May 10, 2012

Stray Cats Strut Istanbul's Streets, a Symbol of Tradition in a Churning Metropolis

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When President Obama visited Turkey last year, he paused to stroke a tabby cat at the former Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked on with a smile. The cat, one of half a dozen living at the ancient site, seemed unfazed by the VIP attention.

Many a visitor has noted the abundance of stray cats in the old imperial capital of Istanbul. They amble and lounge around some mosques and have the run of a couple of universities. Facebook campaigns gather supplies for them, and it's easy to spot nibbles and plastic containers of water left discreetly on sidewalks for the felines.

This month, cats will get a publicity boost when the world basketball championships begin in Istanbul and three other Turkish cities. The official mascot is "Bascat," a white cat with one blue eye and one green eye, similar to an unusual breed native to the eastern city of Van.

The special status of stray cats in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey reflects a tradition-bound country on the path to modernity. It partly derives from Muslim ideas about tolerance, and an urban elite with Western-style ideas about animal rights. It points to the freewheeling side of a society that seeks entry into the European Union's world of regulation.

Sevgin Akis Roney, an economics professor at Istanbul's Bosphorus University, said the school is so well-known for adopting strays that people leave unwanted cats there, knowing they'll get fed. Cats wander freely into classrooms at the school, perched on a hill over the strait that separates the Asian and European continents.

"We should learn to live with these animals," said Roney, who walks around with cat food for hungry strays.

Read more on Fox News: Stray Cats Strut Istanbul's Streets, a Symbol of Tradition in a Churning Metropolis

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