The Shooting of Freedom in Kosovo

Uran’s Story:

For twenty years, the Albanian people living in Kosovo were treated like second-class citizens by the Serbian population. In an effort to force Albanians to leave Kosovo, there were tight restrictions on what the Albanian population could and could not do in their  country: their children weren’t allowed to attend formal schools, their sick weren’t allowed to seek medical care from hospitals, activities of their cultural organizations were restricted, and unemployment was high. But instead of fleeing their country, Kosovar Albanians were resilient and learned to adapt. Their determination and refusal to give up their country led to war.

The story of our tragedy began in 1998.  I was eight years old, the youngest of five children in my family.

I heard the news on the radio and television that the invaders’  had intensified persecution against the Kosovar civilian population, against the activities and goals of the Albanian people for freedom and every man who would dare to think about freedom. For one-hundred years, the Serbs had been trying to wipe out  Albanian culture and identity, using force,  killing and torturing. The beatings, harassment, and persecution continued across the country. The enemy knew when the  revolt was planned, and used kidnappings, beatings, shooting, and torture to prevent it. My grandfather was tortured by being held in water that was -20°C. Day by day the rope came and grew tighter.

It started on an ordinary day in the spring, as the neighborhood children were playing in my backyard – games like volleyball, football, sticks and balls, and even mud. Suddenly, we heard a barrage of bullets which were more intense than usual — this time not stopping accompanied by caliber artillery. Our game stopped, and while all the others scattered to their houses, I was completely shocked and stood motionless while following the story, another version that had just begun. Then I heard in the streets, the rattling of cannons and tanks, but also the sweet response of rifles. Were these the shots of Freedom Fighters  signaling the open resistance of my Albanian people in Kosovo?

Soon the roads were cleared and the village was silent. We saw the smoke coming out of houses that had been burned. Sixteen Albanian warriors were murdered by the enemy that day but they succeeded in their mission – protecting the civilians. Although they gave their lives for us, they will always be with us – the living – in our hearts. Tears came and did not stop, our hearts split in two. We heard the moaning of the martyrs who were dying among others who’d been killed. The land smelled like smoke flames and flesh coming from burning villages.

The war had begun. With it, my parents’ worry.

We were 5 children between the ages of 8-15 years of age.   I was the youngest  Not much later, the time of moving out of the house came. It was the worst moment of my life, indescribable feelings of fear, pain and longing. Pain from having to leave and longing that we would not have to.  We left our house, the garden, and everything we had. Spring had stopped for us. Towers collapsed, meadows burned. And every inch of ground roared from the bombing offensive. The occupation had been taken against us just because we were Albanians, just because we spoke the most beautiful language in the World, and just because we dared ask for FREEDOM.

We left by a long mountain road, and everywhere heard gunfire contrasted with weeping erupting through the silence of the night. The mountains resounded with gunfire from the enemy punctuating the determination of the invaders, and with that,  the screams and crying of civilians trying to escape. There was much sadness. And even more chilling was the fact that we did not have even the slightest idea about where we were heading, or what awaited us on the other side of the hill that day. We thought this might be the end for us, as it was for many others.

We snuggled deep in the mountains to avoid the bullets pouring from wherever you looked. The sound never ceased, the thirst for blood was great that day.  Anyone who had fallen along the way was killed. The evening came with a Grace-like  silence reigning everywhere. The babies and young children were wrapped up by their mothers, in an effort to prevent them from seeing the horror of our plight and keeping them warm.. But they were experiencing the horror with us. We were without food, water, and shelter. We, heard only a few babies, softly weeping. We had travelled past the long-beautiful oaks of our motherland, now on our fifth day in a row walking under the open sky. We remained anxious about what awaited us this time. We had not eaten for 3 days.

After that, the situation calmed down somehow, but still we continued our journey to the capital (Pristina) hoping that there we would find peace. We were exhausted from walking twenty kilometers each day, and were dejected because we had been exiled. With the help of several friends, we found a temporary residence where we spent the next 6 months. In the moment we thought things are getting better everything just gone worse. At the meantime we were happy for the roof that we found there, but it was winter, a hard cold winter, we didn’t have woods for the fire to get ourselves heat , we didn’t have enough food to feed ourselves. Even as a child I remember everything, on returning back from school  I used to stop to the markets to get papers and carton to get warmed at least before bad time. The next six months gone like this, but everything stopped in a morning when Serbian barbarians came to get us out even from there. They used brutal force on everyone by trying to show us their “force” that they poses by holding their weapons, they emptied the whole capital that day and brought us to the train station, to transport us with freight train to the border of Macedonia. At the border we waited for ten long days in an open sky, without roof, without food without anything at all. For six days rain did not stop and everyone get wet for the next days, it was terrible time and only on the eleven day we could pass away to the next station…

We then spent another 3 months with a wonderful Albanian family in the neighboring state of Macedonia. They all were kind and lovely and they have done everything to help us, to make us feel like home. They provided a home for us, good food to eat and a pure love on welcoming us.  After the military intervention of NATO, the head of this Albanian family went back to his home where he found everything burned to the ground and houses destroyed. But love of country was greater than the booming barbarian army and from that day he continued life during wartime broken now in peace…!

Barbarians had beaten and mistreated our people, emptying every corner of the country, evicting Albanians from Kosovo as part of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. From their home country of Kosovo to the neighboring state of Macedonia and Albania. But all that sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, all that bloodshed brought us the FREEDOM. Now we could smell freely in peace. It was what we wanted for centuries, what we were fighting for. Just to free our homelands.

