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.”


Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

Updated 18 November 2018
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Coalition hits back over reported civilian deaths in east Syria

  • 43 people were killed in the strikes launched by the coalition
  • The US-led coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent days

BEIRUT: The US-led anti-militant coalition hit back Sunday at reports its air strikes on a Daesh group holdout in eastern Syria had killed civilians, appearing to blame their deaths on regime forces.
More than seven years into the country’s civil war, multiple offensives have whittled down the swathes of Syrian territory Daesh once controlled to a small pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor on the Iraqi border.
A Kurdish-led alliance backed by the coalition is battling to expel Daesh from that holdout, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.
Russian-backed regime forces have been fighting the militants west of the river.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said coalition strikes on Saturday killed 43 people, including 36 family members of Daesh fighters in the village of Abu Al-Husn.
But the coalition denied that its air raids there had killed any non-combatants.
The US envoy for the coalition, Brett McGurk on Sunday appeared to blame regime forces stationed “across the river” for the civilian casualties.
“Reports of civilian casualties attributed to coalition strikes are false. All other forces should cease uncoordinated fires from across the river immediately,” he said on Twitter.
In a statement late Saturday, the coalition reported 19 coalition strikes on Daesh targets “free of civilian presence” between late Friday and Saturday afternoon in the militant enclave, which includes the town of Hajjin.
The coalition’s “initial assessment following the strikes is that there was no evidence of civilians near the strikes,” it said.
But the coalition “detected a total of ten additional strikes in the same area of Hajjin that did not originate from the coalition or partner forces,” it added.
It called “on all other actors to cease uncoordinated fires across the Euphrates.”
The Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said regime forces and Daesh fighters exchanged fire across the river on Saturday, but pro-government shelling did not hit Abu Al-Husn.
The US-led international coalition has consistently denied reports by the Observatory in recent days that its air raids have killed civilians.
It says it takes allegations of civilian casualties seriously and investigates each one thoroughly.
Daesh overran large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, proclaiming a “caliphate” in land it controlled.
But the militant group has since lost most of it to offensives by multiple forces in both countries.
On Saturday, Syrian regime forces retook control of the group’s last holdout in the country’s south as the militants retreated into the desert after months of fighting, the Observatory said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people since it erupted in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Since 2014, the US-led coalition has acknowledged direct responsibility for over 1,100 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, but rights groups put the number much higher.