Turkmen banks ordered to fund leader's pet project

Turkmen leader on horseback holding a puppy Image copyright TDH
Image caption The Turkmen leader takes great pride of his country's breeds

‚ÄčTurkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has ordered a number of national banks in the country to fund an enterprise to improve the pedigree of the Alabay dog breed.

Under a presidential decree, eight banks are required to chip in with a 12.5% stake each, according to the TDH national news agency.

The Alabay is a home-bred Turkmen variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog and Mr Berdimuhamedov seems to be a fan of the breed.

He declared 2018 the Year of the Dog in the country, praising the virtues of the animal on national TV. And earlier this year, he spent his annual leave writing a book about the Alabay dog, according to media reports.

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The book entitled "Turkmen Alabay" has reportedly received critical acclaim in the country. Government officials and scholars attending a presentation dedicated to it in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, were full of praise for the president's work.

"This is the latest in a series of books by the president dedicated to the rich national heritage of the Turkmen people," applauded the government-run Neytralnyy Turkmenistan.

"The book is the Turkmen leader's wonderful Independence Day gift to our compatriots and it will be enjoyed by a wide audience of book readers in the country," the paper promised.

The gushing coverage for Mr Berdimuhamedov's pet project is hardly surprising, given that media in Turkmenistan is rated as the least free in the world by press freedom organisation RSF, below even that of North Korea.

Dogs and horses

The Alabay dog is officially listed as an asset of the country's national heritage, along with the handmade carpets and the ancient Ahal Teke breed of race horse.

President Berdimuhamedov has dedicated to them many of the books and poems he is said to have written. He occasionally gives a horse or a puppy to leaders of "friendly" nations, and among the recipients of such gifts were the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and the Qatari emir.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some social media users have questioned Berdimuhamedov's love for dogs

But while President Berdimuhamedov's appreciation for horses is well documented, some on social media have questioned his love of dogs.

Kremlin reporter Dmitry Smirnov complained on Twitter that Turkmen authorities had denied him a visa to attend the recent summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Ashgabat, saying that he believed that the reason for the refusal was a tweet he posted two years ago in which he had compared the way Berdimuhamedov and Putin held a puppy - and not in a flattering way for the Turkmen leader.

Mr Smirnov re-posted a video in which the Turkmen leader proudly dangled an Alabay puppy by the scruff of the neck in front of President Putin who then jumped to his feet to take the puppy with both hands and pressing it to his chest.

Reporting by Halik Daniyarov

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