The Fight for Democracy During a Rise of Authoritarian Rule

by Jack Conway


December 8, 2022

Over 8 months ago, on February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”1 The invasion came after years of Moscow alleging that there has been genocide of Russians in Ukrainian territory without presenting any sound evidence to back their claims. Putin has also claimed that most Ukrainians want to be part of Russia, pointing to the referendums taken in recent weeks in occupied regions of Ukraine, which his critics have claimed are fraudulent.2 Many outside of Russia believe the Russian government invaded because of concerns about Ukraine’s growing ties with the west. This view is shared by Maria Snegovaya, a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies, who said, “It looks like Putin is committed to preventing the deepening cooperation between Ukraine and the US/the West, which he views as Russia losing Ukraine.”3

Russia found success early on in the war, surrounding several major Ukrainian cities and catching unsuspecting Ukrainians completely off guard. By March 2, Russia had taken over Kherson and surrounded Mariupol, reaching the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, just nine days later.4 Regardless, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused a US offer to flee, saying, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”5 Valiant comments such as this one are part of the reason why Americans give President Zelenskyy the highest approval rating among international leaders.6 After the early Russian blitz and the initial phase of the invasion slowed, Russia turned to long-range missile strikes which caused substantial damage to Ukrainian military assets, urban residential areas, and communication and transportation infrastructure.7 

In late March, Russia announced they would “reduce military activity” near Kyiv and Chernihiv following a thwarted attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital. Many believe Russia planned to take Kyiv within weeks, but one of the world’s strongest militaries was embarrassingly stopped by the extremely resolute Ukrainian army. With morale very low, Russia began a new phase of the war, beginning to seize and secure control of eastern Ukraine, also called the Donbas region. By May, Russia had finally gained control of Mariupol, a strategic port city that had been under siege for months. Drone footage revealed the brutality of the Russian attack on the city. Most of the infrastructure was reduced to rubble, and a massive humanitarian crisis ensued.8 

Throughout the summer of 2022, Russia used cruise missiles, bombs, cluster munitions, and thermobaric weapons (bombs that use oxygen to create an explosion) in an attempt to take over the eastern regions of Ukraine. In early September, Ukraine tried to seize momentum as it started a major counteroffensive. It was largely triumphant, this time catching the Russian military off guard. Ukraine was able to reclaim a great deal of land in the northeast. Russia still controls much of Ukraine’s southeastern territory, but to the surprise of Russian forces, Ukraine claims to have recovered significant territory in the Kharkiv region.9 

Following these Ukrainian counteroffensives that liberated towns previously under Russian control, several accusations have surfaced regarding heinous acts committed by the Russian soldiers against Ukrainian troops and civilians. These war crime allegations led the United Nations Human Rights Council to set up the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. Erik Møse, head of the commission, said, “Based on the evidence gathered so far during the Commission’s existence … we found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.”10 In addition, United Nations investigators found evidence of bombings in civilian areas, numerous executions, torture, and sexual violence committed by Russian soldiers, stating, “We were struck by a large number of executions and other violations by Russian forces, and the Commission received consistent accounts of torture and ill-treatment.”11

Another concern held by experts around the world regards the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is one of the ten biggest atomic power plants in the world. Russian troops took control of the power station on March 4, Russian engineers were unable to operate Zaporizhzhia due to recent equipment upgrades. In response, Russians held Ukrainian personnel captive in order to operate the plant. Despite the risks of a nuclear disaster, shelling continued around the plant, with both sides blaming each other. Due to major safety concerns, the plant was switched to a “cold shutdown mode” on September 11.12 However, this does not eliminate the risk of a nuclear accident. Like any other nuclear power plant, ​​Zaporizhzhia requires electricity to cool its reactors. If electricity were to be cut, the plant would have to turn to emergency diesel generators; Zaporizhzhia only has enough fuel to sustain the cooling system for ten days.13 To this day, shelling continues around the plant, even as independent agencies have called for nearby fighting to stop.

Recently, following several defeats during the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu revealed plans to enlist 300,000 men with prior military experience to bolster Russia’s invasion.14 The surprise announcement sparked rare anti-war demonstrations across Russia, with arrests taking place across the country due to draft and war-related protests. In addition, more than 200,000 Russians have left their country for Georgia, Kazakhstan, and the European Union in just the first week of the drafting.15 Some believe the draft was another miscalculation by President Putin in a desperate and frenzied attempt to turn the tide of the war.

On October 8, Ukraine made the unpredictable move to blow up the Crimean Bridge, the only bridge connecting Russia and Crimea, which was formerly part of Ukraine but annexed by Russia in 2014. Ukraine did not initially claim responsibility, but the explosion was later revealed to have been a Ukrainian intelligence operation.16 While Ukraine may have harmed Russia strategically, this decision did not come without a cost. Beginning on October 10th, Russia retaliated by launching its most vicious attacks on Ukraine in months, striking military and energy facilities as well as several purely civilian areas during rush hour.17

Over 8 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their country during the war, a number that will only grow as the fighting continues. While the war’s wrath has clearly impacted both armies, it has also affected civilians in countries throughout the world. For example, blockades of Ukrainian grain exports have worsened food shortages in East Africa, adding to an already dire situation and causing mass starvation for over 3 million.18 Before the conflict, Ukraine had been the largest supplier of commodities to the World Food Program, which provides food to vulnerable populations. Since the war started, however, the country has been unable to contribute as much.19 In addition, the war has caused tremendous economic pain by fueling already high inflation in America (over 5,000 miles from the conflict), causing Americans to pay more for anything and everything. Russia also exports crude oil and electricity to places all around the world, but above all, to Europe. In response to the invasion, many countries have stopped using these Russian imports to show support for Ukraine, which has also driven up prices, despite being the morally right thing to do.During a time in history in which authoritarian governments are replacing democracies at growing rates, this war represents more than just the fight for Ukraine: it is a microcosm of the dynamics of the wider world. A dictator-led military superpower previously could not conquer a smaller country without major cause. After 16 straight years of decline in global freedom, these tensions were bound to reach their breaking point.20 And this might be it. We are currently experiencing a crucial time period in human history, and that should be recognized and kept in the back of our minds. So while this war may be half a world away, there are still a multitude of reasons for people at BUA to care, even if they don’t think they are directly affected.







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The New Hybrid Structure of Admissions at BUA

by Anna Augart-Welwood


April 29, 2022

With the exciting return of partially in-person admissions, students have observed the arrival of shadows, tours, and revisit day All-School Meetings. The community is curious about statistics and the admissions process regarding the notable increased interest in BUA. As the school continues to develop and shift to meet the needs of incoming students, helpful insight from Ms. Hakimi and admissions ambassadors addresses the community’s questions.

