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WHAT IS THE KHAZARIAN HYPOTHESIS ?

ABSTRACT

A sample of 526 Y chromosomes representing six Middle Eastern populations (Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Kurdish Jews from Israel; Muslim Kurds; Muslim Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Authority Area; and Bedouin from the Negev) was analyzed for 13 binary polymorphisms and six microsatellite loci. The investigation of the genetic relationship among three Jewish communities revealed that Kurdish and Sephardic Jews were indistinguishable from one another, whereas both differed slightly, yet significantly, from Ashkenazi Jews. The differences among Ashkenazim may be a result of low-level gene flow from European populations and/or genetic drift during isolation. Admixture between Kurdish Jews and their former Muslim host population in Kurdistan appeared to be negligible. In comparison with data available from other relevant populations in the region, Jews were found to be more closely related to groups in the north of the Fertile Crescent (Kurds, Turks, and Armenians) than to their Arab neighbors. The two haplogroups Eu 9 and Eu 10 constitute a major part of the Y chromosome pool in the analyzed sample. Our data suggest that Eu 9 originated in the northern part, and Eu 10 in the southern part of the Fertile Crescent. Genetic dating yielded estimates of the expansion of both haplogroups that cover the Neolithic period in the region. Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin differed from the other Middle Eastern populations studied here, mainly in specific high-frequency Eu 10 haplotypes not found in the non-Arab groups. These chromosomes might have been introduced through migrations from the Arabian Peninsula during the last two millennia. The present study contributes to the elucidation of the complex demographic history that shaped the present-day genetic landscape in the region.

Khazarian Hypothesis of European Jewish Origins
Elhaik wrote:
“The most parsimonious explanation for our findings is
that Eastern European Jews are of Judeo-Khazarian ancestry
forged over many centuries in the Caucasus.
Jewish presence in the Caucasus and later Khazaria
[a Hebrew-speaking Central Asian empire]
was recorded as early as the late centuries BCE
and reinforced due to the increase in trade along the Silk Road,
the decline of Judah (1st-7th centuries),
and the rise of Christianity and Islam.
Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian Jews
gravitating toward Khazaria were also common
in the early centuries and their migrations were
intensified following the Khazars’ conversion to Judaism
The religious conversion of the Khazars encompassed most
of the Empire’s citizens and subordinate tribes
and lasted for the next 400 years until the invasion of the Mongols.
At the final collapse of their empire in the 13th century,
many of the Judeo-Khazars fled to Eastern Europe
and later migrated to Central Europe
and admixed with the neighbouring populations.”


ELHAIK: The question of Jewish ancestry has been the subject of controversy
for over two centuries and has yet to be resolved.
The "Rhineland Hypothesis" proposes that Eastern European Jews
emerged from a small group of German Jews who migrated eastward
and expanded rapidly.
Alternatively, the "Khazarian Hypothesis" suggests that Eastern European descended from Judean tribes who joined the Khazars,
an amalgam of Turkic clans that settled the Caucasus in the
early centuries CE and converted to Judaism in the 8th century.
The Judaized Empire was continuously reinforced with Mesopotamian
and Greco-Roman Jews until the 13th century.
Following the collapse of their empire, the Judeo-Khazars
fled to Eastern Europe.
The rise of European Jewry is therefore explained by
the contribution of the Judeo-Khazars.
Thus far, however, their contribution has been estimated only empirically;
the absence of genome-wide data from Caucasus populations precluded
testing the Khazarian Hypothesis.
Recent sequencing of modern Caucasus populations prompted us
to revisit the Khazarian Hypothesis and compare it with
the Rhineland Hypothesis.
We applied a wide range of population genetic analyses - including
principal component, biogeographical origin, admixture, identity by descent,
allele sharing distance, and uniparental analyses - to compare these two
hypotheses.
Our findings support the Khazarian Hypothesis
and portray the European Jewish genome
as a mosaic of Caucasus,
European,
and Semitic ancestries,
thereby consolidating previous contradictory reports of Jewish ancestry.


Eran Elhaik argued in 2012 that:

"Strong evidence for the Khazarian hypothesis is the clustering of European Jews with the populations that in his opinion resided on opposite ends of ancient Khazaria: Armenians, Georgians, and

Azerbaijani Jews

. Because Caucasus populations remained relatively isolated in the Caucasus region and because there are no records of Caucasus populations mass-migrating to Eastern and Central Europe prior to the fall of Khazaria (Balanovsky et al. 2011), these findings imply a shared origin for European Jews and Caucasus populations."

In later publications, Elhaik and his team modified their theory, proposing simply that the Judaised Khazar kingdom was a core transit area for a federation of Jewish merchants of mixed Iranian, Turkish and Slavic origins who, when that empire collapsed, relocated to Europe.

Furthermore, in the 2016 study Das, Elhaik, Wexler et al. argued that the first Ashkenazi populations to speak the Yiddish language came from areas near four villages in Eastern Turkey along the Silk Road whose names derived from the word "Ashkenaz," rather than from Germanic lands as is the general consensus in scholarship. They proposed that Iranians, Greeks, Turks, and Slavs converted to Judaism in Anatolia prior to migrating to Khazaria where a small-scale conversion had already occurred.

