WASHINGTON - Boyhood friends of Alexandros Petersen used to tease him that he was born a century or two late, because he was at heart a gentleman explorer in the grand tradition of Lawrence of Arabia.
A scholar of Central Asia, Petersen was by all accounts living out his dream when he accepted a job teaching political science at the American University of Afghanistan. He left Washington, his home base when he wasn't traveling the world researching energy geopolitics, for Kabul this month.
Petersen was among 21 people, including three Americans, who were killed Jan. 17 during a suicide attack attributed to the Taliban at a restaurant popular with foreigners. He was 29 and had been in the country just a week.
Friends from Georgetown Day School, where he graduated in 2003, and from think tanks where he published scholarly articles are reeling at the loss of a man who, while still in his 20s, was building an international reputation for his knowledge of lands once in the orbit of the former Soviet Union. And judging from photos he sent home of himself jubilantly astride a horse somewhere on a plain in China, he was clearly having a ball doing it.
"He knew exactly what he wanted to be doing," said Justin Parker, his best friend since elementary school and a fellow member of a punk rock band they formed in high school, the A.K.s. "Part of his dream was being out there, traveling a lot and making a difference."
Petersen's specialty was pipeline politics, analyzing the nexus between energy production and politics in Central Asia.
"His fundamental view was that if the countries of the Caucasus, of Central Asia, could find a way to get their energy to Western markets, it would strengthen their own sovereignty and independence, by making them less dependent on Moscow," said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, where Petersen was once a fellow for transatlantic energy security and associate director of the council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.
At the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he was a scholar and an adviser on energy security issues, Petersen wrote a blog examining China's growing influence in Central Asia. His insights stood out for his personal observations made on numerous trips to the region.