The Albanian newspaper Zeri I Popullit reported on August 28 that large parts of Voskopoja’s 18th-century Saint Michael Church had been destroyed by vandals. The culprits — reportedly Muslim pupils, possibly encouraged by their teachers — destroyed 23 frescoes, 15 of them completely. Police found inscriptions such as “Allah Is Great” on the walls.
Three teen-agers were detained on suspicion of defacing the 300-year-old frescoes — two 16-year-old boys from Tirana and one 18-year-old from Shkoder. There were unconfirmed reports that the three were students at a religious class conducted by Iranians.
Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania Anastasios said that he was expecting the Albanian Moslem community’s reaction to the incident, branding it a “provocation and barbarity to the tolerance of the two religions in the country.” The Archbishop criticized the Albanian government for failing to protect religious treasures. He took the opportunity to repeat his demand for the return of Orthodox property from the state to the Church.
“It is the work of Islamic fundamentalists,” said Neritan Cheka, president of the opposition party Democratic Alliance.
The head of Albania’s Muslim community, Hafiz Sabri Koci, denounced the destruction as an attack against religious tolerance in Albania. This denunciation notwithstanding, on September 9, the Albanian Cultural Ministry announced that the country’s 15 Islamic theological schools would be closed in 1997.
The last issue of our Newsletter included an appeal for the preservation of the many cultural monuments of Moskopoli/ Voskopoja. There is no place on earth as bound up with the history, identity, and development of the Balkan Vlachs as this once-thriving town, now a village in semi-ruin.
On November 4, the Albanian Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of a special commission to repair and restore the church and its frescoes. The restoration is expected to be completed by April of 1997.
We encourage our readers to write Albanian President Sali Berisha urging him to take additional measures to protect the cultural monuments of Voskopoja, including the return of Orthodox properties to the Church. Letters may be addressed to:
The Honorable Dr. Sali Berisha
President, Republic of Albania
Rr. Miqėsia 1, A1
Voskopoja is a vital link to Aromanian culture and history. If we don’t act to preserve it, who will? We must get moving now, before it’s too late.