Women's World Chess Championship in a crisis

4/18/2004 – FIDE has announced that the Women's World Championship, originally planned for Tblisi, would be held in the fiercely independent Ajaria region on the Black Sea instead. But there are doubts whether the plan can go ahead, and Russian newspapers are speculating that the Championship may be cancelled. The venue is, well, simply too dangerous.

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Originally the Women's World Championship was supposed to take place in Tblisi. After the Georgian capital withdrew, FIDE reached agreement with officials of Ajaria republic that the event will be held in Batumi in the Ajaria region (see below) of Georgia. The event was scheduled for May 21 until June 8, 2004.

On April 16th FIDE (who's web site is currently down) officially announced that the Championship would be held in Batumi. On the same day articles started to appear in Russian newspapers, indicating that the Georgian government strongly opposes the Batumi championship. The fiercely independent Ajaria region on the Black Sea coast has been a source of unrest under the Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili. On April 2, Georgian Government officials claimed to have foiled a plot by Ajaria strongman Aslan Abashidze to assassinate Saakashvili. For their part, officials in Ajaria claim that the plot was hatched in the Tbilisi capital of Georgia and involved the assassination of Abashidze.

FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also head of Kalmykia, said that his decision to hold the championship in Ajaria was "in no way political. Batumi was suggested to FIDE as the site for the next world championship by the Georgian chess federation." According to Ilyumzhinov, the planned prize for the championship's winner is $500,000.


FIDE vice president Zurab Azmaiparashvili with Ajaria leader Aslan Abashidze

"Last year, the governing council of FIDE agreed to the Georgian chess federation's suggestion to hold the next women's world chess championship in Georgia. In relation to this, I visited Tbilisi and met with the previous Georgian president," Ilyumzhinov said.

"FIDE's decision to conduct the next championship in Georgia is related to the fact that we respect the significant contribution Georgian female chess players have made to world chess," Ilyumzhinov said.

"The Georgian chess federation suggested relocating the championship from Tbilisi to Batumi. This is an interior affair of the Georgian chess federation," Ilyumzhinov said.

The latest news (see last item by Interfax below) suggests that the event might indeed be cancelled.

Here is some background and news links

Ajaria

The Ajarian Autonomous Republic is an autonomous republic of Georgia. It is located on the south-eastern coast of the Black Sea and extends into the wooded foothills of the Caucasus. The Ajarians are ethnic Georgians who profess Islam.

Ajaria has been part of Georgia since ancient times. In 1878, it was annexed by Russia. After World War I, its strategic position on the eastern Black Sea coast led to it being contested by a number of major powers, with the territory temporarily being occupied by Turkey, Germany, and Britain. But after British troops left Batumi in 1920 Ajaria only briefly formed part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-21), before being subsumed into the Soviet Union.

Under Soviet rule, the region surrounding the port of Batumi was reorganized as the Ajar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, a constituent republic first of the Transcaucasian SFSR, then of the Georgian SSR. The reasons for this division were not ethnic, since the Ajars and Georgians are of same ethnic origins. It is thought that Moscow wanted to avoid giving Georgia complete control of the important Black Sea port of Batumi and to bolster Communist leanings among the ethnic Georgian Muslims known as Lazi, who were still living in Turkey.

With the collapse of the USSR., after first democratic, multiparty Parliamentary elections of October 28, 1990, the appointed Chairman of the Supreme Council of Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze, was elected Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. After a coup d'etat, December 22, 1991-January 6, 1992, Abashidze established an autocratic local regime largely independent of Georgian central authority. He was aided in this by the quiet support of Russia, which retained its troops stationed outside Batumi in Ajaria and other separatist areas, such as Abkhazia. Under Abashidze's personal rule, Ajaria established its own armed forces and did not pay taxes to the Georgian state.

Georgia's ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze visited the region several times during his rule between 1992-2003 to attempt a reconciliation with Abashidze. The latter's party, the Union of Democratic Revival of Georgia, cooperated with Shevardnadze's ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia party in the 1995 parliamentary elections, but broke with Shevardnadze after the elections.

Abashidze's Revival Party has thirty members in the Georgian parliament, and is seen as a moderate opposition to the central government in Tbilisi. After the rigged elections of 2003 and the ensuing "Rose Revolution" in Georgia, Abashidze joined other old-time leaders to oppose the November 2003 ouster of Shevardnadze and expressed concern for the future status of Ajaria. However, Abashidze made a publicized rejection of calls for Ajaria to decisively secede from Georgia, posted in his tightly-controlled local press, and the Georgian government likewise promised to "respect all the demands and interests of the autonomous republic [of Ajaria]."

