Of Iran, Turan, and Turks

By Razib Khan | September 17, 2010 12:27 pm

uzbekmanThere’s a new paper out in The European Journal of Human Genetics which is of great interest because it surveys the genetic and linguistic affinities of two dozen ethno-linguistic groups from the three Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This is what the Greeks referred to as Transoxiana, and the Persians as Turan. Originally inhabited by peoples with close cultural affinities with those of Persia, indeed, likely the root of the peoples of Persia, by the historical period Turan developed a distinctive identity as a frontier or march. It was in Turan where the Turk met the Iranian (a class which included non-Persian groups, such as the Sogdians), from the pre-Islamic Sassanians down to the present day. It is a region of the world which has a very ancient urban culture, cities such as Merv, as well as peoples that were only recently nomads, forcibly made sedentary by the Soviet regime.

To add another twist to the picture many of the ethno-linguistic groups which we are familiar with today and which serve as the cores of the new Central Asian nations only came into being within the last few centuries, with a particular “push” from Russian Imperial and Soviet ethnologists who were tasked with fleshing out national identities with which the center could negotiate. A “Tajik” is after all simply part of the Persian-speaking residual population of Central Asia, spreading down into Afghanistan. The carving out of an independent Tajikistan out of the Central Asian landscape is as much a creation of the modern age as the state of Israel. The “Uzbek” identity was once simply that of the ruling caste of Transoxiana who came to power after the decline of the Timurids. Today it is an appellation which brackets the settled Turkic speaking peoples of Uzbekistan and beyond.

ResearchBlogging.orgInto this near Gordian knot of history and ideology walk the naive and well-meaning geneticists. There is no great objection one can make to the genetics within the paper, but the historical framework and some of the assertions are peculiar and tendentious indeed. It’s a problem which starts within the abstract. In the heartland of Eurasia: the multilocus genetic landscape of Central Asian populations:

Located in the Eurasian heartland, Central Asia has played a major role in both the early spread of modern humans out of Africa and the more recent settlements of differentiated populations across Eurasia. A detailed knowledge of the peopling in this vast region would therefore greatly improve our understanding of range expansions, colonizations and recurrent migrations, including the impact of the historical expansion of eastern nomadic groups that occurred in Central Asia. However, despite its presumable importance, little is known about the level and the distribution of genetic variation in this region. We genotyped 26 Indo-Iranian- and Turkic-speaking populations, belonging to six different ethnic groups, at 27 autosomal microsatellite loci. The analysis of genetic variation reveals that Central Asian diversity is mainly shaped by linguistic affiliation, with Turkic-speaking populations forming a cluster more closely related to East-Asian populations and Indo-Iranian speakers forming a cluster closer to Western Eurasians. The scattered position of Uzbeks across Turkic- and Indo-Iranian-speaking populations may reflect their origins from the union of different tribes. We propose that the complex genetic landscape of Central Asian populations results from the movements of eastern, Turkic-speaking groups during historical times, into a long-lasting group of settled populations, which may be represented nowadays by Tajiks and Turkmen. Contrary to what is generally thought, our results suggest that the recurrent expansions of eastern nomadic groups did not result in the complete replacement of local populations, but rather into partial admixture.

In my initial comment on this paper in a link round-up I wondered what the authors were thinking making such a comment: anyone who knows Central Asians would see on their faces that the Turks did not completely replace the local populations. The image above is of an Uzbek man, who does not exhibit any visible “Mongolian” features. This is not the norm, but is not unheard of. Even populations which are presumed to have less Iranian admixture, such as the Kazakhs, exhibit a range of physical types. It would be one thing if this reference was an isolated peculiarity, but there are other comments within the paper which indicate to me that the research group’s familiarity with the non-genetic literature is cursory at best. They refer to Huns as having “brought the East-Asian anthropological phenotype to Central Asia.” There is no clear definite foundation for this assertion. Unfortunately historians do not have a clear idea what the ethno-linguistic character of the Huns was. By the time Roman observers encountered them the Hunnic horde seems to have been predominantly German, with a Iranian (Alan) secondary component, the Huns themselves being a small elite (Attila’s name itself may be Gothic). In light of subsequent eruptions into Europe of Turkic and Ugric nomads it is easy to slot the Huns into this exotic category, but the primary literature makes it clear that you can’t ascertain their ethnic character from the contemporary sources (the “White Huns” of Central and South Asia had no real connection to the Huns of Europe).

