Our Face Tells: Seeing the Genocide of Hazaras in Afghanistan (2022)

“There is no difference between the Taliban of the 90s and of now. They have the same ideology and perspective… but there is a big difference between women.”

“On behalf of Afghan girls, particularly Hazara girls, we have a message for the Taliban that we will never be defeated.”

By Zareen Taj in collaboration with Jay Simpson.

Looking at the faces of Hazara women, what do you see? Hazaras are an ethnic minority in Afghanistan, identifiable due to their Asian facial characteristics. Visible in Afghan society, their faces were the targets of genocidal killing by the Taliban. But their faces also reveal their resilience and transformation into leaders within their communities and civil society. This short documentary calls for attention to the genocide of the Hazara people and the oppression of Hazara women. Interviews with remarkable Hazara women, including the first female mayor of Afghanistan, provide insight into how Hazara women continue to resist the Taliban and call out for support from the global community.

Hosted by the Shriver Center at UMBC, this short documentary premiere event takes place on the 1-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul and the Afghan government in 2021. Zareen Taj (LLC Cohort 22, advocate, author, speaker, and filmmaker) will present her new film with her long-time collaborator Jay Simpson (M.A. Gallatin School of Individualized at New York University, 2021) and host a question and answer period afterward. 

Funded by The Shriver Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the short documentary uses the framework of “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation” to draw attention to how Hazara women work toward healing themselves and their communities and transforming their society.

When I look in a mirror, I question – what does my face reveal? 

“This face has been a target of genocidal killing for decades

A face that shows pain, loss and struggle 

I see a face that that carries our revolving history 

It is a face that invites danger, we are not safe because we carry this face

It is a face of turning pain and suffering into action

It is a face of perseverance, determination, and hard work

It is face of never giving up and keeping hope alive

This face carries responsibility and our future

Our face tells a new story of afghan woman

Our face generates a movement for afghan woman 

…and that movement needs your support”


Transcript of video

[Edited for clarity]

Within the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework by the Shriver Center, we must begin with truth-telling.

Hello, my name is Zareen Taj and I am a Hazara woman, filmmaker, author, and advocate. 

Over the last two decades of my life, I have worked to document and share stories of what has happened to Hazaras, Women’s rights issues in Afghanistan, and to call for an end to the genocide against Hazara. 

Hazaras are an ethnic minority who have different, more-Asianic, facial characteristics. Many practice Shia Islam. These two identities have made us targets by Islamic extremists, including the Taliban and more recently ISIS. 

My goal is to bring attention to the targeted violence and oppression of Hazaras and the specific impacts these forces have on Hazara women, who face compounded discrimination as Hazaras and women.

My work also shows how Hazara women became leaders, how they fought for their education, and entered civil society to improve life in Afghanistan.

This is a story of the survival, hope, and resilience of women and girls, but it also is a story with darkness and hard truths of violence. 

It is difficult to witness these stories, but it is important for me to tell the world what has happened to my people.

I share these stories to call the global community to act and stop the genocide.  

In 2004, I interviewed many surviving witnesses of Taliban attacks that described five mass killings. What I learned of these attacks reached levels of genocide against Hazaras.

Many hundreds of males over the age of thirteen were killed in violent and extremely painful attacks that happened publicly and in front of family members as an act of terror. 

The Taliban also focused attacks on the faces of Hazara, to obliterate the features of their ethnic identity. Destroying Hazara faces was also the motivation for the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Taliban wanted to wipe out all historical and cultural symbols of the Hazara ethnic.

By killing Hazara males, the Taliban knew they were destroying the entire family structure and women and children would starve and suffer without their breadwinners. 

Hazara shops were burned and trade routes were closed to cut off means of survival and economic livelihoods. 

After the removal of the Taliban and the start of the US-backed government in 2001, Hazaras thought the genocidal killing and discrimination would end — but it did not. 

Previously, attacks were mainly on men. Now attacks have become systematic and focused on educated Hazaras, youth, and women in particular.

Since 2016, there have been over 30 large attacks that have killed over one thousand and wounded many more. All gathering places of Hazara are potential targets of attacks. Even mosques are unsafe by these Islamic extremists. The cities we live in and our neighborhoods in Kabul are targeted. Where can we be safe?

Multiple attacks targeted schools to intimidate us from gaining an education. They target our children to target our people’s future. 

