Dumped Iranian chess star fights back into the game

Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, playing chess at the Marshall Chess Club in New York. (AN photo by James Reinl)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Dumped Iranian chess star fights back into the game

NEW YORK: It has been a tumultuous year for Dorsa Derakhshani. The stress of being kicked off the Iranian chess team and starting college in the US left her anxious and losing weight as her world chess ranking plummeted.
But, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, the Iranian chess prodigy said she was glad to now be studying in the US, playing with the US Chess Federation and training for a tournament next month to get her game back on track.
“The US Chess Federation took me under their wings. The university helped me a lot. I feel really welcomed,” Derakhshani, 19, told Arab News in the Marshall Chess Club, a century-old institute in Manhattan. “I want them to feel like they made the right decision.”
Derakhshani was kicked out of the Iranian chess federation after competing without a hijab at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival in Gibraltar in February. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has required women to wear the hijab in public places.
“I felt disrespected, it was humiliating. I did not deserve it. It took me a long time to feel back in my skin,” she said.
The teenage Grandmaster started a biology degree at St. Louis University in August and, in October, the US Chess Federation announced she had “switched federations” to represent America in global showdowns.
College life and training has been tough, she said. Exams and bad grades led to sleepless nights and losing 4 kilos in weight — though the ready supply of cookies on her Missouri campus helped put those pounds back on, she said.
At the start of the year, she was in the top 100 women of the FIDE World Chess Federation rankings. The upset saw her ranking drop to 191, although she is currently the ninth best woman on the US team with a rating of 2306.
She praises her coach and teammates in St. Louis for stepping in for her family, who are 11,000km away in Tehran, and helping her fight her way back in to the game and aim for a place in the global top 10 of women players, she said.
She rails against Tehran’s chess federation, saying the decision to kick her out was political and had nothing to do with wearing headscarves. Officials were more interested in having “puppets” perform for the cameras than nurturing players, she said.
“They preferred the image, they didn’t care about the talent,” she said. “They would never have stopped trying to change who I am, and I would never have stopped being myself. It would never have worked out.”
The Iranian chess federation did not respond to requests for comment.
It has not only been a stormy year for Derakhshani. Her native country and her new home — Iran and the US — are at loggerheads over Tehran’s alleged development of missiles and nuclear technology and support for militias in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
While Derakhshani’s switch from the Iranian to the US chess team marked a public relations coup for Washington, she does not see herself as a pawn in a geopolitical spat between two countries that have rowed for decades.
“In chess, I want to be able to predict and find the good patterns. And when I do that, it makes me happy. In politics, I can’t do that. I can’t understand it, I don’t know enough about it.” she said. “Everybody lies in politics. It’s not my thing.”


Russia says drone attacks on its Syria base have increased

Updated 22 min 20 sec ago
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Russia says drone attacks on its Syria base have increased

  • Idlib has become the main base for President Bashar Assad’s foes, who moved there after being forced out from other areas across Syria
  • A recent UN report warned that Daesh, which once boasted of commanding a caliphate stretching across northern Syria and Iraq

DAMASCUS: Russian air defense assets in Syria have downed 45 drones targeting their main base in the country, its military said, after an attack by Daesh on a Syrian army base a day earlier killed seven troops.

The Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that five of them were shot down in the last three days near the Hemeimeem air base. The base in the province of Latakia serves as the main hub for Russian operations in Syria.

Konashenkov said that while the drones appear primitive, they use sophisticated technologies and have a range of up to 100 km. 

He charged that the militants would not have been able to assemble the drones without outside help, but didn’t specify who might have assisted them.

The Russian general noted that the number of drone attacks have increased recently, adding that all of them were launched by militants based in the northern province of Idlib.

Idlib has become the main base for President Bashar Assad’s foes, who moved there after being forced out from other areas across Syria as part of surrender deals often negotiated with the Russians on behalf of the Syrian regime. With Russia’s support, Assad’s forces have regained control over key cities, like Aleppo, Homs and Daraa, the southern city where the uprising against the government began in March 2011. 

The authorities also have restored control over key highways, allowing safe travel all the way form the Jordanian border in the south to the central province of Hama.

In Homs, regional Gov. Talal Barazi told international reporters during a trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry that a key bridge on a highway linking the Homs and Hama provinces that was destroyed in 2012 has been restored.

Barazi said that later this year his administration plans to start restoring the old part of Homs that was ravaged by fierce fighting in 2014.

He said that about 650 fighters who had left the province and moved to Idlib had come back to Homs and agreed to lay down their arms.

Barazi said that the historic city of Palmyra, home to one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites, could be open for tourist visits by next summer. 

Many of the city’s archaeological treasures were badly damaged by Daesh in 2015. Palmyra is a world heritage site protected by the UN’s cultural agency.

In Aleppo, Hazem Ajan, the director of the city’s industrial cluster, said that about 500 companies have resumed operations in the area since the government reclaimed control in 2016.

Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, at least seven soldiers were killed with Daesh attacked an army position near the city of Deir Ezzor, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack on Wednesday near the Taim oil field was the militants’ closest approach to the Deir Ezzor air base since the government recaptured it from the group last year.

Mohammed Hassan, a media coordinator for the activist-run Deir Ezzor 24, said at least 12 soldiers and five IS militants were killed in the clashes.

A recent UN report warned that Daesh, which once boasted of commanding a caliphate stretching across northern Syria and Iraq, is adopting a guerrilla profile.

The group may still have up to 30,000 members distributed between Syria and Iraq, according to the UN report.

Also on Thursday, Assad and his wife Asma visited one of the tunnels once used by fighters outside Damascus to move vehicles, weapons, and fighters while they were under siege, the president’s office said. Regime forces have uncovered a network of tunnels underneath the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital since they seized the area from opposition forces in a fierce campaign earlier this year.

The tunnel visited by the Assads was decorated with reliefs sculpted by a team of artists supervised by the government showing soldiers fighting and triumphing over their opponents.