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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Living Memorial to Old Bukhara

BUKHARA, Uzbekistan -- More than 50 years after Faizalo Khodzhayev fell victim to Stalin's purges, a small but loyal following is sprucing up his Bukhara home to commemorate the Uzbek merchant's 100th birthday.

"This place was nothing more than a heap of garbage five years ago," says Yelena Mitrofanova, who is leading the campaign to restore the 19th-century home in time for Khodzhayev's 1996 centennial.

Now resident director of the Khodzhayev National House, Mitrofanova has cleared away the trash, peeled off the mud plastered over the walls by Soviet authorities, and lovingly restored the original frescos the old-fashioned way -- with paint mixed from eggs, vegetables, and bull's blood.

"This is the winter room, where the women used to dance in front of mirrors," says Mitrofanova, leading visitors through a series of elaborately painted rooms all opening onto a courtyard. Here, in this inner sanctum, Khodzhayev's mother and four wives used to wile away the hours.

Nearby, the crumbling walls of Khodzhayev's quarters still await the restorer's touch. After Khodzhayev -- president of the short-lived Republic of Bukhara from 1920 to 1922 -- was shot in Moscow in 1938, his house was turned into a Soviet Army school and was later converted to communal housing. It will be a push to meet the 1996 deadline, but Mitrofanova's determination to honor Khodzhayev is as limitless as her energy.

Khodzhayev has found an unlikely ally in Mitrofanova -- a Russian national born in Moscow and then lured to Bukhara 18 years ago by her Uzbek husband. Unlike many of her compatriots who never bothered to learn a word of the local language, Mitrofanova quickly embraced her new home and customs. Her readiness to adopt traditional Uzbek attire and learn to converse freely in both Uzbek and Tajik earned the respect of her new relatives. "If my mother-in-law didn't approve of me, I wouldn't still be here," she says. And she has no intention of leaving.

It was largely due to Mitrofanova's efforts that the Khodzhayev National Home was included last year in UNESCO's list of World Cultural Heritage sites. It may lack the majesty of the Acropolis in Athens, the splendor of India's Taj Mahal or the wonder of the Egyptian pyramids, but Khodzhayev's home, Mitrofanova insists, is equally deserving of UNESCO status.

"This is the only remaining house of this period and style," says Mitrofanova, admitting that the cultural landmark has received little local -- let alone international -- fanfare. Indeed, among Bukhara residents Khodzhayev's home is more commonly known as the building across from the Karl Marx school. "Unfortunately, this museum is off the beaten track," she laments.

But with the enthusiasm of the converted, Mitrofanova is dedicated to putting Khodzhayev's home on the cultural map.

She maintains an open-door policy, welcoming guests with tea and candy at the end of each $1 tour. And for those who want to linger longer and dine on cushions in the original banquet hall, Mitrofanova slips off to the kitchen to whip up a batch of pilaf.

Mitrofanova's desire to restore Khodzhayev's home is not just in tribute to the man himself -- but to her adopted homeland.

"Like many people from Bukhara, Khodzhayev was a man of mixed blood," says Mitrofanova. "For him being from Bukhara was a nationality in itself, and one he wanted to preserve."