Afghanistan Ethnic Groups

Afghanistan Ethnic Groups

Ethnic groups: Tajiks

Village scene from Warwarzu Afghanistan

Village scene from Warwarzu Afghanistan

The second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan are the Tajiks with around 30%. Compared to the other ethnic groups, the Tajiks are in a certain way only vaguely defined; According to the common Afghan understanding, “Tajiks” are all those who belong neither to the Pashtuns nor to any other non-primarily Persian-speaking group.

Tajiks in the narrower sense colonize a closed area in the northeastern provinces (Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Parwan, Kapisa and Kabul), this settlement area leads north, beyond the Amu-Darya, to Tajikistan, where they are the eponymous people with a narrow majority form.

The Persian-speaking residents of northwestern Afghanistan, especially the river oasis of Herat, are often referred to as Tajiks, since their mainly urban culture differs significantly from the way of life of the northeast Afghan Tajik mountain farmers and has many similarities with the neighboring northeastern Iran, it is entirely justified, to use the term “Farsiwan” (Persian speaker) instead.

The residents of the higher Hindu Kush valleys of Badakhshan (Wakhi, Ishkashami, Zebaki etc.), often referred to as “Pamir Tajiks”, are also a special case; In contrast to the actual Tajiks, they speak ancient north-eastern Iranian dialects, which are only largely related to Persian and are therefore summarized as ” Pamiri ” in more recent literature.

Outside of these core Tajik areas in northern Afghanistan, Tajiks are island-like settlements in large parts of Afghanistan, especially in the larger cities; in the capital Kabul they are just in the majority.

As already indicated, the Tajiks either live as sedentary farmers, in the high mountains often with alpine farming and the associated seasonal vertical migrations; in the cities they make up the majority of the craftsmen, small and medium-sized traders, and they are often found in middle positions in state administration, for example in education.

As a purely sedentary people, the Tajiks have no tribal organization; at the local level they are mostly defined by village or valley communities, such as the Panjsheri, Andarabi etc.

Ethnic groups: Hazara

The Hazara make up about 10% of the Afghan population and inhabit the central highlands of Afghanistan with the Bamiyan province as the center; the region bears the name Hazarajat after them. Your settlement area is the only one of the four largest ethnic groups in the country that does not extend beyond the borders of Afghanistan, a country located in southern Asia according to campingship.

The name “Hazara” is derived from the Persian numeral hazar, “thousand” and indicates its origin as a troop unit (thousands) of the Mongolian invading armies under Timur Lenk in the 14th century. The Hazara have retained a decidedly Mongolian appearance to this day, their dialect of Persian (Hazaragi) is interspersed with Mongolian words.

The highlands of Hazarajat, located on average just under 3,000 m high, are one of the most inhospitable regions of Afghanistan, buried half of the year under often meter-high snow masses, with extreme winter temperatures close to -60 °C. As a result, the barren agriculture alone could never feed the population there, so that the Hazara have always moved to the adjacent lower regions during the cold season in order to hire themselves out as seasonal workers.

The Hazara belong to the underprivileged population groups in Afghanistan because of their Mongolian origin and especially their Shiite denomination. This shows, for example, that they are mainly engaged in menial jobs in the cities, for example as porters. They suffered particularly under the Sunni-Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime, there were repeated massacres to which thousands of Hazara fell victim, and when the Taliban conquered the central provinces, numerous Hazara women were abducted and forcibly married to Taliban fighters.

Ethnic groups: Uzbeks

Buzkashi in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan 

Buzkashi in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan 

The Uzbeks form the predominant population element of the northern Afghan mountain oases (Mazar-e Sharif, Sheberghan, Maimana etc.) and the neighboring hill countries; Their area of distribution extends north into the former Soviet Turkestan, where they form their own state in the form of Uzbekistan. Unlike Pashtuns and Tajiks, they speak a language related to Turkish, although many of them have now adopted Persian. They make up about 9% of the total Afghan population.

With regard to their current way of life, the Uzbeks hardly differ from the neighboring Tajiks; However, as former nomads who immigrated from the neighboring Turkestan to the north, they also frequently breed horses (Qataghan breed), and the notorious equestrian game Buzkashi, which is mainly operated in the Uzbek areas, goes back to old Central Asian nomad traditions.

Other ethnic groups

With these four largest ethnic groups, the peoples map of Afghanistan is far from complete. The Aimaken, a union of four semi-nomadic tribes Mongolian of Iranian descent, populate the western, central highlands, the Baluch settle in the southwest and southern border areas of Afghanistan; together they make up about 4% of the population. There is also a confusing and fascinating kaleidoscope of small and very small peoples and tribes. Some of them belong to language families that one would not necessarily assume in Afghanistan: for example the Brahui, Dravidian (i.e. linguistic relatives of the Tamils in South India!) desert nomads on the lower Hilmend and in Registan, then the Moghol in the province of Herat, who still really speak a Mongolian dialect in contrast to the Hazara bordering to the east, or Arabic, which is a remnant of the first Islamic conquest in the 8th century until today it is spoken in two villages near Mazar-e Sharif.

Also interesting from a cultural point of view are the Nuristani mentioned at the beginning, a mountain farming and shepherd people in the wooded valleys of the eastern Afghan Hindu Kush, who from a physical point of view seem almost Central European. Then there are the Turkic-speaking Kyrgyz nomads, who have survived to this day under difficult conditions in the Wakhan corridor, or the Turkmens in the northwestern provinces of Badghis and Jozjan, famous for their carpet-making. In addition, there are numerous small groups of north Indian origin (Jats, Gudschur, etc.), especially in eastern Afghanistan, who have specialized in caste-like industries in migrant trades.