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Persian Letters

Tuesday 21 February 2017


Iranian chess players Dorsa (right) and Borna Derakhshani

Iranian chess players Dorsa (right) and Borna Derakhshani

Iranian chess officials have barred two teen siblings from domestic chess tournaments and the national team for crossing some of the religious establishment's so-called red lines at an international chess event.

Iranian chess officials have barred two teen siblings from domestic chess tournaments and the national team for crossing some of the religious establishment's so-called red lines at an international chess event.

The Iranian National Chess Team dismissed 18-year-old Dorsa Derakhshani for appearing at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival 2017, which ran from January 23 to February 2, without the Islamic head scarf that became compulsory in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Her 15-year-old brother, Borna Derakhshani, was banned for playing against an Israeli opponent at the same event.

Iran does not recognize the state of Israel and forbids Iranian athletes from competing against Israeli athletes at international sports events. Iranians in the past have cited injury or illness to avoid facing Israeli rivals.

Last year an Iranian refused to compete against an Israeli at a chess tournament in Switzerland in order to reject the existence of "the Zionist state" and to express support for the "oppressed people of Palestine," the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported.

The measures against the Derakhshanis were announced by the head of the Iranian Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, on February 19.

graphic by Assad Bina Khahi

graphic by Assad Bina Khahi

"As a first step, these two will be denied entry to all tournaments taking place in Iran, and, in the name of Iran, they will no longer be allowed the opportunity to be present on the national team," Pahlevanzadeh told the semiofficial Fars news agency.

Pahlevanzadeh said the pair had attended the Gibraltar event independently rather than representing Iran. "Anyone can participate in it," he said.

He suggested that the teens had hurt Iranian national interests.

"Unfortunately, what shouldn't have happened has happened. Our national interests have priority over everything," Pahlevanzadeh said. He added that there would be no "leniency" for those who trample on Iran's "ideals and principles."

"We're considering measures that will prevent similar incidents from taking place in future tournaments," he told Fars.

Borna Derakhshani reportedly lives in Iran. His sister studies in Spain.

The two have not reacted publicly to the ban.

Iran enforces a dress code that requires women to cover their hair with the Islamic head scarf, or hijab, through regular crackdowns. Female officials, athletes, and other national representatives are required to respect the hijab guideline while traveling abroad, too.

Last year Minoo Khaleghi, who was elected to the Iranian parliament, was barred from taking her legislative seat after reports that photos emerged on social media showing her without a head scarf during a trip to Europe and China.

Kiana Ghanei protests at Philadelphia's airport on January 28, the day her grandmother was supposed to arrive from Iran.

Kiana Ghanei protests at Philadelphia's airport on January 28, the day her grandmother was supposed to arrive from Iran.

When U.S. doctors detected a return of her teenage daughter's lymphoma cancer, the transplanted Iranian family was in shock. The second shock came when the girl's 74-year-old grandmother was turned away from coming to help care for he and provide much-needed moral support.

These are trying times for Negin Ghanei and her family.

Doctors in the United States last year detected a return of her teenage daughter Kiana's lymphoma cancer, leaving the transplanted Iranians in what the U.S.-based chemical engineer calls a state of shock.

Ghanei says the second shock came in late January when she learned that Kiana's 74-year-old grandmother couldn't travel to the United States to help care for Kiana and provide them all with much-needed moral support.

Ghanei had asked her mother to join them in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to spend time with Kiana, who must look after herself on days when both parents are at work and her 20-year-old sister, Kimia, is at university.

"It's not good for Kiana to be alone," Ghanei says, "Her temperature has to be monitored and, most importantly, psychologically."

Kiana's grandmother got a U.S. entry visa from the U.S. Embassy in Dubai quickly and without complications. She was due to depart for Philadelphia on January 28.

But hours before she was to board her flight from Tehran, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order, with immediate effect, barring all foreign nationals from Iran and six other mostly Muslim states from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

"We were shocked," Ghanei says of the travel ban. "They've taken our right away; it's our right, but someone powerful says no."

'Everyone Is An Immigrant'

The Trump administration presented the order as a way of "protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States" and made the ban applicable to citizens of seven countries identified as countries "of concern" by the Obama administration: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Iran has been identified as a "state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department since 1984.

But Ghanei says it is hard for her to understand the travel ban since "everyone is an immigrant in this country."

She was initially hopeful but her optimism waned as reports suggested that the new measures were imminent.

"Everyone was telling me that [my mother] may not be able to come, but I wouldn't believe them," she says. "I thought in the worst-case scenario I'll show [U.S. authorities] the letter from the hospital [stating that my daughter has cancer] and they will let my mother enter the country."

But Kiana's grandmother was not allowed to board her Qatar Airways flight in Tehran.

Protesting Travel Ban

Ghanei says her sick daughter was especially hard-hit by the news. "Kiana is awaiting a stem-cell transplant," she says. "It's difficult and she knows it, she's now undergoing chemotherapy."

She says a visit from her grandmother was "Kiana's only hope" in these tough times, adding that her daughter remains very attached to her relatives in Iran.

"She kept crying every day -- you know, she's morally weak now -- and no matter what we say, she says she wants her grandmother."

On January 29, the day her grandmother was due to arrive in the United States, Kiana asked her mother to take her to Philadelphia's international airport to participate in a protest against the travel restrictions.

She prepared her protest sign herself. "I'm battling cancer and my grandmother was supposed to arrive from Iran today," her hand-written sign said.

NBC reported that several thousand protesters took part in the rally in an effort to send a message that immigrants are welcome in the United States.

Trump's executive order halted the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days, indefinitely banned Syrian refugees, and suspended all immigration from seven countries for 90 days.

The U.S. president defended the ban via Twitter on February 1, saying that the order was aimed at "keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country."

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.