YEREVAN (RFE/RL/Armenpress)–The Armenian National Chess team and their coach Arshak Petrosian received a hero’s welcome in Armenia–after winning the 37th Chess Olympiad over the weekend in Turin–Italy.
Five of the six men–Vladimir Hakobian–Gabriel Sarkisian–Artashes Minasian–Smbat Lputian–and Karen Asryan–arrived at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Levon Aronian could not return to Armenia immediately after the Olympiad–citing personal reasons.
They were greeted at the airport by Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian–Prime Minister Andranik Markarian–most members of his cabinet–as well as top police and army generals.
Armenia–bronze medalist of three previous Olympiads–won the game’s most important team competition–which drew to a close on Sunday–for the first time in its history. Its six top grandmasters–led by the world number three Levon Aronian–were the only undefeated team among 148 participating nations and finished far ahead of tournament favorite Russia.
"We’ve made history," Petrosian said. "This is a great achievement for Armenian chess. We are very happy to have achieved that result."
"We were anxious–happy and cheerful. It was great," said Gabriel Sargsian–the youngest member of the Armenian team. The 19 year old grandmaster’s strong performance at Turin–8 wins in 13 games–proved crucial for the overall Armenian victory.
The Olympic champions then headed to the city’s Freedom Square where more than a thousand people waving Armenia’s red-blue-orange flags and chanting "Armenia! Armenia!" gathered to cheer them on.
The celebration–featuring speeches by senior officials and performances by Armenian pop singers–was broadcast live on state television.
Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian–who also heads the Armenian Chess Federation–stayed with the Armenian players in the northern Italian city throughout the two-week tournament.
"Our chess players have managed to justify our nation’s hopes," he said.
"Your support from Yerevan was the most important thing for the guys," he told the jubilant crowd in Freedom Square. "This was only our first major victory. More victories lie ahead."