Levon Aronian is the national David Beckham
On Sturday, 26th of September, BBC website came out with a large report about chess in Armenia. It was titled “Armenia revels in its chess prowess” and talked about the Chess Olympiad, the level of chess in the country, the Tigran Petrosian memorial, and how chess could be the face of a whole country.
Here are some excerpts from the article.
I speak not a word of Armenian, and the first man I met in Armenia spoke not a word of English.
He was the driver picking me up from the airport.
“David,” I said, pointing at myself. “Tigran,” he said, shaking my hand, “Tigran Petrosian.”
This seems a weird coincidence. In 1963, his namesake, Tigran Petrosian, had defeated Mikhail Botvinnik to take the world chess title.
For Westerners it was a case of one Soviet Man beating another. The Soviets used chess to demonstrate the superiority of communism over capitalism, and had created a highly efficient chess factory, churning out prodigies like sausages.
But that is not how they saw it in Armenia. For them, Petrosian was above all an Armenian.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Opera Square in the capital Yerevan, to watch the games being displayed on giant boards, as the moves were relayed from Moscow.
The result led to an outpouring of patriotic fervour. That same year, John F Kennedy was assassinated.
“In America everyone can remember where they were when Kennedy was shot,” one man tells me. “Here in Armenia, everyone of a certain age can recall the exact moment Petrosian became world champion.”
From that moment on, chess became a national obsession.
Serge Sarkisian President of Armenia and President of the Armenian Chess Federation
Later I meet the president of the Armenian Chess Federation. The interview had taken months to arrange.
That may seem odd until you realise that in his spare time, he is also president of the country.
His cabinet consists of two Tigrans – the prime minister and the finance minister.
The state already offers free training to the most promising players, and a guaranteed salary (equivalent to the average wage) to any Armenian who reaches the elite title of grandmaster.
The president now plans to introduce chess into the school curriculum.
“We don’t want people to know Armenia just for the earthquake and the genocide,” President Serge Sarkisian said. “We would rather it was famous for its chess.”
Levon Aronian is the equivalent of David Beckham
At a major international chess tournament taking place in the spa resort of Jermuk in the arid mountains, I bump into yet another Tigran Petrosian.
He is no relation of Armenia’s chess legend, but when Petrosian won the world title, says the younger Tigran, his father had a dream that if he ever had a son he would call him Tigran.
The boy has himself grown up to be a high-ranking grandmaster, a member of Armenia’s world-conquering side.
Cheery and plump, this Tigran Petrosian is an unlikely sex symbol, but in Armenia chess players are celebrities.
A spectator tells me that Armenia’s number-one player, Levon Aronian, is their equivalent of David Beckham. He even has the designer stubble. Young girls and aspiring chess players chase him for photos and autographs.