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"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007

The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Death in Tashkent

Mark Weil was murdered a week ago, and no one knows why. I spotted the story on the front page of the Post-Intelligencer, and it seemed to connect, in random fashion, to me and my interests: theatre, Central Asia, and Seattle.

Some thirty years ago, Mark Weil, a Jewish Uzbek, founded the Ilkhom Theatre in Tashkent, in what was then the Uzbek S.S.R. Directing an independent theatre in the old Soviet Union was crazy enough, but doing it in Uzbekistan—just as dictatorial and with Islamic radicals to boot—takes someone insanely courageous. Neither polity has been known for welcoming independent, thought-provoking, Western-style theatre. Yet Ilkhom Theatre has flourished and become internationally known, staging productions around the world.

An article on Eurasianet.org reports:

“The Ilkhom Theater was famous for staging plays that explored controversial social and political topics. Among the company’s most sensitive productions in recent years was one titled White White Black Stork. The play explored homosexuality in a Muslim society, specifically examining the relationship of two students in a madrassa, or religious school. It also featured dialogue that was critical of conservative traditions”

The two men who stabbed Weil and clubbed him with a bottle on the doorstep of his apartment building on September 7 are still uncaptured, and their motives are unknown. Speculation ranges from politics to anti-Semitism to crazed druggies. But there’s no question artists and intellectuals in Uzbekistan are scared.

Mr. Weil’s last words were reportedly “I open new season tomorrow and everything must happen…” The new season at the Ilkhom started on schedule, despite the murder, with the Oresteia of Aeschylus, a trilogy of plays about vengeance, bloodshed, and reconciliation by rule of law in a democracy.

And the Seattle connection? Weil has directed more than one play in Seattle (though I don’t think I ever saw one), and his wife and daughters live here. His older daughter graduated from the University of Washington in 1999, and the younger sings and plays piano with a band. Oh, and Taskent is a sister city of Seattle. Seattle sorrows with her sister.



shadocat said...


I've heard that Uzbekastan (forgive me if I misspelled) has had a problem with muslim fundementalist groups---do you think his death has anything to do with that?

Jana C.H. said...

Shado-- From the little I've read, that seems a likely possibility. He was Westernized, Jewish, and did plays on subjects that fundamentalists of most persuasions want to keep quiet about.

I've read that the Uzbek government is blaming it on drug addicts, though no money was taken. I suppose the idea is that drug addicts are so crazed that they would be likely to murder a famous theatre director spontaneously, at random, when they just happened to be in the entryway of his apartment building.

I trolled the internet before writing the article, but found little beyond what was in the original story in the P-I. I'm going to keep an eye on it.

Jana C.H.
Saith WSG: The man who can rule a theatrical crew, each member a genius and some of them two...

shadocat said...

Yeah, drug addicts. right...

I get the New York Times online, and I read their article on Mark Weil. Is it true that the Taliban or Taliban like organizations are active in Uzbeikestan? (btw, that didn't come from the times article--just heard about it on NPR). That would certainly jibe with any uproar in the country over Weil's work and homosexual themes, etc.

Josiah said...

It's frankly amazing that Weil was able to produce socially challenging plays in Uzbekistan at all. Opposition parties and independent media are banned by the Uzbek government. It's true that there's a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism there, but it's fueled by the repression of the Uzbek government. The citizens of Uzbekistan are being squeezed between two opposing totalitarian ideologies: on the one hand, a post-Communist nationalism/statism, complete with cult of personality surrounding the leader (Islam Karimov) and on the other, Taliban-style Islamic extremists. Each side uses the other to justify its horrific actions.

Of course, the Bushies have considered Uzbekistan a "valuable ally in the war on terror" since 2001, when they allowed us to use an Uzbek airbase as a staging ground for the invasion of Afghanistan. In exchange, the US turned a blind eye to horrific human rights abuses, such as political prisoners being boiled to death, and provided military training for the Uzbek security services. They proceeded to use that training to massacre hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian protesters.

In this environment, it's hard to say whether Weil was targeted by Islamicists or government agents. The only thing that you can say with any certainty is that the chances of the murderers being "drug addicts" with no political, social or religious motive is very slim.

Maggie Jochild said...

Last night I went to Wikipedia and read reams about Tashkent and Uzbekistan, then pored over maps. It's appalling to me how much I don't know about some places in the world.

Theoretically, I elect leaders who are knowledgeble about the rest of the world (though not at present) and acting on principles of freedom and generosity (see above), but that doesn't feel like enough. I'm not arguing for tying votes to tests of current affairs, but the long history of invasion, occupation and bloodsucking in this region -- often assuredly with our consent, if not our direct involvement -- makes me want a different system.

How frightened the arts colleagues of Mark Weil must be.

shadocat said...


Can you tell me who "Karimov" and "Gulnara" are, and why they would want Mark Weil dead? (Heard a snippit of this on a radio program about Central Asia, but no explanation was given).

Josiah said...

Shadocat, Karimov is Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan. Gulnara is his daughter Gulnara Karimova. Neither is a particularly savory character, but I don't know specifically why either would have targeted Weil.

Jana C.H. said...

Islam Karimov is the president of Uzbekistan and he maintains a considerable cult of personality. In the old days the rulers in Moscow might miss what was going on in far-off Tashkent, but Karimov is right there keeping an eye on things. Craig Murry wrote, in an obituary of Weil: “Earlier this year, I investigated many murderous assaults on Russian journalists. In each case, they were ambushed on return home from work -- the standard method of the security services. Weil’s killing precisely fits the pattern.” So government involvement in the murder looks likely. I recommend reading the whole obit.

Gulnara Karimova is his daughter, who controls huge chunks of Uzbekistan’s entertainment industry, and that means prostitutes. Prostitution was not common in Uzbekistan before the break-up of the Soviet Union. With her former husband she not only greatly enlarged prostitution at home, she arranged for tens of thousand of Uzbek women to be sent to the United Arab Emirates to work as prostitutes. She’s also generally as corrupt as hell. Gulnara’s top aide has been quoted as saying: “I have come to the conclusion that Gulnara likes money too much without caring about how and where it is made…she is a greedy, jealous, selfish and revengeful woman.” I found all this out from one article, Take a look for more info (link below), but prepare to be outraged.

Neither father nor daughter seems like the type who would enjoy cutting-edge theatre.

Jana C.H.
Saith Theognis: If you should overthrow, by any means, a tyrant who devours the people, no vengeance from the gods will fall on you.

Graig Murraya Obit: http://groups.google.com/group/alt.obituaries/browse_thread/thread/2dd19dc75569c0ae/74960f39579f9989
Article on Gulnara:

Josiah said...

The URL for the Gulnara story at DesPardes is incomplete: this link should work, though.

Pretty horrific stuff. It's no wonder that in an environment like that extreme Islamic fundamentalism starts to look like an appealing option to some people. Which means that Uzbek women get to choose between being sold into prostitution or locked up as slaves in their husbands' houses. Great. :/

Jana C.H. said...

Be sure to check out the main body of the post again. I've added a map of Uzbekistan.


shadocat said...

I read the link, and wow, that Gulnara is a piece of work! It's amazing to me how little coverage there is of all this in the western media...