Anatolian Shepherd Dogs International, Inc.



Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik

Kartaycar.jpg (152845 bytes)

Guvener Isik's Interview with Dogan Kartay
(first published in Choban Chatter)

The following interview with Kartay took place on 29th of April and on12th of May 2006 in Izmir. It took two days to complete the interview. I had to take notes as we spoke, and videotape him as he explained. I also had to rely on my auditory memory and his personal notes. Kartay was not that comfortable with question and answer type of interrogation! We talked as we visited dogs at different locations as we drove and during a long lunch. Since I also know Kartay since 2000, I had accumulated his opinions and attitudes over the time. He also advised me to read his books for more information in detail as I have already gone through his books several times, a fast scan of his books was enough for me to fill the gaps.

Why was Kartay chosen for an interview but not someone else? The reason I conducted the following interview with him is because Kartay has been traveling in the rural Anatolia for over 30 years for basically airport projects. He has worked on these projects as a head engineer. He had chance to observe these dogs in along period of time at various locations. Although he does not consider himself as a breeder, he kept as many as thirty shepherd dogs, including brindles, fawns and whites to observe their breeding, development and behaviors. He is the first self-motivated shepherd dog enthusiast who launched a comparative observation programme finding that brindles are not any different than the fawns as opposed to hard core Kangal fanatics' claims and he also integrated historical data into his interpretation of understanding these dogs in Turkey. All the other shepherd dog people in the cities have been operated with second or third hand information on these dogs. He educated so many breeders in the cities. I do not have his several years of extended Anatolian experiences, but my research style is in a way similar to him since I've been obtaining my information directly from the shepherds and the dog wrestlers. That is why I felt comfortable recording his opinion as opposed to the kennel owners'.

There are several experienced shepherd and dog wrestler masters that they have much deeper and hands on experience on these issues than him or me and these people's opposing statements against Kartay's will be brought here in the future.

Kartay and I do not agree on some subjects, but we both believe that we should be able to communicate as civilized people without raising our voices. After all we both are aware that not only he and I, but also ASD and Kangal people have something in common; the shepherd dogs of Anatolia/Turkey. No matter what we call them and how we define them. We are all students on this path. We learn when we share and we lose when we hide. - Guvener Isik

May 2006 in Izmir

ISIK: I am interested in the progress of FCI Kangal recognition and what kind of breed standard has been planned to come up with for that?

KARTAY: Currently all breeds of dogs are going to be registered with FCI. An application has been filed. It looks like they need to fill a quota in terms of a certain number of applications. My choice would have been filing an application for Kangal and Akbas separately. Registering the entire dog breeds including the hunting dogs is a mistake. We have to make the definitions in the very beginning; otherwise more problems are awaiting us. My breed standard includes the Karayaka (brindle or black) as a strain of Kangal. They are also karabas dogs.

Dogan Kartay's kennel

ISIK: What will happen to the dogs that are now called Guard dogs or mastiffs or that are pinto?

KARTAY: There is no Turkish Mastiff. These dogs are called “malakli”, but today we see some very exaggerated forms of Malaks. I suspect some English Mastiff blood in some of them. The Guard dog term was used to differentiate the active shepherd dogs from city or kennel dogs. Active shepherds are leaner and they have scars and not bulky. It was fair to have these dogs compete in a different class.

ISIK: Are you planning on trying to get recognition of several “breeds”?

KARTAY: Several members say different things. I am focused on research currently rather than politics. Kangals are pretty much covered by me. I started spending time on Akbas. I do traveling for that purpose.

ISIK: What are the things that you envision for the future if you had a say in all theTurkish breeds?

KARTAY: The Turkish shepherd dogs’ historical task is guarding the flocks or their masters, although they are not aggressive dogs. They do never pose threat to human life, but they can fight for the safety of their owner. Since these dogs are large and heavy they cannot be used for search and help. These dogs sniff the air not the ground; therefore they also cannot be used for narcotic purposes. They can be used in the military barracks, factories hotels, schools and farms as night guardians. These dogs guarding skills are indexed to the night. Trying to train them for any task before dusk is a mistake and waste of time. They will respond better after sun goes down. Repetitive tasks are not for these dogs.

