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Vrapciste Turks to Boycott Macedonia Local Elections

February 22, 2005


By Christopher Deliso

According to Dnevnik on 17 February, the Democratic Party of Turks will boycott the local elections in Vrapciste, in objection to a perceived pattern of discrimination from the Albanian political parties and wariness over the new municipal boundaries that will dilute the Turkish presence and help consolidate Albanian control.

The newspaper cites party leader Kenan Hasipi as saying that the new municipality’s border is against the interest of Turks, as it reduces their presence from 34 percent to 12 percent- and this in their biggest single stronghold in Macedonia.

According to the government’s June 2004 law on redistricting, the new Vrapciste municipality will comprise Vrapciste itself and the villages of Vranovci, Galate, Novo Selo, Pozharane, Zubobce, Toplica, Kaliste, Lomnitsa, Negotino-Polosko, Gradec, Gorjane, Dobri Dol, Gjurgjeviste and Senokos.

This result was achieved by consolidating and eliminating a municipality immediately to the north, Negotino, from which the last 7 of these villages are being taken.

Vrapciste, a picturesque village near the western Macedonian town of Gostivar, is 70 percent Turkish, according to locals, who say that 100 percent of the population knows the Turkish language.

The elimination of Macedonia’s Turkish population is one of those sad, little-known stories that is rarely investigated. 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 emigrate to Turkey by the Yugoslav government, which also suppressed educated Turks who tried to stand up for their people’s rights. Turkey was happy to receive these new citizens as a bulwark in Kurdish-majority areas. 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 Gostivar’s population.

Statistics from the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences (in a 1983 Yugoslav-era study entitled “Problems of Demographic Development in SR Macedonia”) show that in 1961, Turks comprised 9.4 percent of the Macedonian population. 10 years later, they made up 6.6 percent and, by 1981, had fallen again to 4.5 percent.

However, taking into account expected mortality rates, the study projected that by 2001, the Turkish population would climb to 5.1 percent. However, following the SDSM-DUI cooperative census of 2002, numbers had fallen to 3.85 percent – even less than the 1994 census’ 4.3 percent.

It is these discrepancies that alarm Macedonian Turks today. They point to increasing pressure from the Albanian DUI party to speak Albanian, and even declare themselves officially as Albanians, on the grounds of their shared Muslim religion.

One local Turkish leader in Gostivar stated, off the record, that he had met twice with US Ambassador Lawrence Butler to discuss the plight of the Turks. His experience did not leave him feeling particularly inspired.

“Thinking of the Ohrid Agreement, I asked him [Butler] if he knew what percent of state jobs were held by Turks,” said the man. “He replied that he didn’t know. So I told him- 0.4 percent, even though the Turkish population is at least 4 percent, but probably closer to 5 percent of the population.

Then I asked him why he wasn’t interested in the rights of the Turks here. He said, ‘I leave that up to the Turkish ambassador.’ So I replied, ‘but you fight for the rights of the Albanians, no?’ And he got annoyed and said, ‘ok, that’s it, no more questions!’”

According to Dnevnik, the latest “revolt” of the Turks began in earnest after an Albanian was appointed director of the local school (Cede Filipovski), where most of the students are Turks. Hasipi also said that the last elections were falsification from DPA, and he thinks that this election will be also.

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