The following text is a brief description of the historical sites and social situation of the old town of Kabul city. Kabul is located in the center of Afghanistan, in the southern margin of Hindu Kush Mountains. From a historical point of view, Kabul has been a historical and rich area since the time of Achaemenids of Persia about 2500 years ago. Kabul played an important role in the history of the region since the 18th century, when it became the capital of Afghanistan.
The old town of Kabul- (Char Bagh, Asheqan wa Arefan, Kharabad, Chindawal, Bagh-e-Qazi, Bagh-e-Nawab, Shur bazaar, Barana road, Hinduguzar road and Darwaza-e-Lahori)
Shrines (Ziyarat) and monuments visited:
• Ziyarat-e- Mianji sahib in Bagh-e-Qazi,
• Ziyarat-e- Shah Tawous Pacha in Kharabad
• Ziyarat-e-Sar Lashkar in Bagh-e-Nawab
• Ziyarat-e-Mir Akram Khan in Khwaja Safa mountain
• Ziyarat-e-Asheqan wa Arefan in Asheqan wa Arefan area
• Shah-e-Du Shamshira mosque
The old town of Kabul is one of Afghanistan’s ancient sites. The city is surrounded on all sides with mountains. The old town has been built on the southern bank of the Kabul river, it extended from Artin bridge eastward to the Bala Hissar (the fortress). The remains of the town walls that were built in the 5th century AD are still evident on the top of the Asmaii mountain. In the 1960s a master plan was made and some of the areas of the old town were rebuilt. But most parts of the old city were neglected. In the framework of my research project (to uncover the historical and social roots of Kabul, to explore the old city of Kabul and record the local oral history) I have interviewed some of the families who lived here for generations and who witnessed all the miseries and difficulties of civil war. Among them I’ve interviewed one of the elders of the old town who worked as the representative (wakil) of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants for many years.
Translation of the interview:
Q-1: How long have you lived here? Could you please give me some information about the historical background of this area and about the people living in the old town?
Answer- I was born here 75 years ago, my fathers and ancestors have lived here for centuries, my father and grand father were the representatives of the neighborhood. I am Tajik, and the original people of Kabul are mostly Tajik, but there are also a few Pashtun and Hazara families living in old Kabul, but as I know the Pashtuns migrated here in the 17th century while the Hazaras moved to old Kabul in the beginning of the 20th century. There also used to be some Hindus and Sikhs living here, but all of them left the area during the civil war. Tajiks and Pashtuns are Sunni Muslim, but Hazaras are Shiites. Kabul (the old town) is the second capital of modern Afghanistan, Timor Shah Abdali (1773-1793 son of Ahmad Shah the great) moved the capital from Kandahar to Char-e-Bagh Kabul ( where his mausoleum is located today) in 1774. In that time Kabul was the summer capital of Afghanistan, and Peshawar was the winter capital. From that time up to 1950s, the old city of Kabul extended from Artin bridge eastward to the Bala Hissar, but unfortunately most of the town has been destroyed in recent years.
Q-2: Could you please give me more detailed information regarding the historical places and in general about the structure of the old town of Kabul; and what changes has your area undergone in terms of appearance over the last few decades?
Answer: the old town of Kabul consists of the following places:
1- Char Bagh (once it was a beautiful garden with houses, now it is known as Timor Shahi because of the big mausoleum built for the King Timor Shah)
2- Rika Khana, Khowab Gah, and Ali Mardan garden (Ali Mardan garden was destroyed in 1960s by the Kabul municipality and the two other places were destroyed during the civil war).
3- Kharabad, next to the Bala Hissar (built in the late 18th century, it was the center for most of Afghanistan’s famous musicians like Ustad Sarahang and Ustad Qasim, who were not only famous in Afghanistan, but in the Indian subcontinent too; unfortunately this historical area was completely destroyed and plundered during the civil war).
4- Chindawal is located in front of the Cinema Pamir, and it’s the birth place of Sibghatullah Mojadeddi, the first president of the mujahidin government. (The area is mainly inhabited by Hazaras and Tajiks, Chindawal has been damaged greatly and burnt during the civil war, and some of its inhabitants were massacred in 1993)
5- Bagh-e-Qazi (once it was the most beautiful garden of Kabul. In the 1930s it was called Bagh-e-Zenana or women garden, but it was destroyed by the Kabul municipality during the 1960s, while the area has suffered more damage during the civil war)
6- Bagh-e-Nawab (this area is called after Nawab Zaman Khan s/o king Dost Mohammed Khan. The Cinema Behzad, the second cinema of Afghanistan, is located in this area, but both the area and the cinema were completely destroyed during the civil war).
7- Hindu Guzar: the inhabitants of this area were mainly Hindus and Sikhs; they migrated to Afghanistan in the 15th and 16th centuries. But the entire Hindu Guzar district was destroyed in 1993-94; all the temples and houses were plundered and burnt. Now you can find no Hindu or Sikh there, because some of them were killed during the war while others escaped to other areas of Kabul or to neighboring countries.
8- Shur bazaar: is one of the historical places of old town in front of the Maiwand square, but this area was burnt to the ground in 1993.
There are also some other places like Mullah Ghulam street, Sangkash street, Sardar Jan Khan street, Guzar-e-Achakzai, and Charchatta, Barana street and Blacksmith street, which once were part of the old town, but have now been partially destroyed either by Kabul municipality in the 1960s or during the civil war in the 1990s).
