Van cat

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Not to be confused with Turkish Van or Turkish Angora. ‹See Tfd›
"Van kedisi" redirects here. For the formal breed, see Turkish Van.
Van cat
Van cat, Van, Turkey 1973.jpg
An adult odd-eyed Van cat, Van region of Turkey, 1973
Origin Lake Van area of Turkey
Variety status Not recognised as a formal breed by any major registry.
The Van cat is a landrace, not a formal breed.
Domestic cat (Felis catus)

The Van cat is a distinctive landrace of domestic cat, found mainly in the Lake Van region of eastern Turkey. It is large, all-white, and frequently odd eyed.[1][2] The naturally occurring Van cat type is the basis of the Turkish Van breed, internationally selectively bred with a more recently developed ruddy colouring pattern on the white, as standardised and recognised by many cat fancier organisations. However, one of the breeds' founders has stated that none of the original cats used to found the formal breed came from the Lake Van area, but other parts of Turkey.[3][4]:114 The capitalised and run-together term "Turkish Vankedisi" is confusingly used by some organisations as a name for all-white specimens of the formal Turkish Van breed.[5]


A Van cat kitten from the village of Agarti (formerly Ayanis), near the city of Van, 2005.

The Van cat has been reported living in the vicinity of the city of Van for centuries. The landrace is named Van kedi (plural kediler, possessive genitive kedisi) in Turkish, Vana katou or Vana gadou (Վանա կատու) in Armenian,[6][7] and pisîka Wanê in Kurdish.[8] All of these names literally translate to 'cat of Van' or 'Van cat'. Some sources associate the cat with the Armenian people of the Lake Van area,[9][10] who have been said to have "revered" the Vana katou.[10]

Turkish Vans are one of the oldest natural breeds. This breed's ancient roots give way to an interesting legend that suggests a more spiritual history. A Turkish folktale states that the Turkish Van was one of the many animals housed in Noah's Ark. When the ark landed on Mount Ararat, and the waters receded, the cats exited the ark and made their way down the mountain to the city of Van. The legend claims that the auburn patch of hair on the Turkish Van's head is a result of being blessed by Allah as they left the Ark.[11]

At the end of the 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamid II is said to have owned a Van cat, and having one is still seen as a status symbol: a Prime Minister of Turkey received one as a gift, and an ambassador from Greece put himself on a waiting list to get one. Kittens for the breeding center could be purchased for $282 in 2011,[12] and currently the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock does not regulate the export of these or any other cats from Turkey.[13]


Odd-eyed Van kitten

The cats are notable for their lean, long-legged appearance. Van cats are known for swimming in Lake Van.[14] The breed exhibits a natural affinity for water and is one of the very few cat breeds that will gladly accompany its owner in the water. The Turkish Vans are a semi-long haired cat with a water repellant coat. The coat has a cashmere texture and is described as wash and wear.

They are chalk white with color on their head and tail, and some are solid white. They have many colorations with white such as red, black, blue, cream and brown tabby. The females can also be black tortie/torbie or blue tortie/torbie. In Western shows, it is preferred to have a cat with auburn markings on the head. They can have amber, blue or odd-eyes (one amber and one blue). In Turkey, the all-white (or Van Kedi), odd-eyed or blue eyed cat is the preferred color type.[11]

Their most notable genetic characteristic is their almond-shaped eyes that often are mismatched colours. The most valued and valuable members of the type generally have one amber-green eye and one blue eye.

Current status[edit]

An adult female Van cat photographed at the Van Cat Research Centre, Yüzüncü Yıl University, 2006.

