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Tashkent's Ilhom Theater Receives Late Reprieve After President's Daughter Weighs In

TASHKENT -- Tashkent's Ilhom Theater, one of the first independent theaters in the former Soviet Union, has won a reprieve in the battle over its premises after a last-minute interdiction by Saida Mirziyoeva, the Uzbek president’s oldest daughter.

"I myself am a fan of the theater and want to assure everyone that we won't forsake it! [Ilhom] is the pride of our cultural life!" Mirziyoeva wrote in a message on Twitter on February 11.

The theater said last week that it had received a notice from Ofelos Plaza company, the owner of the premises in downtown Tashkent where the theater has performed for more than four decades, saying it must leave the building by April due to repair work.

"Losing the space provided by the government to the founder of the theater, Mark Weil, in 1976 is, in essence -- a death sentence for Ilhom," the theater company said on its website.

The announcement sparked an online battle for the theater (#saveilkhom) with several luminaries in Uzbekistan, Russia, and elsewhere, including the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Tim Torlot, urging Uzbek authorities to preserve it.

But once the president's daughter weighed in, it took only a few hours for Uzbek Culture Minister Ozodbek Nazarbekov to meet with the artistic director of the theater, Boris Ghafurov, and a founder of Ofelos Plaza, Olga Shavrina, where a deal was worked out to preserve the theater's historic premises.

The Ilhom (Inspiration) theater was established in 1976 as the Experimental Studio of Theatrical Youth and was one of the first Soviet independent theaters. Its name was later changed to Ilhom.

After its founding director Mark Weil was stabbed to death in 2007, the theater was renamed as Mark Weil's Ilhom Theater.