“My children grew up in the mouths of mastiffs along with the Armenian Van cats”
Interview with the owner of the largest “collection” of Armenian Van cat in Armenia Irina Tadevosyan.
Irina Tadevosyan keeps the Armenian Van cats and the Armenian mastiffs in Yerevan. The first Armenian Van cat appeared in Yerevan in 1992. In 1993, architect Hrach Nargizian brought the Armenian Van cat from America, and that is when it started breeding. In 1996, Mrs. Irina and her husband started keeping the cat and treated it very seriously. “I purchased my first Armenian Van cat for 300 dollars. At the time, one had to be insane to pay that much money for a cat, but we did it. After realizing that we couldn’t keep it, we took it to our farm in Amasia. It would go swim in the lakes, catch fish and come home. The dogs accepted the Armenian Van cat. My husband and I were happy to see the Armenian mastiff and the Armenian Van cat live together. Eritasard.am sat down for an interview with Mrs. Irina, who denied the “myths” that the cats don’t live anywhere other than Van and are only white with different eye colors. To know how the classic Armenian Van cats really look like and how they live in Armenia, read our interview. Eritasard.am: Mrs. Irina, they say the Armenian Van cats can’t live outside of Van. How do they live in Yerevan? Irina Tadevosyan: In 1955, two British journalists Lora Lashington and Sonya Holiday visited Turkey. After preparing their report, they took with them two male and female cats that hadn’t been cross-bred. When the cats started reproducing and the kittens were the same without any difference in color, they understood that these cats were an endemic type. Today, the Armenian Van cat is known to everyone as the “Turkish Van cat” and is sold at very high prices. I know a person who paid 6,000 dollars to bring a cat from Van, and he takes care of it as a Van cat. Cats are animals that will breed no matter where they are. Eritasard.am: What is the color of the body parts and the eyes? I.T.: The Turks cross-breed the Angoran and Van cats. Since white is the dominant color among them, the generation of cats born through cross-breeding are born with white hair and different eye colors. But the color genes don’t match, and the cats are born deaf. The cat is named Van cat. If one of the eyes is blue and the other is orange, the ear on the side of the blue eye is deaf. In other words, if both eyes are blue, both ears are deaf. The truly endemic Van cat should have orange moles on its head and tail, even though they may be on the leg or the back in special cases. After birth, all cats have blue eyes until they are 30 days old. After that, there are new colors. Eritasard.am: How are Van cats different than all other types of cats? I.T.: The Van cat is different in that it is rather large. Male cats weigh 10-12 kg, while the female cats weigh 5-8 kg. The Van cat is the world’s only cat that swims by itself and loves the water. The middle of the fingers is coated, and the skin is impermeable like the skin of birds. Even in 35-40 degree temperature, the Van cats dive in the water and don’t get cold. If any member of a family doesn’t like cats, that feeling is “mutual”. The cats choose one of the family members, and the wife doesn’t have to be the one feeding the cat. Eritasard.am: Where do your cats live? There are several dozens of them. I.T.: My main objective is to see the cats have their families (not to see families have the cats). I don’t accept the fact that they are kept in cages and are forced to breed. We have already established the Van Cat Association, and we sign contracts with all those wishing to keep a cat. I paid 4,500 Funt Sterling to bring four cats from England, but I do this so that the generation continues. I have nothing to do with Turkey, and there are no more Van cats there. Even the grimy Van chicken has disappeared. It was a small, black chicken that had the capacity to produce many eggs. The Azerbaijani made the Karabakh horse their own, and the mastiffs are on the verge of extinction. Eritasard.am: You also keep a lot of mastiffs. How did you decide to save mastiffs from extinction as well? I.T.: My first cat was Siamese, and my husband’s first dog was actually a dog. We had heard about the mastiff or the Van cat from our grandparents. But then, the profession of a veterinarian did the trick. My husband, Armen cleaned the blood of those dogs for a long time, and now I can surely say that there are pedigreed endemic mastiffs that have been with Armenians for centuries. My children grew up in the mouths of mastiffs (smiling). Once, when my Vahag (Irina’s third son) was little and still hadn’t learned how to walk, we suddenly realized that he was missing. He had woken up and had reached the cellar screaming “choch”. We had a female mastiff that had given birth to a baby mastiff. The child had gone and laid next to the baby mastiffs. The mastiff is the only “working “ type that maintains the smells. They never attack family members. My child was sleeping in the room, and the mastiff was the first to sense that he had woken up. The Armenian mastiff is 72-86 cm high. We have had a dog that weighed 82 kilograms. Eritasard.am: Your cats have interesting names. How do you select them? I.T.: For example, my Knkush (Tender) was very tender when it was born. I compared Toros with my Uncle Toros. Artamed, the name of one of my cats, is located in Western Armenia. I have a cat named Vaspura, which comes from Vaspurakan. They are born, grow up, and I select the name based on their traits. I have cats named after the Arpi and Arax Lakes, as well as Sipan named after Mount Sipan. We used to have two mastiffs, Khachik and Vardan. Then, it became clear that we had friends named Khachik and Vardan in that village (laughing). One of my mastiffs is named Dzenov Ohan (Ohan with a Voice). The names of the baby mastiffs are Sanasar and Baghdasar. I try to give them names that are not too common, even though we did have a dog named Grish. Eritasard.am: Today, very few people in Armenia have a correct notion of the real Armenian Van cat or the Armenian mastiff. I.T.: The youth don’t have a lot of information. They are spiritually “dry”. I think many people don’t know how the Armenian Van cat really looks like. If you don’t know what Armenian brandy tastes like and you are served vinegar in a beautiful bottle, you will drink it and say that it was good Armenian brandy. You have to recognize in order to mix. The same goes for animals. Our grandparents have passed away. Who should teach, if not us? The British or the French won’t do that for us. I asked one of the soft toy makers to prepare 50 soft Van cat toys for me, and he refused. There is a curriculum in which there can be a biology textbook that includes additional materials about, say, the types of animals that have disappeared or are disappearing in Armenia. I am ready to prepare that textbook, but I will need many interested people to join me. Gallery: Van cats and the Armenian mastiffs Interview by Tsovinar Karapetyan