Hassan is a Hazara [Afghanistan]

Country: Afghanistan
I stumbled upon a list of 7 Best Books on Afghanistan and wanted to finish the shortest book of about 70 pages, Earth by Ashes by Atiq Rahim in a week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the soft copy online or find the hard copy at my nearest bookstore.

Thankfully, I managed to get the soft copy of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini online.

In the very first few pages itself, my curiosity was piqued about the differences between the Hazaras and Pashtuns. Although I did not venture past page 10 of the book, I certainly traversed through the web to gain more knowledge about other ethnic groups living within Afghanistan like the Tajiks (2nd largest), Uzbeks, Turkmen, etc.

The Hazaras who are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, are concentrated in Central Afghanistan, including in Bamiyan. Being descendants of the vicious Genghis Khan and Mongol soldiers who invaded Afghanistan in the 13th century, their features make them easily distinguishable from the other ethnic groups.

They are primarily Shia Muslims which is one of the main reasons for their persecution by the Islamic State (IS) and Taliban. IS believes that the Shias are apostates and have to die so that a pure form of Islam can be created.

The Hazaras have been innocent victims of unjust persecutions.

  • BBC reported in July 2016 that IS has said it was behind an attack on a protest march in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 16 May that killed 80 people and wounded 230. Thousands of people from the Hazara minority were present as they demanded changes to the route of a planned power transmission line.
  • The 1998 Massacre of the Hazaras by the Taliban is another incident that remains fresh in mind.
  • Some Hazaras also live in Pakistan and they are about 600,000 in number there. Just in January 2013 in Pakistan, over 120 people in this minority group were killed within a single day in suicide bombings.

Here is an extract from The Kite Runner interspersed with visual accompaniment:

“They called him “flat-nosed” because of Ali and Hassan’s characteristic Hazara Mongoloid features. For years, that was all I knew about the Hazaras, that they were Mogul descendants, and that they looked a little like Chinese people.

Hazara of Daykundi province (USACE photo by Karla K. Marshal)
Hazara of Daykundi province (USACE photo by Karla K. Marshal)

School text books barely mentioned them and referred to their ancestry only in passing. Then one day, I was in Baba’s study, looking through his stuff, when I found one of my mother’s old history books. It was written by an Iranian named Khorami. I blew the dust off it, sneaked it into bed with me that night, and was stunned to find an entire chapter on Hazara history. An entire chapter dedicated to Hassan’s people!

Hazards in Behsud by Nasim Fekrat
Hazards in Behsud by Nasim Fekrat

In it, I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, but the Pashtuns had “quelled them with unspeakable violence.” The book said that my people had killed the Hazaras, driven them from their lands, burned their homes, and sold their women.

Photo by ABC Open Riverland, Flickr
Photo by ABC Open Riverland, Flickr

The book said part of the reason Pashtuns had oppressed the Hazaras was that Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi’a. The book said a lot of things I didn’t know, things my teachers hadn’t mentioned. Things Baba hadn’t mentioned either. It also said some things I did know, like that people called Hazaras – mice-eating, flat-nosed, load-carrying donkeys. I had heard some of the kids in the neighborhood yell those names to Hassan.”

Feature Image: USACE photo by Karla K. Marshall

Buddha’s Oil Paintings in Bamiyan [Afghanistan]

Country: Afghanistan

THE world’s largest standing sandstone Buddha statues were blown up in the Bamiyan valley cliffs in 2001, about1,700 years after their conception. With that, the origin of the oil painting technique was requestioned by discoveries made in 50 caves.

For a long time, political conflict and wars have taken precedence in Afghanistan over Archaeological research. Thankfully, the blowing up of these statues allowed for some light to be shed in this area.

Bamiyan is a town located in central Afghanistan at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains,  and about130km northwest of Kabul, the country’s capital. It lies on the Silk Road, a route linking the markets of Western Asia with China.

As the world chimed in to condemn the outrageous works of the Taliban, other treasures were uncovered in the destruction. 50 caves were found to have walls decorated with religious frescoes, believed to have been made between the 5th and 9th centuries AD. These might have been painted by monks at the monasteries who were living as hermits in caves carved into the sides of the Bamiyan cliffs. After all, Bamiyan had been a Buddhist religious site from the 2nd century up to the time of the Islamic invasion in the 9th century.

Or perhaps, travellers passing through the Silk road might have been responsible for these paintings? Whichever the case might be, the technique of oil painting had originally been thought to have been born between the 14th and late 15th century in Flanders and Italy.

Now, Scientists had to rethink their beliefs.