Near the end of the paper they say something really peculiar: “The Westernized view of westward invasions usually emphasizes the extreme violence and cruelty of the hordes led by Attila the Hun (AD 406–453), or that from the Mongolian empire led by Genghis Khan. However, our results somehow challenge this view and rather suggest that these more recent expansions did not lead to the massacre and complete replacement of the locally settled populations….” It is true that European observers of the Mongol expansion did not have a sanguine attitude. But the idea that Mongols were genocidal exterminationists really comes to us via the Islamic historians, for whom the Mongol conquests were totally shocking and a literal world-turned-upside-down moment. The Mongol conquests did seem to result in a decline in population between Mesopotamia and Transoxiana. Whole cities in Central Asia were depopulated. There is an assumption that the Mongol conquests marks the turning point where Central Asia passed from being a predominantly Iranian world with a Turkic military elite (which was to be the nature of Iran proper until the 20th century) to a Turkic world with a large Persian minority. Though the military conquests of the Mongols were important punctuating events, I do not believe that scholars today would assume that they produced an ethnic shift in toto. On the contrary, the null hypothesis is generally against migrationism.

With those preliminaries out of the way, what’s going on with the genetics? Below are the less interesting tables & figures. The first is important because it has the abbreviations which they use. Basically anything that starts with a “T” are Indo-Iranian Tajiks, and everything else is Turkic, except LUzn LUza, who are Indo-Iranian Uzbek nationals, but I presume would be ethnic Tajiks in Uzbekistan (this stuff is really confusing in regards to labels, because as I said the national categories are to some extent ad hoc impositions on more ancient identities which don’t always follow the European language = nation formula). The second image is a figure which shows the sampling of locations, as well as pie charts with ancestral quanta. The third image is a table which shows that Indo-Iranians are genetically more varied than Turks. While the fourth is a STRUCTURE plot which I reedited to zoom in on peoples of interest for this study, as well removing some of the lower K’s. Remember that each K is a putative ancestral population. As Dienekes notes since they used only 27 microsatellite markers across their 26 populations, the plot may inflate minor ancestral contributions.

no images were found

Of more interest is the correspondence analysis, which is conceptually similar to principal component analysis. The variate inputs are allele counts. I’ve obviously reedited the figure a bit, and added some labels (yeah, I ended up thinking that rotating after I’d added some labels was best, sorry). Note the clear color-coding of Turkic vs. Iranian Central Asian groups.

turkiraneurasian

There’s a clear separation linguistically between Iranian speaking and Turkic speaking groups in Central Asia. Some of the Turkic groups are close to Iranian groups, closer than to other Turkic groups, but still the two broad sets have a coherent identity. Undergirding the linguistic variation is classical geographic variation. The eastern Turkic groups seem the least impacted by the Iranian substrate which was dominant before the arrival of Turks, while the Turcoman group sampled from western Uzbekistan seems to have been the most genetically “Iranized.” In a world wide context the central position of Central Asians is not surprising. Interestingly the Iranian groups of Central Asia seem to overlap rather well with the Indo-Iranian groups from the HGDP data set. In contrast, the Turkic groups are distributed along a linear axis from East Asians to the Iranian cluster. This is the same pattern evident among African Americans as individuals. It’s a two-way admixture, with different dosage degrees by population as a function of history and geography (I presume you’d see the same pattern if it was broken down on individuals with a SNP-chip).

admixMoving to the explicit admixture estimates, the labels leave something to be desired. The shaded area is for Turkic speakers. The very last group, TJY, indicates the Yagnobis of Dushanbe. I happen to know offhand that the Yagnobis are reputed to be descendants of the Sogdians, having preserved their language and Zoroastrian religion relatively late in history before switching to Tajik and Islam. Like many ethno-linguistic relics these people preserved their independent identity after the Arab conquest, which saw the decline of Sogdian influence on the Silk Road, by taking refuge in isolated regions. It is no surprise then that this group shows the least East Asian admixture of all the Iranian samples, as they were isolated from many of the social and historical processes which were operative in Transoxiana after the conquest by the Arabs, and the later pushing in of the zone of Turkic hegemony after the fall of the Samanids.