Globalgirl Media

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We at Ashlar Center believe in this IMPORTANT work!  See the video’s witnessing Kosova women.

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Love is what makes me strong – Elife’s Story

Kosova201513 You may have everything and then lose everything, but still you continue living,  because human beings are stronger than stones.

From my story I want people to understand from all that I have been through and that life has no guarantees.

Kosova: I’m Elife, a 45 year old mother of two children. Married to a man that I loved.  I was lucky because my parents  gave me permission to choose my own husband  compared to many of my other friends whose parents found their husbands.  My friends were forced to marry even if they didn’t like the man they chose.

In the beginning our marriage was a miracle. I was 25 years old, and my husband 29, we loved each other, at least so I thought.  Two years after we were married our first daughter Emma was born  and two years later the second daughter, Linda. Life became harder, since  neither my husband or me was working and the children had their needs, so my husband proposed to go abroad to work in order to improve our economical life. I agree with that and he went in Germany.  Sometimes he sent  us money, even though it wasn’t much, I welcomed it  because  it was the only resource we had to survive.

After one year he came back, and proposed to divorce me but just by documents, because as he  said” I’m going marry with an old lady just in papers, just legally but not as a real husband, and after three years I will divorce with her, and take you and children there” I believed him blandly and did it. I signed. Then he called less and less and he didn’t send money. And then one day he called me.  It was a very quick call and said ” don’t wait for me, continue your life because I will not come back any more.”

I was shocked, I had two children, one four years old and the other one two years old.  I had no house, no place to live and not even support from the state, I felt like I was in an abyss. I was living by charity from everybody, from my friends and relatives. I became very depressed and went to live to my brother house.  He had  six children and he was economically in very bad times.  I was another burden for him.

His wife clearly didn’t like me, and I really understood her situation. I felt bad, guilty.  Then one of my relatives gave me a very old house to live in and I was happy because I could breath freely. I started to  stabilize my live.

I worked with my hands embroidering and sewing.  In this way, I could maintain my  family. I always been a happy person who loved life and I wanted topass that on to my two daughters.  With my whole spirit I  tried  to offer them joy in their lives,  but we were on the brink of war which truly terrified me.  In war, nothing stays the same and you do not know what is going to happen to you.

We lived in a town that was more affected from war than others. But in our neighborhood, the enemy forces didn’t came but still, more and more of the houses grew more empty as people left because they were so afraid of what would happen if they stayed.

Some of them went to the mountains; some who had more money went to Macedonia or Albania. I stayed until April 1999 because I just didn’t know what to do. My children at that time were 6 and 4 years old. I couldn’t go to the mountain and stay because I didn’t have enough food to last us a while and I didn’t go to Albania or Macedonia because I had no money. But money or not, food or not, I left on April 3, when I saw that every single person in our neighborhood was leaving. I joined the column of hundreds of people, some from my neighborhood, and some from other villages.

We walked on a main road toward Macedonia, with the hope that my daughters and me might be able to get on a tractor during our trip. My daughters were so young and there were other children as well but most had help carrying the children.  In the column, people grew very tired. We were mainly woman and children though here and there you could see an old man.  Some of the column of people had been walking for days from other towns. I held my two daughters by their hands and wore on my back, a bag with some food and some clothes.

Fortunately the weather was good.  Sometimes police automobiles drove by and scared me very much but they continued on their way. Their purpose was to remove us from our country and we were walking in that direction. Walking with two tired little girls in dusty shoes.

We walked very slowly for around 5 hours. My four years old daughter was very very tired by this time and begged me to hold her in my arms, but I was too loaded up and could hold her a very short time. It was so hard – small tired children, crying, begging me to hold them, me, a very tired worried mother.

It was 1.pm when the column stopped, remember there are hundreds of us and a message came down through the line of people, frantic whispers that there was a road block of enemy forces before us in a few miles who were stopping and beating everyone.  So the people around me decided get off the main road and head into the mountain. I went with them with my tired children in tow.  With the back having grown very heavy – who knew that so little could weigh so much.

1-dhunimi-385x150As we, the smaller group around fifty or seventy five people, moved toward the mountain we suddenly we found our self-surrounded by enemy. They jumped out at us from the side of the road.  Some of them were dressed like solders and some were dressed in black with head scarves.  I had heard that those men with head scarves were very dangerous.  All of us were in a panic and begun screaming and crying. Then there were shots.  Everyone grew silent.  And we waited for what would happen next.

In Albanian language one said:  “Everyone sit down and if you want to stay alive you will do what we will say.”

Automatically, everyone sat including the children. My daughters were sitting on my lap. Emma seemed very scared, because she was older and could understand things while Linda didn’t know what was happening but she did not want to sit still in my lap.  She wanted to stand up and I had to keep her sitting by force. She was crying and struggling. Two of the Serbs came near us and started choosing woman.

You, you and you.

I prayed God that they would not choose me.  I kept my head down tucked behind children when I heard,  “YOU come here!

My heart was beating so fast, so hard, it was trying to fly from my chest and I barely lifted my head to see if this call was for me. When he said, “Yes YOUUU!”

I was entirely frozen.

Please, I have children. These little girls.

Both of my daughters were crying in terror.

Shssssh. He roughly told them to be quiet.

Where is your husband?

He is in Germany.

ahahahaha

He laughed ironically.

Fighting with Serbs yes? Come here.

He had stopped laughing and yelled.

Come here!

Linda would not let go of my hand.

Please.

I begged him but he said to my daughters.

Mami is coming to help us. She will come back again.

At least he was not cruel to the children. Many were.

