The Hazara People

The Hazara A Historical Examination Of The Probable Origins Of An Improbable People

The Hazara A Historical Examination Of The Probable Origins Of An Improbable People

One Saturday morning a well known rug expert was pontificating at the Textile Museum in Washington DC on the idea that the people of Afghanistan are such a jumble that it is impossible to every really sort out the various weaving groups. He then went on to attribute all the rugs of Afghanistan to the Baluch or to the Turkmen. The idea that it was impossible to attribute to proper ethno-linguistic groups was not reasonable so I started paying special attention to clues about the various weaving group looking for a way to sort them. After a great deal of study the rugs have been falling into fairly cohesive groups distinguishable by structural characteristics. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn to increasingly rare and obscure weaving groups. Among the rarest and most obscure of all is the Hazara.

The history of the Hazara is shrouded in mystery in the mountainous Central Highlands of Afghanistan an area often referred to as the Hazarajat. The Mystery is manifold: The Hazara look like Mongols but speak an archaic form of Persian with word borrowed from Mongol and Turcic. They are the only sizable ethnic group in Afghanistan that is Moslem and practices Shia as opposed to Sunni. Until their land was captured by the Pashtuns in the 1880’s the Shia Moslem Hazara placed women on an equal footing with men. The social position of women was such that they were consulted on family decisions and might even ride to war with the men. This of course runs contrary to what one encounters in either rural Afghanistan or Iran. Different in appearance and religion the Hazara are a much discriminated against and persecuted minority who for the first time in memory is again independent in their own land.

In the literature there was little but an ambiguous collection of contradictory theories. The only solution (besides just calling them Baluch) was to recreate their history and sift through all the resulting data. This involved mapping the campaigns of such historical figures as Ghenghis Khan, Chagatai, Timur, and Babar. One major problem with the books on the major conquerors is that the people who translate the original source material have a scanty knowledge at best of the geography of Afghanistan. Conflicting names similar spellings and lack of knowledge causes many errors. There are legends and theories that the Hazara are descended from Mongol soldiers stranded in Afghanistan but there is no real evidence that that is true.

The first clue was that the Hazara appeared to be Mongol. The appearance is more than a visual similarity Poladi in his book "Hazara" offers references to some genetic typing similarities that show physical evidence that the people are of at least considerable but not complete Mongol ancestry. His book is so good that I suggest that anyone who wants more than this article can give should start with his book. He is the best source of information about the Hazara except of course for his error concerning their origin.

The Mongols were political confederation of people drawn from two of the major Altaic groups. What we now refer to as Mongols are those people who speak the languages in the Mongol branch of the Altaic language family. The other major group in the Mongol political confederation were Turcic people. Let us keep in mind that when Ghenghis Khan took over as head of the Mang Khol his qualm or clan was at most a few hundred people. At the great Khans death the confederation was over a million. Ghenghis Khan drew in individuals, clans, sub-tribes, and tribes into his confederation. In the Khan’s day a Mongol was one who was enter into a political confederation with the Mongols. Today the term Mongol has lost it’s original political meaning and only refers to those people who speak Mongol as their primary tongue. I refer to language because it is the best indicator of group that I have been able to identify. The Mongols swept into Afghanistan in the early thirteenth century. So I set out to see when and where the Mongols would have traveled in Afghanistan.

There are many records of the Mongol era but even now there does not seem to be a comprehensive record of the Mongols in Afghanistan. To find out what really happened called for comparing various versions and referencing it against maps of the region. "Ghenghis Khan" by Harold Lamb gave me my first clues. Lamb describes the great Khan’s camp in the Hindu Kush and the captives. "Where the fairest women of Islam went about the camp unveiled" was the way Lamb described it. Now quite frankly no self respecting scholar today uses Lamb as a primary source but he is a better historian then he is given credit for and he is a good place to start. The start of course was if he spent time in the Hindu Kush how much time and where. In "The Empire of The Steppes" Rene Grossest states the Ghenghis Khan conquered Thaleqan in May of 1221. After lengthy study I have come to the conclusion that Grossest was wrong and it was Talhian not Thaleqan that the Khan took in May of 21. Talhian was an important town for the Khan because it guarded a crucial pass in the Kuh-e Hendukos not the Hindu Kush as Grossest and most scholars have wrote. I note the difference between Kuh-e Hendukos not the Hindu Kush because today’s geographers draw distinctions between the various mountain ranges and assert that the Kuh-e Hendukos is not part of the Hindu Kush mountain range. The camp to which Lamb referred to was called Yeke a ur’u by the Mongols and I believe it to be between modern day Talhian and the town of Yekaulang.

