By Sabit Zeneli
Memorie.al / I met Doctor Vasil Zoga in Korça at a nationwide festival. During the long conversations, he told me many interesting things about the time of monism in Albania, about the rapes, persecutions and draconian prison sentences without doing anything. It was painful to hear about the macabre cases committed by the communist government. They were imprisoned only because there was something wrong with someone, under the pretext that they were class enemies that they wanted to escape, and even weak motives. According to Uncle Vasili, many young men who had beautiful brides, divided them into jobs, sent the husband to the fields, and the bride to clean the stables, and then dishonored them and threatened to imprison them, if they dared to speak. In the internment, they had done hard work and not infrequently he had cut a finger with a sickle quite badly, so that he could ask to be sent to an ambulance, and at least rest for a few hours.
An interview of the former head of the State Security, Mark Dodani, affected the elderly man greatly because he had called the time of the dictatorship paradise, and had even gone so far as to declare that; never, no one, was convicted without guilt. Uncle Vasili denied it with facts, telling us sad events about the “justice” of that time. Even today, the wise old man is dissatisfied with the current government because a number of former State Security agents from the time of monism have returned to important positions. Uncle Vasili, after the socialists came to power, fled to Greece and currently lives in Athens.
Jani Kristo Zoga, partisan wounded eight times
I was somehow impressed by the story of his family and in particular the fate of his brother, Jan. Jani Zoga came from a poor family with many members from the village of Shtitka in Kolonje, which had difficulty providing bread for several months and were more hungry than full. He had agreed to be a shepherd in Selenica of Kolonje, to Cute Selenica, who was the bey of the village.
At least he had his food secured, but he managed to help the family from time to time, with a little something.
The work as a shepherd had been difficult since he was very demanding and merciless with the shepherds and other workers and, not infrequently, he even beat them for no reason! Jani had not yet turned eighteen and life in the service of the bey had become almost impossible for him. One day, while he was guarding the cattle, he had trouble with the bey.
He had cursed him, calling him a “rude and rag” and when he returned it, he got off the horse and wanted to beat him with a whip, as he did other times, but the boy grabbed the whip and then ran away. Cute Bey, enraged, had taken out his gun and shot at the young boy who, diverting the road, had entered a forest and escaped.
Jani had heard from the older shepherds of that area that several partisan detachments had been formed and he went to Dardhë i Korça and, before he turned 18, he was accepted into a partisan unit, since he had lost his stature and for the years he had, it was quite powerful. Then during the battles, he was brave and a devoted friend, never disobeying the orders of his superiors. He was wounded eight times, quite seriously, but survived. He was also very humane with the wounded and the old in the squad, so many times, he volunteered in various actions, instead of those who were tired or still not healed enough.
For the bravery shown in the War, he was decorated six times by the General Staff of the National Liberation Army of Albania and for this, immediately after the war, he was sent to officer school, which he successfully completed and was promoted to lieutenant. Later, he was assigned to serve in the Border Guard sector in different countries.
Border officer in Braçanj of Kolonje
On the night of March 20, 1957, Lieutenant Jani Zoga was the commander at the border point in Braçanj to Devolli. It had been an ordinary night, until sometime in the late hours, the phone rang. Jani was worried because, in the post-war years, the Greek army often provoked on the border and fights with them were not uncommon either. Jani Zoga, hurried to pick up the receiver. On the other end of the phone, he recognized the voice of Xhelo Abazi, commander of the border post in Kozel, Kolonje.
Contrary to what he expected, the conversation started with the usual words, but there seemed to be a hidden concern in Abazi’s voice. Xhelo Abazi was asking him how he had spent those cold March days… he asked him about his family…?! The conversation had a long, almost boring introduction. The questions seemed unrelated to each other…! It was obvious that Abazi was trying to find the right word to enter the topic. Even Jani Zoga was feeling that the moment of receiving the news was approaching. He didn’t know if it would be good or bad.
The proposal for a murder…!
– “Tell me why you called me so late”, – said Jani Zoga.
– “We decided to kill a man” – said Xhelo Abazi.
– “Kill a man? – Jani Zoga asked in surprise. – How to kill him”!? The premonition that something terrible was about to happen turned out to be true!
– “But who is this man”? Xhelo Abazi somewhat delayed the answer, and then coldly said:
– “The man who will be killed is Sabri Rakipi, your fellow villager.” Jani Zoga’s confusion became even greater. He did not understand anything.
– “Why should Sabri Rakipi be killed”? – he asked.
– “We will kill him because there is a possibility that he will escape”, Xhelo Abazi replied. Jani Zoga, had started to laugh out loud.
– “Hey Xhelo, what about now in the middle of the night you found him making such jokes…”?!
