Kasparov on Growing up in Baku Uniting Human Spirit

"THERE’S NO WAY TO MOVE FORWARD UNLESS THEY USE THE WORD ‘GENOCIDE.’" Excerpted from article by Jake Goshert NEW YORK (Armenianchurch.org)–World chess champion Garry Kasparov spoke to an audience of 300 gathered at New York City’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on July 13. Those in the audience included Armenia’s ambassador to the United Nations Armen Martirosian–former Primate of England–Archbishop Yeghishe Gizerian and NY City Sports Commissioner Kenneth Podziba. The event was organized by a committee of young leaders of St. Vartan’s Cathedral Projects Committee–headed by cathedral dean Fr. Mardiros Chevian. On behalf of the Eastern Diocese–the Primate presented Kasparov with the Renaissance Medal for his accomplishmen’s and contributions to international culture.

During his speech–Kasparov reflected on his personal history.

He was born in Baku–Azerbaijan to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother. In 1985–at the age of 22–he became the youngest chess champion in history. "Of course–as someone who is half Jewish and half Armenian–I always try to carry both of those nationalities. It is simple because they’re very similar," said Kasparov. "Both were persecuted. We are both spread worldwide. It is important that we remember our roots; that we always have memories and spirits to share," he said. "The spirit travels with us. We rebuild our lives and we can bring it anywhere," he added. "This is the greatest lesson of the Armenian and Jewish people."

When the massacres began in the 1990s in Azerbaijan–Kasparov was already a world-renowned chess champion. During this period–he helped save Armenian families from the violence that was destroying Baku. The violence and the subsequent departure of his Armenian and Azeri friends from Baku drained the city of all significance for Kasparov. "A city is not about stones–it’s about people," Kasparov told the audience–which included many Armenia’s who escaped from Azerbaijan and now live in the Eastern Diocese. "Stones can be destroyed; graveyards can be moved. But a city is about people and our spirit. We lived in that place and made it spiritual. We were expelled–and now that city theoretically exists in name–but it does not really exist."

Kasparov has been invited back to visit Baku–but he continues to decline the invitation. "I’d love to go back," he said– "But only if every other Armenian born there can do it without a problem and without special favors from the government."

Kasparov also spoke about the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Armenia and Turkey. According to Kasparov–it is important to look for a peaceful resolution to the Karabagh conflict. He also said that he hopes relations between Armenia and Turkey would normalize in the future. "But on the basis that the Turks recognize the fact [of the Genocide," he said. "There’s no way to move forward unless they use the word ‘Genocide.’" Kasparov is hopeful about the future–especially because of the September 11 attacks. The attacks showed civilized societies that they need to remain united in the face of evil–he said. "Having this terrible experience still in our minds–you see the civilized people versus the uncivilized," Kasparov said–adding that civilized people share the same spiritual values. "We believe in life being the most valuable gift from God. And to take someone’s life is the greatest crime one can imagine. The tragedy of 9/11 made people closer and now this country is taking the lead. And it gives all of the civilized people hope."

After his speech–Kasparov answered questions and signed copies of his book "Kasparov Against the World," his own day-to-day account of the most high-profile chess game in history: the 1999 match between Kasparov and the Microsoft Zone computer.

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