By Ferdinand Dervish
Memorie.al / The appearance, on the morning of September 22 of the distant year 1985, of a company of policemen armed to the teeth, moving in unison, disciplined along the bed of the Valbona river, swollen by the rains, at that time had confused all the inhabitants of the villages Bujan and Fushë-Lumi of Tropoja. Without noise, without commotion, completely careful, the line went towards the place where the river joined the stream of Shydenica, creating a giant hollow, in the center of which, the stream of water twisted like a snake. Then a few frightened eyes, hidden behind the bushes, would widen even more, observing a young man, dressed in some clothes and a strange spacesuit, and crept and dived in the middle of the threatening whirlpool of water. That it was about the discovery of a treasure, exactly a chest with 13 kilograms of gold, the residents of the area would learn this last, even years later, but that the policemen who came from Tirana had Isuf Haluci with them in handcuffs, that the discarded boy, of their village.
He stood out there. Isuf Haluc’s body, emaciated by torture, handcuffed legs and hands, appeared from time to time between the gigantic shoulders of two strong policemen, who crushed him in the middle like a sardine, even those tied with him with handcuffs.
“It was time after the court sentenced us, Isuf and me, to death by firing squad. We were in prison for two years, while the fabricated charges against us were a total of 13. They were almost all the most serious charges of the Criminal Code, from the section on “Crimes against the State”, from agitation and propaganda, sabotage, agents, attempts of the murder of Ramiz Ali, the attempt to escape abroad, up to the violation of provisions on gold and currency.
Right after the court sentenced us to death by firing squad, Isufi told me that he was thinking of doing one last thing to them. To these butchers, torturers, policemen, investigators, prosecutors, officers and employees of the Security, heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Minister Hekuran Isai, Director of Security, Zylyftar Ramizi, etc. A row with the final goal, to avoid, at the right time, the decision of the court that had sentenced us to death”, confesses Skënder Haluci, the son of Isuf Haluci’s uncle, also sentenced to death under the same charges and cursed to experience moments the horror of awaiting the final decision of execution by firing squad.
The same one who in modern times, i.e. after the 90s, thanks not only to the luck of survival, has been invested in working in the field of justice, as a lawyer, judge and with the attributes of one of the commissioners of the People’s Advocate.
The smartest trap…!
One treasure, accompanied by a compelling story, is enough to stop the breath of any responsible human being in the world. Because a treasure, finding it, manages to change in the most radical way imaginable the destiny, the course of life of the being, or human beings who possess it.
But no one can believe that once upon a time, under the grip of absolute oppression, which originated from the concrete communist system, far from any possibility of help, locked and secured with five hundred keys and police guards, tied hands and feet and with spacesuits in head, waiting to be shot, one could calculate, without making a single mistake, the magical effects of the tale of a distant, invisible, imaginary treasure. A treasure built in the fragility of the ether, but in the mind of the creator, reflected with the conviction of the strength and steel of the threads that made up the trap for survival.
At least within the borders of the territory of Albania of all times, it is likely that this is the cleverest trap of a convict, who awaits execution by death, precisely in order to avoid it and continue to live.
“I hid a chest with 13 kilograms of gold, somewhere in the bed of the river Valbona. You have to believe me. Even Skenderi, the uncle’s son, knows about the treasure, but he doesn’t know where I hid it. I will give you proof of this.
Tangible evidence. Don’t believe me without proof. But… look doesn’t change the calculated line for the fate of our lives in the slightest. In the end, everything in this story has a value and a counter value…”, were more or less the words of Isuf Haluc, one of the top leaders of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the meeting with which, the death sentence he had asked for it with persistence and urgency.
“The story of the treasure was also a last attempt to turn the situation in our favor. On the other hand, Isufi, it seems during the entire course of the trial, suffered a lot from the fact that, together with him, I was also heading towards the death penalty. He was four years older than me. Apparently, he felt responsible. Meanwhile, I had noticed that he, throughout the course of the trial, had tried to deflect the charges that included me. Exactly, he denied all the accusations, calling them fabricated, but he also affirmed that, whatever the case, Skenderi, that is, me, was not involved with any of them. So, I am convinced that, more than for himself, Isufi made up this story of the treasure to help me”, confesses Skënder Haluci, without for a moment hiding his weakness for the personality of his relative who no longer lives.
Next, the plot continues with the key detail of the whole event. Isuf Haluci had thought out his plan, down to the smallest detail, calculating provocation-observation, the result and the counter-reactions of the opponents. He had thought to give a strong test to the people who had the fate of his life and that of his uncle’s son in their hands. In order for them to start believing seriously, in the story of the legend of the treasure.