Q-3: what about the historical monuments and shrines?
Answer- there are many historical mosques and shrines in the old town such as:
1. Khwaja safa shrine and mosque, which is the most ancient historical place of old Kabul: as I know this was built about 500 years ago. The shrine is located in Asmaii mountain, and for centuries it was an entertainment place for thousands of Kabulis. Once the shrine was surrounded with a lot of trees and I reminded the days that there was a fountain with pure water. But now nothing is left from all those beautiful trees and the fountain. The shrine itself was damaged during the civil war and the Taliban regime.
2. Pir Akram khan shrine: it is a four hundred years old shrine, located in Bagh-e-qazi, but was heavily damaged during the civil war.
3. Pahlawan monastery: this is also a 400 years old monastery; it is located in Bagh-e-Qazi. The monastery was badly damaged during the civil war, but it was recently reconstructed by Mr. Raheen, the Minister of Information and Culture.
4. Gulabi monastery: it is also a very old monastery of Kabul, and located in Ali Mardan Street. Unfortunately nothing remains except broken walls.
5. Asheqan and Arefan shrine: one of the most ancient and famous historical shrines of Kabul. According to history it was built about 1000 years ago by Sultan Bahram Shah (1117- 1153). Two descendents of Hazrat-e-Abubakr are buried in this shrine. It has emerged relatively unscathed from the civil war.
6. Shahe-e-Du Shamshira mosque: it is one of the historical mosques of Kabul. The mosque is located on the northern bank of the Kabul river.
7. Ghazian (worriers) mosque: this historical mosque is located in the Bagh-e-Nawab area of the old town; it is the mosque where Afghans had started their revolution against the British invading army in 1842. The mosque was rebuilt in the 1980s, but this historical place was badly damaged during the civil war and plundered by Taliban criminals.
8. There are some other historical shrines and mosques in the old town like the shrine of Mianji in Bagh-e-Qazi, Shah Tawus in Kharabad, and Sar Lashkar Dar in front of the Behzad cinema which were either destroyed during the civil war or under the Taliban regime.
Q-4: what impacts have the different political factions had on your family and your life in this area? Have you ever fled from your residential area?
Answer- ohh… I do not know what to say, how our lives were destroyed, (tears in his eyes); the sight of the old town is a good proof of what happened here, to the people of Kabul.
In fact our miseries started when the communists took power. That was a time of horror and disaster. In that time they killed so many political and religious personalities of the old town; as I mentioned before the old town is the mother of Kabul, so it was a place where so many personalities, like poets, writers, politicians and intellectuals lived. But so many of these people were killed or disappeared, especially during the 23rd February 1979 uprising of Kabulis against the Russians and communists; a lot of Kabulis – the best of them – were killed or disappeared for ever. So the people started leaving Afghanistan. Most of them migrated to America or Europe while others departed to Pakistan and Iran. But still, a lot of Kabulis remained here until the fall of the communist regime. When the Mujahidin came to power, the real disaster began. Rival factions started fighting each other: Junbish forces were in the Bala Hissar, Hizb-e-Islami forces entrenched themselves in Asmaii Mountain, Hizb-e-Wahdat men were in Chindawal, they fought each other, fired thousands of rockets, in to the city, they burnt everything, they plundered our property, our houses, they destroyed shrines, monuments: in short, everything. In those dark days we were forced to leave our beloved homes, our property and everything we had, just to save our lives.
Every one fled. For one year there was not one person in the entire area except soldiers. I fled to Khairkhana (a place in the north of Kabul city), others to Pakistan or Iran. Now if you look around the old town, you may find just 80 to 100 families of Kabulis, others are mainly Hazaras and Panjshiris. In fact 65 to 70% of the old town was destroyed during this brutal war. After one year I returned to my home (tears in his eyes) and was shocked when I saw my home, my birth place and my beloved neighborhood. Nothing remained from those polite and civilized people, from all those beautiful gardens, shrines, mosques, old fashioned houses and from the old town, which once was the center of civilization in Afghanistan. I still remember the time when all people from different races and religions like Tajiks, Pushtuns, Hazaras, Hindus, Sikhs and even Jews lived here together: there was no hatred or discrimination. But now everything has changed. Love, brotherhood and respect are replaced with hatred and discrimination.
When the Taliban came to power, this was the beginning of another period of horror and terror. The Kabulis like all other Afghans suffered from severe restrictions and terror.
That time was our most difficult period of life, nothing was secure, and every one was in danger. Even I was, as a 75 years old man.
Let me tell you one of my stories.
In the time of President Najibullah I was the representative of this neighborhood. According to the people’s desire, the government rebuilt the historical mosque of Ghazian (worriers). The Prime Minister F.H. Khaliqyar gave a golden model of the mosques of Mecca and Medina as a gift to the Ghazian mosque. During the civil war I kept the model, because I was the representative of people and it was my responsibility. One day two Taliban came to my house and said that the local commander of the Taliban wanted to see me. When I went to them I saw a man with one eye and a black turban. He introduced himself as Mullah Nassim, head of the Taliban regional security forces.
He asked me: are you the representative of this neighborhood?
I said: yes
He said: what have you done with that golden model? Go and bring it to me
I said: It is national property and I can not give it to you without a receipt.
He said: you want a receipt from me?
