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More articles on the shelling of St. Athanasius at Lesok (Leshok)

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  • Antonis Papadopoulos
    [Orthodox Christian News Service, Inc.] http://www.orthodoxnews.com/doodad.fcgi?tcode=98&story=NYT8262001090509.shtml Published in The New York Times, August
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2001
      [Orthodox Christian News Service, Inc.]


      Published in The New York Times, August 22, 2001

      Explosion Wrecks a 14th-Century Monastery

      By Ian Fisher

      SKOPJE, Macedonia, August 21, 2001 (NYT) -- An explosion today ripped apart a
      14th-century monastery, one of the most revered Orthodox buildings in Macedonia,
      even as NATO officials maintained that the cease-fire here was generally holding.

      In six months of low-level ethnic war, this is one of the few attacks on a
      religious building. Neither the Macedonian Slavs, who are Orthodox, nor the
      ethnic Albanians, who are Muslim, have made religion an overt part of the
      conflict here.

      Today each side blamed the other, in an attack that seemed, both by the target
      and the timing, aimed at inflaming passions.

      The explosion occurred just a week after the Macedonian majority and ethnic
      Albanians signed a peace deal ã and on the very morning that NATO military
      officials in Brussels recommended sending the full force of 3,500 troops to
      collect weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

      In strong language, the Macedonian government blamed the guerrillas for the
      attack on the monastery, St. Atanasie and the Holy Virgin in the village of
      Lesok in the northwest, saying that the Albanian guerrillas wanted to provoke an
      attack that might also take down the entire peace deal.

      "This just confirms the anti- historical mental makeup of the Albanian
      terrorists and historically locates them in the period of savages when simply
      nothing sacred existed," read a statement from the interior ministry.

      But an area commander with the guerrillas, the National Liberation Army, said he
      believed that it was government soldiers who carried out the attack.

      "If this were a war against monasteries, it would have happened earlier," said
      the commander, known by the nickname Leka. "We assume it could be people from
      the government who do not want a peace agreement, who do not want peace."

      While not ruling out that government soldiers destroyed the monastery, several
      Western officials said that seemed unlikely given its significance to Orthodox
      Macedonians. The compound's oldest part, a church, was built starting in 1335,
      and the monastery itself is celebrated in Macedonian folk songs as a place of
      Christian resistance to the Ottoman Empire.

      Both NATO and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, which is
      monitoring the conflict here, denounced the attack sharply.

      "This was a senseless and outrageous act that serves no purpose," said Maj.
      Barry Johnson, a NATO spokesman. "This type of extremist activity will only
      undermine the peace process."

      The village of Lesok is in an area where there has been heavy fighting, just to
      the northeast of Tetovo, the nation's second largest city. The government and
      rebels have repeatedly exchanged gun and artillery fire in the area, as recently
      as Monday night.

      NATO officials have said that the cease-fire must be "durable" before sending in
      the full force of 3,500 troops. In recent days, they have said that they do not
      expect complete peace before their troops' arrival, noting the fighting has
      calmed considerably since the deal was signed.



      Published by The Keston Institute, August 22, 2001

      Church in Lesek blown up

      By Branko Bjelajac Keston News Service

      August 22, 2001 (KNS) -- The Church of St. Athanasius, in the Macedonian
      Orthodox Church Monastery complex at Lesok (Leshok) village, 8 km from the city
      of Tetovo, was destroyed by a large amount of explosives at 03.10 am on 21
      August 2001. Macedonian officials are blaming Albanian extremists for this
      incident, but representatives of the rebel forces are denying any connection.
      The OSCE mission and the NATO Secretary-General have both condemned the
      destruction of this religious site. There were no casualties, but the material
      damage is incalculable, says Oliver Sambevski, press officer to the Macedonian
      Ministry of Culture.

      After the evacuation of all Leshek village's population recently because of
      intensive military operations in the vicinity, the only inhabitants of the
      monastery were several priests serving at the Diocesan office of Polog and
      Kumanovo, which is situated in the Leshok Monastery. Archpriest Mirko Stankovski
      of the Tetovo Diocesan office said that 'The Church of St. Athanasius was built
      in 1924 and dedicated in 1936... it is situated in the ancient sanctuary from
      the 13th century and is protected by the Monuments Protection Law.'

      The Macedonian Ministry of Interior accused Albanian extremists, the called NLA
      (National Liberation Army), of destroying the entry gate, the central cupola and
      the iconostasis to the monastery church of St. Athanasius.

