"Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this."
Your domestic housecat comes from the Middle East, or so say genetic researchers in a report aired today by NPR:
The progenitor of pet cats is the wildcat, known officially as Felis silvestris. Wildcats are small, striped or spotted cats that live in many parts of the world, including Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Researcher Carlos Driscoll says that wildcats look very much like pet tabbies.
[ . . . ]
When they looked at the genes of wildcats, they found a distinct sub-species in each region that this cat calls home: Europe, Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, China and the Middle East.
Then, they looked at the genes of pet cats.
"These all coalesce into a group that is virtually identical to one of the subspecies," O'Brien says. "[From] the group that comes from the Middle East or Near East."
That's a strong indication people domesticated cats — or, cats domesticated people — in the Middle East.
This is where agriculture was first seen more than 9,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. The researchers suspect that as people started to store grain, the grain attracted mice.
One of the most ancient, permanent agricultural settlements in the Middle East is, indeed, found in the Fertile Crescent. In fact, that settlement is found in the most fertile part of the Fertile Crescent--Kurdistan. Specifically, that would be in a little place known to archaeologists as Jarmo, near Kerkuk:
At Jarmo itself, the team excavated an early farming village dating to about 9,000 BP [approx. 7050 BCE or BC]. Using much the same seed processing technology as their immediate gathering predecessors, the Jarmo people no longer moved their residences with the seasons. Analyses of plant and animal remains suggested that the process of domestication was underway. This early agricultural village is at the base of an archaeological record of larger and increasingly sophisticated agrarian settlements that characterize the Near Eastern archaeological record leading to the first state level societies in Mesopotamia about 5,500 BP [approx. 3550 BCE or BC].
Other areas in Kurdistan also contributed to the revolution:
Evidence indicates that the Middle East in general was one of the earliest areas to experience what the Australian archaeologist V. Gordon Childe called the Neolithic Revolution. That revolution witnessed the development of settled, village-based agricultural life. Kurdistan (Western Iran) has yielded much evidence on the history of these important developments. In the early Neolithic (sometimes called the Mesolithic) period, evidence of significant shifts in tool making, settlement patterns, and subsistence living -- including nascent domestication of both plants and animals -- comes from such important Kurdish sites as Asiab (Asíyaw), Guran, Ganj-e Dareh (Genjí Dara), and Ali Khosh (Elí xosh). Similar developments in the Zagros are also traceable at sites such as Karim Shahir and Zawi Chemi-Shanidar. This early experimentation with sedentary life and domestication was soon followed by a period of fully developed village farming, as is evident at important Zagros sites such as Jarmo, Sarab, upper Ali Kosh, and upper Guran. All of these sites date wholly or in part to the 8th and 7th millennia BC, (see Archaeology section).
The transition from food-gathering to food-production began within the natural territorial ranges of the early domesticates' wild ancestors, in the general area of the Zagros Mountains. Additionally, the present evidence strongly points to the foothill valleys along the Kurdish mountain chains (with a spur stretching into Samaria) as being the main geographic setting of this transition.
Ancient Kurdistan, it would appear, has contributed more to Western Civilization than simply agriculture. It has also served as the real-world source of the myth of the Garden of Eden.
Myth aside, once humans began to engage in sedentary agriculture, there was a need for the wildcat to become domesticated in order to battle mice. And so the relationship between man and domestic cat began. Perhaps the idea of taming the wildcat came from the domesication of the dog, which the ancient people of Kurdistan would have needed to protect their flocks of goats and sheep. As Dr. Mehrdad Izady wrote:
The fact that Halaf culture spread so rapidly over such a considerable distance across the rugged Kurdish mountains is thought to have been the result of the development of a new life style and economic activity necessitating mobility, namely nomadic herding. All of the pre-requisite technologies had been developed, and essential animals, particularly the dog, had been domesticated by settled agriculturalists. Halafian figures of dogs (ca. 6000 BC) with upcurled tails unlike that of any specie of wolf, were unearthed in Jarmo in central Kurdistan. They provide the earliest definitive evidence of the development of man's "best friend" and the herder's most prized protection. Nomadic herding has since been a very mobile cornerstone of Zagros-Taurus cultures and societies.
Such curly-tailed dogs can still be seen in modern day Kurdistan, daily accompanying shepherds and their flocks, while goats and sheep still remain an important source of wealth for many Kurdish people. Thus, the destruction of villages, crops, and livestock by the Ankara regime has had a devastating effect on the economy of North Kurdistan.
As for that other ancient inhabitant of Kurdistan, the cat, it's still there, although judging by the sad examples I saw in Hewlêr, they have not improved their lot very much from the days when Jarmo thrived.
Istanbul, on the other hand, has more of Kurdistan's domesticated cats than any other place on earth I've seen. Perhaps the cats were forcibly displaced and necessity urged them to seek a livelihood elsewhere, as has happened to so many Kurds.
Or maybe there are just a hell of a lot more rodents in Istanbul than in Kurdistan.