Hazara People

By Marisa Larson and Laura Hazelton, National Geographic staff

Photograph by: Steve McCurry, National Geographic February 2008

Afghanistan is a mosaic of ethnicities. Pashtuns comprise the largest group and have traditionally commanded the most power. They’re followed by Tajiks, and then Hazaras. Other groups include Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Baluchs. Although Hazaras are the country’s third largest ethnicity, comprising about 20 percent of the population, they have faced centuries of persecution from both Pashtuns and other groups.

Hazaras are often considered outsiders by other Afghans: Shiite Muslims in a mostly Sunni Muslim nation, they are further distinguished from other Afghans by their Asian features. The story goes that Hazaras are descendants of Genghis Khan and his soldiers, who invaded in the 13th century. Genetic tests show that there is indeed some relationship. But Hazaras’ bloodlines also trace back to the area’s original inhabitants, various regional ethnicities, and travelers who passed along the Silk Route, including Turks and Tajiks.

Today, most Hazaras live in the mountainous central highlands, called Hazarajat, an undeveloped rural area that includes four provinces. The most famous is Bamian province, home to the Bamian Buddha statues, which the Taliban destroyed in 2001. Historically Hazaras settled deeper into the valleys, but decades of conflict drove them up into the rugged mountains. Hoping for a better life, many have also moved to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where, today, they make up nearly half of the city’s population.

Despite centuries of persecution and the denial of basic civil rights, Hazaras have become leaders in today’s newly emerging Afghanistan. Education is especially important to them, and it shows. Hazara literacy rates are higher than the national average, and nearly all Hazara children—both boys and girls—attend school and go on to university. Hazaras have a reputation for being industrious workers, willing to do whatever job is necessary to take care of their families and, in doing so, to build a more promising future for the entire nation.


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CIAO Atlas, Afghanistan.

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Razaiat, Hussain, and Tony Pearson. “The Hazara People of Afghanistan,” August 2002.

Zerjal, Tatiana, and others. “The Genetic Legacy of the Mongols.” American Journal of Human Genetics (2003).

Map from “The Outsiders.” National Geographic (February 2008), 121.

Hazara Women

While Afghan women in many areas of the country are still struggling to gain basic rights in the aftermath of the Taliban, Hazara women are achieving greater advances than many of their female neighbors. Some 80 percent of eligible girls attend school in the Hazara region—a stark contrast to 10 percent in five southern provinces. Hazara women aren’t required to seclude themselves from men, as are many of their counterparts, and they have even attained leadership roles in the newly emerging Afghan government: In March 2005 Habiba Sarobi was the first Afghan woman to become a governor, appointed by President Hamid Karzai to head the province of Bamiyan. Additionally, women in the Fuladi province began farming in 2004 in an effort to support themselves, a program initiated by social welfare worker Sabera Sakhi. They quickly advanced to the top level of wage earners in the area. --Laura Hazelton


Mojumdar, Aunohita. “Afghan Governor Says Her Future Rides on Asphalt.”

“The Plight of the Afghan Woman.” Afghanistan Online.

Emadi, Hafizullah. Culture and Customs of Afghanistan. 2005.

Constable, Pamela. “Harvesting the Roots of a New Revolution.” Washington Post, August 22, 2004.

Kite Fighting

Kite fighting is a common form of recreation among Afghan men of all ages. Though rigorously banned by the Taliban, the sport has reemerged under the country’s new democratic government. The object is to maneuver one’s kite in such a way that the string, which is coated with a mixture of ground glass and glue, severs the opponent’s line. Although the altered lines are extremely sharp and potentially dangerous, aficionados seem undeterred, even when a contest results in severe injuries or death. Young children are especially at risk, since they often run under the taut lines during a fight to pick up fallen kites.

-- Laura Hazelton


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CIAO Atlas, Afghanistan

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Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

Other Resources
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Riverhead Trade, 2003.

Macintyre, Ben. The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.

Monsutti, Alessandro. War and Migration: Social Networks and Economic Strategies of the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Routledge, 2005.

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Other National Geographic Resources

Edwards, Mike. “Central Asia Unveiled.” National Geographic (February 2002).

Newman, Cathy. “Found: After 17 Years an Afghan Refugee’s Story.” National Geographic (April 2002).

Raimondo, Lois. “Long Road Home: A Story of War and Revelation in Afghanistan.” National Geographic (June 2002).

Giradet, Edward. “Afghanistan, Between War and Peace.” National Geographic (November 2003).

Lawler, Andrew. “Saving Afghan Culture.” National Geographic (December 2004).

McGirk, Tom. “Tracking the Ghost of bin Laden In the Land of the Pashtun.” National Geographic (December 2004).