Two Major Muslim Minorities of Macedonia: Albanians and Turks

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Mar 9 14:44:43 UTC 2006

Axis Information and Analysis

Two Major Muslim Minorities of Macedonia: Albanians and Turks
Can Karpat, AIA Turkish and Balkan Section

There are 27 minorities in Macedonia. The two major minorities are Muslim.
The qualification of the Albanians varies: Victims for some, troublemakers
for others. As to the Turks, they are docile, rather forgotten, as usual.
Even after the Ohrid Agreement, especially the Albanians are still not
happy with the Macedonian State. Yet, which one is the real question: Does
Skopje neglect its duty or do the minorities expect everything from the

The Albanians: A minority, which behaves like a majority

The Albanians are the biggest minority of Macedonia. With 398.000 people,
they form 19.2 percent of the population (est.2004). However, the
Albanians claim that their figure is much higher than this. According to
them, they make up 40 percent of the population due to the high birth-rate
and the immigration from Kosovo. Since the Albanians demand the
constituent nation status along with Macedonians, this dispute of
population becomes crucial. Since the Macedonian Constitution stipulates
that one has to reside in the country at least for 15 years to become a
citizen, Kosovo refugees can not be granted citizenship. Some specialists
estimate the Albanian population between 30 and 35 percent. Since the
demography has a highly political connotation, it is normal to have such
contradictory figures.

The Albanians of Macedonia mainly inhabit the western part of the country.
The largest Albanian communities live in Kumanovo, Skopje, Tetovo,
Gostivar, Debar, Kicevo and Struga. The Albanians of Macedonia are
overwhelmingly Muslim although there are few Christian Orthodox villages.
Tensions between the Albanians and the Macedonians started well before
Macedonias independence in 1991.

In 1966, Aleksander Rankovic, ex-Yugoslavias vice-president and Titos heir
resigned. Although he was not a proven Serbian nationalist, his
association with the secret police made him a hate-figure. His fall marked
the beginning of a new era. While Kosovo Albanians organised public
demonstrations in order to demand the republic status for Kosovo, in
Skopje the Albanians organised similar protests in order to demand the
annexation of western Macedonia to the future Republic of Kosovo. For the
first time, Macedonia faced the Albanian question, which it perceived as a
threat to its own existence. Macedonia was declared the State of the
Macedonians, omitting all other minorities living in the country.
Macedonian officials took several anti-democratic assimilation measures:
prohibition of some Albanian names, Albanian songs, etc. In 1985, a new
law stipulated that in colleges the language of education could be in
Albanian if there were 30 Albanian students in class and enough Albanian
teachers. Following that law, the figure of secondary students, which was
8200 in 1981, dropped to 4221 in 1989. The Albanians, who interpreted the
law as a deliberate act to condemn the Albanian youth to ignorance,
organised several demonstrations and boycotts.

After the independence, Macedonia faced its first serious ethnic crisis
with its Albanian minority. In January 1992, the Albanians organised a
referendum on territorial autonomy. Shortly thereafter, the Council of
Albanian Political Parties in the Former Yugoslavia, which comprised the
Albanian parties of Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia, decided that
autonomy was the only option for the Albanians in Macedonia if other
democratic efforts to gain political and cultural rights fail. The
Macedonian government declared the referendum illegal. It is significant
that a similar referendum took place only three months ago in Kosovo. The
public riot in Skopje forced the armed forces to intervene. It must be
remembered that for two years after its independence, Macedonia was a
non-recognised country. In a country, whose continuity was not clear, this
kind of ethnic riots was not a surprise.

For years, the Albanians of Macedonia demanded an Albanian university. In
1995, they decided to follow the Kosovo example, and founded their
university themselves. The illegal Albanian university of Tetovo (the
second biggest city of Macedonia, in northwest) provoked a real sensation
amongst the Macedonians. After the official opening of the university in
February 1997, anti-Albanian demonstrations were organised in Skopje.
According to the Albanians, the justification of their deed was their
legal right to education in their own language and to social ascension.
Yet, the Macedonians suspected a repetition of what happened in Kosovo.
The Kosovo war in 1998-1999 was a kind of signal for the rest of the
Albanians living in various parts of the Balkans, including Macedonia.
Some of them believed that any ethnic chaos would be sufficient for the
Western powers to intervene and liberate them from oppression. In 2001, a
new guerrilla, whose role model was the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), the
National Liberation Army of Macedonia (UCKM) started a civil war in
northwest of the country. The Albanian enterprise was simultaneous with
that of the Albanians in southern Serbia. The target was to destabilise
the region in order to obtain a second Dayton Accord from the Western
powers.  Yet, like Serbia, Macedonia remained calm and moderate. The
situation in Macedonia was in complete contrast with that in Kosovo. In
Macedonia, since the independence, Albanian parties have always been
present in government coalitions, and charged with five ministries. Except
some conflicts, the Albanians enjoy the cultural and religious freedom.
The university conflict was resolved at the beginning of 2001 when a
trilingual (Macedonian, Albanian, English) university was founded in
Tetovo. Although the already existing Albanian university of Tetovo is
still illegal, the Albanians now can study in their mother language from
primary to university. They also have the freedom of expression through
media, associations and political parties. The main Albanian parties are:
Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) of Ali Ahmeti, Democratic Party of
Albanians (DPA) of Arben Xhaferi and Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP)
of Abduljhadi Vejseli. Some radical Albanians considered Xhaferis policy
to protect and improve the rights of the Albanian minority as
insufficient. In March 2001, those radicals founded a new party called
National Democratic Party, which was supposed to be the political bureau
of the UCKM. Although Xhaferi denounced UCKMs terrorist activities, he did
not miss the opportunity to take benefit from the situation in order to
impose his ideas for a confederation of Macedonia, which would grant the
Albanians an equal status with the Macedonians.

