Ilyumzhinov plays chess with Gaddafi (UPDATED)
FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced he held a two-hour meeting on Sunday in Tripoli with the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is currently in a state of civil war, with NATO and allies engaged in bombing raids, and Gaddafi himself accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Three updates.
By Colin McGourty
We'll start with what appears to be the footage of Ilyumzhinov’s game against Gaddafi on Libyan TV, posted on YouTube:
Deborah Lutterbeck of Reuters reported on this video footage:
The meeting lasted around two hours. Gaddafi and I played chess. The meeting didn’t take place in some sort of bunker, but in one of the administrative buildings in the Libyan capital.
Gaddafi declared he’s not intending to leave Libya, emphasising that it’s his home and the land where his children and grandchildren have died. He also said he doesn’t understand what post he’s supposed to leave.
Ilyumzhinov quotes Gaddafi:
“I’m not a prime minister, a president or a king. I don’t hold any post in Libya, and therefore there’s no position that I should leave”.
Gazeta.ru adds that Ilyumzhinov said:
I expressed my condolences on behalf of my family in connection with the death of his 20-year-old son, two grandsons and 4-month-old granddaughter. And then he showed me the house on which five bombs fell and where his relatives died.
Ilyumzhinov visited Gaddafi together with his personal assistant Berik Balgabayev. In the YouTube video the FIDE President says: 'It's a great honor for me to be here, to see that you are very well, healthy, because many people might have wrong information.'
The meeting with the Libyan leader is all the more remarkable as Russia has recently joined the chorus of protest against Muammar Gaddafi remaining in power. At the recent G8 summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted the following joint statement (one of the arrest warrants mentioned was for Gaddafi himself):
Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go.
We welcome the work of the international criminal court in investigating crimes in Libya and note the chief prosecutor’s request on 16 May for three arrest warrants.
Gaddafi making his first move
It appears Russia may be trying to play a mediating role in the conflict, with Medvedev’s envoy, Mikhail Margelov, having visited the opposition leaders in Benghazi last week. It’s unlikely Ilyumzhinov could travel to Libya without Russian approval, so there’s some speculation he might be on a political mission. Gazeta.ru notes:
Known for his extravagant actions and statements, Ilyumzhinov doesn’t particularly suit such a responsible mission. He does, however, have an excellent relationship with the Libyan leader, which started seven years ago.
That refers, of course, to the FIDE World Chess Championship in Tripoli in 2004. Although there were promising signs from Libya at the time – the BBC called the event “the latest plank of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s strategy to end years of international isolation” – it was extremely controversial. Apart from general concerns about Libya’s alleged support for terrorism, Israeli players were effectively barred from attending. Despite invitations being sent out, Grandmaster Boris Gulko noted in his open letter to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:
Yet on May 5, the son of Moammar Qadafy, Mohammad, who is also the president of the Libyan Organizing Committee, announced (according to the Associated Press) that “We did not and will not invite the Zionist enemies to this championship…We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society… but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya.”
The chess set used by Ilyumzhinov and Gaddafi
It probably comes as little surprise to learn that this time round Ilyumzhinov also met with Gaddafi’s son. Gazeta.ru quotes Ilyumzhinov:
I had a meeting with Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, who heads the National Olympic Committee. We also had a game of chess, playing the Sicilian Defence.
Some more details have emerged about the “chess content” of Ilyumzhinov’s unannounced visit to Libya. He called it part of FIDE’s “Year of Africa”, recently announced on trips to Nigeria and Zambia, while Polit.ru cites a Kommersant FM radio interview in which Ilyumzhinov stated the visit was planned a year ago, and connected to a tournament to take place on 1 October. The FIDE President stated his belief that it would be a success, despite the Libyan capital being under constant bombardment. The only quote that’s likely to be remembered from that article, however, is Ilyumzhinov’s comment on the military conflict: “the world doesn’t hear and doesn’t want to hear the voice of the Libyan people”.
All that’s left for chess fans is to watch, perhaps in horror, as chess finds itself the focus of a media circus - for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with chess.
Update 12:14 CET
Now FIDE.com has the following article:
Chess is not left behind in Libya
On 11 June FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov met with Dr. Mustafa Zaidi, Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Tripoli. Dr. Mustafa Zaidi came back from China where he had been on an official visit.
