On Friday 30 September, a terrorist strapped with explosives entered the Kaaj education centre in West Kabul. He killed the guard and then set off the detonator, blowing himself up along with hundreds of teenagers – Hazara girls and boys – who were receiving tutoring for their university entrance exam. As the girls were seated in the front rows of the large room, separated from the boys, as per Taliban regulation, many more of them were killed and injured. Latest reports confirm 53 deaths, at least 46 of them girls, leaving another 110 injured. However, the unprecedented civil unrest in Iran has eclipsed this Hazara massacre – thus receiving little attention in mainstream media.
It is now believed that Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) has taken responsibility for this atrocity – but the blame should not end there. Under Taliban rule, the Hazara community continues to be heavily persecuted and targeted, with little done to protect them from suicide bombings and other unlawful attacks.
Hazara Persecution and the Taliban’s Role
The Hazaras have survived extreme periods of persecution during state formation attempts led by the then Emir of Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman, in the late 19th century. Although this period of violent centralisation affected other ethnic communities, the Hazaras were particularly persecuted due to the new decree of religious heresy because of their Shia affiliations. In fact, Abdul Rahman considered the Shia communities to be improper Muslims. The extreme religious and ethnic persecution of the Hazaras led to the seizure of their lands and their eventual enslavement. As a result, many Hazaras migrated to Baluchistan, today’s Pakistan. Hazara slavery was banned in the early 1920s, but they continued to face discrimination. It was not until the first era of the Taliban rule that Hazara massacres took place.
After Western intervention in 2001, the Hazara’s Shia sect of Islam became recognised by law and family courts based on the Shia Jafari school of jurisprudence were institutionalised along with their dominant Sunni counterparts. This was a step in the right direction towards the institutionalisation of religious pluralism. During the past two decades, the Hazara communities have used education to transform their status and empower themselves in Afghanistan. For this reason, this ethnic group boasts one of the most well-educated communities in Afghanistan.
However, since 2015, when IS-K’s brand emerged in the security scene of Afghanistan, there have been horrible incidents against the Shia community of Afghanistan. These militants once stopped a bus to then identify the Hazara passengers and behead them indiscriminately – including a child, Shukria Tabassum, leading to Hazara-led ‘Tabassum movement.’ Horrible events targeting Hazaras ensued: wedding ceremonies maternity wards and demonstrations Hazaras continued to be targeted by suicide bombers, including the later Hazara-led protest movement called Roshnayi, or light, which was protesting President Ashraf Ghani government’s alleged avoidance of imported electricity transmission lines go through Hazara populated central Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, we are already witnessing an increase in attacks on the Hazara community – without security, medical care and assistance, the persecution is again systemic.
Unprecedent Civil-Society Solidarity
This most recent massacre of the Hazara school children has generated unprecedented levels of solidarity amongst Afghanistan’s civil society. The next day, women from all communities came together in Kabul and protested, chanting slogans against the Taliban regime. The Taliban responded with brutal suppression, leaving many demonstrators abused and arrested. Then, widespread and unified anti-regime dissent struck Afghanistan. Female university students in provinces of Herat and Bamiyan followed suit and held protests, where they were similarly beaten up and dispersed. Next, women in Balkh province took to the street to protest the regime. It has been reported that the Taliban locked women at the University of Balkh students’ halls to prevent them from joining the march. Video footage of women trying to break the lock has been published widely on social media. Most recently, the women of Panjsher and Baghlan provinces took to the streets. Another protest took place in Al-Biruni University in Kapisa Province, where 40 women were detained by the Taliban. Dissent led by the civil society groups has not stopped, where protests continue to take place in all major cities across Afghanistan, including in Jalalabad..
The protests have not been limited to Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s diaspora communities have protested internationally showing solidarity with the Hazara and Tajik communities, who have been continuously targeted by the Taliban since their takeover. Over the weekend, diaspora communities of Afghanistan have rallied, holding protests in almost 100 cities across the globe. There are continuous demonstrations in major cities. One of the next demonstrations will take place in London on 12 October at Downing Street. This is not the first time the diaspora of Afghanistan has rallied to support those living within the country’s borders. Large-scale coordinated protests have been held previously by pro-NRF (National Resistance Front), Afghanistan’s major armed resistance group, in 16 major cities to condemn the Taliban regime.
In addition to the marches, Afghanistan’s civil society has come together to call out the extreme persecution faced by the Hazara community. Since the Kaaj attack, the hashtag #StopHazaraGenocide has gone viral, with over eight million mentions on Twitter - and this number is only growing. This is an instance of unprecedented unity, where all communities, regardless of ethnic or religious sect, within and outside of Afghanistan’s borders, are standing in solidarity with the Hazara people as well as suppression and happening in northern provinces of Afghanistan such as Panjsher, Baghlan and Takhar. The hashtag does not use the term ‘genocide’ lightly. It is well accepted amongst Afghanistan’s civil society and members of the international community that the extreme violence experienced by the Hazara community, particularly Shia Muslims, is genocide. The fact that the Hazara community has faced extreme periods of violence for over two centuries combined with the negligence of the Taliban demonstrates the systemic and growing nature of their persecution.
#StopHazaraGenocide has also been supported by members of the international community, where politicians, human rights activists, artists and even the renowned Turkish novelist, Elif Shafak, have all joined the online protest movement. Shafak was particularly moved because of a note found after the explosion, where one of the teenage girls, Marzia, had put meeting the novelist at the top of her wish-list.
The Hazara community face vulnerability due to their ethnicity but also due to the fact they predominantly adhere to the Shia sect of Islam. Now that the Taliban has once again violently usurped power in Afghanistan, Hazaras no longer have representation in cabinet positions, provincial and district governors, mayors and police chiefs. Whilst there have been two appointments of Hazaras, this has been purely symbolic. Without genuine representation, the Hazara community lack security and protection – leaving them vulnerable. There is also broad consensus amongst the Taliban that Shias are not ‘proper Muslims’. In fact, the Taliban’s persecution of other ethnic groups, such as Tajiks and Uzbeks, demonstrate the exclusionary state they are trying to build – where the Taliban is attempting to erase the mosaic nature of Afghanistan’s communities. In the face of such persecution, the civil society of Afghanistan have united against the Taliban through global demonstrations and an online protest movement. #StopHazaraGenocide