Kazakhstan Unveiled

by Nathan Hamm on 11/21/2006 · 12 comments

Kazakhstan’s embassy to the United States continues to make use of YouTube. Here’s the latest, which spokesman Roman Vassilenko calls “The true story of Kazakhstan!”

It strikes me as far, far better than their 30 second television advertisement if for no other reason than that it doesn’t mention Nazarbayev.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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borat boltok-ogli November 21, 2006 at 8:28 pm

these are disgusting fabrications by our enemies evil nitvits uzbekistan. demas roges domovon uzbekistan!

Ben November 23, 2006 at 3:20 pm

The music is much better in this one. Mr Vassilenko seems to become the cyber-ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

brejen November 23, 2006 at 11:55 pm

check out this uzbekistan ad, it’s fabulous


Kyrgyz kid November 27, 2006 at 1:42 am

Mr Sasha Cohen might have full rights to boast of Kazakh origin and Turkic-Mongolian Heritage!


Most modern day Jews are the descendants of Khazars, Mongolian -Turkic nation, converted to Judaism, next of kin to Kazakhs..

The Jewish surname Cohen is derived itself from Turkic-Mongolian Cahan, or Khan – the King.


Medieval Kingdom of Khazaria, 652-1016
Over a thousand years ago, the far east of Europe was ruled by Jewish kings who presided over numerous tribes, including their own tribe: the Turkic Khazars. After their conversion, the Khazar people used Jewish personal names, spoke and wrote in Hebrew, were circumcised, had synagogues and rabbis, studied the Torah and Talmud, and observed Hanukkah, Pesach, and the Sabbath. The Khazars were an advanced civilization with one of the most tolerant societies of the medieval period. It hosted merchants from all over Asia and Europe. On these pages it is hoped that you may learn more about this fascinating culture.

Nathan November 27, 2006 at 2:24 am

Cohen is not derived from any Altaic language. It is a Hebrew name of Biblical origins meaning “priest.” There is even a DNA signature, the “Cohen Modal Haplotype,” that is associated with the name (that has confirmed links of the Southern African Lemba people’s claim of Jewish heritage).

The Khazar conversion is certainly interesting, but little is known for certain about it. To say that most of all, let alone most European, Jews are descended from Khazars is extremely controversial and almost certainly inaccurate. In fact, it is far from clear that any Khazars aside from the royal family even converted to Judaism.

Kyrgyz kid November 27, 2006 at 8:46 pm

So, what the “Hebrew” name Halperin means? 🙂

Kyrgyz kid November 27, 2006 at 9:10 pm

The frequency of haplogroups R1a and Q in Altaian Turkic speakers is about 46/17 or a ratio of ~2.7, while in Ashkenazi Jews it is 12/5, or a ratio of ~2.4.

“Southern African Lemba people’s claim of Jewish heritage”

I am claiming something quite contrary: The modern Ashkenazi Jews descended from Ural-Altaic Mongolian-Turkic Khazars. They aren’t the Biblical jews. And who are the real Jews? Sephardims?

Kyrgyz kid November 27, 2006 at 9:14 pm

So, Borat Cohen IS in a way Kazakh, or Khazar. He isn’t biblical Jew.


Ellen Levy-Coffman

The Jewish community has been the focus of extensive genetic study over the past decade in an attempt to better understand the origins of this group. In particular, those descended from Northwestern and Eastern European Jewish groups, known as “Ashkenazim,” have been the subject of numerous DNA studies examining both the Y chromosome and mitochondrial genetic evidence.

The focus of the present study is to analyze and reassess Ashkenazi results obtained by DNA researchers and synthesize them into a coherent picture of Jewish genetics, interweaving historical evidence in order to obtain a more accurate depiction of the complex genetic history of this group. Many of the DNA studies on Ashkenazim fail to adequately address the complexity of the genetic evidence, in particular, the significant genetic contribution of European and Central Asian peoples in the makeup of the contemporary Ashkenazi population. One important contribution to Ashkenazi DNA appears to have originated with the Khazars, an ancient people of probable Central Asian stock that lived in southern Russia during the 8th-12th centuries CE. Significant inflow of genes from European host populations over the centuries is also supported by the DNA evidence. The present study analyzes not only the Middle Eastern component of Ashkenazi ancestry, but also the genetic contribution from European and Central Asian sources that appear to have had an important impact on Ashkenazi ancestry.


The word “Jew” has a mosaic of meanings: it defines a follower of the Jewish faith, a person who has at least one Jewish parent, or a member of a particular ethnic group (“Jewish”). There are many Jews who do not practice Judaism as a religion but define themselves as “Jewish” by virtue of their family’s heritage and identification with the culture and history of the Jewish people.

