News 28 Nov 17

Tempers Rise in Macedonian Resort Over Tall Minaret

Some of the residents of Ohrid, a Macedonian lakeside resort famous for its ancient churches, are up in arms about a plan to plant a 32 metre-high minaret over a restored mosque.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Ohrid’s 16th-century Ali Pasha Mosque. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Alboholic.

For decades, Ohrid’s 16th-century Ali Pasha Mosque has been discretely hidden from view, in the heart of the Macedonian resort town's old bazaar.

Not for much longer, however, if a planned restoration of the mosque and its minaret is followed through.

A newly formed civic association, “Sovest” ["conscience"] has demanded an immediate stop to the preparatory work for the reconstruction, accusing the authorities of trying to push through the erection of a tall minaret almost overnight and without a proper debate.

“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,” the association said.

The majority of Ohrid residents are ethnic Macedonian Orthodox Christians. However, a significant minority of Muslim Turks, Albanians and others also lives in the town.

The restoration of the Ottoman-era mosque, planned for next year, is based on a study conducted by Macedonia’s National Institute for Cultural Heritage Protection, conducted in 2016. The restoration will be financed by the Turkish Islamic Community.

According to historical records, the original minaret from the 16th century was much taller than the current one.

However, Ohrid residents are accustomed to the small existing minaret that is a mere 6.5 metres high, and which was built during the last century. According to some experts, inaccurate restoration was conducted in the middle of the last century.

Local art historian Goce Zura 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.

“We have lived together in Ohrid for centuries, despite different confessions and nationalities, and we should not allow something to spoil that now,” Zura told Makfax news portal on Sunday.

People opposed to the tall minaret recently filed complaints to the building inspectorate, insisting that the taller minaret should not be approved in the urban plan. If it is still built, they say it should be deemed illegal.

The head of Ohrid branch of the Institute for Cultural Heritage Protection, Tanja Paskali Buntaseska, defends the current restoration project, however.

“It is not a new construction, but a reconstruction of an old minaret. We are not going to build it from scratch but will just upgrade the height of the existing one… We have never consulted citizens about our projects; we haven’t done anything that would damage Ohrid,” Paskali Buntaseska said.

But she agreed that a legal permit, which the minaret currently does not have, is a must.

In 2001, Macedonia suffered armed conflict between mainly Muslim ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces, which ended with the signing of an internationally brokered "Ohrid Peace Accord", which gave greater rights to the Albanians and other minorities.

Sacred sites were casualties on both sides. Several old Orthodox Churches were completely or partially destroyed in the conflict stricken areas that were overrun by the insurgents. Some Mosques in the conflict stricken villages also suffered heavy destruction.
The Ottoman-era mosque in the ethnic Macedonian dominated town of Prilep was also torched that year – following the killings of several Macedonian soldiers from Prilep in an ambush near the front line.

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