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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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The Mighty Hindu Kush

CIRCA 600 BCE
THEMES:

Geography & Destiny

Reveal Source

Dupree, Nancy. 50-39. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 50-44. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 61-114-C. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 61-339. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. A76-1162. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

"The Hindu Kush and Passes between the Kabul and Oxus." Map. In Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division. http://www.loc.gov/rr/geogmap/. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Horse_caravan. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

L-C-00349-09. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01277-35. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Q2-01284-13. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Rukhshana. "Destergo Tor Janan (Fulkalor)." © Radio-Television Afghanistan Archive.

Rattray, James. "Fortress of Alimusjid, and the Khybur Pass." 1847. Lithograph. British Library. Accessed August 11, 2010. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/other/019xzz000000562u00013000.html.

Sl-04715. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Sl-04946. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.


Producer: Alexis Menten

Reveal Transcript

Although the land of Afghanistan can be harsh – for farmers, herders, travelers, and conquerors alike – in many ways Afghanistan is in a fortuitous location.

If we look at a map of Afghanistan one of the things that’s most striking about the country is the central mountain region which consists of quite a number of mountain ranges. But the predominant one is the Hindu Kush.

And it really sets the parameters for Afghanistan because the snowfall, the snow pack, of the Hindu Kush is what provides irrigation water and river water and sets the geographical parameters of the country.

Most of the trade routes went through Afghanistan. That’s what made it important rather than any specific item derived from Afghanistan […]
The trade routes in Afghanistan were based in part on topography [...] but it’s also based upon water. The rivers of Afghanistan were the locations of the major oases, and towns, and settlements, and many trade routes would follow that pattern of rivers.
The four major cities or regions of Afghanistan […] are located in the specific areas where they’re found because the Hindu Kush dominates the central part of the country.

The important thing about mountains to realize is that the people who live there may be isolated politically and economically but because they lie in a transit region what we find is that they are exposed to new ideas, to trade, to political connections that in other parts of the world they might not encounter. And this is not because the regions themselves are particularly important but because the routes through them are particularly important.
So […] particularly through Central Afghanistan and Bamyan or in the Pamirs what we found is Silk Route caravans of quite ancient date passing through these territories bringing very, very high valuable goods.

Not because they were going to necessarily sell them there. They weren’t. But as long as they’re passing through these people are bringing money, they’re bringing ideas, they’re bringing news.

For example, the famous Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan - which has been the path of migrations, trade, and armies for centuries - remains an important route through the region even today.Although the land of Afghanistan can be harsh – for farmers, herders, travelers, and conquerors alike – in many ways Afghanistan is in a fortuitous location.

If we look at a map of Afghanistan one of the things that’s most striking about the country is the central mountain region which consists of quite a number of mountain ranges. But the predominant one is the Hindu Kush.

And it really sets the parameters for Afghanistan because the snowfall, the snow pack, of the Hindu Kush is what provides irrigation water and river water and sets the geographical parameters of the country.

Most of the trade routes went through Afghanistan. That’s what made it important rather than any specific item derived from Afghanistan […]
The trade routes in Afghanistan were based in part on topography [...] but it’s also based upon water. The rivers of Afghanistan were the locations of the major oases, and towns, and settlements, and many trade routes would follow that pattern of rivers.

The four major cities or regions of Afghanistan […] are located in the specific areas where they’re found because the Hindu Kush dominates the central part of the country.

The important thing about mountains to realize is that the people who live there may be isolated politically and economically but because they lie in a transit region what we find is that they are exposed to new ideas, to trade, to political connections that in other parts of the world they might not encounter. And this is not because the regions themselves are particularly important but because the routes through them are particularly important.
So […] particularly through Central Afghanistan and Bamyan or in the Pamirs what we found is Silk Route caravans of quite ancient date passing through these territories bringing very, very high valuable goods.

Not because they were going to necessarily sell them there. They weren’t. But as long as they’re passing through these people are bringing money, they’re bringing ideas, they’re bringing news.

For example, the famous Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan - which has been the path of migrations, trade, and armies for centuries - remains an important route through the region even today.

 

 

The region's mountains are some of the most treacherous on earth—but its passes are something that great empires the world over had wanted to control.

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