The incoming freshman class totals fifty-six students, and four new juniors have also been admitted. According to Ms. Hakimi, no new sophomores were admitted with the intent of preserving the “tight-knit and personalized experience for all classes” in the already-large grade. Nearly four hundred students applied to BUA this year, breaking last year’s all-time high. The biggest difference from the all-virtual admissions last year is that the admissions process this year was hybrid. BUA hosted in-person tours and on-campus events, as well as virtual events including Zoom interviews, information sessions, MasterClasses, and other programs. The benefit of the hybrid admissions process was the flexibility that families had to choose the most comfortable and convenient option, whether they were concerned about the coronavirus or found it difficult and time-consuming to travel to many schools. For example, information sessions were hosted in the evenings for families who were unable to take time off work or drive to BUA. However, it was challenging for the admissions team to coordinate two different processes at once, though they worked diligently to provide prospective families with many choices and opportunities. Conducting all interviews over Zoom also comes with an advantage; families can participate in interviews from any location, which fostered greater equality for all applicants. Ms. Hakimi stated that applicant numbers and interest have been increasing for many years, but that the past two years especially have brought dramatic spikes in interest. The hybrid admissions process was a result of Ms. Hakimi’s and the admissions team’s goal “for the process to feel equitable for all families and to provide all the opportunities so that people could choose what they’re most comfortable with.”

Over four hundred families signed up for in-person tours and virtual information sessions this year. Several events were hosted per day between late September and late February. Approximately two to three families attended each tour and three to six were present during information sessions. The large number of events would not have been possible without the admissions team as well as the student ambassadors. One tour guide, Joie Liu ‘23, enjoyed meeting and connecting with various prospective students throughout the year. She believes that “the admissions team did a great job regulating tours to not be too big,” saying, “I was able to talk with every student and family that I gave a tour to.” One of the most gratifying parts of her week was engaging with possible future BUA students. Audrey Xiao ‘23, another tour guide, appreciated meeting families of many varying backgrounds. She observed the large number of prospective students and noted that “BUA’s presence seems to be growing.” With the help of the dedicated admissions ambassadors, BUA provided an engaging insight into the unparalleled student life and outstanding academics of a high school within a large university, prompting many students to apply.

The admissions process at BUA has undergone major adjustments and developments within the last few years as part of the school’s adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many changes, such as Zoom-only interviews, will likely continue into the future. BUA admissions have not been negatively impacted by the pandemic; the resourceful and creative admissions team has thought outside the box to develop new ways to host events. The new hybrid process has allowed more families to explore and consider BUA as an option because of the convenience of virtual events combined with engaging in-person tours. Ms. Hakimi believes that prospective families admire the “academic rigor and opportunities to take classes at BU,” BUA’s “significant resources,” and the “tight-knit community.” Ultimately, the unique opportunities that the school offers as well as the supportive and open students and faculty are what draw students to BUA.

Relic of a Bygone Era: Russia Invades Ukraine

by Matthew Volfson


March 31, 2022

In 1919, a war between the Soviet Union and Poland broke out, as well as a war between the Soviet Union and a short-lived Ukrainian independent state.1 It was the end of World War I, a time of suffering for the world and chaos in Eastern Europe, where a communist Hungarian revolution attempted to take root and Polish nationalists fought off the Germans in Poznan. The newly founded League of Nations was bumbling through it all. Meanwhile, the Americans, British, Japanese, and French were invading Russia, ostensibly backing the Russian imperialists in favor of their own interests. 

2022 is very different from that era. Europe is no longer in a state of chaos. Europeans have learned the consequences of starting two World Wars both in their hearts and minds. However, it does not seem that Putin has a heart and a mind as he seeks to repeat Soviet power plays from that era. In his speech rationalizing Russia’s recognition of the rebel-controlled areas of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, and the movement of his troops into Ukraine on a “peacekeeping mission,” he said that Ukraine was an artificial state created by Lenin in 1922, even though the history of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, far predates that of Moscow.

In spite of the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine and thousands of Ukrainian war casualties, the people of Ukraine have stood up to the challenge. President Volodymyr Zelensky is rallying his people and the nations of the world to condemn this invasion. The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have responded to Zelensky’s call and sent an artillery barrage of sanctions to the open underbelly of the Russian economy.2

The people of Russia have paid a high price for the invasion that many of them did not even want. Russia drafts conscripts aged eighteen to twenty-seven into its army. If this reporter, for example, were in Russia right now, in one year, assuming the conflict lasts for that long, he could be conscripted into the Ukrainian invasion. It is true that Russian forces have captured Kherson, Melitopol, and some other Ukrainian cities.3 However, thousands of Russians are taking to the streets to protest the violence in Ukraine and have been detained for it.4

In addition, these Ukrainian cities have been captured by Russian troops who are low on morale, in the face of a protracted resistance prepared by the citizens against the Russian attack.5 Ukrainians have already begun protesting against Russian occupation. Russia has also not yet captured the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, the two largest in Ukraine, which they initially intended to do so in just a few days.6 There has been documented evidence of Russian conscripts refusing to fight.7 The Russian economy has taken a huge hit; the Moscow stock exchange has dropped so low that it has been forced to close. In addition, there has been reported panic-buying all over Russia, further evidence that the war has punctured Russia hard.

Because of Ukraine’s resolve, the Russians have made little to no progress in recent days. The war has evolved into a stalemate, a humiliation for supposedly the world’s second most powerful military; in comparison, Ukraine isn’t even on the rankings.8,9 This stalemate is mostly due to the fact that the operation was planned very suddenly; Russian soldiers were unaware that they were going to fight on foreign soil right up until the moment the war started. 

In addition to having miscalculated the capacity of his logistics, Putin has badly miscalculated the popular beliefs of Ukrainians and Ukrainian troops. He expected Ukrainians to greet Russian soldiers as liberators when, in fact, the opposite occurred. He expected that it would be the Ukrainian soldiers who would have low morale and decide to overthrow the government when, again, the opposite has happened. Ukrainian soldiers have risked their lives for their government. Morale is higher than ever in Ukraine, and 90% of Ukraine’s people stand behind their president, whom Putin has dismissed as a neo-Nazi, even though Zelensky is a Jew.10,11  

What is even more interesting about Russia’s stalemate status with Ukraine is that in January, analysts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a premier foreign policy center, predicted the whole situation from afar.12 They stated that, from the perspective of morale, Russia’s military establishment, including both soldiers and upper-level management, has been acting similar to the way they acted before the Soviet Union’s botched invasion of Afghanistan in 1989. 

The CSIS article assumes that Russia would struggle even without external aid to Ukraine, not to say that the aid is not important. Maps in the article state that the Russians would most likely roll over the Ukrainians and link with Transnistria, an unrecognized breakaway state on the western border of Ukraine. That currently has not happened, and Russia is struggling even more now that the West has in fact aided Ukraine, just as the US aided Afghan insurgents when the complacent Soviet command invaded the nation all those years ago.

