Turkmenistan has dedicated a new national holiday to a very special native breed of dog.
The state holiday was celebrated for the first time on Sunday in honour of the Alabay dog, with an awards ceremony to encourage veneration of the breed as a symbol of national pride.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov established the holiday on the same day the Turkmenistanis celebrate the native akhal-teke horse, which is well-loved for its speed and endurance.
Alabays are a type of native sheep dog and are among the largest canines in the world, weighing up to 80kg.
A 15m-tall (50ft) golden statue of an Alabay was unveiled in the capital of Ashgabat by Mr Berdymukhamedov last year.
On Sunday, a large crowd gathered in the city to celebrate the breed, clapping and cheering during a best-of-show competition highlighting the dogs’ appearance and agility.
A dog in the border guard service was awarded the top prize for courage, which was presented by the president’s son, deputy prime minister Serdar Berdymukhamedov.
Mr Berdymukhamedov, who has been in power since 2007, is widely viewed as an autocratic ruler and Turkmenistan is one of the least free countries in the world, according to a survey by Freedom House.
He sometimes gifts a horse or puppy to leaders of allied nations. In 2017, he was widely criticised for his rough handling of a puppy he gave to Russia’s Vladimir Putin after a video of the incident went viral.