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Adapted from http://www.cp-pc.ca/english/afghanistan/index.html
Adapted from Citizenship and Immigration Canada

This profile will help you learn something about Afghanistan and its people.
From 1979 to 1989, Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union. Since then, it has been torn apart by civil wars based on religious and ethnic divisions, and in October 2001, by American invasion in response to terrorist affiliations. Afghanistan has produced more refugees than any country in recent world history. A small number of refugees and immigrants have been coming to the United States for decades; most of them have settled in the California region.
Many Afghans’ settlement and initial adaptation will be affected by the experiences they suffered before coming to the US. Some might have endured war directly and been separated from family members; others might have been confined to refugee camps. While a great deal of diversity within Afghanistan exists, Afghanis do share many common cultural elements with their neighbors in South and Central Asia.  Ddue to their strong adherence to the Muslim Faith they also have similar beliefs and cultureal practices as the Muslim countries to their west (Pakistan, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Saudi).  These cultures are all strongly rooted in the family and extended family.  The role of each family member is well-defined.  Elders are respected.  Elderly parents quite often live with and are looked after by their children.  A strong system of support and co-dependency develop naturally in familiews.  Most decisions are made in light of what is best for the family. 
Although this cultural profile provides insights into some customs, it does not cover all facets of life. The customs described may not apply in equal measure to all newcomers from Afghanistan. 

  Summary Fact Sheet
Official Name
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Capital
Kabul
Type of Government
In transition
Population
26.8 million
Area
1,648 sq. km
Major Ethnic Groups
Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara
Languages
Dari, Pashtu
Religion
Islam
Unit of Currency
Afghani
National Flag
Three equal vertical bands of green, red and black, with white country's coat of arms in the middle.
Date of Independence
August 19, 1919

HISTORY
Afghanistan has played a key role in the spread of civilization from its earliest history. British historian Arnold Toynbee described it as one of the two greatest crossroads of cultural dispersion from prehistoric times until the Renaissance. However, what is now called Afghanistan has been subjected to recurrent invasions and conquests since antiquity.
Early conquerors included the Persians, Alexander the Great, the Scythians, White Huns and Turks. In 642 AD, Arab invaders brought the new religion of Islam. However, Arab rule quickly gave way to the Persians, whose rule continued until 998. They were followed by the Turks, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, and a divisive time of various dynasties, princes and chieftains. In the 16th century, Tamerlane, one of Genghis Khan’s descendants, made Afghanistan part of his Asian empire with Kabul as its capital.
In 1747, the Pashtun ruler Ahmad Shah Durrani helped unite Afghan tribes into an independent kingdom. However, early in the 19th century, the British Empire, which then controlled India, began vying for control of Afghanistan. Two Anglo-Afghan wars followed, during which Afghans fiercely resisted foreign rule. While Afghanistan managed to retain formal control of its government, its foreign policy was effectively controlled by the British. After World War I, King Amanullah launched a third war to end British influence. On August 19, 1919, Britain relinquished its power and Afghanistan became officially independent.
After independence, Amanullah introduced a number of liberal reforms to modernize Afghanistan. The reforms stimulated ethnic and religious conflict, and in 1929, a military coup forced Amanullah to abdicate. Although the monarchy was reestablished, various militant opposition parties strengthened during the next decades. In 1973, another military coup toppled the monarchy, and Afghanistan was declared a republic under President Daud. This government was soon overthrown by a communist coup, led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, which had ties to the Soviet Union. Opposition to communist rule was immediate, and the government response was violent. Instability grew, and in 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to take control.
The Soviet regime experienced enormous, continual resistance from Afghan people and Mujahidin (organized freedom fighters), who received military assistance from the United States and other countries. Under the Geneva Accord brokered by foreign countries, the Soviets withdrew in 1989. However, the communist regime remained in power until 1992.
In 1992, Mujahidin forces overpowered the government in Kabul and declared Afghanistan to be an Islamic state. In 1996, another militant Islamic group called the Taliban overthrew the Mujahidin in Kabul and solidified control over half the country. The Taliban imposed a strict system of fundamentalist Islamic law. A Mujahidin coalition called the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIFSA) continued resistance.
In October 2001, the United States attacked Taliban forces for refusing to extradite Osama Bin Laden, leader of the Al-Queda paramilitary group and instigator of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Numerous countries, including Canada and Britain, have supported the U.S. invasion, and the Taliban has recently lost power. Currently, decades of war have caused millions of Afghans to flee their homes. Although a transitional government under President Karajin is in place, Afghanistan remains severely wartorn. 

