By Bedri Çoku
Memorie.al publishes the unknown testimonies of Bedri Çoku, originally from the village of Muçias in the district of Lushnja, who at the age of 19, while performing compulsory military service in the district of Gjirokastra, was arrested by two senior State Security officers and after a public “unmasking” trial with accusations mounted in the cinema of that city, he was convicted for agitation and propaganda together with his brother, Çaushi, for the only “fault” that their father had suffered several years as a prisoner in the forced labor camps from where he was released in 1959. Rare testimonies of Bedri Çoku who spent 24 years in the prisons of Spaç, Burrel and Qafë Barit and together with his two brothers, Esat and Çaushi and their father, Azemi, suffered 64 years in prison in the camps and prisons of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, being released only in February 1991. Memories of Bedri Çoku masterfully described in his book “The uprising that shook the dictatorship”, which where is mainly added to the Spaç Revolt in May 1973, where he as one of its main organizers, sheds light for the first time by making public some unknown events and facts from that revolt where the flag was raised without the red star of communism, until his work as Director General of Camps and Prisons after the 1990s, when he “arrested” his close friend, the accomplice of the dictatorship’s camps and prisons, and sent him to the cells of ‘Prison 313’. Tirana, where most of the former Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ALP headed by Ramiz Alia and Nexhmije Hoxha were serving their sentences.
The uprising that shook the dictatorship
(Based on a true story)
“To raise the flag, without the communist star, I expressed the opinion that, unable to find a red sheet, we would break our hands and, with our blood, paint the white cloth…! The first to cut his hand with a knife was my brother, Çaushi, the second Gëzim Medolli, Bedri Çoku, Gjet Kadeli, Ulsi Pashollari, and others… ”
We very much hoped for European Security and Cooperation which was being carried out at a dizzying speed under the special care of the United States of America. Rightly all mankind was eagerly awaiting the great historical moment. Signing for the Understanding of the Peoples of Europe, Western Democratic States and Eastern Communist States, which were still suffering from dictatorial regimes, to bring together a new order of peace and cooperation in the world. We hoped that Albania on this occasion as well. She would sign in Helsinki this Act for the Fates of Humanity, as a representative of this International Political Organization. We were convinced that our country, although incomparable with the countries of the East, would, willingly or unwillingly, join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
The trial against the participants of the revolt, in the city of Rrëshen
– In Fier, where I grew up, there is a “bridge with stairs”, so the citizens say to that bridge … and I was going towards it to go to the other side of the river, Gjanica. But, in my arms it was as if I were holding a baby. I was very upset when I saw that my ex-high school daughter was coming down the stairs of the bridge. Out of shame that she would see me with my baby next to me, I was very upset. I put my head in the baby’s gut, probably she did not know me, but, to my surprise, she passed so close without worrying at all fare! As soon as I climbed the stairs and was on the bridge, I turned my head back to look at it. Instantly the child in my arms, hugged me tightly in the middle and he and I, detached from the ground, for flight…!
I had never flown in my life by plane, over people’s heads and the roofs of houses or palaces, from such a height. Aware that below me was my ex-girlfriend, disrespectful and sad, I shouted loudly, loudly. Hey he .heej! And the echo of my voice rang beyond the city…! When we landed, we were in the middle of a swamp, where there were puddles of water and straw, where only the quail of frogs could be heard. I was horrified when I saw the man who had brought me there, short, backless, with big eyes like a slaughtered ox…!
– What about now? – I asked – Why did you bring me here?
He did not speak, just shrugged and shrugged without taking his big, scary eyes away from me.
– Aman, I said, take me where you want only here, do not leave me…! I do not know where I am and I do not know where to go… ?!
They instantly lifted a concrete slab, from those used in the gallery, next to the advancing bodies, to hold the fills in place, so that the armature bodies would tighten firmly and not fall from the dynamite burst, spontaneously from the ground and placed in my butt. While the man with the big eyes offered me his back, as the plate had lifted me off the ground. He began to move his feet, as if running on the surface of the earth, and I was amazed that the earth below seemed already worked and salted, full of flowering trees. Hey … hey! We were flying west, in my opinion, while I noticed a big, bright sun rising on the horizon…! From behind his back, I noticed his lips moving nervously. He was talking to someone I could neither here nor see…! In one passage I heard him say that he never wanted to leave me where he had come down to me the first time. I was happy. But that joy was suddenly extinguished for me, because he let me go to the shore of a sea, where the waves were wetting my feet…!
– What about now? – I told.
He was moving his mimicry as if he could not take me to another place…! Before me I had the sea, behind me endless sand dunes…! At sea I noticed boats lined up, far, far away from me…! When, suddenly, from the foam of the sea came an old man with long hair, snow white, like the foam itself, with a beard, so to speak, and said to the one who had brought me there:
– Take, take Bedri, do not leave him here! – and directed his arm towards the sea…!
I woke up holding my heart with my hand, it was beating so hard.
The “priest”, who had heard me until now, as if swallowed by the narration of the dream, took a deep breath and rose to knees with arms outstretched forward. He hugged me…! He wiped away the tears that had wet his cheeks and said to me:
– You will not die…! You will live even though you will still suffer in prison…! Your life, therefore, will be happy…!
