Kurdish Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

Family Tree DNA - Genetic testing service
Family Tree DNA: Genetic Testing Service
DNA testing will show your connections with other families and ethnic groups. The database includes not only Kurds but also Armenians, Azeris, Arabs, Jews, and members of many other ethnic groups around the world. Once you've submitted your DNA sample, you'll be eligible to join the "Kurdish HaploGroups Project" if you're a Kurd.

The Kurds speak an Iranian language. Their traditional homeland, known as Kurdistan, includes some regions in the present-day nations of Turkey (southeastern quadrant), Syria (northeastern corner), Iraq (northern areas), and Iran (western areas) and small numbers have lived in parts of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Kurds were promised an independent nation in 1920 by the Treaty of Sèvres but never got one. The Kurds' identity — even their use of the Kurdish language — was widely suppressed in Turkey and Syria. In Iraq beginning in the 1990s the Kurds managed to assert their political autonomy but they are still part of that country and since the fall of Saddam Hussein they've reintegrated into the countrywide Iraqi political system.

Genetic analysis has shown that the Kurdish people are closely related to the Azeri, Armenian, Georgian, and Jewish peoples, descending from some common ancestors in the northern Near East region.

Some of the studies cited below have haplogroup frequencies for various populations of Kurds. We can add to that small-scale results from Family Tree DNA's "Kurdish DNA Project"; at present the following Y-DNA (paternal DNA) haplogroups were found among its grouped members: G2a, G2a3b1, I1, J1, R1a1a1, R1b1a2a1a1b4i, and one instance of Q1b1a.

The mtDNA haplogroup HV1b2 is found among a Yezidi Kurd as well as Ashkenazi Jews. The Ashkenazim are tested through Family Tree DNA's "HV1b - MtDNA Match Mates" project.

Major studies of Kurds

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. 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 using polymerase chain reaction/restriction fragment-length polymorphism (PCR/RFLP) and PCR/sequence-specific primer (PCR/SSP) methods 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."

Ivan Nasidze, D. Quinque, M. Ozturk, N. Bendukidze, and Mark Stoneking. "MtDNA and Y-chromosome variation in Kurdish groups." Annals of Human Genetics 69:4 (July 2005): pages 401-412. Abstract:

"In order to investigate the origins and relationships of Kurdish-speaking groups, mtDNA HV1 sequences, eleven Y chromosome bi-allelic markers, and 9 Y-STR loci were analyzed among three Kurdish groups: Zazaki and Kurmanji speakers from Turkey, and Kurmanji speakers from Georgia. When compared with published data from other Kurdish groups and from European, Caucasian, and West and Central Asian groups, Kurdish groups are most similar genetically to other West Asian groups, and most distant from Central Asian groups, for both mtDNA and the Y-chromosome. However, Kurdish groups show a closer relationship with European groups than with Caucasian groups based on mtDNA, but the opposite based on the Y-chromosome, indicating some differences in their maternal and paternal histories. The genetic data indicate that the Georgian Kurdish group experienced a bottleneck effect during their migration to the Caucasus, and that they have not had detectable admixture with their geographic neighbours in Georgia. Our results also do not support the hypothesis of the origin of the Zazaki-speaking group being in northern Iran; genetically they are more similar to other Kurdish groups. Genetic analyses of recent events, such as the origins and migrations of Kurdish-speaking groups, can therefore lead to new insights into such migrations."

Their sample of 114 Kurds from Turkey (Zaza and Kurmanji Kurds) had the following Y-DNA (paternal DNA) haplogroup frequencies, among others:

F = 10.5%
P1 = 6.1%
P* = 5.3%

Carlos Flores, Nicole Maca-Meyer, Jose M. Larruga, Vicente M. Cabrera, Naif Karadsheh, and Ana M. Gonzalez. "Isolates in a corridor of migrations: a high-resolution analysis of Y-chromosome variation in Jordan." Journal of Human Genetics 50 (2005): pages 435-441.
      This study is mainly about the people of Jordan, but also compares them to other populations in the region. It includes a sample of 251 Kurds from Anatolia (modern Turkey), and these Kurds' Y-DNA (paternal DNA) haplogroup distributions were as follows:

J2-M172 = 19.9%
F*-M89 = 14.3%
R1a1-M17 = 12.4%
R1-M173 = 11.2%
J1-M267 = 11.2%
P-M45 = 10%
T-M70 = 4.8%
E1b1b1a-M78 = 4%
E1b1b1c-M123 = 4%
G-M201 = 2%

Ömer Gokcumen, et al. "Biological Ancestries, Kinship Connections, and Projected Identities in Four Central Anatolian Settlements: Insights from Culturally Contextualized Genetic Anthropology." American Anthropologist 113:1 (2011): pages 116-131.
      Y-DNA was tested from Kurds from a Kurdish village called "Dogukoy" in the central Anatolian region they called "Yuksekyer" (the real village and region names were obfuscated). 5 of those sampled belonged to haplogroup E1b, 1 to I2a2a-M223, 1 to I2a2b-L38, 1 to J1, 20 to J2 (representing 64.5% of all samples), 1 to R1a, and 2 to R1b-M343.

