Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and genetics

Recently a few people have been asking me about Armenians, Turks, and genetics. Mostly because I’ve written about this topic before. Unless you’ve been asleep you know that there is a war going on in the Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan are renewing their decades-long conflict and bringing other nations into as the local powers choose sides. Unpleasant all around.

Who are the Armenians? The Turks? Azeris?

Azeris in particular are not well known in the West, but they’re kind of a big deal. The Iranian province of Azerbaijan has nearly as many people as the Republic of Azerbaijan, and there are more Azeris in Iran than in independent Azerbaijan itself. The leader of Iran has an ethnic Azeri father. Azeris are Turkic and have traditionally been dominant in Iran’s military. Before the Turkification of the region over the last 500 years, Azerbaijan was called Albania. The native language was Iranian and related to Persian.

Living in close proximity to each other, it is no surprise that the peoples of the region are genetically rather similar. That being said, there are notable differences.

While a few Armenians in my datasets have Russian admixture (they are likely F1 individuals who identify as Armenian), what is notable about Azeris is like Turks they exhibit a small but notable shift toward East Asians. This is almost certainly the consequence of Turkic ancestry. Though most of the ancestry of Azeri is pre-Turkic, Turkification occurred through the assimilation of nomads with some East Asian ancestry.

The same applies to Turks to the west of Armenia. In previous posts, I’ve had discussions about the nature of Turkish ancestry, but in general, I am convinced by those who argue that the non-Turkic component (which would include East Asian and Turanian) reflects the earlier pattern of variation; Greek in the west, Armenian and Kurdish in the east.

Conflicts, like we are seeing today, illustrates the power of ideas over relatedness. Armenians are Christians, albeit peculiar Oriental Orthodox Christians. Additionally, they continue to speak an ancient Indo-European language. This sets them against Turkic speaking Muslims to the west, and Turkic speaking Muslims to the east, though all the groups share a deep common ancestry.

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17 thoughts on “Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and genetics

  1. Is it true that Armenians are the closest extant race to Jews (presumably, Mizrahi Jews)? This is a common claim in Soviet-era anthropological textbooks.

  2. Iirc Armenians have more Anatolian ancestry and less steppe and east Asian ancestry than Azeris do. Phoneposting atm so I don’t have access to the results and re assembling it on the phone is going to be a pain. I’ll post it later on.

  3. Culturally, is it an important distinction that the Azeris are Shia and the Turks, Sunnites? Accordingly, their respective languages have vastly different levels of Persian influence (although the Turks purged much of the Persian layer of their language a century ago)

  4. Wow, that’s quite a low amount of steppe/Indo-European in Armenians. Is Devils_Gate N a purely ancient East Asian, or does it have some ANE admixture as well?

  5. Is it true that Armenians are the closest extant race to Jews (presumably, Mizrahi Jews)? This is a common claim in Soviet-era anthropological textbooks.

    assyrians and other christian minorities in the fertile crescent are probably closer. they sure are closer to iraqi jews last i checked.

    the thing with armenians is they do have some gene flow from russians, and probably ‘southern’ groups too, as armenian people left and came back.

  6. “Unless you’ve been asleep you know that there is a war going on in the Caucasus”
    I first heard of that conflict from “One Day of War” (part of the BBC’s “This World” series, airing originally in 2004 and rebroadcast at some point on The Learning Channel). I was unaware of the recent flareup.

  7. as pointed out by readers, the e. asian % in turks and azeris is the ‘floor’ of turkic ancestry, since the pastoralists who migrated west ut of *turan* already had lots of tajik ancestry. ergo, iranianish

  8. Culturally, is it an important distinction that the Azeris are Shia and the Turks, Sunnites? Accordingly, their respective languages have vastly different levels of Persian influence (although the Turks purged much of the Persian layer of their language a century ago)

    eastern turkey/anatolia has lots of para-shia alevis.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alevi_history

    so until modern nation state the whole zone was pretty continuous. the safavids were not themselves really azeri turks, but their empire was conquered by azeri turks. the first capital was tabriz

  9. “Can Anyone Stop the Caucasus Clash?: Turkey bets that the West and Russia will sit idle as Nagorno-Karabakh burns.” By Walter Russell Mead | Oct. 5, 2020
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/can-anyone-stop-the-caucasus-clash-11601938812

    … in the 1990s, some 700,000 Azerbaijanis fled or were driven out of their homes when Armenian forces consolidated control over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent territories. …

    From the standpoint of power politics, the war looks like an effort by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to solidify his power at home while transforming his country’s status in the region. The conflict challenges Russia in perhaps the single most sensitive place on its frontiers: the South Caucasus. The Kremlin wants good relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Its nightmare scenario is conflict in the southern Caucasus that spreads into Russia, where the Chechens are not the only Muslim ethnic minority who chafe under Moscow’s rule.

    Ankara appears to be betting that the Azerbaijanis can overcome entrenched Armenian defenders in the mountainous region before the Armenians can persuade Russia and Armenia’s Western friends to force an end to the conflict. The Armenians, especially the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, have a well-deserved reputation as tough fighters. But without outside help, the odds are not in their favor. Azerbaijan has about four times the gross domestic product of Armenia and three times the population, and Azerbaijan has invested heavily in its armed forces since a military and political collapse forced it to accept a cease-fire in 1994.

    Mr. Erdogan might pull off his gamble. Russia is struggling with a second wave of Covid-19 infections and preoccupied by the crisis in Belarus. Reports that Syrian mercenaries aligned with Turkey are supporting Azerbaijani forces were unconfirmed as of press time, but this underlines the stakes of the conflict for Russia. The presence of hardened veterans and jihadists in the Caucasus is a not-so-subtle reminder that Turkey can make a lot of trouble for Russia if it chooses.

