Dr. Raffi Gregorian '81: Keeping the Peace Across the Globe

Kristina M. Jenkins

From the simple act of rescuing a street dog in Bosnia to the intricacies of coordinating international counterterrorism policy, Dr. Raffi Gregorian ’81 continually strives to make the world a better, more peaceful place.

Throughout his nearly 30-year career, Dr. Gregorian has played a significant role in high-level foreign and security affairs, as both a civilian and as a Naval officer, at the helm of interagency, complex, and multinational post-conflict operations.

Keeping the Peace

Currently, Dr. Gregorian serves as the Director of the Office of Multilateral Affairs of the Bureau of Counterterrorism in the Department of State, a role where he is responsible for coordinating and promoting U.S. counterterrorism and countering violent extremism policies and programs in and through civilian multilateral bodies.

“I’m responsible for all U.S. counterterrorism policy that involves an organization with an acronym,” Dr. Gregorian jokes. In all seriousness, his office is responsible for coordinating U.S. counterterrorism engagement with more than 20 organizations including the United Nations, ASEAN, OSCE, NATO, the G-7, the European Union, and the African Union.

A critical and multifaceted leadership position, this current role only begins to relate the significant work Dr. Gregorian has pursued for nearly three decades, which has seen him visit more than 30 countries and counting, oversee negotiations to integrate former warring armies, and help strategize and implement peacekeeping operations to stabilize war-torn countries.

A Natural Interest

Looking back, the drive towards a career in government and public service came naturally to Dr. Gregorian, who has been fascinated with military history and strategy since he was very young. “I’ve had a hierarchy of interests building up,” he says. “Nowadays, I am focused on much higher level strategy, but I still base the foundation on pieces of information I garnered as a boy.”

Many of those boyhood days were spent at Shipley, where Gregorian spent two years before graduating in 1981. “I liked the ethos of the place,” he recalls of his first impressions of the school he and his parents chose for the final years of his high school education. “My parents chose it based on academic merit, and I chose it based on atmosphere.”

As anyone who went to school with Dr. Gregorian might recall, he always displayed a strong interest in military affairs—some might even remember his senior prank involving a 250-pound Navy practice bomb (it was hollow) placed nose-down into the schoolyard. To Gregorian’s utter disappointment, no one reacted at all to the stunt.

Beyond a culture of tolerance and community, though, Dr. Gregorian attributes the School’s positive ethos—“Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing”—with strengthening his natural interests. “Shipley certainly reinforced inclinations I already had to make a positive impact on the world around me,” he says.

After graduating from Shipley, and taking a year to pursue independent study and work as a barista when his family moved to New York, Gregorian resumed his education in the Philadelphia area at the University of Pennsylvania—a campus he was well acquainted with after his father’s time as University Provost—where he entered the honors program and majored in history.

A Dream Job

In 1986, Gregorian graduated Magna Cum Laude from Penn and stepped right into a dream job working for the U.S. Army Center for Military History assisting senior historians with the drafting of the official history of the Vietnam War. “I was very, very fortunate,” he says of the role. “For someone with that kind of interest and background, it was like hog heaven.”

After two years as an historian, Gregorian left to continue his education with an M.A. in War Studies from King’s College at the University of London, a program he became familiar with as an undergraduate exchange student. During that course of study, Gregorian dropped his idea of going to law school and decided to pursue a career in defense affairs. “There was a moment when I realized, yes, this is what I want to work on,” he says.

Once a career in defense affairs became his goal, Gregorian’s first instinct was to join the military and go on active duty, but personal reasons led him instead back to Washington, D.C.  There he was able to get a job as an analyst for defense contractors, joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as an intelligence officer, and started work on a Ph.D. in International Relations & Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Call of Duty

When he finished with his Ph.D., the call to active duty to serve in the Balkans was too strong for Gregorian to set aside. As a half-Armenian, Dr. Gregorian grew up with a personal sensitivity to genocide; ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a particular resonance for him, in part because his father’s mentor had come from the region and spoke of it often.

