Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “The Radical Islamists are Fighting with the Government of Bashar Assad”

The Syrian President Bashar Assad met with the head of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in Damascus. Both sides discussed the situation in the country and agreed to hold an international chess tournament among children from Arab countries. The former head of Kalmykia told the BBC Russian Service why he went to Damascus.

- Bashar Assad showed photos and video of the deeds of the so-called opposition: severed heads, hands, feet. I watched video of the militants seizing the garrison. 18 young soldiers were hung by their feet and beheaded.

- You offered to hold a summit of the Nobel Peace Prize Winners in Damascus. Why did you choose Syria? What was the reaction of Assad and the winners?
- It was my suggestion that was strongly supported by Assad. I have discussed this initiative with the members of the Summit Secretariat in Chicago as well as with the Dalai Lama and Lech Walesa. I was told that my proposal was very interesting because it concerned the most painful matters in the current political life.
Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev joined the Summit in Chicago. Assad wants to invite them. One of the oldest Buddhist temples is located in Syria. It is more than 2000 years old; therefore Assad would like to invite the Dalai Lama as well. I told him that I would visit the Dalai Lama personal residence and pass over the invitation on 7th of May.
- The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Syria had not fully complied with its’ obligations as per the peace plan of Kofi Annan. Did the Syrian President comment on this statement during his talks with you?
- Yes, of course. Assad said that they had fulfilled the Annan plan 100 per cent and they want the peace to come as soon as possible. All the violations of the plan have been made by the opposition. It is evident that they are the trained militants and mercenaries.
I planned a meeting in the chess club to greet the 16 years old boy, who became the Champion among the Arab countries. Unexpectedly the meeting was relocated to the hotel where I was staying. It turned out that the bomb had been blown up the road in the centre of the city. I do not think the government would blow up bombs near the chess club.
- The government of Syria is strongly pressurized by the international community. Did Assad seem to be worried or tense?
- I thought that he would be depressed and sad. However, on the contrary, he made a lot of jokes and his mood was very positive and optimistic. He believes that the bloodshed will stop and the country will follow the path of reforms.
He laughed: “I studied in the West. The Western countries, such as France and Britain called me democrat, modernizer and reformer. However, how come that in a few years I suddenly turned from a reformer into a despot and a tyrant?”
Assad is convinced that they want the country’s collapse. He says: “can’t you see what is happening in the Arab countries? Power is seized by the Islamists and ‘Al-Qaeda’, not by Islam as such, while thousands of victims are dying. The radical Islamism wants to take power in Syria”.
- What is you impression of Damascus?
- I stayed there for two days, walking around without any protection. I dined in restaurants, talked to people on the market and met all kind of folks. Hundreds of posters were stuck on walls of the city due to the parliamentary elections that would be held on 7th of May.
I have a very positive impression of the city. The mood of the public could be described as being sick and tired by tricks of the Islamists sponsoring countries. People are offended by Hillary Clinton. They kept saying that they are fed up with undeclared war against the Syrian people. If the West, Saudi Arabia and Qatar did not help [the opposition] with money and weapons, everything would have been peaceful long time ago.
- Last year you played chess with the Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi. Are the situations in Libya and Syria alike?
-While visiting both countries I observed the strong desire of Western and some Arab countries to overthrow their governments. It happened in Libya, and I see it happening in Syria now.
On the other hand, both then and now, I saw and still see the burning desire of the leaders of these countries to achieve peace and tranquillity and stop the war. Do you remember that I have passed Gadhafi appeal to NATO countries with the proposal to stop the bombings, bloodshed and sit down at the negotiating table?
Bashar Assad has the same burning desire to carry out the elections, however they must stop supplying [the rebels] with weaponry. Nevertheless, the Western countries do not want to listen. Their task is the complete physical destruction of the Syrian leadership.
By the way, I met with the Syrian opposition. They said to me: “Dialogue has been opened. However, we do not know what the external opposition is. We do not know them. They live in Paris and London, they go somewhere, say something; on the other hand, we live here, we suffer from the regime but they do not”. The opposition in Syria speaks openly and nobody beheads them.
Talking about the differences, I noted that Damascus people were firmly opposed to what they called the foreign intervention. Well, imagine Americans or anyone else giving away weapons free of charge in Moscow. How would the Russian authorities react?
- What was on your mind when you left Tripoli a year ago and when you left Damascus?
- I left Tripoli under heavy bombing. When I was leaving Damascus, the central bank was attacked with the grenade launcher. In both cases I had a bitter thought: why does the world see such injustice and keep silent? To rephrase it, not exactly the bitter thought but rather the bitter feeling that people were not heard and the whole world went mad.
I talked with ordinary folks: they want peace, play chess, go to school, do business and raise children. Thus, why would some smart guys somewhere in Washington, Paris or London want to interfere with their ways and impose something different? They have planted their democracy in Libya and the country was split into several parts. Why do they want the same thing to happen in Syria?
But I hope for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. Kofi Annan has stepped in and it looks like the UN will do something about it. The people of Syria hope that they would be able to resolve the problems themselves, to peacefully conduct elections and move on.

2nd of May, 2012