On January 4, 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of the United National Movement (UNM), won the new national presidential elections with an overwhelming majority. Although Abashidze had expressed reservations about Saakashvili's political platform - particularly his pledge peacefully to resolve the separatist disputes affecting Georgia - Ajaria nonetheless participated in the elections. Right after the elections, Russia waived visa requirements for citizens of Ajaria, though not for other Georgians, effectively recognizing Abashidze's de facto independence, and Abashidze declared a "state of emergency" and closed all interior borders with Georgia.

Following his inauguration at the end of January, Saakashvili visited Batumi and met with Aslan Abashidze.

Tensions rise in Black Sea region

Georgia's president has called for economic sanctions to be imposed on a renegade Black Sea region after its leader defied the central government. Moscow has warned Georgia's government not to interfere in the semi-autonomous Ajaria region. Western governments, which are backing the construction of a multi-billion dollar pipeline in the region, are keeping a watchful eye on events.

Ajaria depends on income from transited goods across its territory. Its port ships around 200,000 barrels of oil a day. Ajaria has run its own affairs, withholding tax payments from central government in Tbilisi. [BBC News report]

Women’s world chess championship can be held in Batumi

TBILISI, April 16 (Itar-Tass) - President of Chess Federation of Georgia, Grandmaster Zurab Azmaiparashvili went on record for holding the next women’s world chess championship in Batumi. Speaking live on “Rustavi- 2” television, Azmaiparashvili, who is now in Batumi, said he deemed “it possible to hold the women’s world chess championship in Batumi in May or early in June. [Itar Tass report]

Georgian chess community argues about Batumi tournament

April 16 (Itar-Tass) -- A decision of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to hold an international female chess championship in Batumi in late May – early June caused arguments in the Georgian chess community. Some chess players think that the tournament can be held regardless the difficult situation in Adzharia, and others support the intention of the Georgian central authorities to ask FIDE for canceling the championship in Adzharia because of the lack of security guarantees and the presence of illegal armed units in the autonomous republic. [Itar Tass report]

Tbilisi, Batumi at Odds over Chess Championship

The President of Georgian Chess Federation Zurab Azmaiparashvili said Women’s World Chess Championship, scheduled for May 21-June 8, will the held in Adjarian capital, despite the opposition from the Georgia’s central government. “Statements of the central authorities are absolutely groundless. We are ready to hold tournament in Batumi,” Giorgi Abashidze, Mayor of Batumi and son of Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze, said at a news briefing on April 17. However, the President of Georgian Chess Federation Zurab Azmaiparashvili claims there is no threat the participants of tournament in the Autonomous Republic. “Championship will be held in Adjara,” Azmaiparashvili told Imedi television on April 16.

On April 15 Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze met with President of the World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also the President of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, in Batumi and signed an agreement regarding the organization of the tournament. [Baku Today Net]

Tbilisi Opposes World Chess Championship in Batumi

2004-04-16 10:14:43 Georgian Minister for Sport and Culture Goka Gabashvili said that the Georgian central government opposes holding of the Women’s World Chess Championship in Adjarian Autonomy’s capital Batumi, scheduled for May 21-June 7.

Tbilisi explained that the country’s central authorities can not guarantee security in defiant Adjarian Autonomy. Adjarian leader Aslan Abashidze met with the President of World Chess Federation Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also the President of Russia’s Republic of Kalmykia, in Batumi to discuss planned tournament in the Adjarian capital. Georgia’s central authorities claim that illegal armed groups in Adjara threaten security of not only Georgia, but also of entire region. [Civil.ge Georgia Online Magazine]


Women's chess championship in Ajaria to be canceled

TBILISI. April 17 - Georgia's Culture and Sports Minister Giorgi Gabashvili said on Saturday that a women's world chess championship planned for next month in Batumi would have to be canceled because of "the crime situation in Ajaria." "Georgia cannot offer the necessary security guarantees to the championship participants," Gabashvili told the press. "The crime situation in Ajaria is extremely difficult." Citing the State Security Ministry and other law enforcement agencies, Gabashvili said there are up to 20 criminal groups in Ajaria armed with heavy weapons, grenade launchers, mortars, and assault rifles. He said the Georgian Interior Ministry has reported on the situation in Ajaria to the World Chess Federation (FIDE) and the foreign ministries of countries planning to send players to the championship. [Interfax report]


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