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Syria And Haplogroup U: Are We More United And Similar Than We Think? – OpEd


Guest post by Ehsani

The Syrian crisis was always going to be different than what we all witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen thus far. Every country has its own nuances that render it a unique case. One of the glaring characteristics of the current Syrian conflict is to do with its sectarian fault lines.

Syrians like me have always been apprehensive about discussing our sectarian and religious differences. Indeed, the subject matter has been taboo in Syrian society.

Like it or not, it is clear that this crisis has been taking on an undeniable sectarian character. While this is not surprising, I feel compelled to share a personal experience with the many Syrian readers of this note.

Back in 2010, I had read about “The Genographic Project”. This was a collaborative effort by National Geographic, IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation. For a fee, a person’s DNA results will be identified. The task will then involve finding out which branch on the Human family tree this person belongs to. Naturally, I was skeptical at first. In the end, I decided to participate in the project with my brother. I would track my paternal ancestors while he would track our maternal side (each person can only choose one). With a simple swab from our cheeks and a 9-digit number to identify us we were promised an answer within six weeks.

Our DNA results identified us as belonging to the “Haplogroup U”. As geneticists know, scientists believe that the human story begins in Africa sometime between 150,000 and 170,000 years ago, with a woman whom anthropologists have nicknamed “Mitochondrial Eve”. This discovery was made in 1987 when it was confirmed that all people alive on the planet today can trace their maternal lineage to her. This is not to say that Mitochondrial Eve was the first female human. Eve was a survivor. Other Homo sapiens who evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago became extinct. A maternal line can become extinct for a number of reasons. A woman may not have children, or she may bear only sons. She may fall victim to a catastrophic event such as volcanic eruption, flood, or famine, all of which have plagued humans since the dawn of our species. None of these extinctions happened to Eve’s line.

EVE’s first ancestral line was L1/L0 who are now found exclusively in Africa.

L2 and L3 are also found all over Africa but they were the first descendents who moved north of the continent around 80,000 ago.

Those who made it across the Sinai Peninsula (present-day Egypt) formed group “N”.

After several thousand years, humans sharing a female ancestor from this N clan started making it to Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and formed Haplogroup R.

We now arrive at my own clan.

Most members of my “U” group are found in the eastern Mediterranean who descend from a woman in the R branch who lived around 50,000 ago.

Based in North America and only identified with a 9-digit number, this Genographic Project was able to identify my descendants as having lineages found in the eastern Mediterranean from some 50,000 years ago. This is 46,488 years before Moses. It is also 47,988 years before Jesus and 49,430 before the prophet Mohammad.

Presumably most of the inhabitants of what is Syria today may share the same DNA lineages as me. My wish is for the whole country to participate in this Genome project. It would be interesting if the results confirm that members of the SNC, NCC, Tansiqiyat, Mokhabarat, Fourth division, Baba Amr, Daraa, Free Syrian Army and the whole of Qurdaha all share the same ancestral mother that had reached this land some 50,000 years ago well before all of our Prophets.

Many members of my immediate family have started talking about migrating out of this land. Having reviewed my 2-year old genome test this morning, I wonder if the current Syrian crisis qualifies as my family’s own version of a catastrophic event that forced us out of the region after 50,000 of finding refuge there.

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Syria Comment - Joshua Landis

Joshua Landis maintains Syria Comment and teaches modern Middle Eastern history and politics and writes on Syria and its surrounding countries. He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 3,000 readers a day. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies. He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio.

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