Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Glossary

Abdullah Abdullah

Afghan presidential candidate in the 2009 election.

Abdur Rahman Khan

Afghan ruler after the Second Anglo Afghan War.

Achaemenid Empire

A Persian empire in from the 4th to 6th centuries BCE.

Afghani

Currency and monetary unit in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Shah Durrani

A ruler who many consider to be the founder of modern Afghanistan.

Ai Khanoum

An ancient city that was excavated in the mid-20th century to reveal great architectural and archaeological finds.

AK-47

A rifle. Also known as a Kalashnikov, named after its creator.

Ala-ud-din

A 12th century king that burned down the city of Ghazni; he has the nickname "The World Burner."

al-Biruni

A great scholar of the 11th century.

al Qaeda

A stateless terrorist network, known to operate in many countries.

Alexander the Great

A 4th century BCE conqueror from Macedonia, who brought Greek influence to Afghanistan.

Amu Darya River

Same as Oxus River, but modern usage.

Amanullah

A reform-minded Afghan king from the 1920s.

Aq Kupruk

An archaeological site in northern Afghanistan.

Ashoka

An Indian king who is widely credited for bringing Buddhism to Afghanistan in the 3rd century BCE.

Avesta

The sacred texts of the Zoroastrian religion.

Avicenna

A great 10th-11th century scholar. Also known as Ibn Sina.

Babur

The founder of the Mughal Dynasty of India. He built a garden in Kabul that still exists today.

Baburnama

The autobiography of Babur.

Bactria

An ancient kingdom of Central Asia.

Badakhshan

A province in Afghanistan.

Balkh

An ancient city that still exists in what is today northern Afghanistan.

Baluch

A person who is from Baluchistan.

Baluchistan

A region that encompasses southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Southeastern Iran.

Bamiyan

Fertile central valley in Afghanistan. The site of famous Buddhist caves.

BCE

"Before the Common Era," which correlates to the time before the year one.

Bihzad

A famous painter from the 15th-16th centuries who worked in the city of Herat.

Bronze Age

A prehistoric culture with bronze metallurgy technology that mysteriously disappeared.

Buddha

Diety in the Buddhist religion.

buffer zone

A region that provides distance between a homeland and potential invaders.

Bukhara

Once a capitol city and a center of trade, it is today a modern city in Uzbekistan.

burqa

A loose garment that covers all or most of the body of a woman who wears it. Also known as a chadri.

buzkashi

The national sport of Afghanistan.

call to prayer

A summon issued five times a day--from mosques--for Muslims to pray.

CE

The "Common Era," which correlates to the time after the year one.

courtiers

One who attends to governance at the service of a king or other powerful ruler.

Cyrus

Founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

Daoud Khan, Mohammad

The first president of Afghanistan.

Dari

A Persian language widely spoken in Afghanistan.

Darius

A ruler of the Achaemenid Empire.

Dost Mohammed

An 18th century Pashtun who ruled at a time of great regional upheaval.

Dostum, Abdul Rashid

A career soldier who went on to lead the Afghan National Army under Hamid Karzai.

Durand Line

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Elphinstone, William

A 19th century British Officer stationed in Afghanistan.

emir

A high-ranking title.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)

Seven traditionally very poor tribal area in northwestern Pakistan that juxtaposes Afghanistan.

Ferdowsi

Poet who penned the literary masterpiece, the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings).

Ferghana Valley

Fertile valley in Central Asia, which was also an important crossroads region. The Ferghana Valley was the source of the most sought-after horses.

First Anglo-Afghan War

A 19th century war fought between British India and Afghanistan in which the British suffered a humiliating defeat.

Gandhara

A kingdom in what is today western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Its trademark was a fusion of Greek and South Asian traditions.

Genghis Khan

A nomadic warrior who founded the Mongol Empire, the greatest land-based empire in world history.

Ghazni

A city and province in central Afghanistan.

Ghaznavids

Historically, a slave population that rose up and overthrew the Samanid Empire and helped Islam take root in the 12th century. Its capitol was at Ghazni.

Ghilzai

A major Pashtun tribe.

Ghor

A province in central Afghanistan. The former seat of government for the Ghorid Dynasty.

