12 November 2020 18:38
The president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has unveiled a towering gold monument for his favourite dog. The monument has reportedly been installed in a residential area designed for civil servants in the capital, Ashgabat. It is not the first statue under the ruler to attract international attention. In 2015, the leader erected a statue of himself, cast in bronze and veiled in 24-carat gold leaf on top of a huge marble base. The monument was unveiled in a ceremony with birds and balloons were released into the air while people shouted "Glory to Arkadag".
The alabai dog is listed as an asset of national heritage in the country, and Mr Berdymukhamedov has used the shepherd breed to encourage a sense of national pride. The country's leader is widely described as presiding over a personality cult, and human rights campaigners accuse the ruler of exercising totalitarian control over public life. Mr Berdymukhamedov is known as Arkadag, or 'the patron'. He frequently appears on state media with the dog, and wrote in a tome published in 2019 that Turkmen ancestors "saw in the horse our dreams, and in the alabai our happiness". Mr Berdymukhamedov also presented cabinet members with a poem about the dog as a "symbol of achievement and victory" that has since been converted into song. In the same year, the autocrat ordered several national banks to fund an effort to improve the pedigree of the dog breed. In 2017, the Turkmen leader presented Russian President Vladimir Putin with an alabai puppy as a birthday present, who named the dog Verny, which is Russian for loyal. Mr Berdymukhamedov, who has ruled over the state since 2006, presides over one of the world's most repressive and isolated countries. He was elected with 97 per cent of the vote in 2012 and again in 2017.