And he forced me to go with him, dragged me really, away from my crying screaming children. Someone near me reached to help the children.

Mami, Mami.

There were many woman chosen and all of us were directed toward different  places in the forest. One of the men knocked me down and ripped at my clothes, opened his and start raping me.  As I tried to resist, he hit me in the face and filled my bleeding mouth with oak leafs so I couldn’t scream.  He was so beastly.  As he beat me he called me horrible disgusting name. After he finished raping me, he called the other man over, who was watching and he raped me as well. After, I just lay there on the wet ground, muddy and covered with small sticks and leaves with my upper clothes torn completely away. I tried to cover myself with hands.  Then, they told me that I could go back to the other people.

When I returned stumbling toward the group, I saw their faces register horror, disbelief and disgust. I turned away. I felt filthy all the way through my bones and completely humiliated.  My daughters were crying and when they saw me they ran to hug me. Everyone was looking at me. An older woman gave me her jacket to cover myself.

After some hours the enemy let us move.

It was already dark when we arrived in a unfamiliar small town. We were so tired, just a small group of twenty people all woman and children.  We decided to stay in one of the kindergarten schools.  There were beds and blankets there for the children’s naps, so we stayed the night. I cleaned myself as best I could – there was running water — but I would not feel fully clean for a very long time and I was completely numb. I couldn’t even cry.

My mind was beyond control and just wanted to replay the act of mud, rape, oak leafs and the beatings which went on for years – the memory came to life for years, something would happen and it all rushed back — I was there lying in the forest being raped and injured.

In the morning at the kindergarten, one family offered to take me and my children in their old paint faded farm truck. It was blue, I think.  I looked away from the whole trip but expressed gratitude as we traveled to Albania to a refugee camp where my daughters and I stayed with thousands of others until the end of the war.

Immediately after the war, I came back home transported from Albania with many others. We were told we were free and safe. My home was not destroyed, but my soul was — I felt dirty, humiliated and very far away from free and safe. I could not speak. The entire neighborhood knew what had happened to me, and it seemed that every one of them was pointing a finger toward me. I did not want to go out. I hid in my house with my children.

Eventually, I changed neighborhoods. I went to live in my sister’s house.  During the war she went as a refugee to live in Norway. So, I could use her house.  She sent me money as she could so I could survive with Emma and Linda. I lived a very isolated life and I didn’t go out from the house for months.

I didn’t want to see the light of the sun, me, who used to love life now it seemed that my life had ended.  Really.  Sometimes when I did go out from necessity, food and all I felt the people I saw were talking about me, every one of them was talking about me — every glance toward me was another bullet in a wound that never healed. I had forgotten how to behave as a mother, sister or friend. I forgot how it was to take and give a smile. I had simply forgotten how it was to live. I was dead among the living.

After fourteen years of this numb dead life, things began to change when I was encouraged by someone I knew to call for assistance in a rehabilitation center for women. After that, I started exposure therapy and the light at the end of tunnel began to shine and call me to leave that dark muddy place, to take the oak leafs from my mouth and speak. As I spoke, nothing horrible happened and the memory that lives began to drain of self-loathing and I began to feel safe and supported. I began to reclaim my life. I could once again see grass and blossoms and sky.  I could smile and say hello to people without shame as that old world in shades of black faded into color and I became a real mother again. I could be with my children in play and joy. It was the best feeling I ever had.  I was a dead person brought back to life where breathe could move in my chest and my eyes could open again to the bright world around me.

Today I work as a house keeper and have a very quiet life with my two daughters. I am so proud of them. Emma is studying education in college.  Linda is still in high school.  I rent a flat that I can pay for by myself. What a wonderful feeling to be able to depend only on myself. I am so grateful that I’m alive again really try to enjoy every second of my life.

I worked very hard in therapy ( she had prolonged exposure therapy).  I didn’t want my past to destroy my present and my future.  And even more important, I didn’t want my past to destroy my children’s future.  They deserve more.

Today I don’t see myself as a victim, but as a survivor — I survived my trauma. This does not mean that I’ve forgotten what I have experienced, that will never happen. I will never forget but I realized that life must go on. And it has.

Now I walk with pride replacing the shame I felt for so many years and I do not isolate myself.  Who should be ashamed and isolated are those men who committed the crime.

Someday, I want to hear that my abusers will pay for what they did, not just to me but all the surviving 20,000 other woman who were raped and tortured in my country.

Teuta: Escape and Return

In this piece,  Besire, a trauma psychotherapist/psychologist in Pristina, Kosovo interviews and makes a few comments for context.  She herself was a refugee who survived very difficult times.  She wanted the women’s stories to break through the walls of her office into the world and did the women. here must s be pointed out that stories are given with the consent of clients.  These stories need to be held, cradled and the women celebrated for their courage, their strength and their love.  

Teuta’s Story

Kosova201541I just want people to know what we experienced and what we still deal with!  I’m the lucky woman, because my husband knows what happened to me, accepted that, and try to be supportive at maximum, but there are thousands of woman that can’t talk about their experience, they suffer in silence. Alone. In my village there are a lot of woman who were raped and never dare to talk or seek treatment, because if they speak they can be excluded from the family, abused, made into prostitutes and remain homeless. Speaking about what happened can bring terrible things.  There is humiliation,  fear, shame, guilt and anger!

I would like people to not judge us, not stigmatize us, to see as like a normal women.

We didn’t choose to be raped or tortured, they choose us. With what we could protect our self?

It was very easy to be man in the war time, because they took the weapons and fight in mountain, or some just hiding in mountains, but we were unprotected, without weapons, we fought for our children and ourselves with our bodies.

