The genetic heritage of the Pomaks

The genetic heritage of the Pomaks

(Η γενετική κληρονομία των Πομάκων της Θράκης)

By Costas Triantaphyllidis,
Emeritus Professor of Genetics and Human Genetics
Department of Genetics, Development and Molecular Biology,
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece,

The Pomaks are Muslims inhabiting mainly Southern Bulgaria, Northeastern Greece and North-western European Turkey. The historical origins of the Pomaks are obscure.  A plethora of pertinent theories exists about their origin because of the lack of sufficient written documentation. There have been scientists who have argued that they originate from Mongolian tribes who lived in Asia Minor and the Balkans in the 7th century CE. Other exotic theories proposed that they may even originate from ancient African tribes. Most likely they are indigenous Balkan populations long established on the Rhodope Mountain, geographically isolated, and islamized during the 17th-18th century. To investigate the genetic identity of Pomaks across the Greek/Bulgarian borders and perhaps clarify the question of their biological origin different sources of genetic (DNA) markers have been utilized, i.e. 15 autosomal microsatellite markers (STRs), 733,202 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), human leukocyte antigen markers (HLA), as well as haematological traits. The main conclusions are the following: The Pomaks had lower mean genetic diversity and heterozygosity compared with the other Balkan populations both in patrilineal and autosomal genetic markers, suggesting the action of a founder effect or a genetic drift. b) The Greek Pomaks are of European (better said Balkan) origin, reinforcing the hypothesis formulated by Theoharidis that the Pomaks are an indigenous Balkan population, and c) The Greeks and Bulgarians are genetically closer to Pomaks than the Turks.  Using representative samples of Pomaks and Balkan people and analysis of the whole genome of these samples, it is hoped that the mystery of the Pomaks origins will be solved. However, it is worth stating, that based on the available genetic data it is evident that the genetic differentiation between the Pomaks and the general Greek population is very small.
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