These admixture estimates definitely put the spotlight on the role of Central Asia as a nexus of sorts. In the archaeology and history it is clear that Central Asia has been affected by peoples of European, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and East Asian origin. Central Asia itself has been the mother of empires, famously the seat of Timur, but also the original base of what later became the Abbasid dynasty. At one point the Caliphate was split between western and eastern factions and there was a possibility that the capital would be relocated from Baghdad to the Central Asian city of Merv! I do not believe that the Arabs had a strong genetic impact, nor was there a large South Asian migration in recent periods into Central Asia. So the admixture estimates adduced for these groups may be due to the natural cline in allele frequencies which are found in different peripheral Eurasian populations. Frequencies which are naturally intermediate in Central Asia. The main caveat is that it is probable that local conditions will vary a great deal. In contrast we have strong reason to suspect that the East Asian component arrived relatively recently with the Turks, and we see that its aspect is most evident among the groups which were nomadic within living memory, the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. These two ethnicities, which are really compounds of several tribes or “hordes,” were only marginally integrated into sedentary Islamic society where the Tajik element would be prominent (shamanism among many of these tribes only disappeared under the influence of the Islamic missionaries sponsored by Russian Empire). I think this pattern is reinforced by what we saw in the correspondence analysis, where the Turkic groups exhibited a linear distribution toward East Asia, while the Iranian ones were placed where you’d expect them geographically. Finally, I want to note that Dienekes observes that using South Asians as a Central Asian population source is strange since South Asia is more appropriately thought of as a demographic sink for Turan. True, but the HGDP populations are strongly biased toward groups with relatively little indigenous South Asian ancestry, with the Sindhi being the only Indo-Aryan speakers within the set. So I think that objection is mitigated by these factors. Rather, the Iranian-speaking Pakistani groups serve as proxies for the original Central Asian Iranian substrate, from which both they and the Tajiks presumably derive.

Moving back to the Turk vs. Iranian distinction, the authors note that the Turkic groups exhibit a strong degree of genetic homogeneity on the Y chromosomal lineages. This points to the possible manner in which the East Asian genetic element spread in Central Asia, not necessarily just through population displacement, but also through polygamy and the high reproductive fitness of particular “super-male” lineages. The children of elite Turkic men who took Iranian wives presumably adopted the culture of their fathers, including the linguistic identity. This may have been particularly easy in Central Asia because they did not have to repudiate their maternal heritage in totality, as Persian culture still had great status and currency. If we partition the ancestry into “East Eurasian” and “West Eurasian” components the Turkic groups have much more of the latter than the Iranian ones have of the former. That stands to reason as the Turks were newcomers, and an elite which the locals would wish to assimilate to if they had the opportunity. In contrast, the shift from Turk to Iranian may have been rarer, and a switch which individuals would wish to avoid since the latter did not have the same level of temporal power. Over ~1,500 years gene flow does occur between the groups, and even the Yagnobis have appreciable East Asian ancestry. Eventually the linguistic differences would probably be dwarfed by the geographical ones, but currently we’re taking a snapshot of a “transient.”

It’s complicated. And one has to be very careful about using terms like “Turk” in a localized context, vs. a more international one. The Turks of Turkey are overwhelming derived from the same source populations as their Balkan (because of Rumelian Turks), Iranian, and Armenian, neighbors. The decline in East Asian fraction is evident even in this sample, as the Turcomans from western Uzbekistan have the least eastern ancestry of any of the groups. But this paper is an excellent within into a critical geographical hinge of genetic variation and historical tumult (though one must set aside some of their tacked-on historical speculations).

Citation: Martínez-Cruz B, Vitalis R, Ségurel L, Austerlitz F, Georges M, Théry S, Quintana-Murci L, Hegay T, Aldashev A, Nasyrova F, & Heyer E (2010). In the heartland of Eurasia: the multilocus genetic landscape of Central Asian populations. European journal of human genetics : EJHG PMID: 20823912

Image Credit: Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Genetics, Genomics, History
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  • onur

    In contrast we have strong reason to suspect that the East Asian component arrived relatively recently with the Turks, and we see that its aspect is most evident among the groups which were nomadic within living memory, the Kazakhs and Kyrgyz.

    All of it (including that among the Iranian-speakers)? I am putting the Mongols and the other post-Turkic expansion Altaic arrivals in the “Turk” category here.

    BTW, is there any news from my deleted post?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    All of it (including that among the Iranian-speakers)?

    perhaps not ALL. but i bet most. if the uyghurs are a recent stabilized hybrid, as the work on their linkage disequilibrium suggests, i think that implies that east asian populations were relatively isolated from those of west and central eurasia for ecological reasons. with the rise of nomadism i suspect that populations could settle the ‘gaps’ between and you had more gene flow. but the yagnobis show only ~5% mongolian, and they’re probably the best representative of pre-islamic iranians n that sample. at 5% i bet they could have gotten that recently (the sample is from tajikstan’s capital).