***************

In the summer of 1998, my life changed forever. As was usual for our summer vacation, my husband, myself and our two children came from Germany where we have lived for several years to our home of origin in Kosovo. I was pregnant with our third child.  We planned to stay a month with our families as we normally did and then return to Germany where my husband worked in construction and I was caretaker for his boss’s two children. We had a nice life.

A few years earlier, my husband had finished the army in Croatia so he was an experienced military man.  The war between the Serbian and Albanian Kosovars had begun in earnest in January 1998.  Our army people came to our house and asked my husband to join KLA — Kosovo Liberation Army. It was a request he  couldn’t refuse — these were our people — so my husband joined. I didn’t go back to Germany but remained in our birthplace with my mother-in-law in her home while my husband went into the mountains with KLA.

War had been going on for six months and everywhere was heard shots.

People stayed at home all the time, only in the cases when we absolutely needed something from town or to visit doctor did we go out. I was scared, mostly because i was pregnant and the children were so young, 4 and 2 years old.  I heard that other people in some villages were already left their homes to go the mountains where they felt safer – they were afraid to walk on the roads because the enemy soldiers would harm them, rape or kill them.  I was sure that very soon we would have to do this as well.

Days went by, months went by and my husband could not come home because he could be captured by the enemy forces and killed automatically. Time for birth was approaching. I couldn’t decide if I should go to the hospital or give birth at home.

In hospital were working just Serbian doctors and nurses, I heard cases that  they kill Albanian babies and tortured the mothers, so I decided to give birth at home with the help of my mother in law.

In January 1999, she arrived; I gave birth to my third child.  Only three weeks after bringing into life my daughter, the enemy came to our house and we were forced to leave.

The village was surrounded by military and paramilitary forces and we escaped to the mountains. We all knew that when the enemy came into the village or neighborhood they burned houses, maltreated/abused or raped women and killed men and sometimes boys.

Together with my mother in law and other fellow villagers, we spent many days there in cold weather and without any food. We were unprepared to leave the houses.  We took what we could: some bags with food, mostly bread but that was not enough for staying long. We created plastic pavilions (tents)  to  sleep but it was snowing and extremely cold. Everywhere you could hear children crying. The children were sleeping in their clothes and boots and the babies got severe rashes.

Besire: During the time when the civilian population stayed in the mountains, they used fire, and diapers often washed with water only, we had no soap or sometimes the ashes of the fire that was more efficient for fading.  The enemy saw the fires and knew where we were. 

The small baby I kept all the time at the breast in order to keep her warm and trying to feed.  But I didn’t have milk enough because I didn’t eat, saving bread, our primary food by now, for children. My mother in law was taking care for other two children most of the time.

But enemy forces didn’t even allow us to stay in the mountains they gathered hundreds of people who they had forced to leave their houses and in big crowds we were forced to move from one village to another.  

Men were sent in an unknown direction, while all women were gathered in the school yard of the village and times to times the Serbian army chose some of the most beautiful women, sent them inside the school or behind the school where they would sexually abuse them. In this collection I was chosen together with 7 other women and sent by 3 paramilitary behind the school and they forced us to take our clothes away.

My one month baby was crying all the time as my mother-in-law held her on the other side of the building and this was bothering one of the paramilitaries, so he took my  mother in law who was holding the baby and brought  her behind the school where we were naked.

I remember when He asked: “Whose is this child?”  All the seven women who were naked said that: “It’s mine, it’s mine.”

Teuta started crying when she reached this part of her story and remembers this moment. She cannot stop crying and she understands very well the reaction of each woman, because all of them wanted to escape from the clutches of those “savages” as she calls them. 

After calming herself she continues her story. 

But then my mother in law shows who the real mother of the baby is and I survived from the rape this time. While leaving the group I always am sorry when I remember that had to put on clothes of another woman due to the fact that I was in a hurry to escape and i couldn’t find mine.  But our suffering did not end because after some hours, after they raped a lot of young women they forced us to go on the road with the long line of people walking or some with truck and moving from one village to another.  I was extremely tired , because I didn’t eat nothing for days .I keep all the time the baby in my arms but she was not  was  not moving anymore   because I couldn’t breastfeed her, I thought she was dead –died of starvation.  I thought that the baby was dead, and for a moment I was thinking, maybe is better because she will not suffer any more!

I was numb, i even couldn’t cry.  I decided to leave the baby near the road while we were walking, but a young Serbian solder nearby felt compassion for me, it seemed. He  tried to say something in his language but i could not understand, then he start doing like a dog, which i understood that  he was saying  to take the baby and  bury somewhere  because the dogs might eat her, so I started crying and  took  baby Flaka up again my arms. I kissed her like I wanted to apologize to her why I wanted to leave her there — I was so sure that she was delufta-e-kosovesad.

Besire: From the stories of Teuta, I understood in general, the Serbian regular army, rarely mistreated civilians, they were fighting with KLA.  It was the paramilitary groups that did all the terrorizing and murdering.   

Affected by this, I continued on the road with the long line of people, and only a few minutes later a shell from a tank exploded in the middle of the line of trucks and people, causing many deaths and injuries.  Immediately after, the paramilitary forces were killing the injured people.  They did it coldly with no apparent feeling; meanwhile the others were forced to continue the trip moving around dead or dying people.

The shell noise was so great that my ears were closed and couldn’t hear anything, but I felt very warm and very strange.

There was blood.  I didn’t know I was hit at first…shrapnel struck me in the left breast and also hit the baby. Flaka started to move from the pain and in that moment I understood she had been hit in the nose and that she was still alive.