Then he ordered his men to beat me. They tightened my hands with my turban and beat me for four long hours with lashes and sticks. I fell unconscious. In the middle of the night he came and asked me again, I said I will not give it to you without a receipt. He got angry and again ordered his men to beat me, after some time I again fell unconscious. I cannot remember what else happened, but in the morning he asked me again, and I refused once more. I was beaten so much that if they would continue to beat me I was certainly going to die, so he ordered his men to send me back to prison. After a couple of days he came to me and said, why are you so stubborn? You know that I can kill you. I replied: Mullah Sahib it is public property and it belongs to the mosque, the house of God. I am an old man, if I die it is not very important, but I don’t want to be ashamed toward the people and God. At last after five days he gave me a receipt, and I gave that golden model to him. I do not know what happened, but that model disappeared.
As a result I am still sick and can not walk without a walking stick. The Taliban destroyed some of the holy shrines, I do not know why, maybe because of their religious thoughts or in the hope of finding treasures.
Q-5: do you want to leave this place?
Answer: this is a place where my fathers and ancestors lived and died. I want to live here; on the other hand we are very poor and neglected people and we do not have any possibility to go somewhere else. Neither government nor international organizations are paying attention to us. I want the government and international organizations to help us rebuild our war ravaged town. This is much better for us than leaving our birth place.
At the end I thanked him for his cooperation. With his eyes were full of tears, he said: my son we have experienced so many miseries and disasters, but I am very happy, that you’ve listened to our stories. I hope you explain our pains and miseries to every one.
II INTERVIEWS IN DASHT-E BARCHI, KABUL
The following text is description of my interviews with a group of people from Dasht-e- Barchi area in the west of Kabul. I went there four times to visit and talk with the people. Each time I talked with them about 2 to 3 hours. The persons whom I interviewed are:
1- Ali Hussein son of Ali Akbar- 55 years old, representative of people and government employee
2- Ustad Jaafar son of Mohd Hassan – 48 years old, government employee
3- Mohd Mossa son of Abdul Rahim – 65 years old, shopkeeper
Q-1: How long have you lived here? Could you please give me some information about the historical background of this area and about the people living in Dasht-e-Barchi?
Answer: actually our ancestors migrated from the Hazarajat to Kabul about one hundred years ago. It was the time when Amir Abdur Rahman Khan captured the Hazarajat and massacred a lot of Hazaras. Our grandfathers fled from the area for their lives. In fact we (our ancestors) are from Daizangi (present Yakawlang). But when the governmental forces defeated Hazara rebels and destroyed Yakawlang in the late 19th century, they left the Hazarajat and moved to Kabul. In the beginning they lived in Chindawal area (old town) which was the center of Shiite Moslems in the capital of Afghanistan. But when their population increased some of them moved to Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of Kabul, in the 1930s or 40s. Dasht-e-Barchi was a desert in the margins of western Kabul.
You probably know that the Hazaras are among the poorest and most humiliated people of Afghanistan, so this was a perfect place, I mean far from the other people. Gradually a lot of Hazara families moved to Dasht-e-Barchi and neighboring areas. In addition, when the government gave the pastures and lands of Hazaras in the Hazarajat to Kuchi Pushtun tribes, thousands of Hazaras were forced to leave their homeland and move to Kabul. This gradually increased the population of Hazaras in Kabul, to the point that the majority of the population of western Kabul is now Hazara. (I guess about 75%).
To be more precise the majority of the population of West Kabul are Hazaras who are Shiites (12 Emamis), while some other ethnic groups like Tajiks and Pushtuns are also living in Dasht-e-barchi.
Q-2: could you pls tell me about other Hazara population and residential areas in Kabul.
Answer: actually I don’t know a lot about the exact number of Hazara population of Kabul, but I think there may be around 25% in Kabul city. Although you may find some Hazara families in different parts of Kabul, the main Hazara residential areas are:
2-Qilai Shahada (70 to 80%)
3- Afshar area: (70%) where one of the most horrible massacres of civil war took place. Most of the Hazara population of the area was massacred in 1993, and the area itself heavily damaged, but it has undergone reconstruction in recent years.
4- Chindawel: (50%) this area was burnt during the civil war and all of the inhabitants forced to flee, but most of them returned in recent years.
Q-3: what changes has your area undergone in terms of appearance over the last few decades?
Answer: there are no significant changes regarding the geographical structure of Dasht-e-barchi over last few decades. Although the only major change, is that most parts of the area was destroyed during 1992-95. (Laugh) but fortunately it is rebuilt in recent years by the people not government. But regarding the changes, the former governments paid very little care to us, just few schools and one asphalted road, nothing else. No any other major change or improvement.
Q-4: how many of people who once lived here before the civil war, still remain in Dasht-e-barchi?
Answer: as you know, Dasht-e-barchi and almost the whole west of Kabul was surrounded by different factions of Mujahidin during the civil war. The entire area was heavily damaged and most of its inhabitants were left their homes. Some of them migrated to Iran and Pakistan. Especially after the fall of the west of Kabul in 1995, and murder of Abdul Ali Mazari by Taliban, the majority of Hazaras left Kabul. But after one year especially when the Taliban captured Kabul they began to return to Kabul. Any way I think almost 60 to 70% of them have returned to their homes.
Q-5: Could you pls give me information about the social and political aspects of Hazaras life in recent decades, or to be more precise, about the impacts of different political factions on your family and location. And what drastic changes you’ve observed during last few decades regarding social and political aspects of life of Hazara people in your location.
