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Endangered scholar finds refuge at Mason

March 8, 2019   /   by Mariam Aburdeineh

Ararat Osipian, from Ukraine, is the first endangered scholar Mason is hosting through its membership in the New University in Exile Consortium. Photo by Lathan Goumas.

Shelling rained down in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine four years ago, when a war broke out between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian armies. Ukrainian scholar Ararat Osipian escaped the war zone after two months, moving to Western Ukraine and Bucharest until his city, Kramatorsk, was taken back by the Ukrainian Army. But when he returned to his home in Eastern Ukraine—just 15 miles from the front line—he knew he needed to flee again.

“There was a missile strike in 2015 at which 20 people died and several dozen were wounded; although the city was already controlled by the Ukrainian Army, it’s within the reach of all kinds of weaponry,” said Osipian. “It’s a risky place.”

George Mason University has been a haven for Osipian, who is the first endangered scholar the university is hosting through its membership in the New University in Exile Consortium. He’s thankful to be at Mason—remaining in Ukraine was extra risky based on his academic background, he said.

“I have been doing research on corruption for 20 years,” said Osipian, who described his home country as teeming with corrupt authorities and practices. “The Ukrainian authorities are not necessarily comfortable having someone who does corruption [research] and is published widely in the West.”

But the door was wide open at Mason.
“Supporting academic freedom is fundamental to our purpose,” said Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell. “It is easy for us in the U.S. to forget how precious it is to have intellectual freedom from fear of sanction or punishment.”

“In supporting this program, we can make a small positive contribution to our fellow scholars internationally who are endangered because of their academic work,” Rozell said.

While at Mason, Osipian will continue his research at the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC). His most recent project looks at corruption in doctoral education in Ukraine, including sales and bribery used to obtain PhDs.

He’ll also teach two classes in fall 2019 and contribute to the school’s scholarly work.

“[Osipian’s] insights and experience will bring a unique perspective to our students,” said TraCCC Director Louise Shelley, who added she’s known of Osipian’s pathbreaking research for years and is thrilled he’ll have the opportunity to publish more with TraCCC.

Despite the risks of speaking out against corruption in books and lectures, it’s something that must be done so countries and governments around the world can act more responsibly, Osipian said.

“In order to resist corruption, you have to learn about it,” he said.