President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Akhal-teke Equestrian Complex, April 21, 2011
This past weekend, Turkmens celebrated the national holiday of their beloved Akhal-teke race horse, noted for its speed and stamina, with an extravaganza of events -- horse races and shows of the "heavenly steeds" as they are called, art exhibitions, contests, and lavish displays of carpets and jewlery, sports competitions, and gala openings of equestrian complexes around the country.
At the center of the festivities was President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, whose book "Akhal-teke Horses – Our Pride and Glory," translated into many world languages, was prominently displayed, and who also managed to author yet another book for the occasion, this one an album called "Flight of the Heavenly Race Horses" featuring photos of the Akhal-teke horses, including their participation in the parade on Moscow's Red Square last year in honor of the 65th anniversary of Victory Day.
Mounted on Shagadam, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov rode out on to the race track of the equestrian center, and at that moment, a flock of doves white as snow flew up to the sky. One of them smoothly descended to land on the shoulder of the leader of the nation, which for many peoples of the world from time immemorial has been perceived as a sign of the highest blessing, and this evoked the next storm of amazed applause -- the head of the Turkmen state with a dove on his shoulder was seen as a symbol of the policy of peace-making that proceeds from our Fatherland, evoking in all of progressive humankind the most heartfelt and bright hopes for universal peace, harmony, and prosperity.
While the dove can appear as a symbol in many of the world's religions, where exactly was President Berdymukhamedov going with this?
In the Old Testament of the Bible, the dove is sent out by Noah from his arc after the flood, and returns with an olive branch. In the New Testament, a dove lights on the head of Jesus when he is baptised. Later the Holy Spirit "appearing in the form of a dove" lights on the heads of the apostles. That's not likely the tradition the Turkmen leader would draw from in his part of the world. Yet Islam, the faith of many people in Turkmenistan, doesn't seem to make much use of the dove as a symbol, although it has an occasional role.
The Christians of course borrowed the symbol from their predecessors, and the dove is associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and love, and in the Sumero-Babylonian traditions with Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love and war (said to be the equivalent of the Semitic goddess Astarte).
Maybe the alighting dove comes from that syncretic religion that dictators the world over seem to make up out of thin air -- legend has it, supposedly based on a belief from Santeria, that a dove also alighted on Fidel Castro once when he was making a speech.