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Turkish Van Breed History

This Turkish Van Breed History Article is Listed in Turkish Van Cat Breed Information

Turkish Van Breed History

Turkish Van Cat | Breed Profile | Breed History

The Turkish Van is a semi-longhaired cat distinguished by its unusual pattern: the cat is white except for a colored tail and color on the head. (This is called the “Van” pattern, and is seen in other breeds as well). Show cats should not have color on more than 20% of their bodies. The most sought-after markings for show are restricted to the head and tail alone. Some small body spots are tolerated, but not most desirable.

They can be found with blue, gold, or odd-eyes. (Odd-eyed means one gold eye and one blue eye), Vans are very independent, but affectionate. They tend to bond strongly to one or two people in a family. They are social and remain active well into old age. They are inconsistent travellers; some travel well, but others are prone to serious carsickness.


Domestic cats have been with us for thousands of years, dating back at least as far as the Egyptians who held cats as sacred. Increased trading between countries and continents has allowed domestic cats to spread throughout the world, and different varieties have evolved to suit their environment and behaviour.

During the last few centuries many of these individual species have been diluted by interbreeding, both naturally and under human control, and many of the original breeds have been lost as a result. Fortunately for all of us the Turkish Van Cat has thus far survived this threat, but only barely.

It was back in the 16th century that the first Turkish Cats came to Britain, although at the time they were given various names including Russian Longhairs, and French Cats due to the fact that they were imported from France. These cats wore silky white coats and had blue eyes. Today we might call those cats Turkish Angora Cats, a name derived from Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, however the modern day Turkish Angora bears little relation to their erstwhile namesakes.

Over the last few centuries the quest for the perfect foreign cat had led to extensive cross-breeding. The Turkish Cat line was mingled with those from Persia, Russia, and elsewhere, and a general preference for the Persian style led to the gradual disappearance of the original Turkish Angora type. By the 20th century the Turkish Cat was unknown in Britain.

It was in 1955 that Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were travelling through Turkey, and noticed that the cats particularly around the area of Van in Eastern Turkey bore a remarkable resemblance to the traditional Angora type. The most noticeable difference however was that the coat was not pure white, but had auburn head markings and a faintly ringed auburn tail.

Laura brought two unrelated cats back to Britain, and when they were mated they produced kittens bearing the same auburn markings. It was at this point that Laura realised that this was a natural breed, and not man-made. She registered the Van prefix and the Turkish Van Cat had since become an established breed.

It is generally assumed that geographic isolation is responsible for the preservation of this unique breed of cat. The most notable feature of the area of Eastern Turkey known as Eastern Anatolia is Lake Van, bounded as it is by the mountains of Suphan in the north, and Nemrut to the west. Biblical Mount Ararat is some 100 miles to the north-east.

The area around Van is mountainous and suffers extremes of temperature to which the Turkish Cat has fully adapted, shedding its long hair for a shorter cooler coat in the summer, and with tufts of hair between its pads to protect its paws from the cold in the winter. The dominance of this region by Lake Van lends credence to the reputation bestowed on the cats of being swimming cats. This is not to suggest that all Turkish Van Cats like to swim, but many will do so in shallow warm water, and they love to play with running water too.

In Turkey the true Turkish Cat is pure white with one amber eye and one blue eye, although the strong features of these classic cats can also be found in the van patterned variety. The first van patterned cats in Britain were auburn and white with amber eyes, and this became the standard for many years up until the introduction of the dilute form (cream and white) and the different eye colours (blue eyed, and odd eyed).

More recently other colour variants of van cats have been accepted at championship level since June 2000, these variants including black, tortie, tortie tabby, and their dilute equivalents. Sadly the white Van Kedi cats have not yet been enjoined to the standard, although its hoped that the coloured offspring that result from matings to Turkish Vans will soon be accepted.

Most of the Turkish Vans alive today in Britain can have their origins traced back to the cats brought in by Laura Lushington. The registration requirements of the British Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) stipulated that cats of unknown pedigree must show proof of pure breeding for at least four generations, during which they were shown under the Any Other Variety category. However in 1969, at the Kensington Kitten & Neuter Cat Club show, Turkish Vans were shown in Britain in their own class for the first time.

Acceptance followed throughout Europe in the following years, and in the 1980’s the Turkish Van Cat was also officially recognised in America following a similar rebirth. ~ Laura Lushington is President of the Classic Turkish Van Cat Association.