      However, representatives of the NLA stated that they did not destroy the church.
      KosovaLive agency reported on 21st August that an NLA commander said that 'they
      still have no precise information regarding the destruction of Leshak
      Monastery', but that their troops took 'extra measures' in preserving religious sites.

      The explosion ruined the church building, destroyed several valuable icons and
      frescoes, the wood-carved altar, and severely damaged the tombstone of Kiril
      Pejcinovik, a 19th century Macedonian educator and enlighter. The site was
      visited by an OSCE team of observers immediately after the incident.

      'This Monastery is precious to us for several reasons,' says Oliver Sambevski,
      the Macedonian Ministry of Culture press officer told Keston News Service on
      22nd August from Skopje. 'One of them is that the site is recognised and
      registered as the Culture Monument, and another for its architectural beauty. It
      is also a cultural centre serving as a reminder of the early educational work in
      Macedonia that brought the European spirit to us in 18 century. The Monastery
      complex is consisted of several church buildings, a small museum and other
      objects. The monastery is not active, but it serves at the Diocesan office to
      the Metropolitan Kiril. His staff left the Monastery only ten days ago, after
      they were intimidated and threatened. This is a great tragedy to Macedonian culture.'

      In a brief press statement, George Robertson, NATO Secretary-General condemned
      the church destruction: 'Attacks on places of worship are totally unacceptable
      and undermine the efforts of all those who are striving to restore peace and stability.'

      Ganka Samoilovska Cvetanova, Minister of Culture of Macedonia wrote on 21st
      August to diplomats in Macedonia, EU ministers of culture, UNESCO and the
      Council of Europe asking them to: 'devote all your authority and influence to
      not tolerate future desecration... Be aware that the destruction of the
      monuments of culture does not represent an attack on a specific nation, it is an
      attack on the all-embracing conscience of the humankind.'

      The Leshok Monastery complex is at the south-east lower side of the Shar
      mountain, close to military operations 8 km from Tetovo. It was founded in 13
      century and rebuilt in 1818, when it became a cultural and educational centre
      for the whole of Macedonia. In a press statement issued regarding the church
      destruction the Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia Stefan stressed: 'I would like
      to ask whether this act is directed against the religion in this region and the
      Macedonian Orthodox population, against the Macedonian state or maybe against
      the recently signed Framework Agreements and the efforts to bring back peace in
      the country.'

      It is possible that the perpetrators selected for destruction the most recently
      built church in the Monastery complex in an attempt to draw the international
      communities attention, and to stress that other, much older and more valuable
      buildings nearby are also a possible target.



      Distributed by the Russian Orthodox Church, August 23, 2001

      Announcement of the Communication Service of the Department for External Church
      Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate in connection with the destruction of the
      Church in the Leshok village in Macedonia

      MOSCOW, August 23, 2001 (ROC) -- The Orthodox Church of St. Afanasy in the
      Leshok village near the Macedonian town of Tetovo was barbarously destroyed by
      the terrorists. The church was a part of the unique architectural and historic
      complex of the monastery of the XIII century.

      This act of impudent vandalism and bold challenge to the international community
      is continuation of the terrorist aggression in Kosovo, where, in spite of the
      presence of the authorities, which had taken responsibilities on the control
      after preserving peace and order in the country, more than hundred Orthodox
      churches were destroyed. Today the destruction of the Orthodox shrines takes
      place in the neighbouring to Kosovo Macedonia.

      As far back as 1999, at the beginning of the bombardment of Yugoslavia, the
      Moscow Patriarchate urged to cease hostilities against the country, justly
      indicating that it would not result in settlement of the conflict and would not
      lead to the achievement of peace, but would arouse escalation of the conflict.
      At the same time our Church has condemned and is condemning the illegal actions
      of any military groups directed against life and property of the Balkan
      inhabitants of any nationality. Today we are witnesses to a full-scale expansion
      of terrorism and extremism in the region.

      Terrorist violence should meet a united repulse of the international community.
      Political interests can`t justify the direct or circumstantial support of
      extremist powers guilty in death of peaceful inhabitants and in destruction of
      national shrines.

      Deeply co-suffering with the Orthodox faithful of Macedonia and all the people
      of this country, the Russian Orthodox Church prays for restoration of peaceful
      life in the Balkans.
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