Ghorids

The people of a Muslim dynasty in the 12th - 13th centuries.

Great Game

A term that refers to the jockeying of power by British India and Russia for influence and buffer zones in Central Asia.

Greco-Bactrian

A 3rd century BCE kingdom in Central Asia.

Habibullah

An early 20th century king of Afghanistan.

Hazara

A large minority group in Afghanistan who mostly follow the Shia form of Islam.

Hekmatyar, Gulbuddin

An Afghan mujahideen ruler.

Helmand Province

A province in southwestern Afghanistan, and the site of a large American-built dam.

Helmand River

A river in Afghanistan that takes snow melt from the Hindu Kush range and irrigates the farmland throughout the south. There are several hydroelectric dams along this river.

Herat

A city in western Afghanistan that is historically important, and is today the nation's third largest urban area.

Herodotus

A Greek historian from the fifth century BCE. He recorded the history of the Persian empire.

heroin

An illegal opiate drug derived from the poppy plant. Afghanistan's cash crop.

Hindu Kush Mountains

A mountain range, whose peaks reach 25,000 feet, and that encompasses vast stretches of northern and central Afghanistan.

Hotaki, Mahmoud

Son of Mir Wais Hotak, and subsequently, a leader of the Hotaki Dynasty.

Hotak, Mir Wais

Founder of the Hotaki Dynasty.

Hotaki Dynasty

A Pashtun dynasty that, in the 18th century, succeeded the Safavid Dynasty.

Huns

A nomadic tribe that conquered vast stretches of Central Asia and northern Europe.

Ibn Sina

See Avicenna.

Indo-Iranian

A sub-group of the Indo-European language family, with an estimated one billion speakers today.

Indus Valley

An ancient and great civilization from more than 5,000 years ago that straddled the Indus River in present-day Pakistan.

Islam

A monotheistic religion whose teachings were revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

Ismael Shah

Founder of the Safavid Dynasty, and who converted the Persian world to the Shia form of Islam.

Iran

A country to the west of Afghanistan.

Jalalabad

A major city in eastern Afghanistan.

jihad

A religious duty or struggle of Muslims to perfect faith.

jirga

A consensus-based decision-making process among Afghan leaders.

Kabul

The capitol of, and very old city in, Afghanistan.

Kajaki Dam

A massive hydroelectric dam along the Helmand River.

Kandahar

The name of a major city and also a province in southern Afghanistan.

Kanishka

A 2nd century Kushan Empire king.

kariz

See qanat.

Kalashnikov

See AK-47.

Karzai, Hamid

A president of Afghanistan, who first took office in 2004.

kaum

Loosely translates to "our group," or "our people," and can be used in many instances.

khan

A high-ranking title.

Khorasan

Refers to a region in northeastern Iran, but historically, encompassed parts of what is today Afghanistan.

Khyber

A mountain pass that links Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Koh-i-Noor

Once the largest diamond in the world. It passed through the hands of various ruler in Central and South Asia. Today, it is in Queen Elizabeth's crown.

Koran

The holy book of Islam.

kurgan

A burial mound.

Kushan

A 2nd-3rd century empire, whose trademark included a great intermingling of cultural traditions.

lapis lazuli

A blue stone mined exclusively in Afghanistan in ancient times. Grounded up, the blue mineral was the most expensive pigment in the world, after gold.

loya jirga

A grand jirga. See jirga.

Macedonia

In ancient times, a region of Greece.

madrasah

An school. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, it oftentimes referred to an Islamic school.

Mahmud of Ghazni

Ruler of the Ghaznavid Dynasty, centered in present-day Afghanistan.

Maiwand, Battle of

A turning point in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where the British suffered an unexpected defeat.

Malalai

The heroine of the Battle of Maiwand, when she shamed troops into fighting harder and defeating the British.

Malalai Joya

Known as "the bravest woman in Afghanistan," a young female parliamentarian who speaks out against warlords, the Taliban, and governmental corruption.

Marxist

One who subscribes to the philosophy of Karl Marx.

Massoud, Ahmed Shah

A resistance fighter first against the Soviets, then the Taliban. The leader of the Northern Alliance.

Mauryan

An ancient Indian empire of the 5th - 2nd century BCE.

