Memorie.al / 32 years ago, the two brothers Vatë and Gjekë Beqi from the village of Beks in Velipoja, took to the sea by swimming and with a car camera, with the sole purpose of leaving communist Albania. But after ten kilometers, they were spotted by the border patrol and a few minutes later, a motorboat of the border police shot at them. Gjekë Beqi was injured and the other brother, Vata, was forced to swim ashore at a time when the police patrol was checking them so they wouldn’t run away again. As soon as he came ashore, Vatë Beqi was shot without warning with a machine gun by the commander of the coastal border post, Bino Binaj (originating from Vlora and also known by his changed name, Besnik Resul Zykaj) and died on the spot. Vatë Beqi, was shot while begging for the life of his wounded brother, Gjeka, at a time when Albania had just repealed the law that severely punished escapes, which already based on the Penal Code of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania that had just entered in effect, it was no longer considered “high treason” but simply “illegal border crossing”!
Gjekë Beqi himself escaped without being killed, because the commander Bino Binaj left him with the hope that he would die himself since he was wounded in the head. Gjeka managed to escape, thanks to the intervention of doctors, and was sentenced to two years in prison, while the commander, Bino Binaj, escaped on his own from Albania. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the court, in absentia, and only in 2012, i.e. only 22 years after the event, he was arrested by the Italian police and expected to be extradited to Albania.
During all this time, Bino Binaj, now with the name changed to Besnik Resul Zykaj, had remained hidden in Italy. In fact, in his personal documents, he had changed his place of birth three times, with the sole purpose of escaping arrest. The survivor of this tragic story, Gjekë Beqi, tells in this interview about everything that happened in the distant spring of 1990, when the communist regime of Tirana, even though it had begun to make some concessions (after international pressure), still continued killings at the border.
Mr. Gjekë, how did the event of 22 years ago begin?
On May 19, 1990, my brother Vata and I set out to escape by swimming. We would go to Yugoslavia and from there we would flee to America, where we had our people. On May 8, the law was changed, so fleeing from Albania was no longer called “high treason” but, simply, “illegal border crossing” and we were heartened by that. Since there was no more deportation for the family, for those crossing the border, we decided to flee.
We entered the water near the Velipoja Bridge and traveled about 10 kilometers by swimming. We left at ten o’clock at night and at five in the morning, the soldier Artan Qerimi saw us. We had also taken with us a chambermaid, where we relaxed along the way. Soldier Qerimi has notified the police post and this gentleman who was caught in Italy in 2012, Bino Binaj (now with his name changed to Besnik Resul Zykaj) has come together with the driver of the boat, Bashkim Musta. They approached us when we were about four miles out to sea.
What happened at this moment?
The commander of the border post, Bino Binaj, shot us with a “Kalashnikov” weapon without warning. I was wounded in the jaw, while my brother, Vata, in the shoulder. I sank into the water. My brother dived in and saved me. At one point the brother recognized him and said: “We are the sons of Marash Beqi. You killed us.” He said to me: “Keep it, because I will kill you on the ground.”
My brother held me by the hand and put me in the locker we had with us. Bino Binaj, dropped our anchor and pulled us ashore. When we got out, the brother was naked, as was I, since they had stripped for free swimming, and he told him to get his clothes. Besnik told him: “Go get a dog” and shot him without warning. Vata was naked and he killed it four meters before going ashore.
What happened to you?
He saw me with a bullet in the head and bleeding and said: “This one has taken a bullet in the head, let him die himself”. That was the story.
Were you arrested?
The investigators came and the investigative actions were carried out. I was arrested and sent to Shkodra hospital. Doctor Ferid Hoti took great care of me. There were three good doctors who performed an operation on me which saved my life. They are Ferid Hoti, Ali Spahia and Mark Mirashi. I had been shot in the jaw and a nerve had been severed. It was a very difficult operation.
Were you convicted of this incident?
On July 4, I was sentenced to two years in prison. The family put pressure on the Internal Branch of Shkodra and we begged them, since the head of the Branch did not want to give the brother’s body. We intervened at the Investigation in Tirana, up to Qemal Lame, the head of the General Investigation at that time, and finally, we were given the body for burial. He also wrote to Ramiz Ali. My brother was the first victim given to the family for burial.
How long were you in prison?
I spent a year in prison and got out when democracy came. I came out on February 28, 1991.
Have you sought revenge on your brother’s killer?
We did not want to take revenge, but we sued him in court according to the rules. A state employee killed us and the state must solve it. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. Admir Thanza was the judge. At that time it was still the death penalty, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment, so that he could be extradited in case he was arrested, since he was outside Albania.
He has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity. He had also violated the laws of that time. He should have warned first, shot in the air and then neutralized us, in case we tried to escape. But we did not attempt to escape, nor did we pose any danger to him, as we were naked. It was dawn and it was sunny. He saw us very well and killed us for his own pleasure.
Since then, have you learned anything about former post commander Bino Binaj?
He fled Albania in 1991 and changed his name to Besnik Resul Zykaj. He changed his hometown three times. At first, it was announced as a search for Besnik Zykaj and I couldn’t find it because no one with this name appeared. When the new name was found, that is Besnik Resul Zykaj, he was sued again by our family and this time with the new name. In 2012 he was caught in Italy, in Florence.
Were there witnesses to your brother’s murder?
There were four witnesses who told the truth. They were: Bashkim Musha, the driver of the boat and soldiers Hysen Allkanjari, Artan Qerimi and Halim Syla. Everyone said that he didn’t need to kill them because they had surrendered. My brother has been decorated “Martyr of Democracy”. Memorie.al