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The Khazars where a people who built an empire centred North of the Caucasus Range, between the 7th and 11th centuries. They are not at all mainstream (at least in Europe), even though, defeating the Arabs, they prevented their expansion in present day Southern Russia.

They were of Turkic origin and (apparently) converted in mass to Judaism.

The meaning of my question is broad: I'm interested in genetic as well as cultural heritage, which includes religion - but please do abstain from discussing the legitimacy of modern day Israel here. I believe there's plenty of space elsewhere on the internet for such an interesting but different topic. Thank you. If you do not understand the above disclaimer, ignore it.

EDIT: A new study has been published by Oxford UP that revives the Ashkenazim hypotesis. I do not have the means to judge it, but must be serious if it's been published here

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Related (on Skeptics): Are Ashkenazi Jews largely descended from Khazars? –  Yannis Rizos Nov 28 '12 at 18:18
    
@YannisRizos - Ahhh. Glad to see that one on Skeptics. With what currently appears to be the right answer too. –  T.E.D. Nov 28 '12 at 19:54
    
Re: The new genetics paper. There is a critique here: blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/08/… –  Felix Goldberg Dec 30 '12 at 21:59
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4 Answers

The Khazar's have no known descendents.

Their language is dead, with no successor languages. It is currently considered to have been Turkic, of the Oghur branch. The only remaining living language of that branch is Chuvash in Central Russia, but those would at best be descendents of sort of cousins of the Khazars (the Bulgars).

There have been lots of claims of Khazar ancestry for various Jewish groups around the world. However, no real proof of ancestry exists, and genetic studies designed to show such proof have so far failed to do so.

Hungarians, Kazakhs, Kumyks, and Crimean Tartars also claim some amount of Khazar heritage. However, the Hungarians and Kazakhs didn't seem to have a really significant contribution from that source, and the other two speak Turkic languages of the Kypchak branch, which points to a slightly different cultural lineage than the Khazars.

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Probably they got well mixed in the "generic Russian" gene pool, with not a few other peoples, and beyond the possibility of distinction nowadays.

By the way, if I recall correctly, the current scholarly opinion is that only the nobility converted to Judaism and not the mass of the people. Hard to tell, though, as the sources are rather nebulous. If, however, the conversion was indeed limited to the nobility, then it'd be a very serious blow against the theory that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from Khazars.

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"Yes, your highness, of course I believe in your $deity, seeing how you'll take my head off if I say otherwise". –  DVK Nov 28 '12 at 22:21
    
@DVK While what you're alluding to is generally true, Wikipedia claims Khazars were a "surprisingly tolerant and pluralistic society". –  Yannis Rizos Nov 28 '12 at 23:10
    
@YannisRizos - True. Much like Mongols in their heyday (at least, religion-wise) –  DVK Nov 28 '12 at 23:48
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@FelixGoldberg - that this ("only the nobility converted") is not exactly an unexpected or unusual pattern in a lot of things in societies of that sort. (or any societies). Basically agreeing with you that it's a plausible idea. –  DVK Nov 29 '12 at 18:14
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@DVK - Quite. Of course the opposite also often happens. If you as a ruler want to consolodate your power, adopting the religon of your people (or perhaps the religon of the rivals of your enemies) can help a great deal. Basically for a medevil ruler, religon is like marriage; one should select it for political convience, not personal preference. –  T.E.D. Nov 29 '12 at 22:23
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There is a theory that Crimean Karaites descended from Khazars. It was the official version in the USSR. The objections are those that their religion differ even though still a variant of Judaism and that their language belongs to a different branch of Turkic languages (actually it is the same language as that of Crimean Tatars, which may be explained by the fact that Crimean Tatar was the Lingua franca in Crimea).

The most serious objection is that they have no legends about their origin of Khasars. Historically they perceived themselves to descend from Turkish Jews.

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Karaites didn't recognize Talmud from the beginning. Khazars adopted the standard Judaistic religion. I think, it is the main reason against this variant. –  Gangnus Nov 29 '12 at 10:25
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I think, it depends on whom do you consider as a descendant. Biologically, they were swallowed by Kipchaks. As for culture, it was accepted by Rus, Magyars, Kipchaks.

Only smaller branches remained for longer time. Khavars in Hungaria. And of course, in contemporary Dagestan. Every nation or people of the plains along Black and Caspian Seas had some branch that escaped and remained as one of the numberless dagestan nations. In this area there are more languages than in the whole Europe. As for the exact name, there are opinions, that mountain jews are the descendants of Khazars. It is very probable, I think.

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How can you be so sure about Dagestan? –  Felix Goldberg Nov 29 '12 at 17:52
    
My own argument is: Because every other greater nation of these plains ended there. As for other arguments, I have put links here, haven't I? –  Gangnus Dec 2 '12 at 23:58
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