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The Traditional Turkish Van has been around for hundreds and even perhaps thousands of years and will be with us for a long time to come. The history of this natural, magnificent breed is extensive and rich. Their unique feature is a solid white cat with color restricted to the head and tail.  This coloration is attributed to the piebald gene, which is also known as the ‘white spotting gene’ or the “piebald white spotting gene”.

There are several theories concerning the origin of the Traditional Turkish Van. At some point it is mentioned, that long-haired breeds (Including the Traditional Turkish Van, the Traditional Turkish Angora and the Traditional Persian (Doll Face)) descended from the short hair African wildcat, native to Asia and Africa.  The African wild cat posses the same chromosome number and structure as domestic cats, and interbreeds easily with them. A different assertion tells us, that they descended from a wild cat called the Pallas Cat or the Manul cat (Otocolobusmanul) a long haired Asian wildcat, domesticated by the Tartars and Chinese, then later by the Turks. The range of these original cats occupied the Caspian Sea, the south shore of which is Persia (Now Iran).  Iran’s neighbor to the west is Turkey, whose capital, Ankara, was formerly called Van. Another source stated that they came from the Lake Van area of south-eastern Turkey, which resulted in these three breeds being called “Van Cats” for a while.  The long hair gene is recessive and probably mutated spontaneously and was perpetuated over centuries of inter-breeding in confined, mountainous regions such as the Lake Van region that limited out crossing.  The district of Van is snowed in for six months of the year, so these cats were very hardy, and have extensive winter coats. However, it is very hot in Van in the summer, so the cats shed to a much lesser coat in the summer months.  

Legend has it that Mohammed (570 – 632), founder of the Islamic faith, possessed a Traditional Turkish Van he regarded so highly that rather than disturb it as it slept on his robe, he cut off the sleeve. Mohammed’s Traditional Turkish Van was reputed to have been odd-eyed (one blue eye and one gold eye).

The Traditional Turkish Van is believed to have originally come from Van, Turkey, the Persian Province of Chorazan, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Afghanistan to Europe in the late 1500’s, with their principal color being white. These cats have been domesticated for centuries, in fact for as long as the famous Saluki Hound!  Their fur was of great value to the natives of Van, as it formed an important article of commerce and was greatly sought after by merchants of surrounding countries. The Traditional Turkish Van was said to be a great favorites of the Armenians and Turks who especially enjoyed how their unique coat color contrasted with their oriental furnishings and for their exceptional character. 

A book about “Feline Husbandry” was written by Niels Pedersen, who set forth what he called the “seven ancient mutations”.  One of these Mutations created long hair in cats. The others were solid coloration, tabby striping, the dilution gene (which causes colors to produce a lighter tone), sex-linked orange coloration, the white spotting factor and dominant white.  Of course, many other mutations occurred over the centuries, but these seven occurred so long ago, no one knows exactly when and where they developed.  All of these mutations are seen in the Traditional Turkish Van, as well as in other breeds.

When such mutations occur in isolated areas, like the cold plateaus of Turkey, this trait is more likely to be spread through the existing cat population.  A speculation says the gene for long hair spontaneously arose in three separate areas where cold harsh climates made the longer, insulating fur an important part of survival.  These were Russia, Persia (now Iran) and Turkey.  Because of the unforgiving environment and high elevations in Turkey, cats with long fur had dominance.  Another belief is that the mutation developed in only one of these places and was then transported to the others later. At some point they manifested the dominant white gene.

With so many village, towns and even a Lake Van sharing the common name, it stand to reason that the unique long haired cat from that region would become known as the Turkish Van.

The first long haired cats seen in Europe in the sixteenth century came from Van or Ankara in Turkey.  They were referred to as Vans, later called Persians and later referred to as long-haired.

During the 1600’s these famous cats made their way to Europe by caravans on the important Turkish, Russian and Persian trade routes between Europe and the Middle East. Rare animals were a marketable transport. By 1626 they had arrived in Italy.

The French naturalist, Count de Buffon, observed in the mid-18th century that cats in Persia “except in color bore a perfect resemblance to the cat of the Van.” 

In 1947 the Van was described as being imposing, white in color with a magnificent plumed tail. Even though they came in several other colors, breeders at that time were endeavoring to keep them only pure white with great success because white propagates itself with consistency.  The Van was considered a parlor cat, very sensitive to cold and dampness and consequently delicate in constitution.  Their owners were warned not to feed them tripe, giblets, or scraps of fish, since their digestion would upset much sooner than that of other cats. Vans and Persians were highly valued when they were purebreds.  Yet, many young Vans were sold without their new owners knowing what they had purchased. For a while all long-haired cats were called “Vans”, and then for a while they were called “Persians”.  The ordinary person made no distinction between breeds. The Traditional Turkish Angora, the Traditional Turkish Van, and Russian Long-hairs were indiscriminately used extensively in Traditional Persian breeding programs to add length and silkiness to the Persian coat.