In August 2001, the Ohrid Agreement ended the six-month ethnic conflict in
Macedonia. With this agreement, Albanian fighters laid down their arms in
return for greater ethnic recognition within a decentralised State. The
Albanians obtained the right to use their language in Parliament and
courts. Law texts are now bilingual. In those regions, where the Albanians
form over 20 percent of the population, education, health care and
financial planning are under the control of local Albanian
administrations. In those regions, the Albanians also have the right to
use their own language and national symbols. The Albanians now form 25
percent of the Macedonian army. However the Albanian presence in police
and civil servant staffs is still very low. Yet, the rights that the
Albanians enjoy in Macedonia after 2001 go definitely beyond cultural
rights, positive discrimination or standard minority rights. Brief
conflicts of winter 2004 and summer 2005 showed how the radical Albanians,
without necessarily using violence, exploit the Greater Kosovo threat in
order to impose a federal system in Macedonia, which would then open the
way that leads to the independence.

In January 2005, the Albanian-language media in Macedonia suffered a
serious setback. Two newspapers, the weekly Lobi and the daily Koha Ditore
announced that they must suspend publication, at least temporarily. As a
result, only one Albanian-language daily Fakti remains. Since 2001, the
number of Albanian-language periodicals has fallen from four to just one
in January 2005. According to the Helsinki Committee, there is only one
Albanian-language TV station with a national license and a small number of
local radio and TV stations of "very low quality. There is no radio
station broadcasting in Albanian throughout the country. Yet, it is
noteworthy that the Committee indirectly accused the governing DUI of
being responsible for the problems of Lobi and Koha Ditore: If one keeps
in mind that Albanian newspaper Lobi both periodicals that suspended their
publication in January 2005 were critical of the representatives of the
Albanian component in the government, the signal is clear: whoever dares
to speak out against those who are in power will be destroyed.

On the 15th of December last year, the European Union granted Macedonia
the candidate status. Even though Macedonias official membership can not
be expected earlier that 2012, the Albanians of this country will probably
be the first Albanian community in the Balkans to enter in the EU. It
would not be wise for the Albanians of Macedonia to destabilise this
promising situation and endanger the EU membership of Macedonia, which
will grant them more rights. In the municipal elections of May 2005, out
of the 85 mayors elected, 17 came from the Albanian minority. There is a
particular responsibility on these Albanian mayors of Macedonia. They now
have to prove that the Macedonians will enjoy the same rights in their
localities as the Albanians have demanded for themselves at the national

The conflict between the Macedonians and the Albanians has more social
reasons than political and historic background as in Serbia. Macedonian
anxieties and suspicion towards the Albanians must be evaluated in the
general context of the Albanian question, which seems to replace the
Question dOrient of the 19th and 20th centuries. Macedonia tries to keep
all of its minorities in balance, for greater rights for one minority may
provoke others.

There are almost no inter-ethnic relations between the two communities;
mixed marriages are very rare. Most of the Albanians, devoted to their
traditions, do not send their daughters to school. The lack of mutual
acquaintance and education affect the two societies and poison their
relations. While the Albanians consider Macedonia as a fake democracy, the
Macedonians distrust the Albanians as false brothers. The real problem
consists in everyday discrimination towards the Albanians, especially in
social and economic fields. The only remedy is the change of mentalities
through education. And not only the Macedonian State, but also the two
communities are equally responsible for this vast transformation of
mentalities. As Arben Xhaferi put it, We succeeded to change the
Constitution. Now we have to change our mentalities in order to avoid
ethnic conflicts.

Next general elections are anticipated in summer or autumn this year. DUI
Deputy Chairman Rafiz Aliti is self-confident: Right now, according to the
poll, we are the second-most popular party in the whole country. Since the
major Macedonian parties wear themselves out with conflicts and schisms,
it seems that one the three major Albanian parties will probably obtain at
least a coalition partnership in any case.

Centre for Ethnic Relations of the Institute for Sociologic and Judicial
Research in Skopje, in an enquiry, asked the Macedonians, Albanians and
Turks, among other questions, to describe each other. The Macedonians
describe the Turks as great warriors, while the Turks consider the
Macedonians as hard-working, peaceful and cultivated. The Albanians
consider the Turks as hard-working and peaceful, while the Turks describe
the Albanians as a militant nation. According to the Centres director,
Emilija Simoska, the most ethno-centric community in Macedonia is the
Albanians, while the most positive and open one is the Turks. However, one
can also argue that the low figure of Turks living in Macedonia makes them
necessarily less harmful.