One may recall that the World Chess Championship 2004 took place in Tripoli, the Libyan Jamahiriya. 128 chess players from 64 countries participated in the competition, including the Russian Federation, China, the United States of America and Great Britain. GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan became the World Champion 2004 defeating Michael Adams of England in the finals.
During a warm conversation FIDE President thanked the Libyan Minister for his assistance in the FIDE activity. The Parties discussed the opportunities of their future mutual cooperation in the official international tournaments organization, FIDE Seminars for Arbiters and Trainers and the International FIDE Academy establishment to introduce FIDE programme "Chess in Schools". They also exchanged their opinions on the nowadays issues which interest both Parties.
On 12 June Kirsan Ilyumzhinov also met with Mr. Muammar Gaddafi's son Mr. Muhammad Gaddafi. He is the leader of the the Libyan Olympic Committee. Other meetings have been also planned by the FIDE President.
Visit of the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to Libya is held in the frameworks of the Africa Year 2011 which has been declared by the World Chess Federation.
Update 15:41 CET
Monday morning, while being driven through Libya, Ilyumzhinov gave a live interview to the Echo of Moscow radio station. He expressed no regret over yesterday’s meeting with Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, saying “it’s nonsense when people demand he goes”. The Russian interview can be listened to on the Echo of Moscow website, which also provides a transcript. It was conducted by Alexei Osin and Irina Vorobieva. I’ve translated it in full below:
I. Vorobieva: 10:35 am in the capital and you’re listening to the “Echo of Moscow” radio station. As promised, we’ve got something of a surprise: a topic that was talked about in sports, but which we’ve now decided to cover in more detail. Live on the air by telephone to the Echo of Moscow radio studio, we’ve got FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Kirsan Nikolayevich, good morning.
A. Osin: Hello.
K. Ilyumzhinov: Good morning.
I. Vorobieva: Could you tell us where you’re live from?
A. Osin: If it’s not a secret.
K. Ilyumzhinov: I’m traveling just now. I’m being driven around Libya and we’re passing through the town of El Azizia, where the Italian company Eni once built a gas-processing plant – right now we’re passing that plant.
I. Vorobieva: Could you tell us where you met and if it’s true that you met with Mr. Gaddafi?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Yesterday morning I met with his eldest son, Muhammed Gaddafi, the President of the National Olympic Committee – he was the one who invited me to visit Tripoli, Libya. And after lunch we met with Colonel Gaddafi in his residence in Libya. Well, we played chess there, and drank tea.
A. Osin: And could you tell us what was the purpose of travelling to that country where a war’s going on just now?
K. Ilyumzhinov: It was a working visit. In October last year at the FIDE General Assembly we declared 2011 the Year of Africa and of the support and development of chess, particularly through the “Chess in Schools” programme. So in the last few months I’ve already visited South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Kenya and now Libya. Today I’ll be in Tunisia, then Egypt, Morocco, Yemen.
I. Vorobieva: Kirsan Nikolayevich, could you tell us – well, as far as I can see, it wasn’t difficult for you to meet Gaddafi?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, I’ve known him for a long time. We’ve been acquainted for more than 10 years, and every time I come to Libya… We held the World Chess Championship here in 2004, where there were 128 chess players from 56 countries around the world. Gaddafi took part in that. More than that, he allocated one of his residences for receptions. And therefore I’ve got long-standing ties with him. Therefore when I arrived now, not planning to meet with him – I had meetings and negotiations with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Sport. But then his son suggested, his son said that his father would like to meet and spend some time together.
I. Vorobieva: Well, could you tell us what Gaddafi said to you. After all, he probably said something about what’s happening, about some sort of plans for the future?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, of course it was a friendly conversation. He asked me about my impressions. The first question was: “Weren’t you afraid to come here?” Everywhere on television they report that it’s being bombed. It’s true, when we arrived we heard bomb blasts to the west of Tripoli. Every day there’s bombing here. Well, of course, it’s a little worrying, but I told him that of course it’s not the same Tripoli, not the same Libya, as it was a few years ago. But then he said: “Everyone wants me to go. But where can I go? I don’t hold any post”. Well, it really is true that it’s nonsense when people demand he goes. He’s not the president, not a minister, not the speaker of parliament. He’s simply the leader.
