Turkmenistan celebrated the first national holiday in honor of its native dog breed on Sunday, with its canine-loving president awarding a best-in-show prize at a ceremony in the capital, Ashgabat.
The Alabai, a Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog, is a symbol of national pride in the reclusive nation, and its authoritarian President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, last year unveiled a huge golden statue of the creature in the city.
Now the breed has been celebrated with a national holiday, which included a contest to find the best Alabai on show.
The President’s son and deputy, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, presented the prize in his father’s name during the festivities, Reuters reported, after entrants in national dress paraded their dogs on a colorful stage.
Akhal-Teke purebred horses, another national icon, were also celebrated at the event.
Dogs are considered part of Turkmenistan’s national heritage and are widely used by the many traditional herders among its population of six million. Berdymukhamedov, 63, has written a book and a poem about the Alabai dog and in 2017 gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a puppy for his birthday.
The large, stocky breed is known as “wolf-crusher” for its prowess in guarding sheep and goats and is also used to guard homes.
The golden statue unveiled last November joined Ashgabat’s growing collection of monuments, which includes a gold-coated statue of President Berdymukhamedov himself seated on a horse, mounted on a white marble cliff, built at a major road junction in 2015.
Despite the glitzy capital and billions of dollars spent on architectural curiosities, Turkmenistan’s population faces hyperinflation and food shortages.
A 2019 report by The Foreign Policy Centre suggests Turkmenistan’s economy — which relies on the country’s vast reserves of gas — is in the grip of its worst economic crisis and on the “brink of collapse,” driven in part by low gas prices and falling natural gas exports.