The Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan has been celebrating a new national holiday – dedicated to a very special breed of dog. The Alabay – a native variety of shepherd dog – was honoured on Sunday with an awards ceremony.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has encouraged veneration of the breed as a symbol of national heritage. Alabays and the ancient Ahal Teke horse breed are considered sources of national pride. Sunday saw the dogs take centre stage in events designed to reinforce their lofty cultural status in Turkmenistan, a former republic of the Soviet Union. Berdymukhamedov established the state holiday to encourage people to venerate the huge dog breed as a source of national pride.The day’s event included a best-of-show competition in which a procession of Alabay dogs were judged on appearance and agility. President Berdymukhamedov awarded the top prize for courage to a dog in the border guard service. Last year a six-metre high gilded statue of an Alabay dog was installed at a busy traffic circle in the capital, Ashgabat. The Alabays can weigh up to 80 kilos when fully grown and are among the world’s largest dogs. They were traditionally used by herders. The holiday falls on the same day the native Akhal-teke horse, known for its speed and endurance is celebrated.
Since being elected, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has gifted several leaders with horses or dogs, including one to Russian President Vladimir Putin, 2012. President Berdymukhamedov has also written a book about the breed.