– Why are you telling me this? Where are you based?!
– God Himself told you…! The child who raised you to heaven was the angel who will save you from the clutches of those who want to eliminate you. But, temporarily, you will suffer the anxiety of the “swamp” in a heavy prison…! (The swamp could be Burrell Prison). You prayed to God to remove you from the “swamp” and He heard your prayer. Surely you will get out of jail too, eventually…! The bright sun that rose in the west, is your own Great Fate, which man cannot change…! The seashore and the ships you have seen in the queue, are your salvation from the suffering you have gone through to! The old man with white hair and beard, who pointed his arm out of the sea, is the very image of God, who gives you freedom and happiness, as long as you are alive…!
– Hahaha ..!
I laughed happily, but also with a little irony. We closed this topic because breakfast came and, according to the police, after we finished our breakfast meal, we had to get ready for the day se session!
From the trial session of 20.06.1973, I can note only two things that are worth remaining written in this book…! The case of Ndrec Çoku, from Mirëdita, who was the next defendant, known to almost all police officers and members of the trial panel, with the exception of the president, who lived in Durrës. He proudly admitted that he had been engaged in guarding the flag, saw the communist star and spared tears when he wanted to accept his landing, secretly…!
– I accept with all my heart that I am a participant in the revolt and I feel proud that I touched it with my hands and lips, before I swore that I would save with my life, the flag of Mirdita, of my Mirditors, who did not have never removed from their hearts the national flag of Skanderbeg.
The prosecutor of the session, furious, attacked him without getting any permission from the President of the session.
– Enjoy your flag, O enemy of the people…! Do not worry that we will throw that flag over, in the pit that will cover you with earth, to join those who took the bullet in Spaç, and others who will deserve it…!
– I have my days numbered, O Zef Deda, where can I find him buried with the national flag of Skanderbeg and Ismail Qemali…! But you, what will they throw you in the grave, when you receive the death penalty, for what you are doing, with your friends?
The prosecutor became yellow, but did not last any longer. The second case, according to the order on the list, the last for that hearing, was with the defendant Zef Ashta, alias “Priest” of my dungeon who was accused of having participated in the revolt. There were even witnesses, two prisoners confirming his participation. To this accusation, he replied that:
– I would be ashamed, Mr. President of the session, to admit that I participated in the revolt. Not from you, nor from the others in this hall, but from my comrades, brave and courageous who did what every honest and patriotic Albanian must do today. Of these iron-clad people, whom you have listed to be re-arrested or shot, because they had the courage to express revolt for their most human rights. That is why I said, I am ashamed only because I did not have the heels to join them in that historical revolt, as a fighter for freedom and democracy… !?
As soon as we returned to the dungeon, I returned the “rest” to Zef Ashta for that beautiful and diplomatic answer he gave to the chairman of the session. As for Ndrec Çoku, we sent congratulations through the police officer on duty, on the “monumental” clash with the communist governor, his political opponent, the anti-Albanian prosecutor, Zef Deda…!
It was a long and anxious wait to go to the next hearing and hear the prosecutor’s claim.
Three full days had passed. What mystery was this relatively long time guarding? There was too much speculation and unanswered questions. Even the police officers of the internal service, who were interested in our sentences, especially those sentences that could have been death-shooting, did not know anything. The honorable “priest” put his lip to the gas for my concern and the concern of others, but refused to give any opinion on this delay of the claim, by the prosecutor of our case. I understood, more or less, why he did not want to talk about this concern. I told him, in a way, the reason for his silence…! I told him that he himself was suffering from a dilemma regarding the delay of the claim, therefore he could not speak.
It seemed to me that it was these words that made him speak:
– Yes. “You are right,” he told me. – I have a dilemma, but anyway, the reason I think, will be positive. I have this conviction, especially, from your dream. I think they are seriously discussing our sentences. They will surely have problems from internal pressure and from abroad, for further banning of shootings. So God warned you with His angel, as the man of the problem of this matter. So, I’m optimistic.
The next day, on 27.06. 1973, at 10.00, we went to the courtroom, to hear the claim of the hearing prosecutor, Zef Deda.
Relying on the laws we were charged with and the conduct of the hearings, with the questions and answers of each, add and the eyewitness testimonies, he claimed high sentences for all, starting with my name, according to the list. Punishment, which caused a joyous exclamation from all of us, who were waiting to be punished. He demanded for me 25 years in prison, which meant my suffering in Burrell Prison and 5 years without the right to vote.
My “priest” did not even hear the other sentences. Since we were connected on both sides, in a handcuff, he raised his hand tied up, on this occasion also mine, to which, as he told me in his ear, a few seconds later, a trembling, spontaneous current had passed , come naturally from the depths of my being.
On that day, in the dungeons of the Rrëshen branch of internal affairs, there was a “feast”. and sincerely wished me “a healthy head”. My co-sufferers, those to whom my parents had come for a meeting, but they had not made an appointment, but the food had allowed them, brought me to eat, so much so that “Priest” and I burst out eating…!
