Phrygians, ancestors of the Kurds
Origins of Kurds are shrouded in mystery for most of the historians, and since Kurds are currently stuck in the middle of a very hot political situation, it is highly unlikely that any serious research will be made in the near future.
But even Kurdish historians seem to fast-forward the early origins of their nation, as we can see in this example, taken from Kurdish institute of Paris:
“Historians generally agree to consider them as belonging to the Iranian branch of the large family of Indo-European races. In prehistoric times, kingdoms called Mitanni, Kassites and Hourites reigned these mountainous areas, situated between the Iranian plateau and the Euphrates. In VII BC, the Medes – the Kurds’ equivalent of the Gauls for the French, founded an empire which, in 612 BC, conquered the powerful Assyria and spread its domination through the whole of Iran as well as central Anatolia. The date 612 BC, is moreover, considered by Kurdish nationalists as the beginning of the 1st Kurdish year“
One thing that grabbed my attention, and made me research more on Kurdish origins is the fact that Kurds seem to have an extremely high percentage of haplogroup I2 (20%), a haplogroup which is characteristic for Southern Europe. This is the data taken from www.eupedia.com:
This haplogroup is considered to be a mesolithic haplogroup of ancient Europeans and it’s current distribution looks like this:
Even though it’s epicenter is in the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and Sardinia, there is a certain presence of I2 haplogroup in northern parts of Turkey. However, this percentage gets “watered down” in statistics for the whole country, so Turkey in total ends up with only insignificant 4%.
Since the presence of I2 in Turkey has to be a result of some ancient migration I started to look for suspects. One thing pointed to a possible clue – one of the Kurdish groups is called Gorani, and: “The name may be derived from the old Avestan word, gairi, which means mountain“. But there is another group of people with the same name living in Balkans in the triangle between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. For this “Balkan” Gorani, the article also says: “The ethnonym Gorani, meaning “highlanders”, is derived from the Slavic toponym gora, which means “hill, mountain“.
A strange coincidence?
Next step was to look at the Kurdish dictionaries available online, and of course, I was able to notice many similarities with Balkan languages, which may be explained by common Indo-European origin to some extent, but not in all cases. For example, the pronoun “I” is “Az” in Kurdish, and the only existing parallel survives in modern Bulgarian “Az”, and somewhat Macedonian “Jas”. Origins of this word are Thracian – and Thracians were ancient people of Balkans whose dominant haplogroup was surely I2.
However, Thracians were not exclusively I2, as we know that Scythian tribes had brought R1a and R1b haplogroups to Balkans as early as 4th millennium BC. But as you can see on the chart above, those are also the second most dominant haplogroups of the Kurds, meaning that matching with ancient Thracians of Balkans could be much higher than those 20%, which is already a lot! However, this is a question for a serious genetic research that would be able to make definitive answer by following the respective mutations. I do not possess this data, so I will move to the firmer grounds of history.
The question is, is there any historical evidence of ancient migration of Balkan population to this part of the world. And the answer is yes. It appears already in the 5th century BC writings of Herodotus, in his account on Phrygians:
“As the Macedonians say, these Phrygians were called Briges as long as they dwelt in Europe, where they were neighbors of the Macedonians; but when they changed their home to Asia, they changed their name also and were called Phrygians.” Hdt. 7.73
As we see, Herodotus believed that Phrygians were once neighbors of Macedonians, just like Gorani people are today, and he also states that they were called “Brigi”. This word may be related to the word “breg”, meaning hill – just another synonym for the word “gora”.
Truth be told, there are historians who support this claim of Herodotus, as well as those who oppose it. But it is interesting that map of ancient Phrygia matches almost perfectly a current distribution of I2 in Turkey, pictured above.
And not only that, as we can see on the article on Phrygian language, a famous Phrygian word (mentioned by Herodotus) is bekos, meaning “bread”, while in Albanian language bread is “bukë”. According to Clement of Alexandria, the Phrygian word bedu (βέδυ) meaning “water” (PIE *wed) appeared in Orphic ritual. Slavic cognate is “voda”. Another possible theonym is bago- (cf. Slavic bog, “god”). We know that Phrygians had also worshiped Sabazios, one of the main gods of Thracians.
