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    Turkish Van

    Turkish Van

    Place of origin

    Van Lake Basin, Eastern Turkey; Western Armenia


    This ancient breed has existed for centuries in Eastern Anatolia, but only came to the notice of the cat fancy in 1955 when two British tourists brought back a male and a female cat who were primarily white in color, with an auburn (red) tail and auburn markings on the head. Three more cats were imported in the 1950s and 1970s. When bred together, these cats produced kittens with very similar markings.

    The Van (or Seychelles) pattern is caused by the white spotting gene common to many cat breeds and was previously known as "harlequin." Expression of this gene varies from white lockets (Grade 1 to 2) to solid white (Grade 10); cats with two copies of the gene having higher degrees of white on their bodies. The exhibition-quality Turkish Van (Grade 8 to 9) has colors restricted to the head and the tail. The consistency of the Turkish Van's markings leads some to suggest it is a mutation of the white spotting gene, but the occurrence of nonstandard Vans, either solid white or with additional color patches, tends to contradict this.

    Adaptation to the seasonal extremes of the Eastern Anatolian region has produced a cat who is semi-longhaired, with a mane in winter, but much shorter coated in summer. It was once considered a true-breeding color form of the Turkish Angora, but DNA studies in 2007 found the Turkish Van to be Bibleclosely related to Egyptian cats, but a more distant relation of the Turkish Angora.

    Although the preferred variety in Turkey is a solid white cat with blue, gold, or odd eyes, it was the auburn-and-white variety that became known as Turkish Van in the cat fancy. It was recognized as the "Turkish" by the GCCF in 1969, with "Van" being the breeder's prefix. In 1985, the breeder retired and her prefix lapsed, allowing the GCCF to rename the breed "Turkish Van." Initially, the GCCF only recognized the amber-eyed auburn variety. Naturally occurring cream-and-white Vans (due to recessive genes) were not recognized until 1986. In 1988, blue eyes and odd eyes were allowed. Not until 2000 were other patch colors permitted; these resulted from Vans imported from Turkey into the Netherlands to expand the gene pool during the 1980s.

    The auburn-and-white Turkish Van was recognized by the FIFe in 1971, followed by cream-and-white in 1986 and the other colors in 1997. TICA recognized the different colors right from the start in 1979. Although Turkish Vans had reached the United States in the 1970s, the first breeding cats were imported from France and the Netherlands in 1983. Some patterned Turkish Vans have a small mark between the shoulder blades. Kurdish folklore calls this "the thumbprint of God's right hand" and considers it lucky. Another local legend says the red Van pattern is where God blessed these cats as they left Noah's Ark, having kept its rat population under control.

    The Turkish Van is also known as the "Kurdish Cat" or "Kurdish Van" and is used as a symbol of Kurdistan by some Kurdish nationalists. Armenians consider the breed to be an Armenian one and call it "Vana Katu." Both consider the name "Turkish" to be an attempt to suppress their cultures, although the Van predates these ethnic groups. The Van cat preferred by the Turks is solid white, whereas the Kurdish Van has the now familiar auburn markings.In Turkey, the true Van Kedisi (Van Cat) is solid white cat, either longhaired or shorthaired, and preferably with one blue and one gold eye.

    Within the cat fancy, some registries use the name Turkish Vankedisi as an umbrella term for both the patterned and solid white versions, these being interbred and the offspring registered according to pattern. Solid white Vankedisi can have different genotypes: some are due to Grade 10 expression of the white spotting gene and others are due to the dominant "white masking" gene that obscures any underlying color and pattern. Offspring of solid white Vans that do not inherit the white masking gene from either parent may be solid, bicolor, or patterned, including Van-patterned.