Slowly the term “Van” in relationship to long-haired cats in England was seldom if ever used in that country.  A typical Van rarely existed then, so it was offensive to breeders to see a number of badly bred, long-haired cats advertised and spoken of as Vans.  The general public in England at the time thought of any long-haired cat as an Van.  Even poor Maine Coons were termed Vans.  Whatever the Van was originally, it had become far removed from purebred Vans. The purebred, imported long-haired cats were thought to be a cross of the Van and the Persian.  The Persian possessed a rounder head than the Van. Also their coats were quite different.  The coat of a Persian then had a wooly under coat and a long, hairy outer coat. Their hair was somewhat shorter on the shoulders and upper part of the hind legs. The Van, on the other had, had a long, soft hair, hanging in locks, inclining to a slight curl or wave on the under parts of the body. Their hair was much longer on the shoulders and hind legs than the Persians, and was not so plentiful nor evenly profuse as the Persian’s.  The Van had a more wedge-shaped head, compared to the Persians roundness of face. Of course the Vans and Persians of the 1940’s era were constantly crossed with each other, causing what was considered a decided improvement to each breed. Even Traditional Russian Blues were used.  The long-haired cat of the 1940’s was decidedly more Persian bred than Van. The Persian breeders liked the resulting long, locky coat, especially where great length of coat was produced on the shoulders and legs.

As we see the three breeds were interbred, and when that was done, the Traditional Turkish Angora and the Traditional Turkish Van characteristics tended to disappear and the Traditional Persian (Doll Face) dominated.  In time, true Traditional Turkish Angoras and Traditional Turkish Vans ceased to exist as pure breeds and vanished from the western world. By the 1900’s they had virtually vanished from America too. By 1909 Dorothy Champion, an American Persian breeder, declared, “That the term “Van” should be seldom if ever used in this country as a typical Van scarcely exists.  The long haired cat of today is decidedly more Persian-bred than Van.” However, only in the mid 1950’s was the term “Persian” adopted as a breed name.  All longhairs simply continued to be registered as longhairs, even though the cat world had been calling them Persians for more than half a century.

They were brought to England in 1955 by British Photographers, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday.  In 1969 “Turkish Cats’ were accepted by the GCCF in England. The Breed Standard at that time called for a mostly white cat with auburn spots on the forehead and an auburn tail, ringed in light and dark shades. It was supposed to have Amber eyes. 

They arrived in the Unites States in the early 1970’s with servicemen who were stationed in Turkey at that time. In 1983 Barbara and Jack Reark of Miami, Florida imported a pair from France and the more from the Netherlands.  The Reark’s were the first to promote the breeding of Traditional Turkish Vans in the U.S.       


The Traditional Turkish Van is second to none. Strong, adaptable, lively, mischievous, friendly, docile, poised, regal, graceful, beautiful, and elegant, they are truly the aristocrats of the long-hairs.  Usually they are gentle and easy to get along with, who make colorful, affectionate, playful pets. The whole house is their cat toy with any small object becoming a hockey puck. Climbing on furniture, door tops and shelves, while looking down at their owner is normal fun to them. They bond with their owners completely and are not happy unless they are right in the middle of things.  A good conversation is always enjoyed, as they can keep up their end of the dissertation.  A determined nature makes it difficult to change their mind once they get an idea into their head. Extremely intelligent, they are quick to learn simple tricks, such as fetching or laying catch with a soft ball. Helping to make beds, cook, and do laundry is on their “to do” list. If nothing is going on, they will make something happen. They can solve a problem and are eager to “show off” to company. They will tolerate being held for only a short time before wanting down to bat at sunbeams and chase toys. Some don’t like to be held at all.  Even kittens are capable of jumping to your eye level from a standing start, when chasing a toy. Described as “pure poetry in motion”, “animated, fluid grace”, “Living sculptures in fur”, and “there’s nothing better on four paws”, owners are always emphatic about the wonderful temperament and personality of this breed. Their symmetry and devotion evoke strong responses of loyalty from their human family.

 Unlike other long-haired breeds, the Traditional Turkish Van does not need a lot of grooming, because they have no wooly, downy undercoat. Their fur doesn’t mat the way a Persians is prone to do.  They keep themselves very clean. A once a week combing does them well. Some of their owners claim that their usual allergies or asthma don’t flare up around Traditional Turkish Vans, perhaps because of their single coat.

In additional to their great capacity for affection and alert intelligence, their outstanding characteristic is their liking for water, not usually regarded as a feline attribute. Not every Traditional Turkish Van enjoys water, but many do.  Those who do not only dabble in water and play with it, but have been known to voluntarily enter ponds and even warm horse-troughs for a swim. Even when young kittens they swim in shallow streams and still water. They soon became famous as the ‘swimming cats”. 

Since their coat has no under coat they dry out faster.  Actually their coat is quite water repellant. Dirt doesn not easily cling to the coat. 

As parents, they have healthy, robust kittens with little difficulty and with much enjoyment from courtship to the raising of their kittens.    


The breed is a healthy one, with no known genetic defects.

Deafness is not association with the Traditional Turkish Van.




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