Anatolian Perspectives by
FLASH -See Guvener's NEW BOOK
Sheep Dogs of Anatolia: Yörük Koyçis
MORKARAMAN DOGS of AGRI (first
published in Choban Chatter)
and white dog leading the flock.
I chose this region because it is at the far end of Turkey and has a distinct and radical
climate, geography, history, and culture. However and most importantly, sheep
flocks are abundant here. This province has been on my mind for several years. Therefore,
I visited. The longitude of Agri is similar to Eskisehir and Sivas, which
is just a bit south of Kars and north of Denizli and Konya. My observations during
this trip were limited to six days in July 2013. This short period is normally not
adequate to collect satisfactory information, but having previous experience with
shepherds, sheep, goats, and dogs allowed me to focus on the critical details and to raise
effective questions. During this trip, I did not focus on photo taking, which I find
distractive and too touristy. Instead, I centered my attention on the activities
surrounding the sheep, focusing my attention on six sheep flocks as I conversed with the
Since I follow the flocks not the dogs, the best place to find flocks in Agri,
based on my conversation with a Kurdish acquaintance, Zeki Pamir in Izmir, was the Diyadin
(1925m/6315ft) region. The ethnic composition of this region is overall Kurdish. The
people I dealt with described themselves as Kurmanchis and they speak a dialect of
Kurdish. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Especially the assistance I received from
Celal Gurses in Tapesor village was invaluable.
Geography, Climate, and Sheep
Agri, being geographically in the Southern Caucasus region, is located
in eastern Anatolia at an elevation of 1650m/5413ft. The famous Ararat Mountain
(5137m/16,854ft) is located here facing Iran. Many peaks in this province are over 3000m.
The high altitudes and the lack of summer months allow neither Mediterranean nor Central
Anatolian style agriculture. Additionally, 80% of the land is not suitable for
agriculture, with pastures making up the remaining twenty percent (20%) of the land. The
steppes make the region an enormous highland that can be comparable to Kars province in a
way. One feels that he is in a free land when he faces forever rolling green steppes with
various flowers and nice odors. When I look at American history, I tend to see it in two
parts: pre-fencing and post-fencing. In Agri, one can walk almost nonstop for hundreds of
miles. Lack of fencing is the best thing about this unspoiled land because fencing is
actually chaining the land, destroying freedom, and brings self-imprisonment.
Kaba and yarikaba dogs.
The average annual temperature here is 9C/48F, temperatures drop to
-44C/-46F in winter, and rise to 37C/98F in summer. The snow remains on the ground for 120
days in Agri. As they say in Kars, Agri has also two climates: winter and spring. The
village I stayed in on the first day of my trip, Diyadin, is considered semi-dry and
semi-humid at the same time depending on the location and the elevation. However,
northeast of Agri, Igdir has a dry climate where the precipitation drops down to
300mm/yr., whereas in Diyadin, it can reach up to 550mm/yr. Every element in this region
is affected by the southern Caucasian climate. Even the local bees are Caucasian bees.
These bees work well in cold or cold and wet weather and have longer tongues than the
other bees, which allow them access to plants other bees cannot get. The above information
is necessary because it helps the reader understand the conditions where the local sheep
Tapesor (Red Rock /Hill, 2700m/8858ft) is one of the 558 villages in
Agri and it is under snow for more than 200 days. In Tapesor, there are no motor vehicles;
people transport themselves and their goods on horseback. So keeping horses is as
important as keeping sheep. In July, snow remains on the ground at 2900m, it never melts
and sheep flocks must go higher than this elevation on the southern slopes of the hills in
order to find the freshest grass. Dogs are kept for sheep protection here, but in many
other places, they are also kept for cattle. The flocks are rarely attacked by steppe
bears, but are attacked mainly by wolves. Here, the packs are composed of 4-8 wolves. The
local sheep are normally Morkaraman, which is a darker variety of Akkaraman of Central
Anatolia. It has a fat tail, which ensures survival in times of drought and provides fat
for local dishes. The wool hair color is generally reddish and even purple-like. Their
wool is carpet grade and is ideal for felt and rug making. Black, grey, and white sheep
are also part of the flocks. Nevertheless, in Tapesor, Gurses Morkaraman flock
reminded me of the extinct Karabas sheep of Denizli, because not only they were mainly
white, but also their body, skull and wool types were similar! Their main difference was
their tail type. This is an imperative note for the future researcher
I saw dogs in all kinds of colors with yarikaba (semi short) and
kaba (long) coat types. A great majority of the dogs were kaba. There was
one dark brindle in Ulukend village (out of sixty dogs; almost all the dogs were in
a remote highland), and two black and tan dogs in Mollakara (out of twenty dogs),
but in Tapesor there was none of those colors. There were over thirty dogs in Tapesor and
they were black, white, fawn, and pinto. This village, by itself, is a good example to see
that the morphological variation is immense in this area. There was a general form for all
the dogs, but body ratios, colors, neck, and muzzle types, along with paw structures,
vary. One does not see the relative uniformity that he can see in sheep flocks. Thick
bones, paws, torsos, and dense coats were the most notable general traits. This thickness
can be perceived as a protection against extreme cold. Tail types along with forehead
types also varied. There were dogs with curled tails and dogs with wolfish hanging tails.
