Turkmenistan has just officially registered its first animal shelter, which is in itself welcome news, but there is something else unique about it.
The Island of Hope shelter has been operating informally for several years as the result of private initiative.
In a country where the government controls so much of society and where the government seems to be the originator of every organization or so-called grassroots movement, it is interesting to see such personal initiative.
Suspect, however, is the timing of the announcement that officially registered the shelter.
Turkmenistan is hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17-27 and the country can certainly use all the positive press it can get.
Turkmenistan is best known as an isolated country where the government is a rights abuser, an enemy of the press, and, according to some reports in the run-up to the Asian Games, also a butcher of stray animals in the capital.
EurasiaNet did a great job of explaining the situation regarding animal rights, or lack thereof, in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.
The quandary at the Qishloq is how has Tatyana Galberg, her husband Nikolai, and daughters Irina and Katya been able to operate an unofficial shelter that cares for more than 100 dogs and some 50 cats found on the streets, without any seeming interference from officials.
OK -- it's an animal shelter and presumably a nonprofit venture, a charity really, so there's nothing that would directly interest anyone in the Turkmen government.
But people in Turkmenistan are not encouraged to come up with plans or projects, no matter how well-intentioned, and enact them without any involvement of the authorities.
Now that the government has announced the registration of Island of Hope, Turkmen officials are also promising the shelter -- located some 30 kilometers outside Ashgabat -- will get a plot of land, a free supply of medicine, food, and materials needed to house animals.
The shelter could use the help, as currently the main source of food for the animals is macaroni. But help is likely not coming from the government anytime soon.
Turkmenistan is facing tough economic times, with some state employees not being paid on time.
At the Qishloq we are rooting for the Galberg family and their kindhearted project and we wish she could have spoken with us more than just to simply say she had been advised (she did not say by whom) not to speak with the press about the shelter.
Island of Hope has saved many animals from being poisoned or clubbed to death by roving municipal animal-extermination squads, as detailed in the EurasiaNet article.
And if the Galbergs can continue to care for animals at the shelter, as they have for several years, maybe the Turkmen government will promote the idea of local or personal initiatives aimed at improving the country and its society, especially if they pose no threat whatsoever to the regime.
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