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The 'Middle East's Brad Pitt' Heads To Central Asia

Kivanc Tatlitug: Setting hearts aflutter
Kivanc Tatlitug: Setting hearts aflutter
As quickly as you can say "Ramadan," a Turkish soap actor has become a household name in parts of Central Asia.

Young men mimic Kivanc Tatlitug's moves and his hairstyle. Young women admire his Hollywood good looks. Tatlitug's star is rising in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and it appears he owes his regional success to the idle time people have as they fast for more than 16 hours a day -- from sunrise to sunset.

Tatlitug entered their daily lives as star of the Turkish soap opera "Gumus," broadcast five times a week by Uzbekistan's "Yoshlar" (Youth) television channel.

"I watch each 'Gumus' episode twice a day -- mornings and evenings," says Aziza Nurullaeva, a college student in Tashkent's Chilanzar neighborhood. "Our family loves watching evening episodes, when we gather for iftar" -- the long dinner after a day of fasting.

"Tatlitug is our idol," Nurullaeva says. "My brother is growing his hair longer to have Tatlitug's hairdo. He even got blond highlights and uses lots of gel to style it."

Nicknamed the "Middle East's Brad Pitt" and "sexiest Turkish man alive," the 26-year-old Tatlitug has become famous across the Muslim world since the soap opera debuted in Arabic on the Saudi-owned channel MBC in 2008.

WATCH: A clip from "Gumus," featuring Kivanc Tatlitug:

The television drama's last episode reportedly attracted a record 85 million viewers in the Middle East.

According to regional media, the show and its hugely popular actor have provided a boost to the Turkish tourism industry due to fans traveling to see locations where the show was filmed.

Tatlitug was invited on several Bulgarian television shows, including "Dancing Stars 2," after "Gumus" attracted millions of viewers in the country.

The blue-eyed, blond actor plays the melodrama's main character, Mehmet, a member of a wealthy family who has a complicated relationship with his fashion-designer wife, Gumus.

The Muslim television family's moderate attitude to Islam has angered some Arab clerics in Saudi Arabia, who have criticized the show as un-Islamic and have called on Muslims not to watch it.

But there are no such calls to ban the show in Central Asia.

"It's more than just popular. It has become something of an obsession," college student Nurullaeva says of "Gumus" and Tatlitug's popularity in Uzbekistan.

-- Farangis Najibullah