The Van cat is a landrace (naturally occurring variety), not a formal breed of cat.[15] They can still be found in east Turkey, near Lake Van, although their numbers have diminished (a 1992 survey found only 92 pure Van cats in their native area).[16]

There is a breeding programme for the all-white variety,[17] the Van Cat Research Centre (a.k.a. the Van Cat House),[clarification needed] established in 1993 at the campus of Yüzüncü Yıl University.[18] However, reports have suggested that the living conditions for the cats held there leaves much to be desired, and the breeding programme seems to be ineffective in reversing the Van cats' declining numbers.[2] As of 2006, the center housed about 100 young adults and kittens, and is open to the public for a nominal entrance fee.[19]

Origin controversy[edit]

The Van cat is claimed as a cultural icon for Armenians, Kurds, and Turks.[20] Armenians often consider the breed to be historically Armenian.[21] Prior to 1915, the area had a large Armenian population. In general, the Armenian homeland is centred on Lake Van[22] and it was also a center of ancient Armenian culture.[23] The Vanetzis (Armenian inhabitants of Van) loved the Van cat,[24]:84 and among them Arshile Gorky, who sculpted Van cats at early 1910s.[24]:87

Armenian writer Vrtanes Papazian wrote a short novel where the cat has been used as a symbol of the Armenian liberation movement.[25] Armenian authors Raffi and Axel Bakunts also mentioned Van cat in their works.[26][27][clarification needed]

The Van region has a large Kurdish population, and the Van cat has been referred to as the "Kurdish cat"[28] or "Kurdish Van cat", and made a symbol of Kurdistan in Kurdistan nationalist circles.[8] Some media sources[29] reported that Turkish soldiers poisoned about 200 Van cats. These claims ultimately seem to have come from an animal rescue group called SOS Van Cats Rescue Action, a spokesperson for which stated: "The cats are Kurdish, and the Turkish authorities are unable to digest this."[30] Van University's Van cat breeding project responded: "That the Turkish army would be able to find 200 Van cats, let alone poison them, is utter nonsense".[29]

Meanwhile, genetic research has shown that the domestic cat's ancestor, the African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica), was domesticated about 10,000 years ago, when tribes transitioned from hunter-gathering to crop farming and settled life.[31][32] In addition, the white-spotting in domestic cats appeared at the earliest stage of cat domestication, and is one of the points of evidence of early artificial selection.[33] The Van cat could, therefore, predate the ethnic groups now present in the territory around Lake Van[citation needed] .

In popular culture[edit]

During the late 1990s, the Van cat emerged as an informal municipal symbol of the city of Van – an enormous statue of a Van cat and her kitten now stands at the entrance to the city. The cat appears in a locally published comic strip, and in the logos of bus companies, shopping centres, and various other Van businesses.[citation needed]

The mascot of the 2010 FIBA World Championship of basketball, hosted by Turkey, was an anthropomorphised Van cat named "Bascat". He had a white coat and odd eyes, one blue and one green, and his head was shaped with design cues from the crescent moon on the Turkish flag.[34]


