Barakzi (singular: Barakzai), an ethnic name common in the entire eastern portion of Iran and Afghanistan, where it is found both among the Pashtun of Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Baluch of south-eastern Iran (in the region of Bampur). It is formed on a common classical model: the name of an eponymous ancestor, Barak, plus the suffix -zi (the plural of Pashto zay "descendant").
In the detailed Pashtun genealogies there are no fewer than seven instances of the ethnic name Barakzi, at very different levels of tribal segmentation. Six of them designate simple lineages within six different tribes located in the Solayman mountains or adjacent lands: the Barek (Hayat Khan, p. 81), the Jamand of Hashtnagar (Sher Mohammad Khan, p. 199), the Kakar (idem, p. 241), the Khattak (idem, p. 183; Rose, II, p. 527), the Musakhel (Dictionary of the Pathan Tribes, p.34), and the Sherani (ibid.; Rose, III, p.408). The seventh instance, on the other hand, designates one of the most important Pashtun tribes in numbers and historic role, part of the Zirak branch of the Durrani confederation. The presence of Barakzi of indeterminate ethnic identity has also been reported in the Panjsher valley northeast of Kabul (Adamec, Gazetteer VI, p. 93, forty houses; Balland and Benoist, thirty semi-nomadic families).
Other ethnic names derived from Barak also occur among the Taraki (Barak Khel; Sher Mohammad Khan, p. 216) and the Wazir Otmanzi (Barak Khel; idem, p. 252), as well as in less clearly identifiable forms among the Khogyani (idem, p. 249), the Lodhi (idem, p. 224), and the Mohmand (Hayat Khan, p. 132).
The homonymy of these different groups is naturally not sufficient to establish any relationship among them. Nevertheless, some Baluch authors use it as an arguement for claiming a Pashtun origin for the Baluch Barakzi of Bampur (Sardar Khan Baluch, n.d., p. 82). In the absence of the slightest historical confirmation, it is preferable to interpret these homonyms as an instance of anosmatic convergence linked to the wide diffusion of the personal name Barak. In fact, other examples of such ethnonymic convergence abound among the Pashtun and the Baluch, though they generally involve tribal names derived from personal names of Arabic origin (Mohammad, Ahmad, Ali, Hasan, and the like), the spread of which followed the path of Islamicization. That is not the case with Barak. Furthermore, as the word is not attested in Pashto except in ethnic names (and a modern borrowing of English "barrack"), its origin is puzzling. The theory of H. W. Bellew (p. 163), who attempted to derive it from Baraki/Barki, the vernacular name of the Ormur, is unacceptable for philological reasons. More convincing is the connection that can be established with Turkish baraq/barak ("very furry, hairy"; also the name of a breed of long-haired dog, an excellent courser and hunter), which is found both as a personal name, notably in the princely genealogies of the Jengizids (Eh I, p. 1031, Bosworth, pp. 146, 153), and as an ethnic name from the fifth century (name of a tribe of the Tabghaq confederation in northern China, according to Bazin, p.272) down to our own time (among the Uzbeks on both banks of the Amu Darya; Jarring, pp. 23, 57; Karmysheva, pp. 90, 105; in Anatolia: Tanyol).
Of all the groups having a Barak as eponymous ancestor, the Barakzay tribe of the Durrani confederation is the only one about which there is ample, though not always precise, information. That is true, for example, of its numbers, for which the following estimates are available; at least 30,000 families at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Elphinstone, p. 398), 50,000 families a century later under the reign of Amanullah (Hayat Khan, p. 122), 300,000 individuals in the middle of the twentieth century (Aslanov, p. 57; Aslanov et al., p. 14). There is thus agreement among the authors that the tribe is one of the two principal components of the Durrani confederation and apparently has been so since the formation of the latter.
Genealogical traditions, as reported in learned Afghan historiography, suggest that in this instance the eponymous ancestor Barak could have lived in the eighth/fourteenth century and perhaps could have been a contemporary of Tamerlane (according to Fofalzay, tables between pp. 9-10 and 242-43). The name of the tribe itself is attested only from the Safavid period, when one of its notables, Mohammad Khan (not Ahmad, as Malcolm, II, p. 410, erroneously reported), was sent on a mission to the court of Shah Abbas I (Ferrier, 1858, p. 68). Mohammad Khan is the eponymous ancestor of the Mohammadzay section of the Barakzay tribe, which has played a leading role in the modern history of Afghanistan. It was almost at the same period that the Ghilzai tribes took over the Abdali (that is, the Durrani) tribes' control of the Qandahar region and obliged the latter to retreat westward into eastern Khorasan and the Herat region (Lockhart, p. 95). Only after the re-conquest of Qandahar by Nader Shah Afsar, with whom they were allied, in 1150/1738 were they able to regain a foothold in that part of Afghanistan (Bokhari, p. 15). In the allotment of lands that ensued the Barakzi were awarded extensive tracts in the lower Argestan valley on the southern perimeter of the Qandahar oasis (Singh, p. 18; Rawlinson, p. 825).
