There a number of different stories
about the origins of the Turkish Van cat. It is,
however, generally accepted that they originated in
eastern Anatolia (now known as eastern Turkey). A
confusing aspect of these cats' history relates to
the name "Turkish" Van cat. Although it is
speculated that the breed has been in existence in
that area since the middle ages and long before the area became part of Turkey, they were
"discovered" by the western world in the
1950s by two English women (Sonia Holliday and Laura
Lushington) on a photographic holiday in the area.
Seeing the beautiful white cats with red spots on the
head and beautiful red tails, they took a pair back
to England and found them to breed true (i.e.,
producing lovely van patterned babies like themselves).
A quote from Laura Lushington from the Complete Cat Encyclopedia, edited by Grace Pond and published in 1972:
"One of the two accepted breeds in Turkey, the Van Cat is now known in Britain as the Turkish Cat.
Originating in the Lake Van area of southeastern Turkey, these cats have been domesticated for centuries
(in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound); they are much loved and prized by the Turks for their
exceptional character and unique colouring. Apart from their great capacity for affection and alert
intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not normally regarded as a
feline attribute. They not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to enter ponds
and even horse-troughs for a swim - they soon became famous as the 'swimming cats.' I was first given a
pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England, although
ouring by car and mainly camping at the time - the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the
great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred
absolutely true. They were not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets,
I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognized officially in Britain by the GCCF."
However, in Turkey, the all white cat (or Kedi)
with odd or blue eyes is considered as their national cat. They are named for the town they are found in (e.g., Ankara kedi in Ankara)
Their history is completely different from the Turkish Van cat. Their importance in Turkey stems from two events: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), who founded the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923, declared that his successor would be bitten on the ankle by an odd-eyed white cat.
And secondly, legend has it that Mohammed (570 - 632), founder of the Islamic faith, possessed a Traditional Turkish Angora he regarded so highly that rather than disturb it as it slept on his robe, he cut off the sleeve. Mohammed's Traditional Turkish Angora was reputed to have been odd-eyed (one blue eye and one gold eye).
They are protected in Turkey
and it used to be difficult to take them out of the country. You can
visit web sites on Turkey, particularly those related
to the Lake Van area, and many of the references to Van cats
will all be to the all white cats. Most cat
registries recognize the all white cats from Turkey
as Turkish Angoras - these origiate from the breeding
program at the Turkish Zoo in Ankara (hence the name,
Because of the many different
cultures of people who have historically inhabited
the eastern part of modern Turkey, identification of
the breed with a given country in modern geographical
settings results in confusion. The Armenians and
Kurdish people,with deep roots in eastern Anatolia
having lived in that area for thousands of years,
consider the Van cat as part of their culture. It is
comforting to note that despite political
differences, all can appreciate the beauty of the Van
We were pleased to learn of the
establishment of the Van Research Institute of the
Yuzuncu Yil University in Van, Turkey. However, tt was
established to study and preserve the Van kedi which is the all white odd eyed cat
(both long haired and short haired) of the Van area.
They have purportedly recently expanded their
studies to look at the other natutral breeds of Turkey, including the van patterned cat
(the Turkish Van) and the short haired or
Anatolia cat all of which presumably originated from
that general region of the world. However, to date they primarily work to
breeding white cats to preserve the white cats as a resource as well as for
veterinary study. Here are a cute pair of kittens raised at the Van Research Institute out of a pair of white parents.
In 2000, there were a few interesting articles
appearing in major news publications that brought the
Van cats into the public eye. These relate
aspects of the history, cultural and mostly the political views of the area. Click on the title to read them.
Some interesting articles on Van Cats in the news:
- Turkish Genocide of Kurdish Cats by
Dr. Fereydun R Hilmi
Van Kedi Turkey's Swimming Cat by
Group Says Felines Linked To Kurds 'Poisoned'
by Amberin Zaman
Turkish-Van Cat Species
Close to Extinction in Armenia - ArmenPress