Anatolian Perspectives by Guvener Isik
We can always see some relative deviations once we have at least two units to compare. We can notice the heavy Kangal-like dogs present in Anatolia. Why are they present? Apparently not for sheep herding, certainly not for goat herding because they are very slow. The most appropriate task for the Malak could have been Cattle or Water Buffalo guarding*, but we are neither aware of the presence of any task of this kind nor the distinctive swimming ability of Malak!
I noticed these dogs in year 2000, and I used the "Central Anatolian or Hitite Mastiff" for the purpose of description in the summer of 2004. This description covered Kangal and its derivations. The more correct term should have been Molossus instead of Mastiff. Historically Molossus dogs were not heavy dogs like todays Mastiffs and they were strong, well-built and agile dogs. The dogs called "Malak" or "Malakli" in Anatolia are heavy molossus based on this description, because Malaks are not fast runners like most molossus. Calling them Mastiff has a couple of historical problems. The Greek Molossian and Laconian dogs were shepherds and hunters and they did not look like todays modern Mastiffs at all. The Assyrian dogs were not Mastiffs but Molossus. The breeds, which have brachycephalic head, are not necessarily Molosser nor even Mastiff. Greco-Roman art does not indicate any modern Mastiff looking dogs. I will feel safer assuming the presence of proto-mastiffs in Anatolia in the form of Molossus.
The Turkish name of these dogs in Anatolia is "Malak". Although some heavily lipped examples of these dogs can be found in Konya, Aksaray and Nevsehir, they can be found in Balikesir, Denizli, Burdur, Maras, even in Erzurum and Agri. The reason that this type can be observed in regions which seem unrelated, is the old tradition of dog wrestling in Anatolia.
The presence of Molossus and/or Mastiff like dogs in Anatolia before the Turks entrance to Anatolia is known. These dogs had already completed their development in ancient times. Now what needs to be done is to research them. I thought that calling these dogs with a name that belongs to an antique people could be right and just. Nevertheless "Malak" by itself is sufficient.
The Kangal is already considered a mastiff-like (heavy molossus) dog. When a new breed is considered apart from Kangal, then a tendency to call the akyaka (white-body) Kangal as a "white Mastiff" could arise. The reason behind this logic is clear: according to the standards of Kangal, Kangal cannot be white and without a black mask. Then what is going to happen to the akyaka Kangal? The solution is the following: A new class or breed could be created -- or more correctly, Akyakas would be transferred into the new classification of Mastiff! That way the God given solid standards of pure Kangal would be left alone.
This indicates that the Kangals standards have been established several times hastily without studying the dogs as a whole. Today, as breeding under controlled conditions increases, more differences among these dogs have been realized. We now see the differences within a given cluster and between the clusters of dogs.
Malak could come in any color. When this was the case, then the Akyaka could be collected under the Malak class. Instead of approving the existence of white Kangals, or calling different colors of kangals as "white", brindle or pinto -- the use of the term "Mastiff" has become a solution that would not hurt the initial argument regarding color purity of the Karabas dogs of Sivas and the surrounding regions.
Body and Head
Both Malak and Kangal are similar to each other. Kangals that are particularly favoured are more Malakish in terms of the large head size and broad chest. It is not easy to see the difference between them. The forehead is not as developed in Malaks. The body becomes more barrel like as the weight increases in Malaks and when observed from the profile, the body looks rectangle instead of square. Malak is less hairy and has a tail with less curl. But, since I always state that the exceptions are a rule in Anatolia, one can encounter curled tailed Malak infrequently. They are ideal for wrestling considering their body structure. Those that I have encountered all had soft temperaments with one exception. Malaks weigh more than 150 pounds and can be as heavy as 200 pounds.
Etymology of Malak
It is a name given to the dogs which have hanging lips and cheeks. The word means "like buffalo". The temperament of these dogs reminds one the Camiz/Manda/Water Buffalo anyway. In some regions the word becomes "Balak" meaning the calf of a Camiz. The same word is used in Syria and Iraq too. In Arabic, Malak also means the messenger of God or Angel or independent, but obviously the same word has a very different meaning in Turkey.
The Breed, Classification and the Function
Is Malak a breed? Not yet. Was it a breed? There had been general populations of dogs in Anatolia/Turkey. The shepherd dogs, tazis (Turkmen Greyhound), Findiks (small guard dogs), and kopays (hare flushers) were all separate breeds. These populations developed regional variations within themselves. The main groups had always exchanged blood. Moreover there were inter-breed blood changes infrequently. Malak is a type and it exists. It could be a breed when some of the basic traits are fixed and tested positive through progeny testing.
In this relation, the Malak whose responsibility was guarding silos, dairies and slaughter houses and which has not been swift like shepherd dogs had been sometimes used as a wrestling dog in special days and in festivals should be investigated in the shepherd dog class, because shepherding is a nomadic mode of guarding. The common feature is still guarding.
