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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Invaders on Horseback


Identity & Perception

Traces & Narratives

Reveal Source

Belton. "Ze Ma Janana." Recorded 1967. Lorraine Sakata.
Mahali style. © Radio-Television Afghanistan Archives.

Dupree, Nancy. A Site between Bazarak and Rokha: A75-73. 1975. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA. 

Mottl, Dmitry A. "Уймонская степь (Uymon Steppe, Altay)." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 11, 2010.
Creative Commons license:

Rex. "Steppe of Western Kazakhstan in the Early Spring." Digital image. Wikipedia Commons. Accessed August 11, 2010.
Creative Commons license:

UNAMA/Taqi Mihran. "Peace Day Calligraphy: 16 September 2009." Digital image. United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's Flickr Photostream. Accessed August 11, 2010.
Photo courtesy of UNAMA.

Producer: Alexis Menten

Reveal Transcript

History has brought many different cultures and peoples to the lands of today’s Afghanistan, many of which had a lasting impact. The first of these were the Indo-Iranians.

Afghanistan has been invaded from the North for much of its history. Around 2000 BC was the first important such invasion from a group known as the Indo-Iranians.

These are people that seem to have come off the steppe and they’re moving into Afghanistan and through Afghanistan down into India and also moving down towards the Iranian plateau. 

They’re cattle-keeping people. They have carts. They have chariots. They have horses. And you know culturally it marks the introduction of new sets of languages.

These people would have a dramatic effect on the religion of Afghanistan, and on the culture, on the language.

Afghanistan’s main language today, Dari, is part of the Indo-Iranian language group.

The local people very often retained their traditional culture, and it took centuries, really, for the Indo-Iranian influence to be felt: culturally, religiously, in terms of lifestyle. Sometimes, we think of history as happening almost immediately, but in fact, it’s a gradual development

The Indo-Iranians swept down from the North and sacked South Asia. This set the pattern for a cycle of invasions that will come to define Afghan history.