The key point here is that we know the Great Khan had taken the city of Balh and then conquered this city on his way to Bamian. The route the Khan’s army would have used would follow roughly the same one used by Route A-76 today. As anyone who has driven from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul would know the major obstacle along the way is the Kuh-e Hendukos. Since it would be another 700 years until the Russians would build the Salang tunnel one could either cross at Salang the more difficult route or Talhian a logical place for Ghenghis Khan to cross. Had he gone from Balh to Thaleqan to Bamian he still would most probably still have had to go through Talhian.

After the fall of Talhian the Mongols turned to Bamian. In the siege of Bamian a chance arrow changed the course of human history. That arrow killed Moutegeon the Khans favorite grandson. Shattered by grief Ghenghis Khan ordered the town destroyed. No looting, no slaves, no prisoners, Bamian was destroyed and every living thing was killed. The whirlwind like campaigning of the great Khan stopped as he settled in for a long stay near Talhian. The camp of the great Khan was no simple group of tents around a campfire. The camp was a city unto it’s self and it was for 18 months the capitol of an Empire that spanned Asia.

The Khan took Bamian in May of 1221 and used this area as his base until Autumn of 1222. At this point in history it was at the point at which Ghenghis Khan was feeling his own mortality. It would seem that death and fatigue weighed heavily upon his mind. Another sign of the Khan’s aging was his command that the 300 year old monk Chanchung be brought to him to give him the potion that was a cure for aging. Chanchung or as he is properly called K’iou Chang Ch’uen had neither secret elixirs nor potions to prolong life. K’iou Chang Ch’uen was only 70 but spent time with Ghenghis Khan and discussed much with him. K’iou Chang Ch’uen’s traveling companion Li Chih Chang recorded the trip and there are several good translations. It is apparent that Ghenghis Khan had a rapport with the monk that bordered on the friendship of equals. K’iou Chang Ch’uen was the most revered Taoist holy man on earth and he did not bow to the Khan’s every whim like most men did. That alone must have been refreshing to the Great Khan.

Li Chih Chang does not deal directly with the issue of slaves in great detail but he gives us a number of clues. First of all it was proposed that the master K’iou Chang Ch’uen travel to Talhian in a caravan of Harem girls collected for the Khan’s pleasure which of course the Taoist master refused. Then at the camp K’iou Chang Ch’uen counseled Ghenghis Khan against sexual excess. In the rather understated style of Taoist monks we may concluded that there was a large influx of women for the use of the Mongols and virtual debauchery in the camp.

There is a high probability that the men of the Khan’s retinue had a large number of slave women for their use and pleasure. It is a common theme that the bodyguards of the Khans retinue or Keshig as they were called were a group with special rights and privileges. A common soldier of the Keshig would take precedent over and in effect out rank the leader of a thousand from another Taman. It would not be in keeping with normal Mongol social conventions for the Khan to revile in debauchery and expect his highest ranked followers to remain celibate. The Horde was not paid except in the spoils of war. Since slaving was normal, women were desired and of value then it stands to reason that the men would have taken slaves. This is reinforced by the fact that on occasion including Bamian the Khan ordered no captives which indicates that taking captives was the norm. In "Ghenghis Khan" Ratchnevsky has a wonderful quote from Ghenghis Khan that let’s us know how a captive could expect to be treated by the Mongols. "Man’s greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding, use the bodies of his women as a night shirt and support, gazing upon them and kissing their rosy breasts, sucking their lips which are as sweat as the berries of their breasts."

A typical first reaction in the west is that taking captives and using them sexually is immoral. However Mongols should be judged by their own moral code and not by ours. The taking of slaves was common in that part of the world and slavery continued as late as 1952 in Pakistan . On the sexual use of women slaves the Yassa was quite strict, it was immoral and punishable by death to sleep with a married woman . This law was so strictly enforced that a Mongol would go to great lengths to kill the husband of the women he desired so as not to violate the law of the great Khan. The rule loosened somewhat with enemy tribes but killing husbands was still the normal course of events.

