In 1955 two British women, Laura Lushington and Sonia Halliday, on a trip to Turkey were given some cats that featured what is now termed the Van pattern, and decided to bring them home.
They bred true, and were used as foundation stock
for the breed. According to Lushington, her original imported cats were: Van Iskenderun Guzelli (female), a cat that came from Hatay Province, Iskenderun, and Stambul Byzantium (male), a cat given by a hotel manager in Istanbul, both in 1955. Two later additions to the gene pool
were Antalya Anatolia (female), from the city of Antalya, and Burdur (male), from Burdur city, both in 1959. Lushington did
not see Van city before 1963, and only stayed there "for two days and two nights". It is unclear why the name "Turkish Van" was chosen, or why one of the original 1955 kittens was named "Van Iskenderun Guzelli", given their provenance. Of the founding 1955
pair, Lushington wrote, in 1977:
I was first given a pair of Van kittens in 1955 while traveling in Turkey, and decided to bring them back to England,
although touring by car and mainly camping at the time – the fact that they survived in good condition showed up the great adaptability and intelligence of their breed in trying circumstances. Experience showed that they bred absolutely true. They were
not known in Britain at that time and, because they make such intelligent and charming pets, I decided to try to establish the breed, and to have it recognised officially in Britain by the GCCF.
It is unclear whether Lushington was intending to imply that the Hatay and Istanbul kittens had originally come from the Lake Van region, or was simply referring to the Turkish
Van founding stock as "Van kittens" for short. Neither city are anywhere near Van Province.
Turkish Vans were first brought to the United States in 1982 and accepted into championship
for showing in the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in 1994. Since then, CFA has registered approximately 100 Vans born each year in the US, making them
one of the rarest cat breeds. However, the gene pool thrives because it still uses cats imported from the Lake Van area of Turkey. Imported Vans have no human breeding intervention and are quite robust. No other breed is allowed to be mixed into the breeding
schedule, and all registered Turkish Vans can trace their ancestry back to imported cats of Laura Lushington.
Called the Turkish cat when first given breed
recognition in 1969, the name was changed in 1979 in the UK (1985 in the US) to Turkish Van to better distance the breed from the Turkish Angora cat (originally called Angora)
which had its origins around Ankara, in central Turkey