Though a little minority, the presence of the Turks in Macedonia goes back
as far as the 14th century when the region was conquered by the Ottomans.
As a political strategy, the Ottomans were used to settle many Turks from
Anatolia to the newly conquered Balkan regions. As in other Balkan
regions, the status of the Turks deteriorated after the Balkan Wars in
1912-1913. In 1919, Macedonia was divided up between Serbia, Bulgaria and
Greece. In the communist Yugoslavia after 1945, the ethnically diverse
populations were ranked with a three-tier system: peoples, nationalities
and ethnic groups. While the Macedonians belonged to the first rank, the
Turks along with Albanians belonged to the second rank. Between 1950s and
1990s, the reliability of every census depended on the international
political conjuncture. The relations between Belgrade, Moscow and Tirana,
in a way, determined the figure of the Albanians and Turks in Macedonia.
In periods of close contacts between Belgrade and Moscow, the Turks, who
became suspect for having sympathy for the Western world, preferred
describing themselves as Albanians or else.

Therefore, while in 1953 the census showed 203.938 Turks in Macedonia,
that figure suddenly dropped to 131.481 in 1960.  According to the 2004
census, there are 82.000 Turks in Macedonia (3.9 percent of the
population). However, like Albanians, the Turks claim that the true figure
is higher, even close to 5 percent. They live scattered throughout 40
towns, including Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Debar, Resen, Ohrid, Bitola,
Negotino, Radovis, Valadovo.

After the independence, the Turks kept their cultural rights in Macedonia.
Unlike Albanians, who boycotted the referendum on independence, the Turks
participated in the referendum and voted for the independence of the
country. The main party of the Turks is Turkish Democratic Party (TDP),
which was founded in July 1992. The first TDP President Erdogan Sarac
followed an aggressive strategy. All started with the educational problems
in Zupa (near Debar, in west). Contrary to the Constitution, the education
language was not Turkish. Although Macedonian officials assured that there
was no ethnic discrimination, but a lack of Turkish teachers, TDP went as
far as to claim genocide over Turks in Macedonia. Sarac was criticised by
moderate wing of the party, which lowered its tone thereafter. In the 2002
elections, new TDP President Kenan Hasipi allied himself with Social
Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM) and obtained parliamentary
representation. Party member Mahsut Ali became deputy minister in the
Ministry of Finance.  The Zupa event was an exception. Otherwise, 80
percent of the Turks are satisfied with Macedonias linguistic, educational
and administrative policies. Unlike Albanians, 90 percent of the Turks
consider themselves as equals to the Macedonians. Macedonian officials
seem to make a distinction between the aggressive Albanians and the Turks,
who only complain about the insufficient application of the laws. Their
main complaint is the lack of education in Turkish.

In some regions, the Turkish identity seems to jam between the Macedonians
and the Albanians. The Albanians, who claim that they make up 40 percent
of the population, tend to assimilate the Turks. The common religion is a
great trump. The Turks complain about the domination of Albanian-language
services in mosques. Some Albanians are even keen to present the Ottoman
heritage in Macedonia as Albanian. That is why, already during the 1970s
and 1980s, Macedonia took a number of measures to prevent the Muslim
community from being Albanianised. However, the Ohrid Agreement, which
stipulates greater decentralisation, worries the Turks, who interpret this
process as greater privileges for the Albanians. The reorganisation of the
municipalities in November 2004 changed the ethnic map. The little village
of Vrapciste (near Gostivar, in west) is one of them. One hundred years
ago, during the last years of the Ottoman Empire, Gostivar was 90 percent
Turkish, with Macedonians making up the other ten percent. However,
following the Second World War, many Turks either chose or were forced to
immigrate to Turkey by the Yugoslav government. As in other Macedonian
towns like Tetovo, and also in Kosovo, Albanians filled the vacuum created
by their departure. Today, Turks officially make up only 11 percent of
Gostivars population. They complain about the increasing pressure to speak
Albanian, and even to declare themselves as Albanians. On the 13th of
March, TDP will boycott the local elections in Vrapciste.

TDP President Kenan Hasipi stated: Currently, we Turks make up about 36
percent of Vrapcistes municipal population. Under the new, bigger borders,
we will be only 12 percent - far below the Ohrid Agreements stated 20
percent [for language and other rights]. The largest Turkish enclave is
about to disappear.  The legendary Turkish newspaper Birlik, which was
first published in 1943, bid its farewell in 2003 because of financial
problems. There are many other newspapers and magazines in Turkish. There
is no TV channel in Turkish. Two private Turkish radios, Rumeli FM in
Gostivar and Super FM in Skopje, are on air. Moreover the Turks have a lot
of cultural associations. Unfortunately, Turkey does not support the Turks
of Macedonia the way it should.

Despite problems, the Turks form the most peaceful minority in Macedonia.
Maybe just because of their peacefulness their linguistic and educational
demands are neglected in the Balkans where only violence resolves the
problems. Rather than to provoke the Turks, this remark has the intention
to criticise the Western powers, which often appease the demands of the
most tumultuous minorities in the region.

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