Seeing that enemy forces were killing all the wounded people I approached my mother in law and told her what was happening to me. When she saw me and baby, she was terrified.  I could see it and  she told  me, ssh,  be quiet, bear the pain   and not  scream  because she was fearful that they will kill me as they killed also many other wounded persons.  Mother-in-law helped to stop the blood with her handkerchief, and we continue the path in the long line of people, but over the days, my wound started being infected causing fever. Also, I tried to clean baby wound but she was not moving again. She was half dead!

After one day of 12 hours of hiking, we were sent to a cooperative, a building for agricultural issues, where the paramilitary forces selected me and other 120 beautiful women, took us inside the cooperative where we were systematically violated. I was with temperature and fever, because of the wound but this didn’t stop them raping me.  While my mother-in-law with many others and their children remained outside of the building and she somehow manages to send a message to my father which was enrolled in KLA and happened to be in hiding nearby.

We women were inside the cooperative but the paramilitary didn’t stay all the time inside, they mostly came around 19.00 o’clock.

My father analyzed very well the situation and after many attempts he manages to sneak through the roof and we escaped with the help of the women who remained behind.

During the day the paramilitary stayed in front of the building, drinking coke and singing so I analyzed good the situation and escaped from behind the building and he took me from the cooperative and took me to the closest headquarters, to take medical treatment for the wound.  I told him I had to go back. He begged me not to go to the cooperative again, but I had to because we were numbered/counted every night and if one of us was missing, the enemy said that they would kill 10 women for every one escaped.

So I had to turn back, because they were like my sisters, and I could not bear the feeling of guilt of any of them would be murdered because of me –  all of them helped me to  escape when my father come for me.

As soon as I was back inside the building,  the paramilitary forces came to  violate, and rape, one if the Serbian paramilitary noticed bandage on my bosom and understood  that I had escaped for treatment  was treated, and he brutally beats me and breaks my ankle bone with his boots.

It is still not right, all these years later she cannot walk for long periods of time. 

It was not just violating us, it was that at night after all day being raped, we try to rest, they come in and urinate on us.  Taking careful time.

After several consecutive days of sexual violence in this building, some of the women were released while several others were taken by the Serb forces and later on after the war they were found dead in different wells around the area. That’s what they did.  Poison the wells with our own bodies.

Teuta was among the freed women.   She returned to her children and mother in law and then was joined by her husband later on, who explained the entire situation to him.  Her husband was one of the very supportive ones, there were fewer of those kinds of men and he still continues to support her maximally. He kept her from suicide several times.  She, after all these difficulties,  experienced many health problems including depression  and other symptoms of PTSD, migraine and other physical problems including hypertension for which she ( and the other women) have no money for medicine.  She is still undergoing prolonged exposure  psychotherapy. 

  ******

Besire: How were the holidays for you before the war and now?  

Oh there is a huge difference. The best holiday for me was Bajram holiday. I remember the time when i was unmarried, we couldn’t wait for Bajram, and we were preparing for weeks. I lived in a big village and with a lot of cousins and sisters. We were 7 sisters and all of us had flair for singing with tambourine. So before and during holiday we went house by house to all villages, singing and dancing, especially we went to the houses when were new brides. The new brides wore the best clothes they had and we sing tothem. Now everything is different, everything is so empty.

Today we celebrate just one day of Bajram, and you don’t see joy in peoples face , neither to children, they are not happy anymore. We just say to each other “happy Holiday and that’s it, we don’t sing and dance any more like used to do, even when we smile to each other it seems to me is a fake smile. After the war things changed, it seems that the war ended but took our joy and happiness! Every holiday reminds us of who is not there and how many we don’t know what happened to them.

Besire: What is the best thing that can happen for you?

The worst thing for me now, is to see my daughter with the nose deformed from the grenade.  She is already fifteen, an excellent student and it happens  many times, she comes home  from school crying, because other children call her ” tomato nose” I pray good one day she will have the opportunity to operate her nose and to feel like other children.  That is the best that can happen to me!

Journey of Survivors: Sexual Violence in War

Eliminating Sexual Violence in War, was the summit held in London on June 10th, 2014. This Summit welcomed over 900 experts, NGOs, survivors, faith leaders, and international organizations from more than 140 countries.  It was the biggest global meeting on this issue ever convened.

According to Amnesty International, rape is now used deliberately as a military strategy… by the spread of AIDS, and by eliminating cultural and religious traditions.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague co-chaired the summit with Angelina Jolie. He said rape was one of the “great mass crimes” of modern times and called on the nations at the summit to write action against sexual violence into their armies.

Ashlar associate, Selvije Izeti made this presentation:

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Some expressions of survivors of sexual violence in Kosova:

              “People are afraid from hell , I do not fear that I live with that hell every day“

              “They wounded our soul, but people stepped upon our wounds“

              “It might have been better if I’ve jointed the battlefield than to experience the war upon my body” 

             “There is no life for me anymore“

             “They don’t recognize us as victims of war, but as victims of shame“

             “How I wish to sleep quietly for a single  day and see a beautiful dream” 

            “They wounded our soul, but people stepped upon our wounds“

             “I’m not alone, I’m never alone …. shame, pain and suffering are my inseparable company” 

As many of you know, 15 year ago women of  Kosovo have been part of the tragedy inflicted by war in my country.  Always when it comes to sexual violence and rape camps in the Balkans, Bosnia is just mentioned. For Kosovo always is said that there might have been violation.  But in fact it is believed that sexual violation involved about 20 thousand Albanian women in Kosovo, and perpetrators of these crimes have gone unpunished and remain still free.

