Azeri (Azerbaijani) Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

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DNA testing will show your connections with other families and ethnic groups. Family Tree DNA's database includes not only Azeris but also other Caucasian peoples (Laks, Armenians, Georgians, Jews, etc.) and members of many other ethnic groups. Once you've submitted your DNA sample, you'll be eligible to join the "Azerbaijan DNA Project" and the "Azerbaijan - Turkic DNA Project" if you're an Azeri.

The independent country of Azerbaijan is located in the southeastern corner of the Caucasus region, and is home to many of the Azeri people. Many other Azeris live in northwestern Iran. They currently speak an Oghuz Turkic language but did not always do so (except for the small proportion of their ancestors who were Turkmens from Central Asia).

Here's a quick summary of the most common Azeri haplogroups. In terms of Y-DNA (paternal genetics), haplogroup J2 is the most prevalent with about 20 percent of Azeri men having it, followed by haplogroup G at a frequency of 18 percent. Others found in Azeri men are T (11%), R1b (11%), R1a (7%), E (6%), I (3%), and some others (15%). Within these haplogroups, some Azeri men specifically have the haplogroups T1, E1b1b1c1 (this one originated in Anatolia), G2a3b1, and R1b1a2.

Azeri people who live in Iran were found to possess DNA types also found among Iranian peoples (especially the Iranians of Iran) and other peoples of the Caucasus. Their most common mtDNA haplogroups are H (25.57%) and U (20.3%), followed by T (11.28%), J (11.28%), and HV (9.77%).

Azeris are a mixture of Caucasians, Iranians, Near Easterners, Europeans, and Turkmens, in that order of importance.

Major studies of Azeris

Bayazit Yunusbayev, Mait Metspalu, Ene Metspalu, Albert Valeev, Sergei Litvinov, Ruslan Valiev, Vita Akhmetova, Elena Balanovska, Oleg Balanovsky, and Shahlo Turdikulova. "The Genetic Legacy of the Expansion of Turkic-Speaking Nomads across Eurasia." PLoS Genetics 11:4 (April 21, 2015): e1005068.
      The dataset for this autosomal DNA study includes samples from 18 Azeris from northwestern Iran and 5 Azeris from Daghestan. The Azeris received their partial Turkic ancestry around the 9th century according to the genetic evidence and didn't subsequently receive much or any additional Turkic ancestry, since their "Central Asian ancestors crossed the Iranian plateau and became largely inaccessible to subsequent gene flow with other Turkic speakers". Their ADMIXTURE analysis, shown in Figure 2, demonstrated that the Azeris "share most of their genetic ancestry with their current geographic non-Turkic neighbors."

Roza Arambievna. "Genogeografiya tyurkoyazichnikh narodov Kavkaza: analiz izmenchivosti Y-khromosomy." Dissertation. Moscow, 2013.
      125 Azerbaijani men from Azerbaijan and Daghestan were tested and compared with other peoples of the Caucasus. Azerbaijanis and Kumyks have similar genetic profiles in terms of what Y-DNA haplogroups they tend to have. They share the same 6 main Y-DNA haplogroups but possess them in different frequencies. Excerpts from the paper:

"[...] For Eastern Caucasus Turks - Azerbaijanis and Kumyks - the majority have the haplogroups J1-M267 and J2a-M172 that are also found among other indigenous peoples of the Eastern Caucasus. [...] Analysis of the various subhaplogroups of R1b-M343 indicates an Asiatic influence upon the gene pool of Azerbaijanis and Kumyks. [...]"

Levon Yepiskoposian, Shot Margarian, Laris Andonian, and Vahid Rashidvash. "The Location of Azaris on the Patrilineal Genetic Landscape of the Middle East (A Preliminary Report)." Iran and the Caucasus 15:1-2 (2011): pages 73-78.
      The Azeris are more closely related to neighboring peoples than to Central Asians. They are mostly an Iranian people who adopted a Turkic language. Abstract:

"The origin of the Turkic-speaking population of the north-western provinces of Iran, the so-called Azaris, is the subject of long-year debate. Here, we present preliminary results on testing of several hypotheses concerning their origin: 1) the Azaris are the descendants of the Turkic ethnic groups migrated from Central Asia; 2) they have an autochthonous origins; 3) they are of Iranian origin; and 4) they have mixed ethnic origin with unknown proportions of source populations' contribution. The results show that Azaris have much weaker genetic affinity with the populations from Central Asia and the Caucasus than with their immediate geographic neighbours. Relying on these outcomes one can suggest that language replacement (change) with regard to Azaris occurred through 'elite dominance' mechanism rather than 'demic diffusion' model."