    The conflict also causes problems for Armenia’s other regional ally, Iran. The 15 million to 20 million Azeris in Iran are the country’s largest ethnic minority, and anything that increases nationalistic sentiment among them is a problem for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, himself of Azeri origin. Pro-Azerbaijan demonstrations have broken out in several Iranian cities, and this powerful minority will resent any sign of a pro-Armenia tilt from authorities in Tehran. Iran is reeling from U.S. sanctions and stretched to the breaking point supporting clients in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Tehran may think twice about involving itself in another war.

    Armenia will look to the West for help that may not be coming. …

  10. The United States should take this opportunity to absolutely ignore the situation.

    We should also expel Turkey from NATO, so that we do not have any obligation to bail Turkey out if the Russians decline Erdogan’s gambit.

    I would really like to see Russia conquer Turkey and take control of Constantinople. They would re-consecrate Hagia Sophia as an orthodox church, and I would be able to go see it.

  11. the thing with armenians is they do have some gene flow from russians, and probably ‘southern’ groups too, as armenian people left and came back.

    Most Armenians do not have any Russian ancestry. Those Armenian academic samples with Russian ancestry are all from the Russian city of Maikop rather than Armenia itself. I had researched this subject previously in consultation with the geneticist Mait Metspalu.

    as pointed out by readers, the e. asian % in turks and azeris is the ‘floor’ of turkic ancestry, since the pastoralists who migrated west ut of *turan* already had lots of tajik ancestry. ergo, iranianish

    The Turkic invaders of West Asia actually came from the steppe parts of Central Asia in the territory of what is now Kazakhstan (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oghuz_Yabgu_State, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oghuz_Turks and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seljuq_dynasty). They invaded the southern parts of Central Asia, which were then fully Iranic territory, concurrently with their invasion of West Asia. So their Iranic ancestry is by and large of the Scythian-Saka variety rather than southern Central Asian or West Asian variety. Here are some genetic results:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/13-PiVQrAy9CRPkffAcRu8xI_JCFOkVhH/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1l5rX18gfNf5qfeuUt2Bu6pdmU5e_e5ql/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1vrDrROU4T8JWGs96NgDTrUhEZzzAtiNY/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9n4j3PQ81RcNGpTODFXQVhNWFk/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1fndn6PCyfzBFjDJzNEbP_P3NHaRBkd10/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CY7jZd6uaEI7ck68WABNEU28AQr8-urz/view?usp=sharing

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ODQnhW9fFw7SK8jeTz1Rt2mEto7RFG0L/view?usp=sharing

  12. @Razib

    the safavids were not themselves really azeri turks, but their empire was conquered by azeri turks. the first capital was tabriz

    Yes, the Safavids were originally Kurdish. But by the time they established the Safavid dynasty, they had already to switched to the Azeri form of Turkish as mother tongue and were even composing poems in that language, also they had dropped their former Kurdish genealogy in favor of a sayyid one, obviously for political reasons. In the meantime, they had also had children from women of various ethnic backgrounds: Turcoman, Pontic Greek, Georgian etc. The Safavid Empire was not actually conquered by what we now call Azeris or Azeri Turks, but was founded in their territory and expanded into the rest of Greater Iran from there, but the Turkification of Azerbaijan itself was then still an ongoing process and gained momentum under the Safavid rule, the Tabriz area being among the last to Turkify, so you have a point there.

  13. @Walter Sobchak

    The United States should take this opportunity to absolutely ignore the situation.

    We should also expel Turkey from NATO, so that we do not have any obligation to bail Turkey out if the Russians decline Erdogan’s gambit.

    I would really like to see Russia conquer Turkey and take control of Constantinople. They would re-consecrate Hagia Sophia as an orthodox church, and I would be able to go see it.

    Russia came close to taking control of Constantinople on several occasions during the 19th century, but in every case it was halted by the Western powers (Great Britain, France, Germany and/or Austria-Hungary), who did not want to see Russian domination over the East Mediterranean and preferred the weaker and more submissive Ottoman rule there. Even in the aftermath of the WWI, the Western powers preferred the Ottoman and later Turkish Republican rule in the Straits and environs. If we go backwards in time, it was the Western powers who dealt the deadliest blow to the Byzantine Empire (in the Fourth Crusade), which would take away its chance of recovery of all of Asia Minor once and for all and set it on the way of irrevocable decline. In the words of the historian Steven Runciman: “There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade.” France, which gives an image of the toughest rival of Turkey today, was the longest-lasting ally of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. I do not think the modern Western powers are much different from their ancestors in terms of opportunism and egotism, and they have even led Russia astray over the centuries. So I suggest you not have high prospects on that issue.

  14. Before the Turkification of the region over the last 500 years, Azerbaijan was called Albania.

    For those who may not know, Azerbaijan is actually the historical name of what is now Iranian Azerbaijan, it was already called Azerbaijan before any Turkic people set foot in the region. Its pre-Turkic population was speakers of the now-quite diminished (in the number of speakers) Iranic language then called Azeri (now called Tati and Talysh).

    Albania (also called Arran) is the historical name of a region that largely corresponds to the western parts of what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan. Its pre-Turkic population was largely speakers of the now-largely extinct Northeast Caucasian language then called Albanian (now called Udi).

    Of course the boundaries of these historical regions were not fixed and experienced some changes over time.

  15. For those who may not know, Azerbaijan is actually the historical name of what is now Iranian Azerbaijan, it was already called Azerbaijan before any Turkic people set foot in the region.

    Yes, rendered into Greek Atropatene, through an intermediary Aderbadegan

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