The Feast of Sacrifice holiday gives Turks a reason to absorb Balkan culture, and is a windfall for hotels and travel agents.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 26/10/12
Turkish tourists at a café in Ohrid. An estimated 15,000 Turkish citizens toured the Balkans this week. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Thousands of Turks are spending Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, in the Balkans this year, taking the opportunity during the holiday to visit Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Croatia.
About 10,000 Turks are vacationing in Croatia at Dubrovnik, while another 5,000 are scattered throughout the region, where the holiday, which is celebrated from Thursday (October 25th) to Sunday, is known as Kurban bairam.
"For three days we were in Macedonia. From there we went to Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia," Izet Jildas, a tour guide in Istanbul, told SETimes. "Just through my agency more than 1,000 tourists, from all the parts of Turkey, came here."
Among the guests there were Turks who live in the Turkish part of Cyprus, such as 73-year-old Mehmed Adilj. He said he's impressed by what he saw in the Balkans, especially Ohrid and Sarajevo.
"It is lovely here. I could not image a better way to celebrate [the holiday], than taking this tour of the Balkans. We wanted to see, how it is to live here. I am thrilled by the people, the history, the culture of the old architecture," he said.
"For two years I wanted to come to Macedonia, so now I had the opportunity to do that specifically for the holiday. I 'met' the Balkans through the Turkish TV series because some of them are made here. The most popular destination for us was Dubrovnik, but there is a huge interest for Macedonia as well," said Sergjun Tujer, tourist from Northern Cyprus.
Turks say they are vacationing in the Balkans because it is much cheaper than Turkey, with some products costing half the price as back home. Turkey is connected with the Balkans through the history and culture, including the rule by the Ottoman Empire.
Many Turkish citizens have roots in the Balkans and they have a huge desire to see where their ancestors were born, Turkan Sandzak, a tourist agent from Istanbul, told SETimes.
"There are a lot of people who are from Macedonia, and who many years ago moved to live in Turkey. Besides Macedonia they also want to visit Pristina and Prizren in Kosovo, because a lot of them have roots from there too. They are interested by Budva and Kotor in Montenegro and Sarajevo in Bosnia," he said.
"My father was born in Bulgaria and I wanted to see those places. I have many Albanian and Bosnian friends and that is why I am interested in the mentality and the culture of the people in these countries. What left the biggest mark in me, were the old time houses and old streets," Jilmit Filiz, a citizen of Istanbul, told SETimes.
"In my group there are people from Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Adana, Antalya. The Turks want to see territories which were ruled by them, and that is why these places are so interesting for them. Macedonia and the Balkans have everything to offer to the Turks," Ahmed Arslan, a tourism guide from Istanbul, told SETimes.
Turkish citizens don't need a visa to visit the Balkans, and tour operators said they receive 15 euros from each visitor. Hoteliers also cut prices to attract Turkish tourists. Visitors to Ohrid were treated to a special Macedonian dinner and entertainment.
"Every week in Ohrid and in our hotels come guests from Turkey, but for the holiday there was a much bigger number. After the Dutch tourists, the Turks are second in number in Macedonia," said Filip Misheski, manager of the Metropol hotel in Ohrid.