The Real Turkish Van Cat

The Real Turkish Van Cat
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The real Turkish Van was, is and always will be a handsome, distinctively Turkish cat that is random bred, meaning without the interference of people, whilst being more pure genetically than the purest of purebred Turkish Van cats that are part of the breed in the West. By “pure genetically” I mean most faithful to the original cats going back thousands of years, which surely must be a measure of purity.

These are my personal thoughts on the subject of what the “real” Turkish Van is. The picture comes from the Angora Cat Association website and I have taken the liberty of reproducing it here. I have referred to the website’s page on the Turkish Van cat.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding both the Turkish Van and the Turkish Angora cats. When discussing these cat breeds it is better to return to basics and try and shut out all the “noise” and distractions that have built up over the years.

A lot of the confusion originates in cat breeding in the West. Once you start breeding cats you start playing around with what was once a naturally created animal. You confuse the genetics and create a new, modern, history for a “new cat breed”. Then when you compare that human created history with thousands of years of natural history and evolution you end up with confusion.

comparison of Turkish Van cat in France in 1700s and Turkish van in 2009

Cat breeders have basically created a new cat in the Turkish Van from 1955 when first imported to the UK from Turkey. Before that there were (and still are) Turkish random bred cats all over Turkey that, as stated, are in fact purer than modern purebred cats. Also, I speculate as to whether the Turkish Van was actually in Europe 200 years before 1955: William Hogarth – The Distressed Poet and Jean-Honoré Fragonard Le Chat Angora.

In the West, the Turkish Van must have a Van patterned coat (or be solid white – TICA & WCF1). That obligation is a human creation which is stated in the breed standard. It is the main distinguishing mark of a Turkish Van cat in the West. It is another distraction because the Van pattern is a common coat type in the area of the Mediterranean, in the same way that the tabby pattern is common as well. The Van coat is a coat type, no more and no less. The association of the Van pattern to the Turkish Van cat is an artificial creation. The two don’t have to go together. It probably happened this way because the person who first imported Turkish cats from Turkey, to the West (Laura Lushington) preferred this sort of coat. She just selected cats with this coat.

Using common sense and ignoring all the distractions and almost all the text on the subject, I have concluded that the Turkish Van (TV) and Turkish Angora (TA) are the same cat1.

The Angora Cat Association (in Turkey) state:

The Turkish Van obviously started as the Angora but at recent times possibly has been changed.

What that says is that the TA and TV were the same cat. It hints that one cat – the distinctly Turkish looking freeborn cat with a very long history – has been divided into two cat breeds in the West. However, the TV and TA are still the same cat in Turkey.

The TA is consistently said to originate in Ankara (but there is no evidence for that1), while the TV is said to originate in Van on the coast of Lake Van (but, actually it doesn’t1 – see below map).

Anyway on the basis that Ankara and Van are significant cities for Turkish cats, how far apart are Ankara and Van? Answer: 1259 kilometers or 782 miles. Why should random bred domestic cats living in one country be significantly different just because they live 782 miles apart? In the UK, the cats are the same throughout the country and the distances are similar. The same applies to any other country.

View Larger Map

The Angora Cat Association also state that:

None of the cats Mrs Lushington brought to Britain came from Van. Her cats came from Istanbul, Hatay, Antalya and Burdur.

That statement puts a nail into the coffin of the idea that the Turkish Van is a different cat to the Turkish Angora. These places are to the south and east of Ankara, the place of so called origin of the TA and relatively close to Ankara. Conclusion: there have been attempts to divide up Turkish cats by location within Turkey when it is not feasible or realistic to do so.

Swimming Cats?

Swimming Turkish KittensAs is usually the case, cat breeders and the news media like to create interesting stories about cats. It all adds “grist to the mill” to use a British saying. It is not true that the Turkish Van likes water anymore than other cats and neither is this cat a swimming cat.

The notion that the Turkish Van is a swimming cat is media hype, which was latched onto by breeders and latterly websites that regurgitate the same story, thereby reinforcing it. The idea originates in the fact that the during the long and hot drive back from Turkey with her kittens Laura Lushington stopped by what appears to be a stream and her Turkish kittens went for a swim to cool off. But they were put into the water, I presume, and therefore by instinct, swam. These individual cats seemed to have liked the water. Many moggies do but that does not mean a whole class of cat from an area are the same.

In the words of Laura Lushington who visited Lake Van 8 years after importing the first Turkish cats to the UK…

“I must confess I did not see a Van cat actually swimming in Lake Van, but this was hardly remarkable because the lake shores are very thinly populated. Van cat has more sense than to waste his time fishing. Whether or not they swim for pleasure, as mine did on their return journey through Europe with me, I do not know – I could not stay long enough in any village to find out their habitual routines….”

I would bet my last dollar that you would never see a cat living near Lake Van frolicking around in the chilly waters for fun!


The first sentence to this post is the conclusion. I don’t think I need to write much more on this subject. The picture heading the page shows us the real Turkish Van. As it happens the individual cat in the picture has a Van pattern. This cat is the Real Turkish Van but it could not be shown at a cat show in America as a Turkish Van. The cat would have to shown as a nice looking moggie under “Household Pets”.

