When the Ark arrived at Mount Ararat some 5,000 years ago, Noah must have been a bit busy keeping the animals from stampeding in their eagerness to touch dry land. In the hustle and bustle, two white and red cats leaped into the water and swam ashore. When the flood receded, the cats set out for Lake Van, located about 75 miles (121 km) to the south of Mount Ararat, where they have lived ever since.

At least, that’s one story about the appearance of the Turkish Van, a naturally occurring breed that has inhabited the Lake Van region of Turkey and the bordering areas of Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Russia for Heaven knows how long. Also called the “Swimming Cat” the Van is known for its fascination with water. The likely explanation for the Van’s interest in swimming lies in the extreme temperatures in its native region. Since summer temperatures reach well above 100 F (37.8 C), the cats may have learned to swim to survive.

This also may explain the development of the Turkish Van’s unique “water-repelling” coat. Most domestic cats hate getting wet, possibly because they must spend hours putting their fur back in order. The Turkish Van’s cashmere-like coat is water resistant, allowing the cat to go dog-paddling and come out relatively dry.

Whatever the reason for the cat’s fondness of water, no one knows for sure when the Turkish Vans arrived in the Lake Van region or where they came from. Native ornaments dating as far back as 5000 B.C. depict cats that look remarkably like the Turkish Van. If so, the Van could well be one of the oldest existing cat breeds.

Turkish Vans were reportedly first brought to Europe by soldiers returning from the Crusades sometime between 1095 and 1272 A.D. Over the centuries the Vans were transported throughout the Eastern continents by invaders, traders, and explorers. The Vans have been called by a variety of names: Eastern Cat, Turkish, Ringtail Cat, and Russian Longhair. Being cats, the Vans probably didn’t answer to any of them.

The modern and better-known history of the Turkish Van began in 1955 when British citizens Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday were given two Turkish Van kittens while touring Turkey. Since the breed was not known in Britain at the time, they decided to work with the cats and try to get them recognized by Britain’s Governing Council of the Cat Fancy.

English breeder Lydia Russell was also instrumental in popularizing the breed in England and Europe and in helping new breeders obtain Turkish breeding stock. At first the going was slow. Obtaining Van cats meant numerous trips to Turkey, and the cats had to pass through lengthy quarantine periods to enter England. But Turkish Vans were found to breed true, and in 1969 the hard work paid off when the Turkish Van was given full pedigree status by the GCCF.

The first Turkish Van kittens arrived in America in the 1970s, but it was not until breeders Barbara and Jack Reark started working with the breed in 1983 that the Turkish Vans began to flourish in the United States. In 1985 TICA granted the Turkish Van Championship status. The CFA accepted the breed for registration in 1988, and in May 1993 the Turkish Van achieved Provisional status with the CFA.

Until recently the Turkish Vans were not officially recognized in Turkey although highly prized as pets. Today the Turkish Vans are being preserved by the Turkish College of Agriculture in connection with the Ankara Zoo, the longtime breeder of the Angora. Turkish Vans are no longer permitted to be exported from the country and most of our current breeding stock now comes from Europe.


While you might be drawn to the Turkish Van for its fascination with water, you’ll fall in love with the breed for its other qualities. Turkish Vans are energetic, agile, and intelligent. They are extremely healthy and get along with people swimmingly, notes one Turkish Van owner. You may need a few months of working out to keep up with them, however; Turkish Vans are famous for their “action-packed” Temperament. They are talkative, demanding of attention, and show great gusto at dinnertime. Breeders also say that Turkish Vans are known for their attachment to their human companions, and sometimes that makes transferring a Turkish Van from one household to another difficult. They tend to pick out one or two people in the household usually the ones that deal with them initially and bond with them forever.


The Turkish Van is often confused with the Turkish Angora, but put them side by side and it’s easy to see that they’re entirely different breeds. The Angora is smaller and more delicate than the Turkish Van and does not have the classic “Van pattern” a term borrowed from the Turkish Van that is used to describe any cat that has a mainly white body and colored head and tail markings. The color should not take up more than 20 percent of the entire body. The Turkish Van pattern is governed by the dominant white spotting factor piebald gene (S), which gives them patches of white along with spots of color. This gene is hard to control and therefore makes breeding Turkish Vans with the proper color pattern difficult.

Some Turkish Vans have a color patch between the shoulder blades called the “Mark of Allah” Just as the M on the tabby’s forehead is said to be a gift from the Virgin Mary, this “thumbprint of God’ is considered good luck in Moslem countries.


  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆             Activity
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                Playfulness
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                Need for Attention
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                Affection
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                    Need to Vocalize
  • ☆☆☆☆                              Docility
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                Intelligence
  • ☆☆☆☆☆                          Independence
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                    Healthiness and Hardiness
  • ☆☆☆☆☆                          Grooming needs
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                   Good with children
  • ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆                   Good with other pets

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