Travel to the Balkans: Skopje and Pristina

When you are a visitor in a country and in the capital city of this country, your landlady's friends and her relatives want to meet you and provide you new knowledge sources for exploring the city that they live. Because your landlady may skip over something. Monika Desoska's close friend Simona brought me brochures and CD's to me for exploring her city and Macedonian music. Thus I found the opportunity of traveling to the history of Skopje City.

First of all it is impossible to think the history of Skopje except Ottomans. Ottoman culture had interpenetrated into Skopje so that you won't get anything if you remove that period. This is the best part that Ottoman culture had been saturated in the history of the city. The city had come under the domination of Ottomans on 19 January 1392 and its original name Skopje had been changed to Uskup by Ottomans. In 1555 a big earthquake occurred in the city. In 1689 Austrians invaded the city and destroyed. At the same year, the city got rid of the domination of Austrians. In 1849 the first telegraph office was established. In 1873 a railway connection was made between Thessalonike. In 1906 the first theater building of the city had been raised by the labor of Sevket Pasha. In 1907 the first movie was released in the city. Ottomans retreated from Skopje and also Macedonia in 1912 after the First Balkan War. Macedonia was under the domination of Ottomans nearly 550 years. After the First Balkan War, Skopje was invaded by Serbian Soldiers. In April of 1941, Bulgarian fifth army occupied Skopje and then a resistance movement named “Anti-Fascist Struggle Front” was organized. They emphasized that Skopje is a free city and Macedonia is a Democratic Republic in their declaration. In 1946 Macedonia emancipated again. An earthquake having nine intensity according to Richter scale occurred in Skopje on 26 July 1963 and the city was destroyed. In 1991 the country got a new name as Macedonian Republic instead of its old name as Macedonia Socialist Republic. On 8 September 1991, a referendum about freedom was organized and the result was decision of Macedonia's being a free country.

Macedonians who had been lived under the domination of Ottomans today in peace with that time period and they have still respect to Ottomans, also they have a different love to Turkey.

Let's come to the current situation of Skopje: as I wrote before, Vardar River separates the city as old and new Skopje. We walk on the Stone Bridge to reach to old Skopje. Our first stopping place in here is Davut Pasha Hammam. It had been changed as a museum and you can see paintings and sculptures of Macedonian artists in here. The art pieces in this museum has a history from 19th century till today. We have been attracted by the ambiance of this place as being an wonderful old hammam and also with art pieces in it. We couldn't leave this place easily. We walk through the old bazaar which is called as “Carsia” by them. The streets of the bazaar having little stores side by side have old stones and there is no pavement. These short streets connected to each other are closed to traffic. There are all kinds of stores as you can imagine as jeweler, shoe seller, draper, bridal dress store, ice-cream store, copper-smith store, photographer's shop and etc. We sit down in a restaurant under the big plane tree. We can hear the sweet voice of the water pouring down from the water fountain behind us. There are old type of salt callers in open form on the table. One side of them have salt and the other part contains pepper. I ask a half portion of meat ball with beans cooked in casserole. My friend orders Skopje type salad. The main difference of this salad from our culture's tomato salad is containing grated white cheese on it. Tomato, salad, onion and grated white cheese. The cheese gives an other flavor to the “Schopska Salad”. Now is the Turkish tea time. They serve the tea in little tea glasses with a slice of lemon. Finally I recover myself after drinking two glasses of tea. I see the Muslim community performing Friday salaat while I am traveling in the old bazaar. Murat Pasha Mosque is overcrowded and so some people performs Friday salaat outside. When we walk a little Cifte Hammam welcomes us. In this hammam three different exhibitions could be performed at the same time. Small rooms are connected to each other with tiny doors. I like the sculpture exhibition of a Macedonian artist there. My friend shows me Turkish Embassy when we reach to the main road by walking through quite narrow streets and climbing a steep for going to Modern Arts Museum. The modest yellow building fenced by black iron fences has a garden full of many different flowers. When we reach the museum, we learn that the exhibition place of the museum is out of order. I see photographs of an photograph artist taken at Africa and most of them are black-and-white photographs. Black, big eyes of poor African children are shining brightly out of spite.

We go through city hall of new Skopje for festival eventide. People make small groups around the street performers. Everybody flock to the riverfront of Vardar to watch the acrobats who will walk a tightrope across Vardar River at 08 p.m.The people settled on the stone bridge create a special scene. A little later we learn that the trope is not safe enough and so the show is delayed and all of us have a disappointment and then we go towards the city hall to watch the shows on the theater. Some acrobatics group from USA, Canada and other countries and break dancers perform their shows. While the shows are going on a little gypsy girl who is nine or ten years old is passing by me with a month old baby for begging money. Nobody mistreats her, but the image of this little girl that has not reach puberty yet with the tiny bitty baby is drummed into my head. In the evening, we have dinner in a quite place in new Skopje named Kibo. Then Simona carry us to Blue Cafe. You can buy books and listen ethnic jazz music with drinking several types of coffee.

