The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last month for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”
Peter Zmiyarch, originally from Saugerties, works for the organization as assistant head of operations security. He works at the Hague and has lived in the Netherlands for 18 years.
“The surprise announcement that we won the Nobel Peace Prize boosted everyone’s spirits and morale,” said Zmiyarch. “It feels great to win, because the last few months has been like flying the airplane as we design and build it. No one has done what we are doing, and as I am sure you can imagine, it has not been easy.”
Zmiyarch said the award encompasses the work of the 2,000 people who have served the organization since its founding 17 years ago.
In its announcement, the prize committee made reference to the situation in Syria. “Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] was created in 1997 following the Chemical Weapons Convention, at which 190 countries agreed to phase out chemical weapons. Notable signatories that have not yet destroyed their stockpiles include Russia and the U.S.
Zmiyarch attended St. Mary of the Snow Elementary School and graduated Saugerties High School in 1983. He joined the Marine Corps and served eight years, achieving the rank of sergeant. He was part of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and was decorated for personal leadership and professional achievements during combat in Iraq.
He joined the U.N. in 1994 and moved to The Hague in 1995 when the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was created. He joined the OPCW in 2007 to have more time with his family.
His job consists of running courses for “inspectors and other key personnel” who will be working in hostile places like Syria, Libya and Iraq. Topics include hostage survival, convoy procedures, reaction to indirect and direct fire, medevac procedures, communications and an intelligence briefing on the area of operation. “We try to empower them with [these] skills so they can approach complex situations in hostile environments,” said Zmiyarch.
At headquarters, his duties consist of managing day-to-day security, including emergency response and crisis management. “On any day I can be working on organizing a large conference, head of state or VIP visit,” he said.
Zmiyarch’s wife Evelien is Dutch. The couple have three kids: Lana, 7, Noah, 6, and Owen, 3.
Reached while in Washington D.C., he said he tries to get back to the U.S. once or twice a year, and visits Saugerties about once a year.
Saugerties Superintendent of Schools Seth Turner mentioned Zmiyarch at the November School Board meeting
“We’ve got to be the only school district in existence that can claim a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner [Roger Donlon, the first soldier to receive that award in Vietnam].”