A thriving cat culture in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey reflects a tradition-bound country on the path to modernity. It’s derived in part from Muslim concepts about tolerance, and an urban elite that reflects Western ideas about animal rights.
Cats benefit from their association with Islam in Turkey, where the majority of the population is Muslim. A popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”
According to Islamic lore, a cat thwarted a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. In another tale, the prophet found his cat sleeping on the edge of his vest. Instead of shifting the cat, the prophet cut off the portion of the vest that was free and wore it without disturbing the pet.
When President Obama visited Turkey in 2009, he stopped to pet a tabby at the Haghia Sophia. The cat was one of half a dozen living at the ancient site and took the VIP attention in stride.
The old imperial capital of Istanbul boasts a large population of feral cats. They amble and lounge around some mosques and have the run of several universities. Facebook campaigns solicit supplies to be delivered to them, and it’s easy to spot discreet food and water containers left on sidewalks for the cats.
Istanbul’s Bosphorus University is so well-known for adopting strays that people dump unwanted cats there, knowing they’ll get fed. Cats wander freely into classrooms at the school.
“We should learn to live with these animals,” says Sevgin Akis Roney, an economics professor at Bosphorus, who walks around with cat food for the strays.
Turkey is more forward-thinking than most Western communities with respect to its stewardship of feral cats. In 2004, Turkey introduced an animal protection law that established the current policy to trap, neuter and release or find a home for street animals.
Although suburban sprawl made Istanbul less hospitable for street cats in the last half of the 20th century, pockets of the city maintain the tradition of caring for strays a convenient option for Turks who don’t want the hassle of a pet at home.
Nukhet Barlas, a environmental consultant who has photographed Istanbul’s cats writes, “Most of these strays have developed friendly relationships with people. They have personalities and in many neighborhoods, they are almost part of the community.”
One tourist hostel in Istanbul is called the Stray Cat. At the Kaktus Cafe in Istanbul’s Cihangir district, cats sit next to customers or doze on the chairs. Cat images decorate dishes and tablecloths.
“Cats are lazy anarchists,” said Ozgur Kantemir, who has eight cats and lives in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “This might be one reason why they conform with us just fine in big cities.”
Click here for original article by Christopher Torchia.
[SOURCES: Photos 1 and 5: AP Photo/Ibrahim Usta; Photo 2: trekearth.com; Photo 3: todayszaman.com; Photo 4: travelpod.com; Story Christopher Torchia (AP)]