From Lek Përleshi
Memorie.al / On May 24, 1914, a symposium was held by the “ALBANIAN-AMERICAN HOUSE OF FREEDOM”, an organization created a few years ago in Washington D.C., by a well-known Albanian intellectual. This organization is typically anti-communist and is run by board members, without a named chairman. For the first time, I had the opportunity to participate as a guest in this symposium, which really impressed me about the form of this rather sharp organization. This organization is led by the members of the board of directors according to the rule that they will decide in certain cases.
This time, according to the rules of the program that the board members had set, it would be led by the former diplomat of the first Albanian democratic government in Washington – Mustafa Xhepa. Mr. Mustafa Xhepa, first informed us about the program and briefly presented the history of this organization and then invited one of the board members to appear on stage with the events and experiences they had during the infamous communism in Albania.
“ALBANIAN-AMERICAN HOUSE OF FREEDOM” honored two intellectual sisters Isabela Islami (Çocoli) and Zamira Islami (Edwards) with the decoration “ALBANIAN OF FREEDOM”. Zef Balaj, one of the members of the board of directors of AAFH, was appointed to present the “Eagle of Freedom” decoration to the two sisters, Isabela and Zamira. In short, Zef Balaj thanked the two heroine sisters for their great contribution, who are a source of inspiration for all Albanians wherever they are.
Ms. Isabela also on behalf of her sister, Zamira, thanked Zef Bala and the other members of the board, for the very precious decoration. On this occasion, Isabela presented her and her family’s history that has passed during the time of savage communism in Albania. Below we will briefly present the suffering of two sisters and the family terror during the time of communism in Albania.
Participating for the first time in this organization, I created an impression, as if I had been a part of it since the creation of this organization. With the appearance of the board members on stage, with the presentation of short events during communism in Albania, it was an experience that should never be forgotten, generation after generation.
I am very grateful and want to thank Mr. Zef Balaj for inviting me to participate in this symposium. Zefi’s words for the invitation were: “I believe that it is up to you to participate and you will not regret it”! Mr. Zef Balaj introduced me briefly, talking about our family ties from Kosovo, with Albanian anti-communist families, where my aunt, Ndue Përleshi, was killed in the war against communism, together with Ndoc Kolë Mirakaj, in the mountains of Iballa, Albania.
Therefore, the association with Mr. Zef Balaj did not connect us only with the national activity that we do in America, but familially and historically, we were connected for the common idea against the savage communism that we suffered, as well as many other families that had the same fate. Just as a part of the nation suffered under the Enverian dictatorship, so we, no less, under the Serbo-Yugoslav occupation.
Thanks to God and the blood of heroes that today we experience freedom and democracy in Dardane land. We are glad that the two heroine sisters were lucky enough to live and act in the free world.
A brief description of the two heroine sisters, Isabela and Zamira. What makes these two heroine sisters stand out from others is their heroism and selfless work. They are symbols of rebirth from the internment camp-ÇERMA-camp of Albanian communism.
Visar Zhiti, the great anti-communist writer, says about the two sisters: “Working the two sisters in the ‘Voice of America’ in the Voice of Freedom and the fight for freedom, we felt a kind of internal triumph, a kind of Albanian drama, with the last act in the USA, modern in time, a sort of subject of The Count of Monte Cristo, but with ‘red tragedy’ between…”!
The heroism of the Islam sisters, well defined by the inhuman situation, makes an act of bravery and a heroic result. Their swim across the high seas to freedom could be tantamount to suicide. They knew well that their swimming was swimming towards death, but these heroines, together with their brother, had decided to stand tall for their freedom and not give in to fear. The younger brother of the two sisters swam behind them as a rear guard, to keep an eye on them, but unfortunately the Albanian coast guards of the border investigated and chased him with a speedboat.
The sisters’ brother, Klementi, changes direction so the sisters won’t be noticed, so the Coast Guard quickly rams him with a speedboat, leaving him dead on the spot, and so dead, they drag him across water and send it to Sarande, near the beach where the leaders’ children rested. The witness of this event was the nephew of Hysni Kapo, who today lives in New York.
Their family history was terrifying, because they had never come to terms with the savage, anti-human communism. Their grandfather, Maksut Selenica, was arrested in October 1944 by communist gangs and executed in 1945, at the age of 58.
