Uzbek media have been abuzz in recent days over Rakhima Ganieva, the 18-year-old Tashkent native who gained minor celebrity
this summer when she was named Uzbekistan's first-ever representative in the Miss World
competition, which kicked off this week in Indonesia with 131 young hopefuls from around the globe.
At first glance, Ganieva would seem to be everything an attention-seeking Central Asian autocracy could hope for: she plays piano and tennis, speaks polished English, and even bears a passing resemblance to Uzbekistan's presidential daughter and resident glamour-puss Gulnara Karimova
But with the September 28 Miss World final just weeks away, officials in Tashkent appear to have washed their hands of Ganieva, saying they have no idea
who she is or what she's doing in Indonesia.
Both the Uzbek Culture and Sports Ministry and the national committee on women, contacted by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, said they had no knowledge
of Ganieva's participation in the Miss World contest. Nor, they added, does Uzbekistan even have a Miss Uzbekistan contest. Anyone laying claim to the title, they suggested, was clearly an imposter.
Others were more explicit.
"Rakhima Ganieva never passed through any special selection process in Uzbekistan," said Zhavlon Komolov, a representative of the Tashkent-based Pro Models
modeling agency, where Ganieva briefly trained as a 15-year-old.
"If there had been a process to choose a young lady for this competition, I can assure you that a much more beautiful model would have been chosen," he added. "I'm sorry that Ganieva is choosing to build a career on lies."
Even Karimova herself chimed in via Twitter, dismissing Ganieva as a "Tajik-looking girl" who "appeared out of nowhere." (She added, in an apparent non sequitur, "How come this contest is being held in a place where the temperature reaches 50 degrees Celsius?")
The Miss World mystery has been a source of heated online discussion among young Uzbeks. Some came to her defense, pointing to Ganieva's relatively benign
Others, scrutinizing a short video
of Ganieva placed on the Miss World site on August 15, quibble with her claim that she is starting school in the fall at the Tashkent-based University of World Economy and Diplomacy. (Entrance-exam scores, which inform students at which schools they've been accepted, are posted only after August 15.)
Miss World officials have yet to comment on the brouhaha over the legitimacy of Miss Uzbekistan, who is joining contestants from Kosovo, Cameroon, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau as their countries' first-ever representatives at the 62-year-old competition.
It's possible competition organizers have more pressing concerns than a controversial contestant.
Miss World officials are currently searching for a new site in Indonesia for the lavish final event after hard-line Islamists in the capital, Jakarta, said the city would be disgraced by hosting a "pornographic" contest like Miss World.
-- Daisy Sindelar