Most dogs did not have full curled tails. There were two dogs with almost no forehead
stops. There was no dog with a horse type head. The distance between the ears makes their
heads appear more equilateral (60?-60?-60?) than isosceles (70?-70?-40?), which
makes the dogs look more bearish than wolfish. There was only one black dog with wolfish
skull. The above angles are not rules or an attempt to make rules, but they put my visual
observations into geometric relationships, which provide a new perspective. Most dogs had
square body proportions. No dog presented a heavy gait as frequently seen in kennel-raised
with a very thick neck in Topesur.
Heavily coated kaba dogs of Agri face no wintering problems, but it is
not unheard of dogs with shorter coats freezing in winter. The freezing dogs are mostly
dogs brought from the southern and Central Anatolian plains or from the lowlands of Iran.
In Sivas, I also heard stories about how and why dogs freeze in Uzunyayla highland.
However, it is not only the coat type that makes a dog cold hardy, but also the structure.
Cold hardy dogs have no hanging lips; they have shorter snouts, thicker torsos, rounder
heads, smaller ears and eyes, bushy tails, thick necks with loose skin, and very dense and
long wool around their neck and shoulder area. If one can ever touch one of these dogs,
you would notice that the shorter coated local dogs have very dense wool that makes it
impossible to see their skin. As long as they can winter like other dogs, no one has a
prejudice against them. Compared to Central Anatolian dogs, kaba coat is more frequent and
it is almost the norm. Another difference between kirik (short coat) and kaba dogs is that
a kirik dog cannot have its hair get longer beyond its limits. The hair number per sq/inch
can increase to the extent of the quantity of follicles. However, kaba dogs shed all their
hair in the early spring and they remain less hairy then kirik dogs. In Agri, shedding
takes place between July and August. At the end of September, they have their full kaba
coat again that they need until the next June. Not all the dogs start shedding at the same
time. Some of them just start shedding when the others are nearly finished.
Semi kaba dog.
One may ask why the dogs have to freeze and what kind of barbaric
people keep these poor dogs? It is this exact mindset, which raises these questions and in
turn, ruins these dogs. Any human help constitutes a weakening factor for this landrace.
Although human-centric humans enjoy assisting dogs in order to feel good about themselves,
they do so without ever realizing that they are infantilizing their dogs. The more
dependent the dogs are, the more pleasure human-centric individuals draw out of
assistance. The fact is these dogs are supposed to have their own natural insulation and
they usually do. If a dog is missing the necessary insulation, then it is not a Caucasian.
Clearly, wedge shaped heads.
One of the explanations of heavy coats is these dogs being tied in
winter. An untied dog can manage to find a shelter. A dog tied in a place without shelter
should have better insulation against cold than a wolf. This allows the shepherd to move
the dog to a new location without erecting a shelter. Once the dog has a shelter it will
confine itself, which negates the purpose of being alert. This is why sometimes dog tails
are shaved or cropped. That way the dog cannot wrap itself around with its tail. A
well-insulated dog does not need its tail to keep itself warm. That is one of the main
reasons of the abundance of stub-tailed dogs in the region. When a dog is tied, another
dog is let free to patrol. This way, dogs work alternately. To self counter argue my
discussion above, it is possible that a coat type, which appears visually unfit, may have
features that are not easily detected and can have several unknown advantages especially
for dogs that come from nomadic tradition, in addition to allowing the dog to survive in
the Caucasian winters. Coats types mentioned here are necessary to understand how coat
types in relation to body types can tell us more about these dogs than understanding and
classifying canine melanocytes (pigment cells). I must interpose here that sometime
between 2004 and 2006 when I visited the southern regions of Derbent in Konya; I came
across barns made of clay that looked like caves at higher elevations. The altitude was
about 1600m and the dominant tree was black pine (Pinus nigra) which indicates the end of
Mediterranean and the beginning of sub Alpine climate. Dogs were dark grey and dark red
with full kaba coats. The dogs were tied to the small entry and exit holes of the barns,
which ensured there was always a dog in front of the barns entrance. The holes were
about three feet in diameter; additionally they served as aeration openings. I was told
the wolves can only enter the barns through those holes and the dogs wait on the spot
without any cover. A scared dog may become submissive to wolves and run away. To avoid
this, sometimes two dogs were tied at the entrance at same time. This was done in order
not to allow one of them to abandon the other. Two dogs covering each others back
form a good defensive position. I called those dogs Yoruk, because of the inhabitants.
