.Posted: 2000 Updated: 2004

Genetics helps scientists determine Basque origins

Map of Basque region

Genetics is helping researchers trace the migration of the Basque people, a culture that originated in East Africa tens of thousands of years ago. By first tracking the female gene back 150,000 years to East Africa, scientists then followed the male Y chromosome to determine human whereabouts.

As Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, adjunct professor for the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nexada, Reno (USA), explained at a recent presentation at Northeastern Nevada Museum as part of the National Basque Festival in Elko, "The Basque came out of East Africa 50,000 or so years ago and passed through the Middle East."

This explains why some Middle Eastern cities have names that could be Basque in origin, like Ur, Uruk, and Mari, which is the name of a Basque goddess.

According to Mallea-Olaetxe, linguists have long suspected such an idea since an old—now dead—language from Central Asia, Burushaski, "looks suspiciously like Basque". Genetic research is proving the linguists right.

After inhabiting Central Asia for about 10,000 years, Basque ancestors migrated to both the Americas and Western Europe, where they settled—and still live—in France and Spain. The cave paintings in southern France and northern Spain were likely painted by Basque ancestors 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, says Mallea-Olaetxe, which "fits perfectly" the timeline of their migration.

Since DNA research has also shown that the Celtic people’s genes are almost identical to the Basque’s, it is believed they may have migrated together to Western Europe 30,000 years ago.

Mallea-Olaetxe states that genetic research into Basque origins has been ongoing over the past decade or so; however, their conclusions have only been made public recently.

Source: SFGate.com (9 July 2003)
Reproduced From: www.stonepages.com/news/archives/000244.html

Basque nationalists see Irish nationalism as sharing with them a struggle of national liberation against big states, Spain and Great Britain. There are not religious divisions in the Basque country.

The Basques have been fighting to protect their language and culture for thousands of years. They are fiercely proud of their history.

They have been occupying their corner of Europe with its lush, green valleys and rugged coastline, since well before Roman times.

No one knows where they came from. Their language, known as Euskera, has no links with any other known language and was spoken long before all of the Indo-European languages in the rest of Europe.

The protection and promotion of Euskera has always been at the heart of the Basque struggle.

Since the return of democracy in Spain following General Franco's death in 1975, Euskera has been thriving.

About 30% of the 2.5 million Basque people speak it and more than 90% of Basque children are now enrolled in Euskera schools.

Radio and television stations broadcast in the language. There are Basque newspapers and a growing number of internationally renowned writers, such as Bernardo Atxaga, whose works have been translated into Castillian Spanish, English, German and French.

Throughout history, Basques have developed a reputation as fierce defenders of their territory - against Romans, Vikings, Visigoths, Muslims and others.

Many invaders have chosen to by-pass the region. When they have managed to put down roots, the Basques have negotiated and learned from them, but have never mixed too much or risked becoming integrated.

From the Middle Ages onwards, they developed a reputation as formidable fishermen and have built boats which have taken them great distances in search of whales and cod.

There is some evidence that Basques landed in North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.

It was Basque sailors who made up the bulk of Columbus's crew.

Basque men wear their large berets with pride. It is a hat which was first worn in the Basque region and then exported to France and beyond.

They are are also recognised as the best cooks in Spain for their simple fish dishes and interesting cakes.

In the heart of the Basque country, there are 75 gastronomic societies in the city of San Sebastian alone.

They hold feasts and sometimes march through the streets. These occasions are so important that the mayor is expected to eat at all of them at least once a year.

There is also a rich vein of Basque music and storytelling. Public storytelling sessions are still held in many rural towns and villages.

Basques have always been known as a fiercely religious people. So it is no surprise that one of the most radical and disciplined religious orders, the Jesuits, was founded by a Basque, Ignatius Loyola, in 1534.

Originally a solider, while recovering from a serious war wound he began reflecting on his life and reading about the saints.

He studied in Paris where he founded the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.

It had originally been intended as a missionary order. Instead, it went on to spearhead the Counter-Reformation, inspiring respect for its missionary work but fear for its often ruthless defence of its disciplined beliefs.

