Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism is one of those books I haven’t read, but should. In contrast, I have read Azar Gat’s Nations, which is a book-length counterpoint to Imagined Communities. To take a stylized and extreme caricature, Imagined Communities posits nations to be recent social and historical constructions, while Nations sees them as primordial, and at least originally founded on on ties of kinships and blood.
The above doesn’t capture the subtlety of Gat’s book, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t capture that of Anderson’s either. But, those are the caricatures that people take away and project in public, especially Anderson’s (since Gat’s is not as famous).
When it comes to “imagined communities” I recently have been thinking how much that of modern Turks fits into the framework well. Though forms of pan-Turkic nationalism can be found as earlier as 9th-century Baghdad, the ideology truly emerges in force in the late 19th century, concomitantly with the development of a Turkish identity in Anatolia which is distinct from the Ottoman one.
The curious thing is that though Turkic and Turkish identity is fundamentally one of language and secondarily of religion (the vast majority of Turkic peoples are Muslim, and there are periods, such as the 17th century when the vast majority of Muslims lived in polities ruled by people of Turkic origin*), there are some attempts to engage in biologism. This despite the fact that the physical dissimilarity of Turks from Turkey and groups like the Kirghiz and Yakut is manifestly clear.
Several years ago this was made manifestly clear in the paper The Genetic Legacy of the Expansion of Turkic-Speaking Nomads across Eurasia. This paper clearly shows that Turkic peoples across Eurasia have been impacted by the local genetic substrate. In plainer language, the people of modern-day Turkey mostly resemble the people who lived in Turkey before the battle of Manzikert and the migration of Turkic nomads into the interior of the peninsula in the 11th century A.D. Of course, there is some genetic element which shows that there was a migration of an East Asian people into modern day Anatolia, but this component in the minority one.**
Sometimes the Turkish fascination with the biological comes out in strange ways, Turkish genealogy database fascinates, frightens Turks. Much of the discussion has to do with prejudice against Armenians and Jews. But the reality is that most Turks at some level do understand that they are descended from Greeks, Armenians, Georgians, etc.
To interrogate this further I decided to look at a data set of Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Georgians, and a few other groups, including Yakuts, who are the most northeastern of Turkic peoples. The SNP panel was >200,000, and I did some outlier pruning. Additionally, I didn’t have provenance on a lot of the Greeks, except some labeled as from Thessaly. I therefore just split those up with “1” being closest to the Thessaly sample and “3” the farthest.
First, let’s look at the PCA.
The Turks are shifted toward the Yakuts, but not too much. In contrast, there is much more of Yakut shift in Tajiks, and especially Turkmens. These are two groups from further east, closer to the heart of the zone Turkic expansion. Curiously, the Tajiks, who are the dominant non-Turkic Iranian speaking people of Central Asia, actually have more East Asian ancestry than the Turks of Turkey. This goes to show that ethnicity is somewhat fluid, and Turkic people have assimilated into the Tajik identity. That being said, please note that the Turkmen are notably more east-shifted than the Tajik.
Let’s see how this looks on pairwise Fst.
Fst is kind of difficult for fine distinctions when you have outgroups like Yakuts and Dai. So let’s look at Treemix with five migrations:
On this, you can see that the relationship of the Greece clusters on Treemix to Lithuanians matches PCA. Greece1 is the closest, Greece 3 the farthest.
The Turks are close to the Georgians and Armenians, but not the Kurds, or Tajiks. And, they receive gene flow from the Turkmen-Yakut region of the graph. So do the Tajiks…but the Tajiks also remove gene flow from the Lithuanians. The admixture plot makes it more clear what’s happening I think.
Yellow ~ modal in Southern Europe, green ~ modal Northern Europe, red ~ Central Asian, while blue and purple are northern and southern East Asian. In comparison to Turks of Anatolia Tajiks have a lot more Northern European affinity, probably because of the common steppe heritage. Not surprisingly, Turks have more Southern European like ancestry.
Curiously the East Asian ancestry in the Turkic people seems to be both Yakut and Dai like, so perhaps it was more cosmopolitan than we might think? The Yakuts after all are from the northern edge of the range, and may have absorbed a lot of indigenous Siberian ancestry.
Georgians have none of the Northern European sort of ancestry, but Armenians do, and Turks even more. One could posit that this is due to Slavic ancestry arriving with the Rumelian Turks who arrived in the 20th century, but just as likely is the possibility that Turks have a lot of ancestry from western Anatolia which was Greek, and Greeks have more of this than Armenians.
It’s hard to tell from these results whether Turks have more of an affinity with Greek or Armenians as their non-Turkic ancestors. So I ran a three population test.
Armenians beat out Greece3 a bit better, but really it’s hard to say from this that this is definitive. It’s likely that my Turkish sample has both, and/or the original Turkic nomads had Iranian-like ancestry which was more like Armenian than Greek? Hard to say. Additionally, the face that Greece3 is better than the other options suggests to me that the source are Anatolian Greeks who were less impacted by migrations from the north than Greeks in Greece proper.
* The Mughals were Central Asian Turks, while the Safavids were mostly Azeri Turks.
** Since the Turks who arrived in Anatolia had long sojourned in Turn and Iran it is important not to assume that their contribution is limited only to the East Asian component of ancestry.