Xhelo Abazi, was from the Kesarati of Tepelena, a close person of the Prime Minister, Mehmet Shehu. At that time he was 44 years old. Jani Zoga, was from Shtitka in Kolonje, only 33 years old. Both held the rank of lieutenant and had known each other for a long time.
“It’s not a joke, – was Xhelo Abazi’s answer – Sabri Rakipi will be killed. The Party Committee and the Executive Committee of the Kolonje district, the secretary of the Party organization in Shtitka, Petraq Xheka, and some members of the People’s Council of the village are aware of his murder…! Everything had to be kept secret…! The Commander of the Border in Korça, Major General, Zija Kambo, and the Head of the Internal Branch in Korça, Jani Naska, also knows about his murder, as well as Nevzat Hasnedari”.
For Jani Zoga, there was no longer any doubt: Sabri Rakipi would be killed.
– “This is crazy, they couldn’t kill Sabri Rakip – replied Jani Zoga, not because he is my fellow villager, but because he is old, he is approaching 80 and he cannot escape even if he wants to, it is also bad for health…! There must be some misunderstanding…! His family supported the war… it was also in the action for cutting the telephone poles in the field of Qinami. What you are telling me is wrong…”!
– “There is no mistake, – said Xhelo Abazi, – Sabri Rakipi has started to twist his tail, we ask for your cooperation”.
There was nervousness in Xhelo Abazi’s voice. Even Jani Zoga was no longer calm:
– “I advise you not to do such a thing because you will be held responsible, you are crazy…”?!, and Jani had dropped the telephone receiver worried.
– “I didn’t sleep that night”, Jani Zoga told his family. He was married, had three children: Petraqin and Llazin, the third child died young.
– “I could not believe how an innocent man could be killed. I didn’t understand what was happening to the people who had come to power”, lieutenant Jani had said worriedly to his family members. He had heard about back-to-back murders even during the War, but no one knew how it happened and why! Being young did not allow him to understand more. Everything was done in complete secrecy.
Such murders could no longer happen with a bullet to the head, but the methods of War for the elimination of opponents were still alive! The officials had started to behave aggressively. Maybe there in the dome of the state, they knew nothing of what was going on below…! At least that’s what Jani Zoga thought at that time. Such a case had also happened in the locality of the village of Qafëzez. The head of the locality, a certain Myrto from Luarasi, was acting arrogantly with a woman who had gone there to cry her troubles. Myrtoja listened and answered with irony. He couldn’t bear it.
– “Don’t behave like this with the troublemakers – Jani Zoga told him, because we didn’t come to power to trample people”! He had grabbed her by the throat and dragged her out of the office. There was a lot of noise, but luckily that line didn’t suffer anything. He had come out against it even when Mehmet
Nazarkon, a family of patriots from Helmësi, wanted to declare him a kulak. He had done the same for Miço Prifti from Shtika, for Sulo Tefiku from Qinami and for some residents of Devolli.
He hoped very much that this country would have justice. Already when the murder of Sabri Rakip was being prepared, he was not sure if he would be able to stop that murder, but he strongly believed that Xhelo Abazi would not have the courage to go to the end of his adventure. If it happened, Jani Zoga would denounce it. He had advised Xhelo not to do such a thing because, as before, he would suffer for false information about the employee of the State Security, a certain Ibrahimi from Luarasi, who worked in Pogradec.
Kidnapping of Sabri Rakip
Lieutenant Jani’s determination to denounce him probably did not impress Xhelo, who had decided to commit the crime against the elderly man, not out of patriotism, but rather out of weak motives. Thus, on December 25, 1957, he sent two armed men to the village of Shtikë, to arrest Sabri Rakip.
They had kidnapped the elderly man who had no idea what was happening and had taken him to the vicinity of the border with Greece, to make it look like an escape attempt, and had killed him mercilessly. That morning, the news spread quickly. Various agents had spread word, allegedly that the poor old man had wanted to escape as he had been in the secret service of the enemy but, “thanks to the vigilance of the Party organs, he had been investigated and liquidated”.
Terror had engulfed all of Cologne. Few had believed that propaganda because they knew the old man Sabri well, but no one had dared to say a word. They had loaded the victim on a mule to take him to the city of Erseka. The corpse remained for three days in the center of the city, between the Party Committee and the Executive Committee. Everyone had to look at him and everyone spit on him because the Party had declared him a traitor. On a banner they wrote: “This is what will happen to anyone who tries to escape”.
That same morning, the news would also reach Jani Zoga. He had decided to seek to reveal the truth, how the murder had happened. He denounced Xhelo Abazi to the Security authorities and told about the conversation he had with him when he was a caretaker and about the offer he had made to liquidate the innocent villager. The police had undertaken an action and had arrested four people: Lieutenant Xhelo Abazi from the town of Qesarat in Tepelena, born in 1913. Soldier Ibrahim Budini, born in 1936, from the village of Selishtë in Peshkopija, (member of department 425 in Bilisht), arrested on May 10, 1957. Sergeant Paskal Naska, born in 1936, from Qilarishta e Përmet, (member of department 8800), arrested on August 31, 1957. As well as Halil Xibri.