This prediction exposes the Russian process as flawed from the start. Putin didn’t have to get bogged down in this war if he had listened to the experts who predicted Russia’s struggles. Putin’s brash behavior has led to such an invasion, and with this invasion, he has exposed those in the West who support him.13 And also, the PR campaign on Russia’s end has been an absolute disaster; the only thing people in the West have seen is pro-Ukraine post after pro-Ukraine post about this war.14

Because Putin didn’t listen to those who warned him the invasion would be rough and not worth the effort, those who were in his inner cabinet and those tacticians playing out the wargames, he paid the price, which includes the tanking of Russia’s economy, the wavering of support from what has been the superpower most friendly to Russia, China, and another humiliation of the Russian military. It does not seem that Putin has learned from 1989. What happens next is only a guess, but Putin has the end of his reign within the radius of possibility. The war has been a wave of embarrassment for the Russian nation, changing the country and even the world forever. 

1 Kazimierz Maciej Smogorzewski, “Russo-Polish War,” Encyclopædia Britannica,

2 “U.S. Treasury Announces Unprecedented & Expansive Sanctions against Russia, Imposing Swift and Severe Economic Costs,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, February 24, 2022,

3 BBC Visual Journalism Team, “Ukraine War in Maps: Tracking the Russian Invasion,” BBC News, March 25, 2022,

4 RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, “Thousands Detained at Anti-War Protests across Russia,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, March 7, 2022,

5 Jim Garamone, “Russian Forces Invading Ukraine Suffer Low Morale,” U.S. Department of Defense, March 23, 2022,

6 Naveed Jamali, David Brennan, and Tom O’Connor, “Exclusive: U.S. Expects Kyiv’s Fall in Days, Ukraine Source Warns of Encirclement,” Newsweek, February 25, 2022,

7 Niko Vorobyov, “Fearing Front-Line Deployment, Some Russians Resist Conscription,” Al Jazeera, March 18, 2022,

8 Martin Armstrong and Felix Richter, “Infographic: The World’s Most Powerful Militaries,” Statista Infographics, January 14, 2022,

9 Monique Beals, “War in Ukraine at Stalemate, Research Group Concludes,” The Hill, March 20, 2022,

10 Robert Mackey, “Zelensky Posts Defiant Videos from the Streets of Kyiv as Putin’s Forces Close In,” The Intercept, February 26, 2022,

11 Afiq Fitri and Kirstie Canene-Adams, “How President Zelensky’s Approval Ratings Have Surged,” New Statesman, March 1, 2022,

12 Seth G. Jones, “Russia’s Possible Invasion of Ukraine,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 25, 2022,

13 Victor Jack, “Putin’s European Pals Have to Eat Their Words,” Politico, February 26, 2022,

14 Ian Garner, “How Is the War Going for Putin on Social Media? Not Great,” The Washington Post, March 6, 2022,

Russia-Ukraine Crisis: How Will the World React?

by Matthew Volfson


February 25, 2022

After British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, he said, “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British prime minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”1 After a press conference with Joe Biden in 2021, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany stated, “We are cooperating with our allies in NATO and [the European Union], and with the United States, on the question of how to react to this threat to Ukraine that is coming from Russia.”2

At first glance, these quotes seem quite different. The first claims peace when a German autocrat musters preparations for war; the second implicitly pledges that a nation shall work with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to protect Europe from Russian revanchist claims. However, they share striking similarities. Both Chamberlain’s and Scholz’s claims are fragile. Both were and are wishful thinking. Chamberlain thought he could bring to peace a continent preparing for war. Scholz thinks that he can wage war with Russia, in cooperation with NATO, when half of his country depends on Russian gas.3

That’s all well and good, but why focus on Germany? Scholz’s Germany is the nexus of NATO’s European wing against Russia. Germany is the nation with the largest economy in Europe. If Germany stands to lose on crucial energy reserves, NATO’s energy would be sapped, both literally and metaphorically. Germany is a crucial building block for American forces to assemble their full force against the Russians.

Scholz’s claim is fragile, but Russia’s war-making abilities are also severely limited, which bodes well for Scholz, NATO, and Ukraine. If Putin decides to do a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he would most likely have to deal with a protracted guerilla war with Ukrainian insurgents sponsored by Americans, ruining the Russian military and economy. 

 It is more likely that the conflict will be localized and similar to a civil war, where Russian-backed separatists are given more aid by Russia against Ukraine. Brandon Drapeau ‘23 agrees, saying, “[There would be a] much bigger cost for Russia to invade Ukraine than [to invade] Crimea; war would be a detrimental situation for both sides.” Of note, Russian ambitions to invade Ukraine have predated the current conflict: in 2014, Russian troops moved into Crimea with few casualties, successfully invading the peninsula that had been part of Ukraine.4 Russia’s success here was most likely due to the fact that a majority of Crimeans, fifty-eight percent, were ethnically Russian even before the Russian occupation, so they were more likely to welcome Putin.5

It is far from clear that Russia is really preparing for war. Most men in Russia who would be conscripted in the war effort hold favorable views toward Ukraine.6 In addition, Russia is too dependent on gas revenues it makes from European markets, which provide forty percent of the money in Russian coffers.7 The economic tolls for Russia would be high, although Putin would most likely be indifferent to those, as Russia has gone through plenty of recessions and suffering already.8

Even if Putin ignores Russian suffering, invading Ukraine would confirm Russia’s foes’ expectations and constant warnings of attack, which would expose the Russian foreign office’s denial of invasion as a lie and cover-up.9,10 Essentially, the most likely scenario, with the least negative effects on Russia, might be for Putin to increase aid to Russian-speaking regions in Ukraine, though one never really knows what will happen until Putin makes his next move.

1 Patrick Corkery, “Peace for Our Time,” The Irish Times, October 8, 2013,,the%20bottom%20of%20our%20hearts.

2 Quint Forgey, “Germany’s Scholz Warns Russia Would Pay ‘Very High Price’ for Invading Ukraine,” Politico, February 7, 2022,

3 Kate Abnett and Vera Eckert, “Factbox: How Much Does Germany Need Russian Gas?” Reuters, January 20, 2022,

4 Jonathon Cosgrove, “The Russian Invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, 2014-2015,” Johns Hopkins University, 2020,

5 Ivan Katchanovski, “Crimea: People and Territory before and after Annexation,” E-International Relations, June 4, 2016,

6 Victor Jack, “How do young Ukrainians and Russians feel about another war?” Al Jazeera, February 7, 2022,

7 Christophe-Alexandre Paillard, “Russia and Europe’s Mutual Energy Dependence,” Journal of International Affairs 63, no. 2 (2010): 65–84,

8 Marshall I. Goldman, “Russia: A Petrostate in a Time of Worldwide Economic Recession and Political Turmoil,” Social Research 76, no. 1 (2009): 55–70,

9 Vladimir Isachenkov and Yuras Karmanau, “Russia Denies Looking for Pretext to Invade Ukraine,” AP News, January 17, 2022,

10 Caroline Nyce, “The Atlantic Daily: America Sounds the Alarm on Russia-Ukraine,” The Atlantic, January 19, 2022,

A Historical Supreme Court Nomination

by Anna Augart-Welwood


February 25, 2022

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of three liberal justices, is stepping down after serving for twenty-seven years on the Supreme Court. During his time on the Court, Breyer operated with the belief that interpretation of the US Constitution should not be fixed but instead should change with the times, which opposes the ideas of conservative justices who adhere to the intentions of the writers. Breyer stated, “The reason that I do that is because law in general, I think, grows out of communities of people who have some problems they want to solve.” Following Justice Breyer’s retirement, President Joe Biden must nominate someone, whom he has promised will be a black woman, to fill the vacancy.

