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 “unmasking” public 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 “guilt” 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, Azem, suffered 64 years in prison in the camps and prisons of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, being released only in February 1991. Memoirs 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, and until his work as General Director of Camps and Prisons after the ’90s, where he “arrested” his close friend, the accomplice of the dictatorship 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 establish 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, by grace or inadvertence, join the Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Europe (OSCE).
Continued from the previous issue
While the police arrested the prisoners, who were planned to be shot, that day, after the uprising was brutally suppressed, the others were forced to sit or lie in the camp yard, as they could not stand otherwise, behind them three days and three nights of exhaustion from hunger and thirst. The police brought dozens of bins full of bars and chains, and as soon as their boss called a prisoner’s name, they rushed to him to throw the bars, with their hands behind their backs and the chains on their feet, separating him from the others. Then they called the other name to do the same. To think that it was planned that, with those bins filled with handcuffs and dog chains, the seven hundred prisoners of the camp would be tied up. However, suddenly one of the officers of the prison command came in a hurry and handed over to the chief of police, Xhevdet Ballës, another list, which he started to read, already, with the names selected by the Command, in cooperation with the head of the Office Technical, Mehdi Noku, who in the meantime, had left the camp and stood with the prison command staff, in front of his accomplices. Undoubtedly, his contribution to that list was extraordinary, especially as an eyewitness of the events inside the camp, “… of grave proportions for the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat”, in which case he was released from prison, as early as the next day.
Eight military vehicles, covered with raincoats and with the presence of soldiers armed to the teeth, were filled with the selected prisoners, as the most active, but also suspected of being the most important in organizing and inciting their comrades, to opposed the terror of the state, without any information as to where they would be taken. Eighty detainees were handcuffed, handcuffed, and dragged to cars. After completing the number of detainees in each car, each one passed the rope, twice around the neck, then, its sides were tied tightly to the ends of the cars. If one of the detainees moved a little, to position the body from the pain caused in the hands and feet by the bars and chains, everyone would suffer from that “cursed” movement. I think that even the accursed devil could not think of making such a connection, to cause chain pain, to the bodies of “enemies”…!!!
My brother Çaush Çoku and I were in the first car because we were among the first on the shortlist, which the police chief read. The brother fell to pieces to be tied first with rope, around the neck, because he was on the front of the car, then the rest of us. I was third after him. Although our hands and feet were tied with irons and chains, the rope around our necks was deep above our tails, causing us pain. This was done more to make sure the police were safe along the way. (Since we had a reputation for being very dangerous, with mysterious and wicked spiritual strength, while the rope was already uniting us with the same physical and spiritual pain). The alarm for this was given by my brother, because he almost suffocated from the rope.
– Ore, criminals, he shouted, have you decided to sentence us to death on the rope, without taking us to the place where you will eliminate us?
He told police officers who were holding pickaxe tails in their hands, not counting the armed soldiers. They looked at him angrily, but did not speak. They themselves realized that this practice could not work in a long and difficult way. So, one of them got out of the car and, when he returned, ordered the rope to be placed on his shoulders and not around his neck. It was something better for us, but not as much as we thought, probably because we somehow threw this embarrassment … As soon as the car started to move, especially on the characteristic unpaved roads, between those buildings and the scary slopes of Spaç, the pain from the irons and chains across the legs, under the weight of the body, add to the squeezing force of the rope, made us scream, all at once…! Worst of all felt my dance, at every movement or jolt of the car, from the pulling force of the rope, which fell more on his body, where the tie was made. He was groaning and my soul ached, but I was also angry, because it seemed to me that the police were enjoying themselves. I yelled at him not to please the heartless ignoramuses, who giggled every time he groaned. In return, we cursed and cursed the state, the criminal statesmen and with them their Enver, immoral and anti-Albanian…!
When my brother temporarily lost consciousness, I screamed loudly in a rage: I scolded and threatened the police that if one day they fell on my hand, I would tear their throat with my teeth. I spat the first, then the second but … I did not find out what happened to me, because I lost consciousness, because one of the policemen had hit me with the tail of the pickaxe behind the head…! Although exhausted, sleepless, hungry and thirsty for water, with a gnashing of teeth, we tried not to please the ignorant, with our state weakened by macabre violence or their “victory”…! On the contrary, with the power of the soul, which, no matter what celestial force was coming at us, we were resisting by laughing and throwing roses. We took advantage of the fact that Tomorr Allajbeu asked for his hands to be released a little so that he could drink a sip of water from his gourd, which he never took out of his sweatshirt pocket, but the police pretended not to hear him. Tommy shouted and cursed at them as if he knew how to use his vocabulary. He even cursed their mothers who had given birth to slaughtered people to become dictatorship police…!
