Writing in The Baloch and Balochistan, Naseer Dashti has narrated the story of the Pakistani ethnicity, tracing its origins and developments from thousands of years in the past till now.
According to Dashti, the origins of modern Baloch can be traced back 3,000 years to a group of Indo-Iranic tribes (called Balaschik at the time) who settled in the northwestern Caspian region of Balashagan. Circumstances forced them to disperse and migrate toward the south and eastern parts of the Iranian plateau, arriving in present Balochistan in medieval times, where they became known as the Baloch.
During their long and tortuous journey from Balashagan to Balochistan, the Baloch faced persecutions, deportations, and genocidal acts from various Persian, Arab and other regional powers. In the 17th century, after dominating Balochistan culturally and politically, the Baloch carved out a nation-state—the Khanate of Kalat. In 1839, the British occupied Balochistan, subsequently dividing it into various parts. Following Partition in 1947, Balochistan regained its sovereignty but was occupied by Pakistan in 1948.
The historical account of the Baloch, thus, is the story of a pastoralist nomadic people from ancient times to mid-20th century. The author outlines the origin of the Baloch state and its variegated history of survival against powerful neighbors such as the Persians, the British and finally, Pakistan. This fascinating research work uncovers the background of the long drawn-out conflict between the Baloch and the states of Pakistan and Iran.
Roots of Balochistan
The word ‘Balochistan’ is a combination of the words ‘Baloch’ and ‘istan,’ the latter a Persian word meaning ‘residence.’ As such, ‘Balochistan’ means ‘the place where the Baloch reside.’ However, this word does not appear in the annals of ancient history, with the region’s name shifting over the years despite the constant presence and dominance of the Baloch population.
In Avesta, the religious book of Zoroastrians, Balochistan is referred to as Vara-Pishin-Ahha, the valley of Pishin. Similarly, the chroniclers of Alexander the Great refer to it as Gedrosia, saying Darangiyana (Sistan) and Arachosia (Kandahar) are adjacent to it. The medieval Arabs called southern Balochistan ‘Makran,’ and central Balochistan—the Kalat Plateau—‘Turan,’ as does Firdausi, the author of the Shahnama. Firdausi further states that the ancient empires of Iran and Turan used modern-day Balochistan as their battleground.
Some ancient historical records claim Balochistan was known as Makran and Turan because races bearing these names resided there, a view shared by Malik Muhammad Saeed Dehwar Baloch, the author of Prehistoric Balochistan. Basing his conclusion on artefacts excavated in ancient mounds found in the region, which show the two civilizations lived here side-by-side, it can be assumed modern Balochistan was known by the regional names Turan and Makran until the medieval Islamic period.
According to renowned Baloch poet laureate Mir Gul Khan Naseer, who authored History of Balochistan, Iranian leader Nader Shah, during his 1738 campaign in Afghanistan, reached the region and asked what its name. His associates that him it was the country of the Baloch, prompting him to name it ‘Balochistan’ to distinguish it from the country of the Afghans, which he named Afghanistan. The name stuck and has persisted to this day. The Country of Balochistan, penned by A.W. Hughes, supports this view. “Balochistan may be said to be inhabited chiefly by the Baloch tribes, the most numerous in the country, and this name was given to the tract they occupy by the great Persian monarch, Nader Shah—this newly formed province he called Balochistan,” he writes.
However, there are indications the name might have existed even prior to this. In the era of the seventh king of the Ilkhanids, Mahmud Ghazan (1271-1304), the region comprising Turan, Makran, Kharan, and Chagai, as well as adjacent lands in modern Iran, were referred to as Balochistan. The Mongol Tartars also referred to it as Balochistan, declaring it the land of the Kurd Baloch. During the 2,150 years between 854BCE and 1304CE, the word ‘Kurd’ was dropped, and the point of reference became simply, ‘Baloch.’ Around 1524, then Mughal Emperor Zahiruddin Babur became the first to write about ‘Balochistan’ in Tuzuk-i-Baburi. This is the first reference to the region by the name ‘Balochistan’ in any historical book.
The Baloch peoples
In an ideal world, the history of any people would be recorded from the date of their coming into existence. Unfortunately, such historical material is rarely available, especially as people in ancient times lacked the tools to record their day-to-day accounts. Instead, they relied on committing to memory important events, leading to the rise of a class of people whose sole duty was to memorize noteworthy accounts of their people and transmit them to future generations for guidance or morale.
The transmission of accounts in this manner became the foundation of historical traditions globally, with the introduction of the art of writing eventually replacing the oral traditions. It is within this same context that Baloch history has been recorded and rediscovered.
