A Link to the Past: The ‘Armenian DNA Project’

Technological and medical advances in the last decade have opened many doors to research and development. It seems that the more answers we find, the more complex and layered our questions become. DNA testing is one of the advances that have become more readily available to the public. DNA is a self-replicating material present in all living things as the main constituent of chromosomes. A human normally has 23 pairs of chromosomes and inherits the 2 sets of chromosomes from his/her parents. Two of the chromosomes are the sex chromosomes: If you have an XY chromosome, you are a male, and if you have an XX chromosome, you are a female. DNA testing allows a person to determine changes in genes that may indicate a specific disorder, and the test results can reveal a large amount of family history.

To learn more about the project, visit www.familytreedna.com and search for the “Armenia DNA Project.”
To learn more about the project, visit www.familytreedna.com and search for the “Armenia DNA Project.”

But what if you wanted a genetic map of your ancestry? What if you wanted to know if all families that shared your last name were related to you genetically? This is particularly important to Armenians, considering the variability of Armenian last names and the destruction of genealogical records of Ottoman-Armenians during the genocide. A group of scientists decided to find answers to these questions, and began the Armenian DNA Project.

The Armenian DNA Project was launched in September 2009 by Hovann Simonian, Peter Hrechdakian, and Mark Arslan to help researchers from common or related families work together to find their shared heritage, to identify and confirm genetic Lineages of ancestral families, and to ultimately catalogue pedigrees and genetic connections of all known project families. The Armenian DNA Project works in close cooperation with Levon Yepiskoposyan, a professor at the Institute of Molecular Biology. Yepiskoposyan began his ambitious experiment in January 2010, aiming to reconstruct the genetic history of Armenia and provide a precise interpretation of Armenians’ genetic DNA makeup. In 2010, he administered a blood test to 500 male Armenians, free of charge. In human genetic genealogy, use of the information contained in the Y chromosome is of particular interest since, unlike other chromosomes, the Y chromosome is passed on exclusively from father to son. Testing the Y chromosome can provide insight into the recent and ancient genetic ancestry, as a human male should largely share the same Y chromosome as his father, give or take a few mutations. Similar genetic sequences on the Y chromosome can reveal that two males are related. Although Yepiskoposyan focuses only on males, the same test can be conducted on females by studying their mitochondrial DNA, as the mitochondria is passed from mother to child.

The founders of the Armenian DNA Project aim to find genetic traces of both the ancient peoples whose descendants make up the current Armenian population, and the ancient invaders who conquered or passed through Armenian lands. The project is open to individuals with direct paternal or maternal ancestors of Armenian ancestry. To learn more about the project, visit www.familytreedna.com and search for the “Armenia DNA Project.”

For readers who have studied DNA in biology, you’ll recall that chromosomes are very stringy, so what better recipe to share with you than spun sugar? All I ask from you is that you follow this recipe carefully and do not burn yourself!


Spun sugar recipe

Spun sugar
Spun sugar


1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon glucose syrup (or corn syrup)
1/4 cup water

Bring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water until there are no splashes of sugar on the sides. Boil without stirring until you see a golden tinge in the syrup. Remove from the heat immediately and stir.

The next steps require you to be very cautious!

To use your sugar syrup as a decoration for dessert, choose one of the following methods:

1. Using a fork or spoon drizzle the hot sugar syrup onto baking paper or use the back of a lightly oiled ladle to make domes.

2. Allow it to cool slightly and, using two forks, pull sugar into strands.

Shantal Der Boghosian

Shantal Der Boghosian

Shantal Der Boghosian graduated with a master of science in environmental engineering from UCLA. A well-established "foodie," she combined her passion for food and science to start her own business, Shakar Bakery, to engineer designer cakes. Raised in a Uruguayan-Armenian household, she is fluent in Spanish, English, and Armenian. She writes a monthly column for the Armenian Weekly titled "A Piece of Cake." Email her at shakarbakery@gmail.com.

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