GEOGRAPHY
Afghanistan is a land of high mountains, scorching deserts, rolling plains and fertile valleys. A landlocked country in Asia, it is bordered in the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (countries of the former Soviet Union). In the northeast is a narrow region called the Wakhan Corridor, which juts eastward to touch the borders of Pakistan, India and China. To the east and south lies Pakistan, while Iran lies to the west.
Somewhat smaller than Manitoba, Afghanistan contains three distinct regions: the northern plains, the central mountain ranges and the southern lowlands. The far north is one of Afghanistan’s most fertile regions, a heavily populated, agricultural area where most cultivation occurs in the river valleys of the low foothills. Running along the northern border is the Amu Darya River, along which are many towns and cities. The plains and foothills also support more than 80 species of doves and pigeons.
The great Hindu Kush mountain range and its offshoots run through central Afghanistan from southwest to northeast, dividing the country. The mountains’ highest peaks range from 4,500 to 6,000 metres, with Mount Nowshuk topping the range at 7,485 metres. The capital of Kabul is located along the Kabul River in the central-eastern mountain region.
The mountains contain Arctic and alpine flora. Large forests of pine, fir, cedar, oak and ash trees cover different elevations, along with shrubs such as honeysuckle and gooseberry. The diverse wildlife includes wild dogs and cats, wolves, foxes, hyenas, wild goats such as the makhor and ibex, and wild sheep such as the urial and argali.
Southern Afghanistan is an arid region of high plateaus, scrubland and deserts, cut through by the Helmand River, which flows through much of the country. The Rigestan Desert covers about one-quarter of this area.
Afghanistan experiences four distinct seasons and sharp temperature contrasts according to time of day, season and elevation. Except at high elevations, summers are hot and dry; spring and autumn are rainier seasons, while winters are generally cold and snowy, with mountain areas receiving much snowfall.

  Did you know?
The historic Khyber Pass joins Afghanistan and Pakistan. Running through the mountains between Kabul and Peshawar in Pakistan, the narrow pass climbs to 1,066 metres. The pass offers both a paved road and a caravan track.
 
 




  Did you know?
In the Qunduz area of northern Afghanistan, carpets of wild tulips bloom in the spring.
 





 
BELIEFS AND SPIRITUALITY
Afghans follow Islam, the country’s official religion. Sunni Muslims constitute over 80% of the population, and Shi'ite Muslims, including some Ismailis, make up about most of the remainder. One of the main distinctions between Sunni and Shi’ite faiths is that Shi’ites follow a religious leader called an imam, who is regarded as Mohammed’s successor and an intermediary between Allah and the faithful.
Islam forms a strong bond among Afghanistan’s diverse tribes and peoples and has helped strengthen Afghans’ resolve against foreign domination, particularly during the Soviet invasion. Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 610 AD. Mohammed claimed to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses, Abraham and Jesus. His teachings and revelations were compiled into the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an or Koran, while his other sayings and teachings were recorded by those who knew him and are known in Afghanistan as the hadis (tradition). In addition to defining religious rites, Islam dictates a moral and legal code for most areas of life.
All Muslims practise the five pillars of Islam: professing the faith, which says that Allah is the one God and Mohammed his prophet; offering daily prayers; providing taxes for the upkeep of the poor and religious scholars; fasting during the month of Ramadan; and making the hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible. The Muslim place of worship is the mosque. Men congregate in the mosque particularly on Friday, the Muslim holy day; women are discouraged but not prevented from joining men at prayers. Muslim women also traditionally cover their heads with scarves.



