The September 30 attack on the Kaaj education center in Kabul sparked a global wave of grassroots protests against violence against Hazaras in Afghanistan. These protests demonstrated the continued resilience and ability of the Afghan people to engage in collective action on a global scale, despite the horrors and trauma of the fall of Kabul in August 2021.
The attack, which kill at least 53 young students and injured more than 110 others, was the latest in a series of persistent and organized attacks targeting the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Indeed, Human Rights Watch found that Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) killed or injured at least 700 Hazaras in thirteen separate incidents between August 2021 and early September 2022.
The protest campaign and the support it has garnered from the country’s diverse ethnic, religious and political groups demonstrate continued grassroots resistance against extremist violence and the repressive Taliban regime.
Certain specificities of the protest campaign deserve to be underlined.
First, it is a global campaign both in its geographic scope and in its message. While the initial spark for the protests came from Afghan women, it has spread to more than 100 cities across five continents.
Subsequently, the campaign is spearheaded by a globalized generation of young Hazaras and other activists who have framed it in the universal language of human rights. Consequently, the Twitter campaign has attracted the support of major literary figures and human rights activists such as Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad. .
Murad, a survivor of the Yazidi genocide in 2014 and 2015, urged the international community to act under the Genocide Convention to stop the growing violence against the Hazaras. Mourad tweeted“I know from experience that these telltale signs of discrimination, targeted killings and displacement turn into mass atrocities in the blink of an eye.”
Second, there was an unprecedented level of coordination and synchronicity between rallies on the ground, marches and candlelight vigils in various countries, and a spontaneous online campaign centered around the hashtag #StopHazaraGenocide. With over 10 million tweets, the campaign attracted an unprecedented level of active mobilization from activists calling for an end to violence against the Hazaras.
Third, while the actual protests and online activism were led by the Hazaras, the campaign could not reach the level of mass support without the participation of members of Afghanistan’s other ethnic communities, including the Pashtuns. , Hazaras and Uzbeks. Faryad Darya, one of the most popular singers in the country, actively supported the campaign and personally participated in a rally in Washington, D.C. on October 9.
The globalized and multi-ethnic nature of the movement made it a powerful moment of solidarity and unity among Afghans, especially against the backdrop of the trauma and upheaval of the country’s fall to the Taliban.
The move was an important acknowledgment of the history of the Hazaras as victims of genocide and the growing risk of genocide the community faces under the Taliban.
As a distinctive ethnic group that primarily follows Shia Islam in a country dominated by Sunni Muslims, the Hazaras have historically been singled out as targets of extremist violence and state-led persecution.
The formation of Afghanistan as a modern state began with a series of violent conflicts during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, who ruled the country from 1880 to 1901. Khan waged and directed a campaign of violence particularly bloody from 1891 to 1893 against the Hazaras. , which he called a jihad, or holy war. I argued that the campaign resulted in what contemporary international law defines as genocide and was comparable in its ferocity and intensity to other major mass atrocities of the time, such as the genocide of the Armenians in recent days of the Ottoman Empire.
The Hazaras generally believe that they lost over 62% of their population between 1891 and 1893 due to murder, starvation, starvation and slavery and the sale of Hazara men and women sanctioned by the state.
However, the trauma of the genocide and the marginalization of the Hazaras is not simply a historical issue. Despite political and cultural openings in Afghanistan after 2001, the Hazaras faced continued discrimination and new types of violence from the Afghan state.
Hazaras have demonstrated a particularly high level of enthusiasm for modern education, sports, cultural programs and human rights activism. As a result, the Hazaras have produced some of the country’s brightest students, sports heroes, civil society leaders and cultural figures. Yet these same opportunities to overcome historic marginalization have increased their vulnerability to another phase of hatred and violence. With the emergence of ISIS-K in 2015, a new wave of violence targeted Hazara mosques, cultural centers, buses, schools and even maternity hospitals. As a result, Hazara neighborhoods such as Dasht-e Barchi in Kabul have been dotted with frequent bombings and suicide attacks.
