A screenshot of a local Turkmen news report, via Youtube

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the ruler of Turkmenistan, really loves his dog. He cherishes it so much that he erected a statue in its honor in the country’s capital city of Ashgabat.

The Central Asian shepherd (a breed locally known as Alabai) is immortalized in a 19-foot gold-coated bronze at an Ashgabat roundabout. A screen wrapped around the pedestal plays videos of Alabai dogs playing, protecting sheep, and living their lives. The statue evokes similarities to another gold statue in a nearby junction featuring Berdymukhamedov on horseback.

The canine statue was unveiled on Tuesday, November 1o, in a festive ceremony overseen by Berdymukhamedov. As part of the ceremony, an elder handed an Alabai puppy to a young boy, symbolizing the dog’s significance in local culture throughout generations.

Turkmenistan’s state news agency proclaimed that the statue captures the “dignity and self-assuredness” of the native canine, which is considered the country’s national dog.

Berdymukhamedov, a self-styled author and poet, had previously expressed his love for the dogs in a special book and a poem. He even gifted an Alabai puppy to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in 2017.

As Berdymukhamedov continues to enforce his cult of personality and autocratic rule over Turkmenistan, the former Soviet state is sliding into food shortages in an economic emergency exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch accused the Turkmen government of failing to address the crisis and denying the existence of poverty in the country despite skyrocketing unemployment and widespread food insecurity.

“Turkmenistan’s government has prioritized the country’s image over people’s well-being,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “With no effort to identify and assist the people most in need at this critical moment, Turkmenistan is callously neglecting the most basic norms of human rights, which include the right to food.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...