The Unknown Home of the Authentic Turkish Cattle: Norduz

Norduz is the name of a village located on the Iran-Armenia border, famous for its sour-sweet pomegranates. It is the namesake of the neighbouring border area. On the other hand, we call the area that borders Van-Hakkari in the Southeast Anatolia ‘Norduz’. This area consists of 24 villages, rich in meadows and pastures. Nişanyan’s website (, which aims to explain the sources of place names, mentions that this Kurdish-Sunni settlement of Van’s Gürpınar district has been chronologically called Norduz, Mamuretürreşad and Yalınca. “Jurisdiction of Norduz, which constitutes the South part of Gürpınar district today, has been called Norapert (meaning new castle) in Armenian since the 11th century. The name Norduz probably comes from the Kurdish/Farsi word ‘diz’ (castle) as Nora-diz (The castle of Nora). It was an almost inaccessible and fortified area. The area came to be called Mamuretürreşad in 1916, following the 1915 massacre. It was fully emptied after 1993. Only a couple of the nearly twenty villages are occupied today. Coordination: 37° 54′ 16” D, 43° 30′ 29” K”. The word is used in Kurdish and Farsi, which belong to the same language branch. İhsan Çolemergî, a Kurdish scholar, says the word means new castle in Kurdish. I have to mention that I was unable to find the meaning of this word in Farsi despite searching for it thoroughly and asking a friend from Tabriz to look into a dictionary. I would appreciate if anyone with any knowledge can share it. Isn’t this the purpose of the digital world?

Monastery of the Holy Sign Source:
Gürpınar, Van Source:

I don’t know about the bordering village in Iran but I can say that reaching Norduz area in Anatolia is not easy due to geographic conditions and safety. It requires courage to attempt to reach it with anything but a 4-wheel drive due to the stone pathways. You will end up getting stuck in snow in winter or the road has been closed, forcing you to either return or visit another village instead. The big question of safety becomes prevalent in spring despite the fact that spring in Norduz will purify the eyes, ears and heart. This is because the area is hard to reach and therefore is not crowded, dirty or degenerated like the contemporary cities and the rural areas surrounded by such cities. This reflects positively on all living creatures inhibiting the area as well as the visitors, invigorating them.

Norduz Sheep Source:
Norduz Goat Source:

Topography and flora of Norduz is ideal for ovine husbandry. It is a hilly and uneven area. It houses many natural springs. Its pastures are both rich in number and plants for natural grazing. So much so that the area produced its own gene pool: Norduz Sheep and Norduz Goat. Climate, soil composition, flora, upkeep and nutrition are the most important factors in the creation of different breeds. This is exactly what happened here. Norduz Sheep and Goat are not raised anywhere else. They have been taken to other areas of Turkey as a part of Research and Development projects but all of these efforts ended up in failure despite the fact that these breeds have high capacities of grazing, walking and adaptation. It was accepted that Norduz Sheep and Gaot can only be raised in the area after a couple of failed attempts. It was accepted as a landmark breed in 2004 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Norduz Coach Source:

Scientific world believes it is a better idea to define them as local gene sources even though its registration documents state that it is a variety of Akkaraman breed. Norduz Sheep is tall and long. The number of ribs in other sheep breeds is twelve, whereas; Norduz Sheep has thirteen to fourteen ribs. Its bigger size reflects positively on the amount of meat it yields. For example, a six month lamb of this breed weighs about 40-45 kg and yields a carcass of 17-18 kg. Its fat is collected near the tail area, making it a fatty-tailed breed of sheep.

Norduz Sheeps Source:

According to research conducted on oral history, the history of Norduz Sheep goes back 250-300 years in the area. It is an all-around prolific breed meaning that it has a high yield of meat, milk and wool. It reaches the slaughtering weight at six months. Its meat is preferred in the local cuisine at this age. Its meat is mostly used to prepare fried meat for the winter. Its rib is salt-dried in the sun and then used in dishes. Its milk is fatty. It gives the most milk in the fourth month and the least in the ninth. The milk is used to make cheese, oil, ‘keşk’ and yogurt for winter.

Norduz Sofrası, Van, Turkey Source:

Producers and science people claim that the tastiness of Norduz Sheep’s meat and milk comes entirely from the local flora, especially ‘heliz’. Heliz is the sheep’s favorite weed. It grows five-six branches from its roots and these branches grow long and very oily. It grows naturally. It has two kinds: sweet and bitter. The sweet kind is used in the making of a type of cheese in the eastern and southeastern parts of Turkey. However, it must be collected within fifteen days at most because it disappears after this period until the next year. The animals consume the bitter heliz weed. Its oily nature helps the sheep to gain weight and grow strong.


Yogurt for Winter

In very simple terms, put yogurt culture in milk, and remove the cream layer when it becomes yogurt. In the meanwhile, boil the butter, causing it to dehydrate. Pour the resulting clarified butter on the yogurt while still hot, preventing oxidization. The butter solidifies on top of the yogurt. Cover this mixture with a tight-fitting lid and keep it in a cool place. This yogurt made in summer can be consumed as early as September and will expire in May, meaning it is edible through fall and winter. However, the yogurt must be covered with the butter layer and a lid every time some content is removed.

Yogurt Source:
Shepherding Source:

Shepherding is a valuable occupation according to the husbandry traditions of the region. Husbandry is integrated within the daily lives of people living here. Norduz Sheep and Goat are local treasures and the cultural legacy of the region. They are local gene sources and are guarantees against a possible change in the regional conditions due to the fact that they illustrate the historical process of domestication. This is because they are highly adaptable. They provide economic benefits. It was even said “A sheep will feed a single man alone” back in the days when owning a herd of hundred sheep would be considered being rich. Lastly, it must be emphasized that the local gene sources are the most valuable sources of information for scientific studies.

Animal husbandry traditions in Norduz:

Names of the months are not used according to the agriculture and animal husbandry traditions in Anatolia, and the number of the month is used instead. For example, May is called “the fifth month”. Mating of the sheep and shearing take preceding in Norduz husbandry traditions.

Mating of the sheep:

Rams in the herd are removed from the rest starting with the eighth month until the middle of the ninth month. They are kept in a different meadow for twenty-five days and prepared for mating. The rams are painted when the time to reintroduce them to the herd draws near and are dressed up because this is the time for festivities. When the rams come in heat, the festivities are set up in the pastures. Men of the village bring the male and female sheep together and prepare fried meat using the local sheep. A dish prepared with yogurt ‘ayran aşı’ and tandoori bread are prepared and offered to the people participating in these festivities. Ayran aşı is a soup made with yogurt, wheat and local herbs. The feast is followed by games.

Norduz Coach Source:


The sheep are sold in the eighth month in this region. This also marks the time to shear them. The streams are blocked off to create ponds. The sheep are washed here until they are white. The owners of various herds help each other to make it easier for one another. The washed animals are left to dry for a day. The next day they are sheared. Everyone shears their own herd. Once a hard owner is done with his own herd, they offer their help to others. Sheep are slaughtered to celebrate this and fried meat, pilaf and ayran aşı are prepared.

Sheep Shearing Source:

I would like to thank Mehmet Bingol, Yakup Aytin, Nurettin Polat and Harun Cicek, who contributed to the content of this article.

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