L. Andonian, S. Rezaie, A. Margaryan, D. D. Farhud, K. Mohammad, K. Holakouie Naieni, M. R. Khorramizadeh, M. H. Sanati, M. Jamali, P. Bayatian, and Levon Yepiskoposyan. "Iranian Azeri's Y-Chromosomal Diversity in the Context of Turkish-Speaking Populations of the Middle East." Iranian Journal of Public Health 40:1 (2011): pages 119-123.
      100 unrelated Turkic-speaking Azeri males from northwestern Iran were tested on their Y-DNA. Conclusion:

"The imposition of Turkish language to this region was realized predominantly by the process of elite dominance, i.e. by the limited number of invaders who left only weak patrilineal genetic trace in modern populations of the region."

Mohammad Asgharzadeh, Hossein Samadi Kafil, Ahmad Ranjbar, Ali Rahimipour, Kazem Najati, and Mohammad Rahbani Nobar. "Molecular diversity of mitochondrial DNA in Iranian Azeri ethnicities vis-à-vis other Azeris in Asia." Iranian Journal of Biotechnology 9:2 (April 2011).
      133 ethnic Azeri people from Iran's Azerbaijan region were tested on their mtDNA. Excerpts from the abstract:

"[...] Fourteen haplogroups were characterized from which 82% were identified as European specific haplogroups. The H haplogroup was the most frequent and 79 haplotypes were specified. In this study, the Iranian Azeri population was found to be a heterogenic population where all the specific haplogroups of Asians, Europeans and Africans were present in the studied population. Comparing the haplogroups of the present investigation with other populations indicated a very close similarity with other Iranian populations, but was different from haplogroups of other Asian populations who also speak the Azeri language."

Excerpts from the middle of the study:

"[...] 14 haplogroups were found, where more than 90% of the Azeri population belonged to the I, U, K, T, J, H, HV, W and X haplogroups. The most prevalent of these was the H haplogroup (25.57%) followed by the U haplogroup (20.3%). From the European haplogroups, 8 haplogroups H, I, J, K, T, U, W, X were found in 109 Azeris (81.96%) the West Asian haplogroup, HV, was found to be present in 13 Azeris (9.77%). Three Azeris (2.26%) with the N haplogroup and 4 others with unknown haplogroups (3%) were also observed. From the 8 Asian haplogroups (A-G, M), the A, M and D haplogroups were found in 3 Azeris (2.26%) and the African haplogroup (L) was observed in one Azeri subject (0.75%) (Table 2). [...] In this population, specific European (H, I, J, K, T, U, V, W, X), Asians (M, A, D) and African (L) haplogroups of the mtDNA have been observed, but most of this population (82%) possess the European specific haplogroups. [...] Considering the similarity between the Azeri and Iranian haplogroups (Table 3), it can be concluded that the Iranian population have been living in Azerbaijan since ancient times, and a small ethnic group who spoke the Altaic language subsequently invaded this region, as confirmed by historical documents. In the 11th century this region was invaded by 'Seljuq' Turks (Gharagheshlaghi et al., 2007) and 'Oghuz' nomadic riders (Johanson et al., 1998)."

Ivan Nasidze, Tamara Sarkisian, Azer Kerimov, and Mark Stoneking. "Testing hypotheses of language replacement in the Caucasus: evidence from the Y-chromosome." Human Genetics 112 (2003): pages 255-261.
      This study showed that some Azeris of Azerbaijan are closely related to Armenians and Kurds, and not very related to other Turkic-speaking peoples. This is because Azeris descend primarily from an indigenous people that adopted the Turkic language later on. Abstract:

