OB, Afghanistan - When the Taliban marched on this small farm village
three years ago, most of the residents fled to a remote hamlet for safety.
Sher Agha stayed behind to collect the last of his family's belongings.
delay saved his life.
the time Agha went to rejoin his family, the Taliban had blocked his path,
and he ran away. He never saw the 27 male villagers who sought sanctuary
that day, including two brothers, a son, and five other relatives.
Agha sank a shovel into a mound of dirt in Qatar Haq, an abandoned village
not far from Du Ob. After several shovelfuls of tan soil and rocks, he
struck the bones of a human leg and a foot. He said it was the mass grave
of the 27 men from Du Ob who were executed three years ago by the Taliban
for being opposition sympathizers.
were just civilian people," said Agha, 47, who plans to return in a
week to exhume the bodies and give them a proper burial in Du Ob, a
community of flat-roofed earthen homes set in a narrow valley among fields
of wheat, corn and barley. "They weren't armed at all."
is a scene that is being repeated in numerous towns and villages across
Afghanistan as exiled residents slowly return to assess the wrath of the
Taliban, the puritanical Islamic movement that was driven from the capital
of Kabul two weeks ago. The toll is particularly high here in central
Afghanistan, where the Taliban had a special contempt for the ethnic
Hazaras, the descendants of Genghis Khan's invading army.
village after village along the Gorband River and into Bamiyan province,
residents cited examples of atrocities committed by the Taliban. On
Thursday, residents near the village of Charday said they exhumed and
reburied the bodies of 21 young men whom a Taliban commander named Ibrahim
three years ago ordered hung by their feet and shot after they fled the
front line in the face of an overwhelming enemy force.
village of Qatar Haq, where the mass grave was located, is a ghost town of
empty market stalls and disintegrating mud-brick homes, bombed and then
dismantled by the military in early 1999 after the Taliban swept through
much of central and northern Afghanistan.
people who lived here were resisting the Taliban," said Sayed Sher
Jan Jalal, the regional representative of Harakat Islami, a political
party that represents mostly Hazaras.
said the Taliban treated the Hazaras badly because they are Shiite
Muslims, unlike the majority of Afghans, who are Sunni Muslims. Many
Hazaras also have a distinctive central Asian appearance. Their language,
based on Persian, is similar to Dari spoken by ethnic Tajiks.
Taliban would kill anyone opposed to them," Jalal said. "They
treated Hazaras the worst."
Hazaras say they are hopeful a new interim government will protect their
ethnic group, but it is unclear how many Hazaras will be represented in
the conference scheduled to begin tomorrow in Bonn, Germany. Hazaras make
up about 15 percent of Afghans.
more Hazaras return to their homes, the call for vengeance gains volume.
father's buried somewhere in the hills," said Abdullah, 24, a soldier
whose father, a commander, was caught by the Taliban and disappeared.
"If the Taliban ever come here, we will arrest them and kill
political leaders, cautious about touching off the ethnic hatred and
factionalism that disintegrated Afghanistan in the early 1990s, counsel
are very furious and angry, but now is not the time for revenge,"
said Karim Khalili, leader of the Hezb-i-Wahdat party that represents
Hazaras. "They will wait until a central government comes and people
can take their charges to a court."
interviewed in his temporary office at a hospital in the town of Bamiyan,
ticked off a list of incidents in which Taliban fighters killed Hazaras,
especially cruel public executions.
people were killed by bullets; some had their eyes gouged out," he
said. "Some had their tongues cut. Some were skinned alive."
said the Taliban raiders would destroy what they couldn't carry away.
"If they couldn't take all the food with them, they would spread the
rest of it on the floor," he said.
Taliban had a saying - send the Tajiks back to Tajikistan. Send the Uzbeks
back to Uzbekistan. And send the Hazaras to gorestan" - the cemetery.
"It meant very clearly that our people should not be alive, even in
incident at Du Ob occurred amid a strong offensive the Taliban mounted in
the autumn of 1998. The year before, the Taliban forces were stopped at Du
Ob in an attempt to capture the Gorband River valley.
second time we were too weak," said Sayed Abdul Ahmed Mustafawi, a
Hazara commander loyal to the Harakat Islami party. Two of Mustafawi's
commanders died, and most of the area fell to the Taliban quickly.
Ob was surrounded, and residents fled to a nearby village, Mazara.
Taliban pursued them to the village, demanding that they first present
village elders and then asking for all young men. The men were put under
arrest in the mosque. Their arms were tied behind their backs.
next morning the 27 men were put in vehicles and sent to the Syagerd
headquarters of Commander Abdul Wahid, from the Taliban stronghold of
Kandahar. According to Mustafawi, Wahid sent back a radio message to stop
the cars en route and execute the men.
groups of three, the men were shot in the town of Ferinjal. Their bodies
were left unburied for several days, according to Mustafawi.
Taliban would not let anyone touch the bodies," said Mustafawi, who
speaks in a raspy whisper since he was shot in the throat by Soviet
occupation forces in the 1980s.
took days before Taliban forces picked up the bodies and dumped them a few
miles away in Qatar Haq. They still went unburied, so women from the
village secretly carried dirt and covered the bodies.
Hussein, now 16, did not know what happened to his older brothers, Issahq,
23, a farmer, and Musa, 18, who worked for a miller.
accused them of having guns and fighting," Hussein said. "After
they were taken away, we were told they were alive and in prison. But they
told us lies. When they were taken away, they were killed almost
wants revenge. "Nobody can forget the blood of their brother,"
Sher Agha, who lost eight family members - most of the people in the
village are related - said he was haunted by the loss. They are memories
that he shares with many Hazaras.
"It is unforgettable," he said. "There were so many children left from those people that every day they will remind me of what happened. There are so many widows to remind me."