Most Afghans are related to Iranians

The Afghan airline is still called Ariana today: Inspired by racists and National Socialists, the Afghans discovered their Aryan roots in the 1930s. The irony of the story is that they thought they were Jews before

Afghan soldiers wore helmets from the inventory of the Reichswehr

by JAN KUHLMANN

The German teachers at the new Goethe Institute in Kabul are certainly happy that many Afghans want to attend their courses. But the argument with which the language students justify their interest arouses astonishment: “Germans and Afghans are both Aryans”, Peter Böhm recently heard when he reported on the reopening of the Goethe-Institut for the taz in Kabul (see edition of November 16, 2002). Well, he was not the first German to be informed about the kinship of the Germanic peoples with the Hindu Kush: When the Afghan Foreign Minister Faiz Muhammad Khan visited Germany in 1936 to request arms deliveries, he coaxed Hitler with the words, his people regard Germany as an older and more advanced Aryan brother.

Even if Hitler imagined an Aryan to be a blond giant rather than a dark-eyed Oriental, the Afghans were definitely more right to call themselves Aryans than the Central Europeans. In the third century BC, the Greek cosmographer Eratosthenes described the country "Ariana", east of Persia in what is now Afghanistan. The ancient Iranians and Indians called themselves Aryans, which means something like "noble". It was only when European linguists discovered the relationship between ancient Indian Sanskrit and European languages ​​at the beginning of the 19th century that the West adopted the Aryan term.

But while the scientists spoke of the "Indo-European" language family and only described its Asian branch as "Indo-Aryan", the ethnic secret societies of the imperial era took a liking to the word Aryans. For them they were the blond gentlemen of prehistoric times. These Aryans had nothing to do with the knowledge of linguistics or the traditions of the Indians and Iranians. When the National Socialists later referred to the Germans as Aryans, they were by no means thinking of distant cousins ​​between the Euphrates and the Ganges. To them, Aryans meant nothing more than a non-Jew.

In the Middle East, this subtle difference was not noticed. The Shah of Persia renamed his empire Iran in 1935 after his envoy from Berlin had reported to him that Aryanism was very popular there. A little later, the Afghans began to return to their Aryan roots. The Pashtuns, who played the leading role in the multi-ethnic state then as now, speak a language related to Persian and therefore undoubtedly belong to the Indo-Aryan language group. Afghan historians have now even declared their homeland to be the country of origin of the ancient Aryans, from which they migrated to India, Iran and Europe. The holy scriptures of the Hindus, the "Vedas", and the ancient Iranians, the "Awesta", are said to have originated there. The Afghan intelligentsia made the story of the “kings of Ariana” an integral part of their national consciousness in the 1930s. A popular magazine called itself now Ariana. The Afghan airline still bears the same name today.

So far, no scientist has been able to prove beyond doubt the origin or even the existence of the Indo-European indigenous people. Some suspect its origin in southern Russia, some in the Caucasus, and Indian historians teach that India is the ancestral home of the ancient Aryans. The Afghan thesis is therefore no more or less justified than any other of the numerous theories.

The fact that the Afghans and Germans are supposed to be Aryan brothers could be justified with the Indo-European language affinity, but then the English, French, Russians and most of the peoples of Europe would also be Aryan relatives. They also speak an Indo-European language.

It is an irony of history that before the Aryan myth, a completely different origin myth shaped the self-image of the Afghans. Before they thought they were Aryans, the Afghans saw themselves as the Beni Israel, that is, as Jews.

As pious Muslims, they derived their origins from religious tradition, namely from the oldest, which is authoritative for Islam, the Old Testament. The biblical King Saul, wrote the ancient historiographers of the Pashtuns, is said to have had a son named Afghana, who was raised by King David. From the Babylonian captivity only two of the twelve tribes returned to the Promised Land, others settled in Arabia near Mecca, and a further part settled in the Hindu Kush. According to the ancient myth of origin, they became the ancestors of the Afghans. But neither the Bible nor the cultural sciences could prove the Jewish descent of the Pashtuns. The Aryan origin, on the other hand, could be proven by the findings of Indo-European linguistics.

The German race scientist Hans F. K. Günther, professor of social anthropology in Jena since 1930, recognized the relationship between the Indo-Europeans of Europe and Asia. In the members of the Afghan upper class he discovered "traits of the Nordic racial soul", as he wrote in his study published in 1934 on "The Nordic Race among the Indo-Europeans of Asia". And when a "Persian Street" was inaugurated in Berlin on the occasion of the 1,000th birthday of the Persian national poet Firdausi in 1934, Mayor Salm praised the work of this poet and noted a "surprising resemblance to the German heroic sagas". The two peoples come together in the heroic poems, and they could trace their origins back to the same Aryan family, i.e. to common ancestors. Respect for the cultures of foreign peoples was one of the most noble principles of National Socialism, the Lord Mayor assured him before he offered a triple “victory salvation” to the Shah of Persia.

The lower henchmen of the SA saw it quite differently. This is what the Afghan guest student Abdur Rahim found out when he was threatened and beaten by a group of thugs in brown uniforms. The SA men broke into the garden of the Afghan student body and harassed the residents of the home. Iranian and Indian students also complained of assaults until the Foreign Office, supported by the export trade associations, asked the Reich leadership of the NSDAP to moderate the racial propaganda. The leading National Socialists had an understanding and issued an official statement that there should only be racial discrimination in the German Reich for Jews. The “new Germany” wants to treat all other races and peoples on a friendly basis and with mutual respect, as long as there is no mixed marriages.

No scientist has proven the existence of an Indo-European indigenous people

Indeed, the diplomacy of the German Reich was eager to gain influence in the Middle East. German-Afghan relations began in 1916 when a secret delegation from the German Kaiser suddenly appeared in Kabul after a life-threatening desert march and made an offer of alliance to Emir Habibullah. The emir did not allow himself to be persuaded to go to war against the British and Russians, but he was happy to establish diplomatic relations with Germany. In doing so, he broke a treaty with the British, according to which he was only allowed to maintain foreign policy contacts with them, and he restored his full sovereignty.

In the 1920s and 1930s, German experts were welcome guests in Afghanistan. King Amanullah wanted to modernize his country, and in Germany, shaken by inflation and unemployment, there were hardworking and competent men who were ready to move to the Orient for modest salaries. Germans worked as road builders, electrical engineers and teachers. In 1924 the German-speaking Amani school was founded in Kabul. The postal system was under a German, and German instructors reformed the Afghan military.

Despite losing World War I, Amanullah's successor, Nadir Shah, considered the Germans to be the best soldiers in the world. When he deployed his army to the first military parade in the country's history in 1931, the soldiers wore field-gray steel helmets from the Reichswehr. Lively relations between Germans and Afghans therefore existed even before Aryan rumors played a role. The Afghans valued Germany as a friend who did not pursue any imperialist goals and could give them support against the intrusive British and Soviets.

So it is not surprising that the leading figures in the country watched the rise of the National Socialists with discomfort. They fear that Germany will adopt an aggressive world policy. But over time, Afghan politicians developed a great deal of respect for the “Third Reich” and followed political developments in Europe in great detail. Even during World War II, the Afghans resisted pressure from the Soviets and British to break off diplomatic relations with the Reich.