Colour: White and Auburn
A native Turkish cat found in the region of Lake Van, in Eastern Turkey near the border with Iran. Also known as the Van Cat, the Turkish Cat, the Swimming Cat, and the Turkish Swimming Cat. In Turkey it is called the Van Kedi.
Domestic Breed. A native Turkish cat found in the region of Lake Van, in Eastern Turkey near the border with Iran. Also known as the Van Cat, the Turkish Cat, the Swimming Cat, and the Turkish Swimming Cat. In Turkey it is called the Van Kedi.
Appearance: The Van Cat looks like a slightly larger version of the Angora, with the same long, silky fur. There is no undercoat, which gives the animal a sleek, elegant, long-bodied appearance. The coat is white except for the head and the plumed tail, which are auburn in colour. There are from five to eight faint ring-markings on the tail.(But see below for controversy concerning the auburn markings.) The eyes are unusual because they are often of different colours - one amber and one blue. This feature, combined with their glamorous coat and their unusual love of water, quickly made them favourites with the public.
Legendary History: The city of Van, in Eastern Turkey, is close to Mount Ararat, the legendary site of Noah's Ark. A local folk-tale tells of the day when, after the Ark came to rest on the mountain and the floods receded, the cats left its protection and made their way down the mountain slopes and into the ancient settlement of Van. As they left the Ark the cats were blessed by Allah and the patch of Auburn hair at the front of their bodies is believed to be the place where he touched them.
Factual History: There is archaeological evidence to suggest that domestic cats have been present in Turkey for over 7000 years. A recent excavation by the British Archaeological Institute in Ankara, at the Neolithic site of Hacilar, revealed small terracotta figurines thought to show women playing with cats.
Much later, during the Roman occupation of the Van region (then part of ancient Armenia ) in the period AD 75 to 387, a large, pale, self-coloured cat with rings on its tail appears on battle-standards and armour. These relics, now housed in the Louvre, suggest an early presence for the Turkish Van Cat.
Whether this ancient evidence is accepted or not, we can be sure that these cats have been well known locally for centuries and were valued highly as pets. Despite this, they were not discovered by Western enthusiasts until the year 1955, when two British photographers, working for the Turkish Tourist Board, visited the Lake Van region. Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were given a male and female kitten which were named Van Attala and Van Güzelli Iskenderün respectively. Fascinated by these unusual cats, they took them back with them to Britain.
After the inevitable, long period of quarantine, the two animals arrived at the Buckinghamshire home of Laura Lushington, where it soon became clear that they belonged to an exceptionally attractive breed which was new to the world of pedigree cats. In order to start a serious breeding programme with them, they collected five more examples on subsequent trips to eastern Turkey, again putting them through the lengthy British quarantine process.
Then began the even longer procedure of establishing them as an officially recognized new breed. This was not achieved for fourteen years. Although their owners' photographs - especially those showing them swimming - had made them unusually familiar to the general public, they were not so popular with the conservative feline authorities. Delays were caused because of their owners' decision to use the name of 'Van' for both the cats and their registered cattery. This was not permitted by the GCCF rules and the name of the breed had to be changed from Van Cat, or Turkish Van Cat , simply to 'Turkish Cat'. The owners also had to agree to allow other breeders to acquire specimens, to create a competitive situation for showing purposes.
Furthermore, because the original Turkish owners had never kept records of the ancestry of their cats, there had to be four generations of true-breeding before they could be accepted as pedigree animals. When all this had been done, the breed was at last given recognition in 1969.
The Turkish Van Cat was late appearing in America, the first specimens not arriving there until 1982, and the first official registrations not occurring until 1985.
There, the history of this attractive breed might have rested, but an unforeseen problem arose. A curious discovery about the true colouring of the Van Cat was made by feline expert Roger Tabor during location filming for his 1991 television series The Rise of the Cat. He visited Lake Van and discussed the breed with local people, only to find that they considered a true Van Cat to be an all-white animal, without any darker markings on the head or tail. There were some specimens with the auburn markings that are so well known in the West, but those were considered to be inferior to the all-white ones. For these local people, the key difference between their Van Cats and the typical Angoras from further west in Turkey, was to be found in their eyes. The Angora has blue eyes, whereas for them, the Van Cat ideally has one blue and one amber.
This came as no surprise to Turkish Van Cat breeder Lois Miles who, in 1989, had been given the same information when she had contacted the Turkish Cultural Attaché in Van to ascertain the true status of the breed in its city of origin. She had become concerned that all the 300 Van Cats registered at that time were descendants of the small, foundation group imported in the 1950s. The original cats, now known as 'the magnificent seven', had been able to provide only a small gene pool for the further development of the breed, and none of the seven had actually come from the city of Van itself.
