The Story of the Armenian Van Cat

Close up of the face of an orange and white Van cat with amber eyes

By Rachel Melikian

Cats are one of mankind’s best friends, and many cultures have stories about how cats came to be so revered. Armenian lore says that the Van cat came down to the Armenian Highland on Noah’s Ark. Grandma Armenia’s cat is beautiful. They are one of the most unique cats, with white fur, one blue, and one amber/green eye, and a golden/apricot tail. The Van cats are known for their almond-shaped eyes, just like Armenians’ beautiful eyes of almond shape. The Van cats are very good at playing with children and are among the only cats who know how to swim.

An English tourism promoter comes across a never-before-seen white cat before her eyes. Unsure of its history and breed, she adopts the cat and becomes its breeder. To her surprise, the white cat is an undiscovered variety, pure, not a mixture. It is only found in the Lake Van region and is uniquely adapted to that environment. It’s the only domestic cat that can swim.

Van is a city in historical Armenia and is considered the heart of historical Armenia by Armenians today. The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson included Van in his legacy of Wilsonian Armenia. Since the age of Noah’s Ark, Armenians lived in Van until the Armenian Genocide in 1915. The perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide also massacred cats along with 1.5 million Armenians. The Armenians living in Lake Van were thrown along with children and cats into the lake, whether dead or alive. However, many cats swam to safety and survived, just like many Armenians survived the genocide.

Since the Armenian Genocide, the history of the Armenians has been silenced. Pandora’s box has been unlocked, darkened from the past, and locked again. The key is nowhere to be found. Modern historical books deprive us of the cat’s origins. Many other cultures have claimed the Van cat. To deny the Van cat’s Armenian original heritage is to steal the Van cat’s identity and deny a massive part of Armenian history. The Van cat has always been a cultural icon to the Armenian people. When Arshile Gorky came to America, he sculpted the Van cat, and many Armenian writers have written about the Van cat.

white Van cat lying on its side on a black and white rug
(Photo by Dids from Pexels)

The famous Armenian poet Baruyr Sevak mentioned the Van cat in his poem “Unrelenting Ringing Bell Towers,” dedicated to the Armenian Genocide on its 50th anniversary. He wrote the poem:

Only the stars were twinkling over Van Lake.

In a futile effort to save their lives,

Thousands-and-thousands of Van cats were swimming

With their fiery sparkling eyes. 

— Baruyr Sevak

Van cat was left almost extinct after the Armenian Genocide. It is said Van cats are born deaf. But our cat is not deaf; she simply refuses to listen to lies. Comfort Van cat like the Armenians have and bring her back home. If you hear the story of Grandma Armenia’s cat, help return her from the darkness. But you must call her by her original name. She is the Armenian Van cat and only responds to that.

Rachel Melikian is former GCC Woman of the Year

Looking for more from Rachel Melikian? Check out “The Mysterious Trunk and the Armenian Genocide.”

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