A man on a horse symbolises unity and friendship.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Struga -- 08/08/13
Safet Avmedovski participates in the horse march to Krusevo. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Safet Avmedovski, from the village Podgorci near Struga, is the first ethnic Macedonian who is also a Muslim to participate in the horse march that celebrates Macedonia's national holiday Ilinden on August 2nd.
Residents said Avmedovski's participation was a symbolic step forward in advancing inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations in Macedonia.
"I hope that other citizens of Muslim faith will follow Safet's example," Sonja Stoleska, a resident of Struga who is Macedonian and Orthodox Christian, told SETimes.
In 1903, Macedonians rose on Ilinden against the Ottoman Empire and formed the first republic in the Balkans, with its seat in the mountainous town of Krusevo.
The Macedonian republic was soon crushed, but the revolutionaries created a democratic form of government and issued a manifesto -- written in Macedonian but translated into Turkish -- that stated the uprising was not against any nationality but against feudal tyranny and for independence.
It specifically called Turks and other Muslims "brother compatriots," vowed to protect their security, freedom of religion and property as well as urged them to join the uprising. Some did.
"It was my lifelong wish, and for several years I have been preparing to go to Krusevo and visit Mechkin Kamen [Bear Rock] where the historical battle took place, but also to pay respect to the slain freedom fighters there. I am sending a message to all the Macedonians who are Muslims, Albanians, Turks, Roma and all others, regardless of their ethnic, religious and national origin, to continue on this path, together and in unity," Avmedovski told SETimes.
Several hundred horsemen from all parts of Macedonia participate every year in the traditional Ilinden march riding to Krusevo dressed in traditional garments as known as comitajis.
Avmedovski rode his horse for 120 kilometers to reach Krusevo in two days. "I would like other Muslims -- Turks, Albanians -- to participate jointly in the celebration of this great day. I call on all to join us to Krusevo, which is very important place for all of us who live in Macedonia and for our common history," he said.
Some observers said they were pleasantly surprised at Avmedovski's decision to participate in the march and called it a huge gesture.
"Only through such examples can we build co-existence which is needed in Macedonia," Bekim Osmanoski of Struga told SETimes.
Officials said the ride exemplifies the spirit of Iliden.
"[After all] the manifesto adopted during the proclamation of the republic stated 'regardless of religion and ethnicity', all are responsible for the freedom we enjoy," Pero Petkoski, president of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party in Struga, told SETimes.
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