ASHGABAT — Man’s best friend is now Turkmenistan’s latest hero.
The Central Asian nation’s authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who heads one of the world’s most oppressive governments, has unveiled a 6-meter-high golden statue of his favorite dog breed, the Alabay, an ancient livestock shepherd that’s also used for protection.
State media reported that the statue is located in a complex of residential and cultural facilities in the capital where civil servants live.
The statue was dedicated to a dog that has “demonstrated respect and honor, exemplary courage and a cordial heart” to highlight “their role in the historical destiny of the nation,” one news said.
The unveiling came amid a campaign to put down stray dogs in the country, RFE/RL correspondents report.
Videos showing men hunting strays across the country in recent days were provided to RFE/RL by local animals rights groups and activists. Due to the graphic nature of the images, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service has refrained from posting them on its website.
Residents of the eastern city of Turkmenabat told RFE/RL that they turned to police to register complaints about the mass killings of stray dogs in the city, but were in turn referred to the city sanitary control service.
Those officials said they had nothing to do with the killings.
Berdymukhammedov issued the order for the Alabay monument in November last year.
The president, who is often shown on state television as a musician, singer, horse rider, and military commando, has long promoted the Alabay breed, calling the dogs a national treasure.
He has even written books about them, and in September 2019, Berdymukhammedov read aloud his verses about the Alabay dog during a government session.
Media in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation do not report about stray animals being destroyed.
Amid an outcry by animal activists and media reports about mass killings of strays pets, Turkmen authorities announced in February 2019 plans to open a shelter for homeless domestic animals and started a fundraising campaign for the plan.
Last year authorities announced that special Alabay breeding grounds will be built across the country and asked citizens to contribute to that plan as well.
Berdymukhammedov has established a pervasive cult of personality since becoming Turkmenistan’s leader in 2006 after the death of his autocratic predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.
Grandiose statues and monuments scattered across the country obscure a nation where many live in poverty despite Turkmenistan’s abundance of energy resources, mainly natural gas, which are exported.
Berdymukhammedov tight control of the media and freedom of expression — Western rights organizations are banned from Turkmenistan — have prompted Human Rights Watch to label it “one of the most repressive and closed countries in the world.”