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Uzbekistan: Belly-Dancing Girlfriend Of Former British Envoy Exposes Brutal Regime

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> Nadira Alieva in publicity photo (Courtesy Photo) Nadira Alieva has come a long way since growing up in a family of actors in the central Uzbek town of Jizzakh.

In a solo performance that began on January 8 at London's Arcola Theater, the 26-year-old tells her life story in post-Soviet Uzbekistan. It includes surviving a drug-addict father, two rapes, and a stint as a Tashkent stripper before meeting British Ambassador Craig Murray, who left his wife to take her back to London with him.

She tells it all while also performing a belly dance in a sequined dress and veil.

"The performance is about myself, about how I came to England and my life with an ambassador, about how we lived and what difficulties we had to face and overcome, what we experienced," Alieva says. "But in fact, it is about how a person solves a problem of overcoming difficulties."

But while Alieva describes herself as being apolitical, her show also shines a bright light on the brutal regime of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. It does so by both talking about the politics and also talking about Murray, who has been one of the West's fiercest critics of Karimov since serving as envoy to Tashkent until October 2004.

Shahida Yakub, a London-based Uzbek journalist, says Alieva's performance sends an important message about Uzbekistan. "The content of the performance is very strong because it shows the Uzbek dictatorship and an ordinary family that lives under that dictatorship," Yakub says.

"There are thousands of girls like Nadira in Uzbekistan. I think -- and she says so -- Nadira was lucky because she met Craig Murray," she continues. "But there are so many girls who go to Dubai and even to Osh and Bishkek [in neighboring Kyrgyzstan] to work there as prostitutes. From this point of view, it's helpful that the performance shows the pain that many Uzbek women go through."

Early Years Of Hardship

For Alieva, the world's always been a stage. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, she tells how she used to dream of becoming an actress herself while watching her parents perform on stage at a Jizzakh theater.

But after Uzbek independence in 1991, her parents lost their jobs and her father turned to alcohol and narcotics. He used Nadira as a drug mule to bring drugs from a nearby Uzbek-Afghan border checkpoint.

Alieva says her family was starving. After her brother stopped her from committing suicide, she decided to do what her mother wanted her to do.

"My mom did not want me to become an actress. She wanted me to become a teacher," she says. "I became a teacher. I graduated from the [Tashkent] University of World Languages. I worked as a teacher, which made my mother happy."

But Alieva could not afford a normal living with a teacher's salary, although she also worked part-time as a cleaning lady. So she found a job as a secretary in a small company, but had to quit it soon after being raped by her employer.

It's one of the bitterest moments for Alieva -- mostly because the rapist was a devout Muslim who had performed a pilgrimage to Mecca. "I was shocked, I cried a lot," she says. "You know, the fact that he was a hajji.... It left a severe scar in my heart. Had it been someone else, maybe I would be able to forget it."

Leaving Uzbekistan Behind

Soon after the incident, Alieva became a pole dancer in a Tashkent nightclub, earning some $300 a month -- enough to support her entire family.

It was there, in 2003, that she met Murray, then Britain's ambassador to Uzbekistan. Murray was an outspoken critic of the Uzbek regime's human rights abuses. He also criticized his own government for cooperating with Tashkent -- a onetime ally in the West's war on terrorism. He said Britain was using Uzbek intelligence obtained from prisoners under torture.

Murray later lost his job, walked out of his 20-year-marriage, and moved with Alieva to London.

Alieva is brutally honest about her motives. She says she pitied Murray but saw him as a way out of her life as stripper. And she admits that she is not sure if she would have chosen Murray had she known about his political views.

"Frankly speaking, I don't pay attention to politics. Had I known what Craig was up to in Uzbekistan, I would never be with him," she says. "When did I learn that he was involved in our politics? When I came to London, I read about it in newspapers. Our house was full of journalists. I was told that everything happened to us because Craig was involved in Uzbekistan's politics. I was very angry."

Her story also includes another rape in Uzbekistan by a police officer and lap dancing in London to make ends meet after Murray lost his job.

On the London stage, she speaks about life with Murray -- and also about some things that he would probably rather keep private. "His attitude toward my career as an actress is very positive, although he wished I would not say some things," Alieva says. "Well, I did not want to tell some of the things myself."

She was recently quoted by a British newspaper as saying that she had first learned about spanking and masochism after meeting foreign men in the Tashkent nightclub. Alieva admits that this was a part of the deal with the playwright and producers. "They wanted to make it attractive to theater-goers," she says.

Hope For The Future

Alieva says she has another, more personal reason for the performance. "I had a hard life [in Uzbekistan] but my family was with me. Now, life is good but my family is not here," she says.

"My mother visited us last year. We don't have money to invite her again," Alieva continues. "If I earn money from this show, I hope to have a chance to invite her here. I can't even invite my brothers and see them because we don't have money. But I hope everything will be fine."

Alieva hopes to earn more money when her performance moves from the 60-seat Arcola to the larger West End Theater next month.

She also says there are plans in Hollywood to make a movie based on Murray's autobiographical book, "Murder in Samarkand," a scathing portrait of the Karimov regime and the compromises British and U.S. officials made with it after September 2001. Alieva claims she has heard rumors that Angelina Jolie might play her in the film.

Alieva's performance has received mixed reviews. The website "Stage" said, "She has a warm and engaging stage presence." But the "Daily Mail" was more critical. It described the performance as "no Cinderella-style fairytale" of a "rather amoral woman" with "ample curves."

Alieva says she wouldn't wish her fate on anyone, but she adds: "I am proud of myself because I did not give up despite all the difficulties. Deep in my heart, I have always believed in God and his miracle. As you see, up to now, all my dreams have been coming true, slowly, one by one."

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Babajanov contributed to this report)
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