    BTW, is there any news from my deleted post?

    techs are looking at it, but i don’t have an ETA. looks like this install of WP is a little different from what i’m used to. sorry about that, as i said, my fault (more precisely, my laptop is a little ‘jumpy’).

  • onur

    I think only ancient DNA can illuminate us on this matter. What does ancient DNA say on this matter? I remember to have read about pre-Turkic (Iron Age?) existence of Mongoloid haplogroups and phenotypes (probably mixed with Caucasoid) in Central Asia (Kazakhstan?). There were very ancient (probably pre-Turkic) Mongoloid peoples (again probably mixed with Caucasoid) in Xinjiang too if I remember correctly.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    I remember to have read about pre-Turkic (Iron Age?) existence of Mongoloid haplogroups and phenotypes (probably mixed with Caucasoid) in Central Asia (Kazakhstan?). There were very ancient (probably pre-Turkic) Mongoloid peoples (again probably mixed with Caucasoid) in Xinjiang too if I remember correctly.

    ancient DNA can resolve, but other stuff can illuminate. anyway, re: ancient DNA, the older stuff from xinjiang looks eurpoid from what i remember, though that’s mostly uniparental lineages. i believe that east asian and european peoples did blend into each other along the southern fringe of the taiga though. my only contention would be that in the southern regions where grasslands verges into semi-desert human habitation was probably spotty enough that that’s why we see the emergence of relatively recent hybrid populations like the uyghurs.

    some arguments i made a few years back
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2008/04/the-inner-asian-gap-the-afanasievo-breakthrough/

  • jeet

    shamanism among many of these tribes only disappeared under the influence of the Islamic missionaries sponsored by Russian Empire

    Interesting…can you recommend further reading on this, Razib?

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    “Originally inhabited by peoples with close cultural affinities with those of Persia, indeed, likely the root of the peoples of Persia, by the historical period Turan developed a distinctive identity as a frontier or march. It was in Turan where the Turk met the Iranian (a class which included non-Persian groups, such as the Sogdians), from the pre-Islamic Sassanians down to the present day.”

    Great piece.

    Just a thought occured to me “Turan” (Central Asia) is to Iran what Pakistan is to the Subcontinent.

    The original genesis of the civilisation happens on the Frontier which then migrates to the protected heartland but the Frontier, where the civilisation originated, then starts to diverge historically and genetically.

    Of course I imagine that Pakistanis are more “Indian” than Central Asians are Iranian but its just a very interesting analogy. Also the Brits re-Indianised West Punjab through the canal system.

  • onur

    then starts to diverge historically and genetically

    I don’t think that the territory that is today called Pakistan has changed genetically much after the Aryan invasion of India, as linguistically the territory of Pakistan has to a very very large extent kept its local Indo-Aryan and Iranian tongues down to the present day and even ethnic identities have been largely kept intact since at least the first historical records of that region. The only major change in the territory of Pakistan since the Aryan invasion of India is the switch in religion from the Indo-Aryan and Iranian pagan religions to Islam, but I don’t think that the switch to Islam was accompanied by a significant genetic change, it was a process of change in religion through elite domination.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    I agree Onur but I was also thinking of the recent incursions of the Pathans and Baloch.

    For instance apparently 40% of Sindhis have Baloch roots; extraordinarily high number.

    Obviously South Asia is a segmented tribal society, so different tribes will have different roots but I agree that it remains overwhelming South Asian.

  • onur

    Pathans (=Pashtuns) and the Baloch already lived in the territory of Pakistan in pre-Islamic times, more or less in the same regions they live today.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    Really I thought it was an invasion around 1000 AD?

    Need to read up more.

  • onur

    Which invasion do you mean?

