Independent Balkan News Agency

Ohrid minaret change-of-height plans upset locals

Ohrid minaret change-of-height plans upset locals
Not very many or none at all would deny that Ohrid is one of the most beautiful and serene cities in the Balkans. Kind  locals who welcome visitors warmly, stunning views, superb food, history, exceptional architecture, lots of kiwi plants, especially on the way up to Samuel's Fortress, the unique and very old Ohrid lake, bearing the city's name, -being the natural border between Albania and fYROMacedonia- which has been the protagonist of the local  song culture but, perhaps above all, it is one of the melting pot cities (of the wider Balkan region). Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully and respect one another. A co-existence that has been used by politicians from the Balkans and abroad and experienced its nadir immediately after the breakup of former Yugoslavia.

Anything that happens, disrupting the equilibrium this society found in the post '90s decades, is upsetting the people deep down, particularly so if the issue is connected with religion.

"Ohrid’s 16th-century Ali Pasha Mosque has been discretely hidden from view, in the heart of the Macedonian resort town's old bazaar", tells us BIRN and explains: "Not for much longer, however, if a planned restoration of the mosque and its minaret is followed through."

However, as the civic association "Sovest" ("conscience") has demanded any kind of plans for such a construction that would alter the mosque's image should be stopped and accuse "the authorities of trying to push through the erection of a tall minaret almost overnight and without a proper debate."

Photo (Library): Lida Filippakis

"We want all the architects involved in this case to explain from an architectural, cultural and social aspect, whether Ohrid needs such a construction. We are convinced that there is no place here for such a minaret, and are prepared to confront with our arguments those who are hiding behind the institutions," declared the association.

Due to the present majority of fYROMacedonian Orthodox Christians in the city, a local specialist and Ohrid resident, Goce Zura who cares much more than anyone else about the wellbeing of his community, "urged the authorities to reveal all the plans and to put them out for public debate before construction starts and endangers traditionally good inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations." Zura is a well-known and respected art historian.

The restoration project looms on the horizon as its funding creates more speculation around its construction, making it a non-merely-urban "irregularity", totally unneeded in the (centre of the) city, as many locals say.

Speaking to Makfax news portal on Sunday, November 26, Zura said "We have lived together in Ohrid for centuries, despite different confessions and nationalities, and we should not allow something to spoil that now."

A few lines dedicated to Ohrid

Once upon a time, Ohrid used to be referred to as a "Jerusalem of the Balkans", the city with the 365 churches, one for each day of the year.

Based on the 2002 census, the city is ethnically composed of fYROMacedonians, Albanians, Turks and 7.2% of others. Through the centuries, Ohrid has been inhabited by Muslims, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Vlachs, Romani people and, among others, Muslim and Christian Albanians.

Because of the armed conflict, to a large degree among Muslim ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces, civilians and soldiers were killed and sacred sites, like Orthodox churches and mosques were partially destroyed, burnt down or flattened.

From an official point of view, bloody armed ethnic enmities ended with the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement of August 13, 2001.

Photo: Annex of Ohrid AgreementWikipedia/

The rights of ethnic Albanians thus became more and "provisions for altering the official languages of the country, with any language spoken by over 20% of the population becoming co-official with the Macedonian language on municipal level" were made. "Currently only Albanian with an approximate 25% of the population fulfils this criterion.".../IBNA

Photo: mapio.net

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