Ambassador from Kosovo: Who Is Akan Ismaili?
Saturday, June 02, 2012
The ambassador from the new Balkan nation of Kosovo is, at 38 years of age, a leading representative of the generation of Kosovars who came of age during the autonomy and independence struggles against Serbia during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A tech-savvy telecom activist and executive who brought the Internet to Kosovo, Akan Ismaili was appointed as Kosovo’s second ambassador to Washington in April and presented his credentials to President Obama on May 2, 2012. In light of the pivotal role the U.S. played in establishing Kosovo’s independence during the late 1990s, this appointment may be the most important diplomatic post to Kosovo foreign policy.
Born circa 1974 in Kosovo, Ismaili began his undergraduate studies in computer science at the University of Pristina in 1992, at a time Serbia was trying to curb growing Kosovar nationalism by, among other steps, banning the use of the Albanian language, which Kosovars predominantly speak. As a result, the public school system, including the universities, split into two linguistically separate systems, although the Serbian government regularly harassed the Albanian-speaking system.
Ismaili withdrew from studies in 1994 to setup the first e-mail server in Pristina, which played a key role in helping the opposition organize against the Serbian regime. In the mid-1990s, Ismaili managed IT infrastructure for the U.S. consulate in Pristina. When the war of 1998-1999 started in Kosovo and the U.S. became involved in diplomatic negotiations, Ismaili served as a translator for U.S. diplomats. Before the NATO bombing of Kosovo began, Ismaili was evacuated to Vienna, where he led a team translating and distributing U.S. government information to the Albanian-language media in the region and at refugee camps.
Immediately after the NATO bombing ended in June 1999 with a victory for the Kosovars and the exit of Serbian forces from Kosovo, Ismaili co-founded Internet Project Kosovo (IPKO), a non-profit which has been credited with bringing the internet to Kosovo. In the beginning, IPKO used a satellite dish that had been donated to a refugee camp in Macedonia. “It was the most emotional moment of my life,” Ismaili later recalled. “Everybody was so excited to be part of the revolution that was happening after the Serbs left and there was no more oppression.”
In 2001, IPKO split into two entities: the for-profit IPKOnet and the non-profit IPKO Foundation. Ismaili served as CEO of IPKOnet, which provides access to broadband, mobile, fixed telephone and television in Kosovo, until it was taken over by Telekom Slovenije, a Slovenian telecom company.
During the same time, Ismaili co-founded the American University Foundation in Kosovo, which is raising funds to establish an American-style university in Kosovo. To date, the foundation has raised more than $8 million, which it has used for programs in conjunction with the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Ismaili is married and has children.
Wiring Up Kosovo (by Akan Ismaili, Advocacy Project)
Balkans Online: In the trenches with the warriors fighting one of the nastiest information wars of the late 20th century (by Masha Gessen, Wired)
Rebuilding the Web in Kosovo’s Ashes (by Deborah Shapley, New York Times)
Kosovo 2.0 (by Verena Ringler)
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