They were not wrestling dogs and only they had the fierceness to stand against the wolves
and the cold at the same time.
Shedding black kaba dog.
Dogs in Agri were not as large as Denizli and Konya wrestling
dogs, which are usually above 80cm. The average size ranges of Agri dogs were 70-75cm for
males and 65-70cm for the females. Although wolves are similar to dogs in size, large
wolves (above 85cm) are spotted and sometimes shot. These size ranges are also valid for
Denizli and Konya dogs where they were kept by traditional sheep and goat shepherds.
There were several typical Caucasian type dogs among these dogs, but
what is a typical Caucasian? Since most of the dogs here were local and very few were
possibly imported from Central Anatolia, they must be a sub Caucasian type. Some of them
easily looked like old kaba native dogs of the Aegean region and some of them could be
described as typical Sivas dogs, but overall they were not the same dogs. I do not believe
that the differences can be quantified or safely described when the subject is a landrace
population. We cannot claim any measurement with precision, but we can claim that things
take place between point A and point B. Anything beyond that range may be considered
invalid, and the values within this interval are excitingly complex. Classifying these
dogs via DNA tests is irrelevant, intrusive, and plainly a distraction that does not deal
with sheep guarding in any way. Not only the current picture of variation but also the
historical variation and migrations-related genetic influx are part of the dynamics of
chaotic landrace populations.
Primitive looking dog.
Classifying Caucasians based on their color stems from the inability of
grasping the whole landrace picture and believing that dogs as a breed were already ready
waiting to be discovered by the entrepreneurs and their scientist allies. Grey wolf packs
are made of various colors, such as black, white, red, and grey. So far, no scientists who
have no ideological and political motives have attempted to study grey wolves based on
their colors, especially if wolves occupy a certain geographical location. Arabian horses
and Salukis/Tazis come in various colors, but no one thought of fabricating new breeds out
of them. Karakul and Morkaraman sheep are also composed of red, purple, grey, black, and
white colors. The brush goat of Anatolia is generally a dark colored goat but all wild
types of colors are present in the flocks. Grey Anatolian donkeys are not a different
breed from black ones. If a scientist decides to study Caucasians of Anatolia under a few
arbitrary color codes, then he must do the same with Sivas (supposedly all fawn and black
masked), and Eskisehir (supposedly all white) dogs. Anatolian Caucasians are different
from Central Anatolian dogs but this difference does not come from the color, but
structural and behavioral differences, in addition to adaptation skills in Caucasian
lands. Once the scientist realizes this, he may direct a question for a meaningful forward
step such as "Is a black and white Caucasian a cross between a black and a white
Caucasian?" If he "cleverly" says "Yes" then I would assume that
he believes that a Panda is a cross between a white and a black Panda! When a scientist is
free from a freethinking mindset and curiosity, he can only be a bureaucrat who simply
feeds on his university salary and becomes an assistant of statistics and computer
generated papers instead of being the master of his own mind.
shedded Ger (b/t) colored dog in Mollakara
If a sheep dog can live and work under traditional conditions
without receiving assistance from its owner in a Caucasian climate and geography, it is a
Caucasian dog. It belongs to the land; it deserves the title. Any dog who fails under the
given conditions is not a Caucasian no matter what its family tree, body, and coat type
is. The same is valid for being a Caucasian, Yoruk, and Central Anatolian sheep dog. Just
because it has feathers, to what extent is a bird really a bird if it cannot fly? Devoting
time and attention to the failing members of a population is nothing but backpedaling.
Hoping that I am not contributing to historical confusion, I will generalize for the
confused: Anatolian dogs, essentially and roughly, can be divided into Akkarraman and
Morkaraman dogs, because dogs follow sheep. The rest of the major variations come from the
interaction of these two main huge clusters. Anatolian Caucasians are Morkaraman dogs.
Sheep dogs of Anatolia cannot be correctly understood by isolating sheep and goats from
Temperament and Health
None of the dogs were friendly and they are not supposed to be.