  Did you know?
Muslims traditionally donate a small percentage of their income to the poor, either at the mosque or through a poor acquaintance or friend. The donation is often made during the month of Ramadan.
 
 






 
CULTURE AND FAMILY
Afghans usually live in extended families headed by an elder male, who together with other males has formal authority over the family. People usually marry within their own ancestral group, and tend to marry in their late teens. Since marriage affects economic, political and social standing, it is a public decision of two families. After a marriage contract has been signed, elaborate rituals and customs mark the formal engagement celebration and marriage ceremony.
Afghan houses traditionally consist of a series of rooms surrounding a private, rectangular courtyard where women play with their children, cook and socialize. Married sons share the same compound with their parents, though often have separate quarters for their families. Houses may also contain a special room for men to entertain male friends. In cities, some Afghans live in apartment buildings. Nomadic Afghans live in tents.
Traditional Afghan society segregates men and women and imposes special regulations for women’s conduct. Husbands traditionally had the power to decide when women could leave the house, and many women spent their adult lives in purdah (seclusion), seeing only men from their family. The introduction of universal suffrage in 1965 dramatically changed women’s position: while they still maintained their traditional responsibilities at home, many women, particularly in cities, moved into the workforce and established careers in the professions. Both the Mujahidin and Taliban governments instituted repressive measures against women, including prohibitions against women’s education and employment. However, with the Taliban’s loss of power, women have been regaining their old freedoms.
Afghanistan contains many ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Pashtun, which comprises 40% of the population. Other groups include the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, as well as smaller minorities of Kirgi, Aimaq, Nuristani and Baluchi. Recent wars in Afghanistan have severely disrupted family life. Approximately one-third of the population has fled to neighbouring countries or attempted to emigrate.
Afghans tend to settle along ethnic lines, and most live in rural areas. Some people are semi-nomadic. Both men and women traditionally wear long cotton skirts over baggy pants. Men also wear turbans, which may indicate tribal identity by the way they are tied. Some women wear the burq’a (also called the chaderi in Afghanistan), a body veil that conceals them except for a grated section at the eyes.



  Did you know?
Afghans traditionally celebrate the birth of a child on its sixth day. On this day the baby is given a name, and guests visit with gifts.
 
 





  Did you know?
Some Afghans participate in celebrations of International Women’s Day on March 8.
 






 
  Did you know?
When greeting friends and acquaintances, Afghan men are very affectionate: shaking both hands, hugging and kissing on the cheeks are all common gestures. Male friends also may also hold hands or link arms when walking.
 
LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION
Communication Styles
It is important not to use the left hand in touching or giving materials to Afghanis. The left hand is used for toilet hygiene.
Many Muslims do not like their head being touched. This is not a religious but a cultural preference.
 
Afghanistan has two official languages. The most widely spoken is Dari, which originated from classical Persian, the language of Iran. The second is Pashtu, the language of most Pashtun people. Afghanistan also has approximately 30 minority languages, the most common of which are the Turkic languages Uzbek and Turkmen. All Afghan languages use the flowing Arabic script for writing.
In general, the distribution of languages is geographical, following the settlement of ethnic groups. Pushtu is widespread on the central highlands and southwestern plateau, while most people on the northern plains speak Dari, Uzbek and Turkmen. Although Pashtuns have dominated Afghan politics for many decades and are the largest ethnic group, Dari has special importance in Afghan literature and is most often the language of commerce in the countryside. Many Afghans are bilingual and use Dari to facilitate communication across ethnic groups.
Both Pashtu and Dari, as well as some other Afghan languages, are Indo-European languages, meaning that they are distantly related to English. Indo-European languages are common in Pakistan, India and Iran and are believed to have originated from Aryan invaders. Languages with an Indo-European root have a similar grammatical structure and words that often come from the same stem or root.
Like many people in Middle Eastern and Arabic countries, Afghans use many gestures and movements to express themselves. Members of the same sex also touch each other frequently when speaking; however, touching the opposite sex in public is avoided in traditional Muslim society. As a mark of respect, Afghan women traditionally lower their eyes when speaking to men. 

