Kyrgyz Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

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DNA testing will show how you're connected to other families and ethnic groups. The database includes members of populations from Central Asia, East Asia, Eastern Europe, and other regions including Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Mongolians, Pashtuns, Russians, and many others. Once you've submitted your DNA sample, you'll be eligible to join the "Kirgiz DNA-Project" if you belong to a Kyrgyz paternal and/or maternal line. The project concentrates on paternal lines.

Kyrgyz (Kirghiz, Kirgiz) are a Turkic-speaking people living mostly in Kyrgyzstan but also in neighboring Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and China. They are descended from multiple different ancient peoples. Mongoloid (East Eurasian) ancestry represents between half and two-thirds of Kyrgyz ancestry. Kyrgyz living in Tajikistan and western areas of Kyrgyzstan have less Mongoloid ancestry and more Caucasoid ancestry than other Kyrgyz. Central and South Asian ancestry is the next most important element representing about one-fourth. West Eurasian (including European) represents about one-eighth. Ancestry from West Asia is not significant in any Kyrgyz person and many have none of it.

The Kyrgyz language, currently written in a Cyrillic script within Kyrgyzstan but with Arabic characters in China, and a long time ago written with Turkic runic letters, is part of the Kipchak division of the Turkic linguistic family.

The Kirgiz DNA-Project's Y-chromosome records show that among its male members who are Kyrgyz from Kyrgyzstan are the Y-DNA haplogroups C-M217 (C3), I-M253 (I1), J-M172, N-M232, O-P201, R-M198 (R1a1a), R-M269 (R1b1a2), and R-M343 (R1b1a1). C3 is not only common among the Kyrgyz but also among Kazakhs and Mongolians. R1a1 (and its subtypes) is also found among Kazakhs, eastern Siberians, South Asians, East Slavs, and West Slavs.

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"Kyrgyz" by Kevin Alan Brook
in Encyclopedia of Modern Asia
volume 3, pages 421-423
published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 2002
copyright 2002 by Kevin Alan Brook and Macmillan Reference USA, all rights reserved

The Kyrgyz are a largely Muslim people of Turko-Mongol origins whose language, Kyrgyz, is a member of the central, or Kipchak, branch of the Turkic linguistic group. The Kyrgyz language is divided into northern and southern dialects, and there are also historical and cultural differences between northern and southern Kyrgyz people. In 2001, about 2.5 million Kyrgyz lived in the central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, although Kyrgyz also inhabit Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, northwestern China, and other nations. Traditionally pastoral nomads, some Kyrgyz live in the steppe and others live at the edges of mountains. Many other contemporary Kyrgyz are city dwellers.


Kyrgyz have been divided into clans for many centuries. The word "Kyrgyz" derives from the Turkic words kyrk (forty) and yz (clans). Clan membership is determined by paternal ancestry. Kyrgyz tribes settled in the area of Kyrgyzstan between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Some of the early Kyrgyz were traders along the Silk Road, and others were farmers and herders. Many were forced into Tajikistan by the Oirat Mongols in 1685.

The Uzbeks' khanate of Quqon ruled the Kyrgyz during much of the nineteenth century. During the 1860s, many Kyrgyz allied with the Russian empire against the khanate of Quqon. By 1876, most of the territory of present-day Kyrgyzstan had been taken by the Russian czar. Many Russians and Ukrainians came to settle in Kyrgyzstan. The new Slavic immigrants were given prime farmland at the expense of the Kyrgyz, who were driven from the lowlands into higher terrain where the land is less suitable for herding and farming. Mining and manufacturing industries also came to Kyrgyzstan during the czarist period. Some Kyrgyz migrated to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In 1916, the Kyrgyz revolted against Russian rule, but the Russians retaliated with great force, and many Kyrgyz fled to China to escape repression. Czarist rule came to an end in 1917, but Russian domination did not. On 14 October 1924, the Soviets created the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Region, which was soon renamed the Kyrgyz Autonomous Republic. The Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic was established on 5 December 1936.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (18791953) ordered the destruction of many animal herds and forced the Kyrgyz to collectivize their farms, which changed the Kyrgyz lifestyle from nomadic to more settled and caused widespread famine. Another consequence of Soviet rule over the Kyrgyz was the dramatic growth in literacy. Prior to 1917, most Kyrgyz schools were madrasahs (Islamic religious schools), and almost all Kyrgyz were illiterate. But after the founding of the Soviet Union, all religious schools were forcibly closed, and children were required to attend public schools. This led to almost universal literacy and exposed the Kyrgyz people to new ideas as the Kyrgyz became familiar with the Russian language, Cyrillic alphabet, and Russian culture.

