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  1. ITV Report

Why are children in Armenia being given compulsory chess lessons?

Armenian pupils are being given compulsory chess lessons Credit: OA
  • By ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

It's 8.30am at primary school number two in the centre of Yerevan and I am sitting at the back of a classroom of seven-year-olds, who are bursting to answer the next question and listening to their teacher with rapt attention.

I can't quite believe that this enthusiasm is for the game of chess.

The children are the first generation of Armenian pupils to be given compulsory chess lessons - and they seem to be totally immersed.

Their teacher, Hayk Azizbekyan, a chess champion himself and still studying for his degree in archaeology, says they took just six months to learn how to play.

This isn't just about becoming competent chess players, it is a government driven and funded national project to promote chess as essential part of national life.

The president is convinced chess is a way of steering this poor country towards a more prosperous future Credit: OA

The president is so keen to promote chess and the many advantages it can bring, which it's claimed include improving creativity, strategic thinking and leadership, that he granted us an interview.

He's convinced chess is a way of steering this poor country towards a more prosperous and positive future. Basically, a way of shaping the minds of a nation.

A grandiose idea you may think?

I assumed we would find parents and children who resented having this cerebral pursuit forced upon them in a rather Soviet manner. But we didn't. This is a country that really does seem to believe in chess.

They have one of the highest number of chess grandmasters per capita than any other country in the world.

Armenia's current leading player Levon Aronian arrives at a chess tournament for children being held in the capital and is surrounded by dozens of young fans and their parents wanting selfies with him.

Of course, Aronian can earn more than half a million pounds a year from tournaments alone, in a country where the average monthly wage is around £325 a month.

But this passion for chess genuinely seems to be about more than a way to fame and fortune.

For the Armenians, a nation that has felt blighted and victimised by the Ottoman empire and then the Soviet Union, it is a way of demonstrating superior intelligence and a talent for winning.

  • On Assignment is on tonight, Wednesday 7th June, at 10:55pm