What Lois Miles now wanted was a genuine Turkish Van Cat from Van, and it was clear to her that, despite the difficulties it might cause with Western show-judges, to be correct it would have to be an all-white, odd-eyed cat. In 1992 she persuaded two friends, John and Pamela Hulme, who already owned four Turkish Vans, and who visited Istanbul each year, to make the long trek eastwards across Turkey to Lake Van, to find new blood.
The Hulmes agreed, but when they reached Van they initially encountered difficulties in locating pure stock. Then they had the good fortune to meet a local professor, Yusef Vanli, and discovered that the Yüzüncü Yil University in the lakeside city had recently established a Van Cat Research Centre. Careful surveys by this centre had revealed the surprising fact that in 1992 there were only 92 pure Turkish Van Cats surviving in the whole of Turkey. For this reason, the continued breeding of pure lines outside
Turkey was clearly even more important, and the Hulmes managed to persuade the professor to introduce them to a family with four generations of the all-white, odd-eyed cats. They reserved one of the three small kittens that were present, but which was too young to travel and then, three months later, John returned with Lois Miles to collect it. It was a female, called Garip (meaning 'alone'), who was re-named Layla. She was flown to Heathrow and placed in quarantine, waiting for the day when she could inject new Van blood into the inbred Western population.
Like Roger Tabor, Lois Miles found that the local Turks preferred the all-white Van Cat. She feels it was purely accidental that the original pair brought back to England in 1955 happened to have auburn markings on the head and tail. These markings became enshrined as the diagnostic feature of the breed and, in the world of pedigree show cats, are now considered essential. To the Turks themselves it is something of a joke that what they consider to be an inferior version of their breed should have become the only form that is officially recognized in the West.
With the advent of Layla, this should soon begin to change, as modern Western ways finally fall into line with ancient Eastern traditions. Since her arrival in the West she has already produced sixteen kittens from three litters, and one of her first female offspring has also bred. Among her progeny there have been several of the 'Turkish Ideal' - the all-white, odd-eyed cats, so the future for the breed looks interesting if complicated. Lois Miles has already been refused permission to exhibit her true, all-white Turkish Van Cats as such, and it remains to seen how long it will take for the irony of this situation to be recognized.
Personality: Terms used to describe this breed include: Adaptable, affectionate, independent , tranquil, sociable, soft-voiced, friendly, intelligent and modestly playful. The earliest Van Cats taken to cat shows were notorious for being difficult to hold, but later examples have become more amenable. The inhabitants of Van themselves describe the cat as: 'proud and brave as a lion' making 'loveable, affectionate pets with a remarkably long lifespan.'.
Colour forms: The officially accepted Van pattern, of white with dark patches on the head and a dark tail, is always the same, but there are variations in the head and tail colour. The typical form is white and auburn, but the auburn may be replaced by certain other colours.
GCCF: Blue-eyed Auburn Turkish Van; Odd-eyed Auburn Turkish Van; Blue-eyed Cream Turkish Van; Odd-eyed Cream Turkish Van.
CFA: White body with head and tail coloured: Red (= Auburn); Cream; Black; Blue; Red Tabby; Cream Tabby; Brown Tabby; Blue Tabby; Tortie; Blue-Cream; Brown Patched Tabby; Blue Patched Tabby.
1972. Ashford, A. and Pond, G. Rex, Abyssinian and Turkish Cats. Gifford, London.
1982. Gautschi, G. Türkische Van-Katzen. Rudolf Muller, Köln-Braunsfeld.
1986. Grice, J. et al. The Turkish Van. In: Cat World, May 1986. p.9-12.
1990. Inan, M.S. The General Characteristics and Biology of the Van Cat. (Ph.D. Thesis)
1992. Erdinç, H. An Aristocrat among Cats...Van Kedisi. Skylife, July 1992, Temmuz (Turkish Airlines Inflight Magazine.)
1992. Thomas, Y. This Van Could Run and Run. In: You Magazine, 18 October, 1992. p.62-65.
1993. Miles, L. The Turkish Van Cat. History and Folklore. Classic Turkish Van Cat Association.
1993. Tabor, R. The Cats of Van. In: Cat World, November 1993. p.28-30.
The Classic Turkish Van Cat Association, which publishes a twice-yearly magazine: Vantasia. Address: 2a, Woronzow Road, St Johns Wood, London, NW8 6QE, England.
Progressive Turkish Van Cat Association. Address: 4 Rockwood Close, Darton, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S75 5LR, England.
The Turkish Van Cat Club. Formed in 1981. Address: The Cheratons, 129 Balgores Lane, Gidea Park, Romford, Essex, RM2 6JT.
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