Answer: regarding your question, during the reign of king Zahir shah we had enjoyed security and peace. But we have suffered the most from poverty and discrimination. In his reign we were considered as untouchables, we were suffered in all aspects of life. For instance Hazaras like some other ethnic groups were not permitted to join some specific faculties, like faculty of low and politics. Hazaras were not allowed to the high ranking offices of army or governmental offices. I (Ustad Jaafar) was interested to study in the faculty of low and politics, but I was not accepted because I am a Hazara. And they did not want to see a Hazara politician.
How can we forget such humiliation and discrimination? Actually these discriminations and humiliations bore the seed of hatred and revenge in the hearts of Hazaras and I think these are the main causes of all atrocities and disasters of civil war. About the social aspect of life of Hazaras, especially Hazaras of Kabul which we are one of them, from that time even up to now, Islam played a major role in our lives. But as you know Hazaras are Shiite Muslims, while other Afghanistanis are mainly Sunni Muslims, this has created a deep gap or difference between Hazaras and other Afghanistanis. But Hazaras unlike other people of Afghanistan are not hardliner Muslims. I and most of Hazaras are permitting their daughters or sisters to educate. And there is no any restriction for women regarding education or working. But unfortunately bad economical situation and social problems are the main reason for our illiteracy. Any way after communist coup, things changed completely, because for the first time in the history, a Hazara became the Prim minister (Sultan Ali Kishtmand one of the high ranking officials of people’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan). The situation improved greatly. We’ve witnessed a significant increase among the Hazara intellectuals. The economical condition of our people especially in Kabul improved; a lot of Hazaras were permitted to work in higher ranking offices of the government, I also worked in the ministry of foreign affairs. Despite enmity against communists our situation was much better than before. The idea of the other people also changed toward Hazaras, they begin to consider and treat them as equals not as untouchables. A lot of marriages occurred between Hazaras and other ethnic groups especially with Tajiks. Even my brother’s son married a Kabuli girl.
But every thing changed when Mujahidin took the power. In fact at the end of Dr. Najibullah’s period there was a steady change and even decline in every aspects of life, gradually moderation was replaced with fundamentalism and respect to hatred and racism. Even the ideas of people had changed, it means that the ideas and thoughts of the people were Talibanized.
I think our miseries started when the Mujahidin entered Kabul, it was Thour of 1371(April 1992) when armed groups of Hizb-e-Wahdat, entered west of Kabul, and captured almost all Hazara residential areas of Kabul. They encouraged youth to join them for sake of Hazara Jat and Hazaras of Afghanistan. Some of the men especially young men joined them either because of poverty or nationalistic ideas. Then endless wars and disasters happened and in those bloody battles thousands of people died or injured. These wars created a deep hatred among different ethnic groups, because these gunmen committed horrible crimes against other peoples, almost all Tajiks and Pushtuns had left west of Kabul and migrated to other places. Simultaneously a very bloody war erupted between different Mujahidin factions like Itehad-e-Islami, Shorai-e-Nizar, and Hizb-e-Islami with Hizb-e-Wahdat. It was the most disastrous and destructive war that ever happened in Kabul. Thousands of people form all ethnic groups killed or injured.
A lot of women raped, houses were destroyed and governmental and all public properties were plundered. Shorai-e-Nizar and its ally Itehad-e-Islami Sayaf (Abdul Rassul Sayaf one of the hardliner Mujahidin leaders) shelled Hazara residential areas every day, even in one day they fired more than 500 rockets to our areas. A lot of civilians were killed in those horrible days. Although Hizb-e-wadat’s militias also fired a lot of rockets in to the city on innocent civilian but not as much as them. The most horrible crimes of Mujahidin militias were the massacre of Afshar, where hundreds of Hazara civilians were killed and a lot of women were raped.
Q-6: could you pls tell me more about the massacre of Afshar?
Answer: oh… yes. It was the end of 1371 or beginning of 1372 (1993) when the militias of Itehad-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-islami under commander Tofan and commander Anwar Dngar launched a major assault on Afshar district. After a fierce resistance by Hazaras, they had captured the area. When they entered to Afshar, although most of the people had escaped from Afshar, but those who remained were brutally massacred (especially men) they even killed children and white beards, many girls and women were raped by Sayaf’s militias. All the properties of people were plundered, and then they burned and destroyed the houses. My brother in law a 50 years old man with his two sons and his daughter who lived in Afshar were killed by those barbarian militias. This was the worst massacre of civil war, hundreds of civilians were killed and hundreds were injured, for two years there were no one lived in Afshar. Because most of its inhabitants were either killed or escaped. Most of these crimes were committed by Sayaf’s militias. In my own place or, Dasht-e-barchi a lot of people were killed by rockets and most of the houses were destroyed. But we should not forget that Hizb-e-Wadat’s militias were also responsible for some horrible crimes and cruelties. They even killed Hazaras for their support to Akbari (another Hazara leader). They have also killed many civilians from other ethnic groups like Tajiks and Pushtuns. I remember a day when they captured a Pushtun young man may be 25 years old, they beat him to death, and after that they cut his head and thrown his body to Kabul river. And I also remember a day when they kidnapped a very pretty young girl from her house in Aladdin district, (tears in his eyes), they raped her for several times until she died, then they thrown her body in to a well, I witnessed all these horrible crimes, this is the main cause for my depression and psychological problems. Rape, murder, plunder were their daily tasks. How can we forgive and forget all these crimes. When the governmental forces captured west of Kabul in Hute of 1373 (March 1995) and Hizb-e-Wahdat’s militias escaped, they killed more people, but not as much as previous times. This forced the remaining Hazaras to flee from their homes.