It did not go on that the policeman near him put the tail of the pickaxe in his mouth. We shouted at once and he pulled the pickaxe from Tom’s mouth, who turned nervously:
– What are you doing, your stupid donkey … that you broke my teeth?! We could not help but laugh out loud, and some of us even laughed with tears at Tom’s so common words that we knew him when he said them with all his heart, but also to make fun of the cops…! We were surprised that, apart from that “donkey”, his friends could barely contain their laughter. Even though the spirit that the policeman did to Tom hurt us, when his head was barely on his shoulder, from sitting for several months in a row in the cold dungeons, add three days and nights hungry and sleepless, we still could not contain it laughter. Thats it. The great tension created by the way of arrest, of tying the feet and hands with bars and chains and with rope in the throat, without even knowing where they were taking us, strangely, suddenly felt like a mist in the sun…! Laughter seemed to relieve us, at least, from the heavy shadow of the violence of power…! It seemed as if the policemen were well laughed at. At the very least, it reduced the wrinkles on their foreheads, from savagery and hatred.
Leaving behind the deep slopes of the Fan River, the bare mountains that lined up, sometimes like devils, sometimes like knights full of muscles, but with open wounds deep from the ruthless swords of the gods, gave way to a greenery, which softened somewhat sadness, raising a kind of hope of survival…! One of us said in Italian, through our teeth: “Remake the diet of luogo maledetto”…! Ma, dove andranno i maiali? (We left behind the damn place … But where will these pigs take us, that? “Certamente in un altro campo …” Someone else waited for him. (Surely in another camp).
– If ëe are alive…! (If we stay alive, English) As soon as the car got comfortable on the asphalt, a hoarse voice, from our ranks, said: – We left Rreps, brothers, we took the road to the South…! I knew him, it was the voice of Ndrec Çoku, from Mirdita, who during the revolt kept the flag of the uprising all the time, together with the wonderful and brave Shkodra man, Shuahip Ibrahimi…! Ndreca knew the area well. He was arrested this time because he had been noticed, near the flag, by police officers who knew him.
While with Shuaip Shkodra happened to be unfortunate. Because, while they were tying us with irons and chains, they put us in military vehicles, because his name did not come out, he shouted at the chief of police who was reading the list: – Why don’t you call my name too? I have guarded the flag day and night, without your communist star…!
Surely, he did so bravely, for he was proud of what he had done, and not being with us embarrassed him. Mihal Shteto, from Narta, did the same, but they only “fulfilled the request” to Shuapi, as “guilty” of the flag. It is not surprising that many prisoners did not know the roads when transported through prisons. Especially when they were taken to the mine of Spaç, or Qafë – Bar. This was because, after the final decision, for every defendant convicted as a “savage enemy of popular power”, he was sent to serve his sentence in the Spaç camp, or in the Burrel prison, or in the Qafë e camp. Barit, where the copper mine was located. Transportation to these places was done only by bus, which, the only space had a large hole in the roof, with wire mesh, interwoven in the shape of cakes.
Rarely did one escape without expelling the intestines, from the vomit, until it reached the destination. Not only from bad roads, potholes, but also from the scanty air in the hermetically sealed box. What caused concern for our companions, came suddenly that, some of us, as soon as the car started walking paved, without hesitation, began to fall asleep and dizzy, for many reasons. The main one was insomnia and the decline of the body’s immunity, especially from the lack of drinking water and food, during the revolt. Not counting the strong emotions and tension of the events, especially from the state terrorist intervention inside the camp. Then came the vomiting. Our police officers immediately reported on the radio about the situation in the car. It turned out that, in other cars had the same concerns. I cannot determine where the caravan of cars stopped, that the soldiers brought water with buckets, to wash the places that needed to be cleaned and, in this case, the excess water, the police used to throw it on our heads, no for our good, not at all, but because our bodies were stinking, from sweat and sourness. Unable to bear the stench, they asked for a few more buckets to rinse off the unbearable odor.
