Debunking The Khazarian Myth – DNA

The Khazar hypothesis is an argument that Ashkenazi Jews are not ethnically Jews, but descended from the Turkic Khazar Empire. The argument is largely advanced by neo-Nazis, and other Jew haters who seek to displace Jews from Israel. This argument is advanced specifically for the purpose of stripping Jews of person-hood, self-determination, and nationhood.

Important to mention that though Ashkenazi Jews are the largest ethnic group of Jews today, Sephardim (Jews from Spanish and North African disapora) and Mizrahim (Jews from Middle East diaspora) make up the majority of the Jewish population in Israel. Furthermore, Israel has become the home of many smaller Jewish ethnic groups, such as Ethiopian Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Kaifeng Jews. Since the Khazar myth doesn’t address those Jews at all, any use of it to prove that “the Jews” aren’t real Jews has significant holes.

The Khazars were a semi-nomadic Turkic people who created the most powerful Western steppe empire, Khazaria or Khazar Khaganate , between the late 7th and 10th centuries. The Turkic peoples are a collection of ethnic groups that live in northern, eastern, central, and western Asia, northwestern China, and parts of eastern Europe. Many Jews sought refuge from turmoil in the Persian and Eastern Roman Empires by emigrating to the Khazar region, and by the 10th century CE, it is estimated that there were about thirty thousand Jews living in Khazaria.

The DNA studies

Many promoters of that myth cite Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe book. Nadine Epstein, an editor and executive publisher of Moment magazine said “When I read Arthur Koestler’s The Thirteenth Tribe, I bought his theory that Ashkenazim were descended from the Khazars… But in 1997, Karl Skorecki in Haifa, Michael Hammer in Tucson and several London researchers surprised everyone by finding evidence of the Jewish priestly line of males, the Kohanim. Half of Ashkenazic men and slightly more than half of Sephardic men who claimed to be Kohanim were found to have a distinctive set of genetic markers on their Y chromosome, making it highly possible that they are descendants of a single male or group of related males who lived between 1180 and 650 B.C.E., about the time of Moses and Aaron.

In 2000, the analysis of a report by Nicholas Wade, titled Y Chromosome Bears Witness to Story of the Jewish Diaspora, “provided genetic witness that these [Jewish] communities have, to a remarkable extent, retained their biological identity separate from their host populations, evidence of relatively little intermarriage or conversion into Judaism over the centuries… The results accord with Jewish history and tradition and refute theories like those holding that Jewish communities consist mostly of converts from other faiths, or that they are descended from the Khazars, a medieval Turkish tribe that adopted Judaism.”

A lot DNA studies over an extended period of time support the fact that Ashkenazic Jews originated in the Middle East (also called the Near East). Some of these studies include the following:

Hammer, et al. conclude that the Y chromosome of most Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews contained mutations that are also common among Middle Eastern peoples, but uncommon in the general European population (source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2000). This suggests that the male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced mostly to the Middle East;

The proportion of male genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to less than 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, with “relatively minor contribution of European Y chromosomes to the Ashkenazim,” according to Hammer et. al. (source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2000);

Two studies by Nebel et al. in 2001 and 2005, based on Y chromosome polymorphic markers, suggest that Ashkenazi Jews are more closely related to other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than to their host populations in Europe — defined in the using Eastern European, German, and French Rhine Valley populations (source: European Journal of Human Genetics);

In 2004, Behar et al compared data from Ashkenazi groups in ten different European areas (France, Germany, the Netherlands; Austria-Hungary, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine ) with data from non-Jewish groups in seven different countries (France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia). They found that nine of the Jewish groups were similar, with low rates of admixture with non-Jewish groups, but that these Ashkenazi groups were closely related to non-Ashkenazi Jews and to some non-Jewish Near Eastern groups (Human Genetics, 2004);

A 2006 study by Behar et al. based on high-resolution analysis of haplogroup K (mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or “founder lineages”, that were likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool originating in the Middle East in the 1st and 2nd centuries C.E. Behar et al. suggest that the rest of Ashkenazi mtDNA is originated from ~150 women, most of those likely of Middle Eastern origin. (source: American Journal of Human Genetics, 2006);

Medical studies of the DNA of various diaspora Jewish populations — from Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Italian, Turkish, Greek, and Ashkenazi — have shown them to all be close Middle Eastern kin (source: American Journal of Human Genetics, 2010); and
Ashkenazi Levites paternally descend from an Iranian people, not from Khazars or Slavs, according to genetic evidence revealed in a study by Siiri Rootsi et al. (Nature Communications, 2013).

