Memorie.al publishes the unknown story with the rare testimonies of two brothers from Laç, Skënder and Shpëtim Marku, who at the end of April 1988, together with their friend, Agron Gjoka, took the road towards the city of Peshkopi and after climbed to the top of Korab mountain covered with snow and under an extraordinary storm with rain and snow, crossed the state border in the gentle belt without being dictated by the Albanian border guards. How did they orient themselves until they arrived in the village of Restelica in Dragash / Dragaash, where they surrendered themselves to the Yugoslav border post and how were they treated by the three UDB authorities in the Prizren city prison, what they were asked there and why after sentenced to one month in prison for illegal border crossing, they were not allowed to go to Belgrade where they would apply for political asylum at the US Embassy, but were handcuffed and sent to the Morini border crossing…? !
We had made plans to escape from Albania together with my younger brother, Shpetim, about two years ago, but we made the decision to leave there in April 1988. At that time, I was working in the office of the Laçi Chemical-Metallurgical Plant, while his brother, Shpëtimi, was a soldier in the city of Korça and had been brought to Elbasan to take a liaison course. According to the conversation we had previously with Shpetim, he asked permission and came to the city of Laç on the evening of April 23, together with his close friend, Agron Gjoka who lived on the outskirts of our city in the neighborhood, Sandzak, who had one brother escaped to the US and another to prison. That night, the three of us decided to leave for the city of Peshkopi and if someone asked us on the way where we were going, we would tell him that we had a very sick man in the villages of Dibra, where he was from and our origin and where almost all our relatives were. None of our family knew about the plan we had made to escape, because we were sure no one would let us. But I had some conversations with one of my sisters, Zana, to whom I had not openly told the plan we had made with Shpetim, but I had let them know that one day I could leave Albania. I did this so that she would be prepared for anything that might happen to us and know what to say to our family.
The same night that we decided on the escape plan, we went out on the national road on the outskirts of the city of Laç and there we pulled out a random car from those “Skodas” that made the chrome road to the mines of Batra and Bulqiza “. The man who speaks and testifies for the first time for Memorie.al, is 60-year-old Skënder Marku, former commander of the Tirana Prison in 1997 (Rep 313) with the rank of major, who recounts all his dangerous adventure, that together with his younger brother, Shpetim, fled Albania on April 24, 1988. But that they could not enjoy the Free Western World they had dreamed of for years, after a secret agreement that had Albanian Security with the Yugoslav UDB, returned them to Albania, causing them to end up in the prisons of Spaç, Qafë Barit and Burrel?
Who is Skënder Marku, what is the origin and past of his family, and why did he decide to flee Albania in April 1988? How did he and his brother Shpëtim manage to cross the border without being noticed by the guards patrolling the clone even in that deep and remote area of Mount Korab? What happened to the Marku brothers’ family after the news of their escape became known, and what were the pressures exerted by the State Security on their family members? What did they ask the three UDB bodies during their 33-day stay in Prizren prison and why did the Yugoslav authorities not keep Skënder and Shpetim in order to grant him the status of political immigrant and then allow him to ‘went west, as they allowed their friend, Agron?! Why, after their return to the Morina border crossing, was the order given to stop them in all the inhabited centers from Kukës to Tirana, unmasking them in the squares of those cities in the presence of thousands of citizens? Who were the two investigators who tortured them in the Internal Branch of Kruja and what did they want to know from them?! What was the attitude of the two Marku brothers during the trial in the great hall of the Palace of Culture of the city of Laç and what did Skënderi say to the military prosecutor Elmaz Lala when he read the claim?
Regarding these and the whole story of their dangerous adventure that the two Marku brothers undertook in 1988, they tell us for the first time exclusively for Memorie.al, speaking from New York where they have lived since 2003, instead for which they risked their lives trying the horrible prisons of Enver Hoxha’s communist regime.
Who are the Mark brothers?
