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Erik Khzmalyan (’19): Geopolitical Analyst and Consultant

During his graduate studies at IWP, Erik fully delved into the experience. He quit his job to become a full-time student, spent significant time doing extracurricular reading in addition to his assigned readings, and shared his research in public lectures at the Institute. Since graduating, Erik has worked for a political risk consulting firm, consulted for political campaigns, designed and taught a course on U.S. foreign policy and the national security policy process for an Armenian university, and continued to write and speak about U.S. foreign policy and international security.

Erik Khzmalyan at IWPAs far back as he could remember, Erik has been passionate about international affairs, national security, and international security. “I never considered any other career because I knew this is what I wanted to do,” said Erik. “For me, it is fascinating to understand how countries interact with each other and how some countries rise to power and others decline. I wanted to learn more about the cycle of power dynamics in international affairs.”

Moving from Armenia to the United States

This interest really began in middle school, and soon thereafter, Erik was awarded a competitive scholarship from the U.S. State Department to attend high school in Newport, Oregon. He moved from his native Armenia to the United States.

Erik earned his B.A. in Political Science from Southwest Minnesota State University and moved to D.C. upon graduation to intern with the U.S. Congress. He later received a job offer from a local political consulting firm in D.C. and worked there for a year. During this time, he forged a relationship with IWP.

Erik began attending IWP’s public lectures and soon got to know the staff and professors. “Some of these lectures were so spot on, so tailored, and so in-depth… If there were weeks when IWP had several lectures, I would get out of work, take the metro, and come straight to the Institute,” he said.

He soon learned about IWP’s curriculum, which he found very relevant to his interests. “The Institute was the perfect place for me to come because it combined the study of all the tools of statecraft. It didn’t focus on just one area of study; it offered a massive toolkit – public diplomacy, diplomacy, intelligence, military affairs, economics… It was the ideal place to pursue what I was passionate about.”

Erik also appreciated that “The curriculum prioritizes scholarship over ideology. You sometimes have to deal with some inconvenient truths. You are there for pure scholarship.”

He also found that “The professors all had amazing backgrounds in the real world. They combined theory with practice. It is a whole different thing to read a textbook and to hear personal anecdotes from professors who have real life experience in very responsible positions.”

Erik Khzmalyan giving a lecture at IWP
Erik Khzmalyan giving a lecture at IWP

Beginning IWP’s M.A. program

Erik left his job and began the M.A. program in Statecraft and National Security Affairs in 2017.

During his studies, Erik enjoyed his courses and said that “There were maybe three to four courses that I especially enjoyed – I devoured them.”

He enjoyed interacting with the professors as well as his fellow students: “Most of the students were highly intelligent people from all walks of life, including established professionals. I learned a lot from them as well, because they brought real life experience with them and contributed to class discussions about what works and what doesn’t work. They shared personal anecdotes.”

Erik found that the professors were available and approachable. “You could just walk to their offices and have a conversation with them.”

Some of his professors recommended that Erik present his work in a public forum, and he ended up giving about four public lectures at IWP.  “The professors were invested in your personal success by constantly pushing you, and these public lectures are great examples of that.”

He gave a lecture on “Human Geography of the Caucasus: Identity, Culture, and the Russian Factor” in June 2017, “Islam in the Russian Domain: History, Threats, and Containment” in July 2017, “Russia’s Pacific Fleet: History, Strategy, and Attempts for Revival” at the Student Symposium in May 2018, and “The Geopolitics of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Maritime Theory or Practice?” at the Student Symposium in May 2019. Most recently, he spoke at IWP about “The Ukraine War and the Caucasus: Is Russia Losing Both?” in November 2022.

During his time at IWP, Erik was particularly interested in maritime strategy. One of his favorite moments was meeting former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman at an IWP event. Erik had read his book Oceans Ventured: Winning the Cold War at Sea a few weeks earlier. “I took a crazy amount of notes. I had sticky notes, highlighters, etc.” A week or two after finishing the book, Erik was delighted to hear that Secretary Lehman was coming to IWP. “He signed the book for me and saw all my notes. He observed that I had really read the book!”

Erik was awarded IWP’s first Thomas C. Atwood Scholarship for Academic Excellence, as well as a Joe C. Hayes Memorial Scholarship. He also served as a Student Ambassador.

Erik Khzmalyan and Eileen Atwood
Erik Khzmalyan, recipient of the Thomas C. Atwood Scholarship for Academic Excellence, with Eileen Atwood

Using the IWP education in scholarship and work in geopolitics

Erik feels that IWP has made a significant impact in his life. “It not only helped me grow as a professional but as a person as well – as a responsible citizen.” He feels that IWP helped him organize his knowledge of international affairs and introduced him to the world of national security in a sophisticated way.

“I began appreciating the international system way more after my studies at IWP,” said Erik. “So much effort is being put into maintaining global stability and prosperity, and we shouldn’t take peace for granted.”

Since graduating, Erik has continued to pursue his interests in geopolitics in a variety of ways. He has been heavily involved in think tanks both in Washington, D.C. and in Armenia. He has written for several publications, including The National Interest, The American Spectator, and Asia Times. He has worked for a political consulting firm. He has appeared as a guest speaker at several organizations, including the American Political Science Association and the Forum on International Affairs.

He has guest lectured at the American University of Armenia and designed and taught a course for an Armenian university on U.S. foreign policy and national security policy process.

He credits his time at IWP for preparing him for his work: “I don’t think I would have the same understanding of how the world works without the Institute.”

Erik Khzmalyan speaking at an APRI event
Erik Khzmalyan speaking at an APRI event