Macedonian Town Bears Scars 15 Years After Battle

Arachinovo, an ethnically-mixed town where fight raged during the Macedonian conflict in 2001, is now a solely Albanian settlement - but its staying occupants state peace hasn’t brought success.

Your homes with their bullet-holes and shell damage to walls and windows are a tip of the relentless fight for Arachinovo 15 years ago, which made this previously ethnically-mixed village, around 10 kilometers north-east of the capital Skopje, among the symbols of the 2001 conflict.

The combating in between the Macedonian cops and army and Albanian insurgents from the now-disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, happened between June 21 and 25, 2001, and involved tanks, military planes and army helicopters.

Both sides suffered heavy losses, although the specific number of deaths has actually never ever been verified. The combating ended with a NATO-brokered agreement to permit the evacuation of 350 NLA fighters from the village before Macedonian forces could enter.

The fight for Arachinovo was the last massive armed conflict before the finalizing of the Ohrid peace accord in August 2001 put an end to the conflict, giving greater rights to the nation’s Albanians, who comprise one quarter of the population, in return for disbanding the insurgent NLA.

Arachinovo s existing mayor Brahim Ajvaz, who was the commander of the NLA’s regional defense force throughout the conflict, said that the battle was a frightening episode for regional villagers.

In 2001, more than 800 houses were entirely damaged, numerous were bombarded and huge material damage was inflicted. After the war, Aracinovo went back to square one, much like when a baby is born and finds out how to stroll, Ajvaz informed BIRN.

Prior to the dispute, Arachinovo had more than 7,000 homeowners, of whom over 500 were ethnic Macedonians, but 15 years later, it is an ethnically homogenous, specifically Albanian settlement.

According to Ajvaz, the Macedonians moved out of the village for personal factors.

Up until 2001, there were a couple of hundred Macedonian houses in the village. Now they have all moved to Skopje and other cities, he stated.

Throughout the war, people understood there is no thriving life in the town, and sold their houses. Every young man agrees that city life is better, he included.

He firmly insisted that worry was not the reason that Macedonians do not wish to return to Arachinovo.

Both Macedonians and Albanians left the village during the war. The Macedonians still have their church here, nobody is stopping them from coming back, getting a job, and living in peace in the village, he said.

Macedonians not welcome.

The displaced Macedonians have a various view.

One of them, Jana Petrushevska, said that it is not true that Macedonians left their houses because they discovered city life more attractive.

Every time I go to Arachinovo, I sob. I have absolutely nothing left of your house, no images of my children, absolutely nothing that I bought throughout the years, no furniture, Petrushevska told BIRN.

How could I potentially choose that, when in Arachinovo I had a house of 200 square meters and a back yard of 2,000 square meters?

Petrushevska, whose house was destroyed throughout the combating, stated that she does not plan to move back to Arachinovo because she would not feel safe there, although she still owns the arrive at which her home as soon as stood.

After the end of the war, over 20 Macedonian houses were burned down in Arachinovo. Even if you chose to go back and renovate your house, somebody might burn it down. You realize you’re not welcome there, she explained.

According to a research study published last year by the Institute for Anthropology at Skopje’s St. Cyril and Methodius University, Macedonia still has some 600 internally displaced individuals from the conflict that drove 76,000 from their homes. Most of them are now living in rented houses with their rent a minimum of partly funded by the state.

In January this year, the EU introduced a task in Macedonia aimed at integrating refugees, internally displaced individuals and minority groups, which among other things intends over a period of 18 months to motivate local advancement strategies and reinforce institutional resources for helping them.

One of its main goals is also to deal with the financial issues that they deal with and develop their abilities so that they can get jobs more easily and restore their lives. The EU project does not focus on helping internally displaced people return to their original homes. - See more at:

Economic concerns persist.

Completion of the conflict did not guarantee prosperity for the newly Albanian-dominated Arachinovo, which continues to be a poor town.

Mayor Ajvaz said that since 2001, residents have actually been attempting to help the town get back on its feet but have been held back by a lack of support from central federal government.

The biggest problem is that Arachinovo still does not have a sewage system. This is not a small village, it has around 3,000 houses. It is a huge embarrassment for individuals who run the country, he said.

Ajvaz said that the yearly municipal budget plan of around 200,000 euros was inadequate.

We put on t know whether to asphalt streets or refurbish schools with that money. The construction of a pumping station and a drain network of 20 kilometers around the village costs three million euros, money that the municipality does not have, he discussed.

One villager, a 30-year-old IT employee who offered his name as Xhemo, likewise blamed the federal government for refraining from doing enough to enhance the quality olife for the remaining people of Arachinovo.He claimed that the reason for this might be that the population of the town is entirely Albanian.

It is tough to open a company or a store, [state] institutions do not help, and the working with procedure in the administration is totally politically motivated, he stated.Apart from its notoriety as one of the battlefields of the 2001 dispute, many ethnic Macedonians likewise associate the town with tax avoidance.

Xhemo said that this was unfair because the cause of the issue was poverty - small companies in the town discover it difficult to pay tax contributions because they hardly make enough on their own, he argued.

They can’t all manage to purchase a cash register since they put on to make much money, he said.Fifteen years after the battle of Arachinovo, the village might be tranquil, but its economic woes, in addition to its wartime scars, are clearly visible.