The Kurds insist that the mastiff guard dog popularly known as the kangal is originally from their region, not from Turkey. As a regional symbol, the dogs are getting more popular - and more expensive.
In the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan, a certain breed of dog is considered a great gift. Kangal dogs – the breed is also called hawshar by the Kurds – are a distinctively regional animal. Although the Kurds and Turks argue as to the origin of the breed, there is no doubt it is considered special in this part of the world – a token of nationalist pride in the same way that German Shepherds were important to German nationalists in the past.
He was offered US$3,000 but he refused because, he says, he cannot put a price on these dogs he loves.
“The Turkish have tried to claim the dogs,” says one local kangal loyalist in his 60s. “But we know that the dog has lived in Kurdish territory since ancient times and we know it is a Kurdish breed.”
The large dogs, a kind of mastiff originally bred as a herding dog that could take on wolves and possibly even bears, are expensive. The price of a kangal puppy goes from US$200 up to, and even above, US$2,000. Local kangal fans even gossip about particularly well-bred dogs being sold for as much as US$30,000 to visitors who export them to other countries.
A few kilometres out of Qalat Daza town, east of Sulaymaniyah, one dog lover has established a small farm to breed the kangals. Odir Aziz, 30, has 17 kangal dogs on his farm at the moment but he isn’t selling any of them, he says.
“One man came here and said he’d leave his car here if he could have a dog,” Aziz told NIQASH. “But I refused.” He had also been offered US$3,000 for an animal but he also refused this offer because he says he cannot put a price on these dogs he loves.
There is also a dark side to the kangals here in Iraqi Kurdistan, as many owners use the animals in dog fights. The fights are bet on and bets can reach thousands of dollars. If a dog wins frequently, its price rises and it becomes famous in dog fighting circles.
“Forcing the dogs to fight is a violation of animal rights,” says Avista Kamal, a spokesperson for a local animal welfare organization. “But local animal rights organisations don’t have the ability to combat this problem alone. The local government should issue special laws on this subject and criminalize dog fighting.”