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Jewish Uzbek theater director murdered

A famous Jewish theater director was killed in the Uzbek capital.

Mark Vail, founder of Tashkent’s Ilhom theater, was assaulted last Friday evening at the entrance to his apartment building, stabbed and had his skull broken. He was pronounced dead at the hospital several hours later.

Vail had been an outspoken critic of the cultural policies of the country’s authoritarian ruler, Islam Karimov, ever since Uzbekistan ‘s independence in 1991. Vail had not been a public member of any political movement.

Uzbek officials have not commented the murder, which has shocked Tashkent’s Jewish community. Vail’s murder is reminiscent of the assassination of another famous Jewish theater director some 60 years ago, when Samuel Michaels was killed in Minsk by Soviet secret service agents. That assassination marked the start of a massive anti-Semitic campaign in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s.

Vail had led the first privately run theater in the Soviet Union, Ilhom – meaning “Inspiration” in Uzbek – for more than 30 years. Outside his home country, Vail staged performances in the United States, Bulgaria, Russia and Yugoslavia. Vail is survived by wife and two daughters who live in Seattle.

The first night of his final production, Orestea, was slated to be performed in spite of Vail’s sudden death.

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