‘It was unusual’: Iranian chess gamers meet throughout board in exile

‘It was unusual’: Iranian chess gamers meet throughout board in exile

It was France in opposition to the US, battling it out for bronze on the World Staff Chess Championship. However the heated competitors took on an surprising twist when Mitra Hejazipour and Atousa Pourkashiyan – as soon as teammates in Iran, now grandmasters in exile – had been pitted in opposition to one another.

“It was unusual. There was this unhappiness, but additionally a little bit of pleasure,” mentioned Hejazipour. “We had been capable of go away our nation, we had been capable of efficiently be a part of different nationwide groups. But it surely was unhappy that we couldn’t symbolize Iran, our nation.”

France emerged the winner, securing bronze on the championship earlier this month. The feat, coming weeks after Hejazipour turned the French girls’s nationwide chess champion, catapulted the 30-year-old additional into the limelight and laid naked the super chess expertise that has left Iran in recent times.

Exiled Iranian chess gamers Atousa Pourkashiyan and Mitra Hejazipour representing the USA and France on the World Staff Chess Championship in September. {Photograph}: Michal Walusza/FIDE

5 of the nation’s feminine grandmasters have moved overseas in as a few years, a number of of them after taking part in internationally with out a scarf. Final 12 months Sara Khadem made headlines after collaborating in a 2022 event with out a scarf; she now performs for Spain.

Among the many first to depart was Dorsa Derakhshani, who was barred from taking part in for Iran in 2017 after she took half in a event in Gibraltar with out a head protecting.

Two years later Hejazipour adopted go well with, getting rid of her hijab as she took on rivals on the Blitz Chess World Championship in Moscow. After the event she returned to France, the place she had been dwelling and coaching on the invitation of a chess membership in Brest, and started charting out a brand new life as a grandmaster in exile.

Hejazipour’s resolution to play with out a scarf got here at a steep value. Though France gave her refuge, she couldn’t play professionally for the nation as a result of she was not a French citizen.

Mitra Hejazipour playing Sara Khadem, who in July was granted Spanish nationality, in Tehran in 2016.
Mitra Hejazipour taking part in Sara Khadem, who in July was granted Spanish nationality, in Tehran in 2016. {Photograph}: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Photos

She as a substitute discovered different methods to fill her days, perfecting her French and learning pc science and engineering. However she puzzled always if she would have the ability to return to the game that had dominated her life since she was six. “I had at all times performed chess,” she mentioned. “It had at all times been my nice love.”

In March, after an expedited citizenship course of that took three-and-a-half years, she turned a French citizen. Months later she was topped France’s nationwide chess champion. “No one was actually anticipating it,” Hejazipour mentioned with fun.

Born in Mashhad, Iran, Hejazipour swiftly rose by way of the nation’s chess ranks, turning into the nationwide girls’s champion on the age of 19.

In 2018 she was gripped by the actions of Vida Movahed, who had solid off her scarf and dangled it on a stick in central Tehran in what was extensively seen as a protest over the shortage of social and political freedoms within the nation. The act of resistance hit on the discomfort that Hejazipour had lengthy felt in being compelled to put on the regime’s obligatory head protecting.

Quickly after, Hejazipour revealed a photograph of herself in Germany, her hair uncovered, on Instagram. Amid reprisals from the regime, she mentioned she determined to take away the publish.

However the spark had been lit. Months later she determined to threat all of it, turning up with out a hijab on the event in Moscow, backing what was then a fledgling motion difficult the regime. “I used to be glad that I used to be capable of present my assist,” she mentioned.

Mitra Hejazipour watches Iranian news at her home in Paris.
Mitra Hejazipour watching Iranian information at her house in Paris. {Photograph}: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Photos

From her new house in France, she watched because the motion gathered momentum this 12 months, with tens of 1000’s of girls in Iran refusing to put on the hijab throughout the months-long protests over the loss of life of Mahsa Amini in police custody.

“It was historic,” she mentioned. “We’re united, each the folks of Iran and people exterior, pushing again in opposition to the regime. Change and revolution are going to occur, ultimately.”

In latest months, because the regime responds to the protests with an extraordinary crackdown on dissent, the function of these exterior Iran has grow to be much more essential, she mentioned.

“I believe that these of us within the diaspora, when we’ve the possibility to talk of girls in Iran, we will’t hesitate,” she mentioned. “I spent 26 years of my life there, I noticed how Iranian girls are restricted by Islamic guidelines and the issues and challenges they face in every day life. I can’t be impartial after all the things I’ve lived by way of.”

Her 4 years overseas, nonetheless, served as a reminder that the struggle for girls’s freedom is a worldwide battle. “In France, for instance, it’s a secular nation however there are women born into non secular households which might be run by little dictators,” she mentioned. “So it’s actually necessary to talk about these points.”

As she carves out a hyphenated existence between her new life in France and her hopes for her house nation, she mentioned she had no regrets concerning her resolution to solid off her scarf.

“I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner,” she mentioned. “Although I can’t return to Iran, my household is way away, and the way tough life was after I couldn’t play chess professionally for years … regardless of all that, I by no means doubted my alternative. I believe it was an excellent resolution.”

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