The historian Bernard Spolsky commenting on Elhaik's earlier study wrote. “Recently, Elhaik (2013) claims to have found evidence supporting the Khazarian origin of Ashkenazim, but the whole issue of genetic evidence remains uncertain.”

In 2018, Elhaik stated that the Ashkenazi maternal line is European and that only 3% of Ashkenazi DNA shows links with the Eastern Mediterranean/Middle East, a 'minuscule' amount comparable to the proportion ofNeanderthal genes in modern European populations. For Elhaik, the vehicle by which unique Asiatic variations on Ashkenazi Y-chromosomes occurred, with Haplogroup Q-L275,[113] was the Ashina ruling clan of the Göktürks, who converted to Judaism and established the Khazar empire.

Criticism of the Elhaik studies

Elhaik's 2012 study proved highly controversial. Several noted geneticists, among them Marcus Feldman, Harry Ostrer, Doron Behar, and Michael Hammer have maintained — and the view has gained widespread support among scientists — that the worldwide Jewish population is related and shares common roots in the Middle East, Feldman stated Elhaik's statistical analysis would not pass muster with most scientists; Hammer affirmed it was an outlier minority view without scientific support. Elhaik in reply described the group as ‘liars’ and ‘frauds’, noting Ostrer would not share genetic data that might be used ‘to defame the Jewish people’. Elhaik's PhD supervisor Dan Graur, likewise dismissed them as a ‘clique’, and said Elhaik is ‘combative’ which is what science itself is.

Elhaik's 2012 study was specifically criticized for its use of Armenians and Azerbaijani Jews as proxies for Khazars and for using Bedouin and Jordanian Hashemites as a proxy for the Ancient Israelites. The former decision was criticized because Armenians were assumed to have a monolithic Caucasian ancestry, when as an Anatolian people (rather than Turkic) they contain many genetically Middle Eastern elements. Azerbaijani Jews are also assumed for the purposes of the study to have Khazarian ancestry, when Mountain Jews are actually descended from Persian Jews. The decision to cast Bedouin/Hashemites as "proto-Jews" was especially seen as political in nature, considering that both have origins in Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula rather than from the Ancient Israelites, while the descent of the Jews from the Israelites is largely accepted. The study was also criticized as interpreting information selectively—The study found far more genetic similarity between the Druze and Ashkenazim than the Ashkenazim and Armenians, but Elhaik rejected this as indicating a common Semitic origin, instead interpreting it as evidence of Druze having Turkic origins when they are known to come from Syria.

Geneticists conducting studies in Jewish genetics have challenged Elhaik's methods in his first paper. Michael Hammer called Elhaik's premise "unrealistic," calling Elhaik and other Khazarian hypothesis proponents "outlier folks… who have a minority view that’s not supported scientifically. I think the arguments they make are pretty weak and stretching what we know." Marcus Feldman, director of Stanford University's Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies, echoes Hammer. "If you take all of the careful genetic population analysis that has been done over the last 15 years… there’s no doubt about the common Middle Eastern origin," he said. He added that Elhaik's first paper "is sort of a one-off." Elhaik's statistical analysis would not pass muster with most contemporary scholars, Feldman said: "He appears to be applying the statistics in a way that gives him different results from what everybody else has obtained from essentially similar data."

Das, Elhaik and Wexler's 2016 study was challenged by the historian of Soviet and East European Jewry Shaul Stampfer, who dismissed it as 'basically nonsense', and the demographer Sergio DellaPergola, who claimed it was a "falsification", whose methodology was defective in using a small population size and failing to factor in the genetic profiles of other Jews such as the Sephardic Jews to whom the Ashkenazi Jews are closely related. Elhaik replied that factoring in the DNA of non-Ashkenazic Jews would not alter the genetic profile of Ashkenazi Jews, and that his team remained the largest genomic study of the latter to date, and the first to target Yiddish speakers. The Yiddish scholar Marion Aptroot states "Seen from the standpoint of the humanities, certain aspects of the article by Das et al. fall short of established standards."

Recently, a study by a team of biologists and linguists, led by Pavel Flegontov, a specialist in genomics, published a response to Das, Elhaik and Wexler's 2016 study, criticizing their methodology and conclusions. They argue that GPS works to allow inferences for the origins of modern populations with an unadmixed genome, but not for tracing ancestries back 1,000 years ago. In their view, the paper tried to fit Wexler's 'marginal and unsupported interpretation' of Yiddish into a model that only permits valid deductions for recent unadmixed populations. They also criticized the linguistic aspect of the study on the grounds that "all methods of historical linguistics concur that Yiddish is a Germanic language, with no reliable evidence for Slavic, Iranian, or Turkic substrata." They further describe the purported "Slavo-Iranian confederation" as "a historically meaningless term invented by the authors under review."

Alexander Beider also takes issue with Elhaik's findings on linguistic grounds, similarly arguing that Yiddish onomastics lacks traces of a Turkic component. He concludes that theories of a Khazar connection are either speculative or simply wrong and "cannot be taken seriously."