See also: The Real Turkish Angora. And years ago I speculated that the TV and TA were there same cat.

Note: The photo of the Turkish Van in a studio setting is copyright Helmi Flick.

Ref: (1) Angora Cat Association (in Turkey) – see comments from which the adjustments were made.

19 thoughts on “The Real Turkish Van Cat”

  1. Thank you Michael.

    We also try slowly introduce another term. I was suggested to call random bred cats as ”freeborn”. I like this term a lot of more. Aren’t random bred cats born freely without being controlled by humans? Moggie does not offer this exact meaning. Moggie is just about any cat without pedigree, I don’t think that all cats without pedigrees are random bred! Moggie could describe crossbreeds between established breeds, but not random bred cats which are not mix of breeds but representatives of naturally developed populations!

    What do you think?

    • Thanks Marc. The Angora Cat Association are excellent. They confirm what I have worked out for myself. The Turkish Van is a cat fancy creation dressed up as a “natural cat breed”. There are no longer any natural cat breeds other than the real thing – the moggies – living in the places where they came from.

      • Dear Michael,

        I doubt a word ”moggie” is best to describe random bred cats. We have random bred cats and controlled breeding (man made breeds). Every so called moggie is a representative of population of cats found in certain geographical location. They are not mixed, ”impure”, street cats. They are founders of ALL cat breeds! Forgive me for being harsh, but”Moggie” is a racist myth perpetuated by the cat fancy. This is not what genetics is teaching us!

        • Thank you very much for your advice. What would you call random bred cats? I am happy to change the words. People have trouble understanding what “random bred” means or “mixed bred” means but “moggie” is well known and understood (I hope).

        • I get your point. It could be seen as derogatory. The thing is that a lot of people see the word as friendly, charming and nice and they understand what it means. But that said, I understand your concerns. I’ll stop using the word.

  2. Hi Michael.

    Ref.- “What you are saying (as I interpret it) is that the American breeders re-write the history of the breed! It is as simple as that. It is bit like Russia and Stalin etc.”

    No they are not re-writing the history of the breed. That history remains the same and is repeated ad nauseum. The history of the breeds has been allocated to cats which are impostors because of illegal and unreported out-crossing. People only assume that the cats have remained the same but genetics prove otherwise.

    “So cat fancy Vans are not Turkish Vans but an invention of the cat fancy?”

    Not really an invention. Just an example of dishonesty and non-compliance with their association’s rules which say ” No out-crosses are allowed”.
    I think It’s more shameful and potentially divisive than confusing.

    There are those who cling to that rubbish because they can’t understand the science and others who know it is rubbish. The former defend their position by repeating what other people say and by waving a piece of paper in the air, and others who have 100% scientific proof. The 2 opposing group of course come into conflict. I.E. Dishonesty begets conflict. It’s an old story and does conjure up pictures of the USSR and China who’s agenda was and is based on lies and propaganda.( incorrect registration data and fairy stories respectively in the case of the cat fancy.).

    • Thanks Harvey. Appreciated. As I see it, the trouble is that when you read the history of the TV and TA you invariably read what the cat fancy has disseminated because it is mainstream and accepted. People repeat it and have no idea about the real stuff. In effect it is rewriting cat breed history.

  3. One of the main obstacles to understanding differences or similarities between cats especially Turkish cats are the cat fancy “scientists”. When they find a particular genetic marker they can allocate it any name at all in accordance with pre-conceptions and other influences.
    The multiple breed markers obtained from pedigree Turkish Vans (American Vans) became the SINGLE genetic marker for the breed. The same situation for the Turkish Angoras.
    For example sample No 9575 from the Ankara Zoo was identified as having only 18.32% of Turkish Angora markers but 73.14% of the Cyprus group. Since the cat fancy TA markers are made up of at least 5 West European and American breeds plus the Siamese and Korat it is pretty meaningless except to prove their non-Turkish origins. It is useless because it does not define what percentage of those breeds is involved in any given sample. Is the Ankara Zoo cat 18.2% Siamese, 18.2% Persian, or 2.6% each of those 7 breeds?
    Another is sample No 13558 registered as a Turkish Van in Holland with only 1.9% of the cat fancy Turkish Van marker, 21% so-called TA, but 76.77% of the Cyprus group. This indicates some mixing of the original Turkish cat with cat fancy Vans/Angoras.
    These are only 2 examples, I have details of several more, which show very clearly the sparsity to non-existence of the cat fancy Turkish Van genes in true Turkish cats. It shows that the main genetic marker for all Turkish cats is the same and the Turkish Van/Van kedisi does not exist as a separate breed in Turkey. They are all Turkish Angoras genetically identifiable as Anatolian E Mediterranean. This genetic marker can be as high as 98% for cats in Cyprus and one sample from Oraniye, Marmaris, Turkey is 98.42% Cyprus group. Of course the obfuscated term Cyprus group used in the unpublished 2012 Turkish Cats Genetics Study clearly means Ankara kedisi/legitimate Turkish Angora .
    The updated Tangled Tale of the Turkish Angora & Turkish Van covers the matter of Angora/Van subject in greater detail than before as well as shedding light on Laura Lushington’s Vans none of which actually came from Van.