ISIK: How many breeds should there be? Would all the fawn dogs be the same as Kangal?

KARTAY: In terms of shepherd dogs there are Kangal and Akbas. Anatolian Shepherd could also be included. ASD can be considered as multicolored shepherd dogs from Anatolia, which are basically Kangal and Akbas crosses.

ISIK: Should the ones with brindle or much white on the leg or face be another breed or should they just be disposed of?

KARTAY: No. White spots are the reminders of Akbas. Kangals have Akbas blood in them too. We cannot trace back everything. We are saying that white is allowed as long as it does not overtake the base color. White should not cross the knee lines and white in the chest is all right a long as it is not larger than a hand. These limits are artificial ones and I am aware of it. I am focused on the major qualities of the dog not the minor white spots. If the dog is half white and half fawn/brindle/black it can be classified as Anatolian Shepherd Dog. The crosses of Kangal and Akbas are sometimes superior to both breeds. They can be excellent shepherd dogs.

ISIK: However in the rural Anatolia, the shepherds and especially the dog wrestlers do not care about the color of the dog. What is your take on this?

KARTAY: True. They are focused on the outcome. color does not play a role when a dog wrestles or guards. However the dark color dogs are better for night jobs. Karayakas (brindle or black Kangals) are better suited to night jobs. They have perfect camouflaging.

ISIK: How is Kangal then a purebred dog?

KARTAY: It is because it is a natural dog. The natural dogs have more variations compared to artificial breeds.

ISIK: Is ASD a natural dog?

KARTAY: Its ancestors are natural and historical crossing between Kangal and Akbas is natural, but the
outcome is a natural crossbreed dog.

ISIK: I consider the entire Turkish shepherd dogs as semi natural, but let’s do not get distracted. However, when we say pintos are crossbred dogs, we automatically accept that self-color dogs are originally purebreds. Am I correct?

KARTAY: In a way “Yes”.

ISIK: But is it not a relative definition? The percentage of white areas versus fawn areas in the body becomes the determining factor of the purity. Could we say from a wolf standpoint that a fawn dog is more pure since it is close to a wolf and a white dog is less because it is potentially weaker because of its lack of color? Or the darker the better perhaps?

KARTAY: I understand your point. We have to start with a certain chronology. Ilhanli people were originally Mongols who invaded the Eskisehir region and they brought their white dogs with them. We do not know where they got these white dogs from, but we know that they brought them along with their war like migrations. They settled down in Eskisehir and were mixed with Turkmens. The situation at the time did not allow them to go back to their steppes in the Central Asia. They had to stay. They stayed and their dogs stayed.

ISIK: But we see white dogs as further as South East Turkey.

KARTAY: Yes we do, but we see more white dogs in the Eskisehir region.

ISIK: What do you think decreased their numbers? Why cannot we see a homogeneous Akbas population in that region anymore? We can see numerous villages with 90% Karabas
population, but we can hardly see the opposite! I see more white dogs in Afyon, Izmir and Denizli that I have seen in Sivrihisar/Eskisehir.

KARTAY: One of the factors is that the sheep flocks are shrinking. The other one is migration from villages to the cities. This is not the entire explanation definitely, that is why now I devoted my time to find more about Akbas.

Dogan KartayDogan Kartay

ISIK: Do you think we can leave some room for the color geneticists for them to say something about the relationship between the color and the body structure and breed standards,
since we see the same migration trends heavily in Sivas region?

KARTAY: I agree. I am not a scientist or a biologist. I am an engineer and if the science of biology evaluates all the data as objectively as possible than I also will go along with them. For now I have to use my own observations, historical data and basic biology. You should keep in mind that one has to know Turkish to understand these dogs’ true nature. Years ago I was flying and there was a gentleman sitting next to me in the aircraft. We started chatting in Turkish and I think he was either an Englishman or an American. I complimented him that he speaks good Turkish and I asked him why he needed to learn Turkish. He said he is an archeologist and he works on Hittites. I told him that we do not speak Hittite language. His response was “but Turkish is the key to understand them because Turkish borrowed words from them unknowingly”. He further explained that he needed to speak with the locals one to one when he tries to understand the local customs. That is why I say, “the research language of Kangals can be only Turkish” because the language is key factor. Don’t forget that Turkish shepherds were not scientists but pure shepherds who spoke Turkish and bred Turkish Shepherd Dog Kangal.

