THE WARM OF ANGORA
Until the mid-19th century the angora goat was to be found only in Central Anatolia,
particularly the province of Ankara, transcribed as Angora by Europeans from the earlier
Turkish form Engürü. The export of these valuable animals having been strictly
forbidden for many centuries, Sultan Abdülmecit made a gift of 22 angora goats to Queen
Victoria in the 1840s.
The silky hair of these animals formed the backbone of the regions economy, based on
the woollen textile industry. Sultan Abdülmecit is often unjustly blamed for breaking the
longstanding monopoly on angora goat hair, but in fact the damage had already been done
several years earlier, and his courteous gesture had little impact.
It was the trade agreement of 1838 between Britain and Turkey which paved the way to
the spread of the angora goat. Drawn up by British Foreign Minister Palmerston and signed
by Reşit Paşa, this agreement eliminated the trade barriers which had formerly protected
Turkish commerce. The still unindustrialised Ottoman Empire was soon swamped with cheap
goods from the industrialising West, shaking the empires economy from its foundations.
Long before Queen Victorias goats arrived in Britain, the influx of cheap manufactured
textiles from Europe had undermined the production of traditional angora fabrics and
knitwear. Unable to compete the local industry ground to a virtual halt.
The origin of the angora goat is still obscure. One theory is that the goat is a native
of Anatolia bred as a domestic animal here since the Sumerians. The other is that the goat
was introduced from Central Asia by the Turks. Whatever the facts may be, the angora goat
was restricted to a small area of Anatolia around Ankara until the 1840s.
At various times foreigners had succeeded in smuggling breeding stock out of Turkey
despite the ban, but attempts to breed them in Europe either failed completely, or the
quality of the hair was found to deteriorate under different climatic and environmental
conditions. With the lowering of trade barriers in 1838, some of the goats were taken to
South Africa by British colonialists, in the belief that the climate of that country would
suit the animals better. This assumption proved correct, and soon the herds were
flourishing. The angora goat subsequently made its way to Lesotho, the United States,
Australia, and New Zealand.
Nonetheless, Turkey has not entirely lost its foothold in the angora wool production
industry today, remaining the third largest world producer after South Africa and the
The soft glossy angora wool has always been used primarily in the textile and knitwear
industry, and in the past the special fabrics and clothing made of the wool in Ankara
fetched high prices. Ankara mohair or camlet was a major item of commerce in Anatolia
through the 17th and 18th century, woven on over 1500 handlooms employing nearly 10.000
people in and around the city. This fine silky fabric was used to make the kaftans, ferace
(loose street robes for women ) and other garments worn by the upper classes in Ottoman
times. From the mid-19th century the use of mohair in Turkey gradually died out, replaced
by European textiles. Today traditional mohair is produced solely in Tosya for use as bath
Instead angora wool is used in many areas of modern textile production, such as
furnishing fabrics, suiting knitwear, blankets, carpets, shawls, lining, bed and sofa
As is the case with many fibres, fashion is a primary factor. So demand for angora wool
fluctuates significantly, pushing prices up and down unpredictably.
In the United States and South Africa, the government attempts to ameliorate the
effects of these fluctuations on producers by price subsidies, but in Turkey production
and marketing problems are steadily eroding angora wool production. From a total of 5
million angora goats in the 1960s, the number has dropped today to 1 million, while total
angora wool production of 10.000 tons in the 1960s has fallen to an estimated 1000 tons or
It has to be admitted that the angora goat has been tended more carefully in its new
homelands of the United States, South Africa and Australia than in Turkey. Breeders in
these countries might not view the goats as part of their cultural heritage as in
Anatolia, but they have made successful efforts to improve the breed and increase its wool
yield. Of total world angora wool production of 16.900 tons in 1992, Turkey produced only
1000 tons, compared to South Africas 7000 tons, the United States 6.800 tons, and a
total of 2100 tons by other producers. In south Africa the angora goat yields 4.5
kilograms of wool Per year, compared with just 1.6 kilograms in Turkey. Only the fact that
some breeders are still struggling on despite low returns of barely TL 100.000 on each
animal is source of hope. Turkeys share in world exports of angora wool is also
plummeting year by year. In 1992 South Africa exported 5500 tons, the United States 4500
tons, while Turkey only exported 100 tons. The worlds foremost angora wool buyer and
manufacturer is Britain, followed by Japan, Italy, Spain, France, Syria, China, Taiwan,
Experts assert that in view of the great advances made in Turkeys textile and
knitwear industry over recent decades and the countrys good textile export record, the
state should take steps to encourage angora wool production. This requires not only
ensuring adequate earnings for farmers, but improving yield and quality. The best way to
do this, say the experts, is for the state to support producer associations.
It would be a pity if the angora goat were to become a thing of the past in its native
land, while herds thrive elsewhere. Apart from mere sentiment, the economic potential of
angora wool remains considerable, and does not deserve ignored.