Locals become chess masters in eastern Turkey

By Mesut Varol and Ali Ihsan Ozturk

VAN, Turkey

Asked about Turkey’s “ancestral sport”, Turks often talk wrestling or archery, along with some others.

But there is a different kind of “ancestral” activity in a remote village of eastern Van province with a centuries-long past: chess.

Located 75 miles (120 kilometers) off Van province and surrounded by colossal mountains, Bahcesaray district goes through harsh winter conditions leaving people trapped indoor, which might sound like a downer for many, but the locals there see this as an opportunity to battle on chess board.

The history of chess in the district goes back centuries when one of the scholars of a madrasah introduced the ancient game to the locals.

Amazed by the complexity of chess, locals were so carried away they quickly adapted and playing chess went rapidly mainstream. This unique culture is still alive today, with locals of any age or gender enjoying the game.

From seniors to housewives and children, the whole district is crazy about the game. People wake up early in the morning, throw wood pieces to the stove, and start fierce competitions on the board against fellow folk while enjoying tea.

Muhammet Affan Orhan, head of the district’s youth and sports authority, said Bahcesaray had always been a place of knowledge throughout time, and the state organized courses and tournaments to keep the unique culture alive and pass it to next generations.

“One of the scholars working in one of the madrasahs in the district taught [chess] to local folk centuries ago,” and the game had been enjoyed since then, he said.

Believing that the internet trend of today’s world might harm the culture, the local administration launched chess courses and started to teach the game at schools with a view to keeping it alive.

The fierce local chess competitions improved locals’ skills as the majority performed greatly in provincial competitions. After all, the kids of Bahcesaray must have been good boys and followed the instructions of their mothers: tidy your room, do your homework, and play chess.

Orhan said the local authority sought to organize an international chess tournament. “Chess has a whole different meaning for us. To us, it is an ancestral sport!” he said.

Selim Alaca, a village headman, said chess had always been the most played game in his village.

“Ladies play chess at home and men at tea houses. Winter season continues for too long, and there is no other activity. We play chess, it is an indispensable activity,” he said.

Mehmet Emin Eminoglu, 58, one of the best chess masters in the district, said the game was viewed as an ancestral sport.

“Everyone here plays chess. There are tournaments every year. I, too, participate in these tournaments. We love this game,” he said and boasted he has won plenty of medals and cups in local competitions.

*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas

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