By Enver Memishaj
Memorie.al / Petrit Velaj Kaninjoti, one of the most honored men of Vlora, passed away on September 11, 2017. He was separated from the ranks of men who give name to his hometown, a personality like him, an example of an anti-fascist fighter, the anti-communist fighter, resistance in the black communist prisons, the man who raised the indictment against the communist dictatorial system, outstanding social activist, tireless as an agitator and propagandist against the dictatorial system, publicist, publisher of works with valuable memories. Such a personality, it is difficult to present to the public within the limits of a single article, as there is so much to tell about his life and work, however, let this article serve to attract the attention of the Albanian world, which was silent before the loss of such a personality as Petrit Velaj…!
Petrit Velaj was born in 1924, in the Cold water district of Vlora, where Ahmeti, his father, from Kanina, had properties. Petriti lived a long time, a full 93 years, but his life was a real struggle, he just left the rifle with which he had fought against fascism, in the ranks of the “National Front” as a youth leader, because during the war the communists had sentenced him to death. In peacetime, the communists handcuffed him and kept him in prison for 20 years. He was released in 1965 and exiled as soon as he got out of prison. In 1972, he was sentenced for the second time, with 10 years in prison. He was re-sentenced in prison and thus he suffered like no other, a full 37 years in prison and 5 years of exile.
He was released from the third prison only in 1989. The suffering of the prison did not defeat him, it seems as if it strengthened this man from Vlora more, and his long life speaks for this. In his memoirs, published in two volumes, “A prison window”, in 1994 and “From shackles to democracy”, in 1996, (sponsored by the patriot Pëllumb Shehaj from Vlonia), the author shows not only the sufferings of the prison in Burrel and in all the communist concentration camps, but the special feature of his work is that he describes the resistance of Albanian patriots in the black prisons of Hysni Kapo, Koçi Xoxes and Kadri Hazbiu.
It seems that his work does not speak of his suffering and endurance, but of all those anti-communist Albanian patriots who were sent like him to communist prisons and concentration camps. So most of his work talks about fellow prisoners and this is the value of his work. Both of his books constitute a valuable encyclopedia of the sufferings and horrors that Albanians endured under the communist dictatorial regime.
Petriti gives us many examples of communist crimes and terror, examples with names and surnames, with dates and the place where the event took place, because he will highlight the inhumane terrorist ideology of the Albanian communists, above everything, above family and homeland, brought the party.
“On October 16, 1943 in Tragjas, – writes Petrit Velaj, – we were treacherously hit by the communist forces…! The communists were burning the houses of the village ballisticians…! Amidst the bursts of machine-gun fire, we heard the screams of women. The student of the “Normal” of Elbasan, Lufter Hoxha, with a pine tree in his hand, dragged the women out of his father Tahir Hoxha’s house and set them on fire, because the father was a ballistician…”! (pg. 34)
Lirin Hoxha, Tahir Hoxha’s little son, has also described this inhuman communist act: “On October 16, 1943, the houses of Tahir Hoxha, a ballistician, in the Field of Tragjas were suddenly attacked by the partisans, from the Castle of Tragjas. Unfortunately, his children, communists, also took part in the burning of the houses. (Lirim Tahir Hoxha, “Mes dallgëve”, “Erik”, Tirana 2006, p. 32)
Further, Petriti continues: “When I would appear before the court, prosecutor, I would have the son of the ballist Tahir Hoxha, the communist Lufter Hoxha, who asked for my death sentence. In the prison cell, I was tied together with Tahir Hoxha, Lufter’s father, who told me: I’m sorry, my son, that they punished you so much. “Mr. Tahir, – I replied, – Albania is full of Petritre, but I wish that Albania does not have wars…”! p. 48.
In his memoirs, a multitude of wartime and peacetime characters take place. For example, he tells about the arrogance of the criminals Hito Çako and Qatip Dervishi, while he interrogated Namik Cakrani, whose wife was Petri Velaj’s first cousin. “It was this same Namik Cakrani, who sentenced his father, a ballistic missile, to death, so I couldn’t expect anything from him either.”
“The director of the prison, – he writes further, – was Muço Maska, from Kropishti, an ignorant and black-hearted person. This communist disgusted us, as we saw him with our own eyes, as a looter of prisoners who shot…! This is what happened with the golden pocket watch of Hamdi Çeprat. After taking the watch from Hamdi, when he was shot, he was showing it in the prison yard…”! (p. 44).
As for the president of the court, the communist Qemal Klosi, Petrit Velaj writes: “At the time that his brother Ballista, Sulo Klosi, was hanging on the rope in Rubik, as a ‘saboteur’, Qemali sentenced the Ballistas from Vlonia to death…”! p. 45
A special place is occupied by his fellow prisoners, such as; Bego Gjonzeneli, Maliq Koshena, Stiliano Gaxho, Tahir Hoxha, Kamber Durmishi, Mustafa Mysliu, Hamdi Gjoni, Bedri Spahiu, Patër Meshkalla, friends who had worked with them for translations, Kudert Kokoshi, Arqile Tasi, Foto Bala, Pjetër Arbnori, and many others.
In the second book “From shackles to democracy”, he dwells on the portraits of many historical characters from the time of war and the time of peace, such as Tol Arapi and his son, Vllas Arapi, Qazim Kokoshi, Hysni Lepenica, Skënder Muçua, etc. He also gives a brief history of the “National Front” of Vlora and describes the “Ismail Qemali” Patriotic and Cultural Association.
