Genetic origins of the Kurds


The Kurds are considered an ancient autochthonous population. Although Kurdistan came under the successive dominion of various conquerors, including the Armenians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and Persians, they may have remained relatively unmixed by the influx of invaders, because of their protected and inhospitable mountainous homeland.

Genetic testing amongst randomly chosen Kurdish populations has began to shed light into the disparate origins of the Kurds. The results reveal a variety of connections amongst the Kurds, when assessing paternal and maternal lineages. Overall the Kurds share some genetic ties to other speakers of Iranian languages as well as with various peoples from the Caucasus such as the Armenians which suggests that the Kurds have ancient ethnic ties that connect them to both the early inhabitants of the Kurdistan area, such as the Hurrians, and the various incoming Aryan tribes.

Similarity to Europeans and peoples of the Caucasus
A study by Richards and colleagues of mitochondrial DNA in the Near East found that Kurds, Azeris, Ossetians and Armenians show a high incidence of MtDNA U5 lineages, which are common among Europeans, although rare elsewhere in the Near East. The sample of Kurds in this study came form northwest Iran and northeast Iraq, where Kurds usually predominate.

A geographically broad study of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor found that populations located west of the Indus Valley mainly harbor mtDNAs of western Eurasian origin.

When Ivan Nasidze and his colleagues examined both Mitochondrial and Y-Chromosome DNA, they found Kurdish groups 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.

Similarity to Georgian people
David Comas and colleagues found that Mitochondrial sequence pools in Georgians and Kurds are very similar, despite their different linguistic and prehistoric backgrounds. Both populations present mtDNA lineages that clearly belong to the Western Eurasian gene pool.

Similarity to Jewish people
There also appear to be some links to northern Semitic peoples such as the Syrians and possibly ancient Hebrews, but fewer links to southern Semites in the Arabian peninsula in spite of the region having been conquered very early by Muslim Arabs. In 2001 Nebel et al. compared three Jewish and three non-Jewish groups from the Middle East: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Kurdish Jews from Israel; Muslim Arabs from Israel and the Palestinian Authority Area; Bedouin from the Negev; and Muslim Kurds. 

They concluded that Kurdish and Sephardic Jews were indistinguishable from one another, whereas both differed slightly, yet significantly, from Ashkenazi Jews. Nebel et al. had earlier (2000) found a large genetic relationship between Jews and Palestinians, but in this study found an even higher relationship of Jews with Iraqi Kurds. They conclude that the common genetic background shared by Jews and other Middle Eastern groups predates the division of Middle Easterners into different ethnic groups.

Interestingly, Nebel et al. (2001) also found that the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH), considered the most definitive Jewish haplotype, was found among 10.1% of Kurdish Jews, 7.6% of Ashkenazim, 6.4% of Sephardim, 2.1% of Palestianian Arabs, and 1.1% of Kurds. The CMH and the most frequent Kurdish haplotype (MKH) were the same on five markers (out of six) and very close on the other marker. The MKH was shared by 9.5% of Kurds, 2.6% of Sephardim, 2.0% of Kurdish Jews, 1.4% of Palestinian Arabs, and 1.3% of Ashkenazim. The general conclusion is that these similarities result mostly from the sharing of ancient genetic patterns, and not from more recent admixture between the groups.