These people gave their evidence for the macabre murder of Sabri Rakip, innocent, before the Judicial Council of the Military College of the Supreme Court, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Qilimi, chairman, Lieutenant Colonel Sotir Spiro, member and Major Hilmi Telegrafi, member. Jani Zoga, had stated that; lieutenant Xhelo Abazi, had taken him on the phone on February 20 at the border post of Braçanj in Bilisht, where he had asked him to cooperate in the murder of Sabri Rakip, as he had also talked with the secretary of the party organization, Petraq, about his execution. Dzheka and others.
The plan was made since; If Sabri Rakipi were to be killed, or when he went to the mountains to work in his fields, or when he went with cattle, “we have prepared the scenario”, Xhelo Abazi had told him. Soldier Ibrahim Budina, had stated that Xheloja had urged him, on the night of March 25, 1957, to go together with his friend Halil Xibrin and take Sabri Rakip to his house, deceiving him as if they were looking for him in border post of Kozel.
The old man had investigated that something was wrong and had refused to come, “but we grabbed him by force and took him to the restricted area above the location of his fields and killed him there” – he concluded. Ibrahim Bodina, had shot with an automatic from behind, while Halil Xibri, had shot with a rifle. According to the accused, “the crime was committed for glory, for the interest of reward with permission, and for propaganda purposes, to terrify all the inhabitants of the Kolonje district and all of Albania”.
Halil Xibri, had stated: – “I was notified four hours before the murder, my action was an escort from the house to the place where they killed him. Col. Fran was on duty that night, but he was removed from duty, because they didn’t trust him, and as the most trusted, they took me to commit the murder. We received the promised reward and praise for the supposedly heroic act we performed, but it actually turned out to be a criminal act. Sabri Rakipi was innocent, we found him in his house with the children”.
Paskal Naska declared: “I accept the guilt of not denouncing them, but Jani Zoga did that.” After hearing the defendants, the College of the Supreme Military Court pronounced the sentences for the defendants. Xhelo Abazi was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Ibrahim Bodina, also to 25 years in prison, Sergeant Paskal Naska, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Hali Xibri, also to 15 years of imprisonment.
Jani Kristo Zoga – Post Commander Braçanj Devoll
Lieutenant Jani Zoga thought that justice had been served. Four people were convicted of intentional homicide in collaboration. But his disappointment would be great. Nothing had changed from the methods used during the War. Only a short time had passed when Jani Zoga received the news that Xhelo Abazi had been released allegedly due to a lack of evidence, but it had never been made known who had given the order for his release, but one thing was known, he was good friend with Mehmet Shehu and Kadri Hazbiu.
Jani was aware that Xhelua would do his best to take revenge on him for the denunciation that he had made to the police authorities and was already convinced of his connections with the head of state, Mehmet Shehu. It didn’t take long and it turned out that Jani was right because more and more people from the State Security began to come around him, supposedly to check the border post of Bračanji in Devoll. It wasn’t long before Jani Zoga was transferred to one of Leskovik’s border posts. Even there, the Security people would come very often…!
Something was being prepared in secret. Security people no longer behaved as before. They were always provocative in their conversations. On May 16, 1959, they came again. This time, their introduction was very friendly. The praise for the work of Lieutenant Jani Zoga was great. He had investigated that something was being played against him, but he could not understand it! That day, that group of soldiers from the capital, after inspecting the military post, invited Lieutenant Jan to have lunch together. During lunch, he had received praise from his superiors.
– “Listen lieutenant, for the excellent work you are doing, we have decided to reward you with a tourist trip to the Soviet Union” – the superior told him. He had added that many other soldiers would also visit there. Jani was happy because back then, it was the dream of every soldier to visit the “homeland” of communism, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. After they had lunch, they had told him to get ready that they would leave for Tirana.
– “You will also meet with the minister along with some others and then you will travel to the Soviet Union”. They got into the car and left. The road from Lesovik to Korçë passes near the village of Jani Zoga. When they arrived at the crossroads, Zoga said to them:
– “I’m coming down here to be with my family and tomorrow morning, I’ll leave for Tirana. Before he had finished speaking, the Security men jumped on top of him and, threatening him with a gun, tied his hands.”
– “Anyone eats dead meat,” Jani Zoga had told them, but if you keep yourself as men, let’s face each other and see who you are and who I am. This happened inside the vehicle, it was told by Zija Kambo, and the soldiers Bari Meka and Fiqiri Meka, friends of the Zoga family, were also present. After the arrest of Jani Zoga, the list expanded even more, after a few days, Mustafa Spaho, Remzi Tarelli, Zenel Tarelli, Musa Çeliku, Myfit Tarelli, Islam Tarelli, Tefik Tarelli and Nehat Tarelli, almost all well-known, would also be arrested and family members of lieutenant Zoga, under the pretext that, under his command, they had prepared an assassination attempt against Khrushchev, who in those days would visit Albania and one day would also come to Korça.