Thus, Judaism is a mosaic of culture, religion, ethnicity, and for some, a way of life. It is an identity that is not quite a nationality, but neither is it a simple ethnic or cultural phenomenon either. This unusual combination of characteristics, coupled with Jewish resistance over the centuries to assimilation and strong adherence to their religious faith, has contributed to the intense feelings of curiosity, hatred, admiration, attraction and hostility by the rest of the world.

However, it would soon become very clear that Jewish DNA was much more complicated than was presented by the media in their reporting of the Cohanim data. And Jewish Khazarian ancestry would come to the public’s attention yet again when another DNA study was conducted, this time on the Jewish priestly group known as the Levites.

The Khazars: A Jewish Kingdom in Europe

Author Arthur Koestler (1976) is generally credited for bringing the unique history of the Khazars to the attention of the public. The decades that have past since the publication of his book have not dampened its highly controversial nature.

The country of the Khazars lay in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas, between the Caucasus Mountains and the Volga River. There, between the ever-invading Muslim Arabs and the Christian Byzantine Empire, a peculiar thing occurred – a Jewish empire arose. In 740 CE, the Khazarian King, his court and military ruling class all embraced the Jewish faith. This large scale official conversion of an ethnically non-Jewish people is well attested to in Arab, Byzantine, Russian and Hebrew sources (Koestler 1976, pp.13-15).

The rationale behind such conversion continues to both puzzle and fascinate historians – why would a people, despite political pressure from two great powers, chose a religion which had no support from any political power, but was rather persecuted by all? Whatever the reason, the Jewish Khazars continued to rule their kingdom until the 12th-13th century, when their empire finally dissolved. The fate of the Khazars after the fall of their empire remains a subject of great controversy among researchers.

The Khazars are often described as “a people of Turkish stock,” although such description is misleading (Koestler 1976, p. 13). Although the Khazars spoke a Turkish dialect believed to be related to that spoken today by the peoples of the Chuvash Soviet Republic, their ethnic origins remains a matter of debate. Many of the Eurasian tribes driven westward by the Chinese, including the Huns, were labeled under the generic term of “Turk.” The origin of the word “Khazar” most likely derives from the Turkish root “gaz,” meaning “to wander” or simply “nomad.” (Koestler 1976, p. 21).

Given that the Khazarian kingdom arose in the area of today’s Ukraine, it is likely that there was a significant amount of indigenous Eastern European ancestry among this group. And, in fact, the various descriptions of the Khazars provided by ancient writers attest to the probable heterogeneous ethnic mixture in this group.

According to an 11th century Arab chronicler Ibn-al-Balkhi, the Khazars are

. . . to the north of the inhabited earth towards the 7th clime, having over their heads the constellation of the Plough. Their land is cold and wet. Accordingly their complexions are white, their eyes blue, their hair flowing and predominately reddish, their bodies large and their natures cold. Their general aspect is wild” (Koestler 1976, p. 19). An Armenian writer described them as having “insolent, broad, lashless faces and long falling hair, like women. (Koestler 1976, p. 20).

A slightly more flattering picture is provided by Arab geographer Istakhri:

The Khazars do not resemble the Turks. They are black-haired, and are of two kinds, one called the Kara-Khazars [Black Khazars] who are swarthy verging on deep black as if they were kind of Indian, and a white kind [Ak-Khazars], who are strikingly handsome. (Koestler 1976, p. 20)

However, Koestler (1976, p. 22) cautions the reader not to place too much weight on this description, since it was customary among Turkish peoples to refer to the ruling classes as “white” and the lower clans as “black.”

It is clear that the Khazars were closely connected to the Huns, who themselves are an ethnic mystery. The Byzantine rhetorician Priscus, who was part of an embassy to Attila the Hun’s court in 448 CE, reported that a people known as the “Akatzirs” or “White Khazars” were subjects of the Huns. According to Koestler (1976, p. 23), “Priscus’s chronicle confirms that the Khazars appeared on the European scene about the middle of the fifth century as a people under Hunnish sovereignty, and may be regarded, together with the Magyars and other tribes, as a later offspring of Attila’s horde.” After the collapse of the Hunnish Empire following Attila’s death, the confederation of tribes known as the Khazars eventually gained supremacy in the southern half of Eastern Europe, retaining control of this region for nearly four centuries.

What became a matter of dispute among historians was the fate of the Jewish Khazars after the destruction of their empire in the 12th- 13th centuries. Koestler argued that remnants of the Khazar tribes migrated into regions of Eastern Europe where the greatest concentrations of Jews were found, eventually merging with those pre-existing communities. In fact, Koestler’s controversial argument was that the Khazars emigrated in substantial enough numbers to have had a significant genetic impact on contemporary Jewish ancestry.

