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.”


Turkey bans rally for Kurdish MP on hunger strike

A member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) reacts next to policemen during a demonstration in solidarity with a HDP lawmaker on hunger strike in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, on February 15, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 16 February 2019
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Turkey bans rally for Kurdish MP on hunger strike

  • Ocalan, one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, has not been allowed to see his lawyers since 2011

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: Turkish police on Friday prevented supporters from rallying outside the home of a pro-Kurdish lawmaker on hunger strike for 100 days.
The protest bid coincides with the 20th anniversary of the capture of Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is jailed in a notorious prison island near Istanbul.
Leyla Guven of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), launched her action on Nov. 8 while in jail to protest against Ocalan’s prison conditions.
She was freed last month under judicial supervision but continued her protest, refusing any treatment. Guven, 55, is consuming only sugared or salted water.
Police on Friday blocked supporters from approaching Guven’s house in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir after a rally called by the HDP, an AFP correspondent said.
“The biggest task ahead of us today is to turn every aspect of life into an arena for struggle and support hunger strikes at the highest level,” HDP MP Dilan Dirayet Tasdemir said.
“This dark picture and severe conditions of fascism can only be broken through our organized struggle,” Tasdemir said.
More than 200 prisoners are on hunger strike to protest what they call Ocalan’s isolation, according to the HDP.
Ocalan, one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984, has not been allowed to see his lawyers since 2011.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
Ocalan was caught in Kenya outside the Greek Embassy in Nairobi on Feb. 15, 1999 by Turkish secret service agents after attempting to seek asylum in Europe.
Turkish authorities last month allowed Ocalan’s brother Mehmet to see him, the first visit in over two years.