According to them, Jani Zoga, together with several others, was put in the service of the Greek state. They were accused as if the Greek agency had provided them with weapons, ammunition, radio communication, gold, dollars, Albanian lek and everything else.
– “You are an agent of the Greek”, they told him. Jani Zoga, in his defense, reminded the Security people how he had fought alone with the Greek gangs who, immediately after the war, crossed the border to loot. It was the year 1946. At that time, he was serving as a commander at the post office of Gjonci in Cologne. The soldiers were on their lunch break. Just then, he saw a Greek squad approaching the post. He didn’t think twice. He took the machine gun and started shooting. Witnesses of the event tell how the Greeks retreated in panic. A little later all the soldiers of the post entered the fight and chased the Greeks.
– “You were punishing me because I defended my country”, Jani Zoga told them. However, Lieutenant Jani Zoga, together with two others, was sentenced to be shot.
The falsity of the investigations
After the sentencing by the Military Court, the arrested persons appealed to the Supreme Court. The latter had the courage to ask for the clarification of some circumstances. It was claimed that we had taken weapons, bombs, radios, gold, etc. “Then where are all these”?! The Supreme Court had asked to know. For months, they searched for weapons. All the houses of the Zoga tribe were excavated, the house of the neighbors was also excavated, other arrests were made, deportations began, but nothing was found anywhere. Finally it was said that a radio had been found in a forest. That’s all.
The other five who had accepted the charge were sentenced to 25 years in prison. During a meeting they had with Kadri Hazbiu, they told him that they accepted the charge because they could not stand the torture. He had begged him not to shoot the three soldiers who had been sentenced to death, but to sentence them to prison, until another decision, since they had not committed any crime. But the story was closed from the first day that Xhelo Abazi’s revenge, the friend of Mehmet Shehu and Kadri Hazbiu, had begun, and it would go to the end. Jani Zoga never admitted what he had not done and was sentenced to death. He was shot on December 16, 1960, and to this day, his grave is unknown…!
“We as a family knew nothing about this whole macabre scenario. We thought that Jani was on duty in Leskovik, and we began to worry that he was not coming home for the weekends,” continued his brother Vasili. “Actually, there were some rumors saying that he has been arrested, but we didn’t believe it, even though whenever we met our neighbors, they were somewhat shy and often deviated from the road, so as not to greet us, and this made us believe that something happened to Jan”, says Vasili.
“There is also an interesting fact: Jani had a dog that he raised himself and named ‘Tigri’. He was very worried in those days and constantly screamed. Father sent us to Korça to the head of the Internal Branch, Jani Naska, who received us well and said that we have no reason to worry because Jani is in good health and enjoying an official visit to the Soviet Union. We didn’t believe him because we couldn’t imagine that he could run away without saying goodbye to his family.
After two months, we received a letter from the Soviet Union, as evidenced by the stamp on the postage stamp. Our father Kristoja ordered us to open it. It was a letter with a few lines and it bore the date: 5.7.1959. In it, he wrote that he was enjoying himself there, but he had health problems as he had undergone an operation due to malice and that he was being taken care of very well. He even sent a picture of him in hospital clothes and a pack of cigarettes. We couldn’t believe that this was true and we went to Tirana to Kadri Hazbiu, to complain to him. He promised us that Jaqni would soon return home.
Our wait didn’t last long and they started arresting us one after the other. My brother, Qirjako, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment, I was sentenced to 12 years, uncle Miti, was sentenced to 8 years, his son-in-law, Naum Jorgji, was sentenced to 15 years. While from the village, the following people were also arrested: Dalip Rakipi, Serafin Robo, Jaho Dervishi, etc., while the entire family of Sabri Rakipi was interned under the pretext that they would escape. Our uncle, Kosta, died in exile at the age of 80, while his son and daughter-in-law Amalia were also exiled.
Even after our imprisonment, the State Security people did not leave the family alone, especially Jan’s wife, Aleksandra. They even killed the lieutenant’s dog one day, while he was going after the sheep. In this country, there would never be justice, as lieutenant Jani Zoga had dreamed and fought for, because at the head of this country, criminal people were leading, such as the former head of the State Security, lieutenant colonel Mark Dodani and his company, who have dare to speak about patriotism, when they killed and destroyed the lives of thousands of Albanians. Not only that, they were shot as agents and police-agents of foreign services. “I am ready to face anyone on any television and with the relevant documentation, for all the truths”, concludes his confession, 82-year-old Vasil Zoga from Korça. Memorie.al