 
English
Dari
Hello
Salam
Good morning
Sabh bakhair
Please
Lutfan
Thank you
Hasebki
Thank You
Tasha kur
Yes
Baleh
Yes
Bale
No
Neh
How are you?
Chehtur hastain
 




  Did you know?
Some English words that have come from Persian include shawl, taffeta, khaki and bazaar.







EDUCATION
Prior to 1979, Afghanistan had a growing though still inadequate educational system. School enrollment had reached about one million students. Tuition and textbooks were free and a monthly allowance was provided for students at postsecondary schools. However, various barriers to education remained in place: many rural areas lacked adequate schools; children of poor families (particularly girls) were often more needed to help at home than to attend school; and children of nomadic tribes had great difficulty accessing schools. Currently, Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in Asia.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, education in Afghanistan was limited to religious schools, which were run by mosques and open only to boys. Girls received religious instruction from women at home. The first public school was opened in Kabul by King Habibullah in 1903. Soon other primary, secondary and vocational schools were established, patterned on the French academic system and also offering Islamic subjects. In 1924, the first school for girls opened, and in 1931, Afghanistan’s constitution made primary education compulsory and free for all children.
From the inception of the modern educational system, a minority of conservative religious leaders opposed education for girls; some opposed any education outside Islamic subjects. Despite this opposition, Afghanistan’s education system continued to expand. The first university was established in 1932 in Kabul; although initially segregated, by 1960 faculties were co-educational. The country now has four universities, all of which are co-educational.
The war with the Soviets and subsequent strife have greatly disrupted Afghanistan’s already limited educational system, destroying facilities and displacing millions of families. The majority of the country’s teachers have left. The Taliban regime banned education for girls over the age of 12, but girls in Kabul are now beginning to return to school.
Some children have been educated in schools established in refugee camps, while in Afghanistan, education continues in a limited number of still-operational schools and in family homes. Officially, primary education begins at age seven and lasts for six years, followed by six years of secondary school. Two of Afghanistan’s universities have remained open during the war, and the university in Kabul has recently reopened.




  Did you know?
Abdul Ahad Momand was the first Afghan in space. Born in 1959, he trained as a pilot and was chosen to be part of a cosmonaut team that flew to the Russian space station Mir in 1988.
 




 HEALTH
Afghanistan’s few modern health facilities are mostly concentrated in Kabul and other cities. The country has always had a shortage of medical facilities, particularly in rural areas. Since 1979, the available health care has greatly deteriorated. Afghanistan now has a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, medical supplies, drugs and hospital beds. In areas controlled by the Taliban, male doctors were forbidden to see female patients, and female doctors were forbidden to practise, leaving women completely without medical care. The current transitional government is working to reopen hospitals and boost the level of available care.
With the help of foreign donors and international relief organizations, surgical departments of hospitals have been revived in some cities, and special centres have been established to rehabilitate victims of land mines. International medical volunteers work in rural areas, and the Red Cross manages workshops that make artificial limbs for amputees.
Despite these efforts, the quality of life in Afghanistan remains poor, and the average life expectancy is only 46 years. War, recurrent droughts, poor sanitation and the absence of immunization programs have led to widespread malnutrition and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera (caused by unsanitary drinking water), malaria, measles, tuberculosis, typhoid and diseases caused by intestinal parasites. The estimated 10 million landmines buried throughout the country maim and kill people daily. Childhood mortality is high, and with a high fertility rate, many women die from complications related to childbirth. In addition, millions of displaced and traumatized Afghans suffer from mental health problems such as depression and stress disorders.
In the absence of other treatments, many Afghans rely on natural therapies to treat a variety of ailments. Unani, an ancient holistic system of medicine, is practiced by Hakims, who use herbs and dietary regimens to cure disease.




  Did you know?
Mullahs, scholars of Islamic theology, are sometimes asked for prayers to cure sicknesses and cases of spirit possession.
 