Although a visiting, simply threatened, ubernational law enforcement officer may shoot
them, friendliness is a negative trait for sheep dogs since they are not there to welcome
restaurant customers. The sheep dogs of this region were certainly more aggressive than
the sheep dogs of Sivas. This is a clear behavioral difference. Agri dogs were more like
customs officers, not friendly but not vicious. They were all reserved, careful, and ready
to move. I saw no sick dogs. They are all in good shape even in the absence of intensive
and intrusive health checks required of the authoritarian clubs of the west. The simple
reason for their good health is that they live in the right environment, eat
traditionally, work, and are not tortured by humane interventions. Any raw dog as a
product thrown into this system is processed accordingly. There is no prescreening for
health. The results are released by the system without any written rules and formulae at
the end of every year based on their performances. Any dog above nine months old that is
still alive is likely to remain alive until it dies for any cause. The breeding age here
is not decided by the "experts" but by the dogs themselves. I saw one dog
without cropped ears. The reason for that was the owner missed the cropping age
(preferably during the first month, but not after five months old) and he let the dog go
intact. The explanation for ear cropping was to facilitate improvement in the dogs
hearing ability. People do not pay much attention to dew claws here as they do in Central
Anatolia. Slightly more than half of the dogs had dewclaws and no one thought they were
detrimental to the dogs health. Although ears are partially removed, dewclaws remain
Dogs have to stay outside and cannot get relaxed on a sofa in front of
the fire because sheep in winter are not totally kept in barns but they are taken on long
walks for exercise and for fresh air. Some flocks have free access to open parts of the
barns where dogs have to watch. A dog that stays outside is better protection than a
relaxed dog becoming a sheep among sheep. These dogs are happier spending the entire year
out in the open. They have no allergies or flu; the soil they sleep on and the air they
breathe vaccinate them.
A fawn dog in summer coat.
Dogs lose sheep to wolves especially during the grazing months.
Shepherds are not bothered much with this because their losses are not heavy. I saw no
hatred against the wolves here. Any heavy losses are due to the ineffectiveness of the
dogs, which is when the shepherds expertise comes in. Three dogs generally escort
flocks composed of 200 sheep. Dogs choose which ends of the flock to cover and there is no
training for this. It is not unusual for the dogs go without eating for two to three days.
They always endure this with patience. This happens especially when the shepherd loses the
food for some reason or the flock gets lost because of heavy rain and fog. Kaba dogs can
last longer when it is wet, cold, and no food is available. The night and day temperature
difference in this region is normally about 20C/32F, but it can be more. Dogs get wet in
the evening and the water on their coats freeze when it gets dark. One needs to be exposed
to cold July rains at 2700m and observe wet dogs performing 24/7 in order to appreciate
Brush goats with Kashmir grade wool.
Wolf color pinto.
Dogs can be eaten by the wolves. However, if dogs kill the
wolves, they eat them. People do not go to the government like helpless children who go
and complain to their teacher when the wolves eat their dogs. Shepherds of Agri make no
noise, produce no tears but improve their dogs and their own shepherding skills. However,
what is rewarded in the "developed" countries is helplessness. Weakness is
welcome and praised. As mercy is offered, strength and pride are penalized. Dogs then
become folkloric ornaments for farms. Moreover, the owners of ornamental dogs cannot talk
about the real issues since real issues are nothing more than fictions to them, so they
create some instead.
Dogs always stay with the flock even in the absence of the shepherd
which is expected anywhere throughout Anatolia. A dog that requires human encouragement,
which shows a feeble personality, is not ideal for this post. Only loving these dogs is
for the frail hearted, who is a potential destroyer of this cultural and genetic beauty.
The stoicism, loyalty, courage, affection, fierceness, stamina, and reliability of these
dogs give excitement to the original developers. How can I not admire and respect both
parties? I keep going back to them wherever they are kept original to their cause. My
respect for them allows me to dare opposing the dog clerks, who insert these free spirits
into molds. These pastoral beauties are puzzles to me at times and I resist solving the
whole puzzle. Once solved, they are invaded; they will not glow the same. Yes, I want to
understand them, but penetration, even in the form of information pursuit, is a prying
business. Dogs should have personal space and private history too. Caucasians of Agri were
in their best forms in their ancestral land in the absence of people who pretend to repair
them. It was not difficult for Kurmanchi shepherds to take their dogs as dogs, not
interfere, and let the dogs glow.
Sep 15 2013
Acknowledgements: The expenses
incurred while conducting research for this article were reimbursed by the ASDI, per the
|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/
| See Guvener
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