ISIK: Is the style and build of a dog important for breed differentiation?

KARTAY: Sure. Kangals have thicker bones and Akbas do not. The climate and the selection have a role in their body formation. Akbas is a fast dog and can take more heat.

ISIK: Could you explain for the ASDI readers in your opinion why Akbas and Kangal are different breeds?

KARTAY: We need to look at the history of the people who bred them first. Let’s clarify a point about whether Karabas and Kangal are the same dogs. Karabas is a historical name for the dogs that have black mask in the Turkish culture. The name Kangal was introduced later replacing the Karabas and there is no need to fight against it. It is accepted. Kangal is type of Karabas that can be seen in the Uzunyayla region. This Kangal type is longer than taller, whereas the Western Taurus Karabas Kangals are taller than longer, which is they have a more square body type although we see a mixing recently. All right what is a karabas right? Karabas is a shepherd dog and its roots can be traced in Central Asia. Calling or defining the shepherd dogs by their head color is our centuries old tradition. For example: Karabas, Akbas, Saribas (yellow head), Alabas (piebald head). As far as I know we do not see this kind of naming in the other societies. Karabas dogs can be found wherever the Turkic societies live in the Central Asia. These dogs are large, powerful and black-headed dogs, which also can be found around Kangal town of Sivas. Some European clubs call these dogs as Karabas Shepherd Dog. However the black mask is a dominant trait and this trait expresses itself when there are cross breedings. We can see karabas dogs all over Anatolia and sometimes we see breeding untrue to their origin, because of mixing of breeds or bloods. What Anatolian Shepherd Dog Clubs needs to grasp is all the Kangals have black masks but not all the karabas dogs are Kangals.

ISIK: Then what is a Kangal and how did it pop up?

KARTAY: Some observers and some researchers that we cannot take them as experts have encountered this breed in the Kangal region. By considering the presence of the best Purebred Karabas dogs in this region, they introduced these dogs as the Kangal Shepherd Dog in their own country. The founder of the Kangal Shepherd Dog Vermont Club David Nelson had worked in Turkey for several years, and he was able to speak Turkish. However he could not have acquired the entire truth about these dogs because of the lack of information at that time. He was not an expert on history, geography and genetics. He advertised these dogs with missing information. That is how this breed received lots of undeserved criticism internationally. Although he had made mistakes about this subject, he helped this breed’s publicity around the world.

ISIK: What do you think about ASDs and ASD clubs?

KARTAY: Let me first talk about whether we can get along with ASD clubs. I have been thinking for a long time whether it is possible to communicate instead of quarrel and be on the same page with clubs who took our dogs, and possessed them and did not learn about their true roots. To me it is possible. The condition is to observe the discussed subject objectively, to avoid all the prejudices and feelings and to employ the science. Then we could analyse all the givens starting from the very beginning and by defining the boundaries of the outcomes of the synthesis.Biology and genetics will point the right path. I believe that once the scientific knowledge is attained, then resisting against its results would be irrational. The history of Turkic people and the language are also as important as the science of biology. Natalka Czartoyka had observations on these dogs in 1960s then Dr. Malcolm Willis supported Natalka’s observations. Natalka’s observations are not totally wrong, but they are missing and not satisfactory. There are 80 cities, 800 towns and more villages that animal husbandry has been practiced for centuries. How long did these people spend time to cover all these places and draw meaningful results out of their observations? What are name of the cities that they had their researches? Did Natalka know about the Oguz-Turkmen traditions? Or did Willis himself cover Anatolia? There are mixed types in Anatolia and if you choose to ignore the mixed breeds it is your choice. If you choose to take a close look at the traditions in dog breeding and keeping special strains, then you can see how important they are and somehow still are. We also cannot pretend that there are no mixed breed shepherd dogs. We also cannot ignore that they are sometimes superior to Akbas and Kangal. These two breeds can be found all over the Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran and Anatolia and they are natural breeds. You cannot simply brush them off. These two breeds are not endemic to Anatolia. Anyhow ASD clubs accomplished something we have not like forming clubs, but they should work on developing the ASD breed. This breed will not be like natural Kangal or Akbas breed but it could be as good as they are. This new breed will be accepted without opposition in Turkey, but Kangal ASDs will face resistance.