  • omar

    Zachary, you need to keep some things in mind when discussing these matters from a Pakistani perspective:
    1. Punjab was NOT a peripheral part of whatever you want to call “Indian civilization”. The Rig Veda was mostly composed in greater Punjab. The Mahabharata’s battles were fought in Eastern Punjab. Punjab was the largest revenue generating province in almost every major North Indian dynasty. There are temples in Punjab that are thousands of years old (mostly ruins now in Western Punjab, of course). The notion that Punjab is some kind of “frontier” with a history and a culture sharply distinguished from the rest of North India is a Pakistani myth.
    2. Even in Pakhtoonkhwah, there were old and well settled Hindu populations in EVERY urban center prior to partition. Still, one can make a good case that culturally and genetically you are entering a transition zone once you cross the Indus towards the West.
    3. Obviously, invasion from the northwest would pass through the Punjab first, but there has been a systematic effort to project a mythology of Punjabis as uniquely un-resistant to foreign invasion, a fact that is usually presented as a genetic rather than cultural insight (people from Pakistan will know what I am talking about). This idea has more to do with the anti-punjabi prejudices of Urdu-speaking North Indian Muslim elites than with any particular genetic propensity of punjabis.
    Once you clear your head of various distortions introduced by Pakistan studies textbooks (and hopefully do so without replacing them with equally stupid distortions favored by Hindutva historians) you may start to see things in a different light…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Punjab was NOT a peripheral part of whatever you want to call “Indian civilization”. The Rig Veda was mostly composed in greater Punjab. The Mahabharata’s battles were fought in Eastern Punjab. Punjab was the largest revenue generating province in almost every major North Indian dynasty. There are temples in Punjab that are thousands of years old (mostly ruins now in Western Punjab, of course). The notion that Punjab is some kind of “frontier” with a history and a culture sharply distinguished from the rest of North India is a Pakistani myth.

    1) i think the idea of punjab as peripheral/non-peripheral has be problemetized. your facts are correct, but from what i have read many hindus did view punjab as peripheral to “aryavarta” in our historical period. the usual explanation for this is that punjab’s location made it often subject to foreign powers (persians), or, the indian heartland of groups with foreign origins (kushanas). one can find analogies in other civilizations where geography ended up defining the core vs. periphery (much of north china which was the core eventually lost that status de facto within the last 1,000 years as the demographic center of gravity shifted south and east).

    2) where did you read that punjab was the primary source of tax revenues? i’m curious, as i had read other stuff about how the mughal conquest of bengal produced a surfeit of wealth. in the pre-modern period the differences in wealth per capita were marginal between regions, so what really mattered were peasants one could steal from. india had a lot more than iran, which is why india was “rich” (rich pickings for elite thieves).

    3) i agree that the idea that there is a discontinuity between punjab and the gangetic plain is probably hard to justify.

  • omar

    About revenue from Punjab, I will have to look up the reference, but I do remember reading that years ago (and have used it in comments since then) and it made sense to me. Its not just the number of peasants, its also the productivity of the land and the size of the cultivated region. Punjab (as defined in Mughal and British times) was rather huge, extending all the way from the Indus to the outskirts of Delhi and down to what is now the border of Sindh. It is possible that Bengal was equally productive though, so some of this may be nationalist exaggeration (by Punjabi and Bengali historians respectively). Hard numbers are probably few and far between for pre-British times and a lot of conjecture and “oriental exaggeration” makes its way into history books….
    The culture, especially in the villages, is definitely very “Indian” and equally definitely very different from central asia, but ideology being what it is, I have heard (and read) the foreign secretary of Pakistan making the case for regarding Pakistan as a central asian country and not an “Indian” country. I have always wanted to ask him what central asian languages he speaks, what central asian movies he watches and so on, but have not had the chance yet. The mullah who married me in New York was from Pakistan and over snacks after the wedding he expounded upon his pet theory that the biggest mistake Jeena bhai made was to declare Urdu as our National language. If we had only opted for Arabic, things woudl be so much better in Pakistan. I asked him if he spoke Arabic and he said unfortunately, he did not speak it, though of course he could read it and knew the meanings of most of the quranic arabic he read…..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    . Its not just the number of peasants, its also the productivity of the land and the size of the cultivated region.

    no, this is wrong. think about this is a malthusian world. productivity is always swallowed by population. that’s why there are 200 million bengali speakers in the world. the inferred wealth differences per capita circa 1000 AD are always around 25%. that’s because in a malthusian world differences were leveled by population very quickly. so it comes down to population. in *islam and the bengal frontier* the author argues that much of eastern bengal was cleared and settled relatively recently, within the last 500 years. tax receipts are proportional to fewer variates in the pre-modern world. e.g., how many people to steal from? how easy is it to steal from these people? (so nomads are harder to steal from than peasants since they can disappear easily)

    p.s. if you want to argue productivity per unit land bengal will always win over punjab, because rice always beats wheat all things equal. that’s why the center of demographic gravity shifted south in china, more people can live on the same unit of land for rice.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    btw, i don’t have a strong opinion re: tax receipts. i can certainly believe that the gupta or delhi sultanate got more receipts from punjab. though i had read that the mughal conquest of bengal resulted in a particular surfeit, and that that region was understood to be the wealthiest in the later period. by wealthiest i mean simply in aggregate GDP, not per capita. this is backed up by the 1871 british census, which showed it to be so populous.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    There is a very significant difference between West and East Punjab. Also that’s why in Pakistan we have the Siraiki movement; there are several sub-regions in the Punjab (in the Pakistani ones) that have very distinct histories.

