The Races of Afghanistan/Chapter XIII

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The Races of Afghanistan

Being a brief account of the principal nations inhabiting that country.

By: H. W. Bellew, C.S.I.

Publisher: Thacker Spink And Co. Calcutta.1880.
Chapter XIII: The Hazarah


This people differ entirely from all the other races of Afghanistan, and occupy a very extensive area of country, extending from the borders of Kabul and Ghazni to those of Herat in one direction, and from the vicinity of Kandahar to that of Balkh in the other. They hold, in fact, all the country which formed the Paropamisus of the ancients, and in their possession of it are isolated from all the other peoples of Afghanistan, with whom they are in contact only where their borders march together. This region is mountainous throughout, and for the most part the soil is poor. But it contains many fertile and populous valleys, and is the source of several important rivers, the Arghandab and Helmand, the Harirud or Herat river, and the Murghab or river of Marv. It is formed by the two great western prolongations of the Hindu Kush, which are separated from each other by the valley of the Harirud, and is divided into Ghurjistan or Sufed- band on the north, and Ghor or Siyah-band on the south ; whilst the point on the east, whence the two ranges start from Hindu Kush, is the Ghor-band of Bamian.

The interior of this country is entirely unknown to Europeans, but we know from history that in former times it was a highly populous region, and took the famous conqueror Changhiz Khan a full decade to subdue and devastate. In his time it abounded in strong fortified places held by a population mostly of Persian race. The ruins of these mountain castles still exist in all parts of the country, and are described by the present inhabitants as wonderful structures perched on inaccessible peaks, the works of the genii and not of men, so


solid and so vast are the walls and buildings still left amongst the deserted ruins. There are also numerous ruins of Budhist buildings in the eastern parts of the country, and large quantities of coins mostly of the Greek Bactrian Kings are found in them.

Regarding the ethnic affiliation of the Hazarah people there can be no doubt, their features and forms declaring them distinctly to be Tatar of the Mongol division. But little or nothing appears to be known for certain regarding their history and settlement in these parts, and they seem to have no traditions on the subject themselves. The name too by which they are now known affords no clue, as it is not a native one, but of foreign, derivation.

The general idea regarding the origin of the word Hazarah is that it is derived from the Persian word hazar, "a thousand," and was applied to these people by their neighbours, in consequence of their having been planted here as military colonists in detachments of a thousand fighting men each by Changhiz Khan in the first quarter of the thirteenth century. It is said that Changhiz Khan left ten such detachments here, nine of them in the Hazarah of Kabul, and the tenth in the Hazarah of Pakli to the east of the Indus. This last, it would seem, was an outpost only whilst Changhiz wintered in Swat prior to his return to Tamghaj, and pending the Indian king's reply to his request for a passage to that country through India.

Amongst themselves this people never use the term Hazarah as their national appellation, and yet they have no name for their people as a nation. They are only known amongst themselves by the names of their several principal tribes and the clans subordinate to them respectively. Thus they are either Jaghuri or Bihsud, or Dahi Zangi, or Dahi Kundi, or Gaur, &c, as the case may be. With respect to the two last named, the term Dahi or Deh, as it is usually written by us, would seem to be a national appellation, and may be perhaps a trace of the Dahae of Transoxiana, who at first fought with and then coalesced


with the Saka in their invasion of this region about the time of the Christian era. There are other Hazarah tribes with the same prefix, as the Dahi Rawad, Dahi Chopan Dahya, &c , and amongst foreigners they seldom call themselves Hazarah, but generally Kabuli, and sometimes Ghilji or Aoghan. They acknowledge the Charaymac, Jamshedi, Firozkohi, Tymuni, and other Tatar tribes in the western parts of the country as kindred, but have no very intimate relations with them. With the exception of a few Turki words, they have entirely lost their mother tongue and adopted in its place the Persian language of the thirteenth century, and with it the national form of religion of that people, namely, the Shia doctrine of Islam. This is the case with the eastern tribes throughout, though some towards the north and west of the country are of the Sunni sect.

Whether the current explanation regarding the meaning and the application of the term Hazarah, as above expressed, meets the requirements of the case, is a doubtful question. In its favour is the fact of a district to the east of the Indus bearing the name of Hazarah, because it was held by one of the ten divisions of the Mongol troops before referred to, as well as the fact of the existence of the name Hazroh on the road to the Indus and not far from Attock, and of Hazrah on the road to Kabul from Kurram, and not far from the now celebrated Shaturgardan. Both these latter, being strategical points on tho approaches to Kabul from the eastward, might well have been occupied by the troops of Changhiz, and thus received their names. On the other hand is the supposition of the country now called Hazarah being under the form of Arsareth the same as that alluded to by Esdras as the place of refuge of the captive Israelites after their escape from Persia, a form which might easily be changed to the word now in use.

Very little is known of the manners and customs of this Tatar people, They are said, however, to be a simple-


minded people, and very much in the hands of their priests. They are for the most part entirely illiterate, are governed by tribal and clan chiefs, whose authority over their people is absolute , and they are generally very poor and hardy. Many thousands of them come down to the Panjab every cold season in search of labour either on the roads, or as well-sinkers, wall- builders, &c. In their own country they have the reputation of being a brave and hardy race, and amongst the Afghans they are considered a faithful, industrious, and intelligent people as servants. Many thousands of them find employment at Kabul and Ghazni and Kandahar during the winter months as labourers in the two former cities mainly in removing the snow from the house-tops and streets. In consequence of their being heretics, the Sunni Afghans hold them in slavery, and inmost of the larger towns the servant-maids are purchased slaves of this people.

As a race the Hazarah are irreconcilably hostile to the Afghan, and they have always shown a good disposition towards us on the several occasions of our military operations in Afghanistan. The independent tribes in the interior, who have hitherto baffled the attempts of the Kabul Government to reduce them to subjection, are described as a very brave people, with many of the warlike characteristics of the Goorkha.

In fact they may very properly be considered as the Goorkha of the west-, for they are of the same race, and in physiognomy there is no difference between them, the Hazarah being of fairer complexion only. Of the numbers of this people nothing is known for certain, though they are roughly reckoned at one hundred and twenty thousand houses, exclusive of the Charaymac and western tribes. For us, in our new relations with Afghanistan, this people has a special and very important interest. With good management they may be entirely attached to us and our interests, and are capable- of being converted into a very powerful advance-guard of our military position in the country.


Such is a very brief account of the principal, races inhabit- ing Afghanistan. Their diversity of origin, different traditions and manners, and antagonistic interests explain how it is that no firm and consolidated government has been able to maintain itself in peace and security so long as the authority rested with one of them without the support of a foreign para- mount power. The study of these different peoples is of it- self most useful and interesting and of the first importance in view to their ere long becoming subjects of the British Empire a lot they themselves are far from unwilling as a whole to accept

End of Chapter XIII
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