By Ruzanna Stepanian
The government granted 5 million drams ($11,000) to one of Armenia’s youngest and most talented grandmasters on Thursday for his impressive victory in the latest World Chess Cup held in Russia.
The decision to reward Levon Aronian was made at a weekly cabinet meeting chaired by President Robert Kocharian. A government statement did not specify whether it was initiated by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation and a keen chess player.
Aronian beat Ukraine’s Ruslan Ponomaryov in a four-match series to win the high-level tournament held in the Siberian town of Khanty-Mansiisk by the game’s worldwide governing body, FIDE. The weekend victory marked a new high in the 23-year-old player’s increasingly successful career.
It also underlined Aronian’s status as one of the most important members of Armenia’s national chess team. As recently as last fall he helped it win a respectable third place in the world team championship that took place in Israel.
The government reward may be princely by Armenian standards, but it pales in comparison with a $100,000 prize awarded to him by organizers of the FIDE tournament.
“I was more relaxed during the final game,” Aronian told reporters on Wednesday when asked to explain his successful performance at Khanty-Mansiisk. The grandmaster said he was also greatly helped by strong moral backing which he received from members of the local Armenian community. He said he socialized and even went hunting with them between games.
Aronian’s decision to donate the World Cup to the community organization as a gesture of gratitude was not approved by the Chess Federation in Yerevan though. Some of its senior members publicly suggested that he take the prize back, but the player refused. “I don’t think I should do that because those people were with me,” he said at the news conference. “In fact, I owe half of my victory to them.”
Aronian spends most of his time in Germany but has no plans to change his citizenship or national team affiliation. “If Armenia remains interested in me, I will be happy to continue to represent it,” he said.
Is the title of world champion his next objective now? “I don’t think about such things,” he replied. “I play for myself, for fun.”