Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
Brian O'Neill, co-founder of Waq al-waq, remembers Chris:
As most people reading this today already know, Chris Boucek- suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically, passed away this morning, at the shockingly young age of 38. This is a horrible and unbearable loss for his wife and two young children, who have lost a kind and wonderful husband and father. This is also a terrible blow to the Yemen community.
For a long time, there wasn’t much of a Yemen community, but Chris was always there. He had the foresight and the subtle knowledge to recognize Yemen’s importance a long time before almost anyone else, and set his sharp mind to figuring out that distant and obscure land. But for Chris, this wasn’t dry analysis.
Chris truly cared about Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. He devoted his life to not only understanding, but explaining, what made Yemen important, and the best ways to help. When Yemen exploded into the national consciousness in December of 2009, Chris did not take the easy way out, the way that would earn him the most recognition and TV appearances, and beat the drums of war. Instead, with his natural grace, he continued to calmly explain how things were and what needed to be done, and in turn helped to calm the national conversation.
For many, when the thing you are an expert on suddenly becomes front-page news, it would be tempting to change, to adopt a different persona, to angle not just yourself but your ideas to ride the prevailing winds. But Chris would have none of that. He was interested in people, and the subtlety of structure, and how understanding the latter would help the former. When those who didn’t know Yemen would scream about names they couldn’t pronounce, Chris would talk about how water rights are helping to delegitimize the government. He wasn’t prone to hysteria.
Chris was both eloquent and self-deprecating, and totally lacking in affectation. In our conversations, he was just as likely to make fun of himself as he was to sharply analyze tribal relations, with equal ease. He would never brag about himself, even as he was in demand from a nation hungry for information. He would, though, brag about his children, and you could tell immediately what was most important to him.
Chris was a voice of reason, and had a generosity of mind and of spirit, and a way of making a nervous neophyte feel at ease. His rigor was matched only by his humility. His passing is a huge loss for the analytical community, an enormous loss for a country still trying to figure out what to do there. Even more than that, it is a great personal loss, for his family, and for anyone ever lucky enough to cross paths with him. His work will live on, and what he inspired will grow, and his legacy, though unfairly and horribly short, is secure. We will all miss you, buddy. Rest in peace, Chris Boucek.
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