When research was conducted on the paints found in the Bamiyan caves, organic matter was revealed, like resins or animal glues which were used as binders to make the paint stick to the walls. The American team also found an oil manufactured from walnuts or poppy seeds used in the paintings. Their research will help them in understanding how these artefacts can next be best preserved.

Their attempt at Preservation is challenged by the Buddhist concept of Impermanence- Annica.

Somehow, I cannot help but wonder if Buddha migh have peacefully smiled upon the Taliban’s insensitive act of blowing up the statues. Might he ever have thought that they did him a favour in helping him with his teachings?

By blowing up the statues, they created a great spectacle to reinforce the point that nothing in this world is permanent- even the Bamiyan Buddhas.

 

Feature Image: West Buddha surrounded by caves, 175 feet high (photo: © Afghanistan Embassy)

Jihad: The ‘Holy War’ for Morality and Grace [Afghanistan]

Country: Afghanistan

Taken from Flickr, Ricardo's Photography
Taken from Flickr, Ricardo’s Photography

Afghanistan is a country blessed abundantly by Mother Nature; destroyed by Human Nature.

We decided to explore Afghanistan through the eyes of its residents, not through the Western forces present there.

Dispatches- Behind Enemy Lines- Afghanistan’  is a documentary allowing us to take a dangerous journey into the land along with the Mujahideen.

Russian Invasion

The Soviets had fought a war against Afghanistan in 1979, and history stubbornly sticks around the country in the visible form of war wreckage and buried ammunition. Afghanistan is still at war.

Will calling the war, ‘Holy War’, make destruction and fighting any much sweeter or justifiable?

South and North

Initially, the more arid Southern part of the country was under the oppression of the ‘Holy War’. Now, the Mujahideen ( people who struggle and fight the Holy War for Allah), have moved North too and claimed territories outside the cities. A compound of a UN built school has also been ceased by the Holy Fighters.

Mujahideen

The Mujahideen are not just people living in Afghanistan who have taken up their arms to fight in response to the invaders. People from Chechnya (South-West Russia), Uzbekistan and other Muslim nations flock to Afghanistan, especially during the warmer times of the year, to help with fighting the Holy War.

Special Mujahideen, mainly Arabs from Yemen and Saudi Arabia,could have been part of the Al-Qaeda and were difficult to strike a conversation with in the presence of the  Media.

An explosion fills the sky as a controlled detonation of unusable ordnance is triggered by Marines (not shown) of 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) (MLG FWD) just outside Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, February 19, 2011. 1st MLG (FWD) Marines provide logistical support for coalition forces throughout the province in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brandon M. Owen/Released)
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brandon M. Owen/Released)

Jihad

Commander Mirwais, the overall leader of the Northern battlefront who claims to have over 4000 men under his control, was a foreign businessman importing cars from Europe before he made the decision to give his life to fighting the Holy War.

He says:

“Jihad has become a duty for all of the Afghan nation because the foreign and non-believer countries have attacked us. They’re getting rid of our religion and cultural values in Afghanistan. They’ve increased obscenity and want to force Western democracy on our nation.”

A young and newly-joined fighter, one of the most revered in the group, smiled saying, “I check my gun. I don’t want it to jam when fighting the non-believers.”

Jihad as a Duty

An Al-Qaeda representative who was a rare individual who agreed to speak  in the presence of the Media said: “ We have a duty to come to Afghanistan to fight the non-believers and protect the Muslims.

When asked how long he would be willing to fight, he said on behalf of the others, that they would stay until martyrdom or until “they get America, Europe and the non-believers out of the country.”

Do the Afghan Muslims feel protected?

An Afghan man carries both his daughter and wife on a motorcycle as they ride through the dusty haze of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Oct. 3. Oct. 3, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Terry/Released) 101003-A-7424T-457
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Terry/Released) 101003-A-7424T-457

Perhaps, the Muslims in the country do feel protected and see it as their duty to be grateful towards the Mujahideen who fight for their safety as the video crew films them rushing out to bring food to the fighters.

Or is the giving of food only existent because the people feel fearful towards the fighters?

After all, fear can uncomfortably exist alongside respect.

Suppression of Desires

“What is your wish?” a reporter asks a boy below the age of 12.

Prompted by the Afghan men at the sides, his eyes wander around his surroundings emptily as he says, “jihad”,  with a suppressed smile on his face.

What dreams the boy might have had- we will never really know. All we know is that he suppressed the mention of those dreams in the moment he hesitated before his lips parted to utter the word “jihad”.

Akin to him, don’t we suppress desires when we make decisions to pursue any path in life? I’m sure even the Mujahideen have to fight an internal battle to first suppress their desires before embarking on their duty of Jihad.

Suppression and Sacrifice of dreams is also one of the themes  explored in the thirty minute short film Buzkashi Boys directed by Sam French.