The Basques had been some of the fiercest opponents of Franco's Nationalist troops during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

One of Franco's most hated opponents, Dolores Ibárruri - known as La Pasionaria or the Passionate One for her inspiring speeches - came from a working-class family in Bilbao.

Picasso immortalised the bombing of the Basque town, Guernika, by Franco's German allies. The painting now hangs in a museum in Madrid.

During Franco's 40-year rule, he punished the region for its opposition. He declared two provinces "traitor provinces."

Franco believed in one, unified Spain and opposed any kind of regional diversification.

He banned the speaking of Euskera in public and ensured that there was little economic investment in the region.

ETA is born

(ETA)Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna - means Basque fatherland and freedom.

Franco, like many before him, had found it difficult to suppress this proud nation and the movement for an independent Basque homeland began in the late 1950s.

The separatist group, ETA, began its violent campaign 10 years later.

While support for an independent homeland remains strong, it is by no means overwhelming. Many Basques are happy with the large degree of autonomy they have been granted by the central government in Madrid.

While still a long way from reaching any kind of long term political solution and establishing a permanent peace, it is clear that the Basque language and culture are enjoying a resurgence and that the Basque nation is as strong and vibrant now as it has ever been.

ETA's 30-year campaign for a sovereign Basque state, which has cost more than 800 lives:

Franco years

1937: General Franco occupies Basque country. The Basques had enjoyed a degree of autonomy which they now were denied. Franco regime ruthlessly repressed their aspirations for independence.

1959: ETA is founded with the aim of creating an independent homeland in Spain's Basque region. The full name of the organisation - Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna - means Basque fatherland and freedom.

1961: ETA's violent campaign begins with an attempt to derail train transporting politicians.

1968: ETA kills its first victim, Meliton Manzanas, a secret police chief in San Sebastian.

December 1973: Basque nationalists assassinate Prime Minister Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco in Madrid in retaliation for the government's execution of Basque militants.

1978: ETA's political wing Herri Batasuna is founded.

1980: 118 people are killed in ETA's bloodiest year so far.

1995: Attempt to assassinate the leader of the opposition Popular Party (now Prime Minister), Jose Maria Aznar, with a car bomb.

March 1996: Right-wing Popular Party wins general election. There was speculation that the change of government would lead to a crackdown against ETA, which later proved wrong. But ETA apparently views the Popular Party as heir to General Franco's dictatorship.

1997: Start of ETA's campaign against local Popular Party politicians.

July 1997: ETA kidnaps and kills Basque councillor Miguel Angel Blanco, sparking national outrage and bringing an estimated 6 million Spaniards on the streets.

December 1997: 23 leaders of Herri Batasuna jailed for 7 years for collaborating with ETA. The case centred on an video featuring armed and masked ETA guerrillas, which the party tried to show during general election campaign. This was the first time any members of the party have been jailed for co-operating with ETA.

February 1998: Herri Batasuna elects new provisional leadership.

March 1998: Spain's main political parties engage in talks to end violence in the Basque region. The government is not involved.

April 1998: Northern Ireland peace agreement signed. ETA is understood to have been heavily influenced by the Northern Ireland peace process. ETA has traditionally had relations with the Irish republicans and the political wing Herri Batasuna has been schooled by Sinn Fein on strategy for negotiation.

June 1998: The latest ETA death takes place, as car bomb kills Popular Party councillor Manuel Zamarreno.

September 1998: ETA announces its first indefinite cease-fire since its 30-year campaign of violence began, effective from 18 September.

May 1999: The first and only meeting between ETA and the Spanish government in Zurich, Switzerland.

August 1999: Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar accuses ETA of being "scared of peace" and calls on the group to prove its commitment. ETA subsequently confirms that contact with Madrid has been severed.

November 1999: The separatist group announces an end to its 14-month ceasefire in a Basque newspaper, blaming lack of progress in talks with the Spanish government.

January 2000: Car bombs explode in Madrid.

February 2000: Car bomb in Basque captial Vitoria kills leading Socialist politician and bodyguard.

Drawn from many news agencies and the writings of Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

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