“I was a sixteen year old girl when I fled Uzbekistan for the Netherlands. I was still half child, but my memories of this time are still crystal clear. I recently relived these emotions, when my husband and performed in a theatre production called The Way. I play the harp and tell my life story in a 70 minute show.
This story begins in Uzbekistan, during the period of anti-Semitism after the fall of the Soviet Union and the rife poverty of the time. Suddenly I had to show the world that I was a Jew. On my schoolbooks the word ‘Jew’ was written after my name. While my classmate had ‘Uzbek’ written on her books. Firstly we fled to Israel. But we were discriminated against there because my father wasn’t Jewish. He and my four brothers carry his name: Ivanov. It’s not a Jewish name, but definitely a Russian one. We decided to move to Amsterdam. My father thought, “Amsterdam is tolerant, and as a mixed family we will be welcome there”. We had to register at the police station when we arrived. A small office on the Wallen. My brother was busy comparing the sweets in the vending machine with those from Uzbekistan. “Hey, the snickers are cheaper here” he said. One of the police agents kneeled down and asked if we were hungry. It was such a human act; I had never experienced anything like it.
That night we drove with those lovely policemen to Gilze-Rijen where our first safe house stood. My mother was pregnant, with a sleeping child in her arms. A woman there took my sleeping brother from her arms. This silent contact stirred me. Just as did the six clean sets of bedding printed with flowers which found themselves in my arms. I was so happy. We were welcome.
After this we went to a number of homes and waited for years for our residence permits. I was lucky as I was accepted in the Conservatory as a harpist. I met my boyfriend here - he lived in Amsterdam - and in doing so I returned here. I love Amsterdam! It is so accessible, a real global mix, and so human. I went back to Uzbekistan last year and I found it an amazing experience, but I will stay in Amsterdam.”
32 people in Amsterdam have the Uzbekistani nationality