We all know that throughout history, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. Rape is used because it is easily hidden and hits the most vulnerable people, woman and children leaving lasting consequences not only in the individual but also in the family society and whole generations.  Because the effects last a lifetime for survivors of sexual violence it is a war crime in times of war and in times of peace, so peace that we others found in freedom they unfortunately do not yet enjoy.

I work  with the survivors of sexual violence for years, and every time I meet them, I see  the  signs  of  their  suffering  and  their  inhumane  treatment during and after the war. During the war they experienced serious physical and psychological injuries.  It was easy for them to ask help for physical injuries, but the invisible wounds they keep in silent because they know that if they speak will face social consequences like: stigma, humiliation, blaming,  expulsion from home or abandonment by husbands, Divorce. Men have refused to marry girls who have been victims of rape.  Family tends to isolate women who have experienced rape. This has made women, even after 15 years, to choose suffering in silence.

Fifteen years of silence have multiplied wounds, have multiplied the pain facing constant fear, sadness, anger, self-blaming, and shame; Anxiety disorders –PTSD, Depression, somatic complaints, suicidal thoughts, numbness, isolation from family, friends and relatives, loss of attention etc. Even it considered to be 20,000 survivors of sexual violence, just 100 of woman come forward to ask for counseling in services of KRCT, which is one of the main NGO-s that that work directly with the survivors of sexual violence.  Of those, nearly 80 hid their husbands about the rape and continue, to hide the secret out of fear of abandonment or abuse. 

To help victims of sexual violence to recover and rebuild their live they first of all must be treated with respect  humanity, confidentiality. They need to be fully supported  not just from the NGO- s that offer psychological help, but from each member of society so that the  victims  can be offered a sense  of  normalcy, a life  different from what the perpetrators of these  horrendous crimes  designed for them.

The last two years have been many Campaigns to raise people’s awareness and fighting stigma regarding sexual violence through emissions through various documentaries. The survivors have stated that this awareness building is also necessary for them to remove their sense of shame and to understand that they have been victims of crime, not authors.

Finally in Kosova, three months victims of sexual violence are recognized by law as a victim of war and is expected to benefit an Individual compensation in the form of monthly pension as other categories of war.  I hope that this law will be implemented soon, because getting a law onto the statute book is one thing, getting it implemented is another! For woman  must be compensation to those individuals who survived sexual violence as well as other kinds of injury, but also adequate state expenditure on health and housing, schools and jobs, so that women can participate fully in society.

Woman will not find peace till they don’t find justice – that every crime be effectively investigated, every perpetrator prosecuted, every crime punished. Therefore, I think that a key component to ending rape as a weapon of war is the successful prosecution of perpetrators.  Perpetrators need to admit responsibility and to be publicly seen as responsible for their actions

As well raising awareness on gender violence is key to long-term prevention and stopping rape in conflict. As we work towards preventing conflict-related rape, we will address the institutionalized discrimination in our society, while changing people’s mindsets towards violence and women.

Flora: Tanks in the Front Yard

TankqFlora, a 50 year old woman, and mother of six children, is from rural Drenica Valley in Kosovo, the valley that was the hardest hit and most destroyed by war. When the war started in Drenica in February 1998,  Flora’s civilian husband, Faton, was attacked in their home by the Serbian police several times and nearly beaten to death in front of Flora and the children. When the beating was over, Faton knew he would never be safe in this world, so he left for the mountains with their 20 year old son. To justify the beating, the police used the pretext that they heard that Faton had weapons, even though they never found any. In general, the police justified abuse calling the people from Drenica terrorists — the men were always in danger as the police could enter homes whenever they wanted. They abused, harassed and threatened people, often killing them. After a while it became clear, they wanted to exterminate all the men, including boys.  So they were gone and who remained were children, women and old people.

So Flora stayed behind with the rest of the children. She continued her life making as many as seventeen loaves of bread a day for her family and for others hiding in the mountains. During some nights, the men came home for food or other necessities and to see their wives and children.


Flora’s story

The 18 of September 1998 is a date that I will not forget till I die. The men from the village along with my husband and eldest son hid from the Yugoslav/Serbian forces that had been fighting Kosovo Albanians since February. As usual, I was baking loaves in the kitchen when I heard a loud noise and our very old house began to tremble. I ran outside to see what was happening and was completely shocked to see Serbian tanks rumbling through the street.

We lived at the edge of the village so when the tanks stopped before entering town, they stopped near our house.. I looked down the road and saw families, many mothers and children, leaving and moving quickly toward the mountains carrying what they could but I couldn’t go with them –I was completely unprepared, the loaves were in the fire, and I had no other food prepared so even if I wanted, I couldn’t go, my children would go hungry in the mountains.

There was no question, I decided to stay. When the rumbling tanks arrived, my children surrounded me terrified. I reassured them as I thought the soldiers wouldn’t harm defenseless women and her children. But when I saw the tank full of soldiers directly pull in the front of the house, I realized my mistake.

Five armed men jumped out of the tank and came in the house, one after another in clunking boots with no care for our home. And I remember they put black masks over their faces immediately. I motioned to my youngest daughters to come stand close to me. We gathered together, all of us, me and my children as they ordered us in their Serbian language to go into the basement of the house. My youngest daughter was 13 years old, another was 15, and my older daughter was 18.   

