Today 35 years ago, the first large, urban uprising against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan took place in Kabul. It was eight weeks after Soviet tanks had rolled into the country to save the regime of the PDPA, which had taken over power in a coup d’etat 20 months earlier and quickly run up against resistance, particularly in rural areas. Many of the earlier, rural uprisings had been spontaneous, as there were no strong political organisations able to organise a more effective resistance yet. AAN co-director Thomas Ruttig summarises the events.
The popular uprising which took place on 22 February 1980 is remembered by its date, ‘Qeyam-e 3 Hut’ or the ‘3 Hut Uprising’ (after the last month in the Afghan calendar, Hut, which runs from 21 February to 20 March; pronounced “Hoot”). Some of the participants or their surviving relatives have told AAN how it was triggered by a wave of mass arrests. One of the published sources on the mass protests, the Afghanistan Justice Project (AJP), said the targets of the arrests were religious leaders and other prominent persons, many from the Shia community.
An eyewitness, interviewed for the AJP report, remembered how the uprising started:
On the first night of Hut, all the people went on the roofs of their houses and they were yelling Allah-o Akbar. One of my memories of that time is that in the morning of that night all the people had sore throat for they shouted Allah-o Akbar during the night.
In the morning, people went into the streets and demonstrated against the Soviets. In some places, they attacked government buildings and took over police stations, arming themselves. Eyewitnesses say police men handed over their weapons and joined the crowds. Army units refused to shoot at the protesters (see also here).
Such shouted protests and, subsequently, demonstrations happened all over the city, in the old city quarters of Chendawol and around Pul-e Kheshti, in southern Kabul (Chehelsutun and Dar-ul-Aman), Afshar, Khushhal Mena and Qala-ye Fathullah to the northwest, in Jamal Mena, along Muhammad Jan Khan and Salang Wat roads, in Beni Hissar in the southeast and in Shia areas like Dasht-e Barchi in western Kabul. Afghan historian Muhammad Hassan Kakar even mentions a group of protesting women near the Haji Yaqub mosque in Shahr-e Nau (read here, p 115). Former United States diplomat Peter Tomsen, in his book The Wars of Afghanistan, quotes a Soviet journalist trapped in Kabul that night, describing burning busses (“a gift from fraternal Bulgaria to the revolutionary people of Afghanistan”), a burning guesthouse and a “dull, strange sound” outside which “only a very large crowd could generate.”
After the first shock, the Soviets and their Afghan allies reacted. In the afternoon of 3 Hut, tanks were sent out to quell the demonstrations. Street fighting took place, but the demonstrators were bitterly outgunned. One participant, a student at the time and today 63 years old, remembered how he joined the 3 Hut demonstrations in the area of Dehdana in southern Kabul. He told AAN how the protesters were met by Soviet tanks at a junction near Chehelsutun palace. 72 people were killed in that place alone.
On the very day, the regime banned any gatherings of more than four people and imposed a night curfew. Mass arrests started in the afternoon and continued for weeks, at least. Many of those arrested were never heard of again, as family members confirmed in a 2012 media report. (Read our earlier reports about Afghanistan’s forcibly disappeared here and here.)
Historian Kakar says the protests continued for six more days, mainly by closing of most shops. He estimated that 800 Kabulis were killed during those events (quoted here). The report of an Afghan news agency about the event’s commemoration in 2011 speaks about 2,000 dead.
It is not clear whether the uprising was spontaneous – as claimed in this Afghan media report of 2010 – or organised, or to what extent it was organised. Political activists and some Afghan media reports claim that various organisations were involved, from the leftist, but anti-Soviet, SAMA (Afghanistan’s People’s Liberation Organisation) – an urban guerrilla group – to the Shia Harakat-e Islami and Sunni Hezb-e Islami. On 7 January 1980, The Christian Science Monitor reported from Tehran that the leader of the newly founded Shia political party, Harakat-e Islami, Ayatollah Muhammad Asef Mohseni, had called for a “three-day uprising” in Kabul and the “establishment of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan.”
