A group of Ashkenazic Jews in Jerusalem, circa 1885 Getty Images
By David Keys, 19 April 2016
Israeli-born geneticist believes the Turkish villages of Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz were part of the original homeland for Ashkenazic Jews
New research suggests that the majority of the world’s modern Jewish population is descended mainly from people from ancient Turkey, rather than predominantly from elsewhere in the Middle East.
The new research suggests that most of the Jewish population of northern and eastern Europe – normally known as Ashkenazic Jews – are the descendants of Greeks, Iranians and others who colonized what is now northern Turkey more than 2000 years ago and were then converted to Judaism, probably in the first few centuries AD by Jews from Persia. At that stage, the Persian Empire was home to the world’s largest Jewish communities.
According to research carried out by the geneticist, Dr Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield, over 90 per cent of Ashkenazic ancestors come from that converted partially Greek-originating ancient community in north-east Turkey.
His research is based on genetic, historical and place-name evidence. For his geographic genetic research, Dr Elhaik used a Geographic Population Structure computer modelling system to convert Ashkenazic Jewish DNA data into geographical information.
Dr Elhaik, an Israeli-born geneticist who gained his doctorate in molecular evolution from the University of Houston, believes that three still-surviving Turkish villages – Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz – on the western part of an ancient Silk Road route were part of the original Ashkenazic homeland. He believes that the word Ashkenaz originally comes from Ashguza – the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian name for the Iron Age Eurasian steppeland people, the Scythians.
Referring to the names of the three Turkish villages, Dr Elhaik points out that “north-east Turkey is the only place in the world where these place-names exist”.