Q-7: how many people did leave their homes? What about you?
Ustad Jaafar and Ali Hussein:
Answer: in Dasht-e-barchi, more than 80% of the people escaped during 1992-95 war. we also forced to leave our home, because it was not secure. On the other hand most parts of the area had been destroyed, I moved to Taimani, where I lived for one year.
But at the end of this year (1995) people started to return to their homes, because they are very poor and have no choice but to return, and on the other hand Akbari’s presence in the government were convinced them to return. And also some of them returned after the fall of Kabul to Taliban.
Q-8: how was the situation of Hazaras in your area under the Taliban?
Answer: fall of Kabul to Taliban was the beginning of another period of disasters and miseries for us. We’ve faced with the worst kind of humiliation and miseries in that dark period. As I mentioned already, we are Shiite Muslims and Taliban were hardliner Sunni Muslims, according to them all Shiites are infidels, you can imagine our suffering under Taliban. I think Hazaras has suffered the most rather than other people of Afghanistan under Taliban. Humiliation, murder, aggression were the only way that the Taliban were used to treat us. Their behavior with us was much worse than Mujahidin. They had humiliated us, imprisoned us and tortured us because we are Shiites. Our main problem was Taliban’s religious police, every day they were used to come to Hazara residential areas especially Dasht-e-barchi and Qilai Shahada, just to arrest some Hazaras and harass them. Every day they imprisoned two or three Hazara boys even elder people for beard or link to northern alliance or etc. once we went to Mullah Rabani one of Taliban top leaders to complain about Taliban’s behavior with Hazaras. But he refused to meet us, his bodyguards told us to leave the compound, when I told them that we are all Muslims why you are treating us so harsh? They said that you are all infidels, and traitors, you are not Afghan, become Muslim or leave Afghanistan. Their humiliation and bad behavior increased day by day. But when they suffered a crushing defeat in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997, they got wild. One day they rushed in to Dasht-e-barchi and captured a lot of people. They arrested me (Ali Hussein) too and sent me to Pul-e-Charkhi prison. We were 15 prisoners in a very small cell; it was so small that we had to sleep just side by side without any space between us. They gave just one piece of bread to each prisoner in 24 hours. Every night they took one or two prisoners for investigation and used to beat them to death. After one month three of us died because of hunger and beating. The others including me were just looked like skeletons. Among 15 prisoners there were four old men, others were all between 15 to 25 years. After 40 days the Taliban released me with other two old men. Because we were very sick and near to death. My relatives took me to hospital for sever malnutrition and depression. But about the others, as I know two prisoners who were just teenaged boys and my neighbors died in prison later. (Silence).
When the northern alliance captured the city of Bamyan in early 1999, the Taliban arrested a lot of Hazara civilian in Kabul. I was among those doomed prisoners. They had arrested me in Dasht-e-barchi bazaar during shopping. They took me to Pul-e-Charkhi prison. They asked me for weapons, they accused me of having relation with northern alliance. After 28 days of continuous beating and torture, Mullah Malang the commander of prison told me that if I gave my daughter to him in marriage he will rescue me from jail. I refused, because death was much better than such humiliation. Then he came for the second time and threatened me if I refuse he will kill me, but I told him that even if you kill me I will not going to give my daughter to you. At last one of my relatives bribed the Taliban commander and paid him 50000Rs. Then I was released. In fact the situation got worse day by day during the Taliban, but as we are confident that God will not forgive those who committed crimes against God’s creatures, Taliban were also perished.
Q-9: what are some of the most difficult time periods you have experienced?
Answer: although our entire life was full of miseries and tragedies, but the most difficult time period of all is from1371 to 1381 (1992-2001). In these years we’ve lost a lot of friends and family members. I (Ali Hussein) have lost my two cousins, our houses were destroyed, our properties were looted, even we lost our hope for future, our society have changed, most of the ancient values were perished and disappeared under the shadow of war, and at last this war created so many sores and injuries in our society which need time to be cured.
Q-10: Do you want to leave or flee from your country?
Answer: to be honest, No. because we are almost old men, we love here despite all difficulties. This is our country, our pride. We lived here and we want to die here.
Q-11: what do you think about the present situation of Afghanistan and Hazaras?
Answer: although the situation is much better than before, but still it’s a long way to a real peace, I think without very basic reforms it is very hard to achieve a lasting peace. We all believe that without the support of the international community, it is impossible to be hopeful for a bright future.
At the end I thanked them all for their cooperation.
III INTERVIEWS IN CHEHELSUTUN, KABUL
The following text is a brief description of my interviews with a group of people of Chehelsutun district in the south of Kabul. I went there three times to visit and talk with the people. Each time I talked with them about 2 to 3 hours. The persons whom I interviewed are:
1-Wakil Pacha Mir: 53 years old, representative of the people and shopkeeper.
2- Ustad Ishaq: 48 years old, teacher in the technical institute of Kabul, and shopkeeper
3- Baba Gul Mohammad: 65 years old, one of the residences of Chehelsutun village.
Chehelsutun is considered as one of the historical districts of Kabul.