President Biden’s ideal nominee should be able to persuade members of the court as well as the public and possess legal skill and integrity. Biden says he is heavily considering four candidates, including Judge J. Michelle Childs from South Carolina, Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson, who used to work as a clerk for Justice Breyer, and Justice Leondra R. Kruger, who worked in the Obama administration and currently serves on the Supreme Court of California. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who was present at the meeting in which Biden discussed the nominees, stated that Biden wants “someone in the model of Justice Breyer, someone who will write stirring, compelling, lasting arguments—hopefully in the majority at some point, but probably, in the coming few years, in the dissent.” Biden is planning to reveal his choice by the end of February, after which the nominee must be confirmed.

Nevertheless, the confirmation of a justice is a lengthy process. When there is an open position in the Supreme Court, the President nominates a candidate. The Senate Judiciary Committee then holds a hearing in which the nominee answers questions about their qualifications and beliefs. Then, the Judiciary Committee votes on the nomination and sends its decision to the full Senate. The Senate determines the results of the nomination with fifty-one required votes for or against the nominee, a change implemented in 2017 that allowed Trump to appoint three Justices. In the event of a tie in the nomination, the Vice President will cast the conclusive vote. The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Assuming all Democratic senators vote in favor of the nominee or gain support from some Republican senators, Vice President Kamala Harris will have to break a tie vote. The illness or death of even one Democrat on the Senate could cause the party to lose their majority, and then Biden’s nominee might not be confirmed.

Regardless of whom Biden chooses, the first black female Supreme Court Justice is an important step in diversifying leadership and government in the United States. However, this nomination is only the beginning; there are many qualified black female judges and, hopefully, more will soon be given the chance to serve on the Supreme Court.

Detrow, Scott. “Biden Says He’s Done a ‘Deep Dive’ on 4 Supreme Court Candidates.” NPR, February 10, 2022.

Georgetown Law Library. “Supreme Court Nominations Research Guide: Nomination & Confirmation Process.” Accessed February 18, 2022.

Hulse, Carl. “Here’s Why Republicans Can’t Filibuster President Biden’s Supreme Court Nominee.” The New York Times, January 26, 2022.

Hulse, Carl and Katie Rogers. “Biden, a Veteran of Supreme Court Fights, Ponders His Own Historic Pick.” The New York Times, February 12, 2022.

Williams, Pete. “Justice Stephen Breyer to Retire from Supreme Court, Paving Way for Biden Appointment.” NBC News, January 27, 2022.

As You Like It: Interviews With the Cast and Crew

by Giselle Wu


February 25, 2022

After nearly two years of performing on Zoom, Boston University Academy’s Drama Club has made an in-person return with the winter play! Directed by Mr. Gardiner, BUA’s winter play, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, was performed in the Black Box Theater from January 21 to January 23, 2022. How was this in-person experience for our BUA cast and crew? The following are interviews with members of the BUA cast and crew of As You Like It.

What has it been like to return to doing drama in person? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

It’s been exciting, scary and a relief. I was trained in theater and for me that’s in-person interaction with an audience. We did some performances on Zoom in the past two years, and I was very proud of them, but it’s really a different medium than live theater. It is great to finally be in the same space with my actors and students and return to a way of working that feels more comfortable for me. On the other hand, it’s a struggle to try to rebuild a program after such disruption Covid brought. At the same time, I learned from the ways I had to adapt the program for online or hybrid learning.

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

I’m so glad we got to do it in person! Personally, I love the rush and excitement of the constantly moving parts—the quick changes, props, actor cues, etc. It was also great to see people able to perform in front of an audience and make use of the Black Box space.

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

I participated in the winter play in my freshman year, and it was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had doing drama ever. I found a community of people who were as passionate as me, and it was a new experience that I somehow lacked without knowing [it]. Then, after Covid began and my sophomore year started, I found myself less passionate about the drama exercises we did in class, and learning the winter play was going to be fully online, I [developed] this aversion entirely. I wanted to move my body to words and feel the material in a more sincere way. This year was incredible because I was able to truly explore my role in the winter play, and the emotions I felt at the center of a stage are unmatched.

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

A return to drama in person was awesome! I think that audience participation is truly what makes theater a great work of art. From the point of view of an actor, we need the audience to give us feedback. I really enjoyed being able to have the freedom of acting on a stage again and interacting with the rest of the cast and audience!

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

It was wonderful. It felt good to feel the BUA sense of community return and even through all of the uncertainty with the Omicron spike, it still felt good to put on a show.

How have coronavirus protocols affected drama? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

Covid has affected drama in so many ways! Though I believe an actor needs to use the WHOLE body, it’s an adjustment to overcome how much we rely on facial cues, not only in acting but even in our day-to-day interactions with other people. On stage, we can’t see the actor’s face [when they’re masked], and neither can an actor see their partner and react appropriately to what is being given to them. I have confidence that my actors can rise to the occasion.

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

Masks for the actors was definitely an ongoing question of “How will we make this work?” Basically what we did is use black and white masks to signify the family or “type” of person the actor was portraying. Honestly, for the actors who played multiple characters, and for the two who had characters pretend to be other people, I think the masks might have actually helped. It made it more obvious to the audience that there was a distinction between people. The other thing was the constant worry of having a cast member get Covid right before or during show week. I decided to make everyone get tested everyday for that week and a half, so that we could stay on top of things, had there been any cases. Luckily, there weren’t any during Tech Week or the show!

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

Wearing masks while acting was an experience that was manageable, but it changed the experience entirely. I couldn’t explore every aspect of my role as much as I wanted because of the fatigue I felt wearing a mask. I was sometimes overwhelmed with delivering lines, moving, and simply trying to breathe.

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

The Covid protocols that affected us most were the masking and the seating restriction. I know of many people who couldn’t attend the show because the time that worked for them was fully booked, which made me upset, but it was also understandable why they imposed this rule. The masking also affected us, as the show we were doing was Shakespeare, which is hard to understand even when the audience can see and hear the cast fully. This just imposed a small challenge to us, as actors, to make sure that everyone heard us and understood everything we said.

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

Obviously being masked was annoying, but other than that not much changed. However, this definitely wouldn’t have been possible with last year’s distancing guidelines.

What was your favorite part of the winter play?

Suzie Marcus ‘22, Stage Manager:

My favorite part of the play was the quick changes and the very organized chaos of everything—that’s why I love being stage manager. I also enjoyed greeting the actors once they came off stage and hyping them up in between scenes.

Condredge Currie ‘23, Actor:

My favorite part of the winter play would have to be the cast. We formed a strong bond, and it strengthened our experience overall. Being together and creating those memories and producing a work of art is a unique experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

Michael Bolgov ‘23, Actor:

My favorite part was the community we created in our cast. We all became really close friends throughout this show.

