A mountainous Islamic nation in central Asia, Afghanistan is inhabited by warlike tribes and their descendents. Various empires rose and fell before the nation of Afghanistan emerged from the ruins of Nadir Shah's empire in 1747. The royal dynasty of the Dunanis ruled until 1973, when a republic was declared. A war between the Soviet Union and Afghan guerrillas began in 1978 and extended over the next ten years, devastating the country. Previous invasions by the British from India took place in 1839, 1879, and 1919. Three quotations may serve to introduce a survey of homosexuality in Afghanistan. The first is from C. A. Tripp: "almost 100 percent homosexuality in Afghanistan" (Gay News, London, issue 118). The second is from a British soldier who fought there in 1841: "I have seen things in a man's mouth which were never intended by nature to occupy such a position." The third is an opening stanza from the Afghan love song, "Wounded Heart" ("Zekhmi Dill'): "There's a boy across the river with a rectum like a peach, but alas, I cannot swim."
Although there is as yet no evidence of lesbianism in Afghanistan, it is safe to assume that, as in many Islamic lands, the harems were rife with it.
A number of Afghan poets wrote about beautiful boys, including Sana'i Ghaznavi, Husain Baiqara of Herat, Badru'd- dinHilali, and Abu Shu'aybof Herat the last-named famous for his love for a Christian boy (presumably a slave).
In the tenth century, the Ghaznavid empire was founded by Subuktagin, who got started as a king's boyfriend. The great Sultan Mahmud the Ghaznavid (died 1030) loved a slave-boy named Ayaz, a relationship comparable in Islamic literature to the oft-cited love of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Antinous in Western culture.
Huseyn Mirza, who ruled from Herat (1468-1506), and his vizier (prime minister) Hasan of Ali, both had harems of boys. Babur (1483-1530), a poet who ruled from Kabul, became infatuated as a seventeen- year old with a boy known as Baburi; Babur went on to found the Mughal Empire in India and eastern Afghanistan, while Herat fell to the Persians.
During a war of the early nineteenth century, Dost Mohammed Khan fled to the Amir of Bukhara, the pederast Nasrullah, who kidnapped his guest's fourteen-year-old son, Sultan Djan. Dost Mohammed Khan went back to Afghanistan, where he captured Kabul and annihilated a British army east of there in 1842. This was thk background for the "things in a man's mouth" quotation.
Herat once again became capital of a kingdom under the pederast Karnran (ruled 1829-1842). King Abd al-Rahman (ruled 1880-1901) and his sons were pederasts. King Amanullah Khan (ruled 1919-1929) was also homosexual.
Page boys had been executed for sodomy, however, and the Penal Code of 1925 established the death penalty for sodomy. If the culprit was under 15, however, he was not executed. These laws were not applied to the royal family.
In those days, Afghan soldiers of the regular army were in the habit of gangraping boys and sometimes foreign diplomats. In later decades, more fortunate foreigners could find willing boys at a certain restaurant on the aptly-named Chicken Street.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Western sexologists and pornographers discovered an audience for lurid tales of sexual hijinks in Asia, yielding a good deal of gamey material about Afghanistan and other places that may or may not be true; there are few footnotes which might allow for verification of this material. This accumulation startedwithsir RichadBurton (1 821-1890) and culminated in 1959 with what has been called "a prurient wank book" (by the writer of a letter to Gay News), Allen Edwardes' TheJewelin the Lotus. Possibly referring to Abd al-Rahman, Edwardes quotes from an anonymous book a mention of "the Ameer of Afghanistan, insane for rare handsome white youths." The reader is unable to determine the author, the book's title, the name of the "Arneer", nor the date of the reference. The scholar is tempted to dismiss all such data, but then one finds authentication in other works for such items as the "boy across the river" song.
From various reliable and dubious sources, we can construct a picture of pederasty in Afghanistan over the past hundred years. Homosexuality was common in early adulthood. The aristocrats and frontier chiefs had harems of dancing boys and eunuchs dressed as women. Camel caravans included "travelingwives" (zun-e-suffuree) who were boys dressed as women.
There was a street in Kabul, the original "gay ghetto," known as Bazaar-e- Ighlaum, "the bazaar of male lust." Edwardes states without attribution that "Greek" (probably Circassian) boys with blond hair and blue eyes were especially prized by pederasts in Kabul. The popular writer James Michener mentions the dancing boys in his novel Caravans, which is set in 1946. More recently, the long war against Soviet troops has probably led to an increase in homosexuality, as large numbers of women fled to Pakistan.
Annette S. Beveridge.,trans., The Babur-Nama in English, London: Luzac, 1922; Allen Edwardes, The Jewel in the Lotus, New York: Julian Press, 1959.
Stephen Wayne Foster