The banning of three-time Armenian chess champion, Maria Gevorgyan, from an international tournament in Turkey -- due to pressure by the Azerbaijani delegation -- highlights the discrimination and persecution that Armenians continue suffer in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Pictured: Gevorgyan in 2014. (Image source: Chesspics/Wikimedia Commons)
The banning of three-time Armenian chess champion, Maria Gevorgyan, from an international tournament in Turkey -- due to pressure by the Azerbaijani delegation -- highlights the discrimination and persecution that Armenians continue suffer in Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The tournament that Gevorgyan was invited to attend -- and from which her invitation was subsequently withdrawn -- was the 2019 Sivas Buruciye Chess Open, which was held August 19-24.
In a recent interview with Gatestone, Gevorgyan recalled how she learned, ten days before the event, that she was no longer welcome to attend:
"While I was talking about the tickets and other arrangements with a Turkish organizer, he sent me a WhatsApp message informing me that he had been told by Azerbaijani players that they would not participate if an Armenian player was there. He then announced that my tickets and accommodation were being canceled."
As if this were not enough, after Gevorgyan wrote about her ordeal on social media -- and included a screenshot of the WhatsApp conversation -- the Turkish tournament organizers threatened to sue her for "violating the confidentiality of the correspondence, by posting it on Facebook."
In a letter of complaint to the Lausanne, Switzerland-based International Chess Federation (FIDE), Armenian MP Mkhitar Hayrapetyan -- chairman of Parliament's Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Diaspora, Youth and Sport -- decried the "racism and anti-Armenianism" that prevented Gevorgyan from playing in the tournament, and demanded that FIDE take action. Hayrapetyan wrote:
"Since ancient times, the mission of sport has been to unite people of all nations and to advocate for solidarity and peace. Yet in the 21st century, which is rightly proclaimed as the era of the re-awakening of human rights and freedoms, we continue to face a backbiting phenomenon such as racism."
FIDE responded on August 24 by releasing the following statement:
"The International Chess Federation confirms that we are investigating an incident involving the player Maria Gevorgyan. She is a Woman International Master and a three-time Armenian Women Chess Champion.
"According to the player, she was invited to the Buruciye International Chess Tournament in Sivas (Turkey), and her travel arrangements had already been made. But in her complaint, Gevorgyan claims that the invitation was withdrawn on the grounds of her nationality.
"As it is customary in these cases, FIDE initiated an inquiry ex-officio as soon as this incident came to our knowledge, and a formal complaint was received shortly after from the Armenian Chess Federation. We will ensure that this situation is promptly investigated, and we will hear the explanations from all the parties involved.
"FIDE was founded under the motto 'Gens Una Sumus': we are one family. Discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality goes not only against FIDE policy but also against the most basic sportive principles, and will not be tolerated. If the investigation confirms that the player's rights have been violated, or she has been discriminated by her nationality, the most strict measures will be taken in accordance with the FIDE Statute."
The investigation is still ongoing.
The issue of anti-Armenian discrimination goes well beyond sports in general and chess in particular, however. As Yerevan State University's Professor Arthur Atanesyan told Gatestone:
"Armenophobia is a historical fact, as well as an element of social psychology in some societies.
"The genocide committed against the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire is still denied by Turkey. And Azerbaijan, which claims to be another state of the same nation as Turkey, instrumentalized Armenophobia as a tool of propaganda against Armenia in international information space, in order to sustain its own narrative in the Karabakh conflict.
"My own perception is that Turks and Azerbaijanis who use slogans against Armenia and Armenians -- and spend energy and resources on anti-Armenian propaganda -- do not [even] believe in their own statements. But they [do] believe in their aim to take over Armenia by any means necessary. Turkey has a global agenda, but Azerbaijan seems to be completely poisoned by its own anti-Armenianism. Azerbaijanis wake up in the morning with Armenophobia, teach Armenophobia at schools and universities, and express hatred towards Armenians even during official celebrations, which normally start with a statement by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on a future when there will be no Armenia."
"But in order to reduce the tension, direct communication, critical thinking and prevalence of human rights and humanity over political monopoly of corrupt elites might help."
Professor Atanesyan is correct. The solution to the persecution of Armenians in Turkey and Azerbaijan lies in the victory of critical thinking and human rights over dogma and political corruption in those countries.
For there to be a chance of this happening, however, Turkey and Azerbaijan should be governed not by dictatorships that spread hate-filled propaganda, but by people who participate in a true democracy with equal human rights for all. Currently, sadly, the situation is far from that.
Sezen Şahin is based in the United Kingdom.