Theo Chitkushev ‘24, Actor:

I really liked seeing the BUA community come together and laugh in the audience, especially during the Friday show!

What are your plans for the spring musical? 

Mr. Gardiner, Director:

We are doing a new musical called ALiEN8. It was written by a group called Ignition Arts, based on interviews with teenagers about issues that resonate with them. It premiered at Drexel University in 2019 and hasn’t been performed since then. We’ll be the first group of high schoolers to present the piece. The action of the play takes place in a small town in the Midwest that has just recovered from a tornado. Out of the storm a mysterious stranger, named 8, appears. People aren’t sure about 8’s gender, backstory, or anything really except that 8 seems to be of high-school age. 8 teaches the students its language, which is based on movement or gesture. Learning the language opens up students and eventually the town to confronting how they dealt with a traumatic incident in the town’s recent history.

Remembering Dr. Formichelli

by Alyssa Ahn


January 27, 2022

Members of the BUA community shared the following stories about Dr. Formichelli (1974-2021) and the impact she had on BUA. 

Amelia Boudreau ‘23:

Dr. Formichelli was my freshman year English teacher, and my freshman and sophomore year advisor, and then my junior year English teacher as well. And even years where I didn’t have her as my English teacher or advisor, I would talk to her in general outside of class. 

It’s really hard to say a favorite memory, because there are so many, but there are a few that come to mind immediately. One is [not long] ago. She stopped by our history class. And while we were looking at the slate pencils from the African-American Meetinghouse, she sat next to me. We were trying to figure out what these slate pencils were, at first, because we weren’t told. And someone was like, “I wonder if they can break.” And she snapped one in half and was like, “They can.” And later when we were presenting what we thought [the slate pencils] were to the group, someone was like, “And then we found out that they can break,” and I was like, “Thanks to somebody in our group,” and I looked at her, and she laughed, really really hard; it was very funny. 

Also, I had talked about this at ASM, but we had had a whole email exchange, a few months or so ago, where we talked about possible fan fiction and merch spinoffs of the books that we’d read together in class, so, things like “If Hester Prynne had an Etsy shop.” We actually later found merch with Scarlet Letters. She printed them out and hung up one of these T-shirt models wearing a black T-shirt with a red Scarlet Letter on the corner, and she wrote, “The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s great-great grandson fulfilling his hereditary role,” or something like that. It was super funny, and it was on her whiteboard until recently. She told me, the next day when I came in for class, after we had had this exchange that involved this merch, “Look Amelia, I hung it up over there so that every time I walk past it I can be reminded of our jokes.” 

And, I remember—this is somewhat less lighthearted, but last year I was having a really tough time in spring semester—I was not sleeping at all, I was also just in a bad headspace in general, and, yeah, it wasn’t good at all for a few months there. And I remember receiving an email from her saying, “Hi Amelia, I was wondering if you’d allow me to meet with you for just ten minutes a week, or it can be longer, not because of how you’re doing as a student—you’re a fine student, but because I want you to know that I’m here for you, and that there’s somebody here that cares and wants to hear whatever you want to share, even if you don’t feel like sharing it, if you’ll just allow me to listen.” I regret it so badly that I didn’t actually accept, because sometimes we get into headspaces where you reject help, in any form, but I went back and reread that, recently, and it just meant a lot, to think of that. She didn’t have to do that at all.

Mr. Kolovos: 

If we were lucky, we all had at least one teacher early in our lives who not only inspired us with their passion for their subject, but who took the time to get to know us at a personal level, see us as individuals, and maybe even recognize more in us than we did in ourselves. Dr. Formichelli was that person for so many BU Academy students. She loved language and literature, but loved working with adolescents even more. She took their ideas seriously, challenged them, and laughed with them. She [is] deeply missed.

Sonya Moo ‘23:

I first met Dr. Formichelli when I had her as my English teacher freshman year. Then I had her again junior year. I always liked to talk to her about gardening and mob shows/movies, which is an odd combination, but those were two interests that we had in common. I know that she was in the process of writing a book in a true-crime style that would’ve been super cool, and she gave me tips on plants that I had at home. She was super cool, and I liked her a lot as a teacher and as a person. 

Madison Ho ‘24: 

The first memory I have of Dr. Formichelli is from freshman orientation. She gathered us all around on Zoom and asked us to share our names and the meaning behind them. She then proceeded to make Quizlets of each one of our names and their meanings so that we could better remember one another. She didn’t have to do it, any of it, but she still did. And that’s what she continued to do throughout the rest of my year with her. During our first remote Wednesday class, Dr. Formichelli’s Wi-Fi cut out for a few minutes. It wasn’t long, but it was all it took for her to come back to the Zoom to find us with all of our names switched. We giggled like the comedians we thought we were and waited for her reaction. She looked around the screen, smiled at our antics, and went right back to teaching. This tradition of remote Wednesday shenanigans continued into the next Wednesday, the Wednesday after that, and all the Wednesdays for the rest of the year. We dressed up as characters from The Odyssey, The Iliad, Raisin in the Sun, Macbeth, Great Expectations, etc. and as our favorite Italian dishes (at Dr. Formichelli’s request). Dr. Formichelli took all of our wild ideas and bad poker faces and cackles in stride and encouraged us to have fun in class. My favorite memory is when we all dressed up as Bob the Minion. Upon joining, Dr. Formichelli surveyed the situation and quickly changed her name to Dr. Bob. She not only cared about us, but also cared about us caring about each other. She cultivated a true sense of community in our own little classroom and had us looking forward to every single class together. The bond and the friendship she nurtured between each of us still lasts today. She was a brilliant teacher who not only helped me [Zooming in all year from California] to grow as a literary student, but also encouraged me to champion the social justice issues I believed in. In such a short time and from three thousand miles away, she shaped the student I have become today, and I’m eternally grateful for her. She was one of the greatest pillars of our community, and her memory will be there with me for the rest of my life. Rest peacefully, Dr. Formichelli. 

At the request of Jennifer’s family, donations in her memory may be made to the MSPCACharles River Alleycats, or to the financial aid program at Boston University Academy. More information about making a gift in Jennifer’s memory can be found at this link.

