By Marcel Hila
Memorie.al/ Missing: Koço Kota. Suffering: His family and relatives. Koço Kota, member of the government of Ismail Qemali, acting Secretary General of the Ministry of Education, one of the organizers of the Lushnja Congress. In 1928 he was elected prime minister of the Albanian state during the Kingdom and was the last prime minister before the fascist occupation. During World War II he stayed illegally in Chameria, where he organized the Albanian Cham movement against Italy’s attack on Greece, in cooperation with the Greek anti-fascist movement.
On January 1, 1945, the State Security organized his abduction in a van in Thessaloniki, where he was imprisoned and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment, with 30 years in prison. He was imprisoned in Burrell Prison, cell no. 7, where he was subjected to inhuman torture. The executioners pierced the flesh with bayonets and then applied salt to the wounds. The last days of his life gave him no drop of water and left him to die of thirst. Transformed into a living corpse with purulent wounds, he died on September 1, 1947. The remains are not yet known where they are. He had two children: a daughter and a son.
Nuçi Kota, the son of Koço Kota, had studied at the Sorbonne University, France, where he defended a scientific study on the Albanian-Greek border, a work that was later used by the communists themselves. In the Antifascist Resistance Movement 1939-1944, he participated through the organization of the Legality Movement. Died in 1965 in the US, from a heart attack at the age of 46 years.
Jorgji Kota, Koço Kota’s cousin and activist of the Anti-Fascist National Liberation Front, was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his stances against the Communist Party, but with the intervention of Haxhi Lleshi, his sentence was reduced and he spent only 14 months in Tirana and Durrës prisons. . He died in 1975.
Witness Harallamb Kota, cousin of Koço Kota: They tore his flesh with bayonets, filled his wounds with salt and left him like this, without a drop of water, until he died.
Mr. Harallamb, thank you for agreeing to give this interview to the Authority for Information on Former State Security Documents, regarding the figure of Mr. Koço Kota. First, let’s talk about his life and activity.
Thank you for inviting me. I am very sensitive about everything that belongs to the history of the prominent personality of the Albanian nation, Mr. Kostaq Kota or Koço Kota, as he wanted to be called briefly, a story that has attracted me, made me proud, but also has saddened me with its tragic end, a story that has prompted me to commit to highlighting his historical figure and also, to express my deep indignation at his tragic end.
Koço Kota was born in Korça on May 5, 1886, in an Albanian patriotic family that had contributed for generations to the Albanian National Revival, both in Albania, in Korça, and in the Albanian lands now called Kosovo, but also in Alexandria, Egypt, where they had substantial support from the heirs of the Albanian dynasty of Muhamet Ali.
He first studied in the first Albanian school in Korça, continued his education in Bitola and secondary education in the gymnasium “Zosimea” in Ioannina. He completed his higher education in Athens, where he studied in the Legal Sciences of International Law, but also in the Sciences of Public Administration and Public Administration.
In 1908, at the time of the Young Turk Revolution, together with other Albanian students they met Ismail Qemali, from whom they received orders to prepare for teachers, because Albania would need a lot to open Albanian schools, after independence from the Empire. Osmane. For this reason, he conducted an accelerated course for the Teacher.
After graduating from university in Athens, he was offered great opportunities to work in the Greek top administration in Athens, but he refused. He wanted to return to his hometown, Korça, to teach Albanian children. When Ismail Qemali returned from Istanbul to Vlora, to organize the uprising of 1911, he came to Vlora and started working as a teacher in the high school “Muradie” in Vlora.
Due to lack of organization, the uprising failed and Koço immigrated to the United States. The Korça Albanians of America elected him president of the Patriotic Patriotic Society for the League. Together with other patriots, such as: Sotir Peci, Fan Noli, Faik Konica, created the Pan-Albanian Federation “Vatra” and is among the 7 signatories of the membership card of this association in the US.
Koço Kota, on his own initiative came to Albania to take part in the day of raising the flag in Vlora, on November 28, 1912. Some disputes between Konica and Ismail Qemali did not allow him to come as an official representative of “Vatra”. In the government of Ismail Qemali, he was elected Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Education, headed by Luigj Gurakuqi.
In 1914, when Prince Vidi came to Albania after those turbulent events that took place between 1912-1914, Koço Kota, together with Fan Noli in Durrës and Sotir Peci and many others, worked to create the first political organization in Albania. “Krahu Kombëtar”, an organization that supported Vidin and all patriotic movements in Albania.
With Vid’s departure, the organization moved to Shkodra, where it supported the national movement to defend itself against Montenegrin and Serbian occupation. When the Serbian army entered Shkodra, he was arrested and interned in Cetinje, Montenegro. Fortunately, the Austro-Hungarian army arrived and released him from the Cetinje prison. From there, he left for Italy.