“Initially, to make them believe that he was serious about the treasure, Isufi told them of the State Security where a very small part of it was located. With Isufi, at that time we traded with florins, which we collected in the Tropoja area and sent abroad, with the help of commercial truck drivers, who, when they returned, brought us goods, watches and other items, similar but highly sought-after chicks in the time market. Before we were arrested, I remember that we had 23 gold coins, which Isufi kept hidden in the wall of his house in Bujan. After a brick that had to be removed.
After our arrest, knowing that we had florins in our hands, the police and the Security checked all possible holes, even kept the house under siege, for a week, but without being able to find anything valuable. So Isufi, in implementation of his plan, confessed to the heads of the Ministry of Interior at that time, where “a very small part of the treasure” was found. They went to his house in Bujan and found the 23 coins exactly after removing the brick that Isufi confessed to them.
It seems that the accuracy of the information and the proven truth convinced the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to believe in the rest, in the “treasure of Bujan”, hidden in a hollow of the Valbona river. You understand, these found florins, these few forgiven florins, had the effect that the scent of the prey’s skin has on the hunting dog, which the hunter waves in front of his nose, before letting him off the leash…”, continues the confession. Isuf Haluc’s uncle’s son.
To the “treasure” in Valbona
Thus, on the distant September 22, 1985, when the absolute communist leader of the country, Enver Hoxha, had not yet been put to death in the coffin and when the dictatorship was executing by firing squad all over the country, even ordinary thieves, on the coast twisted river Valbona, among the beauty of nature that is found in abundance in those parts at any time, a company of policemen, had started to build in their mind the scene of finding a treasure. Of a real treasure, maybe, maybe even of slipping some yellow coin into your pocket, just like that, without anyone noticing.
“Before they left for Tropoja, the Security forces interrogated me. While I played Isuf, the uncle’s son, whom I adored. They asked me about the treasure and I told them that I didn’t know anything. This is what Isufi had taught me. We, as well as all the other prisoners, communicated day and night by means of a code that was invented in the prison. Similar to MORS, where a given letter of the alphabet had a corresponding number of hits on the cell wall.
While on the second day of the interrogation, pretending to break from the pressure and torture, I confessed to the executioners that I knew Isufi had a treasure, but I swore to them that I did not know where he kept it hidden. It seems that this statement finally convinced those of the Security and the Ministry of Internal Affairs that Isuf Haluci was not deceiving them about the treasure”, confesses Skenderi, shaking his head left and right, as if to show how crazy he had been this whole story.
The police team and several heads of the State Security had traveled throughout the night to Tropoja. Isuf Halucin, according to the confession of his uncle’s son, had his hands and feet tied with irons, while on his two arms sat the two most mammoth policemen of the Special Department 326, one of whom was a champion in the sport of wrestling.
“As Isufi told me afterwards, the two policemen who had taken over his security had one hand handcuffed to his hand. That’s how they had traveled all night by car, that’s how they had walked along the bed of Valbona, that’s how they had seen the show about finding the treasure in the place where the stream of Shydenica joins the river of Valbona, creating a giant hollow…”!
Upon arriving at the “place of the treasure”, at the hole in the river, where Isuf Haluci had pointed out the location of the treasure, a policeman, who worked as a diver, had undressed to wear an old-style diving suit. , also consisting of a spacesuit that was placed on the head. After he was ready, even though the water was razor cold, the policeman plunged in.
“I remember that Isufi had told them that he had put the gold, about 13 kilograms, in a metal box and that, during the summer, when the water level had dropped, he had tied it to a steel cable, behind a rock, in bottom of the river bed, in a type of hollow.
Afterwards, I have often weighed this figure of 13 kilograms in my mind and the result has always been that it must have been related to the 13 charges that the State Security had mounted on our address. A clever prophecy of Jesus. But let’s get back to the treasure hunt. The policeman who got into the water was one of the most chosen and powerful of the Special Department No. 326. Everyone knew him by name. But he quickly got tired, sinking. Because the river had had large flows, due to the rains and moreover, the water had been very cold.
Consequently, the policeman had not been able to search carefully, to explore all the cavities. While I think that the choice of that place, for the search for the treasure, was again part of Isuf’s genius mind. Since in that area of Valbona even in summer, when there is little water, it is difficult to go to the bottom of the river and explore all the underwater caves”, continues Skënder Haluci.
After several hours of effort, the Palomba police had surrendered. But he had surrendered without being convinced, that he had explored the entire area that Isuf Haluci was circling with his finger somewhere under the surface of Valbona’s water. So he surrendered, leaving the truth of the treasure a mystery again. “At this time, Isufi had begged them to let him sink in order to retrieve the treasure. He had even prayed to them several times. But the leaders of this operation did not allow it.
