For Alisher Khamidov, the awareness of conflict is not new. Growing up in Kyrgyzstan, he was a first-hand witness to acts of violence and lived in a context that was fraught with ethnic conflict since before his birth. However, it was these very experiences with violence that laid the groundwork for Khamidov’s other lifelong interest: the study of peace.
“Growing up with violence, I’ve always asked questions about peace,” said Khamidov. “For example, what makes peace resilient in some places? I’ve been interested in countries that have enjoyed peace.”
Khamidov’s interest in peace led him to the Kroc Institute, where he completed a Master’s in International Peace Studies in 2002. And now, 18 years later, he has returned to the University of Notre Dame for the Fall 2020 semester as the first recipient of the Institute’s Alumni Visiting Research Fellowship. The Fellowship offers a semester-long residency and stipend to one alum each year. The Fellowship prioritizes alumni who have pursued careers as peacebuilding practitioners and who seek time to reflect on and write about their work while in residence at the Institute.
While on campus, Khamidov is conducting research comparing two sets of towns in Kyrgyzstan--some that have experienced widespread violence over the past 20 years and others in the same region that have been peaceful. The conflict witnessing towns are Osh and Jalal-Abad, while the conflict resilient towns are Aravan and Kara-Suu.
“Conflict specialists in the region are often not coming to study peace, they are coming to study violence,” said Khamidov. “As part of my research, I came to people in Kyrgyzstan and emphasized that I wanted to learn from their experience of how they’ve made places peaceful. This has opened so many doors!”
Khamidov hopes to produce both a peer-reviewed journal article and a report that will be useful to peacebuilders around the world, but especially to NGO’s, government policymakers, and grassroots peacebuilders throughout Central Asia who are developing strategies for local peacebuilding and violence reduction.
“We are so glad to have Alisher joining us as part of the Kroc Institute community this semester,” said Asher Kaufman, John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute. “We established the Alumni Visiting Research Fellowship in order to strengthen our relationship with our alumni network and to learn from our alums who are engaged in peacebuilding practice around the world, and to connect them with our diverse faculty and student researchers here at Notre Dame.”
A Diverse Career Path
Khamidov feels that many of his career experiences since his initial time at the Kroc Institute have uniquely prepared him for this research project. Since completing his Master’s degree, Khamidov has spent time as a journalist, completing a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, studying the impact of Muslim migrants in northern England as a postdoctoral fellow, and serving as a peace and conflict consultant at the World Bank.
“I have a wide array of experiences, but they all come under one title or category, which is that of a peace worker,” he said. “That’s how I see myself.”
Khamidov also acknowledges that there is an inherent tension implicit in the study of peace: that to be interested in peace also means being willing to also study violence, and that his early experiences with violence have laid the groundwork for the research and consulting work that he does now.
“I view peacebuliding as inherently connected to the study of violence,” he said. “How does it erupt? What makes violence resilient? What can you learn from violence? What ends violence?”
For Khamidov, both now and in the year 2000, when he first arrived on campus, the Kroc Institute has been a helpful “laboratory” for bringing together theory, experience, and practice in conversation with students and faculty members.
“When I left the Kroc Institute, I faced a world that was really messy,” said Khamidov. “As much as you study and equip yourself with amazing analytical tools, the world will always present you with difficult challenges that will not fit neatly into any theory. Even if my time at the Kroc Institute will not prepare me for all the challenges I will face, I am grateful to have a chance to come back to the Kroc Institute and share about those challenges to expand our conversations.”