Physically, Hazara Afghans have the Mongoloid look of Central Asians, lending credence to the traditional Hazara claim that they are descended of Mongol conqueror Gengis Khan. Scholars disagree, dating the Hazara's origins to the 14th century and the soldiers of Timur, the Mongol warrior also known as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame.
The Hazara were originally Sunni Muslims, but converted to Shiism during the Safavid reign of Persian King Abbas I, who conquered the region. The Hazara subsequently spoke a derivative of Persian known as Hazaragi, verbally flavored and enriched by Turkic and Mongol incursions.
Traditionally independent of the Afghan government, the Hazara were brought under Kabul's sway in the late 19th century, but in 1979, even as Soviet forces attempted to crush their way through the country, the Hazara established for a half-dozen years a semi-autonomous council form of government under Sayyid Ali Beheshti. Iran uses the Hazara to wield power in Afghanistan in opposition to Pashtun and other Sunni tribes, which have Pakistan's support.