Mazar-i-Sharif

A major and ancient city in northern Afghanistan.

Mecca

Holiest pilgrimage site for Muslims.

Medes

An ancient nomadic people who invaded vast stretches of Central Asia in different waves throughout early history.

Mesopotamia

An ancient civilization that straddled the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers.

King Milinda

A (mythical?) king that famously discussed Greek versus Indian philosophies. Also known as Menander.

minaret

A tall tower often part of a mosque or mosque complex that is used for calls to prayers.

Mithraism

A form of Zoroastrianism that became popular in the first half of the first millennium.

Mongols

An nomadic tribe that took over vast stretches of Eurasia in the 13th century.

Mohammad

The messenger and prophet of God in the Islamic faith.

monotheism

The belief in one God.

mosaic

An art form, often covering buildings, comprised of many colored tiles. In Central Asia, patterns are typically geometric or floral.

mosque

House of worship for Muslims.

Mughals

An Indian empire, with Muslim rulers, in the 15th - 19th centuries.

mujahideen

One who struggles or fights. It is sometimes related to the concept of jihad. In contemporary Afghanistan, it is often used in reference to resistance or freedom fighters.

mullah

Islamic clerics.

Mullah Mohammad Omar

Taliban leaders.

Mundigak

An archaeological site in southern Afghanistan. Some objects lead to speculation that it is a northern capitol for the Indus Valley Civilization.

Muslim

One who practices the Islamic faith.

Nadir Shah

18th century Persian ruler.

Nagasena

A Buddhist sage who discussed religious philosophies with King Milinda. See Milinda.

Nestorian Christianity

Does this come up in the project?

NGO

Acronym for "non-governmental organization."

Nile River

An ancient Egyptian civilization that may have had indirect trade with Central and East Asia.

North West Frontier Province

A northwestern province in Pakistan that partially overlaps with FATA. See FATA.

Northern Alliance

A network of resistance and freedom fighters that battled the Taliban and al Qaeda.

opium

A drug derived from the poppy plan, Afghanistan's cash crop, and a highly sought-after drug both for medicinal use and for a worldwide trafficking of heroine.

Osama bin Laden

Head of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

Ottoman

A Turkish Empire that ruled from the 13th to the 20th century.

Oxus River

An older term for (often used to describe ancient civilizations near) the Amu Darya River.

Pakistan

The country to Afghanistan's east. Many Pashtuns also live in Pakistan.

Paktia

A province in eastern Afghanistan.

Pashto

A language primarily spoken by the Pashtun people in Afghanistan.

Pashtun

The majority ethnic group in Afghanistan. Although their origins are largely unknown, they share common identity through language and Pashtunwali, a code of conduct.

Pashtunwali

An ethical code that, among other things, guides communal living protocols among Pashtuns.

Pax Mongolica

The peace that followed after the bloody Mongol conquests. Trade and economies flourished.

Peacock Throne

A bejeweled Indian throne, stolen by Nadir Shah in the 18th century.

Persia

An older, Western term for the Iran and the historical empires that centered around that part of the world.

Peshawar

City in western Pakistan, near the Afghan border. Many Afghans fled to Peshawar during various times of war in the last 30 years.

pharmakon

An ancient Greek word that can be translated into English as: remedy, poison, cure, drug, gift, antidote, toxin.

pigment

A natural coloring derived from plants or minerals.

Plutarch

A Greek historian who wrote about the life of Alexander the Great.

polytheism

The belief in multiple gods.

poppy

The plant from which opiates--medical morphine or heroin--is derived. The cash crop of Afghanistan.

Punjab

A region that stretches from central Pakistan to northern India.

Qais Abdur Rashid

All Pashtun tribes are believed to descent from this man, who lived during the 6th - 7th centuries.

qala

A type of walled settlement commonly found in Afghanistan.

qanat

An ancient irrigation system.

Registan

An architectual complex in Samarkand that consisted of three madrasahs.

RPG

An acronym for "rocket-propelled grenade."

Rustam

The hero protagonist in the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings).

Safavids

A 16th - 18th century dynasty, whose great legacy was the conversion of the Persian world to the Shia form of Islam. (Iran, today, remains majority Shia, but Afghanistan does not.)