Lluís Quintana-Murci, Raphaëlle Chaix, R. Spencer Wells, Doron M. Behar, Hamid Sayar, Rosaria Scozzari, Chiara Rengo, Nadia Al-Zahery, Ornella Semino, A. Silvana Santachiara-Benerecetti, Alfredo Coppa, Qasim Ayub, Aisha Mohyuddin, Chris Tyler-Smith, S. Qasim Mehdi, Antonio Torroni, and Ken McElreavey. "Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor." American Journal of Human Genetics 74:5 (May 2004): pages 827-845.
      This study included Kurds from Iran and Turkmenistan. In common with other peoples from west of the Indus Valley, the Kurds were found to have predominantly mtDNA types from western Eurasia. Excerpts from the study:

"Interestingly, Kurds from Turkmenistan showed the lowest frequencies of eastern Eurasian lineages (9%) in Central Asia, in sharp contrast to the local Turkmen population. [...] A search for two significantly differentiated population clusters revealed one group consisting of all populations from the Anatolian/Caucasus region and the Iranian plateau (including the Kurds from Turkmenistan), and a second group made up of populations from the Indus Valley and Central Asia (FCT=0.021; P<.001)."

Almut Nebel, Dvora Filon, Bernd Brinkmann, Partha P. Majumder, Marina Faerman, and Ariella Oppenheim. "The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East." The American Journal of Human Genetics 69:5 (November 2001): pages 1095-1112. (mirror)
      Multiple Jewish populations were compared with, among others, Kurds from Iraq. 1.1% of the Kurds sampled were found to possess the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH) that's common in the Jewish groups. Moreover, the Cohen Modal Haplotype is remarkably close to the Most Frequent Muslim Kurdish Haplotype (MKH), with 5 out of the 6 markers identical and very close on the remaining marker. This Most Frequent Muslim Kurdish Haplotype is found among 9.5% of Kurds but also among 2.6% of Sephardic Jews, 2.0% of Kurdish Jews, and 1.3% of Ashkenazic Jews, as well as 1.4% of Palestinian Arabs. Altogether, the evidence in the paper suggests a significant degree of common ancestry for the Israelites and the Kurds, as their common genetic types did not appear to emerge from more recent intermarriages between the populations. An excerpt from the abstract:

"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."

In this study, Nebel et al. found the following Y-DNA (paternal DNA) haplogroup frequencies among Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan:

J2 = 28.4%
R1b = 16.8%
I = 16.8%
R1a = 11.6%
J1 = 11.6%
E1b1b = 7.4%
G = 4.2%
T = 3.2%

Martin Richards, Vincent Macaulay, Eileen Hickey, Emilce Vega, Bryan Sykes, Valentina Guida, Chiara Rengo, Daniele Sellitto, Fulvio Cruciani, Toomas Kivisild, Richard Villems, Mark Thomas, Serge Rychkov, Oksana Rychkov, Yuri Rychkov, Mukaddes Gölge, Dimitar Dimitrov, Emmeline Hill, Dan Bradley, Valentino Romano, Francesco Calì, Giuseppe Vona, Andrew Demaine, Surinder Papiha, Costas Triantaphyllidis, Gheorghe Stefanescu, Jiri Hatina, Michele Belledi, Anna Di Rienzo, Ariella Oppenheim, Søren Nørby, Nadia Al-Zaheri, Silvana Santachiara-Benerecetti, Rosaria Scozzari, Antonio Torroni, and Hans-Jürgen Bandelt. "Tracing European Founder Lineages in the Near Eastern mtDNA Pool." American Journal of Human Genetics 67:5 (November 2000): pages 1251-1276.
      Various populations in the Near East were studied for their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Among those sampled were "53 Kurds from eastern Turkey". Many of these Kurds belonged to the mtDNA haplogroup U5, which is also common among Azeris, Ossetians, Armenians, and Europeans, but not very common among other peoples of the Near East.