Kyrgyzstan declared its independence on 31 August 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many Kyrgyz revived their old traditions and customs, but fluency in Russian is still prevalent. The Kyrgyz forged new ties with the outside world, including Turkey, Israel, and the United States.

Poverty increased sharply among the Kyrgyz of Kyrgyzstan during the 1990s, affecting approximately 55 percent by 2000.

Traditional Culture

Nomadic Kyrgyz traditionally lived in yurtas, or yurts (felt tents), and although most Kyrgyz today live in more permanent structures, yurtas are still used to entertain guests during special events. Kyrgyz women make felt carpets called shyrdaks that often decorate the yurtas. Some of today's Kyrgyz still live a seminomadic lifestyle, residing in yurtas during the summer months and returning to their permanent houses in the autumn.

Kyrgyz are known for their hospitality, offering traveling guests samples of the rich Kyrgyz cuisine. Kymys (in English, koumiss), a popular Kyrgyz beverage, is fermented mare's milk. Kyrgyz also drink tea, vodka, and bozo (a fermented millet drink). Other components of Kyrgyz cuisine include meats (especially lamb), potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and yogurt.

For centuries, Kyrgyz have practiced the arts of storytelling and singing, and a rich heritage of oral literature accompanied by music has developed. The primary Kyrgyz folk instrument is the komuz, a threestringed lute. In the years following Kyrgyzstan's independence, the three-part epic poem Manas emerged as a key element of Kyrgyz literature. Manas was preserved over the centuries by wandering bards called manaschi. Several versions of Manas have assumed written form, and Manas has become a major component of modern Kyrgyz identity and government ideology. Popular pastimes among Kyrgyz men include hunting with the aid of berkut (steppe eagles) and playing games of skill on horseback.

The extended family remains vital to rural Kyrgyz, but for many urbanized Kyrgyz the basic family unit is the nuclear family. Kyrgyz women used to be restricted to household chores (cooking, cleaning, hosting, and raising children) and crafting but now have more career opportunities.

The practice of bride stealing, in which a woman is taken (often involuntarily) by a man to be married, was common until Soviet times and has revived in recent years among rural Kyrgyz, despite the fact that it is prohibited by Kyrgyzstani law.

Religious Beliefs

The principal religions among Kyrgyz are Islam and ancient folk beliefs, including shamanism, animism, and totemism. Islam was well established among Kyrgyz by the eighteenth century. The vast majority of modern Kyrgyz are at least nominally Sunni Muslims. Islam is practiced in a relatively pure form among the southern Kyrgyz, whereas elements of shamanism and animism still persist among the northern Kyrgyz. However, some southern Kyrgyz are practitioners of Sufism, a mystical school of Islamic thought.

Under Soviet rule, Islam was officially discouraged, and atheism was encouraged. But in the mid-1980s, Islam began to grow in popularity again, and by 2001 there were over two thousand mosques in Kyrgyzstan.

Further Reading

Akiner, Shirin. (1986) Islamic Peoples of the Soviet Union. 2d ed. London: KPI.
Mayhew, Bradley, Richard Plunkett, and Simon Richmond. (2000) Central Asia. 2d ed. Hawthorn, Australia: Lonely Planet.
Soucek, Svatopluk. (2000) A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Stewart, Rowan, and Susie Weldon. (2002) Kyrgyzstan. Hong Kong: Odyssey Publications.

