The people closest to the Jews from a genetic point of view may be the Kurds, according to results of a new study at the Hebrew University.
Scientists who participated in the research said the findings seem to indicate both peoples had common ancestors who lived in the northern half of the fertile crescent, where northern Iraq and Turkey are today. Some of them, it is assumed, wandered south in pre-historic times and settled on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
Professor Ariella Oppenheim and Dr. Marina Feirman, who carried out the research at the Hebrew University, said they were surprised to find a closer genetic connection between the Jews and the populations of the fertile crescent than between the Jews and their Arab neighbors. Oppenheim pointed out that previous research of DNA of Jews, including her own work, had revealed great genetic similarity between Jews and Arabs, particularly Palestinians from Israel and the territories.
The present study, however, involved more detailed and thorough examinations than previous research. In addition, this was the first comparison of the DNA of Jews and Kurds.
Genetic similarity between peoples is measured by comparing the frequency of genetic mutations among them. This information makes it possible to reconstruct their paths of migration and to discover their unwritten history. The present study, however, reveals only part of the story, since it is based on mutations of the Y chromosome. Since this chromosome, which determines male gender, is passed only from father to son, it does not contain information about the mothers' contributions to the genetic reservoir under study.
The study's findings are published in the current issue of The American Journal of Human Genetics.
The researchers used the DNA of 1,847 Jewish men of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Kurdish descent; Muslims and Christians of Kurdish, Turkish and Armenian descent; various Arab populations; and Russians, Poles and residents of Belarus.