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Turkmen Workers Executing 'Orders From Above' As Killing Of Dogs, Cats Continues

City officials have even offered children small amounts of money to round up and cull strays using poisoned sausages or bread.
City officials have even offered children small amounts of money to round up and cull strays using poisoned sausages or bread.

ASHGABAT -- Former public-utility workers in Turkmenistan ordered to cull dogs and cats have provided details about the systematic nature of the killings, which continued through the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

There have been numerous reports in previous years of the inhumane killing of dogs and cats in the Central Asian state, though Turkmen authorities have never officially acknowledged the practice.

But former utility workers speaking on condition of anonymity told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service how they were tasked with killing the animals -- acting on "orders from above" -- as one animal rights activist describes it.

"If you have to, bring [the dog or cat] from home, but the plan has to be carried out," one worker said he was told by his superior.

Officials at public utility companies issue a quota of animals to be killed and demand that employees implement a special plan to carry out the killings, which usually involves poisoning, starving, or beating the animals to death. Others are shot. In order to meet the quota, household pets can also be targeted. Workers who protest the orders are threatened by their bosses.

Those who refuse to carry out the killings are sometimes also made to pay people willing to kill animals, with managers deciding how much should be paid for the job, the former workers told RFE/RL.

Recounting an incident from several years ago, shortly before a presidential visit was to take place, a worker from Turkmenabat explained how he was ordered by the deputy mayor to kill two dogs.

"People approached [the dogs] from four sides, including the deputy mayor. I refused to participate, explaining that I was just a forklift operator and janitor. Then the dogs were brutally beaten to death, there was blood everywhere on the road, and the corpses were loaded onto our vehicle. My boss and the deputy mayor then threatened that they would talk to me after work."

After leaving his job and starting work at a landfill site, the same worker noted how dead dogs and cats were brought there in cars.

"There was a watchman who supervised the whole process. He had a book in which he recorded how many dogs and cats each car brought. Even if the animals were still living, they were buried alive [with the supervisors] not caring that they were whining."

Some workers are specially appointed to kill dogs and cats -- their sole duty in Turkmenistan's utility services. But it is not only utility workers who are tasked with the organized killings. City officials have also offered children small amounts of money to round up and cull strays using poisoned sausages or bread.

Initially used as a means to exterminate the rapidly increasing animal population after thousands of residential buildings were demolished in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, the slaughtering of animals spread to other regions. Roundups often intensify in the run-up to important state and government events, such as a visit by authoritarian President Serdar Berdymukhammedov or his father, Gurbanguly, who he replaced in 2022.

The barbarism of the practice is often raised by animal rights activists.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one detailed a recent incident that occurred in Ashgabat. "In a park near a hospital, 18 dogs and cats were beaten to death with iron rods in front of patients and people visiting them. Everyone who photographed this brutality had their phones confiscated and the photos erased."

The killings frequently take place in full public view. The same activist told RFE/RL about another recent incident at a playground. "One utility worker was holding a dog while another stabbed it in the neck with a knife, as if it was a sheep to be sacrificed. The dog whimpered loudly. It's hard to even imagine. When the children saw this they ran home in tears."

These incidents are occurring despite a state law adopted in July 2022 against animal cruelty. It includes a provision that regulating the population of stray dogs should be carried out "by methods that exclude cruelty and unnecessary suffering."

At the same time the presidential administration takes great pride in its native dog, the alabai.

In 2020, then-President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov unveiled a 6-meter-tall golden statue of an alabai in Ashgabat and designated the last Sunday of April 2021 a national holiday dedicated to the Central Asian breed. His son, Serdar, presides over the Turkmen Alabai International Association.

In 2021, the power to confer the honorary titles of "distinguished dog breeder" and "people's dog breeder" was granted to the president.

People wrote on social media that the killing of dogs and cats continued to be carried out during the monthlong Ramadan holiday, which ended on April 10.

Written by Katherine Chapanionek in Prague based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

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