Skënderi was born on March 3, 1960 in the city of Peshkopi, where his family comes from. After several years in that city, his father Hakik Marku, who worked as an assistant doctor at the Peshkopi hospital, moved to the new and industrial city of Laç, as did dozens of other families who were assigned to go there. where the Superphosphate Plant was being built at the time. Skënderi is the second son of the family, out of the six children of the Marku family (three brothers and three sisters, the eldest is Illyrian, and the youngest, Shpëtimi, who was born in the city of Laç in 1966). The three brothers of the Marku family were educated in the town of Laç and then started working in industrial enterprises. Thus, after the end of the compulsory military service in 1980, Skënder started working in the mechanical workshop of the Chemical-Metallurgical Plant of Laç, after previously having completed with high results the lessons in the Electro-Mechanical branch of the school “Ismail Qemali” of that city. Although Skënderi attended high school in this branch, his special passion was literature and he spent most of his time on books. Their family had an admirable library, mostly enriched by their older brother, Iliri, from whom Skënder had learned a lot. In addition to books, Skënderi, who had a tall physique and athletic body, was also given to various sports of ball games and like most of the boys of that city, with his social circle, found time to ‘ dealt with football, basketball and gymnastic tools. Likewise, Shpëtim was very similar to his brother, Skënder, but unlike him, Shpëtim at that time was included as an athlete in the wrestling team of Laç (representing “Kastriot” of Kruja), and under the direction of two coaches passionate, Rrok Luca and Gim Teodori, had emerged several times national champion. In those years, the family of Hakik Marku (Skënder’s father), who worked as an assistant doctor at a military unit, enjoyed special respect throughout the city of Laç and all his children were known as “role models” at work. school, sports, society and everywhere. Skënderi also did not make any excuses from his brothers and sisters and he was known as a hardworking, intelligent boy who watched his work. This was the opinion that Skënder Marku enjoyed all the time he lived in the city of Laç, until the day the news was learned that he and his younger brother, Shpetim, had fled Albania and gone to Yugoslavia.
Although the Marku family had no problems with the communist regime of that time and lived in good economic conditions, Skënderi himself did not agree with many aspects of that life, which had to do especially with the political plan. But even though he had great reservations about that system and numerous demands on himself, he remained very closed and did not talk to anyone being quite cautious in the conversations he made with his social circle. As his dissatisfaction with the regime was accumulating more and more, Skënderi decided to flee Albania, making concrete plans. In this regard, he testifies: “We had made plans to escape from Albania together with my younger brother, Shpetim, about two years ago, but we made the decision to leave there in April 1988. At that time, I was working in the office of the Chemical-Metallurgical Plant of Laç, where my older brother also worked. Iliri, while the other younger brother, Shpëtim at that time was a soldier in the city of Korça. One of the reasons we decided to escape at that time, was the extremely aggravated situation both economically and politically, that Albania was going through in those years. Likewise, the gloomy life of the rather suffocating environment and without any hope in which we found ourselves, did not allow us to see for ourselves any perspective on our future. Given that very complicated situation and the extremely aggravated environment in which we found ourselves, right from the beginning of April 1988, I talked to my younger brother, Shpetim, coming to a conclusion that we could no longer wait to realize the escape plan we had been thinking about for almost two years “, Skënder Marku remembers that distant time, when together with his brother, Shpëtim they decided to escape from Albania.
Escape from Mount Korab
How could Skënderi and Shpëtim escape from Albania and how did they cross the border surrounded by barbed wire, by the border guards who were patrolling the entire Albanian territory at that time? In this regard, Skënder Marku recalls: “After we had talked to Shpëtim about all the details of our escape plan, on the evening of April 23, 1988, he left the Elbasan military unit where he was conducting a liaison course and came to the city of Laç. where we lived at the time, together with a friend of his, Agron Gjoka, who had a brother who had fled to the US and another in prison. That same night, after we decided to leave for the city of Peshkopi, Shpetim went home and so that his parents, the other brother, Iliri and the sisters would not worry, he told them that he and I would go that night. for dinner at our married sister, Zana. We had planned that during the trip to the city of Peshkopi, if someone asked us on the way where we were going, we would tell him that we had a very sick cousin of ours in the villages of Dibra. For this, no one would doubt, since there was our origin and was located almost our entire tribe. From our family in Laç, no one knew about the plan we had made to escape from Albania, because we were sure that no one would let us, as it was well known what consequences awaited the families of those who fled to that time. But I had some conversations with one of my sisters, Zana, to whom I had not openly told the plan we had made with Shpetim, but I had let them know that one day I could leave Albania. Even two or three of my closest friends, such as Paulin Gjini, Ndue Toma and Flamur Domi, who were loyal people, never knew about the escape plan. We had them as brothers but even though we were convinced that one day when our escape from Albania was learned they would feel offended because we had kept them a secret, we decided not to tell them, as we did not want to implicate them in no way out of the various and unexpected circumstances that could be created for us by the adventure we had decided to undertake. Not only that, but I would not agree with the inclusion of Agron Gjoka with us either, but I had nothing to do because Shpetimi made me a fact by telling me that a few minutes before our departure and I could not refuse “, Skënderi remembers regarding the escape plan which they had kept a great secret by not telling anyone!
