New research suggests Yiddish language has its origins in north-east Turkey
Most of the world's modern Jewish population, as well as the Yiddish language, come from Turkey and not other parts of the Middle East, according to a new study.
Dr Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield used a computer modelling system to convert Ashkenazi Jewish DNA - the Jewish communities historically located in Europe - data into geographical information, which revealed that 90 percent of Ashkenazi Jews descend from the Greeks, Iranians and others who colonised northern Anatolia (now northern Turkey) more than 2,000 years ago before converting to Judaism.
Dr Elhaik said he believed that that three still-surviving Turkish villages – Iskenaz, Eskenaz and Ashanaz – located in north-eastern Turkey made up part of the original Ashkenazi homeland and formed the nucleus that developed the modern Jewish language of Yiddish.
"We identified 367 people who claim they have two parents who are Ashkenazic Jews and we divided them into people whose parents only speak Yiddish and then everyone else," Eran Elhaik, the leader of the research, told Wired.
The three villages all derive from the word "Ashkenaz", which is the root of the word "Ashkenazi". Elhaik told Wired that north-east Turkey is the only place where the four place names exist.
Scholars had previously identified Yiddish as originally a Germanic or Slavic language, but Elhaik and others believe it was more likely developed in the 8th and 9th centuries CE, by Jewish merchants trading along the Silk Roads linking China and Europe.
Elhaik noted that the results were "surprising" as the area does not have a "rich history of Jews".
"We conclude that AJs [Ashkenazic Jews] probably originated during the first millennium when Iranian Jews judaised Greco-Roman, Turk, Iranian, southern Caucasus, and Slavic populations inhabiting the lands of Ashkenaz in Turkey," said the latest research, which has been published in the journal Genome Biology.
"Our findings imply that Yiddish was created by Slavo-Iranian Jewish merchants plying the Silk Roads between Germany, North Africa and China."
The debate over the ethnic origins of the Ashkenazi Jews has been fiercely fought by Jewish nationalists, Palestinians and anti-Semites all of whom argue that the resolution of the issue would impact on the claims of Jews to the modern land of Israel.
The theory that modern Ashkenazi Jews were originally converts from the ancient kingdom of Khazaria in Central Asia - and thus have no ancestral genetic links to the Biblical kingdom of Judea and the original Twelves Tribes of Israel - has been touted by some anti-Zionists as a means of denying the Zionist claims to historic Palestine.
“The closest genetic neighbours to most Jewish groups were the Palestinians, Israeli Bedouins, and Druze in addition to the Southern Europeans, including Cypriots,” wrote Harry Ostrer, professor of pediatrics and pathology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, and Karl Skorecki, director of medical and research development at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa in the journal Human Genetics in October 2012.