    Due to restrictions placed on the export of the odd-eyed white Vans, few have been allowed to leave Turkey, where it is conserved due to declining numbers. In the early 1990s, Turkish authorities permitted an odd-eyed white female to be exported to the United Kingdom. This solid white variety was recognized by the GCCF in 2006 (as Turkish Vankedisi) and by TICA in 2007 (as a variety of Turkish Van). The CFA, WCF, and FIFe recognize only the Van-patterned cats. It is claimed that the fine fur of the Turkish Van/Vankedisi holds less dander makes them less likely to cause allergies. They may be easier to bathe than other breeds, helping to reduce the amount of the allergen Fel d1 on their fur.

    The Anatolian (Turkish Shorthair, Anadolu Kedisi) is the shorthaired equivalent of the Turkish Van/Vankedisi and has interbred with both the Turkish Van and Turkish Angora. It occurs in all natural colors, including Van-patterned and is said to like water even more than does the Turkish Van. Because of interbreeding with the other Turkish breeds, some Anatolians carry the recessive longhair gene and produce longhaired offspring, some of whom have been exported as Turkish Vans and Turkish Angoras. Dutch and German cat fanciers are now developing the Anatolian as a separately recognized breed.

    Physical description

    In contrast to the Turkish Angora, the Turkish Van/Vankedisi is a substantial cat, with a strong chest, medium long body, and muscular legs. Males are particularly imposing, their shoulders and chest being so broad it is said that they are the only domestic cats who cannot follow their heads through a gap! The mediumto- large head is a modified wedge with rounded contours and large, walnut-shape eyes. The moderately large ears are set high and wide apart and have rounded tips.

    The semi-long coat is very fine and soft; the lack of woolly undercoat makes it less likely to mat than some other longhairs. The texture is often likened to cashmere and helps to make these cats waterproof. In summer, only the fox-brush tail and britches show the Turkish Van to be a semilonghair. There is some difference between the coat of the Van cats from English/American and Dutch breeding programs, most noticeably in young cats. The Turkish Van/Vankedisi can take three to five years to reach full maturity and splendor.

    The shorthaired Anatolian is similar in conformation and color except for coat length.

    Colors and varieties

    The Turkish Van was initially recognized only as a chalky-white cat with auburn (red or red tabby) markings. It is now recognized for competition in a wider variety of solid colors, tortoiseshell, tabby, and silver and smoke colors. Up to 20 percent of the coat (including head and tail) may be colored. This includes color extending onto the face, color extending onto the rump, and some random spotting as long as it does not detract from the Van pattern. There may be a thumbprint on left shoulder. The head markings have a white "blaze" running from the forehead to the back of the head.

    The eyes may be amber, blue, or odd-eyed (one of each color). In Turkey, an odd-eyed, solid white cat is preferred, but the foundation cats imported into the United Kingdom were amber-eyed. Green-eyed Turkish Vans sometimes appear. TICA recognizes Turkish Vans in solid white and in Van-patterned varieties. Other associations may recognize the all-white Turkish Van (Van Kedi or Vankedisi) as a separate breed or not at all.


    The most famous characteristic of this breed is its love of water. Many Vans, Vankedisis, and Anatolians enjoy playing with water and some enjoy a swim when presented with the opportunity. Turkish Vans are loyal, loving, active, and highly intelligent. This means a bored or ignored cat will find ways of getting into mischief. They are great jumpers and climbers and enjoy observing the household from high vantage points. They may learn to play games of fetch with their favorite toys. They also get on well with dogs, just so long as the cat is the boss! Turkish Vans are affectionate with their chosen special person. They tend to express this with head bumps and gentle nibbles. Although not a breed that enjoys being picked up and cuddled for long periods, they enjoy lap-time when they want it.

    Activity level


    Vocal level


    Special needs

    The coat does not require a great deal of grooming, due to the lack of undercoat. However, regular combing, especially during the spring shedding season, is recommended. Like other cats with white ears, nontoxic sun block on the ears of indoor–outdoor cats will help to avoid sunburn or skin cancer.


    In its native Turkey, the Van Kedi is also recognized as a shorthaired cat, now known to the cat fancy as the Anatolian.


    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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