On 27 May Friday my main labor is visiting Macedonian woman artist Ana Temkova who was previously my work partner in Strumica. Ana is a carefree, sophisticated, pure hearted woman who had opened her house in Skopje to me before and hosted me very well. Ana Temkova had finished her education in Belgrade Fine Arts Academy and then she had got education in Italy on mosaic art. Then she worked as an educator in Skopje Fine Arts Academy. This year she

congratulates her 40th years in art. She had participated in Strumica Plastic Arts

Meeting nine times at intervals. She planned a 40th years exhibition by collecting her paintings created in these meetings and also they prepared a catalog.

My aim was staying only a week at the beginning of the travel but then Ahmet Tuzun came beside me and I decided stay more, so I found possibilities for new travels. While I was going to welcome Ahmet Tuzun I recognized the sing on the road showing the way of other Balkan cities like Athens, Pristina, Thesselonike. Somehow I think about Ali Akay's exhibition in Pristina. I began to think how kind of city Pristina was. On Monday I asked my friend how we can got to Pristina. She wasn't pleased by this but she carefully learned the bus time from Skopje to Pristina and from Pristina to Skopje. She got information about visa needing for me for this travel, but I became indecisive about going to Pristina because of my friend's nervous behavior. That evening we went to Balkan Restaurant according to the suggestion of Simona all together. We listened authentic Balkan Music and musicians played the Turkish song “Senede Bir Gun” when they learned we came from Turkey. This song carried us back to history. The meals of Balkan were delicious.

Next day we got into an old Mercedes bus at 09.00 in Skopje bus terminal. There was only ten passengers. When we got away from Skopje, at the rocky area, the old ticket man of the bus having hoarse voice checked our tickets and passports. Then he added information of our passport one by one and after that he gave back them to us. He collected our passports again when we came to Macedonia exit border. Macedonian police stamped our passport without getting us out of the bus. Then after five minute's travel we came to Kosova entering border and they wanted us to get out of the bus and show our passport with our photographs on them. I was waiting at the end of the line as I have my bag on my shoulder with my friend. The other passengers of the bus gone away in a two minutes. Kosova police couldn't find the stamp of Macedonia police and asked why we preferred to to Pristina. We said that we came for a one day trip. When Kosova stamped our passports we recognized that our bus had already gone away. We became nervous and tried to tell policeman at the border our problem in English. He said there was nothing to be nervous politely and he would talk to the driver of the passing the border to carry us to Pristina. I was worrying about my head at the bus. At that moment I saw that the old ticket man of our bus was running beside us. He said in Turkish with a Balkan accent as “We recognized that we had left you here and turn back to get you”. Our anxiety left its place to peace and we began to feel in safe as I was in the bus. The old man offered us wafers

in the bus to repair his mistake. I couldn't take my eyes off the green lowland during the travel. Small houses having red tiles and mosques was standing as they were parts of the nature. Some scrap cars were seen from time to time on the road side. When I said to the bus assistant that we had come to Pristina only for one day, he said “You won't object. First I will offer you a cup of coffee at the cafe above my office.” Probably, he wanted to speak Turkish too.

Pristina welcomed us with block of flats and satellite dishes outside of them. I have never seen before an apartment having so many satellite dishes. That man didn't put off us at the very little and neglected bus garage of Pristina. He let us get in his car where they park their bus and then he took us to his office which was watching Pristina from the top, then he took us to the upstairs to drink coffee. He offered us coffee and water instantly. During this time we learned that he was not the bus assistant of the bus, but the owner of it named Yamin Yanovali. While he was showing us an old multistory building, Mr. Yamin said “That place was a publishing house formerly which was publishing every kind of books and newspapers in Albanian, Serbian, Turkish. Nearly 15 years ago there was a Turkish newspaper named “Tan” in here.” and he continued: “Nowadays there is no Turkish newspaper here.” He mentioned that most of the population of Kosovo consisted of Albanians, Turkish population was only four percent of the general population. He said “Nowadays Kosovo is an autonomous region under control of the United Nations.” Military convoys of various nations were passing in front of the cafe as if they were trying to confirm him.

Yamin Yanovali said that he certainly wanted to share one more hour for us. Our coming had filled his inside with vigor. He again took us to his car and showed us the lowlands of Kosovo Pitched Battle. Then he took us to the tomb of I. Sulltan Murad which was recently restored by Turkey. Indeed that place was very well repaired and afforested. The experienced situation of the tree 700 years old in front of the tomb was so attractive. The tomb keeper woman was talking Turkish too and she was telling us that Tayyip Erdogan would come to the opening of the tomb.