With the advent of DNA studies, the question of whether contemporary Jews could trace any part of their ancestry back to the Khazars became a tantalizing mystery to try to solve. While the Cohanim DNA writers attempted to close the book on this question, evidence from another important genetic study, that of the Jewish Levite priests, made it apparent that the Khazarian debate was far from over.

The Levites: The DNA of the Jewish Khazarian Priests

The other Jewish priestly caste is known as the “Levites.” Like the Cohanim, Levites are recorded in the Hebrew Bible as direct descendants of Aaron, Israel’s first High Priest. In fact, the Cohanim are actually a special subsection of the Levites (Telushkin 1997, p. 125).

In the second study published on the Cohanim, researchers reported that despite a priori expectations, Jews who identified themselves as Levites did not share a common set of markers with the Cohanim (Thomas et al. 1998). Unfortunately, the reporting that the Levites did not share a genetic signature from a common patrilineal ancestor with the Cohanim flew in the face of Jewish tradition. This led to some rather bizarre and disparaging explanations, like the following from Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman (1999) in Jewish Action:

It is interesting to note that the tribe of Levi has a history of lack of quantity…After the Babylonian exile, the Levi’im (plural) failed to return en masse to Jerusalem, though urged by Ezra the Scribe to do so (They were therefore fined by losing their exclusive rights to maser.). Though statistically, the Levi’im should be more numerous than Cohanim, in synagogues today it is not unusual to have a minyan with a surplus of Cohanim, yet not one Levi.

In point of fact, the Levites were shown to have a common set of genetic markers – just not the CMH. These markers were not even part of the same J1 haplogroup as found in the Cohanim. The majority of Levites shared a common haplotype, indicating a shared common ancestor among them, but this haplotype occurred within haplogroup R1a and, more specifically, within subgroup R1a1. Furthermore, this haplogroup was found only in the Ashkenazi Levites; it was not shared with the Sephardic Levite population in the same fashion as the CMH. Given the fact that the Ashkenazi Levites did not share R1a with their Sephardic counterparts, it appeared that this haplogroup had entered the Jewish population sometime during the Diaspora.

In one of the first studies to closely examine the high levels of R1a among Levites, researchers found that R1al formed a “tight cluster” within the Ashkenazi Levites (Behar et al. 2003). This suggested to the researchers a very recent origin of this group from a single common ancestor (Behar et al. 2003).

In a subsequent Levite study, the modal haplotype reported for Ashkenazi R1a1, known as “H6,” was reported to occur twice as often as the second most common R1a1 haplotype among Ashkenazim, known as “H10” (Nebel et al. 2005). Out of a sample of 55 individuals, 25 had haplotype “H6” and 12 had haplotype “H10” (Nebel et al. 2005, Supplementary Material).

Nathan November 27, 2006 at 10:02 pm

But if you read on to the conclusion of the article, you’ll see that the point is not that Ashkenazim are Khazars, but that they are a mix of a lot of different peoples. That is unsurprising, as many Europeans are. (Most Europeans carry genetic markers showing a Central Asian past.)

Koestler’s assertion, that Khazars make up a significant part of the ancestry of the Ashkenazim, which you are repeating, is not supported by the evidence. They share genetic markers with the Sephardim and mtDNA and Y-Chromosome markers in the Ashkenazim both show a very significant Middle Eastern heritage. This study finds that 40% of the current Ashkenazim are descended from four women who lived in the Middle East in the 1st-2nd centuries.

Kyrgyz kid November 28, 2006 at 2:22 am

So, what the “Hebrew” name Halperin means? 🙂

Kyrgyz kid November 28, 2006 at 2:26 am

There are opinions contradicting your views:

“The Y chromosomes of Ashkenazic and Sephardic levites show no particular simularity. … There is, however, a strong genetic signature common to 52% of Ashkenazic levites. It is a set of genetic variations belonging to a branch of the world Y chromosome tree known as R1a1. To judge by the amount of variation on these levite R1a1 chromosomes, the original ancestor seems to have entered the Jewish community about 1,000 years ago, roughly the time when Jewish settlement in northwest Europe began, in other words at the founding of the Ashkenazic community. The geneticists who discovered the R1a1 signature among the levites, a team that included Skorecki, Hammer and Goldstein, note that outside the Jewish community the R1a1 chromosome is relatively common in the region north of Georgia, in the Caucasus, that was once occupied by the Khazar kingdom. The Khazars were a Turkic tribe whose king converted to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century AD.

Carol Gene Cohen December 27, 2006 at 6:06 am

I have heard that those of the Khazar kingdom who converted to Judaism were called Kogans and became Levites. My husband’s grandfather was a Kogan who was also a Levi. He originated somewhere around Bendery (Teghina). Can you help clarify this? Thank you, Carol Cohen

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