Markus Kaiser took the reverse Silk Route to Central Asia. An undergraduate trip to Peshawar, Pakistan introduced him to Afghan refugees of Tajik and Uzbek ethnicity. That trip started what has become an almost 20-year affair with Central Asia, an ongoing journey that now finds Professor Kaiser as a visiting professor to AUCA’s European Studies department as well as acting as a service provider to the OSCE Academy.
Kaiser has made repeated visits to Central Asia since 1994, when he was a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin completing research on migration as a result of interethnic conflicts in the region. Although there are several researchers currently studying the conflicts and resulting impacts of the events of April/June 2010, those researchers are encountering a different world than the 1994 Central Asia that welcomed Professor Kaiser.
“The biggest difference is that in 1994 everyone was still so hopeful,” Kaiser said. Hope still exists, but Kaiser says that it is tempered by the reality of intransigent governments, development creep, and unrealistic expectations. This change, Kaiser further clarifies, also depends on the individual country. He now finds the Kyrgyz Republic the easiest of the Central Asian republics to live in on account of its relatively unobtrusive government and genial international community.
Kaiser came to AUCA in January of 2010, but was already familiar with the university and its students prior to his arrival here. As a co-director of the Center for German and European Studies at the St. Petersburg State University in Russia, Kaiser reviewed several AUCA graduate applications to programs sponsored by German international exchange organization DAAD. Now in his third year at AUCA as a visiting professor, I asked him about his impressions of the European Studies program and what he would like to see from AUCA in the future.
“Most students take European Studies because they want to learn the languages, and usually they are very successful at doing this.” The department requires French or German as a second language, and many of the students are also able to spend some time in Europe during their studies. One weakness he points out is this minimal amount of time students spend in Europe. “A classical European Studies program involves a lot of comparative empirical research, which is not possible from Central Asia. Therefore we tend to focus here on the European relationship to Central Asia or interregional comparison.”
Kaiser’s research also focuses on relationships in Eurasia; specifically focusing on transnationalization and migration, globalization of knowledge, development studies, and countries in transition. Kaiser said that ever since he was an undergraduate he has been more interested in the micro level movements in society, the economy, and culture. This can be seen in several of his publications, which tend to analyze small groups actions in order to extrapolate larger meaning. One example is his 2005 PhD research publication on cross-border traders as transformers, looking at how economic restructuring was impacting other areas of society.
The relationship between the EU, its member countries, and the Central Asian states has developed slowly over the past 20 years; but Kaiser thinks that it remains a strategic interest for the Europeans because of its proximity to Afghanistan, China, and Russia. The EU is also interested in migration and human trafficking issues, as well as developing its ‘neighborhood’. The EU mission, UN mission, OSCE, and embassies as well as offices of development agencies are also key employers of AUCA European Studies graduates, which also often creates opportunities for these students to continue their graduate studies in Europe.
As for AUCA as a whole, graduate study is one area where Kaiser would like to see the university become stronger. “I also teach at the OSCE Academy, which is masters level, and I enjoy that work very much. It would be great to do masters or Ph.D. advising at AUCA, and I hope that those programs will be developed,” said Kaiser, “The liberal arts is a very important and worthwhile endeavor for students from Central Asia taking into account the catastrophic situation in school education. Especially in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and AUCA plays an important role in providing it.”