  1. ^ "Van Kedisi". " En Güzel Kedilerin Sitesi (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 12 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013.  Machine translation into English.
  2. ^ a b[dead link]
  3. ^ Lushington, Laura (1963). "The Swimming Cats". Animals 1 (17): 24–27. 
  4. ^ Pond, Grace (ed.) (1972). The Complete Cat Encyclopedia. London: Walter Parrish Intl. p. 384. ISBN 0-517-50140-6.  This is a tertiary source that clearly includes information from other sources but does not name them.
  5. ^ "Recognized and Admitted Breeds in the WCF". Essen, Germany: World Cat Federation. 2012. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  6. ^ Paruyr Sevak, "The Unsilenceable Belfry" (Պարույր Սևակ, ԱՆԼՌԵԼԻ ԶԱՆԳԱԿԱՏՈՒՆ), published in 1959: "...Թե՞ ազատվելու հուսահատ ճիգով Լող էին տալիս հազա՜ր ու հազա՜ր Վանա կատուներ՝Վառվող աչքերով ..."[clarification needed]
  7. ^ "Armenian Vans - Real "Aristocrats"". Tour Armenia. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Sor, Dara (11 January 2006). "Kurdish National Pride: Pişika Wanê - The Van Cat". Land of the Sun: Kurdistan. BlogSpot. Retrieved 13 December 2011. 
  9. ^ Gebhardt, Richard H. (1995). Complete Cat Book: Expert Advice on Every Phase of Cat Ownership. p. 159. 
  10. ^ a b Conway, Deanna J. (1998). The Mysterious, Magickal Cat. Llewellyn Pubs. p. 190. ISBN 978-1567181807. "The Turkish Van (pronounced von) gets its name from Lake Van in western Turkey, but is actually an Armenian cat. Armenian people settled in the Lake Van region and revered this breed of cat." 
  11. ^ a b "Turkish Van Cats". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Yönetmelik: Yerli Evcil Hayvan Genetik Kaynaklarinin Kullanilmasi Ve, Yurt Dişina Çikarilmasi Hakkinda Yönetmelik [Regulation: The Use of Genetic Resources and Domestic Pets, Regulation on the Removal of Abroad]". Resmî Gazete [Official Gazette], Issue 28418 (in Turkish). Ankara, Turkey: Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. 21 September 2012. Archived from the original on 12 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013.  Machine translation into English.
  14. ^ "Eastern Anatolia: Van". Travel Guide to Turkey. Guide Martine. 2012. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 13 February 2013. 
  15. ^ Wright, Michael; Walters, Sally (1980). The Book of the Cat (1st ed.). London: Pan. pp. 50–52. ISBN 0-330-26153-3. 
  16. ^ "The Turkish Van The Swimming Cat". Cats and Kittens Magazine. Pet Pubg. 2000. Archived from the original on 4 December 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 
  17. ^ Van City Guide. Ankara. 2005. [clarification needed]
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Van City Guide", Ankara, 2005.
  20. ^ Turkish Van Breed Profile by Anthony Nichols
  21. ^ "Van Cats". 2011. Armenia Travel, History, Archeology & Ecology | TourArmenia | Travel Guide to Armenia. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  22. ^ Landau, Ronnie S. (1998). Studying the Holocaust: Issues, Readings, and Documents. p. 101. 
  23. ^ Waldman, Diane (1981). Arshile Gorky, 1904–1948: A Retrospective. H.N. Abrams Books. p. 255. 
  24. ^ a b Mooradian, Karlen (1980). The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky. Gilgamesh Pr. 
  25. ^ Papazyan, Vrtanes (1988). Vana Katu. Yerevan: Arevik Publ. 
  26. ^ Raffi (1884). Kaytzer (Կայծեր) ['Sparks'] (in Armenian). Archived from the original on 14 August 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  27. ^ Axel Bakunts (2009). Mtnadzor (Մթնաձոր) ['The Dark Valley'] (in Armenian). Archived from the original on 14 August 2011. Retrieved 6 July 2010. 
  28. ^ Grossbongardt, Annette and Zand, Bernhard, "Kurdische Katzen", Der Spiegel 44/2007
  29. ^ a b Zaman, Amberin (6 October 2000). "German Group Pounces on Kurdish Cat 'Eradication'". Los Angeles Times. 
  30. ^ Karen Hooker (14 October 2000). "Turkish Van articles #3". Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  31. ^ Rob Stein, Washington Post (23 March 2008). "Using DNA to track the origins of cats". Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  32. ^ Lipinski, Monika J.; Froenicke, Lutz; Baysac, Kathleen C.; Billings, Nicholas C.; Leutenegger, Christian M.; Levy, Alon M.; Longeri, Maria; Niini, Tirri; Ozpinar, Haydar (2008). "The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations". Genomics 91 (1): 12–21. doi:10.1016/j.ygeno.2007.10.009. PMC 2267438. PMID 18060738. 
  33. ^ Vinogradov, AE (1994). "Locally Associated Alleles of Cat Coat Genes". The Journal of Heredity 85 (2): 86–91. PMID 8182285. 
  34. ^ "2010 FIBA World Championship Event Guide: Mascot". FIBA. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 

"Van Cat". Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. p. 2005. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 15 July 2009. 

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