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News 15 Jan 14

Top Macedonian Muslim Warns Against Joining Syrian War

The head of the Islamic Religious Community in Macedonia, IVZ, has warned Muslims in the country not to get involved in the sectarian conflict raging in Syria.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic BIRN Skopje

IVZ head, Sulejman Rexhepi

Following reports of the deaths of several Macedonian Albanians in Syria, the head of the IVZ, Sulejman Rexhepi, said the Syrian conflict was an internal issue in which Macedonian Muslims have no place.

“Ever since this phenomenon [of Macedonian Albanians joining Syrian fighters] appeared, we have been against it,” Rexhepi told Radio Free Europe.

“There is terror going on there between brothers and I do not see what is the point now of helping one side against the other,” he added.

Another Macedonian Albanian was reported this week to have died in the fighting in Syria, bringing the total number of Macedonian citizens killed there to at least five.

Alim Osmani, 22, from Skopje, was reported to have died while fighting with a rebel group against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Although no official numbers exist, some estimate that up to several hundred people from Macedonia, and many more from the Balkan region, have joined the Syrian rebels.

“The explanation is that they go there out of solidarity with the Syrian people who want to liberate themselves from one of the worst dictatorships ever seen,” Rexhepi said.

However, he said he also suspected that other motives were luring some Macedonians into the fighting in the Middle East.

"We are not sure whether there are different motives or interests, we can only guess, because we have no facts and arguments,” he commented.

Muslims, who are predominantly ethnic Albanians, form the second largest religious community in Macedonia after Orthodox Christians.

Macedonian law forbids citizens from taking part in foreign paramilitary formations. If evidence is found that some of them have fought in Syria, they could face trial.

However, experts have suggested that the bulk of Balkan fighters in the Syrian conflict are being recruited in Western Europe, and are reaching the country through Turkey.

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