Reports | February 02, 2012 17:37

Levon Aronian: I cannot play the Candidates' in Azerbaijan

Levon Aronian: I cannot play the Candidates' in Azerbaijan

In an official statement, Levon Aronian has repeated what he expressed before: that he cannot play a 'high ranked tournament' in Azerbaijan. The Armenian grandmaster made this statement today and it was published at the website of the Armenian Chess Federation. With this message, Aronian reacts to bids for the 2012 FIDE Candidates Tournament coming from Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.

The Armenian Chess Federation published the following on Thursday:

February 2, 2012


Dear Mr. President
Dear Presidential Board Members

I learnt from the media, that the Chess Federations of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria had submitted an application on holding the Candidates Tournament of World Championship.

I’d like to inform you that general atmosphere in Azerbaijan and continuous tensions between our countries make my participation in such high ranked tournament in Azerbaijan impossible. A responsible and important event, such as the Candidates Tournament, requires peace of mind and special concentration. No circumstances, if they are not chess-related, should prevent the grandmaster from demonstrating all of his skills. Unfortunately, at this moment no Armenian can find favorable or adequate psychological atmosphere in Azerbaijan, whereas that is something absolutely necessary. In my opinion, all the participants should be in equal conditions, which is impossible in case of holding the tournament in Azerbaijan. Security guaranties and any kind of additional support cannot be a remedy.

Taking into account the above-mentioned considerations, I inform you that I would be delighted to take part in Candidates Tournament any other country, but my participation in the candidates tournament in Azerbaijan has to be excluded.

I hope you will take into account these considerations while discussing the issue of the tournament venue at the Presidential Board Meeting.

Thank you in advance and best regards,

GM Levon Aronian

The statement is not different from what Aronian has said before. For example, on the final day of the World Championship match in Sofia, in May 2010, Levon Aronian was interviewed in Armenia by Vadim Mkrtchian of “Golos Armenii” (“Voice of Armenia”). Part of the interview was about Aronian's reasons for not wanting to play candidates matches in Baku. Back then he said:

I already expressed my opinion on the topic, as well as in a conversation with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s assistants. I won’t travel to Baku. It isn’t that I’m frightened for my life. Chess players are creative people and they must have a normal psychological atmosphere. For example, during a tournament I like to walk around the town. Will I be able to do that in Baku? Besides, the safety guarantee that Azerbaijan mentions implies constant personal protection. Going to the toilet with a body guard is hardly likely to help me to play calmly at the chessboard. I think common sense will prevail in FIDE.

(Translation by Colin McGourty - more here.)

At first, common sense did not prevail. A few months later, at the 80th FIDE Congress in Kallithea, Greece it was decided that the 2010/2011 FIDE Candidates matches would be split into two groups and organized in two locations. One part was to be held in Azerbaijan, and the other (in which Aronian would play) in a different country. As we all know, eventually the Candidates matches took place, from start to finish, in Kazan, Russia.

It's a pity that the tense political relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to complicate the World Championship cycle, especially taking into account that the top chess players in these countries, like Aronian and Movsesian, and Radjabov and Mamedyarov, get along fine.

Ironically, a tournament in Baku would normally be a great idea, beause the chess federation in Azerbaijan is doing well financially. However, to organize the Candidates there is not a serious option as long as there happens to be a world class player who cannot play in that country.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Harish Srinivasan's picture

Well even having them in two different countries is not possible this time around as the format is a tournament and not matches.

christos's picture

With Aronian certainly not playing in Azerbaijan and Carlsen possibly not playing (if he repeats the same reasoning he gave last year), this would not really be a Candidates' tournament to look forward to.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

Carlsen has already mentioned he is open to play this time if the conditions are good.

Chess Fan's picture

Piqued by your astute and knowledgeable comments, I clicked on your profile and I am glad that I did. Your background is very impressive and I also recommend others to check out your (very talented) friend's art gallery.

Narayanan's picture

Yes Very good.

Szoker's picture

Well.. thats kinda major problem..

Harish Srinivasan's picture

Well if other players are ok, I don't understand what special conditions Carlsen needs. He wished for a tournament and there will be one. This time if he gives some excuse it will be silly.

iLane's picture

The WCh title is slowly but surely losing its value. In the 60's 70's it was an ultimate goal, just to play the Candidates was an ultimate goal for many GMs. Today? Carlsen simply didn't like it. Topalov said being number 1 is more important. Now Aronian... And who's gonna play for the title? Someone ranked 20th? Come on, get real...

Anonymous's picture

If you observe those who said that are not yet World Champions and they have be No 1. Carlsen didn't undermine world championship title. He just said that he finds the Candidates matches are not his liking as they seem to favor chance over strength due to a very few games. So it is easy to say No 1 is better than being World champion. But becoming World Champion is also not that easy and it definitely has its value.

