This is one of those infrequent articles that addresses a happy, positive theme in our Armenian reality.

Jadrag (Chatrak in its Eastern Armenian pronunciation) is the word for chess. It is not “shakhmat” which is yet another, totally avoidable, Russian intrusion into the daily usage of our language. Funny thing is, even “shakhmat” is borrowed, if memory serves me, from Persian, harking back to the game’s historic travels from its roots in India to Europe.

Armenia’s Levon Aronian during Round 3 of the 2013 Candidates Tournament (Photo: Chessbase)

What prompted this bit of cheer is the news that Levon Aronian won in the third (and since then the fourth) round of the World Chess Cup. This biennial competition consists of 128 of the world’s top players, selected through a process of preceding competitions, and is designed to secure worldwide participation. It is also part of the world championship cycle, so Aronian might end up getting a shot at the title. Previously, in 2005, Aronian won this competition.

Levon Aronian is the fourth-highest rated chess player in the world. Four other Armenians are also on FIDE’s (Federation Internationale des Echecs—International Chess Federation) top 100 players list for Sept. 2017. Think about it, we hold 5 percent of these positions, when we represent only 0.13 percent of the world’s population!

How did we get so good? Most recently, some credit is due to President Serge Sarkisian—one of the few things he’s done right. Early in his presidency, chess was a focus of his attention and encouragement. But he is only the latest to contribute. Dikran Bedrosian (Tigran Petrosian), 1929-1984, who was world chess champion from 1963 to 1969, fundamentally popularized the game in Soviet Armenia. His role was analogous to Bobby Fischer’s in the U.S. with the difference that Armenians maintained their love for the game after their hero passed from the scene, whereas chess faded back to its “nerdy” reputation among Americans and lost its popularity. Bedrosian was either a candidate for or was world champion over the course of 10 three-year championship cycles. In a competitive arena that requires tremendous stamina, that is an impressive accomplishment in and of itself.

Chess is now taught in many schools in the U.S. thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Chess Federation. But it is an integral part of the scholastic curriculum in Armenia. Not only does it teach kids how to compete in a civil manner, it allows nonphysically gifted children a chance to shine, and it is excellent mental training for problem-solving, concentration, and logical thinking.

I always get a thrill when I read of the achievements of our compatriots in the field of chess, since I played competitively in high school and am still interested but now allocate no time to the game. Alas… In the U.S. Varuzhan Akobian has the sixth highest rating, and Melikset Khachiyan is 31st. We also have two compatriots on the top 100 women’s list and several under-21 players who may become a new Aronian, Petrosian, or Kasparov.

Who, you might ask, forgetfully, is Garry (Garik) Kasparov? He is the second Armenian to have held the world chess champion title, 1985-1993 (and 1993-2000 as a breakaway from FIDE). Coincidentally, he was born the same year as Petrosian first became the champion. Some consider him to be the greatest chess player ever, but of course that will always remain an untestable assertion. Still, all this is a source of pride for our nation.

Let’s encourage more of our youth to enter the 64-square, 32-piece fray of the “Game of Kings,” so they can develop their talents and we can maintain our rightful place in the world. Meanwhile, let’s hope it’s Levon Aronian’s turn to wear the chess crown.

Go, Levon! Hold our flag high!

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

Latest posts by Garen Yegparian (see all)


  1. First, “shakhmat” is not a “Russian intrusion” into the Armenian language. Long before the Russians, Armenians used this version of Persian words shāh and māt, which means, literally, “the king is frozen”. Second, the word “jadrag” (chatrak) is not the authentic word for chess in the Armenian language, but itself a distant borrowing from Sanskrit “chaturaṅga”, literally “four divisions”: infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry, represented by pieces. The game is believed to have originated in India around the seventh century and then spread westward along the Silk Road reaching Persia and the Arabs. In Persia, it was known as “chatrang” and among Arabs as “shatranj”. But in the late medieval Europe the term was replaced by a version of the Persian “shāhmāt” which was adopted by the Russians in the form of “shakhmaty”.

    • Both words are borrowings, shahe. One from Sanskrit, the other from Persian. I see no problem with keeping either one alive, or both. The language of our ancestors in Western Armenia was infested with alien Turkish and Kurdish words, but for some reason we don’t see that this fact is labeled as “intrusion”…

  2. Armenian-Americans are responsible for running two of the most active and successful chess clubs in Massachusetts. Mark Kaprielian of Framingham, who spearheads the Metrowest Chess Club in Natick, and George Mirijanian, who is in charge of the Wachusett Chess Club at Fitchburg State University, lead clubs that have the first- and second-best weeknight attendance of any club in the state. They have been involved with “rated chess” for many years. Both their clubs are affiliates of the U.S. Chess Federation in Crossville, Tennessee, the official governing body for chess in the country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.