Karachay Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

Family Tree DNA - Genetic testing service
Family Tree DNA: Genetic Testing Service
Genetic testing will reveal your relationships to other families, other tribes from the Caucasus, and ethnic groups outside of Russia. Karachays are invited to join the project called "Karachay-Balkar DNA".

Karachay (meaning "Black River") — also spelled Karachai — are a people living in the North Caucasus. Most of them reside in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic (Karachayevo-Cherkesskaya Respublika), part of the Russian Federation. The Soviet government temporarily exiled them from their homeland between 1943 and 1957.

Some researchers believe the Karachays descend mainly from medieval Kipchaks (Cumans) and Alans. There are also theories according to which the Khazars, Bulgars, and/or Huns helped to form this people.

The Karachay-Balkar language is a member of the Northwestern (Kipchak) subdivision of the Turkic linguistic family. These days it's written with a Cyrillic alphabet, but many decades ago had been written with the Arabic script.

The researcher Akhmed Glashev informed me that Family Tree DNA's data collected from Karachay samples reveal that about 5.8% of Karachays have the Y-DNA haplogroup R1b1b1. In the "Karachay-Balkar DNA" project, Karachay members of branches of R1b are designated as having R-M343, R-M269, R-U106, and R-M73. More common than R1b varieties is R1a1 at about 39% according to the latest results and this is the Central/South/Southwestern Asian variety Z93 (R1a1a-M198), not the Slavic variety that ethnic Russians have. The "Karachay-Balkar DNA" project includes many ethnic Karachays with R-M459 (part of R1a1) and R-M512 (R1a1a). One each has R-M417 (R1a1a1) and R-Z94 (R1a1a1b2a). G2a is found among Karachays at about 34% and J2a at about 11%.

Major studies of Karachays

Roza Arambievna. "Genogeografiya tyurkoyazichnikh narodov Kavkaza: analiz izmenchivosti Y-khromosomy." Dissertation. Moscow, 2013.
      Studies the genetics of 6 Turkic-speaking peoples of the North Caucasus (Azerbaijanis, Balkars, Nogais, Kara Nogais, Karachays, Kumyks). The Y chromosome, tracing paternal ancestry, was the focus. The sample size was 870 people and there were 58 SNP and 17 STR markers tested. 269 Karachays from Karachayevo-Cherkessiya were tested. An important finding is that about 36% of Karachay men have a Central Asian variety of the Y-DNA root haplogroup R1a1a-M198. Balkars sometimes have the same haplogroup. R1a1a is the most prevalent Y-DNA haplogroup among Karachays, with G2a-P15 in second place (31%), followed by various others including (but not limited to) J2a-M172 and R1b-M343. On the other hand, "the phylogenetic network of haplogroup G2a1a-P18 clearly demonstrates the autochthonous Caucasian substrate in the gene pool of Karachays and Balkars and confirms their genetic proximity to the Ossetians." So clearly they descend both from indigenous Caucasus people and Central Asians. Karachays and Balkars also share in G2a-P15:

"G2a-P15 [...] is represented in Karachays by two subhaplogroups: G2a1*-P16(xP18) (8%) and G2a1a-P18 (20%). However, among Balkars the subhaplogroup G2a1*-P16(xP18) is missing, and the subhaplogroup G2a1a-P18 occurs at a frequency of 11%, however they're dominated by a third subhaplogroup - G2a3b1-P303 (17%) that's almost absent in Karachays. Among the other peoples of the Caucasus, the highest frequency of G2a1a-P18 (66%) was observed in the Ossetians [Balanovsky et al., 2011]."

S. Litvinov, Ildus A. Kutuev, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Rita Khusainova, R. Valiev, and Elza K. Khusnutdinova. "Alu Insertion Polymorphisms in Populations of the South Caucasus." Balkan Journal of Medical Genetics 11/2 (2008): pages 25-30.
      162 Karachays were genetically sampled.

Ivan Nasidze, E. Y. S. Ling, D. Quinque, I. Dupanloup, R. Cordaux, S. Rychkov, O. Naumova, O. Zhukova, N. Sarraf-Zadegan, G. A. Naderi, S. Asgary, S. Sardas, D. D. Farhud, T. Sarkisian, C. Asadov, A. Kerimov, and Mark Stoneking. "Mitochondrial DNA and Y-Chromosome Variation in the Caucasus." Annals of Human Genetics 68 (2004): pages 205-221.
      This is a comprehensive collection of data on the peoples of the Caucasus Mountains region. Table 1 indicates that they tested the mtDNA of 13 "Karachaians", and Table 2 says those Karachaians had 10 different mtDNA haplotypes resulting in a nucleotide diversity of 0.015 and haplotype diversity of 0.949. However, Karachay Y-DNA isn't studied here; the text notes how "The number of Avarian, Balkarian and Karachaian male samples was insufficient for Y chromosome analyses."

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.
      According to Supplementary Table 1, 69 Karachay males were genetically tested here, and 22 of them (31.9%) were found to carry the haplogroup G. 23.2% of the Karachays belonged to subhaplogroup G-P16.

M. A. Dzhaubermezov, Natalya V. Ekomasova, Sergey Litvinov, Rita I. Khusainova, Vita L. Akhmetova, N. V. Balinova, and Elza K. Khusnutdinova. "Genetic characterization of Balkars and Karachays according to the variability of the Y chromosome." Russian Journal of Genetics 53:10 (October 2017): pages 1152-1158. First published electronically on February 11, 2017.
      This study examined the Y-DNA haplogroups of Karachay men in comparison to Balkar men. The haplogroups G2a-P16 and R1a-Z2123 dominated among the samples of both groups.

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