By Hrant Aleksanian in Stepanakert
The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic hosted the first-ever international sporting event on its soil Tuesday when a major chess tournament was opened in Stepanakert by a former world champion.
The ten-day competition bringing together grandmasters from Armenia, Georgia, Switzerland, Poland, Latvia and Iran was organized by the Karabakh government and is being held under the auspices of the world chess governing body, FIDE. It is dedicated to the 75th birth anniversary of the late Tigran Petrosian, the ethnic Armenian former world champion who dominated the game in the 1960s.
The opening ceremony was led by Boris Spassky, the Russian-born veteran grandmaster who had defeated and stripped Petrosian of the title in 1969. The French national, who is attending the Stepanakert tournament as an “honorary guest,” was greeted with rapturous applause by hundreds of people present at the ceremony. He joked that he is no longer “the enemy of the Armenian people” and paid tribute to Petrosian’s legacy.
“I am glad that I never quarreled with him,” Spassky told the audience. “We always treated one another with utmost respect.”
Earlier in the day, Spassky inaugurated a chess academy in the Karabakh capital together with NRK President Arkady Ghukasian.
Organizers also read out a welcoming letter from the FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. “I am convinced that the holding of the international tournament in Stepanakert will contribute to the development of the unique Armenian chess culture,” Ilyumzhinov wrote.
There was no immediate reaction to the event from Azerbaijan which regularly denounces the presence of foreign visitors in Karabakh as an affront to its sovereignty over the disputed region. Spassky sounded untroubled by possible Azerbaijani protests over the chess tournament. “I don’t want to discuss any political aspects,” he told reporters.