ISIK: What if I say that when Ballard founded the ASD club there was no Kangal name in sight and his first imports were pinto dogs. One could have told him “look you cannot take karabas dogs out of Turkey and register them as ASDs; as you know they are Kangals”. Can he be blamed for that?

KARTAY: No he cannot be blamed, but mistakes must be corrected. Just because he started his club before Nelson does not justify his mistake or Natalka’s mistake as I do not justify Nelson’s mistakes about the Kangal breed standards. Karabas exists whether Nelson says so or not. He called Karabas as Kangal because of the region that he located best Karabas dogs. There are also perfect specimens of Karabas dogs in Konya and Denizli.

ISIK: How about Kars dog?

KARTAY: Kars dog does not exist as a purebred dog. It is a mixture of Karabas and Caucasian Ovtcharkas. We can work on standardizing it, but currently it is not a breed as far as I am concerned. Nelson believed it was and I know it is not.

Dogan Kartay and friend

ISIK: What are your other plans in the next 10 years?

KARTAY: Sky God knows how long I will hang out here, but we should plan a long trip together in the South East and North East Turkey to document these dogs. I’d like to put more time on Akbas and black Kangals. (Kartay will not use “Allah” an Arabic word for God. He chooses to use Sky=blue God, which is G?k Tanri (sky God) that is a Central Asian Turkish word. This is a word preference that we both share)

ISIK: Thanks for your time and your explanations.


Guvener Isik’s impression is that it was not tangible knowledge but assumptions about the presence of the breeds like ASD, Kangal and Akbas created the classifications. There are definitely several strains of dogs, sheep and goats in Turkey. The trouble is classifying them by being loyal to the local, traditional and scientific realities. Otherwise certainly all these strains are closely related to each other and certainly we also can squeeze so many breeds out of the general population or we can do the opposite by gluing them to each other. What has been stubbornly done over the last 50 years is to ignore the functional and behavioral differences of these populations. Function and the behavior must have been integrated into structure for a clear picture of these creatures. That is why covering these dogs including sheep and goats regionally is necessary in order to grasp the entire picture. Otherwise the best practice is staying in the shades of the traditions, since these dogs are the product of the Anatolian/Turkish traditions not the science or the kennel clubs.

Click to see Malak articleSee next article for map and details on the part that Malak have played in development of Kangal Dog and other issues....

From the Author:
     I have owned shepherd dogs since I was 8 years old. My grandparents had them for guarding their properties and animals. I grew up hearing stories about them from my father and my grandmother. My grandmother still talks about her dogs. I have always been attracted to their primitive looks but more importantly to see them in action as working dogs.
      Writing something about these dogs occurred to me in 1993, but I really didn't have the knowledge required to fill a book. I had to wait until 1997 with a clear intention to collect data about them. When I research them I research a life style. These dogs are one of the windows that one can see and analyze the circumstances of the rural people and nature. I had to learn about sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, cattle, bees, cats, wheat, carpets, forests and wolves along with history and genetics in order to have a multifaceted perspective about these dogs or about everything surrounds them. The main motivator behind studying these dogs is my uneasiness about the disappearing rural life styles in Turkey. I know that we need native sheep and goat flocks and wolves in order to preserve these dogs. Without these we can only preserve dogs with diminishing quality at every generation. We cannot choose and preserve them without the combined interaction of the flocks, shepherd and the wolf with these dogs. It feels like we are trying to keep water from running through our fingers. It will disappear in the end

------  Visit Guvener Isik's website at http://yorukanatolian.com/

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