email a friend iconprinter friendly iconHazaras: Afghanistan's Outsiders
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Accounts of the Hazaras' dark history have been passed down through generations, a cultural inheritance of sorts. "It was an embarrassment for Hazara people to show their ethnicity," recalls Habiba Sarobi, Bamian's governor. Mohammed Mohaqeq, the former Hazara commander who received the most votes in the 2005 parliamentary elections, says, "We were like donkeys, good for carrying things from one place to another."

Shafaq was in tenth grade when the Taliban rose to power in 1996, promising security to a populace tired of the bitter conflict among ethnic warlords, including Hazara factions. A year earlier, the Taliban had brutally murdered Abdul Ali Mazari—a charismatic leader sometimes called the father of the Hazara people—who had helped found "the party of unity," or Hezb i Wahdat, in an effort to stop the infighting among Hazaras. After his death, the party splintered, and Taliban forces soon spread across Hazarajat.

"I was working with my father in the field when my sister ran to us and said, 'The Taliban are everywhere,'" Shafaq says. Villagers fashioned white flags from bags of fertilizer. Local leaders struck deals to appease the Taliban. Shafaq hid his books.

It was an ugly war. In Bamian Province, Wahdat fighters hoped to prevent the Taliban from taking the few parts of the country they'd yet to conquer. Schools closed. Crops lay unattended. Families fled for Iran or for the hills. The Taliban imposed a blockade on Hazarajat, prompting food shortages in a region already suffering from drought. In Bamian, the bazaar was torched and scores of families sought sanctuary in the caves near the Buddhas.

In early 2001, in the coldest days of a brutal Hazarajat winter, the horror came to the district of Yakawlang. On January 8, the Taliban rounded up young Hazara men in Nayak, the district center. "People were thinking they would be taken to court," recalls Sayed Jawhar Amal, a teacher in the nearby village of Kata Khona. "But at 8 a.m. they were killed. All of them." The men were lined up and shot in public view. When elders from Kata Khona inquired about young men from their community, they were also killed. In all, Human Rights Watch concluded, more than 170 were exe-cuted in four days. "Because we were Shia. That was the only reason," says Mohsin Moisafid, 55, of Kata Khona, who lost two brothers that day.

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