Bjeshka Guri (interviewer)
Dardan Hoti (interviewee)
Acronyms: BG=Bjeshka Guri, DH=Dardan Hoti
BG: Could you tell me something about yourself?
DH: I am Dardan Hoti and I work as a... so people now that: I am a journalist, but for the moment I am working as an organizer and producer. It’s been 8 years that I work in the media, mainly combining the media with the Human Rights, so using media to work in favour of Human Rights. I currently work in Dukagjini TV... I don’t know what else to say. I think it’s sufficient.
BG: That’s sufficient. So, let’s go directly into the topic. What do you remember about the war?
DH: About the war? I remember when the attacks and the shootings began and the people started to leave their houses... And at that time we were told that we had to leave our house and half of our family departed to a village, called Mamusha. We had some relatives there. Half of the family remained at home, to leave later. I remember the shootings, tears, people, I remember cars, shouting, lack of food, I also remember the long journey from Kosovo to Albania, moving from village to village...
BG: How did you travel?
DH: We travelled by truck, a truck of the time of Yugoslavia, “Tam”, because I remember it quite well, it was green... I can clearly remember it because it was covered with something gray, with some kind of a cover which I do not quite remember. But yes, the travelling means was a truck inside of which were about 30-40 people and we had very little space.
BG: How old were you at that time?
DH: … 10 years old.
BG: And how did you understand that you had to leave? Did the police notify you earlier?
DH: No, the police did not. One of our family members was a member of KLA, and our house served as a place where other soldiers or anybody else, whoever passed by, has stopped and rested there, they were fed there, so it was as a stopping point that the KLA soldiers used and then continued their way. So, all the information passed through our house and then elsewhere. And we were warned that it would be good if we left the place earlier because it was expected that during the week ... in the villages around, the bombings had already started, the war had started, people had began to leave the villages, they went to the mountains, or to some relatives in another village or city, or even going abroad. So, we were informed that the same would happen with us too after some days, and that’s what happened. As half of the family left to Mamusha, the village I mentioned earlier, the other half was meant to leave after 5 days. So, there were attacks and a terrible slaughter in Krushë të Madhe. After that, it was understandable that we would leave.
BG: What was the atmosphere in Mamusha?
DH: Mamusha was a place inhabited by Turkish majority, and during the war it was not attacked. No crimes have occurred there, neither burnings, nor demolitions, nothing bad, and because it was inhabited by the Turkish community, we felt safer there. But my father... after the war broke all over the villages and in Krusha, the police came to Mamusha and chased out the families that had been sheltering there. We had been refugees there for a week, and all the families that were sheltered in Mamusha, were taken at the village centre, at a big square, a great number of people who had come from other villages and found shelter in Mamusha. During that week...
BG: And what did they do?
DH: Yes. We found shelter at a family, Morina family and we were about 40 people staying there, plus the families that lived there, counting about 100 people in those tw or three small houses, they were a big family. The police took us with the intention of sending us to Albania... in fact, we did not know where they would send us to. At that square, they took us into a truck, or in cars, or other forms of transport and they sent us out of the village, but we never knew where they were sending us. So there was information that they would send us to a prison, or to a place that NATO would bomb, or elsewhere. And at that place... in fact in that square, a murder happened. A person who was wearing Albanian aymbols and disobeyed the orders of the Serbian police was killed in the middle of the square. Most of the people witnessed the murder, but I fortunately did not, but we heard the shots and the reactions of people around. After that, they took us into trucks and other means of transportation and sent us to different destination, we did not know where but fortunately we ended up at the border with Albania. That was the time when we passed to Albania and we were safe... we were sent there...
BG: Do you remember anything about your experiences during the journey?
DH: Yes, I rememeber the experiences during the way. I remember that the only thing that we had for food were some biscuits and some small chocolate cakes that were distributed to all the people in that truck. I also remember that we were stopped during the way many times, and we never knew if we were safe or not, if we would die, or what would happen to us, adding to this the fact that we were only half of the family in that truck. Because we were told that they were sending us somewhere where they would kill us, some young boys at their twenties jumped out of the truck and went to the mountains, because they were afraid of that. Especially boys older than 20 that were separated from each... in our truck that did not happen because they had already jumped out earlier. But we heard that they had been selecting and taking young boys who were 18-20 years old. Two of my family members dropped off the truck during the way.
BG: They were dropped off by the police?
DH: No, they dropped off themselves, and they left the truck...
BG: Without the police knowing about that?
DH: Yes, the police did not know that they left, and then, we did not know what happened with them for two or more weeks. So, they dropped off and nothing... all the time people cried. They cried because they did not know what was about to happen. It rained, and the rain penetrated through the torn truck cover, and that all along the way from Mamusha to the border of Morina, in Albania. There were stoppages, the police confiscated things from people, and they took gold, valuable things.
BG: And the driver?
DH: The driver who took us there was from Mamusha. I do not know if he returned but he was the one who sent us to the border.
BG: So he followed police orders?
