ASHGABAT -- Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president is often extolled by state media for his purported fondness of dogs and horses -- and now cats.
But the government-controlled news agencies ignore a brutal, ongoing campaign by city workers in the nation’s capital, Ashgabat, to kill stray animals.
In a recent Turkmen TV report dedicated to the president’s summer vacation, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was shown petting kittens that reportedly are “owned and adored” by his two granddaughters.
The state news agency Turkmenistan Today reported that after a busy morning in which the president worked on a new book about herbal medicine and watched a video of himself performing a rap song about horses, he “went for a walk with his granddaughters.”
The trio “also played with their favorite kittens,” it reported.
According to the news agency, Berdymukhammedov told his granddaughters that “communication with animals makes a person kinder and his life more interesting.”
“Watching children’s attitudes to pets, you can determine the level of their responsibility and how much they are able to care for others,” he was quoted as saying.
Such state media reports come amid fresh complaints from Ashgabat residents about what they describe as the “barbaric beating” and culling of stray cats and dogs by municipal maintenance-service workers.
Ashgabat residents say they often see dog-hunting squads beat animals to the brink of death before tossing their bodies into the back of pickup trucks.
Others say it is commonplace to see stray dogs and cats killed in their neighborhoods.
In one incident in Ashgabat on June 22, local residents told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service they saw a city maintenance-service employee beating stray puppies with a spade.
The residents say they intervened and managed to save the puppies, one whom sustained injuries. Photos provided by eyewitnesses are too graphic to publish.
In another disturbing incident, on May 14, municipal workers allegedly beat a dog and her puppies to death with an iron rod inside the premises of the N84 kindergarten in Ashgabat’s Gaudan B neighborhood.
Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL the animals were beaten to death in front of traumatized nursery schoolchildren and employees.
RFE/RL contacted several government agencies for comment about those complaints but did not receive any response.
On May 16, city workers in Ashgabat raided the home of a licensed veterinarian who had been providing free medical treatment to sick and injured stray animals at his home.
The veterinarian told RFE/RL he was handcuffed to a heating radiator by the workers while they took away the six injured dogs and cats he had been treating.
“They put the animals inside a van and killed one of the cats right before the eyes of my neighbors by bashing it into the pavement,” the veterinarian told RFE/RL.
“The neighbors approached government agencies to ask about the fate of the animals seized by the city workers,” he said.
They eventually found out that one of the dogs was killed inside the van, three cats were exterminated later, and that only one dog was taken to an animal shelter, he said.
Turkmenistan officially registered its first animal shelter in summer 2017 amid criticism for what activists describe as a savage campaign to slaughter homeless animals ahead of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games the country hosted.
The family-run shelter, located about 30 kilometers outside Ashgabat, had been operating unofficially for several years and was housing some 150 cats and dogs.
In February, Berdymukhammedov told a cabinet meeting that he wants to open a state-run shelter and clinic for homeless animals.
Pet-owners who go on holiday could also temporary leave their cats and dogs at the shelter, while people without pets could visit the facility to meet and play with what Berdymukhammedov described as “our humble siblings.”
Berdymukhammedov suggested the facility should be “of the highest standards” and “the most modern in the world.”
He said those involved in the project must study and implement the best practices at animal shelters in developed countries.
But the animal shelter has yet to be built.
Berdymukhammedov has been quoted by state media as stressing the importance of the attitude of workers at the yet-to-be completed animal shelter.
But Berdymukhammedov stopped short of addressing complaints from Ashgabat residents about the cruelty towards animals by state workers.