Van Cat, the White Knight of Lake Van

Van Cat, the White Knight of Lake VanVana katu (Armenian: Վանա կատու) or Van Cat is the oldest breed of domestic cats, which dates back at the times when Noah’s ark moored to the Mount Ararat.

These cats are surprisingly strong and playful. They are not afraid of water and are able to swim long distances. Van cats were also credited with magical abilities for the luck that they brought to their masters.

Van cat breed is rare, unique, and, according to the genetic research and definition of CFA (Cat Fanciers Organization), is one of the oldest breeds of domestic cats. These cats come from the region of Lake Van in the Armenian Highlands. Now, they can be found and purchased in many European countries for at least $ 400.

For the first time, Van cats were seen in Europe after the crusaders had brought them from Western Armenia. In the records of European travelers of the 17th century, an amazing comparison of long-haired Van cats with Angora cats can be found.

Struck by their beauty and dexterity, the French archaeologist, painter, and architect Pierre Victor Lottin de Laval, traveling through the Middle East in the middle of the 19th century, described the long-haired cats of different colors in one of his letters:

“I myself met specimens of this beautiful breed of cats on the large Armenian plateau in Erzurum, where the climate is very different from the climate of Angora (modern Ankara, Turkey). This breed is very common for the region and is dominant here.

I also met them in Bitlis and Bayazet. But the best specimens I saw belonged to the Armenian Archbishop Van. He had three cats: one was pearl gray, the other was red with black and white spots, and the third was completely white.”

The earliest depiction of a Van cat in Western European painting art is the portrait of “La Dame avec Son Chat” of the artist Marguerite Gérard.

Van cats are “intelligent”, beautiful, and unique for their kind. They are often colored white with red spots (both short-haired and semi-long-haired), having some resemblance to minks.

Especially notable are the eyes of Van cats. They can be saturated amber, copper or blue, but most of them are multicolored. That difference of coloration is called heterochromia iridum.

“Such cats are very energetic, like climbing as high as possible and jumping from high terrain. Unlike others, Van cats are not afraid of water and love to splash in it,” the British journalist Laura Lashington wrote in her works (1955).

Note that the coat of Van cats has water-repellent ability and dries much faster than the coat of other cats. This allowed Van cats to fish in the shallows along the banks of creeks and streams for many hundreds of years. In addition to these features, there is one very interesting legend which is known to few:

“Van cats have a small spot on their coats in the area of the left shoulder which in shape resembles a human fingerprint. According to a legend, the Lord blessed a Van cat to catch a devil mouse for it to not gnaw the bottom and sink the Noah’s Ark.

Catching and eating the mouse, the cat fulfilled God’s will and saved Noah’s family as well as whole humanity. As a token of his gratitude, the Creator put his right hand on the cat and blessed it.”

Thus the Van cat appeared along with its red-chestnut color. Kurds call the red spots on Van cats the “mark of Allah’s right hand”.

Many works, stories, and poems have been written about Van cats by such Armenian writers as Raffi, Vrtanes Papazian, Aksel Bakunts, Paruyr Sevak, and others. Images of Van cats can be seen on some examples of the Armenian decorative art.

Today, the cats of Lake Van are a local landmark, symbol, and decoration of the region. However, 30 years ago due to the active exportation of cats abroad, the number of “white knights” of Lake Van decreased. The law of Turkey prohibits the export of cats abroad and therefore the acquisition of even one Van cat will create a lot of trouble for you at the present time.

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