    Omar I grew up in ISB and completely did not get point number 3.

    Mind you I’m one of the Pakistanis who advocate we should embrace our Indian/Hindu heritage far more than we do (more saris say I) but there is a case that there was a level of some distinction between the northwest and the rest just as there was for present Bangladesh and the rest of the India. Apparently when the river Padma converged into the Ganges it created fertile settlement and at the time north India/Bengal was ruled by Muslims so Muslims settled Bangladesh. I’m paraphrasing very badly “The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760″

    http://hudsoncress.net/hudsoncress.org/html/library/history-travel/Eaton,%20Richard%20-%20The%20Rise%20of%20Islam%20and%20the%20Bengal%20Frontier.pdf

    The notion of one Punjab is actually a recreation of the British irrigation works also the Hindkos of NWFP are Lahnda speakers (a language classification which has admittedly under dispute).

    Also the idea of a Hindu and Sikh settled population in West Punjab; alot of the migration actually happened during the British era so for instance in Partition some Sikh clans used to remigrate back to their homes in the East. This is not too imply that there were no indigenous Hindus/Sikhs in West Punjab (the amount of Gurudwaras and Mandirs are testament to that) but that prior to the British West Punjab was very tribal and very Muslim.

    http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Punjab

    The Punjab may be divided into four great natural divisions: the Himalayan tract, the submontane tract, the eastern and Natural western plains and the Salt range tract, which have Divisions. characteristics widely different from each other. The Himalayan tract, which includes the Punjab hill states, consists of 20,000 sq. m. of sparsely inhabited mountain, with tiny hamlets perched on the hill-sides or nestling in the valleys. The people consist chiefly of Rajputs, Kanets, Ghiraths, Brahmans and Dagis or menials. The eastern and western plains, which are divided from each other by a line passing through Lahore, are dissimilar in character. The eastern are arable plains of moderate rainfall and almost withcqut rivers, except along their northern and eastern edges. They are inhabited by the Hindu races of India, and contain the great cities of Delhi, Amritsar and Lahore. They formed, until the recent spread of irrigation, the most fertile, wealthy and populous portion of the province. The western plains, except where canal irrigation has been introduced, consist of arid pastures with scanty rainfall, traversed by the five great rivers, of which the broad valleys alone are cultivable. They are inhabited largely by Mahommedan tribes, and it is in this tract that irrigation has worked such great changes.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    just as a side note it was an innocuous comment and we end up talking about Pakistan. usually Iran & Iranians used to be more interesting than Pakistan but now it seems Pakistan is all the rage.

    @ Omar. I think we can define Pakistan as a Central South Asian nation or a South Central Asian nation but who really cares if we are South Asian or Central Asian or both. Personally I don’t lose any sleep over it; we are still a backward intolerant country and more important things to focus on.

    Obviously we have a national complex about our “Hindu origins” but its something we are now beginning to address.

    Let’s be proud of our pre-Islamic heritage whether it be Aryan, Dravidian or Dalit or what not.

    Also let’s work toward greater unity with India; I think we are an “Indo-Afghan” (more Indian than Afghan imho) nation we have equally strong ties with our two neighbours, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

    http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~sj6/eatonapproachconversion.pdf

    This leaves East Bengal and West Punjab as the two areas of the subcontinent possessing the highest incidence of Muslim conversion among the local population. What is striking about those areas, however, is that they lay not only far from the center of Muslim political power, as noted, but that their indigenous populations had not, at the time of
    their contact with Islam, been integrated into the Hindu social system. In Bengal, Muslim converts were drawn mainly from Rajbansi, Pod, Chandal, Koch, or other indigenous groups which had had but the lightest contact with the Hindu religious or caste structure, and in the Punjab the same was true for the various Jat clans that came to
    form the bulk of the Muslim community.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    from what i have read the margins of iran, in khorasan, and central asia, were brought to islam faster than the persian heartland. the usual explanation is that the persian heartland was more thoroughly zoroastrian, while turan had a pluralistic culture and no one religious identity, zoroastrian, nestorian, or buddhist, had a strong hold, so islam could spread faster. i have looked at data on the indian diaspora, and for those where peasants were the source of the migrants, like mauritius, it looks like tamils convert to christianity from hinduism far more readily than north indian hindus.

