ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan: Turkmenistan's authoritarian ruler has recognised a national dog breed with a state holiday, government media reported on Friday (Feb 26), elevating the canine to the same status as the gas-rich country's beloved horses.
The alabai shepherd dog has inspired presidential poetry and an ostentatious gold statue under the leadership of strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a puppy for his 65th birthday in 2017.
Now, thanks to Berdymukhamedov's decree, the dog will share a holiday on the last Sunday of April with the Akhal-Teke horse, an animal long heralded by state propaganda.
The holiday will "increase the world fame of the Turkmen alabai", said the decree published in the Neutral Turkmenistan state newspaper.
The newspaper said the alabai would also have its own national beauty contest for the first time this year.
Historically prized by Turkmen pastoralists for its protective qualities, the robust breed is also used by border patrols and police.
Outside Turkmenistan, the alabai is more commonly known as a Central Asian shepherd dog, but Turkmen authorities are promoting the breed as a core element of national heritage.
In November, the authorities unveiled a golden statue honouring the alabai and featuring a wraparound screen displaying footage of the dogs.
In a book published in 2019, Berdymukhamedov wrote that bygone generations of Turkmen saw "in the Akhal-Teke (horse) their dreams and in the alabai their happiness".
Berdymukhamedov's 39-year-old son Serdar, who is often viewed as his future successor, combines three powerful government posts with the leadership of the national alabai association.
The alabai is trained to fight from a young age, and breeders clip the dogs' ears and cut their tails down to stumps in preparation for battle.
A cartoon version of the dog whose design was personally overseen by Berdymukhamedov served as the mascot for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games - a tournament that Turkmenistan hosted with great pomp in 2017.
Berdymukhamedov, known by fawning state media as Arkadag, or "protector", has ruled ex-Soviet Turkmenistan with no opposition since the death of first leader Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.
Both men have their own golden statues in the capital Ashgabat, with Berdymukhamedov's likeness cast in the saddle of an Akhal-Teke horse.