"A previous analysis of mtDNA variation in the Caucasus found that Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanians were more closely related genetically to other Caucasus populations (who speak Caucasian languages) than to other Indo-European or Turkic groups, respectively. Armenian and Azerbaijanian therefore represent language replacements, possibly via elite dominance involving primarily male migrants, in which case genetic relationships of Armenians and Azerbaijanians based on the Y-chromosome should more closely reflect their linguistic relationships. We therefore analyzed 11 bi-allelic Y-chromosome markers in 389 males from eight populations, representing all major linguistic groups in the Caucasus. As with the mtDNA study, based on the Y-chromosome Armenians and Azerbaijanians are more closely-related genetically to their geographic neighbors in the Caucasus than to their linguistic neighbors elsewhere. However, whereas the mtDNA results show that Caucasian groups are more closely related genetically to European than to Near Eastern groups, by contrast the Y-chromosome shows a closer genetic relationship with the Near East than with Europe."

Tatiana Zerjal, R. Spencer Wells, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, and Chris Tyler-Smith. "A Genetic Landscape Reshaped by Recent Events: Y-Chromosomal Insights into Central Asia." American Journal of Human Genetics 71:3 (September 2002): pages 466-482.
      Azeri people descend to a small extent from Central Asians, as reflected by the Y-DNA haplogroup H12. Azeris have more Central Asian ancestry than Armenians and Georgians do. Excerpt from the middle of the study:

"The expanding waves of Altaic-speaking nomads involved not only eastern Central Asia [...] but also regions farther west, like Iran, Iraq, Anatolia, and the Caucasus, as well as Europe, which was reached by both the Huns and the Mongols. In these western regions, however, the genetic contribution is low or undetectable (Wells et al. 2001), even though the power of these invaders was sometimes strong enough to impose a language replacement, as in Turkey and Azerbaijan (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994)."

P. Sh. Asadova, Yu. V. Shneider, I. N. Shilnikova, and O. V. Zhukova. "Genetic Structure of Iranian-Speaking Populations from Azerbaijan Inferred from the Frequencies of Immunological and Biochemical Gene Markers." Russian Journal of Genetics 39:11 (November 2003): pages 1334-1342.
      The Talysh and Tat peoples of Azerbaijan speak Iranian languages. They were found to be very closely related to Turkic-speaking Azeris. Abstract:

"The data on the genetic studies of Iranian-speaking populations from Azerbaijan (Talyshs and Tats) are presented. In these populations gene frequency distributions for the immunological (AB0, MN, Rhesus-D, -C, -E, P, Lewis, and Kell-Chellano) and biochemical (HP, GC, Cprime3, TF, 6PGD, GLO1, ESD, ACP1, and PGM1) gene markers were determined. Comparison of the genetic structure of the populations examined with the other Iranian-speaking populations (Persians and Kurds from Iran, Ossetins, and Tajiks) and Azerbaijanis showed that Iranian-speaking populations from Azerbaijan were more close to Azerbaijanis, than to Iranian-speaking populations inhabiting other world regions."

Research conducted by Maziar Ashrafian Bonab, et al. of the Department of Genetics at University of Cambridge showed that Azeris living in Iran are connected to the Persian (Iranian) people of Iran in terms of their FST (fixation index) value, their MRCA (most recent common ancestor), and their mtDNA genetic types, and that Azeris are distant from Anatolian Turks and European Turks.

Fulvio Cruciani, Roberta La Fratta, Beniamino Trombetta, Piero Santolamazza, Daniele Sellitto, Eliane Beraud Colomb, Jean-Michel Dugoujon, Federica Crivellaro, Tamara Benincasa, Roberto Pascone, Pedro Moral, Elizabeth Watson, Bela Melegh, Guido Barbujani, Silvia Fuselli, Giuseppe Vona, Boris Zagradisnik, Guenter Assum, Radim Brdicka, Andrey I. Kozlov, Georgi D. Efremov, Alfredo Coppa, Andrea Novelletto, and Rosaria Scozzari. "Tracing Past Human Male Movements in Northern/Eastern Africa and Western Eurasia: New Clues from Y-Chromosomal Haplogroups E-M78 and J-M12." Molecular Biology and Evolution 24(6) (June 2007): pages 1300-1311. First published online on March 10, 2007.
      "Table 1: Frequencies (%) of the Y-chromosome E-M78 sub-haplogroups in the 81 populations analyzed" includes samples from 97 Azeri males. 2.06% of them (that is, two individuals) were in E-M78 and 2.06% in E-V13.