Since the emergence of Afghanistan as an independent state (1160/1747), the Barakzi have played a major political role. At first they entered the service of the young Sadozai dynasty, which their sardars had helped to place on the throne and to whose army they furnished a contingent of 907 cavalry in Ahmad Shah's time (Elphinstone, p. 398; Rawlinson, p. 826). But this alliance did not survive the test of time. Superior in numbers, led by ambitious chiefs, and encouraged by the internal decay of Sadozay power, the Barakzi were not slow to aspire to political primacy within the Durrani confederation and thus within Afghanistan.
After 1235/1819 the real power passed to their most influential section the Mohammadzi.
Here it must be noted that the new Barakzay dynasty was in its turn rapidly weakened by internal rivalries. Two Mohammadzay lineages thus succeeded each other on the throne at Kabul. Following the usage of English authors of the nineteenth century, they are commonly designated by the respective names of the cities where they had risen to power. The lineage of the sardars of Kabul, descended from the first Barakzay amir, Dost Mohammad Khan, reigned from 1235/1819 to 1307/1929, with a brief interruption during the Sadozay restoration in 1255-59/1839-43. The rival sardars of Peshawar, descended from Sultan Mohammad "Tilayi", half-brother of Dost Mohammad, were known also by the neologism Mosaheban because of the favored position (mosaheb-e khass) that its chiefs occupied at the court of the Ameer Habibullah Khan; it succeeded the Kabul branch in 1308/1929, lasting until 1352/1973, and managed to keep control of power after the fall of the monarchy throughout the span of the first Afghan republic (1352-57/1973-78).
The political hegemony of the Barakzi thus lasted a total of a century and a half. In this period, characterized from beginning to end by the practice of systematic tribal nepotism, the entire tribe, and more particularly its Mohammadzay section, occupied a privileged position in the high civil and military administration of the Afghan state (examples are given in Kakar, pp. 24, 113, and Schinasi, pp. 111 ff.; cf. Adamec, Who's Who). As a result, important modifications occurred in the geographical distribution of the Barakzi, notably the establishment of important colonies at Kabul and in the principal provincial seats of power.
The present geographical distribution of the Barakzi is not well known in detail, being characterized by broad diffusion. Following the pattern of most Durrani tribes, they can be divided schematically into three major settlement areas.
According to Sher Mohammad Khan (p. 183), the genealogical structure of the Barakzi is articulated in five major subtribes: the Abdullahzi, the Bayezi, the Nusratzi (Naserzi), the Nurudinzi, & the Ruknudinzi. The Nurudinzi seem to be the most important of them, for it is from their midst that both the Mohammadzay clan - thus the most recent of the reigning Afghan dynasties - and the Achakzi tribe sprang; all the historical traditions of the latter point to its being an old Barakzay section that was elevated to the status of an independent tribe by Ahmad Shah in the eighteenth century (Elphinstone, p. 398). A total of seventeen names of living lineages was collected by R. B. Scott (1971, p. 8) and the 1978 Afghan Nomad Survey. The fact that several of them (Kanozi, Shakarzi) are common to other Durrani tribes, especially the Alikozi, is an argument supporting the thesis of the instability of tribal configurations within a confederation of this type.
In Iranian Baluchistan the name Barakzay is borne by one of the numerous hakomzat lineages, which shared in political power within traditional Baluch society (Spooner). It controlled the Bampur oasis and the region around it. Virtually independent of the central government during the Qajar period, it gradually extended its political influence over a great part of southeastern Persia and the neighboring regions of Indian Baluchistan, seeking to establish there a true Baluch confederation. It was in order to break this burgeoning regional power that Reza Shah Pahlavi launched a two-pronged military offensive on land and in the air in 1307/1928, followed by savage repression, the principal victim of which was Dost Mohammad Khan, the Barakzay hakom (i.e., hakem, governor) of Bampur, who was hanged at Tehran and is regarded today as a martyr in the cause of Baluch nationalism (Jahanbani; Sardar Khan Baluch, 1977, pp. 260ff., where the name of the lineage has unfortunately been distorted). This episode ended with the effective incorporation of the region into the territory of Iran; nevertheless a Baluch nationalist movement still exists, and the Barakzay lineage continues to play an important role within it (Harrison, pp. 17, 118f.).
Despite its wide geographic distribution, the Barakzay tribe has not been the object of a specific study. Its historical importance is such, however, that all general works and a number of regional studies of Afghanistan treat it to a greater or lesser extent. Cited here are those that provide basic data. All information relating to nomadism among the Barakzi has been taken from Balland and Benoist.