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Turks, Armenians share similar genes, say scientists

YEREVAN - Hürriyet | 12/24/2009 12:00:00 AM | Cansu ÇAMLIBEL

Turks, Armenians and Kurds are genetically linked to each other, Armenian scientists say, calling for a joint research with their Turkish colleagues on the genetic similarities. European politicians, who have supported the recent normalization efforts, will also back the project, they say

While Ankara and Yerevan struggle to ease long-standing tension that has divided the two neighbors for years, a discovery about genes appears to remind everyone how close the two nations actually are.

Armenian scientists said they observed high genetic matching between the two nations during their research on leukemia. They say Kurds are also genetically linked to the Armenians and Turks.

“Turks and Armenians were the two societies throughout the world that were genetically close to each other. Kurds are also in same genetic pool,” Savak Avagian, director of Armenia’s bone marrow bank, said in an interview with daily Hürriyet.

Calling on his Turkish colleagues to examine the genetic similarities of the two nations in addition to asking for funds from the European Union, Avagian said he believes European politicians, who have supported the recent normalization efforts between Turkey and Armenia, would also back the project.

Genetic research in 1998 also supported the Armenian scientists’ findings. A project titled “The Genetic Relations between Mediterranean Communities,” prepared by three Spanish scholars from the molecular biology division of Complutense University in Madrid, defines the Turks and Armenians as two branches with the same genetic origin.

However, Avagian said few people know the genetic similarities between Turks and Armenians. “The high ratio that we observed in bone marrow matching supports our thesis. I am sure everybody will be surprised when they hear this scientific truth.”

[HH] Marrow cooperation

The Armenian Marrow Bank has 15,000 Armenian donors in its records and is cooperating with 59 other banks through the World Marrow Donor Association.

Mihran Nazeretian, chief doctor of the bank, defined the institution’s mission as trying to “discover whether there is an equivalence of cells between Armenian donors and a patient living elsewhere in the world.”

“The patient’s ethnic background, citizenship, or political and religious views are not important at all,” Nazeretian said, signaling his willingness to cooperate with Turkish marrow banks.

Avagian said he visited Turkey in 2005 and met with the executives of marrow banks in both Ankara and Istanbul with an offer of a joint project. But Turkish officials were not interested in Avagian’s offer and applied alone for EU funds on marrow research. In the end, their request was rejected.

Noting the more convenient atmosphere between Turkey and Armenia, Avagian said: “If we knock on the doors of the European Union together, they would consider our request twice. Now, there is a political motivation, too. The bloc has already voiced support for the normalization talks between the two nations and I bet many politicians would support such medical research.”

Nazeretian said they would provide marrow without question if a Turkish patient would match with one of their Armenian donors.

The doctor told of his experience with Turkish patients, saying: “From Armenia, we found 43 matches with the bank in Istanbul and five with the one in Ankara and we made immediate inquiries. However, nobody responded. Unfortunately none of those matching results led to a marrow transplant.”

Nazeretian said there might be various reasons for the failure. “Maybe the patient found another donor in Turkey or the patient was lost before our response,” he said.

He also said there have been Armenian matches for Turks living in Germany as well but that no matches had resulted in transplants. “My only wish is for a transplant between an Armenian donor and a Turkish patient to happen one day,” he said.

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