Turkmen ruler establishes holiday to honour local dog breed

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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan's autocratic leader has established a national holiday to honour the local dog breed, media reports said Tuesday.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov ordered the holiday praising the Alabai, the Central Asian shepherd dog, to be celebrated on the last Sunday of April when the ex-Soviet nation also marks the day of the local horse breed, according to the daily Neutral Turkmenistan.

The Central Asian nation of 6 million prides itself in horses and dogs, honouring its centuries-old herding traditions.

Berdymukhamedov has ruled the gas-rich desert country since 2006 through an all-encompassing personality cult that styles him as Turkmenistan’s “arkadaq," or protector.

The Turkmen leader has extolled the Alabai for years. He published a book and wrote a song about the breed and presented Russian President Vladimir Putin with a puppy in 2017. In 2019, Berdymukhamedov also handed an Alabai puppy to then Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Last year, Berdymukhamedov inaugurated a 15-meter (nearly 50-feet) gilded statue honouring the dog in the Turkmen capital.

Berdymukhamedov's son, Serdar, who heads the international Alabai association, reported to the president that the holiday will feature a beauty contest and agility competitions.

The Associated Press