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Secretary of State Kerry Visits Central Asia

In February 2013, I was in Kyrgyzstan as a Fulbright scholar when newly-minted Secretary of State John Kerry made his first major slip when he invented the country of “Kyrzakhstan”.

Two years and eight months later--newly returned to Bishkek—I sat in the audience at the opening of the newly-completed campus of the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) listening to the Secretary of State; I’m pleased to report that as the first U.S. Secretary of State to tour all five Central Asian states in a single visit, Kerry can indeed pronounce the country’s name.

 


Photo Credit: AUCA
CEUS/SPEA Dual Master's Student Alyssa Meyer and AUCA alumna Kurmanjan Abdysamatova

 

Bishkek was the secretary’s first stop on his regional tour—where he participated in the opening of new and significantly larger AUCA campus, bilateral negogiations, and the ribbon cutting ceremony and dedication for the new U.S. Embassy to Kyrgyzstan.

AUCA—originally founded as the Kyrgyz-American School within Kyrgyz State National University in 1993—first became an independent academic institution in 1997, when it was then known as the American University of Kyrgyzstan. By 2002, based on an expanding mission to spread American liberal arts and critical thinking throughout the region, the university’s name was changed to the American University of Central Asia. In just nine years the university’s student body had expanded so much that it broke ground for a new campus. Students and staff moved into their new home over the summer of 2015.

As Kerry’s speech during the campus opening—as well as a video message sent by project benefitor George Soros of the Open Society Foundation—emphasized, education, learning habits, and critical thinking key to facilitating change.  Using the example of the Arab Spring, Kerry explained that technology and social media are connecting our world better than ever before. Power is no longer hierarchial; more people are competiting to be heard. Our smartphones have made power more “horizontial” and “diversified” by giving “even those in the poorest countries” a platform from which to speak.  But it is education that will help us to decide what we will do with this power, what we will say to the world.

Kerry also emphasized that U.S. commitment to AUCA, and the region it serves, will continue to be strong; as Kyrgyzstan continues to make strides toward democracy, Kerry assured the audience that the United States would be there as a friend. He expressed hope of continued educational exchanges, distance learning programs, and student scholarships; to date, the U.S. has invested more than 30 million dollars into AUCA, including over 1,000 student scholarships. In addition to educational exchanges and support, Kerry emphasized that the U.S. intent on expanding diplomatic relations with the region.

 

The next day during a meeting with the region’s five foreign minister’s in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the secretary kicked off a new diplomatic format for U.S.-Central Asian dialogue known as “C5+1”. His tour also included remarks at Nazerbaev University in Astana, participating in a meeting of the U.S.-Kazakhstan Strategic Partnership Dialogue, and talks with senior government officials in  Ashgabat and Dushanbe.