 SPORTS AND RECREATION
Afghans are very fond of sports and games. Besides traditional sports, Afghans also enjoy football (soccer) and field hockey.
Northern Afghan men adore buzkashi ("grab the goat"), an ancient game that is believed to have been developed in central Asia and is considered part of Afghan’s noble past. While various peoples play the game, the Uzbeks are considered its champions. Played on horseback, buzkashi may involve hundreds of players. Teams are limited to 10 men. A headless carcass, nowadays usually from a calf, is thrown on the ground in the centre of the circle of horsemen. At a signal, the riders rush in and each tries to lift the carcass onto his horse, a task that alone takes great strength. Yet to score a goal, the rider with the carcass must also gallop to a goal point (often over a mile away) through opposing riders armed with whips, then return to the starting point and drop the calf where it was picked up. The horses used for buzkashi are specially trained and costly.
Wrestling or pahlwani is also popular and often accompanies buzkashi matches. The object of the game is to pin one’s opponent to the ground without touching his legs. Men and boys also play a variation of rugby, in which two teams face each other and one person tries to rush over and break through the opposing team. Another rural game is gursai, in which players hold their left feet in their right hands and hop about trying to upset one another.
Children’s games in Afghanistan include tag, blind-man’s buff, kite flying and hopscotch. Girls enjoy volleyball, basketball and playing with homemade dolls, while boys play soccer or make slingshots. A game called buzul-bazi, similar to marbles, uses sheep knuckle bones. In winter, Afghan children enjoy having snowball fights. Some people also ski near Kabul.


  Did you know?
Some Afghan men fly "fighter kites" in competitions. Made with tissue paper and bamboo and painted with elaborate designs, the kits may have wing spans of 1.5 metres. Kite-flying line (called tar) is coated with glass and usually homemade. Flyers attempt to cut down each other’s kites.
 
 




  Did you know?
In the Nuristani area, Afghans play a form of hockey that uses a stick with a round head.
 




 
ECONOMIC
Afghanistan is a poor, pastoral country. Although most of the land is difficult to till, about 70% of the labour force works in agriculture. The main products are wheat and other grains, nuts, cotton, fruits and vegetables, wool and livestock. People who live nomadically tend sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys and horses. Afghanistan was also the world’s largest producer of opium. Since 1979, however, the destruction of irrigation canals and roads and the presence of land mines have forced many farmers to leave their villages, causing a severe decline in agricultural production.
Industry and services employ the remainder of the labour force. People working in services include teachers, doctors, bankers and government employees. The most economically significant industry is handicrafts primarily rug weaving, which is done mostly at home by hand. Afghan factories, located mainly in Kabul, produce textiles, leather, soap, furniture, shoes and handwoven carpets, as well as cement, fertilizer and processed foods. Oil and natural gas deposits bring in substantial revenue, and a small mining industry processes coal, copper, gold and salt. Afghanistan is rich in minerals, but many deposits are undeveloped.
In the countryside, children learn to help their parents with work at young ages. Boys care for animals while girls help indoors. Rural women usually work in the fields, but until the Taliban regime rose to power, many urban women had established careers. About 75% of teachers are women, and women have also been active in medicine, banking and television. With the Taliban regime’s loss of power, women and men have been returning to work in Kabul.

  Did you know?
In the 1920s, a merchant named Abdul Aziz became one of the founders of the modern Afghan economy. He established an export business that opened up Afghanistan’s trade in cotton and karakul (a type of sheep wool and skin).
 
 





  Did you know?
Afghanistan is one of the world's leading producers of lapis lazuli, a blue, semi-precious stone.
 



 
  Did you know?
Some Afghans believe that on Now Ruz (New Year’s), a threatening old woman named Ajuzak roams the countryside. Rain is a sign that Ajuzak is washing her hair and that the year’s harvest will be rich.





  Did you know?
The former Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has been living in exile, returned to Afghanistan in March 2001.








Last Updated: 3/23/09
Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School    500 Dorset Street    South Burlington, VT 05403    (802) 652-7100
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