Unrest in Kazakhstan Prompts Governmental Changes

by Therese Askarbek


January 27, 2022

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich country sparsely populated with just over nineteen million people, has recently undergone major governmental changes in response to recent protests. Earlier this month, on January 2, protests erupted in Zhanaozen, a small town located in western Kazakhstan, before spreading across the country.1 The protests, catalyzed by frustration over the government raising gas and oil prices, intensified because of discontent from Kazakh citizens. In 2011, police shot dead at least fifteen people in Zhanaozen protesting in support of oil workers who were dismissed after a strike.2 Disquiet over continual human rights abuses such as these, corruption, inequity, poor quality of living, and other factors fueled the most violent and large uprisings the country has seen since its separation from the Soviet Union in 1991. To give a picture of Kazakhstan, about a million people are estimated to live below the poverty line.3 The average national monthly salary is less than 450 pounds, about 600 dollars, according to a 2019 report by KPMG, a British-Dutch global professional services network, while 162 people in the country own more than fifty percent of its wealth.4 

The protests quickly spread to other parts of the country, but were mostly focused in the former capital city, Almaty. According to current President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, “About 1300 businesses were affected, more than one hundred shopping centers and banks attacked, and about five hundred police cars burned.”1 Looters and unidentified non-state armed groups emerged among the peaceful protests, with the government claiming these groups have ties to “criminal, extremist, and terrorist networks—homegrown and foreign—though without providing any convincing evidence.”1 They knocked out doors and windows, threw around documents, and destroyed offices. Grocery stores, among other establishments, were looted, leaving many without basic necessities.1 Nurali Kuanyshbaev, a resident of Almaty (and the cousin of this reporter) who flew into Boston from Astana on January 17, had this to say about his experience during the protests: “The first two days, my family and I were very worried. We then moved to our grandparents’ house, which was safer. We rarely went outside, only to the grocery store for necessities. In the beginning, when the protests were peaceful, I supported all the protesters, but not the looters who decided to cash in on the trouble. Most of the people here have not liked or supported the government for a long time.” Many others in Almaty had similar experiences during the protests. They stayed in their houses as the bullets fired outside, and those who couldn’t get to a grocery store shared food with their neighbors. 

The now burned-down Almaty akimat, or government office, has become a symbol of these tragic events, known as Qandy Qantar—Bloody January. After the situation was deescalated, reports surfaced of police wrongly detaining civilians on charges of participation in the violent riots and looting.1 Victims released from detainment claimed they had suffered prolonged interrogation, beating, torture, and pressure to confess. The tactics used to suppress uprisings in Kazakhstan closely resembled those in Belarus: a brutal and swift takedown of peaceful citizens and looters, sowing disinformation, broadly blaming unspecified foreign “terrorists,” and cutting out the internet across the country.5 At the height of the unrest, Tokayev said he had ordered troops to shoot to kill protesters without warning. The official death toll is 225, with nearly ten thousand detained. The authorities have justified their response by putting responsibility for the protests on both foreign and domestic “bandits and terrorists.”

A peaceful protester, Sergey Shutov, was arrested on January 11 after attending protests in the city of Atirau. He claimed security services brought him to a gym on the outskirts of town and repeatedly beat him and dozens of others. “I begged them to stop kicking me. I had to promise I would never join a meeting again,” Shutov said. A veteran opposition activist, Aset Abishev, said, “There is no way back for Tokayev. The people of Kazakhstan have seen what this regime is capable of. He has blood on his hands.”6 Along with the President announcing an order for state police to shoot to kill without warning, the state used water cannons, tear gas, and flashlight grenades against civilians. Those who stayed after signs of escalation were caught in the crossfire between the police, who used both rubber and regular bullets, and non-state armed groups on the night from January 4 to January 5. The government still has not released the names of the deceased civilians, despite civil activists’ demands.1 A senior aide to Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general said that 3,337 offenders were released while over a thousand people were currently under arrest.4

In response to the uprisings, Tokayev attempted to pacify the crowds by dismissing former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, taking over his position as chairman of the National Security Council, and naming a new prime minister and government. He fired and detained Karim Massimov, head of security services, and an official who worked under Nazarbayev. Several other officials related to Nazarbaev, such as his nephew, also were removed from their high positions.7 Many protesters demanded that Nazarbaev be removed from power, who resigned from his post in 2019 but still is considered by citizens and outsiders to be controlling the government and, in tandem, Tokayev.8 Many seem to think that Tokayev’s decision to take Nazarbaev’s position was a move to safeguard Nazarbaev’s legacy and keep him close to power.4 

In any case, Tokayev’s attempt to appease the public wasn’t effective enough, so he switched tactics by describing the demonstrators as terrorists. He then brought in the Russian Collective Security Treaty Organization, which includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, to send “peacekeeping forces” to Kazakhstan “to stabilize and normalize the situation,” according to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.2,9 Approximately three thousand Russian soldiers were deployed, alongside some five hundred troops from Belarus, one hundred Armenians, two hundred Tajiks, and one hundred fifty Kyrgyz, to conduct the “counter-terrorist operation,” as described on Twitter by Tokayev.10 He also rejected calls from the international community, including the United Nations and the United States, to resolve the crisis peacefully, saying it was not possible to negotiate with parties he described as “armed and trained bandits, both local and foreign.”9 The Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, made an official visit to Kazakhstan in May of 2019, including regions of Aktau and Almaty where the protests emerged. According to her, Kazakhstan’s overly broad use of the word “terrorism” in this context against protesters, civil society activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and political parties aimed at instilling fear was deeply concerning. Several other experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council echoed her sentiments.11

In very recent news, before Tokayev removed the rights of a private recycling monopoly linked to Nazarbaev’s daughter Aliya, he made his first ever public criticism of Nazarbaev, saying last week that under his predecessor’s leadership, many lucrative businesses and extremely rich people had appeared in Kazakhstan and that it was now time for the ordinary people to receive what they deserved.4,12 Numerous political analysts are not surprised by Tokayev’s moves to dismantle Nazarbaev’s power monopoly, as they have claimed that Tokayev has been trying to get out from under the control of Nazarbaev since his own instatement.7 Nazarbaev, who seemed to disappear during the protests, finally reappeared in a video address on Tuesday, in which he claimed, “In 2019 I handed over my powers to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and since then I am a pensioner. I am currently taking deserved rest in the capital of Kazakhstan and I have not gone anywhere,” in response to rumors that he had fled Kazakhstan.13

Now, weeks after the height of the protests, there are some political uncertainties within and outside of the country. Russia’s involvement and Putin’s interests are making political analysts and commentators uneasy, and citizens are still reeling from the death and destruction that this situation has left in its wake.14 Many are looking for their loved ones who are still unaccounted for and begging the government for answers.

If you’re looking for ways to help, supporting local activists, demanding accountability, and donating to fundraisers are just a few ways to support those affected. I recommend the following three fundraisers: Stand with Kazakhstan, Dollar-for-dollar donation initiative to help civilians in Almaty and other regions of Kazakhstan to recover from the aftermath of social unrest and the ensuing chaos, and Aid for those affected in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

1 Akbota Karibayeva, “Kazakhstan’s Unrest Leaves Behind a Traumatized Society,” Foreign Policy, January 19, 2022,

2 “What’s behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan,” AP News, January 6, 2022,

3 Gareth Jones, “From stability to turmoil – what’s going on in Kazakhstan,” Reuters, January 8, 2022,

4 Pjotr Sauer, “‘His Family Robbed The Country’: personality cult of ex-Kazakh leader crumbles,” The Guardian, January 20, 2022,

5 Michael Bociurkiw, “For Putin Kazakhstan is a domino too big to fall,” CNN, January 17, 2022,

6 Pjotr Sauer, “As the Dust Settles on Kazakhstan’s Unrest, Reports of Torture and Violence Surface,” The Moscow Times, January 19, 2022,

7 Rachel Pannett, “Kazakhstan’s ‘father of the nation’ resurfaces, says he’s retired after Russian intervention in bloody unrest,” The Washington Post, January 19, 2022,

