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.
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.
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.
As 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.