Pişika Wanê - The Van Cat
Raping Kurdish Culture
"The Turkish state wants to wipe out everything that symbolizes Kurdish culture,'' Florian Cremer, a representative of the group, charged in a recent interview with the Turkish weekly Aydinlik. "The cats are Kurdish, and the Turkish authorities are unable to digest this.'' Experts remain divided on the origins of this exotic breed, which has snow-white fur and usually one blue and one green eye. It loves to swim in Van's huge lake and is said to behave more like a dog than a cat.
Local legend has it that the felines were part of Noah's cargo and left the ark when the flood waters receded and the vessel came to rest on the peak of Mount Ararat, about 100 miles northeast of the city of Van.
Perhaps the oversight was Noah's. According to legend, the famous ark architect and animal lover was having a hard time keeping his passengers calm as their vessel approached dry land on the slopes of Mount Ararat, located in a remote area of North Kurdistan. After several months aboard a wooden ship crammed full of animals, you can understand why the passengers were a bit anxious to get ashore. Two cats, smarter and a tad more wily than their fellow animals, snuck past Noah's guard and leapt into the flood waters to swim ashore.
Some Van Cats have a color patch between the shoulder blades called the "Mark of Allah"-the place where Allah touched the cats on their way from the Ark. This "thumbprint of god" is considered to be good luck in Moslem countries. Other distinguishing marks include the five to eight, faint ring-markings on the tail. Some Vans sport eyes of different colors - one amber, one blue.
The Mongol Van Cat
Now, apparently in response to the Germans, Turkish nationalists have been quoted in recent news reports as insisting that Van cats, like the latter-day Turks, came from Central Asia. Denying the Kurds' existence as a distinct ethnic group and repressing their culture has been state policy since the founding of the Turkish republic more than 70 years ago.
The Van cat can be found all over the Serhed area of Kurdistan - but especialy in Van, it's hometown.
Are Van cats becoming pawns in the politics of eastern Turkey? Last October, a German animal welfare group issued a report stating Vans were being killed for political purposes throughout the region. Turkish officials vehemently denied the account.
The Duesseldorf group, called SOS Van Cats Rescue Action, charged that Turkish soldiers were killing Vans because of the breeds' association with the Kurds and Kurdish culture. The Kurds of eastern Turkey, including the Lake Van region, have long sought independence from Turkey, and until recently separatist Kurdish rebels in the region waged a 15-year battle with the Turkish army.
"The Turkish state wants to wipe out everything that symbolizes Kurdish culture," said Florian Cremer, a spokesperson for the group. "The cats are Kurdish, and Turkish authorities are unable to digest this."