8 Shaun Walker, “Poverty, inequality and corruption: why Kazakhstan’s former leader is no longer untouchable,” The Guardian, January 5, 2022,

9 Helen Regan, “Kazakhstan is in turmoil and regional troops have been sent to quell unrest. Here’s what you need to know,” CNN, January 7, 2022,

10 Matt Cavanaugh and Jahara Matisek, “Little Blue Helmets in Kazakhstan,” The Diplomat, January 19, 2022,

11 Atul Alexander, “Kazakhstan Crisis: Has International Human Rights Law anything to offer?” The Leaflet, January 19, 2022,

12 RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, “Kazakh President Replaces Defense Minister, Parliament Removes Nazarbayev From Lifetime Posts,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, January 19, 2022,

13 Shaun Walker, “‘I have not gone anywhere’: former Kazakh leader denies fleeing country,” The Guardian, January 18, 2022,

14 Shaun Walker, “As order is restored in Kazakhstan, its future remains murky,” The Guardian, January 8, 2022,

Rebranding Facebook

by Anna Augart-Welwood


November 23, 2021

Facebook is a popular social media platform that has grown and succeeded for almost two decades. The company recently initiated a rebranding and announced the company’s new name, Meta. The CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, wants to add an element of augmented reality to his company. People will be able to do things such as playing games, seeing concerts, and attending work meetings, all through the use of virtual reality.

During Facebook Connect, the company’s virtual event, Zuckerberg said, “It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything we do.” It’s possible, however, that Zuckerberg is employing a tactic many other business leaders use: altering the external appearance of a company to reposition their values in the eyes of users. Some believe that Zuckerberg initiated the rebranding of Facebook to distract people from the recent criticism of the platform; he introduced Meta without any significant change to the company. Another possible reason for the rebranding is that Facebook’s main demographic includes older people, and the platform is losing younger users to more popular apps, such as TikTok. If Facebook’s “metaverse” becomes popular among younger generations, it could fix their impending financial crisis from loss of users. This metaverse (a term originally coined by cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson in 1992) could also fix another problem currently facing the company, namely that Facebook’s mobile apps are dependent on Apple and Google, which limits the company’s ability to collect data about the mobile activity of its users. The metaverse could allow the company to obtain data from users who spend more time on Facebook-owned platforms.

Frances Haugen, a former data scientist at Facebook, has spoken out about the unethical practices of the company. She studied how Facebook’s algorithm contributed to the spread of misinformation and told Congress that Facebook maximizes its growth instead of implementing safeguards on its platforms. Before leaving the company, Haugen copied thousands of pages of confidential information and published and shared them with lawmakers. One of the studies she leaked found that 13.5% of teenage girls from the United Kingdom experienced more frequent suicidal thoughts after using Instagram. Another study showed that 17% of teenage girls said their eating disorders got worse after using the platform, and about 32% of teenage girls reported feeling worse about their bodies after using Instagram. Haugen told Congress, “During my time at Facebook, I came to realize a devastating truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook. The company intentionally hides vital information from the public, from the US government, and from governments around the world.” Haugen’s legal team stated that Facebook executives misrepresented information about the capacity of Facebook and Instagram to cause harm to its uninformed users. Moreover, Haugen’s attorneys accused Facebook of violating US security laws by lying to investors. They have also filed eight complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding Facebook’s public statements on what they knew about how the organizers of the January 6 Capitol riot used their platform.

Considering that BUA students are teenagers and many use Instagram, we should be careful, informed, and educated about the types of content we allow to impact us. BUA students are among the age groups most affected by toxic content on Instagram, and this issue could continue to prevail if Zuckerberg’s metaverse distracts people enough from their harmful practices. The rebranding may be merely an attempt to shift the objective of the company and a method of escape from the exposure of their dark secrets and possible financial demise.

Allyn, Bobby. “Here are 4 key points from the Facebook whistleblower’s testimony on Capitol Hill.” NPR, October 5, 2021.

Lee Yohn, Denise. “Facebook’s Rebrand Has a Fundamental Problem.” Harvard Business Review, November 2, 2021.

Roose, Kevin. “The Metaverse is Mark Zuckerberg’s Escape Hatch.” The New York Times, October 29, 2021.

US Relations With Afghanistan: What Happened?

by Therese Askarbek


October 30, 2021

On August 30, 2021, the last of the US troops departed from Kabul International Airport, marking the end of the twenty-year “War on Terror” between the US and Afghanistan. After the peace deal between former President Trump and the Taliban in February 2020, President Biden finally decided to pull the American troops out. In a press conference days after, he explained the motives behind his decision, saying that: “After twenty years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces…We gave [the Afghans] every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.” Biden’s hasty move, criticized by many journalists and politicians, left the citizens of Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban, who rapidly took over the country after the removal of American troops. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia, are committing the same abuses they have been committing for decades. They are known for their harsh punishments, from chopping the hands off convicted thieves, to floggings for adultery, to even public executions for convicted murderers. Women especially have been targeted and repressed by the Taliban. They have been forcibly married, not allowed out of the house without a male escort, denied the right to an education, and forced to wear a hijab. The list goes on. The future of Afghanistan, now that the US has cut off military and most monetary support, is being disputed among many, but as of now, it is clear that a humanitarian rights crisis is unfolding. To truly understand why this crisis is unfolding and what the US has to do with it, it is necessary to know the history of Afghanistan, and more specifically, our history with Afghanistan.  

In the mid-nineteenth century, Afghanistan was caught in a power dispute known as “The Great Game” between Britain and Russia. Britain suffered a defeat in its first war with Afghanistan in 1842 but eventually gained much of Afghanistan’s territory by the 1860s. Britain gained control over the Afghan rulers and gave subsidies and weapons to them until 1921, when Afghanistan regained its political control. It is important to note that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, what we know as the modern state of Afghanistan was conceived. That can be attributed to Abdur Rahman Khan, the emir of Afghanistan, who created a centralized government and bureaucracy through tactics such as brutal internal wars, forced mass migrations, and economic incentives. He built a state where Pashtuns, the current largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, had authority, and where the only interpretation of Islam allowed was Sunni Islam. He passed his power to his son, Habib Allah, who began to establish more progressive policies. But generally, the monarchy remained more or less the same. 

In contrast to Khan’s conservatism, the vision of Afghanistan as a “multinational state with a progressive outlook on science and technology” found an advocate in an important Afghan figure, Mahmud Tarzi, who was previously exiled and brought back in the 1930s. Tarzi’s lifelong goal was to modernize the country within inclusive and progressive Islam. The failure of his reforms is largely attributed to British policies, although the largely illiterate and rural masses and the conservative elite and clergy are acknowledged as major contributors as well. The importance of Tarzi’s ideals and actions with his group of supporters is that they provide somewhat of a precedent for possible future progressivism in Afghanistan. To acknowledge the efforts of Afghans, hindered by world powers throughout their history to reform their ideals and policies, is to deconstruct the misconceptions we may have about Islam in the Middle East, and to reflect on the culpability of foreign occupations and interventions. 