While the family members, their mother, Nadire Selenica Islami and grandmother Ismihan Selenica, the daughter and sister of the patriot Zalo Prodani, were arrested after the execution of Maksut. Their father, Hajdar Islami, dies in Berishë i Vogël i Puka, where he was exiled, after the event of his children’s escape. Isabela and Zamira were born in Tirana. After escaping from Albania on August 2, 1984, they stayed until December of that year in Athens, Greece, with political asylum.
On December 19, 1984, they arrived in Detroit, Michigan, where they were welcomed as heroes by the Albanian community there, a large part of which knew their family, both from their father and mother. On July 1, 1985, Isabela started working at “Voice of America” and in October of the same year, Zamira also started working there. Both sisters still continue to work at “Voice of America”.
Isabela majored in American Studies and Sociology from George Mason University in Faifax, Virginia, after studying English at Wayne University in Michigan. Zamira also studied English at the same university in Michigan and English and American history at Northern Virginia Community College.
Isabela is married to Mr. Skënder Çoçoli and they have two sons; one student in the branch of Mechanical Engineering and the other in Applied Mathematics. Zamira is married to Mr. George Edwards and they have a daughter and a son. The girl graduated in May 2014, in Public Relations, Communication and Business Administration and works in the media field. The boy is a student of music and business administration.
Dalip Greca: “How did I find in the collection of ‘Dielli’, the article about the escape of the Islami sisters, in August 1984”?
While preparing the collection of the “Dielli” Newspaper for 1984, I noticed the opening title of the first page of issue 14 (75th year of publication), October 1984, then edited by the former journalist of “Zër of America”, the master of the pen who wrote with the spirit of the renaissance, Xhevat Kallajxhiu, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Demokratia” of Gjirokastra in the 30s-40s of the last century. It was the eighth year that Kallajxhiu edited “Dielli”; had accepted the call of “Vatra” on October 1, 1976.
The newspaper of October 1984 opened with the act of the two sisters Zamira Islami and Isabela Islami, who from Saranda, had crossed the sea by swimming and crossed to Corfu, where they had surrendered to the Greek authorities. The sisters themselves had escaped the sufferings of the communist hell, but their brother, Klement Islami, had lost his life. “The Sun” describes the adventure of two sisters through the waves of the sea, an adventure that lasted 12 hours. The pen of Xhevat Kallajxhiu describes their heroic act and describes them as; “two heroines.”
The loss of the brother, Kelmendi, is described by “Dielli” as follows: “The three of them swam next to each other, until the vicinity of Corfu, but there they lost each other due to the currents of the sea. Zamira and Isabela were found and taken by an Italian yacht, which took them to Corfu. The brother, unfortunately, was not found and it is not known how his fate ended”.
Trying to bring more details about that tragic event, “Dielli” writes: “Both sisters and brother had made a plan to escape from Albania and when the opportunity came, when they went to Saranda for holidays, they implemented it. The daring escape of Zamira and Isabela was announced by the news agencies and newspapers of Greece and many other countries of the world”, Dielli announced.
The newspapers published with big headlines the details of the escape and the interviews as well as the photographs of these two Albanian heroines.
When “Dielli” published this comment, it announced about the “Two heroines” that they were temporarily in Athens and were expected to come soon to the United States of America. Likewise, “Dielli” warned that they would be settled for some time in Detroit, where their uncle was (in fact, the son of their mother’s uncle received them), Mr. Isuf Selenica, together with his family. In fact, the sisters arrived in the United States of America on December 19, 1984 and settled for six months in Detroit, then moved to Washington. “Dielli” expressed the hope that he would write again about Misses Zamira and Isabela and added: “For now we limit ourselves, only wishing them good luck”!
The sisters Zamira and Isabela belonged to a patriotic family that had given a lot to the nation, had contributed to the creation of the Albanian state, both from the mother and from the father, but the communist regime massacred them, shot them, imprisoned them, exiled them. Even the 90-year-old grandmother was interned, as were the parents twice. The sisters themselves had spent 10 years of internment before escaping, while the brother, before escaping, had been in political prison for “agitation and propaganda”. Exactly when their brother was arrested, they were interned in Çerma in Lushnja. Memorie.al