Siiri Rootsi, Natalie M. Myres, Alice A. Lin, Mari Järve, Roy J. King, Ildus A. Kutuev, Vicente M. Cabrera, Elza K. Khusnutdinova, Kärt Varendi, Hovhannes Sahakyan, Doron M. Behar, Rita Khusainova, Oleg Balanovsky, Elena Balanovska, Pavao Rudan, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Ardeshir Bahmanimehr, Shirin Farjadian, Alena Kushniarevich, Rene J. Herrera, Viola Grugni, Vincenza Battaglia, Carmela Nici, Francesca Crobu, Sena Karachanak, Baharak Hooshiar Kashani, Massoud Houshmand, Mohammad H. Sanati, Draga Toncheva, Antonella Lisa, Ornella Semino, Jacques Chiaroni, Julie Di Cristofaro, Richard Villems, Toomas Kivisild, and Peter A. Underhill. "Distinguishing the co-ancestries of haplogroup G Y-chromosomes in the populations of Europe and the Caucasus." European Journal of Human Genetics 20 (2012): pages 1275-1282. First published online on May 16, 2012.
      297 Azeri men from Iran were included in this study. Supplementary Table 1 tells us that 38 out of these Azeris carried G haplogroups, or 12.8%. Breaking this down into the subhaplogroups, 3% of the Azeris had G-P15, 2% had G-M527, 2% had G-M406, 1.7% had G-P303, and all other G subhaplogroups were less frequent. For G1, 1.3% was the frequency. G haplogroup diversity among the Azeris was 0.88, among the highest of the groups in the study.

Viola Grugni, Vincenza Battaglia, Baharak Hooshiar Kashani, Silvia Parolo, Nadia Al-Zahery, Alessandro Achilli, Anna Olivieri, Francesca Gandini, Massoud Houshmand, Mohammad Hossein Sanati, Antonio Torroni, and Ornella Semino. "Ancient Migratory Events in the Middle East: New Clues from the Y-Chromosome Variation of Modern Iranians." PLoS ONE 7(7) (July 18, 2012): e41252.
      938 males from 15 ethnic groups living in Iran had their Y-chromosomes tested. 63 Azeris from the Azerbaijan Gharbi region of northwestern Iran were among the test subjects. The study suggests "The Azari people likely derive from ancient Iranic tribes, such as the Medians in Iranian Azerbaijan. [...] Today, the Azari language is completely replaced by Turkish or Azeri language. The question remains whether this language replacement happened with Turkish people gene flow or it happened simply as a result of acculturation without gene flow." The study presents the Azeris' Y-DNA data in Figure 1, "Frequencies of the main Y-chromosome haplogroups in the whole Iranian population (inset pie)", where it is shown that G-M201, J2-M410, Q-M242, R1-M269, R1-M198, and T-M70, are some of the haplogroups encountered among the Azeris of Iran. The exact percentages of their presence are listed on "Table 1. Haplogroup frequencies (%) in the examined Iranian groups."

S. Farjadian and A. Ghaderi. "HLA class II similarities in Iranian Kurds and Azeris." International Journal of Immunogenetics 34:6 (December 2007): pages 457-463. First published online on October 4, 2007. Excerpts from the Abstract:

"The genetic relationship between Kurds and Azeris of Iran was investigated based on human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II profiles. HLA typing was performed [...] in 100 Kurds and 100 Azeris. DRB1*1103/04, DQA1*0501 and DQB1*0301 were the most common alleles and DRB1*1103/04-DQA1*0501-DQB1*0301 was the most frequent haplotype in both populations. No significant difference was observed in HLA class II allele distribution between these populations except for DQB1*0503 which showed a higher frequency in Kurds. Neighbor-joining tree based on Nei's genetic distances and correspondence analysis according to DRB1, DQA1 and DQB1 allele frequencies showed a strong genetic tie between Kurds and Azeris of Iran. The results of amova revealed no significant difference between these populations and other major ethnic groups of Iran. No close genetic relationship was observed between Azeris of Iran and the people of Turkey or Central Asians. According to the current results, present-day Kurds and Azeris of Iran seem to belong to a common genetic pool."

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