RealityCheck's picture

Disagree with you. There are many losers, including you, working diligently to devalue the Wch Title. But, it's not happening.

redivivo's picture

It already happened and no one worked more diligently for it than FIDE.

arkan's picture

Well that would be the perfect time for Carlsen and Aronian to play a nice, long match !

Noone cares about those candidates, you might end up with Anand - Gelfand again

Alper's picture

I wonder whether Aronian considers Istanbul as an alternative? Would he feel safe/calm there?

Ashish's picture

This time, if Carlsen and Aronian broke off from FIDE to organize their own "world championship" match, I think they might have broad support.

Remco Gerlich's picture

No way. Last time that happened, it was the FIDE world champion and the FIDE challenger, both extremely worthy, and even that was controversial.

Carlsen refused to play the candidates and Aronian was eliminated in them, in the QFs. There's no way that'd be a legitimate world championship match just because they happen to be #1 and #2 on the rating list right now.

anonymous's picture

You're right. Aronian just peaked at the wrong time.

Frits Fritschy's picture

I think a match between Carlsen and Aronian would be very interesting, and I won't be the only one. Why should it be called a World Championship? "Aronian wants to challenge Carlsen for his nr. 1 spot in a direct fight" makes a good headline too.
Put together a committee, find a (corporate) Maecenas, and play.
Is that so much more difficult than organising a world champion match, where some organisers will see their efforts go to waste when another city gets the match? Is it more difficult to find sponsors than when the name of your company will get associated with FIDE politics? Is it more agreeable for contenders to have to go through a long cycle where chance is a big factor? And which match would attract more chess fans?

jussu's picture

Naah. It would probably be a little bit difficult to find sponsors for an event where the winner would obtain the title "The winner of the Aronian-Carlsen match". Too long.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Quite possible I don't understand sponsorship. A match between nr. 1 and nr. 2 of the world, one a master of combativeness, the other of originality, sure that can't be a seller. But a WC match between nr. 4 and nr. 22 is (and I'm no going to say anything negative about Anand and Gelfand).
I don't like tennis, but who is the world champion there? Any matches the lovers of the game really look out for?

raving_mad's picture

For my part, I will not play a Candidates in Russia as long as Putin reigns, and not in France as long as Sarkozy reigns, and not in Germany as long as Merkel reigns, and not in ....
On the other hand, I will probably not be invited either.

Anthony's picture

The current live ratings make for an interesting top ten.

Besides Ivanchuk and the usual top 4 all are hungry pretenders.

Excalibur's picture

Anthony: I think the top ten is perfect as it is.

Manu's picture

The worst part of this is that FIDE is unable to organize big events in the right places , like Siria or Libia or Gaza .

harami's picture

Aronian would be an idiot to once again bring up the location issue, sure let him not play , he can keep winning tournaments and go down as one of the best players who never won the title, or even better never got to play the candidates in his location of choice :)

basil's picture

And what has changed in order for him not to "bring up the location issue"? Nothing, Azerbaijan is a country where you will be interviewed by police if you vote for the Armenian candidate during the Eurovision song contest and one where people tossed stones at the Armenian fighters at the venue of the IBF boxing tournament in Baku, a place where the local chess federation had to make security guarantees. It would be ridicolous to expect someone to play under such circumstances. Guess that makes you a ridicolous person, even more for calling him an idiot - even more because he has already brought up the issue, its not a question of whether he does it or not.

TomTom's picture

Does anybody know if he has real good reasons to act like that, has there really been problems there for him?

anonymous's picture

How would an Israeli feel playing in Iran? I think Aronian feels that strongly.

Thomas's picture

As far as I know there have never been problems for Aronian in Baku because he never went there. Read his statements, particularly the second (earlier) one: it's not about actual dangers, but about feeling uncomfortable - after all, Armenia and Azerbaijan are technically still at war with each other, maybe that's reason enough?

mw's picture

This would certainly be a juicy opportunity for Carlsen if Aronian is not playing - his closest rival eliminated before the tournament even starts.

KVB's picture

A real chess player should not admit cheeky reasons for not playing(or escaping) from the tournaments. I think, there will be no one to attack a chess player as expected by great Aronian. If he has to spend a penny by getting protected with bodyguard, I'd rather him dropped from chess log back. It's not a FIDE rule to roam all thw way around the town for relaxation :P He can stay inside and be cool as long as tournament continues. Come on Mr. Aronian..!

Bert's picture

You mean a real autistic person. Which not all chess players are.

