Turkmenbashi Cries Fowl

Chickens and cattle are banned from the capital in a bid to turn Ashgabat into "the ideal city".

Turkmenbashi Cries Fowl

Chickens and cattle are banned from the capital in a bid to turn Ashgabat into "the ideal city".

Ashgabat animal-lovers and farmers have been told that livestock has been banned and that they can only keep one pet from now on - by order of the authorities.

President Saparmurat Niazov - who likes to be called Turkmenbashi, or Leader of the Turkmen - is so determined to turn Ashgabat into "the ideal city" that a decree has been issued which practically bans animals from the capital.

Many residents who failed to act on the July 3 order fast enough had their chicken coops and livestock pens flattened by government bulldozers while they watched helplessly.

Ashgabat resident Azat told IWPR that he had been given only a day's notice of the decree, saying, "They told us to get rid of our chicken coops and the enclosures housing sheep, goats and small cattle. Of course many of us didn't manage as we had nowhere else to keep them, and of course we couldn't sell them.

"Local officials turned up early the following morning with workers and heavy trucks, and knocked down our barn."

Ashgabat mayor Amangeldy Rejepov's decree limits households to one pet only, and makes it illegal to keep cattle, goats, poultry or even bees, in order to "improve the capital's hygiene".

City officials feel that the keeping of livestock is undermining their efforts to improve Ashgabat's infrastructure. Many new buildings and parks have been constructed since the former Soviet republic gained its independence in 1991 - some of them on white marble.

Having animals around will spoil the landscape, argued the district authorities, and gave residents two days' notice to clear out their courtyards.

Those who live in the Old Town area, which consists of mostly private housing on the edge of Ashgabat, have been hardest hit by the decree.

As unemployment is rife in Turkmenistan, raising poultry and livestock is not simply a means of survival for traditional families and their many children - it was often their only source of income.

"We've had chickens and a cow for many years now," said Maral, a pensioner. "I have seven small grandchildren, and my daughter sells what we don't need at the bazaar. The whole district would come to us for fresh milk. What other choice is there, if there's nowhere to work, you have to live by your own efforts."

Another woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told IWPR, "We tried to protest, and told the officials that it was our private property. But they didn't listen, and flattened our shed before our eyes.

"It's not as if we were keeping them in the middle of Ashgabat in a high-rise apartment block. We live on the edge of the city and our animals don't disturb anyone."

Apart from the discontented people who have lost their livestock and poultry, those living in suburban apartment blocks are also panicking at the thought of losing beloved family pets.

Ashgabat resident Marina described the decree as "absurd", saying, "We have had two dachshunds for years now, and they are part of the family. My children love them and play with them. I can't get rid of one of our dogs!"

Already people are trying to hide their domestic animals in a bid to avoid the legislation, but others are not so lucky. The future does not bode well for litters of kittens and puppies born after the decree - if families are restricted to only one animal, these young animals will stand little chance of finding homes.

But other city dwellers are more cynical about the move - and believe that the authorities will soon find it unenforceable. "It's a novelty, and I'd like to know how it's going to work in practice," local resident Timur told IWPR.

"As far as I can make out, if I have two canaries singing in a cage, then I'm in breach of the new regulations. So what are the authorities going to do - open the door and let one of the birds fly away?

"I think the authorities have overlooked something - what's the policy on the number of fish allowed in an aquarium?"

Murad Novruzov is the pseudonym for a journalist in Ashgabat

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