And they did well, since Isufi, reduced to bones and skin from the torture, to almost half of his body weight, would not have come out of there alive. Of course, he would try to escape. He had told me from the first moment he told me about the line. He told me that, no matter what, he would at least get to see Tropoja for the last time”, concludes Skënder Haluci’s account of the treasure hunt.
Afrim Krasniqi: I remember the police looking for the treasure!
“I was little, but I remember the police who started looking for the treasure in Valbona, in 1985, since our house was near the river.” The statement that proves the stupidity of the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the search for the imaginary treasure of the death row convict Isuf Haluci, comes from the well-known journalist, publicist and researcher, Afrim Krasniqi.
Who in his early childhood lived in the village of Fushë-Lumi, located on the border with Bujan, where Isuf Haluci was from, geographical notions that are located near the city of Bajram-Curri. According to Krasniqi’s account, that morning, early, the police knocked on their houses, give strict orders that no one, if possible, should leave the house and not become curious about the actions of the state representatives in the area.
“We were children then and our parents locked us inside. But we took the opportunity to take a look. We did not resist the orders. Secretly, we began to observe what was happening”, Krasniqi confesses. There were two places where policemen, civilians, but also soldiers, according to Krasniqi, had searched for Isuf Haluc’s treasure.
“I remember police, soldiers and some civilians who first searched in the place where the Shydenica stream joins the Valbona River, but also in another place. This is an area between the village of Bujan and the village of Fushë-Lumi, which at that time had no more than 20 houses. Of course, we children watched from afar. My parents’ house was no more than 500 meters from the river. I have in my mind a person who was being held by a rope by some soldiers. It must have been the dove”, says the well-known publicist from his childhood memory.
“After searching at the meeting point of Shydenica stream with Valbona, the policemen, soldiers and civilians moved further, checking another hollow. This place is located in the Bujan Field, about 500-600 meters from the valley of the Tropoja Martyrs’ Cemetery. It is a deep valley, maybe 200 meters, uninhabited, with a lot of greenery and it separates the village of Bujan from Fushë-Lumi”, Krasniqi recounts.
According to him, in this second place, a group of young men led by a woman, who were accused of fraud and theft of several stores and warehouses known at that time, had once been hidden. A group that had nothing to do with Isuf Halucin. It seems Sigurimi thought that even in this place of the river, there could be some treasure”, explains Krasniqi, concluding with the assertion that, indeed, that area was later put in storage and declared as an auxiliary economy, of the Department of Works of the Interior of Tropoja.
The result of the row
“Luck favors the prepared”, says the joke of a Hollywood action movie. Even the story of Isuf Haluc’s row in 1985, the row of gold, thought with the precision of a master, helped him and his uncle’s son, Skenderi, to continue living. The last point of the plan, the giant hollow at the meeting point of the Valbona River with the Shydenica stream, had been difficult to control not only during the rainy season, but also during the summer.
So the word of the palombari that he had not been able to control all the caves on the river bed, still did not move the leaders of the Ministry of the Interior, the minister Hekuran Isai himself, but also the Director of Security, Zylyftar Ramizi, from the conviction that Isuf Haluci, he had not deceived them. They soon ordered that the entire area surrounding the meeting point of Valbona with the Shydenica stream, be surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by armed guards. The same, had also taken care to avoid all the curious, hanging in some positions of the surrounding fence, signs that wrote that, the surrounded area, was the auxiliary economy of the Department of Internal Affairs of Tropoja.
“After four days of the search in Valbona, I was taken out of the cell and taken to the investigation office. There I saw that they had also taken Isuf, my uncle’s son, and I realized that something big was happening. After he had returned from Tropoja, Isufi, using our code, had written me a single sentence: ‘I think I put it in’!? That’s why when I saw him there, in the meeting room, to be honest, I was scared. I thought the State Security might have discovered the ruse. But I was wrong. A few moments later, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hekuran Isai, entered the room.
The minister took out a pack of cigarettes and handed one to Isufi and me. I never drank it and refused. He told me that I had remained an enemy, in a way where there must have been mischief, or, for that matter, humor. But when you are sentenced to death, when life is at the end, you don’t understand, you can’t smell the humor of others, moreover, of your executioner. It was also the time when we had just learned that our families, 18 people, had been interned in Kota in Vlora.