This is the face the extremists hate. The shape of our face, our eyes, our nose, and our cheekbones tells everyone who we are. These are the faces of girls killed in a school bombing in 2021. These are the faces that the extremists can not stop killing. 

Attacks against women, children, and babies serve two goals: they want to remove the next generation of Hazara and they want to break our hope. How do we survive? How do we carry on? 

When we gather peacefully to advocate for our people, we are met with bombs. They do not want us to have political power. They do not want us to be able to speak up. My heart is broken watching my people become numbers of victims. We are left behind to mourn and the rest of the world looks away.


Healing is a process of seeking wholeness, as individuals and as a community. 

Racial healing is to feel whole within our Hazara identity, to be safe from attacks, free to attend schools, to work, and participate as leaders in civil society. 

It is hard to change from being a victim and to work to find a way to survive. But that is what many Hazara women did. They refused to stay a victim. They chose to become survivors and fight back.

This is Zahra Yagana, who has experienced being a victim of war, domestic violence, and extreme poverty.

ZAHRA: My daughter died at 1am at night and I was not able to bury her till the next day at 12 pm because I had no money to buy a 2-meter coffin for her.

Her story is a reflection of many Hazara women. But she started helping others in need and now provides strength to survivors.

ZAHRA: I worked with a disabled child, at age 3 lost both parents, now 7 years old. The Taliban shot his father in front of him. He was in his mom’s arm when the next bullet of Taliban hit him and his mom. That bullet ended his mom’s life and left him disabled. Now five kids are left without parents. 

I know firsthand how painful it is to have a sick person, no money, and no supporters. My personal experience of suffering informed me of what it means to be a victim. I know personally, being a victim of ethnic, religion and gender and a victim of war. Terrorist attacks put people in absolute darkness and helpless situations.

It is not easy for these kids to see that the ruler of the country is their parents’ killer. That reality increases the pain and suffering of them. The fact that the killer of their parents is now the ruler of the country makes these child victims suffer at all times.

In my book, I want to tell the story of these victims.  if the Taliban read my book, they must understand how their bullet destroyed or changed the destiny of a family forever.  

As Hazara women, healing is more than our ethnic identity. We need to make our own healing from gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination. 

AZRA: Being a woman from Afghanistan, you walked all the way 20 years to build your personality to prove yourself as an independent person to prove yourself to the society, to all the world, that we women can do and can bring change to our countries and to our societies.

Azra Jaferi shattered a glass ceiling when she was elected the first female mayor in Afghanistan. 

AZRA: “the first challenge was when I was a candidate as a mayor, the government told me ‘does your husband know about you candidate as a mayor? He is allowing you to continue this job?’ The first the only person who can make decision, is me. So that’s why I said. We talk together but I am the person who decided to be a mayor.”

Following in the footsteps of Azra and others. Young women, like Masuma, want to help Afghanistan grow. 

MASUMA: I wanted to have an impactful life. I had a vision for the world, I had a vision for my country, I had a vision for my community and that is why I came to the US to study. I wanted to go back to fulfill this mission that I made for my for myself.

I was teaching girls and boys side by side. It was very beautiful to see a generation, regardless if they are boys or girls, working towards a better life and a better future for themselves, for their community, for Afghanistan, and for the whole world. 

I was seeing the light of hope in girls’ eyes. I saw how they felt when they had a different life with their parents their mom didn’t have these opportunities like basic rights. 

The education of girls is a form of healing. 

By attending schools, girls can then get jobs and be able to earn money, and support their families. This is also healing.

By working and being bread earners in their community, they force others to recognize women and see them as an active part of society, even as leaders.

AZRA: I think when I went to Daikundi, as the first female mayor, I wasn’t just thinking as a mayor. I thought I had to be a role model for women. So what I found was that women need more help and they need more courage and support. I divided my job as a mayor with one plan and as a woman who works for women with another plan.

We, Hazara women, support each other in our own healing. Our leadership in government and civil society is healing. 

To sustain progress in Afghanistan, we need to safeguard the education of Hazara girls. We need to ensure Hazara women can be visible and can work to support their families and communities. And we need positions in civil society so our voices can be heard. 

With the return of the Taliban, everything is at risk.

AZRA: During 20 years, we create a baby and then we raise up this baby. Then this baby started to walk, but unfortunately, since it started to stand and take one or two steps, we are back to nothing … this makes me very, very sad.