My daughters and I were herded downstairs. The soldiers left my son upstairs while my three daughters and me were held captive in the basement.  The masked soldiers told us to take off our clothes and when we refused, they began beating us brutally.  They tore off our clothes and then each of them raped us rotating with the four of us one after another.tank2

I have heard that some woman during the rape lose consciousness but I was totally aware of what was happening, though at some point, stopped thinking. I heard the screaming of my daughters begging them to kill us. I couldn’t believe that what was happening was real. It cannot be described in words how I felt as a mother hearing my children screaming for my help and being able to do nothing, absolutely nothing. “For the sake of GOD, please kill us.”  I begged the rapists but they were laughing — ‘we don’t want you dead.’

I wasn’t afraid of dying; I could see Tringa, my 13 year old daughter crying and looking at me for help. My daughter Lule had a shoulder injury of some kind.  I told my daughters to stay silent, to be quiet. I didn’t know how to make their fear go away. I still remember that feeling.  They kept us in the basement for around two hours but for me it was a hundred years of terror, and helplessness.  We were all shaking and naked.

They left in the early evening, just like that, to check the other houses, I guess.  We went upstairs still naked and found my son terrified and cringing in the corner of the room. I got clothes for my daughters and tried to calm them, helped Lule with her arm, and we stayed all together close, trembling and shaking and waited to see what would happen next.

At nightfall (we were still quivering – I had taken bread from the oven, some burned), an old uncle came to the house.

When I told him what had happened, he ordered all of us to “bury” the experience, saying the rapes were “a bigger tragedy than being murdered.”

That night we took an oath, my daughter and me that we never will talk about what we experienced.

My husband is very patriarchal man, and I knew that if he understand that we were raped he would prefer killing us with his own hand than fe el that much shame. Some women were killed by their husbands.

Flora was breathless as she told the story.  She asked for water. 

My youngest who was 13 years old at the time of the rapes has been psychologically traumatized ever since. Another one of my daughters Lulja, also traumatized, had her left shoulder dislocated.

Afraid of bringing shame and isolation on my family I remained silent for all this years, even I   watched the heavy toll silence has taken on my family.   Two of my  daughters left the country after the war.  They live in Finland and for years they have been in psychotherapy because of their suffering from PTSD, anxiety and depression . Tringa, the youngest one got married, only to be rejected by her husband when he found out about the rape.  I begged her husband not to tell my husband why he was divorcing Tringa because he would kill us. 

Tringa lives with us and she is very depressed.  She never wants to go out. 

After the war I had another daughter, she was born with Down syndrome.

For myself, I never told my husband about the rapes. Instead, I told him that my daughters and me were beaten as a way of explaining the anxiety and depression they’ve suffered ever since. Me as well. My husband says rape would dishonor the family; during the war, he threatened to kill me more than once if I were ever “touched” by a Serb.

How can you talk to such a person about this?” asks Flora, who confessed she told her husband she was traveling to Pristina for a doctor’s appointment about her daughter with Down syndrome rather than meeting a psychologist.

I would really prefer it if they had killed me, instead of letting me survive. 

We women who were raped and tortured don’t feel any pleasure in life. When your husband doesn’t know what happened to you, then you aren’t able to express yourself to him about anything, and you never feel good. Even if we were talking in the most beautiful moments, I hold back and then, I’m in the worst position. And that’s the very worst thing that’s happened.”

Beside the rape experience, me and my family spent the rest of the war as displaced, forced from village to village by the ethnic-cleansing campaign and under threat from the NATO bombing campaign aimed at driving enemy forces out of the Albanian-majority territory.

But  after  the terror my daughter and me experienced, my ordinary fears melted away, and I often found myself  reaching out to help fellow displaced women.

I had lived through a real trauma, and I didn’t want other women to experience the same thing. I couldn’t even scream anymore. I felt no fear.

During the war we were closed in one village mosque. The mosque was surrounded by the enemy that threatened to kill us all.  We were all woman and children.  All terrified but I acted like a leader there. I told them not to fear death.  They were all in panic and needed encouragement. I gathered all children and telling the story how one day the war will stop and we will celebrate all together in Freedom. They needed to hear these words. I just took the attitude that we had to move ahead and not look back.

After two days closed in that mosque, the enemy let us go. They put us in buses and took us to the Macedonia border. My daughters, my son and I stayed in a camp for a month knowing nothing about my husband and my older son, because we left them in them in the mountains. We were worried about them. But, I was also scared to see him because of what had happened to us.

After the war was finished we immediately came back to Kosovo where we found my son and husband both at home. The house had been ravaged, everything taken or smashed but not burned.

Before the war, we had a horse and two cows but they were killed. They were how we made a living. With my children just having an elementary school education while, me and my husband had just three year education.  So, it was very difficult for us to live, but one humanitarian organization helped us with 10 goats and for these years since the war years we bred and raised the number of goats, so today they are our source of living, for my 10 member’s family. Today we live in very difficult economic conditions but nothing is more difficult than having to remain SILENT.

I have hidden our secret for 15 years, and I know that thousands of my sisters do the same. I know woman who live in a misery and they need support either financially, emotionally or morally.  I hope in sharing my story, people will know what we experienced and instead of judging us, will support us and help persuade other Kosovars to finally acknowledge this painful chapter from the past.

Before the war, the best Holiday for us was Bajram Holiday. Before the war we enjoyed the Holiday. One week before we women prepared everything together with great fun and then during the holiday, shared our food and joy with all our relatives and our neighbors. We celebrated three days. The first day, we wore our best clothes – the adults and the children and lunched together with our close family then in the afternoons we went out in our neighborhood to eat and decide who made the best cakes.  On the other days we went to relatives or waited for relatives to come to our home but now I don’t feel pleasure about much of anything.

