Organist strikes chord of Croatian independence Musician seeks support in U.S.

November 21, 1991|By Sheridan Lyons

A world-famous organist will play two concerts in Baltimore this weekend -- but massacres rather than music drew her to America from war-torn Yugoslavia.

Although she had stayed close to home and family this year, Ljerka Ocic-Turkulin said she came to the United States to try to win support for Croatia's struggle against Serbia for independence.

Now, the 31-year-old classical organist hopes she'll be able to get home next week to her husband and 6-year-old daughter, her parents and other family in Zagreb, her family's home for 600 years.

"I must get back," she said. "I will walk, if I have to."

A member of the Croatian Art Forces, she has pledged to use her talents to speak out. She brought a file of newspaper photographs of death and destruction, in hopes of combating a perceived bias in the United States against Croatian independence.

"With our elections," she said, "we wanted to be free, just to live decently. The Serbs don't want to permit that: We are treated as a colony."

BArmy activity and the closing of her country's airports had forced her to cancel other concerts, she said, but the need to reach America found her on a train to Vienna, Austria, earlier this month. She then traveled to Fort Myers, Fla., and on to Baltimore, where she had performed and made friends two years ago.

Yesterday, she sat in denim jacket and jeans in the sunny dining room of a friend's home off Walther Avenue, in Northeast Baltimore, and described what she had left behind.

She occasionally was at a loss for words, but it wasn't because of her English, which was excellent. Rather, she said, it was the slaughter of infants and toddlers, children whose schools were bombed and the mutilations of old women. "They cut out their hearts," she said. Others who didn't obey orders to leave their towns had their throats cut.

A cousin was killed at a small town near Zagreb, she said, where some 300 other civilians were hanged from trees in the town garden, then burned.

She brought a videotape of the destruction to play as a backdrop to her recital but can't find compatible equipment here to run it, she said.

Recently, she said, snipers targeted her 16-year-old sister, Jelena, who managed to run for shelter as she was going to the store. "And just 200 meters from my house, an [apartment building] was destroyed . . . 158 flats, three flights -- in the civilian part of town. They were just shooting all around the town."

The Serbs control the army and the weapons armories that are at the center of almost every city and town, she said.

"We didn't know that we were occupied so much," she said. "It is very hard to fight against such a military, and we are paying for it."

With no army, Croatia's rebels coalesced around its police force, she said. Her husband, Hrvoje Turkulin, a forestry professor at Zagreb University, returned from a scholarship in London to join the rebellion, along with her brother, Matko, a 20-year-old college student.

This is Ms. Ocic-Turkulin's first trip abroad since a tour in Japan in May.

"I became very depressed, because I felt so helpless," she said, but she was renewed by working with the Croatian Art Forces.

There is no life for us if they win, so it really is no sacrifice," she


Ms. Ocic-Turkulin will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Zio Lutheran Church, 400 E. Lexington St., and at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, 7001 Harford Road.

Benefits recital

Ljerka Ocic-Turkulin will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Zion Lutheran Church, 400 E. Lexington St., and at 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke EvangelicalLutheran Church, 7001 Hasrford Road.

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