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Those who look into the root of problems...

After leaving university I had very few opportunities to communicate with people from academia. I do have a very dear friend who is a researcher with Oxford University, but that’s about it. I also have a short and very unpleasant encounter with a foreign lecturer who teaches at one of the universities in Almaty. So those two people are pretty much the only academics I spoke to in the past 3.5 years.

Last week I visited Washington and there I have been granted an opportunity to meet quite an extraordinary person – Dr. Frederick Starr. Dr. Starr is a Founder and Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Washington.


The very first time I met Dr. Starr he was moderating a discussion on US Policy on Religious Freedom in Central Asia and the Caucus. What amazed me the most were very simple and straightforward questions he asked the speakers who participated in the discussion. But these questions looked right into the root of the problem. Through those matter-of-fact questions he pointed out some clear drawbacks in the research carried out by US researchers on religious freedom in Central Asia. Those drawbacks were not so major as to question the entire research, but they were important enough to raise some questions.


After the discussion my colleague and I have been introduced to Dr. Starr and have been offered to visit him the next day for a friendly chat. I am not going to relay the content of this meeting, because it has already been nicely outlined in the article published in Astana Times newspaper. What I do want to talk about is the academic persona of Dr. Starr. I already encountered such extraordinary individuals, but sadly not in my home country.


I believe such people belong to a unique caste. They are unique researchers; they are exceptionally knowledgeable about the subject they specialize in. They tend to challenge the opinions of the majority and at the same time manage to engage the audience with their expertise and charisma. Frederic Starr reminded me of the professors who used to teach me back the university. Our clinical psychology, forensic psychology and sensation and perception (to name a few) lecturers were among them.


What amazed me about Dr. Starr is how easy and unintimidating the dialog with this 73-year-old professor who is known for his keen interest in both history and present day of Central Asia, was. He never tried to impose his expertise on his young (and let’s admit, very inexperienced by comparison) interlocutors, but followed the conversation wherever we wanted to turn it. And even if he did it was done so smooth that we never noticed it. And yet despite this one could easily see years of research and huge knowledge oozing from every sentence.


The reason I write this is a very simple one. I adore people like Dr. Starr, who despite all the criticism (trust me, there is plenty!), just carry on with their work and do it admirably. I just hope that one day I myself will manage to become such a person.