Its ancient name was Hindaky. Chehelsutun is located 8,5km in the south on Kabul city among 69 degree, 8 minute and 38 second of eastern longitude and 34 degree, 32 minute and 1 second of northern latitude. Thirty years ago, Chehelsutun was one of the most beautiful entertainment places of Kabul city. The entire area between Artin Bridge and Hindaky village (Chehelsutun) was covered with gardens and cultivated lands, but most of the gardens and fields have disappeared today.
In 1970 the population of Chehelsutun was given as 8473 men and 9884 women. Now the estimated population of Chehelsutun has tripled.
1- Chehelsutun palace: it was built by Emir Abdul Rahman Khan in 1886; the palace had forty columns (sutun) – Chehelsutun means forty columns, the area is named after the palace. During the reign of Amir Habibullah Khan, new rooms were built and added to the building. He had built another beautiful building beside the palace for his queen Shah Khanum (this building was completely destroyed during the civil war). The palace was damaged in1929, but it was reconstructed by King Nadir Shah in the 1930s. In the early 20th century, Afghan kings and the royal family used to come to Chehelsutun in the summer. Later, during the reign of King Mohammad Zahir Shah it became an official guest house. Some famous statesmen like President Nasir of Egypt, President Eisenhower of the USA, and Chu En Lai, Prime Minister of China, stayed in Chehelsutun palace during their trip to Afghanistan. The palace and its garden was heavily damaged during the civil war, all its furniture and equipments was looted by commander Sarkateb’s and commander Gran’s militias (both are Hizb-e-Islami local commanders). The building itself was burnt and destroyed in 1372 (1993). Today only the walls of the once beautiful palace remain.
2- Qalai-e-Noburja (the nine tower fortress): the Noburja fortress was built about 150 years ago by Nawab Zaman Khan S/O Amir Dost Mohammad Khan. This fortress is considered as one of the most important historical buildings of the Chehelsutun area. This building had beautiful and thick walls with a marvelous garden. But today the fortress like other buildings of Chehelsutun, is damaged heavily. The bullet-ridden walls and burnt garden is a clear mark of the brutality of the civil war.
3-Minar-e-Chehelsutun (Chehelsutun minaret): the minaret was built on the top of Asmaii Mountain in the 19th century. It was heavily damaged during the civil war; the top of the minaret collapsed because of a rocket.
4- Koti Kafter Khana: a very beautiful house built in the 19th century during the Mohammadzai dynasty. The Red Army destroyed the walls of the building, and later the building itself was completely destroyed during the civil war.
5- Ziyarat-e-Shah Rasoul Wali: Shah Rasoul Wali shrine was built 400 years ago. The shrine was damaged during the civil war; but has recently been repaired by the residents of Chehelsutun.
6- Ziyarat-e-Mianji Sahib: according to the one of the residents of Chehelsutun village (Hindaky) it was built about 500 to 600 years ago. It is located in the old village of Chehelsutun. The shrine is considered as the most visited and respected shrine among the residents of Chehelsutun. Therefore the general condition of the building is satisfactory.
Description of the interviews:
Q-1: How long have you lived here? Could you please give me some information regarding the people living in Chehelsutun?
Answer: Wakil Pacha Mir: I was born in Hindaky “The ancient name of Chehelsutun” village 53 years ago; my father and ancestors were lived here for centuries. I am the representative of 3000 families of Chehelsutun. I am Tajik; the original people of Chehelsutun are Tajiks. They are the original people of Kabul too, they lived here for centuries, thirty years ago the majority of population of Chehelsutun was Tajiks (original residents of Chehelsutun). There were also some Pushtuns, mainly from Laghman lived in Chehelsutun in a place called Karte Arjal. Some of them are still living here today. According to my father, once communities of Hindus were lived here, may be that is why it is named Hindaky. On the other hand, ancient Kabulistan was once, part of Hindu Shahi empire, most of its citizens were Hindus. But many of them were converted to Islam during the Ghaznavids dynasty about one thousand years ago. Even up to king Abdul Rahman Khan’s reign there was a place called Qalai Hindu (Hindu fortress), when king Abdul Rahman Khan built Chehelsutun palace, he renamed the Qalai Hindu to Qalai Muslim. I do not know when the Hindus left Hindaky (Chehelsutun), but it might be 80 or 100 years ago. I do not remember Hindu community in Chehelsutun in my life.
Ustad Ishaq: my family migrated from Darul Aman 80 years ago; I was born in Chehelsutun 48 years ago. I am a teacher in Kabul technical institute.
Q-2: What changes have your area undergone in terms of appearance over the last few decades?
Answer: Wakil and Ustad- we have witnessed some changes in terms of appearance over last few decades. Forty years ago, most of the area from Chehelsutun palace to Artin Bridge were covered with gardens and cultivated lands. But gradually with the increase of the population, and shortage of water, most of the residents of Hindaky (Chehelsutun) migrated to western margins of Asmaii Mountain and built the present Chehelsutun. Most of the gardens and lands were disappeared because of the drought and shortage of water, (in early 1980s, the Mujahedin forces based in Chahar asiab had built a dam on the river and cut the water to the Chehelsutun, even today despite our endless efforts, and presidential decree, they do not open it).
Baba Gul Mohammad: I remember that once there was a railroad between Darul Aman and Chehelsutun. This railroad was built during Ghazi king Amanullah Khan in 1920s. It was the first railroad ever built in our country. Unfortunately it was destroyed during king Nadir Shah. I think that you can still find its remnants in museum.