Nevertheless, the Hazaras have pushed back against the rise of violence against their cultural and educational centers. The Kaaj Education Center is a good example. In August 2018, while operating as Mawoud Academy, it was the target of a suicide bombing that killed at least forty-eight students and injured dozens more. Following the tragedy, the center was renamed, to become the site of another tragedy.
Repression and denial of the Taliban
Since their return to power in August 2021, the Taliban have continued to close spaces for the expression of dissent. By eliminating opportunities for peaceful protests, the Taliban regime has pushed dissidents to connect or hide with the many armed insurgencies.
Women marching through the streets of Kabul, Herat and Bamyan were soon met with Taliban violence. The Taliban have also actively undermined the ability of women to organize new protests. For example, on October 2, a large number of Hazara girls in the Kabul University dormitory were reportedly seriously poisoned. Subsequently, three girls were reported to have died of poisoning, and the Taliban expelled at least sixty students, mostly Hazara girls, from the Kabul University dormitory. The following day, it was reported that the Taliban had locked up another group of girls in the dormitory of Balkh University in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Since coming to power, the Taliban have launched a concerted effort to deny Afghans their most basic human rights. It is widely documented that women bear the brunt of the Taliban’s gradual return to its draconian gender policies of the 1990s. By effectively erasing women from government institutions and implementing policies such as the banning of educating girls beyond sixth grade, the Taliban effectively imposed gender apartheid, with women completely excluded from public life and placed at the mercy of men. However, while women’s rights have received much (less and less) attention in Afghanistan, the treatment of ethnic and religious groups under the Taliban, which undermines equally important to human rights and security, has often not garnered much attention internationally.
To counter the #StopHazaraGenocide campaign, the Taliban launched #UnitedAfghanistan as an alternative. There are significant differences between the nature of the Hazara genocide campaign and the Taliban’s use of social media. The group began using social media as a propaganda tool during its violent campaign against the former government and its international allies. Since coming to power, the Taliban have used social and traditional media to dominate the information space.
The risk of genocide and mass atrocities
Solidarity with the Hazaras also underscores a growing recognition of the growing risks of genocide and other mass atrocities faced by the Hazaras and other vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. Indeed, the risk factors commonly associated with mass atrocities are dangerously present in Afghanistan.
The United Nations Atrocity Crimes Framework identifies fourteen risk factors associated with crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. This includes two specific factors that are closely associated with many contemporary genocides. First, genocides are linked to intergroup tensions and patterns of discrimination against protected groups. As an atrocity characterized by group violence, genocide is often the most violent expression of long periods of intergroup tension and discrimination. For example, there was a long history of anti-Semitism long before the Holocaust. Second, genocides are more likely when there are signs of intent on the part of some groups to destroy others. Since its emergence in 2015, the Islamic State, which has claimed most of the attacks against the Hazaras, has frequently expressed its intention to commit genocide against the Hazaras, both in its deeds and in its words.
The Taliban themselves, who are now responsible for protecting the Hazaras as the de facto ruler of the country, have a long history of violence against the Hazaras. In August 1998, after taking control of the town of Mazar-e Sharif, Taliban militias carried out a series of targeted assassinations of the town’s mostly Hazara residents, which journalist Ahmad Rashid described as “genocidal in their ferocity”.
Since taking control of Kabul by force in August 2021, the Taliban have instituted a series of measures that contribute to the genocidal process of destruction, marginalization and subjugation of the Hazaras as a distinct religious and ethnic group. The group effectively pushed the Hazaras out of government and security institutions at the national and local levels, leaving the Hazaras effectively powerless in the face of de facto government repression and violence from groups like ISIS-K. Indeed, Amnesty International has documented several incidents of deliberate extrajudicial executions of Hazaras by Taliban forces in Ghur, Ghazni and Day Kundi provinces.