Ali Altiok (Peace Studies and Political Science)

Author: Jena O'Brien

Ali Altiok is a first-year Peace Studies and Political Science student from Turkey. Before coming to the Kroc Institute, Ali worked as a researcher at the United Nations and as a coordinator and policy officer at multiple peacebuilding organizations. He has an interdisciplinary educational background. He holds Master’s Degrees in Political, Legal, and Economic Philosophy from the University of Bern (Switzerland) and Peace and Security Studies from the University of Hamburg (Germany). 

Why were you drawn to study peace at the Kroc Institute?

I was drawn to study at the Kroc Institute because it is one of the best formal educational institutions that focuses on peace research. I am broadly interested in peace research that impacts policy and practice. The Kroc Institute was an ideal place to become a peace studies scholar engaged in policy and practice, while also becoming a political scientist at the same time.

How do peace studies and political science differ?

This is a difficult question because peace studies has grown through the contributions of major disciplines such as anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, theology, and political science. Many subfields of political science, such as international relations or security studies, deal with issues that are also studied by peace studies scholars.

Overall, political science as a discipline contributes significantly to peace studies through its substantial engagement with quantitative methods and theory. What differentiates peace studies from political science is its normative orientation. Peace studies scholars are expected to conduct research that can reduce harm and contribute to social justice. In addition, peace studies utilizes the knowledge and experiences of practitioners and ordinary people. Stories of marginalized, excluded, and oppressed people influence peace studies. 

How did you become interested in this field of study?

In my previous studies in Bern, Switzerland, I took a course on war and international conflict processes. I had never seen people study the sources of conflict in such a systemic way. So, when I learned about the existence of this scholarly field, I was like, “OK, this is something I’m interested in.” So, I pursued another Master’s program in Peace and Security Studies at the University of Hamburg.

I was initially interested in understanding the causes of civil wars, armed conflicts, and terrorism. For my Master’s thesis, I was asking the question of why young people participate in violence. But the more I talked to young people who are affected by armed violence, the more I realized that I was asking the wrong question. Most young people I spoke to, labeled as violent perpetrators in the media, actually engaged in activities that reduce harm and build peace. So, I had to change my research question. Instead of asking why youth participate in violence, I became interested in asking the question of when and how young people build peace. Instead of framing young people as a threat to be contained, I wanted to understand and highlight the peacebuilding agency of young people. And I think that was a peace studies moment for me. Since then, I have been interested in researching not only the causes of war but also the causes of peace, because causes of war and peace are different from each other. I also try to ask better questions that can facilitate young people’s participation in peacebuilding. 

What do you hope your research accomplishes? 

I hope that my research contributes to the inclusion and empowerment of young people. Young people are often romanticized as the hope for a better future or stereotyped as politically disenfranchised or worse potential troublemakers to peace. My goal is to make an original contribution to peace studies and political science by providing a nuanced picture of youth political agency for peace and democracy. My ambition is to engage in discussions on securitization and surveillance of young people through new technological tools.  

Previously, you worked as a researcher, policy officer, and coordinator for several international peacebuilding organizations in New York City. Can you tell me a little bit about those experiences? 

For about seven years, I have been involved in policy processes shaping the global Youth, Peace, and Security agenda established by United Nations Security Council resolution 2250. I provided research support for the global study, The Missing Peace: The Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security, commissioned by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250. I worked directly with the lead author of this study, Graeme Simpson, and the advisory group of experts, who were appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General. Then I worked for the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. I co-authored a global policy paper with Irena Grizelj on young peoples’ participation in peace processes. 

Just before joining Kroc, I worked for the international peacebuilding organization Interpeace on the implementation of the global YPS agenda at the country level. I’ve also done advocacy work on human rights protection and conflict sensitivity in the counterterrorism field. For that, I worked with human rights and peacebuilding organizations to challenge the securitization of the UN system.