On the road, we asked Yamin Yanovali as “Will Kosovo gain its independent like Montenegro?”. The key was in the hand of Turkey according to his opinion and he was thinking that the future of Kosovo depended on the decision of Turkey. Yamin Yanovali talked about the other cities of Kosovo too. According to the information given by him, Prizren was the major city in which the Turkish population was living mostly. We learned that the other important cities of Kosovo was İpek, Cakova and Mitkovica. After visiting the tomb and the Kosovo lowland, the farewell time had come. The word Yamin Yanovali had said during the farewell time was the proof for what kind of a impression Ottomans had left behind them: “I am a Bektashi, but that tradition is not living much. Nowadays, only two-three Bektashi families are living in here.” Probably, that was the reason of why he had opened the doors of his heart to the strangers.

We were very tired and hungry now. We asked him to take us to a restaurant in the city in which we could eat traditional meals. We ate delicious meatballs in Sarajevo Grill. We said ourselves that perhaps Inegol meatball has come to Turkey from here. The flavour was the same. The owners of the restaurant were speaking Turkish too. They told us that every summer they come to Bursa, Antalya ve Kusadasi at holiday time.

The time had been reduced such that we could only have opportunity to see Prizren Museum. Very beautiful little figures had been exhibited. Also we saw the exhibition named “No more arms” describing the pain of the war which had occurred there. We saw the Iskender Bey sculpture which was important for Kosovo public and took its photographs.

The life was going on as always in Kosovo as far as it is seen to us. All women and girls were seen in modern view, also the men. The only proof of the painful war which had been occurred there was the military vehicles which had been seen often and the flags of the United Nations hung in front of several buildings. The only place you could feel the pain was a street full of the photographs of the dead people. The sentence under these photographs written as “We are missing the ones that we had lost.” was bringing a lump to our throat.

Kosovo doesn't have its own monetary unit. Only Euro is used as monetary unit. We turn back to our hotel after drinking some cold drinks in a cafe on the road.

Every trip contains coincidences in itself. We met with Albanian poet Radija Hoca during the bus travel. Our returning to Skopje was having more merry. The bus was like a funfair. Albanians, Macedonians and Gipsies were at the same bus.

The police who had come to collect our passports on the Macedonian border made a point of saying “Hello brother” when he saw the Turkish passport. Perhaps he had Turkish origin

We were back again in Macedonia. As soon as we came, We went to the shopping center which had been opened by Koc Holding. After looking over a bit, we likened it to Migros shopping centers in Turkey. We are joining to the opening of an exhibition in the city museum at 8.00 p.m. While everyone was greeting and hugging each other we were the only ones standing alone and that was emphasizing our foreignness. Then, luckily Monika Desoska and her friend Illiana came and we became locked in a close embrace. There is a curious expression on their faces. Their eyes are asking how much we have liked Pristina and whether everything is okay or not. While we are eating dinner at a restaurant nearby, we are telling them our travel to Pristina. Pristina which is far away for only two hours to them seems as it is unapproachable and foreign to them. War is a terrible thing as so, it removes and alienates people from even so close places.

We tumble into bed difficulty because of being very tried and next morning we can't awake easily. After a late breakfast and a late lunch, we meet with Radija, Albanian poet Celiku and his son, translator Arben Celiku in Holiday Inn Hotel. We talk to each other in Macedonian, Albanian, German and English. He had been making translations from Arben, Max Weber and Habermas to Albanian. Also we learn that Radija had participated into Istanbul Book Fair.Then we are leaving them and meeting with Ana, Lidija and Monika in an Italian restaurant. We are celebrating the 40th years of Ana with cheer and sincerity.

We are reserving our last two days in Skopje to the old bazaar. We are touring the ethnography museum at length. The part of the museum including cloths, foods, objects of drinking culture, sickle, sieve, bushel and many other agriculture tools from different places of Macedonia take me to my childhood. The mockups of traditional houses, the miniatures of old houses demonstrating village and town life show us how much our cultures are close to each other. Also the rugs and carpets.z

My camera become full while we are touring in the old bazaar. We enter a photograph house i have seen immediately. It just so happens that the owner of the photograph house had been brother of the Turkish Ambassador of Macedonia. He is showing us several photographs. When he see that I have taken many photographs, he is showing me the old photographs of Skopje in his computer. His family has been working as photographer since two generations. Most of these photographs had been taken before the earthquake in Skopje in 1963. He is calling the young girl working in the opposite shop named Sebahat to make better communication. Sebahat is speaking Turkish, she is the only child of her family, they speak Turkish at home.

While we are touring, an old inn arouse our attention. We learn that this inn is used as Faculty of Fine Arts nowadays. We go upstairs a bit bashfully. The students and their teachers were making preparations for the year-end exhibition which would be opened one day later. They gave permission us for touring. We see portrait, nude sketches, prints, oil paintings. We like to see both the students and teachers are making preparations for the exhibition together.

The roads and travels come to an end one day by necessity. I have seen both Skopje and Pristina. Also I have found opportunity to understand better the problems, future anxieties, fears of Balkan people. While I am having the question of how the maps of Balkans will be occurred in the future, we move from Macedonia to Turkey in a rainy day and the stifling heat of Antalya welcomes us.