Since no other paternal or maternal haplogroup among Ashkenazim comes from a Central Asian Turkic source either, there is a total absence of evidence for Khazar ancestry in Ashkenazi Jews. Kevin Brook, who has been researching the possibility of Khazar ancestry for 20 years among Ashkenazim and wrote a book entitled “The Jews of Khazaria”, concludes: “Surprisingly, there is evidence for small amounts of southern Chinese, Berber, and Slavic ancestry in Ashkenazi Jews, but not for Turkic Khazar ancestry.”

“Ashkenazi Jews have been placed intermediately between non-Jewish Europeans and non-Jewish Middle Easterners in a variety of analyses, including multidimensional scaling and principal components analyses, Bayesian clustering, and population trees. In one of the largest of these studies, encompassing 1,287 subjects from 14 Jewish and 69 non-Jewish populations, we found clear signatures of a Levantine ancestry component for Ashkenazi Jews, a component that was partially shared with other Jewish populations (Behar and others, 2010). These genome-wide results have supported earlier mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomal studies, which found that most lineages in the Ashkenazi Jewish population along the male and female lines trace primarily to the Levant, with the remaining lineages likely representing European contributions

One recent study (Elhaik, 2013), making use of part of the data set Behar and others, 2010, focused specifically on the Khazar hypothesis, arguing that it has strong genetic support. This claim was built on a series of analyses similar to those performed in the original study that initially reported the data.

However, the reanalysis relied on the provocative assumption that the Armenians and Georgians of the South Caucasus region could serve as appropriate proxies for Khazar descendants (Elhaik, 2013). This assumption is problematic for a number of reasons. First, because of the great variety of populations in the Caucasus region and the fact that no specific population in the region is known to represent Khazar descendants, evidence for ancestry among Caucasus populations need not reflect Khazar ancestry.

Second, even if it were allowed that Caucasus affinities could represent Khazar ancestry, the use of the Armenians and Georgians as Khazar proxies is particularly poor, as they represent the southern part of the Caucasus region, while the Khazar Khaganate was centered in the North Caucasus and further to the north. Furthermore, among populations of the Caucasus, Armenians and Georgians are geographically the closest to the Middle East, and are therefore expected a priori to show the greatest genetic similarity to Middle Eastern populations. Indeed, a rather high similarity of South Caucasus populations to Middle Eastern groups was observed at the level of the whole genome in a recent study (Yunusbayev and others, 2012).

Thus, any genetic similarity between Ashkenazi Jews and Armenians and Georgians might merely reflect a common shared Middle Eastern ancestry component, actually providing further support to a Middle Eastern origin of Ashkenazi Jews, rather than a hint for a Khazar origin

A large study made by Wayne State University in 2013 contains genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 1,774 samples from 106 Jewish and non Jewish populations that span the possible regions of potential Ashkenazi ancestry: Europe, the Middle East, and the region historically associated with the Khazar Khaganate. The data set includes 261 samples from 15 populations from the Caucasus region and the region directly to its north, samples that have not previously been included alongside Ashkenazi Jewish samples in genomic studies. Employing a variety of standard techniques for the analysis of populationgenetic structure, we find that Ashkenazi Jews share the greatest genetic ancestry with other Jewish populations, and among non-Jewish populations, with groups from Europe and the Middle East. No particular similarity of Ashkenazi Jews with populations from the Caucasus is evident, particularly with the populations that most closely represent the Khazar region. ” (2013, Wayne State University)

The largest available genome-wide sample set overlapping the Khazar region of people for Caucasus showed again, Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry derives from the Middle East and Europe, and not from the Caucasus region.

Sources: *AN INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF KHAZARIA, Kevin Alan Brook *No Evidence from Genome-Wide Data of a Khazar Origin for the Ashkenazi Jews (2013, Wayne State University) *

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