I. Vorobieva: So he’s not intending to leave Libya?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, he asked me to take a look at the houses which were bombed, and I visited the house where his family lived, and the children’s bedroom. A month ago in the bombardment his son, granddaughter (who was 4 months old) and 2 grandsons died. He also lost his adopted daughter. He told me: “Well, if I’ve lost my children and grandchildren, where will I go? I’ll remain here.”
A. Osin: Tell us, Kirsan Nikolaevich, before your trip and learning of your intentions – did people try to forestall you or talk you out of it, at a Russian or international level? And if so, who?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Not at all, it was a working trip, normal. I was in Afghanistan recently. Now my next trip in the middle of July will be to Baghdad – we’re holding a chess seminar there. And then I’ve got the “Chess in Schools” programme. I’m also grateful to Gaddafi who in his time has also aided the development of chess in this country. And yesterday as a result of my meeting with the Minister of Education we agreed that from 1 September chess will be introduced as a compulsory subject. No-one tried to dissuade me as these are my normal working visits. Well, some FIDE colleagues asked me, of course. One of the FIDE Vice Presidents was supposed to fly with me, but he claimed that his wife wouldn’t allow him.
A. Osin: No, but don’t you see what the issue is? After all, world society, or to be more precise, a significant part of it, considers the official authority now not to be Gaddafi at all, and Gaddafi seems to have been declared persona non grata. But nevertheless, you met him.
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, I’d be happy to meet with anyone. I was also a politician in the past. If there was a parliament, elected by the people, or a government, chosen by parliament. Currently all the embassies of the Russian Federation are located in Tripoli, and the ministers – they’re chosen by parliament, which was elected by the people. So then, I met with the Minister of Education, the Minister of Foreign Affairs i.e. the legitimate authorities. If there’s going to be a new authority, then of course I’ll also meet with that. But FIDE is a public sporting organisation, outside of politics, and we meet whoever appears to be legitimate.
At the moment the government located in Tripoli is legitimate for the international community. If that wasn’t the case, then the embassies of the foreign countries would no doubt have switched to another city. But well, I don’t know, that’s simply my opinion. I’m not a politician. I came here as a sportsman.
I. Vorobieva: I see. Kirsan Nikolaevich, all the same, chess is a game, a type of sport, in which people play calmly i.e. they’re focussed. Didn’t you get the impression that Gaddafi was somehow frightened, that he was panicking? Did I understand correctly?
K. Ilyumzhinov: No, very calmly. My Vice President Georgios Makropoulos from Greece says: “But on television here they’ve been broadcasting that he’s ill, that he’s lying in hospital, that there’s something wrong with his head”. He’s normal, adequate. We played chess and talked.
I. Vorobieva: Who won?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, he’s of course weaker, much weaker than me, but overall it was interesting. His son, his elder son, Muhammed Gaddafi – he’s a serious player who knows chess theory. The leader, however, is simply an amateur who knows how the pieces move. Well, and he knows how to give fool’s mate.
I. Vorobieva: So you came and beat him?
K. Ilyumzhinov: Well, in terms of diplomacy you can’t win. We agreed to a draw – I offered him a draw.
I. Vorobieva: Of course. That’s clear. Thank you very much, Kirsan Nikolaevich, for finding the time to talk to us live. I repeat that on the telephone to us from Libya was FIDE President Kirsan Nikolaevich, who recently met with Muammar Gaddafi and even played chess against him.
Update 17:38 CET
The English Chess Federation published the following press release:
PRESS RELEASE 13 June 2011
The English Chess Federation wish to express, in the strongest possible terms, its condemnation of the recent visit by the President of FIDE (The World Chess Federation) to Libya on 11 and 12 June. Meeting with Colonel Gaddafi, at a time when there is virtually universal condemnation of his actions in his own country, brings chess into disrepute.
Contacts: ECF President CJ De Mooi via The ECF Office 01424 775222
or : ECF Marketing Director Stewart Reuben 0208 89 6660
This article was cross-posted from Chess in Translation with permission.
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