Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The Aimaq are mostly Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi branch, like the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Turkmen of Afghanistan. They speak a dialect of Persian mixed with Turkic vocabulary. While the Aimaq have traditionally been a nomadic people, they are gradually becoming semi-nomadic, travelling only in certain seasons. Their societal structure is based on the patriarchal nucleus family, which also defines their ethnic identity. Their main economic resource is carpet-weaving and, on a secondary basis, farming. Lacking in rich agricultural land some of them were nonetheless forced to choose to become farmers due to the drought in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite the main source of economic wealth resulting from carpet-weaving, Aimaq culture still measures wealth through the number of heads of livestock.
Being a nomadic people, the Aimaq, divided into their different sub-groupings have traditionally traversed through the entirety of Afghanistan and Iran. They are credited with participation in the defence of the state against the Soviet invasion, as well as being active in the ensuing civil war, on the side of the Mujahadin. Being a relatively small though diverse group with no real territorial base, there has not been any claim from the Aimaq for self-determination.
Their tribal and nomadic character has acted as a barrier from them ever becoming politically active, nor have they sought administrative power in any concerted manner. As a result, they have lacked the means through which to communicate their main very fundamental concern of survival under very difficult conditions.
In contrast with other communities in rural Afghanistan, Aimaq women are accorded high status and are able to participate in group discussions with outsiders present, and have some degree of choice over whom they marry.
Although a numerically small ethnic group, Aimaq have gained positions in parliament. However, some Aimaq have expressed concern that the voter identification process would not allow them to identify as Aimaq, and rather, the government was going to force them to identify themselves as belonging to other smaller ethnicities, accusing the government of applying divide and rule tactics.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in