It bothers me when Bajram Holiday comes because instead of bringing the biggest joy, I always feel tormented because my soul has been killed. And I think most of us who experienced war feel like that and I know many years will pass, generations even before our people start to enjoy the holidays as we enjoyed them before.

Neither my nieces or nephews, my children or grandchildren will enjoy them but maybe their nieces or nephews yes, their grandchildren will be pure enough that they will not have experienced what we have and don’t really know what war means.

I would do anything to see men talking openly to wives who have been victimized by the enemy, Woman first of all should be supported   by their husband. Suffering in silence is killing me day by day.   If I don’t get anything out of telling my story, maybe someone else will. I may have lost a battle, but I don’t want others to experience the same.

We need support, support from the state and support from society. When that happens, that’s when we’ll be at peace.

Wartime Pregnancy

Sanije is now a 38 years old woman, the mother of two children.  She was only 23 year when her husband was killed and left her with the child one year old and two months pregnant.  As with many of our posts, the story is in her own words except where it interferes with being understood…

For me holidays never had any sense. My father died when I was seven year old. We were seven children, and were raised just by my mother, it was very hard. We lived in very poor economical conditions, we didn’t have enough bred to eat and nothing to celebrate any holiday. When I got married in the age 21, I thought that just at that time I start living. I loved my husband, we lived in extended family of 15 people but in a better economical conditions that I was used to live, so I was very happy.  But my happiness didn’t last much, just two years latter my husband was killed by enemy forces and quelled any joy in my life. Therefore I never enjoyed any holiday, because especially in holiday there is a need for people you love, and when they are absent there is no pleasure to celebrate anything!

Through my story, I want people to understand what consequences War may bring and perhaps it will help them to learn to appreciate life more:

In my town war started earlier than in other places, from 1998 we were isolated, we couldn’t move freely in
the town. I was married just one year before and in February 1998 my daughter Besarta was born home with the help of my mother and sisters in law.

We were afraid to go in Hospital because at that time there were just Serbs working there and we didn’t feel safe. There were stories that they tortured mothers and murdered the babies. Fortunately everything went good and the baby born safe and sound.

Four months later my husband decided to join the Kosovo Liberation Army. Men and boys up to 12 or 13 years of age weren’t safe at home, if found they were murdered. So, they stayed most of the time in mountains, so it was better for them to have a gun to fight or to protect themselves. I   agreed with his decision, even though I felt very insecure at home just with my mother in law and my sister in law and children, no weapons because all the man from our house joined KLA (Kosova Liberation Army). Time to time they secretly came home during the night. My husband every time he came was very sad when he went back  because he couldn’t see his daughter growing up, she already became one years old.

It was April first when enemy forces came into our house — that day they collected many woman in neighborhood and many of them were raped. Fortunately I wasn’t selected, but one of my sister in law yes. They burned our house and forced us to march toward Albania. We heard many stories how the enemy maltreated woman on the way to Albania, so we decided to go to one village because my husband was fighting near there with his four brothers and other of our solders.

We were positioned in one big house and there were more than sixty people, but at last we had food because our solders brought us some of their food. My husband came to see us in that house and tried to encourage us that the War soon will be finished and that we had to be patient.

One week later, April 29, 1999, there was a fighting between enemy forces and KLA solders. That day many KLA soldiers were killed, among them my husband as well. When my brother in law gave us bad news, it seemed like my eyes died. My life died. Now, not only I had lost my husband, but that meant that was losing my daughter  as well because, according to old traditions, when her husband dies and a  woman  has no son, the daughter has to live in husband’s house. I didn’t want to lose my daughter, I’ve grown up without a father and I didn’t want my daughter growing up orphan, without a father and mother. Now I had no fear for nothing. War didn’t scare me any more – what was scaring me was my future, if I had any?!

But luck was not abandoning me – a month later I realize that I was pregnant. I cannot describe how happy I felt. From that minute that I knew that I was pregnant I pray God every minute for it to be a boy, because just in this way I could raise my children.

The war ended in June, we came back to our house, the house was burned and we improvised tents to live in until we constructed new house. It was July, now I was six months pregnant. I refused to go to the doctor and to know about the gender. I was afraid the doctor would say that it was a girl, so I decided to know about it when child will come in life.

As I expected the elders of village were gathered to decide for my fate. According to them if I had a boy, then I have the right to decide if I want to stay with my children in my husband house with my mother in law and other four brothers in law all married. They had an obligation to care for me and the children until the children grow, but  I didn’t have right to be married again. Ever. If I will have another girl, then three months after the birth I should abandon my children and go to my mother house.

No! They were all that I had, my hope my future, my breath.

I cannot describe with words, how happy I was when I brought in life my son Fati (not his real name), I gave him the name of my husband. In this way it was a rebirth for my husband and for me as well. Now nothing could separate me from my children.

Now, fifteen years later, I can say that I have two wonderful children, they are good pupils and very supportive to me. Fati is very talented in football and already has offers to go outside the country to develop his talent, but we still didn’t decide what to do.

I still live in an extended family with my mother in law and other 23 family members of my husband. I can say that they treat me very well and I have been well supported from them. Two year ago I joined to work voluntarily in one NGO for the protection of woman, and  this is a great experience for me because I always wanted to be helpful for others.

I never knew how strong I was until life tested me.  I realized that it is hope that keeps you alive. Hope was my weapon to fight deep sadness.

Today what makes me strong is the love of my children and the work I do helping other women.

I dream one day to have my own house and that my children are successful in life. Their success is my joy and I live my life through their dreams coming true.