Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Baloch History | 0 comments

Who Are the Baloch?

To the neighboring Pushtun tribes, who live in fertile riverine valleys, Baluchistan is “the dump where Allah shot the rubbish of creation. But for the Baluch, their sense of identity is closely linked to the austere land where they have lived for at least a thousand years. According to the Daptar Sha’ar {Chronicle of Genealogies), an ancient ballad popular among all seventeen major Baluch tribes, the Baluch and the Kurds were kindred branches of a tribe that migrated eastwards from Aleppo, in what now is Syria, shortly before the time of Christ in search of fresh pasturelands and water sources. One school nationalist historians attempts to link this tribe ethnically with the Semitic Chaldean rulers of Babylon, another with the early Arabs, still others with Aryan tribes originally from Asia Minor. In any case, there is agreement among these historians that the Kurds headed toward Iraq, Turkey, and northwest Persia, while the Baluch moved In to the coastal areas along the southern shores of the Caspian sea, later migrating into what are now Iranian Baluchistan and Pakistani Baluchistan between the sixth and fourteenth centuries.

Western historians dismiss the Daptar Sha’ar as nothing more than myth and legend, totally unsubstantiated by verifiable evidence, and it remains for future scholars to probe into the murky origins of the Baluch. These legends are cited here not because they have serious historiographic value but because they are widely believed and are thus politically important today. For the most part, Aleppo is a unifying symbol of a common identity in the historical memories shared by all Baluch. In recent years, however, Arab attempts to attribute Arab ethnic origins to the Baluch have become a divisive factor in the nationalist movement.

Whatever the authenticity of the Aleppo legends, scholars in Baluchistan and in the West generally agree that the Baluch were living along the southern shores of the Caspian at the time of Christ. This consensus is based largely on linguistic evidence showing that the Baluchi language is descended from a lost language linked with the Parthian or Median civilizations, which flourished in the Caspian and adjacent areas in the pre-Christian era. As one of the oldest living languages, Baluchi is a subject of endless fascination and controversy for linguists. It is classified as a member of the Iranian group of the Indo-European language family, which includes Farsi (Persian), Pushtu, Baluchi, and Kurdish. Baluchi is closely related to only one of the members of the Iranian group; Kurdish. In its modern form, it has incorporated borrowings from Persian, Sindhi, Arabic, and other languages, nonetheless retaining striking peculiarities that can be traced back to its pre-Christian origins. Until150 years ago, the Baluch, like most nomadic societies, did not have a recorded literature. Initially, Baluch savants used the Persian and Urdu scripts to render Baluchi in written form. In recent decades, Baluch nationalist intellectuals have evolved a Baluchi script known as Nastaliq, a variant of the Arabic script.

Ethnically, the Baluch are no longer homogeneous, since the original nucleus that migrated from the Caspian has absorbed a variety of disparate groups along the way. Among these “new” Baluch were displaced tribes from Central Asia, driven southward by the Turkish and Mongol invasions from the tenth through the thirteenth centuries, and fugitive Arab factions defeated in intra-Arab warfare. Nevertheless, in cultural terms, the Baluch have been remarkably successful in preserving a distinctive identity in the face of continual pressures from strong cultures in neighboring areas. Despite the isolation of the scattered pastoral communities in Baluchistan, the Baluchi language and a relatively uniform Baluch folklore tradition and value system have provided a common denominator for the diverse Baluch tribal groupings scattered over the vast area from the Indus River in the east to the Iranian province of Kerman in the west. To a great extent, it is the vitality of this ancient cultural heritage that explains the tenacity of the present demand for the political recognition of Baluch identity. But the strength of Baluch nationalism is also rooted in proud historical memories of determined resistance against the would-be conquerors who perennially attempted, without success, to annex all or part of Baluchistan to their adjacent empires.

Reliving their past endlessly in books, magazines, and folk ballads, the Baluch accentuate the positive. They revel in the gory details of ancient battles against Persians, Turks, Arabs, Tartars, Hindus, and other adversaries, focusing on how valiantly their generals fought rather than on whether the Baluch won or lost. They point to the heroes who struggled to throw off the yoke of more powerful oppressors and minimize the role of the quislings who sold out the Baluch cause. Above all, they seek to magnify the achievements of their more successful rulers, contending that the Baluch were on the verge of consolidating political unity when the British arrived on the scene and applied their policy of divide and rule. This claim is difficult to sustain with much certainty on the basis of the available evidence. Nevertheless, the Baluch did make several significant attempts to draw together politically, and their failure to establish an enduring polity in past centuries does not prove that they would fail under the very different circumstances prevailing today. As Baluch writers argue, given the technologies of modern transportation and communication, the contemporary Baluch nationalist has new opportunities for cementing Baluch political unity that were not open to his forebears.

From the book
In Afghanistan’s Shadow:
Baloch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations
By Selig S. Harrison

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>