Q-3: Could you please give me information about the social and political and economical aspects of Chehelsutun’s people in recent decades, or to be more precise, about the impacts of different political factions on your family and location. And what drastic changes you’ve observed during last few decades that have affected your people in your location
Answer: Wakil and Ustad:
Regarding your question, during His Majesty king Mohammad Zahir Shah’s reign, we had enjoyed peace and security. Those years were the best years of our life. The government paid very little attention to us, but in comparison with the last three decades, it was a golden age for our people. From the economical point of view, our situation was much better than today. Traditionally, most of the residents of Chehelsutun are carpenters, farmers and masons. I think that they were among the best carpenters and masons of Afghanistan. Most of the palaces and buildings of Kabul were built by the people of Chehelsutun. Our people played major role in reconstruction plans of former governments. To be brief we enjoyed peace, security and economical prosperity.
The people of Chehelsutun are all Sunnite Muslims. Islam always played very important role in our lives. Most of our people were hardliner Muslims. When I was a child (40 years ago) there was no interest for education, because our parents thought that it will change our views toward Islam and mainly because of Mullahs propaganda against education. Most of our people were illiterate. (Even today the majority of our people are illiterate). I remember when I was a child; my father sent me to school, and every one in our family was very upset. They were afraid that I might become an infidel. Gradually things changed, the people realized the significance of education. But as I mentioned before, the former governments paid very little care to us, there was only one primary school for the people of the Hindaky (Chehelsutun), the Mihrabuddin primary school, this school was built by the people.
Did the people permit their daughters to go to school?
Wakil and Baba Gul Mohammad:
Not at all, although women’s right were embodied in the Quran centuries before the united nation, but because of the traditions and culture which dominated our society, there were a lot of restrictions on women. But gradually they allowed them to go to school; especially in 1970s many families permitted their daughters to study and work. It was no longer considered zealousness. But there were no enough schools, this was the main problem.
Any way after communist coup, every thing was changed. Tensions escalated every where. Although in the beginning, the Mujahedin were weak and there were no a nation wide support for them, but when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, most of the people turned to support the Mujahedin, because every one was shocked, it was the first time after second Anglo- Afghan war that a foreign enemy invaded our beloved country. As you know, it is the worst insult for an Afghan to see foreign enemy invading their land. After the Red army invasion, our lives lost its normality. The communists began to imprison the people for their ideas. They’ve killed most of the white beards, intellectuals, teachers, doctors and lawyers. Especially after the uprising of the Kabulis in February of 1979, a lot of people were killed or disappeared for ever. There was a rapid change and decline in all aspects of live especially in education. When the Khalqis (the hardliner fraction of communist party) changed the curriculum of schools and universities, and their propaganda against Islam, diminished the interest of the people for education. On the other hand, hatred toward the communists and their Russian friends plus strong Mujahedin propaganda played a major role in diminishing the people’s interests for education. Because of the lack of security, our economical situation deteriorated too, most of the young men fled to Pakistan and Iran, because they did not want to sacrifice themselves for Russians and communists. Most of the rich and wealthy families migrated to other countries. To be brief, the communist’s era had devastating effects on our lives, but not as much as Mujahedin period. At least in the communist era, we enjoyed some security. There were no plunder, destruction and atrocities like Mujahedin’s period. When Mujahedin took over the control of Kabul in 1371 (1992), we were very happy, we thought this will be the end of all of our miseries. Unfortunately we soon realized that the power is shifted from bad to worse. Just one month after the fall of Kabul tensions escalated between Hizb-e-Islami (Chehelsutun and most of the southern parts of Kabul was controlled by Hizb-e-Islami) and Jamiat-e-Islami. It was the beginning of a very brutal, bloody and most destructive war in the history of Afghanistan.
How many houses of this area were destroyed during the civil war?
Wakil and Ustad: more that 70% of the Chehelsutun was destroyed in the civil war; most of the destruction took place during (1371-75)1992-96. Chehelsutun was the battleground of different Jihadi factions. Chehelsutun and surrounding areas were controlled by Hizb-e-Islami, Hizb-e-Wahdat entrenched itself in western Kabul, and Shorai Nezar militias were in television mountain. Shelling from Television Mountain by Shorai Nezar destroyed most parts of the area, while their Hizb-e-Islami brothers plundered all the property of the innocent civilians of Chehelsutun.
How many people of Chehelsutun had left their houses during the civil war? What about you?
Though a small number of the people had left Chehelsutun before the fall of Dr. Najibullah government, but it was in early 1990s when they began to leave their homes in large groups. The mass migration particularly increased when the Dostum forces attacked Chehelsutun in autumn 1371, and began to plunder and kill every one. More than 95% of the people of Chehelsutun were forced to leave and escape for their lives.
I left Chehelsutun with my family in Mizan 1371(September 1992) after the armed groups of Shorai-e-Nezar and Dostum attacked Hizb-e-Islami positions in Chehelsutun. When we escaped, all our property were left behind. It was completely plundered by barbarian Dostum militias. But we were lucky, because those who remained in their homes to protect their property were killed.
I lived here up to 1372 (1993). I witnessed most of the crimes of Mujahedin, as I mentioned I am the representative of the people of Chehelsutun, so I remained while most of the people fled.