David Comas, Francesc Calafell, Nina Bendukidze, Lourdes Fañanás, and Jaume Bertranpetit. "Georgian and Kurd mtDNA sequence analysis shows a lack of correlation between languages and female genetic lineages." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 112:1 (May 2000): pages 5-16. Excerpts from the abstract:

"Mitochondrial DNA sequences from Georgians and Kurds were analyzed in order to test the possible correlation between female lineages and languages in these two neighboring West Eurasian groups. Mitochondrial sequence pools in both populations are very similar despite their different linguistic and prehistoric backgrounds. Both populations present mtDNA lineages that clearly belong to the European gene pool, as shown by 1) similar nucleotide and sequence diversities; 2) a large number of sequences shared with the rest of European samples; 3) nonsignificant genetic distances; and 4) classification of the present lineages into the major European mtDNA haplogroups already described. [...]"

S. Farjadian, M. Sazzini, S. Tofanelli, L. Castrì, L. Taglioli, D. Pettener, A. Ghaderi, G. Romeo, and D. Luiselli. "Discordant patterns of mtDNA and ethno-linguistic variation in 14 Iranian Ethnic groups." Human Heredity 72:2 (2011): pages 73-84. Published online on September 10, 2011.
      55 Kurds from Saqqez, Iran were tested on their mitochondrial DNA and their mtDNA haplogroups were C, D, H, HV, HV1, I, J*, J1b, J1b2, J2b, K, K1a9, M/C, N, N1b, N1b1, R, R0, T1, T2, U1a, U3a, U5a1a, U7, and W. H was especially common.

Serkan Dogan, Cemal Gurkan, Mustafa Dogan, Hasan Emin Balkaya, Ramazan Tunc, Damla Kanliada Demirdov, Nihad Ahmed Ameen, and Damir Marjanovic. "A glimpse at the intricate mosaic of ethnicities from Mesopotamia: Paternal lineages of the Northern Iraqi Arabs, Kurds, Syriacs, Turkmens and Yazidis." PLOS One 12(11) (November 3, 2017): e0187408.
      They gathered their own dataset that includes Y-DNA results from 99 of 104 sampled Kurds from northern Iraq. Table 4 shows that the Kurds' Y-DNA assignments were as follows: 2.02% belong to E1b1a, 13.13% to E1b1b, 8.08% to G2a, 1.01% to H, 2.02% to I2a xI2a1, 2.02% to I2a1, 17.17% to J1, 20.2% to J2a1b, 2.02% to J2a1h, 4.04% to J2a1 xJ2a1b/h, 4.04% to L, 2.02% to Q, 17.17% to R1a, 4.04% to R1b, and 1.01% to T.

Cristofaro (is that Julie Di Cristofaro?), et al. 2013 Full citation not known to me yet, is it really published yet? - I got this information from here.
      Kurds from Iran were found to have the Y-DNA haplogroups E1b1b1a1-M78*, E1b1b1a1c-V22, G1-M285, G2a-P15, H1a-M82, J1-M267*, J1a2b-P8, J2a-M410*, J2a1-P55, J2a1a-M322, J2a1h-M530, L-M11*, L1a-M76, L1b-M317, L1c-M357, R1a1a-M198/M17, R1b1a2a-L23, and T-M184.

Zohreh Mehrjoo, Zohreh Fattahi, Maryam Beheshtian, Marzieh Mohseni, Hossein Poustchi, Fariba Ardalani, Khadijeh Jalalvand, Sanaz Arzhangi, Zahra Mohammadi, Shahrouz Khoshbakht, Farid Najafi, Pooneh Nikuei, Mohammad Haddadi, Elham Zohrehvand, Morteza Oladnabi, Akbar Mohammadzadeh, Mandana Hadi Jafari, Tara Akhtarkhavari, Ehsan Shamsi Gooshki, Aliakbar Haghdoost, Reza Najafipour, Lisa-Marie Niestroj, Barbara Helwing, Yasmina Gossmann, Mohammad Reza Toliat, Reza Malekzadeh, Peter Nürnberg, Kimia Kahrizi, Hossein Najmabadi, and Michael Nothnagel. "Distinct genetic variation and heterogeneity of the Iranian population." PLoS Genetics 15:9 (September 24, 2019): e1008385.
      This comprehensive autosomal DNA study of the peoples of Iran includes samples from Kurds of Iran. These Kurds were found to be highly genetically diverse.

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