Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Taking part at last month’s Peace Fountain dedication at the Monticello Mosque were, from the left: Mayor of Plav, Orhan Sahmanovic, Village of Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins, Mosque President Smajlje Srdanovic and guest speaker and Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda. Missing was Mosque Iman Fuad Saboeic. Plav, in Montenegro, was the site of atrocities commemorated by the fountain.
Monticello Mosque’s Peace Fountain recalls war, conflict
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO January 1 Between October 1912 and April 1913, during the first Balkan war, Montenegro’s government led by king Nikola occupied the northeast Villages of Plav and Gusinje. While the military of Montenegro exterminated thousands of Bosnians and Albanians, priests of the Orthodox Church forcibly converted thousands more Muslims, Bosniaks and Albanians from the region. In addition to the mass murders and forced conversions committed in Plav and Gusinje, it is reported that the “war criminals” also committed widespread mass rape and plundered the homes of their victims.
One hundred years later, at the Islamic Center of Monticello Saturday, more than 100 worshipers and guests assembled behind the county’s first and only Mosque as a ceremonial stone to dedicate an upcoming “Peace Fountain” to the victims of the Plav and Gusinje genocide was laid.
The mosque’s congregation is made up mostly of Balkan natives who live in New York City, but reside in Sullivan County on a seasonal basis. The growing influx of these seasonal residents from Montenegro and Albania encouraged worshipers to build the mosque back in 2006 and it’s been going strong since.
Invited to the special ceremony were Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins and guest speaker, Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda.
LaBuda, who was also celebrating his 63rd birthday that day, said before the ceremony, “This is such a wonderful community of people. They are very positive and very much into the community and dedicated to the concepts of family and children. They are also very much against drugs and alcohol and we all know what a scourge drugs are in this community.”
Having traveled extensively, by invitation, throughout the Balkan region as a comparative law instructor, LaBuda has maintained close ties with the local Balkan community.
“They’ve always treated me very well and I’m more than happy to return the favor,” LaBuda said, adding that he will be traveling to the University of Novisad in Northern Serbia on March 1 to participate in an international symposium on multiculturalism.
“The EU [European Union] is for the first time having to deal with multiculturalism, and where do they look for guidance? They look to the U.S.,” noted LaBuda.
Mayor Jenkins, who also spoke at the dedication, said, “I’m honored that I was invited today and I’m just proud to be here to support my community, of which the Islamic Center is a part.
“You know, just about every race has been through some sort of persecution and you just can’t let these sorts of things be forgotten,” added Jenkins. Even the current mayor of Plav, Orhan Sahmanovic, traveled to the dedication ceremony and gave a speech in his native tongue.
Mosque President Smajlje Srdanovic spoke briefly, and said, “You here today are breaking the silence of the Montenegran government. They killed, they prosecuted and they committed genocide, and one of the worst things to this day, is that they have not recognized it or even apologized.
“We came to this beautiful county because we were ethically cleansed in Montenegro,” added Srdanovic. “We have hope now that things will change, we have a Muslim mayor in Plav and he knows what Muslim means and is not ashamed of his religion and making his daily prayers.”
When it came time for LaBuda’s to address the crowd he said, “I was asked a question regarding why I was here today. Before Iwas a judge, when I was a younger man 21 years ago, I was a soldier and as you know, American soldiers stopped the genocide in Iraq during the first Iraqi war. In the second Iraqi war my son was also a soldier. My father was an American soldier in World War II and our family has a history of fighting against genocide throughout the world.… I’m called upon every day to judge cases showing man’s inhumanity to fellow man, even here in the Village of Monticello and the State of New York. Every day I must judge cases where people give and sell the poison of drugs to others and our children. I must judge cases where women are raped, children are abused and people are killed and I always ask the question: Why? Why does that happen? I ask the question: Why does genocide happen? We know that those who commit genocide are human beings like ourselves, we have the same wants, we have the same desires, we love our families, we love our children, we seek food, shelter and clothing for our loved ones, but what then turns that type of person into a person that will do evil. Questions remain: How do we prevent this from happening again? We remember, so that this will not happen again.”
After the ceremonial stone was laid and folks headed in from the cold for food and refreshments, LaBuda took a moment, and said, “After the terrible tragedy that took place yesterday [the mass-killings in Newtown, CT.], there isn’t a better way I can think of to spend my birthday than to dedicate a fountain to peace.”