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Police alabai shepherd dogs are seen riding in trucks during a military parade in central Ashgabat on September 27, 2019, on the 28th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence. (File photo) Image Credit: AFP

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: A dog working for Turkmenistan's security services has won the country's "most courageous dog of the year" contest, the latest in the ultra-closed state's push to promote the national Alabai breed.

Turkmenistan's leaders have put dogs and horses at the centre of efforts to foster a strong national identity in the former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

The country has dedicated statues and news coverage to the Alabai breed, a Central Asian Shepherd, which has been elevated to a national symbol.

A dog named Akkhan, owned by the national security ministry won the 2023 contest, state-controlled newspaper "Neutral Turkmenistan" reported Monday.

State TV broadcast video of the white-furred Akkhan and his trainer parading in front of a giant portrait of President Serdar Berdymukhamedov.

The president was also shown on video surrounded by Alabai puppies in footage played on repeat.

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Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (L) presents a Turkmen shepherd dog, locally known as Alabai, to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Sochi on October 11, 2017. Image Credit: AFP

The breed, which can weigh up to 120 kilogrammes, was embraced by the president's father, former president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who presented world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Alabai puppies during meetings.

The dog is part of the government's campaign to promote the idea of a distinct historic Turkmen nation in a part of the world long home to borderless nomadic tribes before it was colonised by Russia in the nineteenth century.

"Specialists believe that the Alabai is the only breed that has not been influenced by others, and thus preserved its ancient genetic purity," the Neutral Turkmenistan paper said in its report.

A 15-metre high gold statue of an Alabai dog was unveiled in the capital Ashgabat in 2020, and the dog has also been honoured with a national holiday.