An Etymological Overview
A nation, in the
current legal and international sense of the word, is defined as a
group of people who share a common geography, origin, history, and
have common interests in the political and economic well-being of a
single government under which they all live. Through passage of time,
nations may adopt different names, dictated by changes in historic,
cultural, and political realities, as well as with the evolution of
the internal dynamics of the particular society. Such names may,
initially, refer to a certain segment of that nation but will
gradually come to apply to the rest of the people who live within the
same geographical boundaries, under the same political administration
and enjoying common economic interests. Linguistic or ethnic
commonalities are hardly any prerequisite for the applicability of a
single national name. There are many examples of such nations in the
world. The United States of America is one such nation where people
of various ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds are all
called by a single national name of "Americans".
Afghanistan is another example, where the single word of "Afghan"
has come to apply to all citizens of our country.
It is believed
that the word "Afghan" might have started as an adjective
to describe a certain people of our region, which later found wider
usage in the context of an ethnic reference. However, for at least
the past three centuries, the word "Afghan" has been used
to identify all the people who live within the limits of our national
borders. Thus we claim that our "Afghan" nation is a group
of diverse people, all of whom live in a common abode, which we so
proudly call "Afghanistan".
misperception about "Afghan" and "Afghanistan" is
that these two terms are thought to be fairly new, while in fact,
they are quite old. The word "Afghan" is a term recorded as
long as seventeen centuries ago while the word "Afghanistan"
can be traced, at least, as far back as seven hundred years. Now, to
a brief history of the words "Afghan" and "Afghanistan".
IN PRE-ISLAMIC ERA:
There are a
number of pre-Islamic sources in which the word "Afghan"
appears. These sources, Sassanid, Chinese, and Indian, have recorced
and provided us with the etymological equivalents of "Afghan"
in the form of Abgan, Apkan, Avagana, Op-o-kin, and others.
record of the word "Afghan" was found in a tablet at
Naqsh-i-Rostam in Shiraz. Written during the reign of the Sassanid
King, Shapur I who ruled between 260-273 AD, the tablet refers to a
certain military officer as Vindifer Abgan Rasmand. Translated in
modern Persian it means Vindafer Salar-i Jangi-e Abgan. The word
Abgan is an old Pahlavi (Parthian) word, which is believed to be the
derivative form of an adjective describing robustness, resilience, or
The word seems
to have found a wider usage by the time of Shahpur III, who ruled
between 309-379 AD, and used the term Apkan in his official title.
Professor Sprengler and Sir Olaf Caroe call this term equivalent to
the modern word of "Afghan". In his Shahnama, Firdousi
mentions the term Avagan, referring to a General in Faridoon's army.
We encounter the
word "Afghan" next in the works of the famous Indian
astronomer, Varha-Mihira. He died in 578 AD after he wrote his famous
book of Bharata Smitha, where the word "Afghan" appears as
Avagana in verses 11-61 and 16-31.
provides the next recorded reference of "Afghan". He was a
Chinese traveller who visited Afghanistan between 629-645 AD. In his
Memories of the West, he refers to the territories between Banu and
Ghazi as Op-o-Kin. Modern researchers, such as Cunnigham, strongly
believe the word Op-o-kin to be the same as the modern "Afghan".