The monarchical system in Afghanistan remained until the 1970s, during which time Mohammed Dauod Khan, attempted to modernize Afghanistan. Khan became the first president of Afghanistan. The USSR and the US were both trying to become involved with Afghanistan through building infrastructures and agriculture which funneled money to both superpowers during the 1950s and 1960s. Soviet imperialism over Afghanistan and the USSR’s invasion in the 1970s caused a lot of political unrest, in which Afghan guerrillas gained control of rural areas, and Soviet troops held urban areas. In 1978, Khan was overthrown by the PDPA, a Marxist-Leninist party, and the US began to fund and train anti-communist groups, the mujahideen. The US made a major misstep in supporting extremely reactionary groups without truly understanding how to deal with the conflict. They brought in Arab mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, who went on to form Al-Qaeda. Throughout this conflict, the US funded Pakistan, who, if indirectly, funded the foreign fighters allied with the mujahideen. In the 1980s, the Soviet puppet government was toppled, and in 1989, the Geneva Peace Accords were signed, stating that all Soviet troops were to leave Afghanistan. Both the US and the USSR mostly pulled out and stopped their funding to Afghanistan, and the country fell into chaos, with rival Afghan groups fighting for power. The US completely withdrew from the fighters it had trained and supported, similar to what has happened recently, and the resulting civil war led to the birth of the Taliban.  

In the 1990s, former mujahideen, many of whom were students disillusioned with the results of their victory, created a group called the Taliban, which took advantage of the war-torn state of Afghanistan and the weariness of its citizens by promising peace. They took over Kandahar first in 1994, and eventually the entire country. During this time, a new “Great Game,” a name revived by some journalists, arose. The West had a sudden strong interest in the Central Asia region because of its oil resources. A large American oil company, Unocal, had negotiated with the Taliban to create an oil pipeline running from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The Bush administration ignored the United Nation sanctions against the Taliban, and Unocal began the process of making the pipeline. The US wasn’t very interested in the atrocities being committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban until the attacks of September 11, 2001. The US, hoping to gain security of the pipelines through the Taliban, allowed Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Taliban and had not condemned them until the War on Terror. In fact, one of the early foreign mujaheed fighters funded and trained by the US was Osama bin Laden, who created the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

The Northern Alliance, an Afghan group who arose during the instability of the 1990s, backed by the US government, overthrew the Taliban in 2001. The US spent over five trillion dollars in the war with Afghanistan, and because they had little idea about how to instate a democratic government, most of the money fell into the hands of corrupt people, such as warlords. Now, the US has frozen the monetary assets in Afghanistan so as not to let it fall into the wrong hands. 

Throughout the US’ “War on Terror,” a main criticism has been their constant bombings, or at least lack of precision in their drone attacks. Starting in 1998, after suspecting that Bin Laden had been responsible for the attack in the East African US Embassy, the US sent about seventy cruise missiles to three suspected training camps, and ended up killing twenty-four people. Although Osama bin Laden was not killed, a nightwatchman was. The justification for the bombings has been called questionable. This pattern of bombings, drone strikes, and violence committed by the US continued for the next twenty years. In 2012, for instance, President Hamid Karzai called for American forces to leave Afghan villages and pull back to their bases after a US soldier killed sixteen Afghan civilians inside their homes. Though President Biden has withdrawn US troops and said that he will uphold the peace treaty, he is still planning to use the Air Force to “degrade the terrorists,” which can be inferred to mean drone warfare. 

Currently, aside from sending money directly through humanitarian aid groups, the means taken by the Biden administration are considered by many to be ineffective in safely helping Afghan refugees seek asylum here. Afghan refugees are allowed to come to America, but only on their own without the help of the US. This poses a problem, as they cannot safely get through Kabul Airport, which is now under Taliban control, and many do not have access to the internet. “The United States owes a unique duty to the people of Afghanistan given not only the events of the last year, but the last few decades in the region,” said Wogai Mohmand, an attorney for the Afghan Network for Advocacy and Resources Project. “The least our government can do is act in good faith in responding to this community-led effort to provide critical support to Afghans.” Many are hoping that the proposals and policies in the works to aid refugees will be approved by the government and that as many Afghans as possible can find refuge. 

From the Nixon administration, to Reagan, to Bush, to the Biden administration, and more, there have been many instances of unwanted foreign intervention, careless slip-ups, and unnecessary violence on the part of the US. Now, as the future of Afghanistan and Afghans is so uncertain, it is important for us to reflect on our past mistakes so that we do not make them again. Effort on our part is vital. From listening to and supporting Afghan activists and journalists, to actively spreading awareness, to donating to relief organizations, to making sure the government does its part, there are many ways for us to help make Tarzi’s progressive visions a reality.

“A Brief History of Afghanistan.” New Internationalist, November 2, 2008.

“Backgrounder on Afghanistan: History of the War.” Human Rights Watch.

Block, Hannah. “A Look At Afghanistan’s 40 Years Of Crisis — From The Soviet War To Taliban Recapture.” NPR, August 13, 2021.

Brechenmacher, Saskia. “Afghanistan Under the Taliban.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 18, 2021.

Ching, Nike. “Blinken: US Will Not Lift Sanctions, Will Ensure Aid to Afghans.” VOA, September 14, 2021.

de Groot, Kristen. “Afghanistan’s future after the U.S. withdrawal.” Penn Today, September 16, 2021.

Franck, Thomas. “U.S. won’t let Taliban access Afghanistan’s financial assets held in America.” CNBC, August 18, 2021.

Gammage, Jeff. “Groups say Biden administration not helping their effort to get endangered Afghans out of Afghanistan.” The Philadelphia Enquirer, October 21, 2021.

Lee, Matthew and Tucker, Erik. “Was Biden handcuffed by Trump’s Taliban deal in Doha?” AP News, August 19, 2021.

News Desk, “A Historical Timeline of Afghanistan.” PBS News Hour, August 30, 2021.

Stewart, Emily. “The history of US intervention in Afghanistan, from the Cold War to 9/11.” Vox, August 21, 2021.

Synovitz, Ron. “Public Executions, Floggings ‘Inevitable’ Under Taliban Court Rulings, Says Scholar.” Ganhara, September 8, 2021.

Tarzi, Amin. “Transformative politics in 20th century Afghanistan: Lessons for today.” Conciliation Resources, June 2018.

The Associated Press, “Taliban Official Says Strict Punishment And Executions Will Return.” NPR, September 24, 2021.

Thomas, K.T. “The Economic Roots of US Intervention in Afghanistan.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 68, no. 2 (2007): 1215-1224.

Wilkie, Christina and Macias, Amanda. “Biden says Afghanistan war was a lost cause, vows to continue aid and diplomacy.” CNBC, August 16, 2021.

Zill, Oriana. “The Controversial U.S. Retaliatory Missile Strikes.” PBS Frontline

Zucchino, David. “The U.S. War in Afghanistan: How It Started, and How It Ended.” The New York Times, October 7, 2021.