Heydar Aliyev’s Centennial: A Tribute to the Legacy and Impact on Azerbaijani Chess

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the long-time leader of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev. H. Aliyev’s contributions to Azerbaijan are immense, both during the independence period and the Soviet era. Surprisingly, Heydar Aliyev has also made significant contributions to Azerbaijani chess. I would like to highlight three events that stand out to me:

During the period when Kasparov represented Soviet Azerbaijan, he faced obstacles on his way to the World Championship. It was with the help of Heydar Aliyev that he was finally able to face Karpov in a match and become the World Champion. Kasparov mentions this assistance in his books, stating that without Aliyev, perhaps the match would not have taken place. With Kasparov’s World Championship win, chess in Azerbaijan gained even more momentum.

Aliyev’s meeting on December 18, 1998, with the successful children at the European and World Championships – Teimour Radjabov, Vugar Gashimov, Gadir Guseinov, and Rauf Mamedov – remains in memory as a historical event. According to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Teimour and Vugar were already on the president’s radar before that meeting. After the historical meeting, Gadir and Rauf were also added to the list. Following that meeting, a decree was signed allocating 40 million manats (a total of 160) from the budget of that time, approximately 50,000 manats ($30k) in today’s currency (calculated with an average annual 8% inflation rate), for the development of each chess player. It is no coincidence that those chess players later formed the core of the Azerbaijani team that became the European champion.

Heydar Aliyev gifted the Republic Chess Club, located in a historic five-story building in the center of Baku, to Azerbaijani chess. I personally learned this fact very late, from Kasparov’s book. This club has been a meeting point for Azerbaijani chess players for many years. Especially during the time when Fuad Jafarov was the director, the club was packed during weekend blitz tournaments! There was no room to play. Even in the cabinets, intense battles took place. Almost all Azerbaijani chess players played and gained experience in those 15+0 rapid tournaments. Perhaps if the club had not been located in the center, these tournaments would not have been so successful.

In my opinion, if the events mentioned above had not happened, it is highly likely that our chess would not have been so successful. On Heydar Aliyev’s centennial, I wanted to commemorate him by sharing these important events that I know of.

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