  • waqas

    “the revenue of the country now held by me (1528 AD) from bhira to bihar is 52 krurs as will be known in detail from the following summary…” [Babur Nama, Annette Beveridge’s english translation, section 3, Babur’s 5th and final journey into hindustan). The detail shows that the revenue of Bhira, Lahur, Sialkut, Dibalpur, etc to be 3 Krurs, 33 lakhs 15989 tankas as compared to 4 krurs 5 lakhs 60,000 tankas from Bihar alone. Punjab did not become as productive as it is until the development of the canal system. Razib’s points on productivity per unit and a large increase in revenue with the annexation of bengal are valid. However it is clear that the indian civilization developed in the indus valley and was not extended to the gangetic plains until iron tools were available to clear the bush. The, so called, discontinuity between the Gangetic plains and Trans-Sutlej occured only after the fall of gandhara civilization and kushan invasions. But it is clear from both Babur’s memoirs and Al Beruni’s kitab ul hind (13th century) that the area from indus to bengal was always known as hindustan. The thesis that the areas now comprising Pakistan were always a separate cultural and geographical entity is only a myth that cannot be substantiated by evidence plus it looks even more absurd when we consider the fact that the original pakistan had majority of its population in the eastern wing! It is true that we may have acquired central asian genes on our way and that our culture owes a lot to central asia but is true for the north and central india and their culture as well. The idea that we should always look toward iran afghanistan and central asia (and for some odd reason arabia, because in theory atleast muslim identity is supra geographical) for our ‘true’ roots is an invention of pakistan’s military establishment and has had disastrous consequences for the region.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    The thesis that the areas now comprising Pakistan were always a separate cultural and geographical entity is only a myth that cannot be substantiated by evidence

    yes, this seems false on the face of it. but very few readers of this weblog are too invested in these nationalist fantasies anyway, so i think we’re all arguing on the margins here.

  • omar

    I have tried to look this up and find no reference and I think Waqas’s reference to the Babur namah settles the matter. So I will end by withdrawing that remark. Besides, Razib’s point about the number of peasants being the relevant unit in Malthusian economies is also correct. I think the Punjab did become a bigger source of revenue after the British built the canal system and generally improved revenue collection, prior to that, Bihar and Bengal must have been bigger prizes.
    Zachary, I think some of my remarks reflect the peculiar sensitivities and preoccupations of Punjabi nationalists, a breed unlikely to be found in Islamabad (which, as they say, is located 20 miles away from Pakistan) but heavily concentrated among my friends and acquaintances….
    before we leave this marginal topic, I would add that the genetic aspect is one on which an objective conclusion is possible and genetically, Punjabis merge rather seamlessly into other North Indians and are sufficiently distinct from central asians to count as an “indian” population. People tend to be misled by the fact that this or that invader conquered the peasants so many times….Its my impression (and Razib is the expert on this) that the peasants outnumber invading barbarian armies by orders of magnitude and the invaders genes tend to be diluted out very very rapidly among them….genetically, all the recent invaders from Feghana and Kabul have contributed very little to the genetics of North India (not referring to the much older Aryan migrations but the “recent” invasions of this or that army from the Northwest).

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    .Its my impression (and Razib is the expert on this) that the peasants outnumber invading barbarian armies by orders of magnitude and the invaders genes tend to be diluted out very very rapidly among them….genetically, all the recent invaders from Feghana and Kabul have contributed very little to the genetics of North India (not referring to the much older Aryan migrations but the “recent” invasions of this or that army from the Northwest).

    the data i’ve seen from UP indicates that ~5% of the ancestry of muslims from that region of india have recent west/central asian ancestry.

    though don’t underestimate the power of reproductive variance in a pre-modern world. the population in india was so large, and the time of muslim domination over large areas of the subcontinent so short, that there wasn’t much of an impact, even on the south asian muslims. but in other situations the case is probably different. consider the uyghurs who settled among the cities of the tarim basin.

  • Ian

    The comment about the Mongols devastating the cities misses the point that in the ancient world the population was overwhelmingly rural. And cities (at least European cities, I’m just guessing at Central Asian cities) were population sinks. And, of course, settled agriculturalists can easily outbreed nomads and other non-agricultural people because they have more access to food, which makes for a much higher carrying capacity.

