The Turkish Van Site
Articles and Reports 2


Distributed with permission from the Turcoman International.

With its soft paws
With its kind legs
With its warm heart
It has caressed the entire earth

The Van Kedi Turkey's Swimming Cat by Osman Zehrek

If Noah had been accepting applications for the cat best suited to join him on the ark, the qualifications of the beautiful Van Kedi may have put it at the top of the list. Large, white, athletic, fearless and demanding, this is a breed with a surprising secret whose lineage stretches into the distant past. "Van" is a common term used in the names of towns and villages as well as Turkey's largest lake and "Kedi" being cat. For many years, scientists have believed that cats first rose to prominence in Egypt, where they were honoured and revered by the ancient Egyptians. Now, after having uncovered new evidence, opinions are being revised. Investigation has shown relics of an ancient battle during the occupation of Armenia by the Romans included armor and banners displaying an image of a large white cat with rings on its tail. Another expedition conducted by the British Archaeological Institute in Ankara of a late Neolithic (7000 years ago) site near Hacilar unearthed numerous small figures of a woman playing with cats. Might they have had their origin in the Turkic countries instead? Travellers in the 16th century brought to England and France living prizes . . . individuals of this most unusual breed, which quickly found admirers. These early kedim - both Ankara (Angora) and Van - were bred to native European cats and their distinctive features lost.

The Van Cat Makes a Splash
Many years later in 1955, two English ladies enjoyed a historic visit to Turkey. Miss Laura Lushington, today the President of the Classic Turkish Van Cat Association in England, was presented with an unrelated pair of kittens - a male in Istanbul and a female in south- eastern Turkey. When the two were mated upon her return to the UK, the resulting kittens resembled their parents exactly, being white with markings on their heads and tails. This suggested to Lushington that they were not common cats but representatives of an ancient pure breed. Lushington returned to Turkey to purchase two more kedim, this time actually visiting Van Sehir. Her hosts were pleased with her interest in the local cats, but puzzled about her motives. "They do not catch mice!" they cautioned, fearing that she would be disappointed. It was during the long journey home with the first two kittens that Lushington observed her feline duo's unusual talent: "I first discovered this liking for water on the drive back from Turkey with my original pair," She related in a memoir written in 1963. " The two kittens seemed to suffer from the heat as much as I did, and often lay panting limply in the back of the car. At one point I came to a big river with a shallow tributary running over clean gravel and shaded by large trees. Hot, dusty and bad-tempered as I was, I did not hesitate before wading into the shallows and sitting down in the cool water, letting it flow over my tired feet and dry, burning arms. Then suddenly, to my astonishment, the Van kittens strolled into the water too and swam out of their depth - apparently thoroughly enjoying themselves. This, I suppose, is the reason they were dubbed 'Swimming Cats' by the press on my return to Britain."

While not all Van Cats take to water, enough of them do that we have observed many photographs of kedim gracefully paddling in swimming pools, fishponds, and along streambeds. An Adaptable Treasure Vans are considered "regional treasures" and are not readily available for export. Kept as domestic pets for hundreds of years, they should not be confused with the better-known Turkish Ankara (Angora), which is an all-white, longhaired cat with a very soft coat. In its homeland, the favoured cat is the all-white Van Kedi with one blue and one yellow eye; these are considered to be very good luck and among the few domestic animals kept as pets. The Internet site of the Yuzuncu Yil University in Van bears the image of a white Van Kedi with mismatched eyes. This campus is the site of the Van Research Institute, established to study and preserve the Van Kedi and other cats of Turkish origin. Interestingly enough, it is the marked - and not the white - Van cat that has made a name for the breed outside of Turkey. This was due to the fact that the cats brought to Britain in 1955 and almost all of the Vans descended from them were not white, but head-and-tail marked. In fact, the distinctive "top-and-tail" markings - even when seen on other breeds of cats - are frequently referred to as "Van markings." A typical Turkish Van, as recognised in England and the United States, carries a beautiful white coat with coloured markings on the head and the tail, semi-longhaired and so soft that it rivals cashmere in texture. Those who see Turkey as an arid country seem surprised by this, but those who know better - and particularly those familiar with the Van basin in Eastern Turkey - understand why. Mountains surround the area in question and its high plateau is subject to extreme changes in temperature. The breed lacks an undercoat, but with snow lasting at least six months of the year, the coat is thicker and longer as required and also somewhat waterproof with feathering on the ears. When the exceptional heat of summer arrives, the extra coat is quickly shed. The average weight for a fully-grown Van tomcat is approximately 12 pounds, although neutered males have been known to grown as large as 19 pounds in weight. Females are daintier and average 8 lbs. Both male and female are cobby and have a distinctive long nose, unlike the short, pushed-in face of many longhaired breeds. The Turkish Van or Van Kedi is slow to mature, taking three to five years before reaching full adulthood. The fact that Van Toms are large and unusually athletic has caused at least one incredible news story to be published in England: In 1997 a paper speculated that a feral Van Cat was hunting lambs and rabbits! While they are certainly big enough to capture and kill a rabbit with ease, a sheep is probably beyond their abilities!

Your Life Is Dull? Adopt a Van!
Throughout his life, a Van may cultivate a close attachment to only one or two people. Extremely intelligent and curious, he will make your life interesting - certainly never dull! In many ways, he is like a dog in his play. He can leap, tumble, and roll after a toy until he collapses, panting on carpet. He loves nothing better than to include humans in play, retrieving a ball long after they have tired of throwing it. But beware! If refused the attention that he feels he deserves, this cat has been known to abandon such a place as unworthy of his attention. The Van often attaches himself to one person and enjoys keeping tabs on the favoured individual, even to recognising a certain car and waiting at the door. He likes to "rule the roost" and will defend his position or himself quite capably if challenged or provoked by other pets or strange animals. The typical Van is loving but likes to solicit affection on his own terms. When he is "in the mood for love", you may received head bumps and gentle bites that are alarming the first time but appreciated ever after.

Making It Official
On February 12, 1969, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in England voted in favour of granting breed recognition to the Turkish Van Cat. This was the result not only of hard work by Miss Lushington and other fanciers, but also of a document submitted to the GCCF written by Professor Dr. Emin Ariturk, the acting head of the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Ankara. He confirmed that the cats were a recognised breed, having been bred domestically in Turkey for many years. The United States followed suit in 1970 and the breed has received a warm reception by the CFA. Although the Turkish Ankara (Angora) has long been legitimised, the traditional white cat of Turkey - the true Van Kedi - remains in a "non-recognised" limbo in Britain and the US. The reason? Van cats with head and tail markings appear to have little or no incidence of deafness, but it is an inherited trait that crops up with greater frequency in the cat that is completely white. Obviously this is a problem that concerned breeders do not wish to encourage. Van Sehir and the area around Lake Van are not far from Mount Ararat and it is plain to see how some like to think that, when the Ark came to rest, the cats that proudly descended to dry land were Turkey's Swimming Cats. They were prepared! Another interesting story explains that the auburn mark sometimes seen on the shoulder as the place where Allah put his fingertip while blessing the cat as the animals left the ark. Regardless of its origin, the Van Cat is a marvellous companion who deserves recognition and - who knows? - Perhaps a home with you!

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