Bayat started playing chess when she was 9, became Iran’s national champion at 12 and began her career as an International Chess Federation referee at the age of 25.
Iranian Chess Referee Reveals Jewish Heritage as She Seeks Asylum in UK
A top Iranian chess referee who fled her home country after being photographed not properly wearing a hijab has opened up about her Jewish roots for the first time ever while awaiting 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, referring to the Tehran regime.
Bayat, 33, revealed that her paternal grandmother Mary, who moved to Iran from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku during World War II, was Jewish.
She said, “If they knew that I had Jewish background, I would never ever be general secretary of the Iranian chess federation.” She added that she enjoyed celebrating Rosh Hashanah this year near London, saying, “It was amazing — a thing I never had a chance to do.”
Bayat stirred controversy when she was photographed in January at the 2020 Women’s World Chess Championship in Shanghai, China, with her hijab around her neck as opposed to over her hair, as Iran mandates for women. In other images from the same day, Bayat’s hair was loosely covered.
After the pictures were published online, Iranian hardliners declared Bayat a public enemy and she received death threats. Her family and friends also warned her not to return home. She told The Telegraph, “My mobile was full of messages saying: ‘Please, don’t come back, they will arrest you.'”
Fearful of returning to Iran, where women can be arrested for violating strict Islamic dress code, after the tournament Bayat flew to London, where she is currently living with the family of a friend as she waits for her asylum application to be processed.
She recently received confirmation from the International Chess Federation that she is allowed to referee under the British flag, according to The Jewish Chronicle.