“Boringly Safe” in Kurdistani Iraq!
In part one of her report to Kurdistani Iraq, Alina l>Ami gave us a beautiful impression of the city of Erbil, a thriving zone full of kind people. In this second and final half she focuses on the events surrounding the tournament itself, which was eventually won by Dutch GM Sergey Tiviakov, while of course bringing us a big pictorial report of a high publicized event.
I am a bit worried that things might change in the future though. Kurdistan is experiencing an amazing economic and cultural boom, greatly due to petrol. To get a picture, one litre of gasoline costs... 35 Euro cents! Anyway, new buildings, (hotels, shops, malls, universities) are popping up continuously like mushrooms after rain. The place is likely to become an economical paradise and this would probably awake the interest of visitors with... let’s call it “less honorable intentions”.
And yet, I am full of hope that this kind of adventurers will be rapidly assimilated by the kindness and generosity reigning all over the streets. More likely, the Romanian proverb according to which one rotten apple is enough to ruin the whole basket would not apply here; on the contrary, the universal language of welldoing should prevail.
This brings us to another amazing theme: the character of the people. The warmth of the locals made me feel like as if stepping into one of the most beautiful of the 1001 night tales...
As a relatively ‘experienced’ photographer, I have noticed that in many places people display certain reluctance to being “immortalized” by my camera. Much to my relief, this was not the case in Kurdistan. There were many ways in which people showed themselves happy to be photographed by me or... together with me! They would reward my camera’s insatiable curiosity with smiles, hand-waving, or even…a cup of tea!
And if I took a picture of someone, people around were not shy to express their dissatisfaction or even offence, that they are left outside the view angle! Most probably, these feelings are only pretended, in the spirit of some sort of local humor, but since I couldn’t be sure and it didn’t cost me money anyway, I gladly photographed them, too, just to be greeted with the broadest smiles...
Indeed, smiles all over... This is a common pattern in my photos from this article. And as you can notice, smiling is contagious: jut have a look at this bunch of participants to the chess festival!
And there were good reasons for the players’ smiles. Although most of the organizers had their normal jobs, they wouldn’t spare any effort or minute to make us live like in a dream. Hotel, food, playing conditions, and closing ceremony were all at the five star level. But this was only part of the story. I more than once felt that we were spoiled not only by the local authorities but also by the whole local population, as a perfect prove that – “Gens Una Sumus”. My biggest thanks to the organizers (Central Union of Chess of Kurdistan, Khanzad Chess Club and Capablanka Institute) for this memorable experience!
All over we were told: Erbil is your home, enjoy, please do ask for anything you need, you are one of us. This gave me the clear feeling that chess made us all, hosts and visitors, a big happy family! (I have never had so many group shots in any tournament so far :)
Such an ambitious statement surely requires some concrete examples, but let me assure you that I am not short of them.
One of the players missed the official bus and found himself on his own looking for a way to get to the game. A complete stranger passing by noticed there was some problem and literally took him by the hand to the playing hall.
I had a similar experience together with Johan Zwanepol, the oldest participant in the tournament and renowned organizer from Groningen, while looking for a way of reaching the bazaar. We decided to be one with the place and took the…public transportation. We happened to run into my first round opponent, who instantly became our personal (and rather skilled) guide! Not before smiling and joking a lot and...inviting us to a cup of tea, of course!
And if we spoke about local opponents... one of them felt obliged to apologize immediately after blundering, feeling sorry about having spoiled the game! I took this as a highly unusual mixture of love for chess, gentlemen behavior and kindness.
But the top of it came only during the last round. Before the closing ceremony I suddenly felt sorry that I didn’t have any traditional Kurdish cloths at my disposal... How could I have been so careless as not to have got some during the tournament? It would have been such a nice way to show my thankfulness for the organizers and the whole country...
I was “saved” by a miracle. A completely unknown woman, who didn’t speak any bit of English, understood the situation from my gestures. Despite the linguistic barrier, we understood each other perfectly. She promised to bring me some clothing after the round... And here I am!
As a final thought...I felt that all the participants emerged as true winners. And I don’t refer to returning alive from Iraq; it wouldn’t be consequent after explaining how safe the place was. What I meant is that we all had a fantastic experience, made possible by breaking the barrier of preconceived opinions and venturing to dream that the 1001 Nights atmosphere may come true...
Will you ‘dare’ to take the challenge and participate in the 3rd Kurdistan Chess Festival next year?! I am already on the list!
Alina l'Ami during the Kurdish flag's day.