Tragedy in Kabul
Two employees of the American University of Afghanistan -- one an internationally respected political scientist and the other an idealistic young student affairs officer -- were among the 21 people killed Friday in a Taliban attack on a restaurant in Kabul frequented by foreigners working in the area.
One of the dead is Alexis Kamerman (27, known as Lexie), who was a student development specialist. She coordinated residence life activities and taught in the student success program offered to freshmen.
The other is Alexandros Petersen. He had just joined the faculty in political science, having left the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. From that position, he wrote for both scholarly and general interest publications on energy security issues, Russia, Central Asia and other topics.
The university opened in 2006 as a private college offering an American-style education, including full coeducation, and it is the only institution of its type in the country. Its campus is heavily protected due to the hostility of the Taliban and some others in Afghanistan to Western influence, but the university has seen its enrollment grow to 1,700 students, with undergraduate, graduate and professional offerings.
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, C. Michael Smith, the university's president, said: "This was an unwarranted, senseless, vicious attack on innocent civilians that took the lives of Afghans as well as internationals who are working in the country. Those of us who work in Afghanistan know that an act such as this does not reflect the views or intentions of the vast majority of Afghans. They respect human life and are horrified by a senseless action such as this. The university has not had a situation previously like this. The university community -- its students, faculty, and staff -- is in mourning and expresses its deepest sympathies to the families."
He added that "we will, as will other international organizations in Kabul, be assessing security arrangements. We do that on a regular basis. We will do so now especially in the light of this attack on a local restaurant."
After a meeting of senior officials on Saturday, the university decided it would not call off the student orientation for the spring semester, which is about to start. A statement from Timor Saffary, the chief academic officer, said that proceeding as scheduled was "how our colleagues would have wanted it."
A profile of Kamerman in The Chicago Tribune described her as "fearless," and as a wonderful colleague and friend. She was a star water polo player at Knox College, from which she graduated in 2008. Before moving to Kabul, Kamerman worked in student affairs at Elon University, pursued a master's degree in higher education at the University of Arizona, and served as director of membership services for the Collegiate Water Polo Association. A statement from her family to The Chicago Sun-Times said that Kamerman took the job in Afghanistan "to help the young women of Afghanistan get an education and take their rightful place as leaders in Afghan society,"
Christian Ostermann, head of the Wilson Center's Global Europe Program, worked closely with Petersen. Ostermann said via email that Petersen, as someone who focused on far-flung regions, "walked the walk, constantly traveling to the regions that were of core concern to him ... a commitment that often took him to distant and sometimes dangerous places in pursuit of knowledge."
Petersen is a prolific writer who maintained a website here. He is the author of the 2011 book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West (Praeger). His website says that he was working on a new book, about China in Central Asia, about which he blogged here -- making his last post just days before he was killed.
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