I witnessed when the armed gangs of Hizb-e-Islami under Commander Hajji Sar Katib and Commander Gran Sagg Baz, looted the palace of Chehelsutun. Then the palace itself which once was shining like a diamond in Kabul city was burned and destroyed during the fighting between Hizb-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Islami. I wished that they had the courage to destroy the palace when it was Russian army headquarter. But these cowards killed only innocent civilians. There was no regard for the lives of civilians. There were huge casualties among the civilian population. We buried 38 bodies in one day; in autumn of 1372. All of them were caught in cross fire and killed. We buried them in midnight inside the mosque compound, it was impossible to bury them during the day, because of the intense fighting, if you look to the grave yard near the mosque, there are a lot of graves of Chehelsutun people who were killed during the civil war by rockets or by Hizb-e-Islami militias.
In another incident, in Aqa Ali Shams (near Babur Shah garden) eight people killed when a rocket exploded next to them, this rocket was fired by Shorai-e-Nezar militias on Television Mountain. We buried them all in a mass grave.
In 18 Jadi 1372 (8 January 1994) when I decided to leave Chehelsutun, because of intense fighting between government and Shorai Hamahangi (Dostum, Gulbudin and Mazari alliance against the Jamiat-e-Islami), I saw the bodies of three men from our neighborhood who were killed by the Hizb-e-Islami militias under Commander Sar Katib Kandahari. They killed them for their money and throw their bodies to the street.
In 13 Jadi 1372 (2 January 1994) one of our neighbors by the name of Anwar was killed by mortar fire from Khairabad hill (khairabad hill was controlled by Hizb-e-Islami) while he was talking with me from his balcony. We could not bury him for two days because of the intensity of fighting.
In Asad 1371(May 1992) Hizb-e-Islami militias under commander Karim Saqib had looted my shop at night, in the morning I went to the security post next to my shop, I told Commander Karim Saqib that his men had looted my Shop, but he beat me savagely until I was rescued by white beards.
To be brief these savage criminals committed so many horrible crimes. But most of the atrocities in Chehelsutun were committed by Hizb-e-Islami Commanders such as Hajji Sar Katib Kandahari, Commander Gran Sagg Baz, Commander Karim Saqib and Hajji Asadullah. Their crimes are so horrible that we can neither forget nor forgive it.
For two years, from Shorai Hamahangi coup, up to 1995 there were no one left in whole Chehelsutun, every one had fled for their lives. All the properties of the people were plundered by militias. The majority of the houses were destroyed. To be more precise, we have lost every thing, our homes, our property, our hopes and our lives.
How was your situation under the Taliban regime?
Wakil and Ustad:
When the Taliban or as we call them “the army of the darkness” captured Kabul in September 1996, most of the city was already in ruins. For the first time after three or four years we returned to our homes, but nothing was remained, every thing was in ruins. All the houses, gardens, shops etc, were in ruins. In the beginning we were optimistic toward the Taliban. Because we thought that they will bring peace, security and will put an end to the menace of warlordism in our country. But we soon realized that there are no much difference between Jihadis and Taliban. Except that the Jihadis are the small devils and the Taliban is the big Devil. During the Jihadis, we were suffered from war and poverty, but under the Taliban we faced with discrimination, mistreatment, contempt and intimidations. After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, most of the people returned to their homes, but as I mentioned before, nothing remains from once beautiful Chehelsutun. Everything was in ruins. Now beside the poverty and war, the discrimination and intimidation were also added to our miseries. Years of brutal war, poverty, discrimination, contempt and intimidation, completely diminished our hope for future. Our property was already looted and our houses were in ruins, now with the Taliban regime our daughters were forbidden from education. as you know, most of the residents of Chehelsutun are Persian speaking Tajiks, while Taliban mainly came from Pushtuns tribal areas of the south, according to them, all non Pushtuns should leave Afghanistan because (according to them) they are not real Afghans. They were used to humiliate us in different way. We were tired of all the discrimination and humiliation. These discrimination, humiliation and restrictions forced the people to leave their homes and migrate to other countries, a vast majority of them made their way to Pakistan or Iran. Despite that, a lot of people resisted to stay in Kabul under the Taliban, because they had no choice, they had neither money nor property to sell and escape from the Taliban’s tyranny. We had no choice but to pray. We believe in God and his holy book Quran, it clearly mentioned in Quran that God will never ever forgive the tyrants and oppressors. Fortunately the cruel Taliban perished like other tyrants under the pressure of their crimes and cruelties.
What are some of the most difficult time periods you have experienced?
Answer: Ustad, Wakil and Baba Gul Mohammad
Although we had suffered the most in last ten years, but the worst and most difficult time period of our lives was from 1371-75 (1992-96). In these dark years we have lost a lot of our family members and friends. Our houses, properties, lives and our hopes were destroyed and vanished. Our society have changed, most of the ancient values were disappeared for ever. These dark years (including Taliban period) created so many sores and injuries, in our society which only God can heal them up.
Do you want to leave Afghanistan?
Answer: No, to be honest, where can we go? Where can we find respect except in Afghanistan? May be we find peace and security in foreign countries, but I am sure we will never find true love and respect in foreign lands. May be our sons want to go abroad, but we are old people, we love here despite all the problems.
What do you think about the present situation of Afghanistan?
Answer: although the situation is much better than before, but still it’s a long way to achieve a real peace. There are a lot of problems in our society; we do need the reforming of our justice and judicial systems and eradication of corruption. Other wise it is really hard to achieve an ever lasting peace. On the other hand our only hope is the presence of the international community, other wise with these warlords in power; it is really hard to be hopeful for future