After returning from Italy, Koço was one of the organizers of the Lushnja Congress, in 1920, where he was elected senator and was among the personalities who contributed to all the commissions set up by the Lushnja Congress, such as the Committee on Education, Culture, Health, Economy, etc. ., with the skills he had as a result of a very complete higher education.
In the years 1920-1939 he was always elected deputy of Korça. In the years 1921-1923 he was prefect of Korça and then prefect of Berat. In the period from 1923 to 1928, he was elected in all governments as Minister of World Affairs, Health, Economy, where he covered 3-4 departments, except for the period of the June Uprising of Fan Noli, when left and returned in December 1924.
In 1928, Koço Kota was elected Prime Minister of the Albanian State, while the state took the political form of the Kingdom of Zog I. In the years 1928 to 1939, he was also elected parliamentary speaker and again, in the years 1937-1939, he was the last prime minister of the Albanian state before the occupation of fascist Italy.
The Albanian government, led by Koço Kota in the years 1937 to 1939, in relation to the Italian state, aimed at a very friendly relationship and, the agreements concluded by King Zogu I with the Italian government, aimed at Albania, in that difficult situation with neighboring states intending to fragment it, to have a strong defense.
Meanwhile, the Albanian emigrants had formed an anti-Zogist union and demanded the removal of Zog and the overthrow of the Kingdom. But Koço Kota wanted to maintain a patriotic patriotic line and took the opportunity to go to a hospital in Paris for treatment, to talk 3-4 times with their representatives.
The last meeting was before the Italian occupation, when he gave the message to King Zog that, if they agreed on a joint resistance against the occupation of Albania by fascist Italy, then King Zog would abdicate. The agreement was not reached because anti-Zogist groups accused Zog of rising to power through Pasic’s Serbian bayonets.
On the other hand, the documents show that even these immigrants and their associations for survival had received help from the Comintern, the Soviet Union and beyond. I also want to say that, on the eve of the occupation, the government of Koço Kota has opposed all the ultimatums sent by Mussolini and Duçja. This was the reason that on April 7, 1939, the Albanian army put up a passive resistance, mostly with the Gendarmerie, while the Royal Court was forced to leave.
There was resistance in the Drini Valley, but this was opposed by the Yugoslavs, who ordered: “Do not come near, we will hit you”! In these conditions, the possibility was chosen to cross Kërraba towards Qafë Thanës, in Pogradec. The Greek state was asked for help with weapons, but the Greek state refused and sent an ultimatum that would allow the crossing to leave within 48 hours, and then would close customs.
Mussolini sentenced to death, not only King Zog, but also Prime Minister Koço Kota, as well as sequestration of property. When they crossed Kapshtica and fled to Greece, Koço Kota did not continue with the King, but the King recognized him as prime minister until December 1939. After separating from the king, Koço Kota stayed in Greece, in Chameria, in complete illegality, because as I said, that the Duchess had sentenced him to death.
According to a few documents that I could hardly find, I saw that the Greek syllogisms had put pressure on Koço Kota’s son, when he defended the scientific work at the Sorbonne on the borders, in the interest of the Albanian state. In Greece, Koço Kota has been organizing the Anti-Fascist Resistance, organizing armed groups of Albanian Cham, Orthodox and Muslim fighters to counter the Italian attack on Greece.
These groups also established links with the Anti-Fascist Movement that operated within the Albanian territory, and later with the Cham Army that was founded a little later. After the end of the war, Koço returned to Thessaloniki, to the house of his father-in-law, the father of the second wife, Vasilika Dallamanga, who was later interned by the communists in Savër in Lushnja. I believe that there must be a file for him as well.
His relatives, including my father, Jorgji Kota, informed him about what was happening in Albania and about the dangerous situation that, if he returned, he would be arrested and imprisoned. Koço prepared all the documents at the US embassy to go to the US. On January 1, 1945, when the New Year celebrations had just ended, on December 31, at the door of his father-in-law’s house, three people came to him and told him that Koço Kota should go with them, as Albania needed to.
They tell him that they were commissioned by Enver Hoxha, who asked him to contribute to the new Albanian state. Koço knew very well that he had received information about what was happening in Albania and replied that he would not go with them. After that, they pulled out their pistols to force him to go with them. When Koço objected and his family intervened there, they took him by force, dragged him to an approaching van, put him inside and left immediately.
