The Turkish Van is famed as the "swimming cat", one of the few felines that actually embraces water. It's also a symbol of the Kurdish people, found in art and culture dating back to the 16th century. However, as the indigenous Kurds were persecuted by the Turkish Republic, so were their beloved cats. Turkish Vans were targeted for extermination as an extension of the horrifying treatment of the Kurdish people.
In 2000, when the Turkish government was cracking down upon disobedience within the Kurdish population, they ordered their soldiers to destroy anything related to Kurdish culture. This included the local Turkish Vans, despite the cats being completely oblivious to human struggles. Nearly two hundred of the cats were poisoned, according to a report by the German animal rights organization "Duesseldorf Group". The government denied these deeds, saying that it would be hard for the military to find 200 Turkish Vans, much less kill them.
While it is possible that the Turkish Vans were not killed, the persecution the Kurds have faced is extensively documented. The report from the Duesseldorf Group was believable in these contexts, as most rumors are based on a kernel of hard truth. If true, this is an example of man's capacity for inhumanity. The killing of cats is not as bad as the killing of humans, but it does call attention to ethnic struggles in a way that's understandable on a gut level. The deaths of thousands of humans seems like a statistic to many, but the targeted killing of their cats, creatures who were just companions to the oppressed populations, hits immediately.
If all stories about animals reflect upon humans, this is a metaphor for just how bad the past (and in a different fashion, present) situation was for the Kurds-- and how it should not be ignored.
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About the author:
A freelance writer/cartoonist living in LA, with my fiance' and our wonderful cat. You can see my work at www.rubysworldcomic.com and rubynation.smackjeeves.com