Most of those involved whom AAN talked to agreed that the best organised section of the demonstrators were Kabul’s Shia, organised around mosques and in local councils. Afghan historian Seyyed Muhammad Baqer Mesbahzada writes today that the uprising’s organisational centre was located in a private house in Qala-ye Shuhada that belonged to a man called Haji Seyyed Ebrahim Qebadi – an argument supporting those who claim that Kabuli Seyyed families played a key role in the uprising. The Qebadi family, originally from Sanglakh in Wardak’s Behsud district, was connected with Harakat and continued to fight in the resistance. (Sayed Ebrahim Qebadi was arrested by the communist regime in 1364, eight years after the uprising, see here.)
Surviving participants of the uprising say all of Kabul had been supposed to rise up, but that the plan was betrayed. Kakar mentions that government forces arrested 200 people on the eve of the uprising, “including a number of Khalqis, for inciting the people.” (Khalq was the PDPA faction that was removed from power by the Soviet intervention; its leader Hafizullah Amin was killed during the operation. It was replaced by Parcham, led by Babrak Karmal.) When this became known, eyewitnesses told AAN, many citizens did not dare to join the demonstrations anymore.
The aftermath (and predecessor events)
Although the uprising was quickly suppressed, it did have consequences. On one hand, the arrests following the 3 Hut uprising decimated the leadership of the existing underground organisations; SAMA leader Abdul Majid Kalakani, for example, was arrested a few weeks later, in late February 1980, and killed in government (some say Soviet) custody. (1) Mesbahzada’s article gives the names of more martyrs. On the other hand, there were new anti-government demonstrations. In April 1980, students demonstrated at the Kabul University campus; one of their number, a female high school student, was killed.
The 3 Hut uprising had not been the first protest in Kabul, though. Before the Soviet invasion, between 2 and 12 Saratan (23 June and 2 July), demonstrations against the PDPA regime were held, also in the predominantly Hazara neighbourhood of Chendawol, provoked by “arrests of scholars and intellectuals from the Shi’a (Hazara and Qizilbash) communities in Kabul”:
The protests began on June 23, 1979 (2 Saratan 1358), when Shia residents of Chindawol first attacked the Chindawol Police Station and captured it. With weapons from the police station, they marched to Maiwand Avenue chanting anti-government slogans where they were joined by others.
According to the Afghanistan Justice Project, the protests spread to Kot-e Sangin, Qala-ye Shuhada and Kart-e Sakhi and were crushed; “thousands were arrested.”
This was preceded by a military uprising of parts of the garrison of the old Kabul Bala Hessar fort on 14 Assad (5 August) the same year. The plan was to simultaneously hold “a city-wide demonstration against the regime and seize Radio Kabul” (read here, p 28). But this plan was also given away by treason (some say, one key participant carelessly talked about it in public), and when the tanks rolled out of Bala Hessar, they were received by government soldiers with anti-tank weapons (more details in this AAN paper, pp 14-15). As on 3 Hut, Islamist, traditionalist Islamic and leftist organisations collaborated, under the umbrella of Jabha-ye Mubarezin-e Mujahedin-e Afghanistan (Front of the Mujahedin Fighters of Afghanistan), in the planning of this uprising. (2)
The 3 Hut uprising is not widely remembered, although there have been low-key official commemorations in previous years (see for example here). AAN only remembered the anniversary when we saw posters that turned up in shops, signed by a Shura-ye Muttahed-e Kabulian-e Bumi (United Council of Indigenous Kabulis) which describes itself as an association of participants in these events who do not want to allow the memory of the victims of this uprising to fade into oblivion. A representative of the council, reached by telephone, who identified himself only as Ahmad, said they did not want to leave the commemorations to political organisations only as it had mainly been a spontaneous uprising by “the people of Kabul.” He added that, for the anniversary itself, only small gatherings were planned in various parts of the city, like poetry readings, but that due to the security situation (and because the council was not yet officially registered) no big event had been planned. Members of the council would also speak in a TV programme. (Some Afghan media have already uploaded articles, one in English here and in Dari here.)
The council must be thanked for keeping the memory of these events, their participants and victims, alive.
(1) His ‘execution’ was announced in June 1980 by government media (see here, p 157, and here.)
(2) Muhammad Hassan Kakar’s 1995 book Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 has the most detailed rendering of the 3 Hut and other urban anti-Soviet protests and is available in English, here, pp 114-23.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020