    • The multiple breed markers obtained from pedigree Turkish Vans (American Vans) became the SINGLE genetic marker for the breed. The same situation for the Turkish Angoras.

      What you are saying (as I interpret it) is that the American breeders re-write the history of the breed! It is as simple as that. It is bit like Russian and Stalin etc.

      the sparsity to non-existence of the cat fancy Turkish Van genes in true Turkish cats…

      So cat fancy Vans are not Turkish Vans but an invention of the cat fancy?

      For me this is the cat fancy being irresponsible and creating new breeds and huge confusion for the public and even their members about a very important cat, perhaps the most important domestic cat in the world, the Turkish cat.

  4. Michael,

    To be honest I don’t like to point out mistakes in your writing. I am afraid you will accuse me of ”nagging” soon 🙂

    We really enjoyed your post and very pleased you have found time to write this article!
    Your opinions and observations are interesting.
    If not your inspiring article you wrote a few years ago, who knows maybe even today we could think that the Angora and Van were different cat breeds not only in cat fancy but also in Turkey.
    You should know that this article was a starting point for our research.

    Thank you very much.

    Warm Regards from Turkey!

    • Please nag me! I happy to be nagged because it makes the article better and PoC better and it is good for the cat. I really welcome your input everytime.

      I would you to do an article about yourself – just ten lines, off the cuff (ten minutes work) with a photo. You can do it in a comment. I’d like you to tell me your job and so on. You may have told me but I need reminding.

      • Thanks, Michael.

        The articles are property of the Angora Cat Association, not be associated with particular individuals. This organization is made up of volunteers, which have jobs unrelated to cats. None of us are cat breeders, although very familiar with the cat fancy world. Talking about myself, I pursue a career in science (biochemistry). Logic, science and cats are my life!:)

        We are aware that our research angers cat fancy and other related businesses. And this is just the beginning. We clearly know that for being honest we will be hated so much, but that’s a price we have to pay!

        I added a picture of my two Angora cats. One is a kitten and that one with a”Van pattern” (in its summer coat, about 1 year old) acts as a mother to the little one 🙂 She could be a stereotypical Turkish Van! Ironically, she likes water and doesn’t mind to get wet! 🙂

  5. Michael,

    This is a great writing! Thanks a lot.

    I think some parts need to be clarified.

    CFA does not recognize a solid white Van, WCF and TİCA does.

    Just to let you know, the cover picture we and you used is from Animals magazine (1965) “The Swimming Cats of Van”.

    ”However, the TV and TA are still the same cat in Turkey or very similar. If there are differences in Turkey, it is likely to be due to slight regional variations.”

    They ARE the same cats. If you think they are a bit different, why not consider what EACH Turkish city/area has different cat populations? Why Van patterned cats? Maybe tabbies from one area are different too? You should look at the graph of random bred cats from Eastern Mediterranean – if cats in İsrael, Lebanon, Cyprus etc. have similar genetic make up to the cats from Turkey, as you guess there is no hope that specific ”Van cat”exists. Turkey is NOT isolated area – the genetic pool between one area and the other should be very similar. ”Turkish Van” is the same random bred cat as Angora. Not similar – SAME. We don’t account for individual differences (which do not correlate with color of fur!)- as there is a lot of variety out of here. Individual differences do NOT justify creation of breeds.

    Lastly, there is NO EVİDENCE that the Angora cats came from Ankara. It could be from any city, or from anywhere near to Anatolia. But I would suggest the Eastern Anatolia and Syria as places where the longhair cats as ”the Angora breed” could have originated.

    I can see it’s very hard to get rid of ”cat fancy oriented” type of thinking. Hearing lies for years make us want to justify them somehow. Lies sound ”more natural” to us and the contradicting information ”too controversial”.

    The cat fancy had and has NO effect on populations of cats in Turkey. We don’t have different breeds in each city or location. There is no biological basis for this – in order to become different, cats have to be isolated for a long time, often thousand of years. This is what happened for cats which moved from Near east to Asia. Thousand years later they formed a distinct population with some minor differences. I don’t see how this could be possible in ONE country like Turkey! I am sure many biologists would agree with that!

    Kind regards 🙂

    • Thank you very much. I am nervous writing about the TA and TV because I know you are going to correct me as I make quite bold statements. However, I made very few mistakes 😉 I was playing safe on the TA and TV being the same. I’ll amend that soon.

      Thanks a lot too for your excellent page on your website. First class work. It deserves more exposure, which is why I linked to it.

      I’ll also adjust the Ankara reference (to TA).

      I’ll credit the picture right now.

      As for the CFA I read “solid & white” as “solid white” ! Going blind.

      Many thanks again. I love the work that you do. Very honest, sensible and full of insights.

      Update: I have now made some adjustments to take into account your comment.


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