State TV Watan Habarlary showed President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov waving to clapping onlookers as he unveiled the statue this week, in a ceremony replete with traditional dancers, a child holding a real Alabai puppy, and a balloon release. A video screen wrapped around the statue continuously plays footage of the local breed running through grass or the desert and playing with children.
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 is the latest addition to Ashgabat’s growing collection of monuments, joining a gold-coated statue of President Berdymukhamedov himself seated on a horse mounted on a white marble cliff, built at another major junction in 2015.
Despite the glitzy capital and billions of dollars spent on architectural curiosities, Turkmenistan’s population faces hyper inflation and food shortages.
Local people interviewed by the rights group reported waiting for hours in lines for subsidized food, of which up to 70 to 80% of their income goes toward, as prices skyrocket. Adding to their economic woes is that the pandemic has put many Turkmen out of work and slashed foreign remittance money to families, according to HRW. Authorities have never released unemployment figures but the FPC estimates that up to 60 to 70% of the eligible workforce is either unemployed or underemployed.
But HRW said the Turkmenistan government denies the existence of poverty in the country and has failed to provide relief to communities struggling economically.
“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, in a statement. “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.”
Turkmenistan has officially reported no cases of Covid-19 — one of very few countries in the world not to.
Information coming out of the former Soviet republic — labeled by HRW as one of the world’s most repressive — is strictly controlled. There is no independent media and most foreign websites are blocked, according to the independent watchdog group Freedom House.
CNN’s Thomas Page and Julie Zaugg contributed reporting.