Afghanistan's Shias mark anniversary of 2016 deadly attack

AFP , Sunday 23 Jul 2017

Silently, the figures climb the hill in a dusty breeze to reach the gravestones of their loved ones.

The site west of Kabul is the last resting place for victims of a deadly suicide bombing on July 23 last year -- the first claimed by the Islamic State group in the heart of Kabul against Afghanistan's Shia Muslim Hazara ethnic minority.

A demonstration had been called for Monday -- the first anniversary of the atrocity, according to the religious calendar -- by the leaders of the "Enlightenment", a movement born out of a protest against the routing of a high-voltage power transmission line.

But on Sunday the movement leaders said in a Twitter message the march had been postponed because they are holding talks with the government.

The line from Turkmenistan to Kabul, capital of energy-starved Afghanistan, bypasses the province of Bamiyan, a Hazara stronghold.

For Hazara leaders the route is a further sign of discrimination against their community and their province, one of the least developed in Afghanistan.

The young people interred on a stony hilltop west of Kabul were mown down by two suicide bombers as they ended a good-humoured protest a year ago in Kabul.

The official death toll was put at 84 dead with 320 injured.

In the early evening when the heat of the day diminishes, it is time for the women to remember the dead.

Three of them, in multicoloured shawls, are accompanied by seven children -- the youngest of whom, less than 15 months old, stumbles among the tombs.

They insist they come to pray for all the young victims and not for anyone in particular, and make a point of passing from one grave to another.

"We are so worried. Day by day, Daesh (Islamic State) becomes more powerful and our government is not honest with us," says a frail man in a grey suit, a black umbrella in hand to protect himself from the sun.

Musa Afzali, who is 56 but looks 20 year older than that, has come to mourn at the tomb of his nephew. Mohamad Juna was just 20 years old when he died.

"I was working that day. I got a call announcing the attack. It took us two days to find his body," said Musa Afzali, wiping his eyes on his shawl at the memory.

Amid the panic and the confusion, survivors took victims randomly to hospitals.

Because his nephew was very active in the Enlightenment movement, Musa Afzali is ready to take part in any protest in memory of all those who died.

"We are no better than them, we cannot give up," he said.

Most of the victims were young people, mainly students -- the elite of the community and its hope for the future.

But Qambar Hayder Ali, 68, who watches over the cemetery, also indicates the graves of three schoolchildren and their relatives. Like Assadullah, who looks six years old, buried near his big brother.

A little further on, some grieving parents display their son's certificate of admission to the Peking University Language Institute. Sharif Beiroz would have graduated in July 2020.

Afghanistan's Hazaras, who now number around three million, have been persecuted for decades.

Thousands of its members were killed in the late 1990s by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, whose ranks are mostly made up of Sunni Muslim ethnic Pashtuns.

With its own attack on the Hazaras a year ago, Islamic State -- which established a foothold in eastern Afghanistan in 2015 -- gave the Afghan conflict a fresh sectarian twist.

Since then IS has repeatedly attacked Shia mosques and crowds in the country, notably in Kabul and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif during Ashura -- the most important Shia observance.

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