Nearly 90 people were killed and hundreds injured after two suicide bombers struck a peaceful protest led by the Hazara Shi'ite minority group in Deh Mazang, Kabul on July 23, 2016. The attack, one of the deadliest since 2001, was later claimed by the ISIS.
Afghanistan's minority group, the Hazaras, were marching to protest the Afghan government's plans to re-route a major power project, the 500 kV power transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul, which was originally planned to go through Bamiyan, a predominantly Hazara province.
One Global Voices author, Bismella Alizada, was briefly hospitalized following the blasts, and other authors from the GV community had family members directly affected by the savage attack.
The Hazaras had carried out similar protests in May, launching the so-called Enlightenment Movement which had pushed President Ghani to issue a decree to build a smaller electricity line through Bamiyan.
It's systematic discrimination when every single major project bypasses the #Hazara homeland (center) pic.twitter.com/B37Ci6Jbnx #enlightenment
— Hector Of Troy (@HektorOfTroy) July 30, 2016
However, that concession alone was not acceptable to many Hazaras.
President Ghani established a committee to investigate the twin attacks. He declared the next day of the attack a day of national mourning and named Deh Mazang ‘Martyrs Square’.
When addressing the nation, he added:
holding protests is the right of every citizen of Afghanistan and the government puts all efforts to provide security for the protestors, but terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security and defense forces.
Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesperson to the President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, tweeted:
As we mourn victims of today's terror attack in #Kabul, tomorrow Afghan flag will fly at half-mast at all public buildings-at home & abroad.
— Haroon Chakhansuri (@hchakhansuri) July 23, 2016
Yet following the attack, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry issued a 10-day ban on public gatherings citing a heightened risk of sectarian violence.
Skeptical of the ban, Ahmad Shuja, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote:
3/n The 10-day, countrywide protest ban risks being a blunt instrument at a time when civic action could be essential to public grieving
— Ahmad Shuja احمدشجاع (@AhmadShuja) July 24, 2016
Hazaras have been historically persecuted and discriminated against.
The Deh Mazang attack is the worst recent attack on Hazaras since 2011 when twin blasts in Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif killed around 80 people who had gathered to commemorate Ashura, which marks the death of Shi'ite Islam’s holiest martyr.
Since the collapse of the Taliban regime, abductions, extortions, and violent killings of Hazaras have remained a concern, and sparked protests and demands for better protection of the minority group.
Several Hazara political and intellectual figures blame Ghani's government and are concerned that it is not able to protect Hazaras anymore.
Some Hazaras believed that the attack on July 23 might have been encouraged by people from inside the government.
Aslam Jawadi, editor-in-chief of the Daily Opensociety, tweeted:
We wrote, we shouted, we talked and we demonstrated peacefully, but #NUG instead of listening shot #enlightenment pic.twitter.com/e1dlyNf6tu
— Aslam Jawadi (@majawadi) July 29, 2016
Moreover, some Hazaras were furious at their own political leaders for exploiting the grievances of their own people for their own personal interest. One of the mourners, Ghulam Abbas, said:
They sold us and we will never forget this. They've built skyscrapers for themselves and their families from our blood.
Bilal Sarwary, an Afghan journalist, tweeted that Afghan government knew about the attack.
#AFG One senior Afghan government official tells me, gov had intel 20 days ago, #ISIS wanted 2 carry an attack in Kabul and Jalalabad.
— Bilal Sarwary (@bsarwary) July 23, 2016
Standing up, not lying down
Ever since the attack, Hazaras have stormed social media in search of justice, writing about and posting pictures from the protest as well as sometimes graphic images of the aftermath of the attack and its victims.
Noorjahan Akbar, a women's rights activist from Afghanistan, encouraged people to continue voicing their thoughts against the brutal killing of more than 80 people in a peaceful protest through her tweet:
Politics aside, if we are silent in that face of the murder of 86 peaceful protesters, what does our silence say about us? #enlightenment
— (((NoorjahanAkbar))) (@NoorjahanAkbar) July 29, 2016
Maryam Mehtar, an Afghan freelance journalist, added:
We train our children hw to take pencils & pens in their hands, not weapons!#enlightenment #enlightenmentmovement pic.twitter.com/e2EqeSayb4
— MarYam MeHtar (@MaryamMehtar) July 29, 2016
Bismellah Alizada of Global Voices wrote:
Never can a bomb silence the voice for justice & equality. #enlightenmentmovement #notosystematicdiscrimination
— Bismellah Alizada (@BismellaAlizada) July 29, 2016
Hazaras from all over the world showed solidarity through various gatherings and on social media with the victims of the protest and the enlightenment movement.
Saleem Javed, a Hazara human rights activist from Quetta, Pakistan, tweeted:
7 days ago, today, at this time, time stopped for many #Hazara anti-discrimination demonstrators. #enlightenment pic.twitter.com/Uvokq8fh4F
— Saleem Javed (@mSaleemJaved) July 29, 2016
Marziya Mohammadi, an Afghan human rights advocate, wrote from Australia:
You eliminated those who planted the seeds for #enlightenment, but how will you eliminate #enlightenment? pic.twitter.com/AqWmINQEtW
— Marziya Mohammadi (@Marziiiya) July 29, 2016
Who were the victims?
Afghanistan observed a national day of mourning on July 24.
Families of the victims collected bodies from hospitals and morgues to prepare for funerals.
Many families are still searching for their missing relatives and friends.
Hikmatullah Shafaiee was one of the protestors who was killed in the attack.
Fallen protester: Hikmatullah Shafaiee an engineering graduate is 1 of 23rd July #KabulBlast victims#enlightenment pic.twitter.com/APmzFTOlec
— Aslam Jawadi (@majawadi) July 28, 2016
Basir Ahang quoted the mother of a victim, who encouraged people to continue fighting for their rights.
سیما، مادر احمد شریف دولتشاهی: باید برای حق خود مبارزه کنیم.
We should fight for our rights: Sima, Ahmad Sharif… https://t.co/Vov8BN7YEQ
— Basir Ahang (@basirahang) July 26, 2016
Another victim of the protest carried a sign, which read simply, “Do not eliminate us!”
“Do not exclude us!” Facebook posts have this child listed as one of those killed in the attack. RIP. #enlightenment pic.twitter.com/Lgptqsqbew
— Hector Of Troy (@HektorOfTroy) July 29, 2016
Kabul Relief Effort, a Facebook page that coordinates all the relief efforts for the victims of the attacks, recently posted names of two other victims of the attack, Abdullah Frotan and Qurban, who lost their lives in the NATO Hospital.
Fatima Ghulami, a women's rights activist from Bamiyan, posted a photo of a woman crying for losing a loved one while photos of the victims hang on the walls.
Afghan woman mourns for losing her loved one in recent Kabul attack. No word can describe the tragedy… pic.twitter.com/XvAHtz0tcv
— Fatima Ghulami (@Fatima__GH) July 31, 2016
Photos of those killed are hanging on the walls of the city. Ehsanullah Amiri, a Wall Street Journal reporter, posted:
Kabul streets today. #RIP #enlightenment pic.twitter.com/PcqkIGNVat
— Ehsanullah Amiri (@euamiri) July 29, 2016
Families were painfully searching for the bodies of their loved ones at Kabul hospitals. The bodies of those who were killed were buried in western Kabul or taken to their home provinces.
These are only a few faces of the victims of Deh Mazang attack. The death toll and number of injuries from the blast is still being updated as of August 7.