The Minister started to bring us around with some unimportant stories and in the end he told us that the Presidium of the People’s Assembly, whose Chairman was Ramiz Alia, although we had owed a lot to the State Party, had spared our lives and that the measure of punishment , it would be 25 years in prison. Before we could recover, the minister let out one more: ‘but you don’t deserve it’ while leaving”, the lawyer Haluci recounts one of the most difficult and at the same time the most relieving moments of his life.
The end of the trap
The treasure bait had done its job. The two sentenced to death from Bujan i Tropoja already had a chance to continue living, even thanks to their young age, they had a chance to live like everyone else, free. On December 15, 1985, according to Skenderi’s confession, he himself was sent to the notorious Spaçi prison, while Isuf, a little further away, to the prison of Qafa i Bari. But Skender Haluc’s days without torture had been very few. Another order caused him to be transferred after two months, on February 18, 1986, to the dreaded Burrell prison.
“Burrell prison was the most terrible. There was also a sign at the entrance, where it was written in red ink “Glory to Marxism-Leninism”. (‘Here they say Burrel, where you enter and do not leave’, was translated by the convicts who suffered there). But I was young and strong. I endured. Later, I gathered in my mind that my imprisonment in Burrel prison should have been decided and materialized as a kind of pressure on Isuf, so that he would not tremble. On the other hand, Isuf was not moved from the prison of Qafa i Bari. There he managed to recover quickly physically. Even, from the 50 kilos of body weight he had gained, he had quickly regained his usual weight, but his heart had also returned to its place, his courage.
Because, at the beginning of the summer of the following year, 1986, the policemen’s probe was again ready to start searching for the treasure in the hollow that is created by the union of Valbona with the stream of Shydenica. Because the dream, that golden dream of Minister Hekuran Isai and others continued”, confesses Skenderi, smiling for the first time. In Burrel prison, Skënder Haluci had as much time as he wanted, to relive the stories of imprisonment, death sentence and pardon, because of the imaginary treasure that his uncle’s son, Isufi, invented to escape this punishment.
“It is true that we both benefited from the line that Isufi wove for Minister Hekuran Isai and other heads of the Ministry and State Security. But after the release, in June 1991, on the eve of the visit to Tirana of the American Secretary of State, James Baker, I learned about another circumstance that I think had a great influence on Ramiz Alia, in the signing of the decree, which changed the sentence ours, from death, by shooting, to 25 years of imprisonment.
It must have been more or less like that. The year 1985 was a bloody year, as several death row convicts from the north of the country were executed by firing squad. Two young men from Hasi were shot, as well as two ticket holders, Sokol Sokoli and Shkëlzen Doçi. So, a total of four northerners were shot, for a short period of time.
According to the information I learned later, precisely these frequent shootings had forced the former first secretary of the Tropoja Party Committee, who was also a member of the Central Committee, to meet Ramiz Alina in Tirana and explain to him that; the murders were not welcomed by the mass of the people, that there should be an acceptable measure in similar punishments and that, if possible, they should be stopped for an indefinite period. That’s why I think that, apart from the treasure trove, the fact of the shooting in the same period, of four unfortunate people from this area, also influenced the forgiveness of our lives”, explains the lawyer Haluci.
The last conversation about the treasure of Valbona, between its creator, Isuf Haluci, and the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, took place in the summer of 1986, in the premises of the prison of Qafa i Bari. “Someone from the Ministry of the Interior came to talk to the uncle’s son. He had told Isufi that the weather had warmed up, that the water level of Valbona had dropped and that they had planned to go again, one of those days, to look for the treasure there, at the place…! But Isufi, who had completely recovered physically, pretended not to understand.
The other was forced to remind him that he, Isuf Haluci, had left a conversation halfway, with his friend Hekuran Isai…! For that treasury job. But Isufi’s last answer, his joke “go away, because I don’t have the gold for Hekuran Isai”, is remembered almost with euphoria by all the convicts of the prison of Qafa i Bari. Further, Isufi was badly beaten for almost two weeks. I remember that they brought him to Burrel massacred.
But he recovered quickly. Because this time, it was no longer a death sentence, awaiting execution”, concludes Skënder Haluci, with this last fragment, the story of the imaginary treasure of Valbona that, in the years 1985-1986, introduced gold fever to all leaders of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, without leaving out those of the State Security.
A story that the executioners of the time themselves accept, singling out the resourceful boy from Tropoja, Isuf Haluc, as the only one of the only ones, who managed to bring the State Security into play, that hornet’s nest, which cooked the fate of everyone Albanians surrounded by barbed wire, without distinction, whether they are completely loyal to the regime, little or not at all, with the exception of the extreme creature at the top of the dome. Memorie.al