An Iranian chess referee who was forced to flee Iran after being photographed not wearing a hijab properly spoke about her Jewish ancestry for the first time while applying for asylum in the United Kingdom.
“All my life was about showing a fake image of myself to society because they wanted me to be an image of a religious Muslim woman, which I wasn’t,” Shohreh Bayat told The Telegraph.
Bayat, 33, said that her paternal grandmother was a Jewish woman who moved to Iran from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku during World War Two.
“If they knew that I had a Jewish background, I would never ever be general-secretary of the Iranian Chess Federation,” she said, adding that she had heard anti-Semitic remarks from Iranian chess officials.
Bayat caused a scandal in Iran when a photograph emerged of her wearing her hijab around her shoulders from the January 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship held in Shanghai and Vladivostok. After the picture emerged, she received warnings from friends not to return to Iran because she would face arrest.
Her picture was removed from the website of the Iranian Chess Federation the next day, causing Bayat to comment that “it was like I didn’t exist."
Bayat decided not to wear a hijab at all for the rest of the championship, after which she traveled to Britain, where she had a valid visa. She is currently living with a friend's family as she waits for her asylum application to be processed.
The International Chess Federation confirmed that Bayat will be allowed to referee chess as a British official, but she is not allowed to work until her asylum process is complete.
Bayat said that she has no regrets about leaving Iran except that she cannot be with her husband and her family.
She also said that this is the first year she has been free to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year which was marked last week.
Bayad began playing chess at the age of nine at the encouragement of her father. At 12 she became Iran’s national champion, and she began her career as an International Chess Federation referee.