“I saw history happening around me,” he says. “Despite pledges by the international community to never again let something like the Holocaust happen, in my own lifetime it had happened several times—Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia—and I thought, here is an opportunity for me to actually do something about it.”

In 1997, Dr. Gregorian volunteered to go on active duty to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the NATO-led peace enforcement mission, helping track down persons indicted for war crimes and monitoring implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. It was a life-changing experience. “You can see what people do to each other, but also what people can do to make things better,” he says, “especially as an American, we had a significant positive impact.”

Bringing Stability and Security

After his experience in Bosnia, Dr. Gregorian resolved to move beyond defense analysis and academic work, and “focus on applied efforts to bring peace and stability to fragile areas.” He seized an unexpected opportunity to work at the U.S. Department of State, where for the better part of the subsequent 13 years he worked on the entire area of the former-Yugoslavia, especially Bosnia and Kosovo. His most intense period involved the international intervention in Kosovo, including the NATO campaign that prevented genocide there and implementing the peace agreement that saw UN and NATO replacing the Serbian and Yugoslav security forces there.

At the top of his priority list were efforts to help stabilize the region through defense reform in Bosnia, working on behalf of NATO and Lord Paddy Ashdown, the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia.  In less than six months, Dr. Gregorian negotiated the agreement whereby the three former warring armies in Bosnia voluntarily disbanded and created one single state level multiethnic army. “It was super intense,” he says of the diplomatic and strategic process.

Furthermore, he also helped secure legislation and constitutional amendments to ensure the new structure would remain, culminating in 2006. “We helped Bosnia go from a net importer of security to an actual exporter of security,” he says. Bosnian troops have gone on to serve alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deployed to several UN peacekeeping missions. Bosnia’s neighbors, reassured by the dissolution of the multiple, conscript-based reserve armies that had existed there, themselves ended conscription and down-sized their own armies, further stabilizing the region.

Restoring Trust

Rather than leave Bosnia after his initial project culminated, though, Dr. Gregorian was asked to stay on as the international Supervisor of Brcko District, a special multiethnic district established under the Dayton Peace Accords. “I had supreme power over the entire public space—which was pretty cool,” he says. In addition, Dr. Gregorian was given the responsibility of being the Principal Deputy High Representative in the Office of the High Representative (OHR) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, making him the number two international civilian official in Bosnia.

In that role, he again focused on locating and apprehending persons indicted for war crimes by The Hague tribunal, organizing efforts to break up their support networks. “In the end, we got all 161 of them, including Radovan Karadzic,” he says of the results of his involvement with OHR. He also insured continued efforts to address the challenge of mujahedeen who stayed in Bosnia in violation of the Dayton Peace Accords, while brokering agreements to restore trust among Bosnia’s main ethnic groups.

After more than five years in Bosnia, Dr. Gregorian returned to the State Department, well suited to take on his next senior role as the head of the Office of Peace Operations, Sanctions and Counterterrorism in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

In the peacekeeping office, Dr. Gregorian was responsible for all U.S. policy towards and support to all United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world. At that time, those operations amounted to 16 different missions, involving more than 130,000 troops and an annual U.S. financial contribution of nearly $2.9 billion.

Counterterrorism Strategy

In 2015, Dr. Gregorian was recruited by the State Department’s Counterterrorism Coordinator for another leadership role heading up the newly created Office of Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of Counterterrorism. He’s now charged with building a team to facilitate counterterrorism policy, coordination, and program development on both a national and international level.

“Our main function is focused on working with other governments, particularly the civilian components, to try to promote the U.S. view of counterterrorism being done in accordance with the rule of law and in compliance with human rights,” says Gregorian. “A lot of what we do is focused on developing global norms that promote that view through the United Nations, through Security Council resolutions and the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy.”

The focus now, says Dr. Gregorian, is on countries that are the most vulnerable: states that are on the front lines of fighting ISIL, Al Qaeda, and their various affiliates. Another challenge for Dr. Gregorian, surely, but with his vast experience and demonstrated capacity, coupled with a core drive to make a positive impact on the world around him, arguably no one is better suited to the task.

This content was originally published in the Spring 2016 Shipley Magazine. Read more from this issue at
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