Since the historical records were rather explicit on the fact that by the time a woman would become a slave her husband and family was most likely dead. Consequently we know that slaves were loot and except where it was expressly forbidden the Mongols could take virtually all the slaves that they wanted. Once taken they could be used at will until discarded. The great khan traveled with the Keshig of 10,000 men. There were also at times components of the other armies operating in that theater. Besides the actual troops there would be clerks and cooks and servants and all the various support personnel that the Khan would require in addition to the women. The camp of the Khan was not just a few tents but rather for eighteen months it was the capitol of biggest country in the world at that point.

Estimating numbers of troops in the Mongol army’s is a point of great controversy. Reports of 100,000 man units are fairly common and some estimates talk of armies in excess of one million men. While I have always suspected that many of the estimates are high that discussion will have to wait for another article. For my purposes I decided that a low estimate would be better for this estimate, It is generally accepted that the Keshig of Ghenghis Khan was a personal bodyguard of ten thousand men. Rashid Al-Din noted that Chagatai, Ogetei, and Tolui were leading armies and conquering cities and then joined their Father at Talhian where they summered with their father the Great Khan. This of course would multiply the men in camp dramatically. But let us use the ten thousand number. As to the number of slave women we must assume from the records that the number was very high. What would be the outcome of 10,000 soldiers with an equal or greater number of slave women who would be compliant in servicing the soldiers. I posed this question to a professor at a well known University medical school. By working with conservative estimates of the slave to soldier ratio and factoring in an extremely high death rate during labor and an equally high infant mortality rate we arrived with a base population of a minimum approximately 5000 women and children at the point in which the Khan and his army would have pulled out. We also discussed the Coolidge Effect as a factor but a detailed exploration of Mongol sexuality is certainly well beyond the scope of this article.

What then happened to these women and their children. That was the missing piece to the puzzle until I found a reference in Rene Grousett’ Conqueror of the World". After the khan left the province of Bamian he traveled to Samarkand. It is recorded that when Ghenghis Khan departed from Samarkand captive women were forced to line the road as the Khan departed. I nearly missed the reason why when Mark Jones the British Novelist suggested to me that he had a problem with the idea that the Mongols would just abandon their women and children and he suggested that I examine the history after the return to Mongolia. In the Cleaves translation of "The Secret History Of The Mongols" I found the answer. Rebellion in the east, a split that left unattended could have destroyed all that Ghenghis Khan had built. The Great khan was forced to return home to crush a rebellion of the Tang’ud tribe.

The Tang’ud leader Burqan had joined his tribe into the Mongol confederation. In this he incurred a requirement to supply troops to Ghenghis Khan upon demand. For the campaign in Persia and Afghanistan against the Kwarzarim Shah the Great Khan levied troops and was rebuffed. Not merely denied but in a matter most insulting. Quoting the Grossest translation which conveys the spirit of the message "You had sworn to be my right hand, when I set out to war against the Moslems, I remind you of you commitment, but you were untrue to your word, you did not send me your contingent. Indeed instead you sent insulting word to me. I postponed my vengeance, but the hour is come I come to settle your account." The women were left behind while the men went to war. The degree to which the Mongol leader took this threat is measured by the care he took in solidifying his base. Moving the army back to Mongolia, and then shoring up the Mongol confederation was a major task. Most historians seem to miss the importance of the role of the Tang’ud leader Burqan. Against outside enemies Ghenghis Khan was virtually invulnerable. But his vulnerability was from within. The Mongols as we call them were a political confederation dominated by one man. He was strong because by genius and force of will he built a coalition and the parts of the coalition made him strong. He was leader of leaders. As we examine the dynamics of intertribal confederations we can see that the leaders seek to advance. The Great Khan was growing old and the powerful leaders had to be watching him wondering what would happen to the empire. At the first sign of a viable alternative to the Cinngissi leadership arisen a significant portion of his strength would have defected. I estimate that had the Great Khan not stopped Burqan would have been able to pull roughly 36 percent of the Mongol confederation into a new confederation prior to actual tribal warfare. To stop Burqan Ghenghis Khan had to first finish the war with the Kwarzarim Shah and then he had to shore up his coalition. There is also significant reason to believe that Ghenghis Khan was working on his plans for a smooth succession and a continuation of the Cinngissi Khanate.

