Turkish Angora Cat history
By Julia Williams
Although I’ve never actually had a purebred cat myself, I always like learning about different cat breeds. Many have fascinating histories or characteristics that make them unique. The rare Turkish Van cat actually has both.
The Turkish Van (pronounced “von”) is an ancient cat breed believed to have originated in the Lake Van region of Eastern Turkey. Unlike many purebred cats of today, the Turkish Van is a natural breed, not a man-made breed. Turkish Vans are a semi-longhaired white cat with colored markings primarily on the head and tail. Vans are said to be an active, affectionate, playful, intelligent, strong and healthy breed with no known genetic defects.
Perhaps most interesting of all is that Turkish Vans love water, hence their nickname “Swimming Cat.” Vans not only play in water, but will enter ponds, horse troughs and shallow streams to swim in it! Some have speculated that the cats learned to swim in order to cool off during the extremely hot Turkish summers, and to catch fish.
In an article published by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) Diane Marcus writes, “The Turkish Van is unique – in its history, its color and pattern, its personality and its ability to survive, virtually unchanged for thousands of years. It shares an area known as the ‘Cradle of Civilization’ with mankind.”
History of the Turkish Van Cat
In 1955, British photographers Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were hired to promote tourism in Turkey. While traveling around taking photographs, they became interested in the native white cats with auburn markings on their heads and fluffy tails. After their assignment, the women took a pair of unrelated male and female Van cats back to England and found them to breed true, i.e., they produced kittens that looked exactly like their parents.
They were first called Turkish cats, but the name was later changed to Turkish Van to avoid confusion with another cat breed, the Turkish Angora. Although some mistakenly believe that the Turkish Van is merely a color variation of the more well known Turkish Angora, they are actually two distinct breeds that originated in geographically distant regions of Turkey.
Although the breed has an ancient lineage, it’s only been in the United States since 1982. There are relatively few Turkish Van breeders and exhibitors, however, and even in areas where the breed has been found for centuries, they are still relatively rare.