The following article was written by an Iranian citizen journalist on the ground inside the country, who writes under a pseudonym to protect his identity.
The World Chess Federation has announced that Dorsa Derakhshani, the second female chess grandmaster in Iran’s history, is leaving Iran to play for the United States.
Derakshani intends to keep her Iranian nationality but, according to the federation, she will compete as a member of the US national team and no longer play for Iran, although she has not officially confirmed the decision.
The 19-year-old chess genius and her brother Borna played for Iran in the 2017 Gibraltar Chess Festival. She did not wear hijab during the tournament, which led to a wave of outrage among hardliner media. And Borna caused controversy too. Fars News Agency reported that he had competed against an Israeli chess player, a taboo in Iran. Iranian athletes are forbidden to compete against Israelis, although they are often forced to find excuses in order to not run afoul of international federations, which ban discrimination based on nationality, race and religion.
In an interview with Beyond Chess in December 2016 prior to her participation in the festival, Derakshani said: “I once wore a formal sort of hijab (we have different ones depending on the occasion) that was seriously disturbing me…On the other hand, in Iran people know and accept that foreigners are neither familiar (nor particularly willing) to wear a hijab.”
In addition to her somewhat dismissive comments about the Islamic headscarf, she also made other comments that would have not been popular with Iranian officials. “You may know we had a revolution in Iran in 1979,” she said. “As a result, chess was forbidden for more than a decade since it was regarded as a sort of gambling. In this period, chess was still secretly played in backyards but obviously there was no systematic approach for training or tournaments. This explains why chess culture generally still lags behind in Iran compared to other countries.”
These were bold statements for an Iranian, especially for a young woman. A month later, she competed at the Gibraltar Chess Festival not wearing hijab.
This, and the fact that her brother had competed against an Israeli, led to strong reactions from the head of the Iranian Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevan-Zadeh, who announced that both brother and sister were banned from playing for Iran. "As a first step, these two will be denied entry to all tournaments taking place in Iran, and, in the name of Iran, they will no longer be allowed the opportunity to be present on the national team," Pahlevan-Zadeh told the semi-official Fars news agency.
Hurting “National Interests”
Pahlevan-Zadeh tried to distance the federation from the pair, saying they had attended the Gibraltar event independently rather than representing Iran. "Anyone can participate in it," he said. He then went further, accusing the siblings of hurting Iranian national interests. "Unfortunately, what shouldn't have happened has happened. Our national interests have priority over everything," Pahlevan-Zadeh said. He added that there would be no "leniency" for those who trample on Iran's "ideals and principles."
While her brother reportedly lives in Iran, Dorsa Derakhshani is currently studying at university in Spain.
After harsh comments from the federation, the wave of vitriol against Dorsa Derakhshani and her brother continued. “It is not necessary for individuals with dual nationality who do not believe in the [Islamic Republic] system to compete under the Iranian flag,” said Ahmad Salek, an influential hardline member of the Iranian parliament. He also called on security agencies to take serious action against them.
But before security agencies could take any action, Dorsa Derakhshani came to an agreement with the US Chess Federation. This will be a loss for Iran, and a gain for the “Great Satan,” the United States of America.
— IranWire citizen journalist