We think that they were supported by the Greek communists, because, after the end of the war, they no longer needed him and called him a burnt man. They took him straight to Tirana. According to the information we have, one of the most active to kidnap and punish Koço Kota was Koçi Xoxe, the most powerful man close to Enver Hoxha and who had strong support from the Slavs. This action was done, first, to eliminate the last former Prime Minister of King Zog and, second, Koço Kota had expressed early on the Slavo-communist danger
There has been a lot of talk that the whole action was supported by the structures of Serbian agencies. I do not know how grounded it can be, but these words have circulated and, in a sense, this is plausible, because a personality like the former Prime Minister of Albania, before the Italian occupation, if he were alive, would continue his anti-Slavic-communist activity and would be a major obstacle to the newly declared friendship of the Albanian communist state with the Serbian communist state.
He was abducted by Koçi Xoxe, the Slavic confidant, who had declared himself to be of Bulgarian origin. This man, who operated with the Communist Group of Korça, had entered there for this purpose, precisely to bring Slavic influence to Albania, under the guise of communism. So in my opinion, these are much related. In many places where I have been given the opportunity to express myself, I have asked for a review of the way Koço Kota’s figure has been treated.
There are two elements that honor Koço Kota during World War II, in addition to his brilliant patriotic activity in the past: First, in Greece, he dealt with the rise of resistance groups against the Italian occupation of Greece. This fact is the complete opposite of what is being propagated, that Albania has allegedly attacked Greece.
Second, he is the most powerful man in the fight against Slavo-communism and the most ardent defender of the Fanolist Church. When he was prime minister, permission was obtained from the Patriarchate to recognize the Autocephaly of the Albanian Church. For these reasons, he was also wanted where he was, abroad and was eliminated.
What influence did he have on the issue of the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church?
When the Congress of the Autocephaly of the Albanian Church took place in Berat, Koço Kota was prefect. Durrës did not accept the meeting, nor did Korça, because it had Greek influence. It was this prefect who supported the cause of Autocephaly, so the Congress was organized in Berat.
As for the accusations made by the communists and the way they treated him, these should be in his file. The prosecutor sought the death penalty, but the court commuted his life sentence to 30 years in prison, which he served in Burrell Prison.
The prosecutor of his case was Bedri Spahiu, while there were three people in the trial panel. Koçi Xoxe was the president of the Special Court at that time.
To say that he held a manly attitude there, in court, is a little, that he was an unwavering, unwavering man, very determined, very brave. It is interesting: when man has done nothing against his country, when he has worked for his country, he is not afraid to face everything. Thus he faced everything, rejecting the ridiculous accusations made against him, such as: “Why did the government of Koço Kota and King Zog not defend itself and fight against the Italian army” ?!
Koço Kota gave the arguments. He clarified the conditions before the invasion. His government opposed Italy’s ultimatum to invade Albania, but the problem was that the Albanian Army, under agreements with Italy, was all controlled by Italian instructors.
Although according to recent agreements the Italians would bring heavy weapons to defend themselves from Yugoslavia and Greece, they left it with old weapons unusable. Fascist Italy trusted Albania. We have an institution, so the government could not think that Italy would invade Albania.
When the Italian troops were landing, only the Gendarmerie reacted, it was not the Army: both in Vlora and in Saranda there were Gendarmerie commanders who fought, it was Abaz Kupi.
Yes, Abaz Kupi has made strong resistance. In fact, everywhere the Gendarmerie has strongly resisted both in Durrës and in Shengjin. It was the Gendarmerie that formed the defense cordon across the coastline. In addition to what I said before, there was another very important element that historians do not say: if our government would put the army at war to stop the Italian landing, as long as we had some military agreements with Italy, then they would to take advantage of that action by presenting us in the international arena, as if we had declared war on Italy. Albania would emerge as aggressor and they would justify the occupation.
That is why our historians must open the papers well; go to the Italian archives, because there must be documents in Rome in the archives of fascism that better explain this moment in history. Today we cannot speak the same as has been said so far … “at least King Zog, had he surrendered”!
Regarding this moment, a new data has emerged. Hysen Selmani – commander of Ahmet Zogu’s troops, claimed that King Zog was told by the British: “Go away, let go, that we will bring you back” and he obeyed this order of the British and left. The English said to him: “Do not give up!” Go away, we will return you.” Further, after the sentence, what happened to Koço Kota in Burrel prison?
In Burrell Prison, he was placed in a separate cell – cell no. 7. There, whoever entered, did not come out alive, it was determined that he was dead. They tortured them in the most inhuman way.
The commander of the prison was Petraq Rrëmbeci.
They beat him with bayonets and filled his cracked wounds with salt. It ended in death on September 1, 1947. He was truly a hero who removed all that torture. They did not even give him water to drink. The wounds festered. They turned his body into a living corpse. This was suffered by Koço Kota.