Testimony of Salvation: Why did we take my friend, Agron Gjoka, with us?
But why did Salvation break the “code of silence” that the two brothers had entrusted to each other only? In this regard, Shpëtimi says: “Agron Gjoka, who was two or three years younger than me, I first met at the wrestling gym where we trained at the Sandzak school (under the guidance of two coaches, Rrok Luca and Gim Teodori), as he often came there and looked at us with admiration, as athletes were commonly viewed at the time, even though we were a modest team of a small town. From that time I started to keep Agron closer and more and more times we had a conversation “with pepper” without any fear, because in addition to the side and family circumstances in which he was, with a brother (Gazmir Gjoka) of escaped to the US sometime in 1983, and another in prison, Goni was a brave and characterful boy who had it written on his forehead that evil would never come from him and he would not leave you alone. Goni also had a lot of faith in me and based on all this, I decided to take him with me, because otherwise, if we did not tell him, it seemed to me that I was committing a great betrayal of him in his soul. he would never forgive me for the friendship we had “, Shpetim Marku remembers about the reasons that pushed him to take his close friend in the adventure they were undertaking, adding:” I was convinced that due to the family circumstances themselves that Goni had as well as his extraordinary dissatisfaction with the regime where we lived, arrest and imprisonment for him would only be a matter of days. How, then, did the two Mark brothers act, and how did they implement their plan? In this regard, Skënderi recalls: “After we parted ways to leave, Shpetim and Agron and I went out on the national road on the outskirts of the city of Laç, somewhere below the” Big Club “and there we pulled out a random car from those “Skoda” vehicles that made the chrome road to the mines of Batra and Bulqiza. Her driver lived somewhere in the villages of Kruja and the car belonged to the Laç Commodity Park. All the way we talked to him normally as usual in conversations that drivers had with their passengers on long distances. From the small town of Bulqiza where we got off in the late hours of the night, by another car, we left for the town of Peshkopi and after passing it, we got off somewhere near the village of Kastriot. The driver of the vehicle “Skoda” with license plates of Dibra, we told him that we would go to some of our people, who lived in those villages and he did not even suspect us at all. After descending there, we immediately set off on the east side of the national road, climbing the mountains in the direction of Doda Castle, at the foot of Korab Mountain, as the border in that area was less guarded. We went to that place because in a way I somehow knew, that in those villages, our aunts were married, and years ago when we were little, I came here to our cousins.
In addition, for this we had previously received information from persons who had performed military service in those border areas and we knew quite well where we had to go in order not to be noticed by the inhabitants of those areas. So, we were convinced that it was the hardest place to cross the border due to the rugged terrain and cold weather with frost and frost, but it was also the place where the risk of being caught by the border guards was greater. smaller than in any other place. So, all the way to where we were going, we had planned in advance, and if someone came up to us and asked us, we would tell them that we were going through our cousins who had houses in that deep mountainous area. Although it was April, there was still snow in the foothills of Mount Korab, and it was very cold, which we felt so much that in order not to be noticed, we were not wearing thick clothes. After walking for four or five hours on the road without roads and through a great cold, shortly before daybreak, on the morning of April 24, we found ourselves near the border area at the top of Mount Korab and to go there we had to pass over the Doda Castle. That area, in places, was not surrounded by barbed wire clones but only by the soft belt as it was called at the time, as the terrain was very rugged and it was difficult to cross even wildlife, not with the people “, Skënderi remembers, regarding the plan and the road that he crossed together with his brother, Shpetim and Agron, until they came out in the border area near the clone at the top of Korab mountain from where they were waiting to cross the state border to escaped from Albania. But about this, the other brother, Shpetimi adds: “Those four or five hours of road until we climbed to the top of Mount Korab, have been a real horror that I will never forget, as the big hailstorm of snow, made it impossible for us to continue on the road…?! And sometimes I even thought about ending that adventure, but I did not even dare to tell Skënder and Agron that they were walking faster than me, even though I was much more physically prepared because of the sport of wrestling. I do not know what force pushed me in those moments not to think about it anymore, so going back, and just before dawn on April 24, we were at the top of Mount Korab, where not only there was no border soldier foot, because until that time they were staying at the summer posts, but at that peak there was no other kind of life except us. Exhausted, we decided to take a break at a mountain fire station, and the first thing I did as soon as I started a small fire there was to burn my passport and military ID card, which I had in my backpack with me. and with some packets of biscuits that we had taken to break the hunger… “, Shpëtim remembers about their trip towards the top of Korab mountain, that midnight dawning on April 24, 1988… /Memorie.al