Samanids

A 9th century empire, whose great legacy was the conversion of Iran to Islam, from Zoroastrianism. This conversion took several centuries.

Samarkand

Once a golden-age capitol of Central Asia, today remains an impressive destination in the country of Uzbekistan.

Sasanians

The last great pre-Islamic empire of the Persian world. The Sasanians flourished from the 3rd - 7th centuries.

Scythians

Nomadic conquerors from the northern steppes (2nd - 4th centuries BCE) who were known for their tremendous golden treasures.

Second Anglo-Afghan War

A war that resulted following the second time the British invaded Afghanistan.

Seleucids

An empire that was developed by one of Alexander's military commanders, who then swept his armies from Central Asia back to the East, bringing Persian influences with him.

shah

A king.

Shahnameh

The Book of Kings, written by the poet Ferdowsi around 1000 CE. The literary masterpiece is considered to be the epic of the Persian world.

Shariah law

Islamic law. Interpretations of Shariah vary between different schools of thought, and cultural traditions.

Shahrukh

Tamerlane's son, who moved the Timurid capitol from Samarkand to Herat.

Sher Ali Khan

An Afghan ruler and military strategist during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

Shia

An Islamic sect that rejects the first three caliphs of the Sunni sect, and who believes the Imam Ali, who was also the Prophet's cousin, is the Mohammad's rightful successor.

Shiite

See Shia.

Shuja Shah

A 19th century ruler of the Durrani Empire.

Sikhism

A monotheistic religion founded in 15th century India that follows the teaching of Guru Nanuk.

Soviet-Afghan War

A war that followed a Marxist overthrow of government and Soviet invasion. The war lasted nine years, from 1979 to early 1989. The United States backed the resistance fighters.

steppe

Grasslands that extend from northern Europe to Siberia.

Stinger missile

A surface-to-air missile the United States provided Afghan resistance fighters during the Afghan-Soviet War.

Strabo

A 1st century BCE - CE Greek geographer and historian.

Sufi

A mystical form of Islam.

sultan

A high-ranking ruler in the Muslim world.

Tajik

An ethnic group found in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan and China.

Tajikistan

A country that shares Afghanistan's northeastern border.

Taliban

An Islamic political group that governed Afghanistan under a particularly harsh interpretation of Sharia from 1996 - 2001. The Taliban have seen a resurgence since 2004.

Tamerlane

A 14th century conqueror, and founder of the Timurid Dynasty, a golden age in Central Asia.

Tepe Fullol

An ancient grave site in Afghanistan that features designs similar to the ones found in Mesopotamia.

Third Anglo-Afghan War

A short, three-month war in 1919 that is widely considered a war of independence in Afghanistan, although Afghanistan was never formerly colonized.

Tillya Tepe

A 1st century BCE grave site that contained great golden riches.

Timurids

A golden age in Central Asia in the 14th - 15th centuries.

Treaty of Gandamak

The treaty that ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War. It seceded certain territory to the British, but the British soon withdrew.

Turkmen

An ethnic group located in Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Turkmenistan

A country to the north of Afghanistan.

Turquoise Mountain

The capitol of the Ghorid empire.

UNESCO

The acronym for the "United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization."

Uzbek

An ethnic group found in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and the greater Central Asian region.

Uzbekistan

A country that shares a very narrow border with northern Afghanistan.

war carpet

A traditional Afghan carpet that portray images of war. War carpets are made solely for tourist trade.

watan

Loosely translated to mean "homeland."

Xerxes

A 4th century BCE king of the Achaemenid Empire.

Xuanzang

A Chinese monk who traveled the Silk Roads en route to India to study Buddhism. Xuanzang's diaries provided first-person insight about life in Central Asia.

Yaqub Khan, Mohammad

Son of Sher Ali Khan, who signed the Treaty of Gandamak.

Zahir Shah, Mohammad

The last king of Afghanistan, who ruled peacefully for the better part of four decades in the mid-20th century.

Zoroaster

An ancient Iranian prophet, who lived in the 18th - 10th centuries (not a typo), and the founder of the Zoroastrian religion.

Zoroastrianism

A monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Zoroaster.