Balzer M.M.

                                                                                              Georgetown University

                                      Alexei Ivanchukov The Generous


            An alert and striking Alexei Ivanchukov was in the audience at a Kennan Institute (Washington D.C.) talk by Mongolian historians many years ago, well before Chingis Khan was named Man of the Millennium by Time magazine.  I vaguely recall that the historians from Ulan-Bator startled their audience by arguing that Chingis Khan had acted defensively in many of his relations with his neighbors, even as he expanded his empire.  After the talk, Alexei and I compared impressions and began a lasting friendship over mutual interests.  His biography was fascinating: a Kalmyk Mongol and Buddhist elder who grew up in Eastern Europe and later became a U. S. citizen, serving as an officer in the U. S. army.  By the height of perestroika, I had come to rely on Alexei when friends from various Russian republics began visiting Washington.  He was always ready to help, with rides, hospitality and cheerfulness.

            With this background, I should not have been surprised (but I was anyway) when I learned we shared a very special mutual friend: Elza-Bair Guchinova.  “A young, Kalmyk ethnographer is coming to work with me at Georgetown on a Fulbright grant,” I enthused to Alexei one day in the early1990s. “What is her name?” he asked, and I could tell he was smiling even over the phone.  He already knew.  When I heard they were distant cousins, and that he’d already invited her to stay with him until she could find her own housing, I just laughed.  As soon as we realized that she was coming in on Thanksgiving Day, Alexei came through again.  He would pick her up at the airport and take her straight to our extended family celebration.  (She was not permitted the luxury of jet lag.)  It was one of our most memorable Thanksgivings.

            Over the years, I learned that Alexei is an excellent dancer, an interesting raconteur, and a font of resources.  Once he drove my Russian colleague Natasha Zhukovskaia all the way to his New Jersey Gelugpa Buddhist community, on very short notice after she mentioned she had always wanted to see their monastery.  Once he helped me entertain visiting Buryats by inviting us all to his rather impressive officer’s club.  Once we toured the Smithsonian  museums with Sakha (Yakut) and Tuvan guests, grateful for his generous time.  Once he organized a panel for the Mongolian Society, finding the talented filmmaker Anya Bernstein, who I subsequently recommended as an anthropology doctoral student at NYU.  By Fall, 2007, when a visiting Buryat colleague told me she had heard of a Buddhist festival at a monastery outside Washington, D.C., I knew what to do.  I called Alexei.  He suggested we go to the monastery complex in Poolesville, Maryland and soon we were on our way in his car.  As usual –  always ready to help, with rides, hospitality and cheerfulness.

Many thanks, Alexei.  Too many to remember.  And Happy Birthday!