Moreover, the name of the most famous Phrygian city, Gordion, could be related to Slavic “grad”, meaning simply “city”, as it also meant in Phrygian according to Paleolexicon:
So what else do we know about this supposed migration of Balkan Brigi to Phrygia in Turkey? This is a short extract from Wikipedia:
“After the collapse of the Hittite Empire at the beginning of the twelfth century BC, the political vacuum in central-western Anatolia was filled by a wave of Indo-European migrants and “Sea Peoples”, including the Phrygians, who established their kingdom with a capital eventually at Gordium. It is presently unknown whether the Phrygians were actively involved in the collapse of the Hittite capital Hattusa or whether they simply moved into the vacuum left by the collapse of Hittite hegemony. The so-called Handmade Knobbed Ware was found by archaeologists at sites from this period in Western Anatolia.
And then it states:
“Though the migration theory is still defended by many modern historians, most archaeologists have abandoned the migration hypothesis regarding the origin of the Phrygians due to a lack substantial archaeological evidence, with the migration theory resting only on the accounts of Herodotus and Xanthus.“
There are two things worth pointing out here:
1. If Phrygian migration has happened around 12th century BC with the waves of “Sea peoples”, that also matches perfectly the high distribution of I2 in Sardinia.
2. “Mushki” literary means “men” in Balkans, and that is a very suitable name for ancient tribes of warriors, which are normally known as “men”, “people” or “warriors” all across the ancient world, regardless of their origin.
So if Phrygians had really migrated from Balkans to Turkey in the 12th century BC, how are they related to Kurds, and what are they doing all the way southeast?
Herodotus may give us another clue for that:
“The Armenians, who are settlers from Phrygia, were armed like the Phrygians” Hdt. 7.73.1
This is another controversial claim of Herodotus that has also divided the scientific circles. Why would Phrygians migrate again, all the way to Armenia? Well, if we look at their history, there might be a very good excuse for that. Wikipedia on Phrygians:
“The invasion of Anatolia in the late 8th century BC to early 7th century BC by the Cimmerians was to prove fatal to independent Phrygia. Cimmerian pressure and attacks culminated in the suicide of its last king, Midas, according to legend. Gordium fell to the Cimmerians in 696 BC and was sacked and burnt, as reported much later by Herodotus.”
Well, to me this seems like a pretty good reason for a migration. But can we really relate it to Kurds? Maybe we can. It is hypothesized that the word “Kurd” could originate from the Persian word gord, because the Arabic script lacks a symbol corresponding uniquely to g (گ). In this case Kurds would simple be “people from Gordium”. Moreover, some theories also relate the etymology to toponym Corduene, (also written as “Gordyene”) mentioned by Xenophon. This time Gordyene appears right on the territory of Armenia, where Herodotus said they would be, and also in the general area where Kurds are still present today.
Map of the Armenian Empire of Tigranes
Could it be just an interesting coincidence that Gordium fell in 696 BC, while Kurds take a year of 612 BC as the birth of their nation? And also, as we saw at the beginning of this article, they relate themselves to people known as Mitanni, while at least three Phrygian kings, including the last one, were named Midas (in Assyrian sources spelled Mita).
So there you go. Phrygian migration, as described here is in fact nothing new for historians, but I haven’t seen any similar theory relating it to Kurdish origins. It is also worth a mention that Phrygian mode in music is also known as “Kurdish” in the Arabic world. However, I am not saying that Kurds of today, after two and a half millennia, are genetically or culturally the same as Phrygians, but maybe this is the way to trace their ancestry, as well to explain what has happened to Phrygians after the fall of their kingdom. I am also not reducing Armenian culture and history solely to Kurdish influence, it is definitely much more complicated than that. In any case, take it all with a grain of salt, do your research and decide for yourselves if it makes sense or not.