Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: Peace through art

The sixth president of FIDE became the keeper of the cultural values ​​of ancient Persia

Recently, Tehran has become a provider of hot news for the world media. The assassination of Iran's General Soleimani by an American drone and a chain of subsequent tragic events nearly put humanity on the brink of another global war. Against this backdrop, a quiet, but no less sensational message came about that the first President of Kalmykia and the sixth President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became a representative of the Museum of Fine Arts of Iran.


It is a private collection within the Museum of the Institute of Oriental History and Culture. Its owner, Mr Hochimien, a collector and cultural advisor to former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, has collected about 13,000 exhibits over 37 years, including artefacts over a thousand years old.

However, the value of the collection is measured not so much by the antiquity of the exhibits (among them there are quite recent, by historical standards) or by their value and variety: paintings and carpets, jewellery and utilitarian things like seals and carved boxes. The collection is undoubtedly of great scientific interest as it reflects the cultural diversity of the peoples who inhabited the two Persian empires and surrounding regions at different times. And now Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has received a carte blanche for the disposal of these priceless artefacts.
Unfortunately, today, even in our country, not much is known about Iran. The widespread cliché is that Iran is: "a closed country, a regime of religious fanatics, human rights abuses, lack of democracy, harassment of women, sanctions and famine." The fact that Persia, renamed Iran only in 1935, inherits the six-thousand-year-old cultural tradition, beginning with the first Mesopotamian civilizations, is remembered by few. And very few will believe that it had a direct impact on the development of European civilization (through Greece).
The West, where the image of evil has long been affixed to Tehran in the public consciousness, knows even less about this country. Isn't that why they are so indifferent to pressure on Iran "to democratize and protect human rights"? Meanwhile, once we talked about human rights: few people know that slavery was virtually non-existent in Persia. At least as it used to be in Ancient Rome or, say, in the British colonies of North America two hundred years ago. People who, for some reason, were in a dependent position had far greater rights than Roman or American slaves, and were often granted freedom after a certain period of time.
If we talk about civilization it is necessary to remind that, while dark ages raged in Europe, it was the peoples of Persia who largely preserved the achievements of Greek and Roman mathematicians, and developed separate sections of algebra and geometry, introduced so-called "Arabic numerals" and invented zero. The scientists of the European Renaissance gained a lot from this. Moreover, the traditions of the "Queen of Sciences" are still alive in Iran today. The only woman to date who has been awarded the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize winner for mathematicians, is Maryam Mirzakhani, who was born in Tehran but, unfortunately, left our world too soon.
Perhaps, if Western society were aware of the ancient roots of Persian-Iranian culture, they would have shown less sympathy for the efforts of their authorities to "civilize" and "democratize" this country. Cultural exchange could improve the understanding between East and West and Tehran has repeatedly made such attempts. For example, exhibits from Mr Hochimien's collection have been exhibited in Paris, Geneva, London and Tokyo.
It is only because of Western sanctions that the holding of any such exhibition becomes an almost impossible mission. Therefore, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s task is much easier: although the sixth FIDE President is still under the illegal sanctions of the US State Department, he is free to work in Europe or Asia. As far as Russia is concerned, it has already become known that Ilyumzhinov plans to organize an exhibition of artefacts of Iranian fine art in our country.
It is possible that the residents of Elista will see invaluable exhibits the first. Knowing the creative nature of sixth FIDE President and his ebullient energy, one can imagine that he will not fail to combine the fine arts that came from Persia with the art of chess rooted in Persia also. So, it is possible that the audience may expect a double, intellectual and spiritual holiday.
However, as sad as it is to admit, to hope that art will save the world (that is, will be able to prevent war) is quite naive in our time. However, art can well save the world (in the sense of society). It seems that there is a fair share of sober calculation in the decision of the collection’s owner to ask Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to become its keeper.
Teheran is well aware of the Western intelligence services, which have twice tried to organize riots in the country. The pogroms of Baghdad museums during the coalition operation in Iraq in 2003 and Cairo during the "Egyptian Revolution" in 2011 have surprisingly similar features: they always began "spontaneously" with the participation of "angry citizens", and then the most valuable exhibits suddenly surfaced in auctions and private collections of the West. By the way, that refers to many of the cultural assets of Syria, which, according to the US military, were "destroyed by the fundamentalists."
Meanwhile, it is not the first time that Russia saves the cultural and historical values ​​of other peoples. For example, the head of the Ninth Russian Spiritual Mission, Archimandrite Yakinf - a native of the rundown village of Chuvash, Nikita Yakovlevich Bichurin - is revered as a national hero in China. For reasons beyond his control, the Archimandrite failed to bring to the Orthodox faith any significant number of Beijing residents. But, having lived in China for more than ten years, Father Yakinf became so fond of this country and its people that he had learned perfect Mongolian, Manchu and Chinese with several of its dialects.
He devoted a great deal of time to the history and current state of the country, searching for and buying manuscripts, reference materials, and maps of China over the years. When it was time to leave the country, Bichurin took with him six and a half tons of unique Chinese documents. This library has become the foundation of Russian and international Chinese studies.
After the Cultural Revolution, China began to regain consciousness. Chinese historians were desperate: many priceless artefacts had been destroyed by the Red Guards. However, a major part of China's historical documents was stored in the archives of St. Petersburg. That is why the memory of the Orthodox monk Yakinf is so revered in the Middle Kingdom.
Unfortunately, during Yakinf’s life the scientific importance of his works was hardly recognized in Europe only. Indeed, no prophet is welcome in his home town!
Apparently, this is the main trait of the Russian authorities: to follow the orders and never notice what is really important. Isn't that why the Iranians chose Ilyumzhinov as the keeper of the collection, and not, say, Medinsky or any other major official formally responsible for "strengthening ties"? Of course, any official has more opportunities to protect the ancient artefacts, but will he do so if it requires to go beyond the instructions?
Tehran is now restless again. And, as in Baghdad and Cairo, crowds of "angry youth" have already appeared on the streets. How it all ends is not clear.
Thus, the authority and connections of sixth FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and quite possibly, the power of our country will be able to save the precious goldmine of Persian and our common history, Mr Hochimien’s unique collection, from the worst fate.

Purvia Mendiaev