A Short Tribute to My Mother
My mother died in Moscow on December 25, at the age of 83. She meant everything to me, of course, but she was a remarkable woman in her own right, and I wanted to share a little about her and her life.
Klara Shagenovna Kasparova was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Soviet Union, on March 19, 1937. Both of her parents were Armenians from Karabakh, and she was the eldest of three sisters. She married my father, Kim Weinstein, at 23, not long after a memorable date at the Van Cliburn concert in Baku. They both loved classical music. They couldn’t afford to have children right away, and I came along in 1963. I wasn’t sure, but my cousin confirmed that they got married on December 25, 1960. Exactly 60 years after they married, they were reunited forever.
It was an unusual marriage at the time, a Jew and an Armenian, even in mixed Baku, which still had its unofficial ethnic partitions. You could say my mother’s family broke down barriers, as her youngest sister later married an Azeri, which was even more unusual. For my mother, personal qualities were everything, not ideology or ethnicity. She was totally indifferent to traditions of upbringing of any kind. Ironically, what helped bring my parents together was that both had die-hard Communist fathers. My paternal grandfather named his son Kim after the Cyrillic acronym for the Young Communist International, КИМ. My mother’s father named her after German Communist leader Clara Zetkin. Her mother, however, stuck to her own original suggestion, Aida, which was always used in the family and by close friends. In fact, until she was 14, my mother didn’t even know that her legal name was Klara!
I was soon showing promise as a chessplayer, and my mother was always my greatest supporter. … She was a fixture on the professional chess circuit, watching my games and watching out for me in every regard. As fearsome a reputation as I may have had as “the Beast of Baku,” at the chessboard, my mother’s fierceness in defending my interests even as an accomplished world champion was even more formidable. But that fierceness was always in defense, not offense. She rarely spoke on the record to anyone about me or anything else. “I cannot lie, and I do not want to tell all the truth, because it could hurt people.”
“When I was a little boy growing up in Baku, my mother told me I could become the world chess champion, someday. I don’t know if anyone else believed her, but I believed her. Years later the sport authorities in the Soviet Union told me that I was a troublemaker and I that could not become the world chess champion. Well, in 1985 I did become world champion and this taught me the first important lesson I wish to share with you all today: listen to your mother!
Six years after that the Soviet Union and all of its sport authorities ceased to exist, while my mother is still going strong. She’s still telling me what I’m capable of – and to eat my vegetables.
Everyone will tell you to believe in yourself, and this of course is true. Only you can decide your course, and only you can make it happen. But you must also listen to those who believe in you and take strength from their love and from their support. Often they remind us to aim high – higher then you might aim on your own, especially when you’re young. I’m quite sure that if you all accomplish what your mothers believe you can accomplish, that this will be the most successful graduating class in the history of the world. And for those of you who lost a parent or parents at a young age – as I lost my father when I was seven – your achievement here today reflects a special kind of strength. We are all shaped by absence as well as by presence.
On a personal note (FF)
I got to know Klara soon after I befriended her son Garry in 1985. A fondly remembered encounter between the Friedel and Kasparov families took place in their hotel room in New York during the first leg of the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship match in October 1990.
I met Klara, who asked me to call her Aida, many times after that – at least once in their flat in Moscow, where she helped me with my rendering of Beethoven’s Moonshine Sonata. I had taught myself the piano while giving up smoking, and this musical lady told me how to stress certain passages when I tried it on their piano.
In 2005 I travelled to Linares for the annual tournament. When I arrived, after the first couple of rounds, I saw Garry in the dining room with his second, Yury Dokhoian. I went over to greet them, but from Garry I got just a quick glance and a curt “Hi”. Later I asked Klara whether he was upset with me or something, but she patiently explained: “There are many Garrys. You just met the “I’m-busy-working-hard” edition. Wait until today’s game is over, then you get the “Hey-buddy” Garry. And of course that is exactly the way it turned out. Klara also explained to me that I was not a friend of her son, I was part of their family. And she always treated me like a younger brother or a nephew.
On the historical evening before, Garry had said to me: “Hey Fred, I’m retiring.” When I asked him in dismay what he meant he just said: “Talk to my mum.” Klara then took me for a long walk around Linares and explained the reasons for their decision, holding and pressing my hand while she did so.
The last time I met Klara/Aida was, I believe, at Viktor Korchnoi’s 80th Birthday Celebration in Zurich in March 2011. There we also met the 85-year-old Mark Taimanov and his young wife Nadya.