Syria – the chess connection

by ChessBase
7/8/2012 – "Parisian beauty outwits Assad", read the headlines. Manaf Tlass, the top Syrian general and personal friend of President Bashar Assad, had defected to Paris, dealing what many correspondents call a death blow to the murderous regime in Damascus. The desertion was planned by a "glamorous and fabulously rich Parisian society hostess." So why are we telling you all this?

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Syria – the chess connection

First the story, as narrated in the international press: apparently the "glamorous and fabulously rich Parisian society hostess" who has emerged as the mysterious figure behind the defection, was Nahed Ojjeh, an arms dealer's widow, helped to ensure safe passage to Paris for Manaf Tlass, her brother, who was a general in the Syrian army and personal friend of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator.

The Sunday Times tells us that the 52-year-old lady, known to some of her acquaintances as “Madame O”, has lived in France for 33 years and has performed the same service earlier this year for Mustafa, her father, a former defence minister, and Firas, her other brother, a businessman, when they fled to Paris. Manaf Tlass, 48, who spent the past few months under house arrest, will join his wife and children in his sister's Parisian mansion in the chic 16th arrondissement.

Ojjeh, we are told, has been described by friends as one of the most elegant and beautiful women in Paris. She married Akram Ojjeh, an arms dealer, in 1978, when she was just 18 and had reportedly been dating his son. He was 60 and had sold military hardware to Saudi Arabia. When he died in 1991, his widow inherited most of a fortune estimated at $1 billion.

You still don't get it, do you? Nahed Ojjeh "has emerged as an influential society hostess whose penchant for intrigue goes hand in hand with a passion for chess," writes the Sunday Times. Some of you might have recognised the name. Madam 0 features in a number of ChessBase news reports a decade ago:

Madame Ojjeh blasts the FIDE championship
22.06.2004 – With the Knockout World Championship in full swing the negative stories keep pouring in. The Syrian-French chess sponsor Madame Nahed Ojjeh has sharply criticised FIDE and the Libyan tournament hosts. Her chess club, which recently won the European Club Championship, is boycotting the world championship on its web site. Here is her press release...
Einstein: the players have all been paid!
17.01.2003 – "We are disappointed that ChessBase neglected to check with us before posting the artícle," wrote Steve Timmins, CEO of the Einstein Group. He was referring to the press release of Jan. 15 in which Madame Nahed Ojjeh announced she was breaking ties with Einstein for non-payment of some participants at the Dortmund Chess Tournament, which she had sponsored. Timmins tells us that all participants have now been paid. More
Madame Ojjeh say NAO to Einstein
15.01.2003 – She came with high hopes of reunifying the chess world. Nahed Ojjeh, Syrian-born multi-millionaire, created the NAO chess club and joined forces with the British Einstein Group and even put up the prize fund of the 2002 Einstein "Candidates Tournament" in Dortmund. Apparently some of the monies did not go to the players, and Einstein stopped answering enquiries. Now Madame Ojjeh has broken all relations with the Einstein Group. More.
Who is that lady?
21.07.2002 – At a press conference in Dortmund our chess correspondent John Henderson spotted classical chess world champion together with a very charming lady. It was Madame Nahed Ojjeh, one of the great new benefactors of chess. Read all about it in his latest column and about other matters surrounding the Candidates Tournament.
The mystery benefactor of Dortmund
03.07.2002 – Who is the lady in the picture on the left? Syrian by birth, now living in Paris, and one of the financial driving forces of present-day chess. She is sponsoring a Paris chess club, has staged a classical super-tournament and is now backing the Einstein Group (to the tune of € 300,000) in the Dortmund Candidates. Read all about the incredible Madame Ojjeh here.
And here it is: new plans for a reunified chess world
25.04.2002 – The Einstein Group in London and Nahed Ojjeh have announced their support of the reunification of the chess world. To this end they are seeking collaboration with all interested parties in a daring new proposal that is to be discussed at the upcoming Eurotel Trophy in Prag. The funding would be mainly supplied by Madame Ojjeh, a Syrian born billionaire who lives in Paris. You will find the joint press release of both parties here.

