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Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik

BOZKIR ÇANAVARI: THE STEPPE MONSTER
Written by Dogan Kartay and translated and edited by Guvener Isik
(first published in Choban Chatter)

"The word "çan" (pronounced "Jan") entered into Turkish from Persian, which means "soul that leaves the body after death". "Çan" is a form of energy or vigor that makes one alive. "Var" is the Turkish word meaning "present". In the very beginning the word "çanavar" had been used meaning "an alive creature" and its archaic form was "cani-var" that is "contains life" As the time passed, the word represented a wild animal or a wolf in the rural Anatolia. If this word is read as "çana-var", then it means reach and take or fetch the life, which çanavar takes the lives of sheep". *

The villagers of Anatolian and Central Asian steppes call a wild canid that does not pursue a pack life like wolves as the "Çanavar" (Joanavar). Çanavar lives alone; it is larger than a wolf and looks like a large dog with hanging ears.

What is the origin of the animal that is known as the "Çanavar"? Is it a wolf or a dog? As it is accepted, the shepherd dogs have the same genes as the wolf. Scientifically, the shepherd dog is a derivation of the wolf. The female wolf in the wild can mate with the male shepherd dog and vice versa. This is a sort of blood renewal process. The female dog gives birth in a barn and the female wolf gives birth in the wild. The produce of both kinds of births are puppies that are larger than wolf cubs. Some pups have hanging ears and some other have pricked ears. The pricked eared pups from a female wolf are accepted by the wolf pack. These pups, which are larger and stronger than the wolves become the pack leader when they grow up if they ever stay with the pack. The pups with hanging ears are excluded by the pack and the mother wolf. The pups that have hanging ears have no choice but to live in the wild by themselves. Only the strongest and the lucky ones among these excluded pups can survive and become mature. Thus the "Bozkir Çanavari" is formed. These shepherd dog looking hybrids, which posses a hunting instinct are well adapted to the steppe life. In general the shepherds dogs that defend the flocks cannot deal with the Çanavar that attacks the flocks one to one. The Çanavars are stronger than the shepherd dogs and more aggressive than the wolves. They have sharp teeth and nails. They do not attack man as long as their lives are not threatened. They generally prefer shepherd dogs for mating. The cubs of a female Çanavar can be only taken from her by the villagers shooting her. These cubs that have hanging ears are born in the barn and they generally can be raised as shepherd dogs and are considered very valuable. The pricked eared cubs, which are born from the Çanavar mother generally, join with wolf packs. The wolf -like Çanavar cubs stolen by the villagers are believed to cause panic in the flock so they are killed for they are thought to be potentially dangerous as they mature.

The pricked eared pups may be sold to some dog people for them to be trained as pets. However it is very difficult to train these pups because of their free spirits. Training for domestication can be achieved only with love, patience and hard work. The parents of the Çanavar in Anatolia can be karabas, akbas or crosses of these two. The possibility of the survival of the cubs from the Çanavar parents is greater in the steppes. These cubs become the king of the steppe life when they are mature.

Male Wolf and female Kangal pairs are bred under the control of the villagers of Yesildag region that is in the west of Beysehir Lake, which is located, further north of Toros Mountains. The pricked eared pups, which are the product of this kind of mating takes the form of a wolf. The pups that cannot be trained are released to the wild by the their owners. The pups that have hanging ears are kept, if they are good with the flocks, and if not they are killed.

The formation of a Çanavar in the fierce and merciless conditions of the steppes is a rare event. The steppe villagers tell old Çanavar stories to each other during the cold winter nights.

* Guvener Isik's note.
This article is taken from the 3rd edition of "Turk Çoban Köpegi Kangal" book of Dogan Kartay. It is translated and published with Mr Kartay's permission. Mr Kartay was born in 1932 in Izmir. Currently he is living in Izmir with his 30 Kangals and two Akbas in a mountain village called Gokceler in Izmir. I am thankful to Mr. Kartay for sharing his experiences with me and allowing me to translate this article for Coban Kopegi fans that do not know Turkish.


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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