Ilyumzhinov shakes hands with Sean Penn, the Dalai Lama and... Bachar Assad

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Here we go again. It seems that every time there is a new candidate for the title of world's most dubious leader, our FIDE President sees this as a reason to invite himself for a cup of coffee. Last weekend Kirsan Ilyumzhinov visited Syria and on Sunday he had a three-hour talk with the President of Syria Bachar Assad in Damascus.

In the past we've criticized Ilyumzhinov for many things here at ChessVibes, but something the FIDE President cannot be accused of is inconsistency. In fact we don't know anyone who selects his friends based on more carefully selected criteria.

It is known that Ilyumzhinov had very good relations with the late dictators Saddam Hussein (Iraq) and Muammar Gaddafi (Libya). As FIDE reports, Syrian President Bachar Assad now also belongs to this list of prominent world leaders who, despite having to deal with minor internal problems, are promoting Ilyumzhinov's "Chess in Schools" program in their spare time.

Mr. Assad underlined during the discussion, that he tasked the Syrian Ministry of Education to sign an Agreement to join the "Chess in Schools" project with the World Chess Federation. Mr. Ilyumzhinov informed the "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" that "in early June, as a dedication to the International Day of Children, we are planning to organize the first international youth chess tournament, where young players of Arab countries, will participate, in Damascus". The FIDE President did not exclude the possibility that Mr. Assad might participate in the opening of the youth chess event. According to Mr. Ilyumzhinov, "The Syrian President plays chess very well - since his studies in London".

Of course it's no coincidence that Mr Assad is an excellent chess player, just as Gaddafi was, and Ilyumzhinov is. We don't know the exact Elo rating of Saddam Hussein when he was removed from office, but we do know that Ilyumzhinov initially intended to hold the 1996 match between Gata Kamsky and Anatoly Karpov in Baghdad. The FIDE President had already made arrangements with the then Iraqi dictator, but after heavy criticism the event eventually took place in Elista.

Ilyumzhinov's friendship with Muammar Gaddafi did result in a big chess event held in Libya: the 2004 World Championship, won by Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who beat Michael Adams in the final. Seven years later, in June 2011 (when Libya was in the middle of a civil war), Ilyumzhinov visited Gaddafi again. This visit was frowned upon not just by chess fans. Photos and videos of the two leaders playing chess were picked up by the international media.

A few days later FIDE distributed a press release in which the FIDE President expressed his disappointment about how people had responded to his meeting with Gaddafi. Back then he was "very satisfied" that he saw that

chess could play such a critical role in promoting peace at this time of crisis


proud that FIDE could contribute to the peace process in the region and the world.

Therefore, according to Ilyumzhinov it was "unfortunate" that people were

trying to use this trip to wrongfully politicize the situation in FIDE.

Back to 2012, back to last weekend – when Ilyumzhinov visited Bachar Assad (who might start to feel uncomfortable about his future when someone tells him that the FIDE President also met with his former colleagues in Iraq and Libya). In FIDE's report it is noted that

According to President of FIDE, during the discussion, the Syrian President on a number of occasions has pledged his allegiance to the peace plan of the situation in the country, proposed by Mr. Kofi Annan.

Despite this remark, we have learnt from a year ago, and so we won't even try politicizing the situation in FIDE.

Kirsan Nikolayevich seems to be quite busy in general making new friends these days. Last week he was in Chicago, at the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates where the FIDE President was taking part at the invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev, patron of the Chess in Schools program. Ilyumzhinov met with famous names such as Frederic Willem de Klerk, former President of South Africa, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former US Presidents, His Holiness Dalai Lama the 14th, Lech Walesa, former President of Poland, Oliver Stone, the American film director/producer/writer and Sean Penn, the American film actor/director/producer.

It is not clear whether all these people were aware of the fact that they were shaking the same hands that shook those of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and were about to shake the hands of Bachar Assad. It's also not clear whether that would have bothered them, because... who would politicize such a thing?

It does seem unlikely, however, that there will be too many takers for another Ilyumzhinov proposal:

I suggested holding a summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners in Syria to discuss the question of stabilising the situation in the country.

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