Uncertain in Kosovo, Turks Find Themselves in the Crossfire

Serb action in province sets another ethnic group on edge. Ethnic Albanian chief Rugova meets Clinton today.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

For six generations, the family of Fahri Turbetari, an ethnic Turk, has stood watch over the tomb of the Sultan Murat Turbesi, the Ottoman leader who defeated the Serbs in the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Polje.

Serbs still speak of the battle, which led to 500 years of Ottoman occupation, as if it happened yesterday.

As Kosovo inches toward war, the ghost of Sultan Murat still lurks. This time around, ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the population, are perceived by Serbs as the foreign invaders. The Albanians, who have centuries-old claims to the land, are calling for complete independence from Serbia, and some seem increasingly willing to use violence.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Guerrilla fighting and police crackdowns, which have cost close to 200 lives in recent months, are spreading through the region of 2 million people. Police this week launched a major crackdown near the Albanian border, the biggest offensive since the Feb. 28 attack in Drenica that killed more than 80 ethnic Albanians.

International diplomats are scrambling to bring the Serbs and ethnic Albanians to the negotiating table. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova remain far apart. Mr. Rugova was scheduled to meet today in Washington with President Clinton.

For the 50,000 Turks who remain in Kosovo, choosing sides has not been easy. Some line up with the Albanians, fellow Muslims with a similar culture. Others see Serbs as fellow minorities.

The Turkish predicament underscores the difficulties in resolving the Kosovo crisis, in which each side has its own version of history, has claims to the land, and has played a role in the escalation of violence.

"Both sides are wrong, and the way they choose to solve the problem is wrong," says Ibrahim Arslan, a Turk journalist in Pristina. "We are caught in the crossfire."

The families of most Kosovar Turks came here shortly after Kosovo Polje, when it was Ottoman policy to implant Turkish populations in conquered lands. They remained a privileged minority until the Ottoman empire was crushed in the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913.

Anti-Turkish sentiment thrived between the world wars, and the Turkish minority was not recognized and given rights until 1951, under Josip Broz Tito's Communists. Under Tito's 1974 Constitution, ethnic Albanians held the power and, Serbs and ethnic Turks say, the Albanians became the persecutors.

According to Yusef Taner, who at the time helped form the Turkish Democratic Party, Turks were cut out of society unless they declared loyalty to the Albanians. The tide shifted in 1989, when a Mr. Milosevic timed his inauguration as president of Serbia to coincide with the landmark battle's 600th anniversary.

"It was a terrible feeling when Milosevic came here," says Ziyayidin Sakman, a leader of the Turkish National Party in Prizren. He says the Serbs have mistreated the Turks. "We are on the side of the Albanians. We want an independent Kosovo and we will fight for our rights."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...