    As for Omar’s comment about dilution – much depends on endogamy versus exogamy. While Trinidad and Guyana received substantially more Indian immigrants than Jamaica between the 1840s and 1917, Jamaican Indians have almost entirely assimilated into the black Jamaican population (so much so that curry chicken & goat and ganja are seen as quintessentially Jamaican things). In Trinidad and Guyana, on the other hand, the Indian population did not intermarry with the creole population to the same extent. Guyana has an Indian majority today, while Trinidad has an Indian plurality. But I suspect that the number of people with any Indian ancestry may be higher in Jamaica than in Trinidad or Guyana – in part because Jamaica is more populous than either of the other two countries, but also because Jamaicans of Indian descent may just have one Indian great grandparent, while Trinidadians of Indian descent are more likely to have 7 or 8 Indian great grandparents.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    the chroniclers focused on cities cuz they were city-folk. and islam as a more forthrightly pro-urban religion than christianity (muhammad was an urban merchant by origin after all). but re: depopulation, as i said the primary long term impact was probably destruction of irrigation works, which reduced primary productivity.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    A few points.

    I thought the Baloch and Pathan were recent incursions (post Islamic or they have expanded considerably since) since it was pretty evident that the Indo-Aryans (Hindko) & Dravidians (Brahui) were prevalent there as the earlier settled population. There has been evidence of “Pathanisation” of Indian populations in the last 500 years (Swat is a good example).

    I was also thinking not so much of Islamic invasions that affected the northwest but the invasions of the Jats; the Gujjars (Gujarat) and these tribes that settled slightly before Islam.

    It’s quite funny I was just thinking about how a central region of the Vedic region (before the implementation of Iron tools) then turned into a “mleccha” region. The level of hetrodox worship in the northwest was highlighted that Sindhi Hindus used to syncretise with Sikhism.

    TBH I wasn’t trying to imply that somehow Pakistan was native, indigenous or foreign. Its just very interesting that early homeland of the Aryans was the Indus (the original Hindustan etc.) and the early Vedas are set entirely there (apparently there is a Shiva worship site in Baluchistan). But then even from a religious point of view the focus shifts to the Ganges pretty quickly as the spiritual heart of the civilisation.

    Perhaps taking into Razib’s point Iran was a more protected and developed region, served as a bastion of Zoroastrianism for longer much in the same way UP & Bihar did for Hinduism.

  • http://www.latif.blogspot.com Zachary Latif

    Another thought we use “Punjab” as a short hand but the Pakistani Punjab makes about as much sense as the British Punjab.

    Just as the Indian Punjab got split into Himchal Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana (the line being Sirhind) so does the Pakistani Punjab need a reorganisation.

    The Majhi “prestige” dialect is spoken in the Lahore/Amritsar doab but the other languages of the Punjab (Jhangi, Potwari, Siraki, Hindko) apparently don’t cluster in with Punjab but with the older variant. Also Punjabi can be said to be the merging between Hindi/Haryanvi and the older Northwestern Lahnda language (in the same sense that Sikhism is a mixture of the two).

    Also funnily enough Urdu-speaking UPites have done more to “Indianise” the northwest, through language (Hindustani) and ideology (Mughalism), and actually link it so deeply to the heart of the Hindi belt. It was notorious that local provincial politicians in Punjab, Sindh and Bengal were totally averse to the idea of Partition and a separate destiny because they were already so secure in their demography and politics.

    As an economic unit the north west really was insubstantial until the Brits came in and made it the richest part of the subcontinent.

  • omar

    Zachary, at the risk of completely hijacking this post and taking it far away from Razib’s original post, I think your information about Punjab is is very vigorously disputed by Punjabi nationalists. The most influential contemporary Punjabi poet and critic is Najm Hossain Syed, and he writes primarily in “western dialect” of Punjabi, which is closer to classical punjabi than the Hindiized version of east Punjab. If you look at the birthplaces of the classical punjabi poets, they are spread throughout “western” Punjab, all the way down to Sindh. But this discussion will take us very far from Turan and Persia, so I will stop. In any case, my work is done because in the first argument it is enough to hint that there are viewpoints you may not have considered….you will now be sensitised to the Punjabi nationalist viewpoint without knowing it;)

  • John Emerson

    The comment about the Mongols devastating the cities misses the point that in the ancient world the population was overwhelmingly rural.

    In Central Asia the pattern was oases supporting cities, separated by desert and steppe. The cities were like city states and included the surrounding agricultural land. Likewise, these economies were dependent on trade and were not self-sufficient the way an agricultural area in a predominantly sedentary land would be.

    As I remember, the irrigation systems in C. Asia were managed and maintained from the cities, and with the destruction of the cities the irrigation systems decayed.

    There was just a lot more symbiosis and really no city / country line. The line was oasis / other (steppe or desert).

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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