While our mouths and throats were burning with great thirst, we tried, in this case, each one, if possible, to quench, a little, the burning thirst, extending our necks towards the bucket, to grab even a sip for the hot lips of cracked. But they never reached the crevices of our lips, which were scorched by the heat, which multiplied hostilely, especially by the raincoat, on the edges of the car. Between me and my brother, was Loçja, from Tirana, his real name was Hysen Xhani, but since he was little he was called by the nickname, Loçe. Good-natured man and poor all his life even though he was a well-known craftsman in the capital, a master of painting houses. He had not opened his mouth at all, since he had climbed into the car…! He was an outspoken participant in the revolt, ubiquitous. I noticed that whenever the rope was pulled, it tilted from Caushi, to ease the pulling force on it. He did not complain, he did not groan…! Rarely, he sometimes vented with all his heart. It could have been over thirty. Sixteen-year-old Ajami, with some of his neighborhood peers, he had fled to Yugoslavia. Of the five comrades, the Yugoslav government had imprisoned only one of them, Simon, the other four had been taken near the Italian border, and the people of the Yugoslav state who accompanied them there had told them with a laugh:
– Look, this is the Italian border, if you dare to cross there, we will to put you in jail if the Italians brought you back here! That was it. Who kept their excitement, when they found out that they were so close to the border with Italy…! As soon as the cars that brought them left, no one hesitated to express the great desire to cross the Yugoslav border as soon as possible and to surrender to the Italians. This had been the dream and desire of teenagers, like many, many Albanians to live, even for a few hours, outside isolated Albania, especially in Italy, where, as they said in Tirana and everywhere, the people lived happily and in well-being, with beautiful beaches and famous singers that Albanians adored…! The SAN-REMOS festival in Italy was the most beautiful in the world for Albanian youth. Italian singers were imitated a lot by Albanians, as the best in the world … Although secretly, radio and television stations (whoever had them) in Italian stations kept them. The youth of the cities, especially the high school students, in school and everywhere only spoke and sang Italian…! Italian football was the culmination of the football echo among all Albanian fans…! The place where they would cross the Yugoslav border, surprisingly, was without guards. They ran like crazy towards freedom and well-being…”! What if we are in a dream and it is not true that we are escaping from poverty and dictatorship…”?
However, they ran to leave the Yugoslav land as quickly as possible, as if from behind, from moment to moment, the border post dogs q! Italy welcomed them as its abandoned sons. They underwent medical examination and controlled diets … After that, they would undergo Italian language training and education, wherever they wished. That was it, 15-16 years old…! Someone scared, or threatened, that their parents, sisters and brothers, in Albania, would exile or imprisoned. They demanded to return immediately under the care of the Albanian embassy. All this happiness did not last more than two weeks. So Loçja was blowing now, next to me, with all my soul, I thought, probably because the second time he could not cross the border, even though he was older…!
On the other side I had Haxhi Bena, (Xhiken), sentenced to fifteen years, for attempted escape, caught at the border, to Greece, with a friend of his…! But, suddenly, remembering that the clone had passed, they heard in surprise: “Stop!” “Do not move, I will shoot”, by the soldiers, 18-19 years old at the border…! It had been the fake clone they had passed. On them were released the dogs trained only to attack the violators of the state border, self-isolated, from all over the world, where, with their claws and teeth, they gnawed the gums of all those who sought freedom and well-being…!
Xhikja indicated that the guards had allowed the dogs as long as they needed to indulge in human flesh. His friend, the youngest, breathed his last before the body arrived at the border post. He could not resist the wounds barbarically caused by the bites…! Xhikja, was Albanian, from Chameria, while his friend, who passed away, had grown up in the Orphanage. They were known in the ward where they performed compulsory military service. A few days after being released from compulsory service, they tried to cross the border into Greece. Xhikja, to see his homeland, Chameria, where he had left his autochthonous parents and ancestors, forcibly expelled by the Greek andartes, at the end of World War II and, to open a lawsuit regarding the properties looted by the Greek government. (While the friend who passed away dreamed of America). He was determined and strong-headed, he did not talk much before. Sometimes he cursed, as if talking to himself and so! His eyes lit up with rage and hatred. He could not look the policemen in the face, so he kept his head down. He endured every pain until he received mar! I had had him as a group friend for several months, in the gallery, and he had shown me the marks of the wounds caused by the bites of the border dogs. Nothing, he had not groaned, then…! He felt sorry for his friend as he was being bitten by dogs and he was limping like a child…! He was younger than Xhikja, but what did he do?
“Force majeure, force brother!”, Repeated Xhikja, every time he told about such things … He had his own expression…!
– I saw the bridge of King Zog, brothers – shouted happily, Elez Hoxha, that fate had decided to be at the end of the car.
– Milotiii …! He made another one, which I could not guess who it was. – Who among you will speak next time, will be punished! – threatened the one who was being held in charge of the police – As if we extended a little as much u! -We have thirty years of enduring you on your back, you criminals…! Were you upset with us, for three days and three nights that we beat you and cursed your dirty party?! – Xhikja returned all her nerves. – You crooked jaw, don’t talk to me like that! Did you hear? – Tomorrow’s jaw! A dog is a dog. (Jik was born with his lower jaw, just before) He hit Jik with the tail of the pickaxe, straight on the head and tore his skull. The blood flowed and licked his whole body…! But, unable to get up to hit him, Xhikja, with all the force of his lungs, spat in his face, licking him with the blood of his mouth full.
They became four and started hitting Xhike with fists and kicks…! We could not move to help our invincible comrade-in-arms, but we started cursing loudly and shouting as much as we could: “Down with the communist hounds”, “Down with the criminals”, “Here is death, here is freedom!” It became a big alarm. The cars stopped and, the soldiers with automatic weapons, surrounded our car, until two of the officers accompanying the convoy climbed half body into our car. When they saw Xhike bleeding and with a cracked head, one of them said: /Memorie.al
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