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Major studies of the Kyrgyz

Yong-Gang Yao, Qing-Peng Kong, Cheng-Ye Wang, Chun-Ling Zhu, and Ya-Ping Zhang. "Different Matrilineal Contributions to Genetic Structure of Ethnic Groups in the Silk Road Region in China." Molecular Biology and Evolution 21:12 (December 2004): pages 2265-2280. First published online on August 18, 2004. This study incorporated mtDNA data from "47 Sary-Tash Kirghizs and 48 Talas Kirghizs from Kirgizistan" that had been collected by Comas et al. for a 1998 paper. Table 2's data reveal that Kyrgyz populations have frequencies of West Eurasian mtDNA lineages ranging from 27% on the low end to 42.6% on the high end. The Kirghiz samples cluster closer to the Kazakh and Uygur samples than to the Mongolian, Han, or Hui samples, per Figure 3a.
——–– Sary-Tash Kirghizs —————————
Table 2 lists these frequencies of mtDNA haplogroups among the Sary-Tash Kirghiz ("KIR") participants:
A among 2.1%
B4* among 2.1%
B4a among 2.1%
B5a among 4.3%
C among 12.8%
D* among 25.5%, their most prevalent one
G2a among 2.1%
H among 21.3%, their second most prevalent one
HV* among 6.4%
HV1 among 2.1%
J* among 2.1%
J2 among 4.3%
M* among 4.3%
U1 among 4.3%
R* among 2.1%
Z among 2.1%
——–– Talas Kirghizs —————————
Table 2 lists these frequencies of mtDNA haplogroups among the Talas Kirghiz ("KIT") participants:
A among 6.3%
B5b among 2.1%
C among 12.5%
D* among 14.6%
F1a among 2.1%
F1b among 2.1%
G2a among 14.6%
H among 8.3%
HV* among 2.1%
HV2 among 2.1%
J* among 2.1%
J1b among 2.1%
M* among 4.2%
M9a among 4.2%
M10 among 2.1%
N9a among 6.3%
R* among 4.2%
T1 among 2.1%
U1 among 2.1%
U5* among 2.1%

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. First published electronically on July 17, 2002. According to Figure 7c, 63% of Kyrgyz men from the Jumgal District in central Kyrgyzstan belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1. This low amount of diversity suggests a founder effect within historical times.

R. Spencer Wells, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, Peter A. Underhill, Irina Evseeva, Jason Blue-Smith, Li Jin, Bing Su, Ramasamy Pitchappan, Sadagopal Shanmugalakshmi, Karuppiah Balakrishnan, Mark Read, Nathaniel M. Pearson, Tatiana Zerjal, Matthew T. Webster, Irakli Zholoshvili, Elena Jamarjashvili, Spartak Gambarov, Behrouz Nikbin, Ashur Dostiev, Ogonazar Aknazarov, Pierre Zalloua, Igor Tsoy, Mikhail Kitaev, Mirsaid Mirrakhimov, Ashir Chariev, and Walter F. Bodmer. "The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98:18 (2001): pages 10244-10249. This study of Y-DNA includes Kyrgyz samples as well as samples from other Central Asian peoples like Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Karakalpaks, plus many other populations from elsewhere. M17 is suggested to be "a diagnostic Indo-Iranian marker" by the authors. They also state "The exceptionally high frequencies of this marker in the Kyrgyz, Tajik/Khojant, and Ishkashim populations are likely to be due to drift, as these populations are less diverse, and are characterized by relatively small numbers of individuals living in isolated mountain valleys."
Table 1 includes these haplotype data from 52 Kyrgyz men from Kyrgyzstan:
M9 among about 2%
M17 among about 63%, by far their most frequent haplotype
M45 among about 2%
M46 among about 2%
M48 among about 8%
M89 among about 2%
M119 among about 6%
M122 among about 2%
M130 among about 8%
M170 among about 2%
M172 among about 2%
M173 among about 2%
Haplotype diversity score: 0.590

Evelyne Heyer, Patricia Balaresque, Mark A. Jobling, Lluís Quintana-Murci, Raphaelle Chaix, Laure Segurel, Almaz Aldashev, and Tanya Hegay. "Genetic diversity and the emergence of ethnic groups in Central Asia." BMC Genetics 10:49 (September 1, 2009). About Y-DNA and mtDNA variation among various Central Asian peoples. 6 ethnic Kyrgyz populations were included. According to Table 1, the intra-group differentiation for HVSI (mtDNA) among the Kyrgyz samples is 0.67%. According to Table 2, the intra-group differentiation based on 7 Y-chromosomal microsatellites among the Kyrgyz samples has an Rst of 7.35. An excerpt from the text:

"Historical sources state that the Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek living in Central Asia arose in the sixteenth century. Genetic data show that populations belonging to one of these ethnic groups have an older common ancestor (more than one thousand years ago). Although these estimates are based on only one genetic system (linked Y chromosome microsatellites), we can propose that these ethnic groups are a heterogeneous conglomerate of tribes or populations."

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 26 Kyrgyz people. The Kyrgyz historically stayed relatively close to the region of Southern Siberia and Mongolia (SSM) where common Turkic ancestry originates from. As a result, their identical-by-descent (IBD) segments shared with people from that region tend to be longer than is the case for Turkic-speaking peoples who moved much further away. According to Figure 5, they got admixture from the SSM region in the 14th century.

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