Webbimio's picture

I think you don't know what a war is. (You are lucky). Do you remember when Radjabov said that he considered armenians as enemies?

columbo's picture

Well, you'll have to find the interview where Radjabov said that armenians are ennemies !!! Because as far as i checked i didn't find anything like that ! i found that a journalist put a sentence out of context, but nothing from Radjabov's mouth

Thomas's picture

The interview is here (in English translation): - followed by an addendum by Radjabov saying that it wasn't authorized. Maybe he was misquoted, or maybe he regretted his words later on (at the time he was 20 years old or young).

columbo's picture

i read it at the time, but what i meant is that Radjabov said he was misquoted ... Anyway, in the case of Aronian, i fully understand why he doesn't want to go to Azerbaidjan, the situation is still tense and fragile ...

basil's picture

"real chess player" "cheeky reasons" "escaping" - wow, way to express insults as an unbiased opinion. So some random nobody is to decide who a real chess player is and who isn't? So some random nobody is to decide which are good reasons and which are just excuses to escape?

Mike's picture

This happens in the same way in football: polarization and politicization of chess is damaging the Sport. As soon as some people get a prominence place in those sports, they start saying: "We will not play with that guys, we will not play at that country, we will not play at that conditions, we will not respect that federation, we will not vote on that candidate, and so on" ... Why we do not see this behavior from the low ranked people?? FIDE needs to check with countries' authorities if really exists any prohibition or restriction against countries and/or players, because I think it is necessary to prove if the political problems come from any government or from any person.

MiniMe's picture

It's simply not safe for Aronian to play in Azerbaijan. Just matter of safety. For instance, not so long ago in 2004 during the NATO Partnership for Peace program, in Budapest (even not in Azerbaijan), azerbaijani soldier hammered sleeping armenian officer to death with an AXE, in Budapest, during the partnership for Peace, sleeping officer.

So...I guess Aronian isn't that wrong if he don't want to play in Azerbaijan, it's not a very sexy perspective to be hammered with an axe during your sleep, you know.

MiniMe's picture

Moreover, this azerbaijani guy (Ramil Safarov), although in jail in Hungary, went to become a praised hero in Azerbaijan. I think you got the picture, simply not safe.

columbo's picture

it's maybe time for you to make the difference between Aronian and someone else. Aronian is like a FLAG for Armenia. And a flag can not fall in the hands of a crazy lunatic ( i'm not talking of Azerbaidjan here ok ! ) who thinks that the war is not over ...

Paco's picture

Aronian has very good reasons to not want to play in, or even enter Azerbaijan at all. The Azeri president is propagating how he is going to start a war and recapture Karabagh, an Armenian enclave what the whole issue is about. Hatred towards Armenians is spread widely and I think Aronian is wrong if he thinks that he'll be safe. I met him personally and he is a very nice and humble guy. His statement that it is just a mental thing, is just out of modesty I think.

noyb's picture

Matches have to be organized where there is an interest to host them. Let FIDE hold them where they can, and let players choose to participate or not.

Septimus's picture

It is too bad that politics has driven a wedge between players. If nobody is willing to put up the money to host what can be done? We blame FIDE for a lot of stuff, but the chess players are not the most accommodating either. Would they play if the prize fund was reduced? I doubt it...

MiniMe's picture

It would be a sign of decline in chess popularity, and indication that these kind of events should be held less frequently. If that's the case.

The Devil's picture

Let's just host everything in Iceland, it seems a pretty good neutral place that everyone can agree on!

jimknopf's picture

Fide is nothing but a laughing stock with the current president and his followers, and nobody outside of this reign takes this organisation or the funny forms of worthless tournaments and match forms, which they have offered since some years, serious in any way. Why should serious sponsors bother, as long as some backyard dictator crew provides the funds for a non-event???

Why should any well rated player bother to deal with this organisation, which many regard as a minor, obsolete banana republic variation (for good reasons)?

columbo's picture

in a candidate match you have 8 players, it should not be that difficult to find a neutral territory !

Manu's picture

That's the point , FIDE is not capable of organizing a single major event in a deserving (not at war , not ridiculously remote or sponsor scarecrow) country.
Why would that be?

Catholic's picture

Well, congratulations to all the Armenians commenting in this forum. They have successfully turned it into anti-Azeri propaganda platform. Well, I am not surprised. I have seen Armenian commentators in so many forums organizing Azerbaijan bash. Could it be that you guys are so jealous that Azerbaijan is hosting Eurovision, host of other very very big events, e.g. the final four of CEV women's Champions League. What is Armenia doing? Nothing really. But wait a moment I know what Aronian and others are doing - propelling anti-Azerbaijan propaganda on each possible platform. One wonders why? I can guess but I will not engage in this futile conversation. That said - this will be my first and last comment in this thread.

Latest articles