Now we are trying to heal our pain and keep our hope alive… 

We need to remain strong to continue making changes in Afghanistan.

With every new attack, we continue to carry pain…

With every loss of life…

The progress of the last 20 years and more … is erased.


Transformation is the sustained healing that uplifts entire communities.

NEWS: Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani has gone. He’s left the country as Taliban leaders push for what they say is a peaceful transfer of power in Kabul. 

Thousands of people at Kabul airport are going nowhere beyond the gate as planes that us president Biden promised would take them away. But it’s shut, so they jostle for position. The criteria: who is most threatened by the Taliban? 

ZAHRA: When I left Afghanistan, they said you have  20 minutes to get ready. I had my glass of tea like this on the table, my clothing in the laundry. I just took my purse, which had $100 and my passport and I locked my door. I returned back to 14 years ago when I had nothing, and lost everything. 

The difference between my loss 14 years ago and now is this. Now with nothing, I reflect on all the services I provided for so many people. I was able to buy medicine for injured people to not feel pain and that night I was able to reduce the pain of widowed women.  

These kinds of memories give me comfort and peace, otherwise, I lost everything.

Zahra continues her advocacy from the Washington D.C. area. 

All the women I interviewed for this film share similar perspectives on the Taliban.

ZAHRA: There is no difference between the Taliban of the 90s and now.  They have the same ideology and perspective. They have kind behavior in front of the camera for the international community to be recognized. 

But there is a big difference between women in the 90s and now. At that time, some women accepted the rule and burqa, but this time the Afghan women resist and do not accept wearing the burqa.

Since the first defeat of the Taliban in 2001, Hazara women have transformed, and our education, work, and leadership transformed all of Afghanistan. 

Our healing is our power. 

But now we are political hostages of the Taliban as they negotiate with the international community. They are threatened by our power.

During the years of my research, I have met many powerful Hazara women. They shattered glass ceilings to lead our efforts, like Dr. Sima Samar.

DR SIMA SAMAR: And when I see it, I mean, it’s very simple. We just had 300 students from one district coming to university which was a result, of course, long, long, tiring work. But it is a result. It is a positive result. 

— It’s energy.

Yeah. Which gives me hope and energy. And I don’t think we can achieve anything with guns any more in this country.

Hazara women are more visible in society now. They are educated and have critical roles in our society, as leaders and bread earners. They continue to speak up. 

MATURA: On behalf of Afghan girls, particularly Hazara girls who had a strong presence in various sectors have a message for  the Taliban that we will never be defeated. 

We are asking the International community to not recognize the Taliban regime till they allow women to work outside, get an education and have rights.

Women, especially young women who grew up outside of Taliban rule, will never accept the Taliban.

ZAHRA: There are big differences between women of 90s and now. The last 20 years of practice of partial democracy and education resulted in a big change to women’s lives. In the 90s some women accepted to wear burqas but not now. They know burqa does not reflect the culture and traditions of Afghanistan.

The new generation do not accept the ideology of the Taliban. All the current protests of women are reflections of the huge change in women’s perspectives. That is why Afghan women need support.

There are many threats facing our transformation. 

The education of girls must resume and continue.

We must end hunger and famine in Afghanistan, which impacts women and children hardest. 

All Hazara women and leaders are unprotected. 

Disappearances, targeted killings, and genocidal attacks need to end. 

MASUMA: We don’t want them to go out in a burqa and accept what has been imposed through the Taliban. We don’t want them to but we don’t want them to lose their lives again. We need a better way. We need all people who are outside Afghanistan, Afghan and non-Afghans, everyone who is thinking about human rights, should do something for those people we don’t want anybody to lose their lives.

The Taliban can see us now. Our faces, uncovered from the burqa and visible in society, make us a target as women and as Hazara. 

When I look in a mirror I question: what does my face reveal? 

This face has been a target of genocidal killing for decades.

A face that shows pain, loss, and struggle.

I see a face that carries our revolving history.

It is a face that invites danger. We are not safe because we carry this face.

It is a face of turning pain and suffering into action.

It is a face of perseverance, determination, and hard work.

It is a face of never giving up and keeping hope alive.

This face carries responsibility and our future.   

Our face tells a new story of Afghan women.

Our face generates a movement for Afghan women…and that movement needs your support.

Do not disregard us in the global conversation about Afghanistan. 

If you only speak of Afghan women in general, you make Hazara women invisible – and you help the extremists erase us from Afghanistan.