Here is our report from July 7th, 2002:

Who is Madame Nahed Ojjeh?

Her name appears more and more often in the chess world. Born in Syria, she now lives in Paris, where she dedicates herself to the promotion of chess and is regarded as the greatest international sponsor of the royal game. We are talking about Madame Nahed Ojjeh, who is is currently backing the Einstein Group, which in turn is responsible for the candidates tournament in Dortmund.

Madame Ojjeh's trademark "NAO Chess" is gaining more and more importance. Last year, Nahed Ojjeh took over a traditional Paris chess club, in March 2002 she organised her first classical chess super-tournament, the NAO Masters in Cannes, and now she has set her sights on other big projects in Europe, Asia and the US. The cooperation between Madame Ojjeh and the multi-media company Einstein, which came about when the Dortmund Candidates was being planned, is an ideal combination and raises hopes for future chess activities, not only in top-level chess.

Nahed Ojjeh on her motivation: "I have often asked myself why chess is so neglected in education. In almost all schools in this world children are taught music or art, whether they like it or not, whether they have talent for that or not. But there is no school program in which they have the option to choose chess instead. To change this is not unimaginable. Instead of suffering at a piano or an easel, a lot of children would blossom at the chessboard. Future Capablancas, Alekhines or Karpovs possibly among them.

Chess enables the young mind to have an insight into the fights and quarrels of daily life. The child formerly at a disadvantage now decides responsibly on his or her own, and can suddenly enjoy big successes. The wide scale of possibilities to teach chess in our schools helps to narrow social gaps and contributes to social harmony. I am convinced: Chess as part of our education and development can help to make the individual less violent and helps to chase away one's demons.

Nahed Ojjeh with then World Champion Vladimir Kramnik

We should now seize the opportunity to use the extraordinary position of technology in our world of today for chess. The electronic image, artificial intelligence and the internet can help chess to occupy an entirely new position. It is not unreasonable to assume that chess can soon take up its rightful place as part of our educational systems.

Finally, I hope that the tournament in Dortmund is a promising step towards the reunification of the chess world. To the participants of the candidates tournament I wish 'bonne chance'."

Ilyumzhinov in Syria (and Libya)

Ilyumzhinov visits Bachar Assad in Damascus
30.04.2012 – Is anybody surprised? Yesterday FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was in the Syrian capital and had a three-hour talk with beleaguered President Bachar Assad, who, according to Ilyumzhinov, "plays chess very well – since his studies in London". During their discussions Assad "pledged on a number of occasions his allegiance to the peace plan proposed by Mr. Kofi Annan". Press release.
Illumzhinov: Gaddafi is alive and well in Tripoli
24.08.2011 – The rebels stormed his compound in Tripoli, NATO and US Intelligence are searching with satellites and surveillance drones for him, without success. But in the middle of the manhunt for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi the President of FIDE received a call on Tuesday evening. The Libyan dictator told Ilyumzhinov he was alive and well, and 'certain to win'. His forces would 'drive the rats out of the city.'
Ilyumzhinov-Gaddafi encounter: international media reactions
16.06.2011 – News and TV channels picked it up with glee: while NATO aircraft were (probably) targeting Muammar Gaddafi directly, the Libyan dictator sat down with the "eccentric" President of the World Chess Federation for a friendly game. Not really a positive picture, and harsh criticism has rained on Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. He sees his visit as a mission of peace and has appealed to people not to politicize the issue.
Ilyumzhinov visits the beleaguered Gaddafi
13.06.2011 – In a somewhat precarious move FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has visited the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who is under siege by rebels across the country and by Nato air strikes. The visit was part of FIDE's “Year of Africa”, and Ilyumzhinov, who has had good relations with Gaddafi for years, played a game of chess against his eldest son Muhammad, Libyan state television reports.

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