Hundreds of Afghans attended a candlelight vigil on the evening of July 27 to commemorate the horrific attack on protestors the previous weekend in Kabul, which left 80 civilians dead and 230 wounded.
The dual attacks on July 23 are the latest in a string of piecemeal attacks on the Hazara community — a minority group making up 20% of Afghanistan's 30 million people. The UN extended its condolences, and branded the attack as the “deadliest single incident” recorded since 2001.
The second Kabul protest on July 23, which was one of the largest in the country's history, was a cry for an end to the Afghan Unity Government's systematic discrimination against a particular ethnic group. Protestors demanded that egalitarianism be extended to all ethnic groups within Afghanistan.
The first protest in May was prompted by the rerouting of a 500kV electricity project by the Afghan government, notwithstanding the professional opinions of Fichtner Engineering Company — a consultancy firm tasked with finding the most appropriate route for the project. Fichtner proposed the Bamiyan route for the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TUTAP) power project. However, it is claimed that because it went near a densely concentrated population of Hazaras the government changed the route.
President Ashraf Ghani appointed a commission to review the project's contracts, saying his government had little say in the route of the electricity transmission line. The protesters, consisting almost entirely of Hazaras, rejected the government's appointment of a commission, on grounds of partiality.
Unsurprisingly the commission's finding — that the government's choice ought to be the route of the TUTAP project — was rejected by the protesters. This prompted concerned citizens to once again take to the streets of Kabul and reiterate their demands.
The protest's name, “Junbesh-e Roshnai-e” or the “Enlightenment Movement”, serves both as a metaphor and encapsulates the literal demands of the demonstrators. The demonstrators say conspicuous discrimination against an ethnic community has no place in a modern democratic nation whose very constitution is founded on the notions of pluralism, egalitarianism and justice. The sole reason the government is not abandoning its discriminatory pursuit is it is still plagued by outworn prejudices.
The protesters in Melbourne and Kabul were aggrieved at the lack of protection provided by the Afghan government for the mass demonstration. Though presented as a sectarian attack by Al Jazeera, the New York Times, BBC and Reuters, demonstrators in Melbourne said the incident had nothing to do with the Hazaras' Shi'ite faith but everything to do with their ethnic identity.
Speaking at the Candlelight Vigil, Greens Senator Janet Rice said those present had an obligation to educate their Australian friends and colleagues about the plight of the Hazaras. Hazara refugees are not “economic migrants” (to quote former immigration minister Scott Morrison) but rather a persecuted minority.
Asher Hirsch of the Refugee Council of Australia said the recent tragedy “highlights that Afghanistan is not safe,” that deportations of Hazaras to Afghanistan must end, and that the Australian government must “reassess” its method of checking the claims of Hazara refugees.
[An online emergency fundraising appeal has begun to help victims of the attack who are in critical conditions and require medical assistance. If you wish to donate, please visit.