A woman in Turkmenistan has sent an open letter to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov protesting his officials’ “barbaric” killing of stray dogs and cats.
Human rights activist Natalia Shabunts writes that state sanitation workers travel around Ashgabat, the capital, feeding the furry feral creatures sausages poisoned with insecticide or stuffed with sharp objects. As a result of the cheap, weak poison, many animals take a long time to die, often writhing in pain on the streets in front of children.
This gruesome approach is not a surprise from Berdymukhamedov’s regime. The all-powerful president is no lover of cats and dogs.
As a WikiLeaked US State Department cable explained, the president was so spooked when a cat crossed his motorcade’s path in 2009 that he fired the officer in charge of safeguarding that stretch of road. Apparently Berdymukhamedov feared the dashing cat portended an assassination attempt.
In 2011, an Ashgabat man was taken into police custody for walking his dog as the president’s motorcade drove past. The man was told he could chose between having his dog shot and serving 15 days in jail. In the end, he served seven days of the 15-day sentence.
In general, Turkmenistan’s policy towards animals is schizophrenic. Though Berdymukhamedov clearly lacks empathy for street dogs, his regime has proclaimed the alabai, a canine long used by Turkmen shepherds to guard their flocks, a national treasure. Exporting them is prohibited.
No doubt aware of the risks of criticizing Berdymukhamedov’s orders, in her letter, Shabunts, the activist, points out that he has overlooked a far more common irritant.
“[Sanitation] workers say that it is your personal directive to clean Ashgabat of cats and dogs,” she writes to the president. “But at the same time, no measures are taken to get rid of rats or bedbugs.”