What happened to his body? Do you know where he was buried?
Word spread as if he had been thrown from the prison window and killed. Those bins are all iron. He was buried in the prison yard, in a cherry tree. So they have said to this day, near a cherry. That cherry is not found today. They also say that many others have been buried in that place and some have even been moved out of prison. It is said that the Burrel stadium was built where they were reburied. More than that, I do not know.
What happened to his children?
Koço had two children. The boy was named after his grandfather, Koço’s father, Nuçi Kota. Nuçi completed his higher studies at the Sorbonne in France, where he defended a scientific paper entitled: “Albania and the issue of Albanian-Greek borders”, a paper that was used by the communists in 1946, in international conferences on post-war peace issues, but they do not say his name.
Nuçi engaged with the Anti-Fascist Resistance Movement in Tirana, with Legality. When it became clear that the communists were taking power, then, in November 1944, he left for Europe, to France.
From there, he left for America, where together with Mid’hat Frashëri, they formed the Committee “Free Albania” and Nuçi Kota was a member of the Committee. From a CIA document I read, the Americans say that after the death of Mid’hat Frashëri, Nuçi Kota is the future leader of democratic Albania.
He had great intellectual and political activity. He has been the Secretary-General of the World Organization for the Salvation of Communism for Captive Nations and a member of many intellectual societies.
What about the other child?
Girls? Even she in the US.
How were the fates of their lives?
Although in emigration, after the abduction of Koço and his tragic death there was unbridled persecution of the State Security against them. They have suffered a lot. The son, Nuçi, left two children, both with trauma. My daughter too. One of the daughter’s sons also died, also he with trauma.
Two of their cousins, Leonora and Beatrice, daughters of brother Ilia, who lived until late in Tirana, after the change of the system, gave interviews to Koço, surprisingly, they also died. Their father, Elijah, was a lawyer, and my grandfather and I were like brothers.
The only person who lived a little longer than these others was my father, Jorgji Kota. He died at the age of 75. We were very scared and very reserved, but he could not remain silent, especially after Koço was abducted in January 1945.
Jorgji had been an activist with the groups of the Anti-Fascist Resistance of Tirana, with the groups of the Front, while Nuçi with the Legality. They both worked together in Jorgji’s house, where members from both the Balli Kombëtar and other groups gathered until 1943, when a conflict broke out between these political groups.
Jorgji had the opportunity to get information about Koço’s abduction in 1945. After hitting Koço Kota, Koçi Xoxe made plans to hit Jorgji, my father as well. He was pursued by the State Security to provoke him, to see what he was saying, what objections he had, and then he was arrested for anti-party stances.
They demanded a sentence of 7 years, but with the intervention of Haxhi Lleshi, since he had participated in the Anti-Fascist Resistance, they reduced it. He served his sentence in Tirana and Durrës prisons for 14 months, but later pleaded not guilty.
I want to point out that after Koço Kota died, his son, Nuçi, also died in 1965, at the age of 46, allegedly from a heart attack. This is questionable. How could he die when he was at the peak of his power?! I also have pictures of the activities…! The newspapers of that time wrote that he died of a heart attack!
After Koço Kota was his son, Nuçi Kota, was Jorgji Kota, who suffered an unjust sentence, was a daughter, were grandchildren, all of them suffered persecution, trauma and tragically separated young people from life.
Do you know what is done with their properties today in Korça?
With the change of systems, came the wife of Nuçi, Koço’s son, a Frenchwoman, but she came in the ’90s and we were scared, we were scared.
Justifiable, because State Security was still on its feet.
He met some people, a notary, who was frightened by what they said. Made the papers quickly and sold them. We had three houses in Korça, above the “Metropolis” – one belonged to Koço’s father, one to my grandfather’s father, one to my other brother. As the notary he did did the letters…! He had a house in Tirana, in ‘Bllok’, even the Ministry of Education, it was the property of Koço Kota, he had a hotel, but in the time of the Albanian-Italian friendship, he forgave it to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Ciano.
I want to add something: the road to the Central Ambulance, towards the ‘New Bazaar’, was built by Koço Kota himself, so I asked the association “Tirana” to take the proposal to the Municipality of Tirana, to be put on the road name “Koço Kota”.
Mr. Harallamb, it was a pleasure to receive this interview. There are so many new things we do not know, which help to shed light on the painful past of many Albanians dedicated to the cause of the homeland. Thank you very much!
Thank you, Mr. Marçel, for working to bring to light figures and personalities who have given their contributions to the formation and consolidation of the Albanian state, as well as the horrors and persecution suffered by their families under the dictatorial communist regime of Enver Hoxha, his successor of him, Ramiz Alia. Memorie.al