2004 constitution granted them equal rights, including the right to hold public office and to live and work anywhere they like. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1978-1980 and the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989, a section of the Hazara supported the Soviet-backed government while others joined the resistance against the Soviet occupation.
In earlier times, the Hazara were mostly nomadic pastoralists who practiced transhumance. In the 19th century many of them took to settled life and adopted farming as their main source of livelihood. Today most Hazaras combine farming with animal husbandry.
In recent years, the Hazaras have pursued education with a remarkable single-mindedness and many young men and women have attended colleges and universities. The literacy rate among the Hazara is higher -- over 80% -- than the national average of 38.2%. Education has acted as a catalyst in the political and social empowerment of the Hazaras. In the 2005 elections, Hazara candidates won 43 seats (18% of the total). In the 2010 elections, the Hazaras won 20% of seats in Parliament. Hamid Karzai, former Afghanistan president, played an important role in the political empowerment of the Hazara. He appointed some Hazaras as ministers and governors. In recent years the Hazaras have been fairly well represented in government, bureaucracy and army.
Besudi Hazara tribal chiefs in Kabul, Afghanistan, photographed by John Burke in 1880
During the civil war that engulfed Afghanistan from 1989, the Hazara were targeted and attacked by the Taliban, who declared them as infidel. In 1998 thousands of Hazaras were executed by the Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Faced with poverty, lack of employment opportunities, discrimination and violence, thousands of Hazaras have left the country and have sought asylum in Iran, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and US.