Chess moves help Iraqi refugees

by ChessBase
6/20/2017 – Today (June 20) is World Refugee Day, and we have a heart-warming story to support it. For over a year the city of Mosul, a major city in northern Iraq, has been under siege by the Iraqi army, which is trying to dislodge the militant forces of ISIS. The civil population is suffering unimaginable horrors, with 100,000 currently trapped in the final assault of the Old City. To help refugees overcome trauma and grief the British NGO AMAR arranged a three-day chess encounter with two Azerbaijani grandmasters in Dohuk, less than 75 kilometres from Mosul. AMAR now has plans to promote chess across the country.

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Azerbaijani chess players make moves to help Iraqi refugees

By Robert Cole – Global Head of Communications, AMAR

Two of the world’s leading chess players have travelled to Iraq to encourage refugees to play the game to help them overcome trauma and grief. Azerbaijani grandmasters Farid Abbasov and Azar Mirzayev flew into the war-torn country at the invitation of the British NGO, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, which builds and runs health clinics and training centres for some of the 3.1 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Northern Iraq.

Travelling under the umbrella of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Abbasov and Mirzayev spent three days in several IDP camps near the Northern Iraqi city of Dohuk – less than 75 kilometres from the city of Mosul – still the scene of bloody battles between ISIS and allied forces.

The pair played multiple games against hundreds of keen men and women players. The vast majority of the IDPs are severely traumatised by their experience and chess is being used as a way of helping them through their ordeals.

Grandmaster vs Refugees, 75 kilometres from the devastations of Mosul

It was gratifying to see many female chess players enjoying the simul...

... and some taking on the grandmasters one-on-one

Both Azerbaijani players are well-qualified to promote the game. Abbasov won second place in the European Youth Chess Championship of 1997, and more recently won a gold medal in the 2007 international chess tournament in Sweden. In 2008 Azar Mirzayev ranked second in a tournament in Spain and recently made the third round of the Fajr Sabalan Cup in Iran.

A group photo after an important chess event

“Chess is immensely popular in all the IDP camps,” explained Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (left), the Founder and Chairman of the AMAR Foundation. “It allows the refugees to focus their minds on something other than the awful conditions they are living under. It also helps cultivate a sense of community and friendship amongst people who have been through the most dreadful and life-changing experiences. I would like to thank the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the Azerbaijani government and of course Mr Abbasov and Mr Mirzayev, for all their assistance and support. As we all know, Azerbaijan is now a leading chess-playing nation, and it is hugely encouraging that they were so keen to help the people of Iraq.”

A spokesman for the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, added: “Refugees are the most vulnerable layer of the population and suffer health and social problems. The mandate of our Foundation includes humanitarian activities to address these problems. Baroness Emma Nicholson invited us to join this initiative aimed at supporting children and youth of this country and we were delighted to do so.”

AMAR, which is run almost entirely by Iraqi professionals and volunteers, now has plans to promote chess across the country.

In the last 25 years, AMAR has provided more than five million medical consultations. Today, our teams are supporting hundreds of thousands fleeing Mosul. You can provide life-saving healthcare by donating today #MosulAppeal.

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