Amaneti his brother, Hulsi Velaj, shot by the communists, followed him through the dark communist cells: “Better to come out than this a dead but honest corpse…”!
In the years of democracy, Petrit Velaj was reborn with inexhaustible energy, he was an outstanding social activist, founder and organizer of the Association of Former Political Prisoners, of the “Balli Kombëtar” Party, of the “Kanina” Association, but especially he gave contribution to the Cultural and Patriotic Association “Ismail Qemali”, in which until the end of his life, he held the position of vice president, when the president was the distinguished personality, “The Great Master”, Prof. Dr. Bardhosh Gaçe and honorary president, the outstanding personality of our national culture, Nermin Vlora Falaski.
I met Petrit Velaj in December 1990, about our acquaintance, he writes: “Those days of December 1990, a cousin of mine informed me that they were looking for me in Vlora. I went and met my friends, Hysni Alimerko and Burim Kokoshi. We also talked about the organization of the politically persecuted. Representatives of the Democratic Party of Vlora came to my house: Afrim Jupi, Aleks Tahiri, Enver Memishaj. I participated in the demonstrations and rallies that were organized in the city of Vlora, in the Flag Square”! (p. 120).
Thus Petrit Velaj was awakened from the darkness of prisons and he came to the front line of the war, work and efforts to overthrow the communist dictatorship. I am proud that I had a friend like him, I am proud that on the path of democracy, I walked with a patriot and undefeated fighter, for freedom and democracy. He was lively and optimistic, a quality that as he says; the great patriot and fighter, Musine Kokalari, had also noticed him, who told him: “I like your optimism. This optimism is great spiritual food for you.” Such was Petrit, with his words and thoughts; he made the sun shine, even when there was frost.
With Petrit Velaj, I spent 27 years of my life, but also this part of my life in war, in efforts, in misunderstandings and misunderstandings, in agitation and propaganda, not with each other, but with our fellow travelers, with the companions of the ideal, but even with our communist opponents, or as they were called later; socialists. Where have we not gone and, where have we not gone with Petrit, in the village and in the city, to the peasant and to the intellectual. Such was Petrit Velaj, undefeated, before any difficulties.
Among many meetings, he talks about the unforgettable meeting organized by Prof. Dr. Bardhosh Gaçe, head of the “Ismail Qemali” Association, to meet and talk with the unforgettable Nermin Vlora – Falaski in Dhërmi. “Together with Bardhosh Gaçe, Skënder Zoga, Hamz Morin, a Kosovar, Enver Memishaj, Liljana Gjika, and some others, they were going towards Dhërmi, to meet Mrs. Nermin Vlora. He was waiting for us in the lobby of the new hotel. The meeting was beautiful and interesting”. (p. 135).
I too have indelible memories of that meeting, with that woman who radiated stunning beauty, but in spirit and in mind, she shone more brightly, but the quality that endeared her to us and respected her was the love she had for Albania and her grandfather, the father of the Albanian nation, Ismail Qemalin. In 1994, when he published the book, I was one of the first to give it to me with a dedication: “I give it as a memory to my dear friend Mr. Enver Memishaj, tireless patriot and democrat, for the national issue. With the feeling of respect, the author, the firm”.
There are many personalities who have spoken and written about Petri Ahmet Velaj’s life work. Within the limits allowed by the article, we are mentioning some of them: Nermin Vlora Falaski, who also made the foreword of the first book, while Fatos Arapi, who is its editor, portrayed Petrit Velaj, with these words: “Petrit Velaj, he is the one who has preserved his freedom, remaining free in the conditions of that man, who has spent most of his life, squeezed between the hammer and the sickle… he is the one who has known how to count the stars in the darkness of prisons… it is he who has acquired the rays of the sun, with the telepathy of emotional hues… it is he who was born free and has remained free… it is he who will be free forever”!
The well-known lawyer Spartak Ngjela writes with love: “It is an honor for me, that I have the opportunity to speak about Petrit Velaj…! Gratitude to him, for the optimism that has always characterized him…! He knew how to make accurate analyses…! The pure ideal had remained untouched and the sound culture that he has in the human sense, have led him to historical objectivity in the treatment of phenomena. He was optimistic, but he never connected this optimism with his fate, but with the fate of the whole society. I recognized in him the true democrat, who respects the opposite opinion”.
Agim Musta, a fellow prisoner, writes: “I never saw him frowning, but always smiling and optimistic. Always ready to help fellow young sufferers, to get to know European culture and the truth of the tragedy of Albanian life. Among the prisoners, it was a symbol of willpower and inexhaustible energy.”
The poet and writer, Visar Zhiti, former political prisoner, writes: “I remember Petrit Velaj as an ardent patriot. He knew the history of his people. Even today, I can hear his resounding voice, when he spoke about Kosovo and Chameria, the betrayal that Communism did to them”. And the writer Shefqet Tigani writes: “A whole life spent in hell, in torture and psychological, demonic pressures. He did not bow down, he was not defeated. Today he is proud in the days of democracy, vital, energetic, everywhere, with friends, relatives and friends”!
The writer Faruk Myrtaj wrote: “Petrit Velaj is one of the Mandels of Albania…! He doesn’t think about revenge, but about justice…! Yesterday the homeland called him under arms, today he is called under pen, with the civic dedication of this profession. This people should publish the humanity of Petri Velaj…! After all, this is the mission of the wise, of those who have accepted to be put under the pen…”! After 1990, Petrit Velaj was appreciated and decorated by the Presidents of Albania, as an anti-fascist fighter, as an anti-communist activist and as an outstanding social activist. Memorie.al