On 30.06.1973, the presiding judge, in the courtroom, behind closed doors, after respecting all the sentences set by the prosecutor, went down minus two years for all the sentences given and, thus, the hearing was closed…! While I was thrown from the hall from the hall, to Burrel prison, together with Tomor Allajbeu, who insisted before the court that he would never work for the communist state, in the conditions of a slave, and Haxhi Bena, originally Cham, a resident of Durrës, who manfully declared that he would fight as long as he had life to return to his homeland, in Chameria, where he had the graves of his ancestors and their property looted by Greek andarts…!
The others were returned to the Spaç camp.
Names of returnees in all groups:
- Based on the document of the People’s Court, Rrëshen district, Decision no. 29. dated 30/6/1973, taken from the M.P.B. Tirana, “Flag Group”, for the Spaç uprising formed by the National Investigation, Tirana, consists of the following persons: Bedri Çoku, Mersin Vlashi, Murat Mata, Neim Pashaj, Feti Kumanaku, Ndrec Çoku, Elez Hoxha, Naim Uka, Zef Ashta, Jonuz Norja, Tomor Allajbeu, Pal Marku, Haxhi Bena, Qemal Demiraj, Shuaip Ibrahimi, Muho Curri, Mërkur Babameto, Gramoz Spahiu and Dervish Sulo. The guilt for the “Flag Group” in the Spaç uprising was proved by the testimonies of witnesses: Agostin Preçi (prisoner), Muhamed Kosovrasti (prisoner), Thanas Theodhoraqi (prisoner), Ilia Dhimo (prisoner), Zenel Balliu (Prisoner), Pandeli Pjetri (prisoner), Miltiadh Papa (prisoner), Hilmi Freskina (prisoner), Ndue Prenga (policeman), Preng Rrapi (policeman), Frrok Deda (policeman), Pashk Lleshi (policeman), Gjet Çupi (police officer), Ndue Llesh Ndoi (police officer) and Fejzi Liço (command operative).
- “Based on the document of the People’s Court, Rrëshen district, Decision no. 37. dated 13/7/1973, taken from the Archive of the Ministry of Interior, Tirana, the group formed by the National Investigation, Tirana, for the uprising of political prisoners of Spaç, consists of the following persons: Kostandin Papaj, Bebi Konomi, Rexhep Lazëri, Gëzim Çela , Sali Çuni, Shefqet Gjana, Hulsi Pashollari, Fatmir Llagami, Nuri Stepa, Bashkim Fishta, Agron Xhelili, Njazi Bylykbashi, Sherif Allamani, Mirash Gjoka, Refik Beqo. The guilt of the defendants in the Spaç uprising was also proved by the testimonies of witnesses Agostin Preçi (prisoner), Muhamed Kosovrasti (prisoner), Thanas Theodhoraqi (prisoner), Ilia Dhimo (prisoner), Zenel Balliu (prisoner). ), Pandeli Pjetri (prisoner), Miltiadh Papa (prisoner), Hilmi Freskina (prisoner), Xhevahir Kurti (prisoner), Zef Mërdhoqi (policeman), Nahmut Peposhi (prisoner), Ndue Prenga (policeman), Preng Rrapi (policeman), Frrok Deda (policeman), Pashk Lleshi (policeman), Gjet Çupi (policeman), Ndue Llesh Ndoi (policeman) and Fejzi Liço (command operative) ”
- Based on the document of the People’s Court, Rrëshen district, Decision no. 38. dated 21/7/1973, taken from the Archive of the Ministry of Interior, Tirana, the group formed by the National Investigation, Tirana, for the uprising of political prisoners of Spaç, consists of the following persons: Pavllo Popaj, Fadil Dushku, Demir Pojani, Gëzim Medolli , Sulo Veshi, Çaush Çoku, Muharrem Dyli, Stefan Kola, Vladimir Prifti, Spiro Nasho, Muharrem Isufi, Irakli Simo, The guilt of the defendants in the Spaç uprising was also proved by the testimonies of witnesses: Hilmi Freskina (prisoner), Xhevahir Kurti (prisoner), Zef Mërdhoqi (policeman), Nahmut Peposhi (prisoner), Ndue Prenga (policeman), Preng Rrapi (policeman), Frrok Deda (policeman), Pashk Lleshi (policeman), Gjet Çupi (policeman), Ndue Llesh Ndoi (police officer) and Fejzi Liço (command operative).
- Based on the document of the People’s Court, Rrëshen district, Decision no. 38. dated 25/7/1973, taken from the Archive of the Ministry of Interior, Tirana, the group formed by the National Investigation, Tirana, for the uprising of political prisoners of Spaç, consists of the following persons: Gjet Kadeli, Napolon Koleci, Xhemal Bali, Ferit Avdullai , Bardhyl Fezullai, Sotiraq Simaku, Hysen Xhani.
The guilt of the defendants was also proved by the testimonies of witnesses: Preng Volaj, Hilmi Freskina, Zenel Balliu, Muhamed Kosovrasti, Naim Pashaj. Memorie.al