This sub-group could be taken as a separate breed when it is described with definite descriptions about temperament and structure. In relation to Malak, even the shepherd dogs of Kangal that have prominent differences could not become a breed without opposition yet. The reason for this is about the requirements and conditions of calling a group of dogs a breed.
We are back to the beginning: the names and the descriptions. From a general descriptive perspective: Malak, whose main job was to guard and wrestle on special days which was passed to Turks probably through Sumers or Hittites, can be mostly be seen in the Central Anatolia, like Kangal Shepherd Dog.
This subject requires an extensive field study. This definitely does not mean that Turks acquired the animal wrestling tradition from the ancient people. They always had this culture. I also believe that Malak has been historically used to produce Kangal like dogs in Anatolia, because the traces of this practice can easily be seen today in the Kangal dog shows in the winning dogs.
However we cannot surely say, which one is coming from which. As opposed to the assumption of Malaks contribution to Kangals, it is also possible to claim that the heavy built puppies from shepherd lines have been kept and bred together for centuries and heavy dogs were produced.
There is a third alternative explanation to the origin of Mastiff-like dogs in Anatolia that it is crossbreeding Kangals with Mastiffs. I could have skipped this, but it is more industrious to discuss this issue instead of playing the blind. At the present, this assumption is not more than a rumor and we have no way of proving that this is the case, although there is tendency to think this way among some shepherd dogs fans in Turkey. The only clear answer could be obtained through some detailed DNA analysis of the chosen Malaks and possible mastiff crosses.
To analyze the above-mentioned assumption I would assert that any shepherd dog can wrestle, but Malak cannot guard fast moving flocks like a shepherd dog. When we especially consider the ancient way of moving flocks from one location to another as distant as 200 miles, it becomes obvious that the base stock was always the nomadic shepherd dog, not the other way around. Some heavy dogs in Anatolia may be the result of recent Mastiff introduction, but making a generalization is not a safe way to go. Furthermore neither the older wrestling people nor I remember seeing any mastiff- like dogs in the wrestling events. The wrestling dogs and Malaks are heavy dogs and there is no need to get confused with the possibility of the mastiff crosses. People should not be prejudiced against Malaks, but they have to be on guard against the mastiff intrusion. One last point about the crosses is that they exist in the big cities, not in the traditional rural areas and these crosses have not even a slim chance of competing with the shepherd dogs under the traditional conditions. It is my belief that Malaks are the true progenitors of the Mastiff-like dogs of Europe; the modern English Mastiff is far from its original form in terms of structure and temperament under the civil requirements of its modern breeders with diluted and exaggerated standards.
Nationalism and the Malak
Malak is a word used by the Turks, the combined people of Anatolia. That should be the name not because its congruent with Ataturks ideas, but because Malak belongs to the layman and not to the club founders or to the new generations of Kennel men. Kennel mens one hand is in the dog wrestling and the other one is in the breed creation. They locate the best specimens in these matches and then turn against the original breeders of these dogs and re-name the dogs differently. Malak is a wrestling dog, but "Mastiff" is not. Now we are facing a new word and a new task. According to some, Malak keepers are poor, uneducated, barbaric people, but Mastiff keepers are educated and humane! The reality is this dog type has been protected by the Malak breeder for centuries. Villagers protected them via wrestling events.
A few years ago, a new coke brand was marketed in Turkey and it was called "Cola Turka". The "Greyhound Turca" is pointing toward this shallow nationalism and a clever marketing strategy in Turkey. That is why I had to talk about Ataturk and his position on these issues. Since this article [you are reading] was originally written in Turkish and for Turkish readers in April 2005, it made more sense to me. However, by making this point more informative, Americans and other non-Turks can see the inner dynamic behind this thinking.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who is the founder of the Republic of Turkey was a pioneer who urged the scholars to start archeological researches about the presence of ancient civilizations in 1931. The financial banks like Sumerbank and Etibank have been named by him, although these banks were consolidated by some contra political movements in Turkey a few years ago. There are so many men, women, institutions and organizations, which bear names like Sumer and Eti (Hittite). Ataturks nationalism was not a race-based one, but a people-based one. He recognized all the people of Anatolia with their culture and their past and he united them around one language to overcome several potential problems. The language was Turkish. Understanding the ancient civilizations was a requirement in Ataturks ideology of nationalism. He was not a man of slogans, but a man of meanings.
Where do Turks fit in regarding the subject of the molossus Malak? Turks or with an ancient pronunciation, Toroks, are the beneficiaries of all the previous civilizations. In other words, Sumerian is Turkish, and Turkish is Sumerian. So many centuries have been passed since Hittites became Turkmen and vice versa.
Again, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
DESCRIPTIONS AND COMPARISONS OF MALAK AND SHEPHERD DOG
Compare the head profiles on Malak vs Shepherd Dog
Compare the facial views on Malak vs Shepherd Dog
From the first article of the series by Guvener Isik.
From the Author:
Other reading on Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed History
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