Citing various traditions, Dashti notes contradictions about the origins of the Baloch race. One such tradition states the Baloch were dwellers of the Central Asian steppes, the area around the Caspian Sea. Their first migration took place around 3,800BCE, when they entered Iran in the north, before moving southward and settling in the southwestern mountainous region of Iran, Zagros Plateau, the present province of Kurdistan. Some researchers believe they belonged to the Sami (Arab) race, while others associate them with the Iranian race. Another group opines they are the result of interactions between the Iranian and Fulani races, a theory supported by the Tarikh-e-Marduk, penned by ancient historian Sheikh Muhammad Mardokh Kurdistani.
According to Koord-gal-Namak, written by Akhund Muhammad, and the History of Marduk, the Baloch and Kurds have common ancestors, as evidenced by similarities of their languages, customs, and social life. History of Marduk clarifies they are not a specific, martial race but the descendants of Japheth.
Dashti writes that when Afrasiab was ruler of Turan, from his capital in Balkh, the kingdom consisted of five regions comprising Kurdistan territories in Central Asia; Kablistan; Zabulistan (present-day Afghanistan), Turan and Makran (present-day Balochistan). The region Turan, he writes consisted of the hilly areas of the present-day plateau of Kalat. Today, it is divided into three areas—Sawaran, Harawan, and Lasbela—but from 1408-854BCE, they were known as Banjeer (Sarawan), Josiar (Jhalawan), and Sonar Bel (Lasbela).
To protect the area, in 1408, the Kingdom of Turan settled there 20 tribes; the Korgadi, Gindarchi, Linga Sari, Mojarik, Rizindak, Sami Ghan, Sor Ghan, Sorchin, Mand rhar, Dahi Mak, Ratga Sari, Memo Jandak, Jog Man, Honak, Jasfak, Bajenjak, Oliya Tun, Kokan, Zango Ladak, Sar Ghon, Kaldash, and Jevak.
After Kaikobad became king of Maadistan (Median Empire), due to his association with the Pishdadians, Afrasiab considered himself the ruler of Maadistan and kept interfering in Kaikobad’s rule. So Kaikobad came and defeated the Turanian Kingdom of Afrasiab and established the Median Empire in the northwestern part of Iran. He settled in Hamadan and gave the Boodi tribe the eastern regions. As time passed, these Kurdish tribes’ appellations shifted.
The Brakhui Kurd came to Balochistan initially under their original name of the Boodi tribe, to be the sentinels of the eastern frontier of the Median Empire and they settled in the vast region between Kirman and Sindh. These were the Brakhui Kurd group of tribes, comprising the Kurd tribes of Adargani (also called Organi), and the Zangana group of tribes. The Sabahi, Sanjavi, Safari, Kirmani, Mamali, Khani, Karma, and Khalli tribes were also moved to other eastern regions of Zabulistan, Turan, Makran, and Kirman.
The Barahwi group of tribes is the Brakhui group of Kurd tribes. With the passage of time, there has been a change and the letter ‘khey’ was replaced by letter ‘hey’. Thus, the word ‘Brakhui’ became ‘Barahwi’ or’Brahui’.
According to Baloch tradition, the Baloch are divided into three main tribal groups: Narohi, Brahui, and Rind. Koord-gal-Namak also mentions that these three large tribal groups of the Baloch are associated with Kurd tribes. The number of clans that were part of these tribes multiplied with the increase in their population. All the clans of the Baloch tribes today are offshoots of these main tribes.
When they occupied Turan and Makran (Balochistan), and Zabulistan (primarily Afghanistan) in 854BCE, the Brakhui Kurds occupied the Turan part of the country, which was adjacent to the land of Sindh—present day Kalat plateau. The Barohi group of tribes is actually the same Zangana group of Kurd tribes who settled down in Balochistan and Zabulistan in 854BCE. The Rind group of tribes are, in fact the descendants of the same ancient Kurd tribe, the Adargani, who along with the Mamali and Kirmani tribes settled in Makran.
The dialectal origin of the word “Baloch’ dates back to the same era. There were three divisions in the Baloch-Kurd army of Kaikobad, namely the Brakhui Kurd; Adargani Kurd; and Zangana Kurd. The regiments had banners with their insignias, the crest of a rooster, while the Baloch Kurds had the crest of a cock on theirs. In the ancient Persian language, Pehlavi, and in the Kurdish language, the crest of a rooster is called ‘baloch’. It is because of this distinctive insignia that the people in those divisions began to be called Brakhui Kurd Baloch, Adargani Kurd Baloch, and Zangana Kurd Baloch. This was shortened to Kurd Baloch, eventually shortening further to just Baloch.
Since then, these tribes have been referred to, by authors of renowned historical works, as Baloch tribes, thereby changing their Kurdish identity into Baloch.