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.