In this it becomes understandable why the Great Khan would not take the time to transport a huge gaggle of camp followers across the globe. Why then did they not return for their women and children? On this campaign the great Khan died. The Khan was preceded in death by his eldest son Jochi. Hulagu was to be the new leader but the bulk of the Horde went to the youngest sun Tolui who by Mongol tradition was the keeper of the hearth. It took 2 years after the death of the Khan for a Kuriltai of Mongols to affirm Hulagu as the Great Khan. During that time the Keshig and the bulk of the men who would have had claim to the women of Talhian would have been detailed to the Mongol homeland. Even after the settling of Succession at the Kuriltai the act of Tolui’s army traveling into an area that was under the control of Chagatai to reclaim women and children would have been seen as an act of war. While wives and children were of value to the Mongols the reluctance to start a war for women who were of lesser rank than second wives is understandable.

The women must have stayed in the area of Talhian. With their children and a garrison for security this would have been enough for the women to establish a society as it became apparent that they were not to be claimed. The area around Talhian would have been empty except for these women and a handful of men. With an estimated population base of 5000 it then becomes probable that they would be a large enough group to establish them selves. We may also assume that there would have been a garrison of Mongols left at Talhian as a frontier garrison of the lands of Chagatai which would have provided a measure of security for these women.

One obvious question is that if there was a garrison might the Hazara just be descendants of the garrison troops. The reason I dismiss that is had that had the family unit had a Mongol male as head of the household than we would expect the family units to evolve as did other Mongol offshoot tribes found in the area. The descendents would have been Mongols or Moghols as they were called, since the fathers not the mothers would have decided language, religion and ethnic identity. There are many other peoples in the region who come from the union of Mongol soldiers with the indigenous peoples and they are very different from the Hazara. We can measure this by the way Babar treated the Hazara versus the other peoples of the region in his Babarnama. In the histories the Hazara are not treated the same as Chagatai Turks. There is also the question of why then did the Hazara remain together as a group rather than reassimilating with other groups. With their cities destroyed and their families dead it seems reasonable that a core group would have stayed together rather than face a whole new set of difficulties somewhere else. There is also the difficulty of a woman and child making a journey back to the mothers homeland that would take many weeks or months. We can only apply the reasonable person test. Would a reasonable person stay in an area where they had lived for eighteen months rather than take a several month journey with a infant child to reach a home that they believed destroyed and in search of family they believed to be dead? Combined with this was the possibility of the return of the fathers of their children. That these women would have belonged to Tolui’s Mongols also explains why Chagatai’s Mongols would have let them alone and not tried to claim them.

The formal institution of Shia Islam as a state religion in Persia did not occur for about 300 years until Ismael Shah Safavi. But if one were to seize women at random in Persia a significant number of the women would have been Shia in 1221. There were also Hazara who were Sunni and Ismaeli. The Sunni Hazara were relocated to Qal’a-ye-Nau when Abdur Rahman Khan conquered the Hazara in the 1880’s. They no longer consider themselves to be Hazara and have . Until the Russian invasion in 1979 there was evidence of a small but significant Ismaeli Hazara minority. Some personal sources have indicated to me that the Ismaeli Hazara have almost totally relocated to Pakistan. The ability of Hazara to intermingle with their neighbor was hindered first by physical barriers and then by religious barriers.

This explains a Shia people who look like Mongols and speak Persian. What of the legends that they are the descendants of 1000 Mongol soldiers stranded in Afghanistan. They are descended from Mongol soldiers but not the Taman stranded in Afghanistan and mentioned by Marco Polo. There really was a Mongol military unit left in Afghanistan and their descendants weave some of my favorite rugs today but they are separate and distinct from the Hazara. Why then do they call them Hazara which is a Persian word for one thousand not a Mongol word? Hazara may actually be a corruption of the plural form of the Persian word Harzeh which is Harzehi. Harzeh which means a person who goes anywhere and does anything without regards for social norms and conventions and today is usually applied to people who also sleep around. Let me also note that the Hazara are far more likely to refer to themselves as Dai which is a Hazara word for that which has been gather up. While I realize that this theory may seem improbable, it is not nearly as improbable as the mere existence of such a people at all. Therefore after study I can only conclude that the several million Hazara in the world today are the descendants of Persian slaves of the Mongols.