The Hamshenis are an isolated geographic group of Armenians with a strong ethnic identity who, until the early decades of the twentieth century, inhabited the Pontus area on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Scholars hold alternative views on their origin, proposing Eastern Armenia, Western Armenia, and Central Asia, respectively, as their most likely homeland. To ascertain whether genetic data from the nonrecombining portion of the Y chromosome are supportive of any of these suggestions, we screened 82 Armenian males of Hamsheni descent for 12 biallelic and 6 microsatellite Y-chromosomal markers. These data were compared with the corresponding data set from the representative populations of the three candidate regions. Genetic difference between the Hamshenis and other groups is significant and backs up the hypothesis of the Armenian origin of the Hamshenis, indicating central historical Armenia as a homeland of the ancestral population. This inference is further strengthened by the results of admixture analysis, which does not support the Central-Asian hypothesis of the Hamshenis' origin. Genetic diversity values and patterns of genetic distances suggest a high degree of genetic isolation of the Hamshenis consistent with their retention of a distinct and ancient dialect of the Armenian language.
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Vol. 84 • No. 4