DH: He followed police orders, he did what they told him. And I remember that people shouted and tried to communicate with him. But he was so stressed and in panic, that he did not know what would happen with him and neither with us. It’s quite a high responsibility to drive a truck with 30-40 people, and of course, there were times when he almost crashed with other cars due to high speed and the stress he experienced all the time, and he tried to send us as fast as he could at the border.
BG: How did you receive the news that you had arrived at the border with Albania?
DH: Well, we practicaly did not know what was happening with us, yet. We left the truck. We had ben locked there, sometimes not being able to breath well. That’s perhaps because we had other things there too, water and other things. When we dropped off... nothing... we were two people less, those that had dropped off during the way. We had that feeling of confusion, of not knowing what would happen, adding to that the fact that I was very young, 10 years old. All that I know is that I cried the whole time and I was on my father’s shoulders and sometimes carried by my uncle’s wife. My mother and sister remained in Krusha. I and my father, with my uncles’ wives and some other children, and two of my uncle’s sons that were older left from Mamusha and endep up at the border. And after dropping off, we saw that the families from Kukesi were sheltering those from Kosovo who had gone there. And when we dropped off, we saw Serbian policemen who pushed us with guns, made some sort of circle and pushed us towards the border. We do not know where we were nor where they were sending us. And I remember that one of the policemen told my father: “Come on, you wanted America, take America”, as he was hitting the people with his gun, forcing them to pass through, but they did not kill anyone, they just led people through the border.
BG: So, your mother and sister were in Krusha?
DH: Yes they were in Krusha. My other three uncles and the daughter of my uncle too, a part of... The half of family stayed, the other half left. During the war my father lived together with his three brothers. So, the 4 brothers lived in the same house. The four of them were married and had children, and they all lived together...
BG: How did you get on…?
DH: Then we went to the first family that offered us shelter. We still communicate with them, 20 years after the war. There was a man named Hysen, he passed away a year ago. His family sheltered us in their house. I remember them taking us by a jeep. So, when we dropped off the truck, we separated, only the close family, and went to Kukes. So, we were sheltered by this family, they took us into their house, we settled there and then we began announcements in radio and TV in order to inform our other half of family that we were okay, that we had passed to Albania. So the only means of communication, of getting informed who was alive and of notifying our relatives was through radio. And fortunately, the announcement that we did was heard by my mother, or my sister... I do not remember it quite well... who were always looking for information and asking other people about us. For two other weeks, we did not meet the other half of the family, neither did we know if they were alive or dead. During these two weeks, there circulated various information. Some told that they were dead, that somebody had stepped in a bomb, lost her/his leg, another information was that somebody was dead... you know, you received different kind of information. I passed these two weeks crying. I could not eat, I could not do anything, until they got our message from Kukes, that we were alive and safe. And then they followed that message repeatedly. It was normal, they experienced various things during these two weeks.
BG: In Krusha?
DH: In Krusha. Then, they left from village to village until they finally passed to Albania, like the majority of Kosovo people.We stayed for a week in Kukes. Our family had a cousin in Tirana and he was looking forward to find us a better place, where we would be better accommodated. So, we departed from Kukes to Tirana, and the last day that we left, the other half of the family had arrived in Kukes. We again did not meet.. We left to Tirana, we arrived there, it was a kind of Madrasa, a kind of religious school... you understand what it was, I need not explain it. And different families from Kosovo settled there. We were around 25 families or more, I do not quite remember it, but I know that we were more than 200 people. And every family had a super big room with beds, a common kitchen, and we stayed there for 3 months. After a week... we saw that the other part of the family, without my two uncles who died during the war, arrived there. They came in March, we got together and we continued staying in that Madrasa. We started attending the school there. Because it was a Madrasa, we were obliged to also attend religious subjects there. But after two weeks, I left the Madrasa and started an ordinary primary school that was next to the Madrasa... because I did not like attending religious lessons, and I finished the fourth grades in two months, so I continued the same as in Kosovo. I can tell you everything about the period of time spent during those three months. I do not know what to mention because there were many occurrences at that place.
BG: Did you receive any news from Kosovo during that time?
DH: We got various news, at that extent that for a certain person we got 4-5 different informations. And you did not know what or who to believe. Of course, we were interested to know about my uncles who were dead, but we did not know if they were killed, if they were missing, if they were to return or not, and we did not have this information until 2004-2005 when we identified them among the missing persons. But, we had different information. For the same person, there was different information every day.
BG: What about the massacre in Krusha?
DH: Yes, we heard about it. I have seen a part of the massacres. Half of my family that were in Krusha knew that those massacres happened. But nobody wanted to believe that our uncles were among the massacred, and there were different news... because in Krusha, there were also refugees from other villages... and they once said that they only killed the refugees. Nothing of that was true. In fact, the killed ones were residents of Krusha. Then, we got information that a big truck with 50 or 100 victims ended up being burned and thrown into a river. The information was diverse and you never knew where your family members were.
BG: And how did you received these news considering the fact that you were a child?
DH: I remember that I started to engage in many activities at that time because they used to take us always. There were activities, games, trips... There were also separated activities... because living in a Muslim community, they separated us from the girls, the boys were apart. Even when attending the lessons, they separated us. I know that they used to organize competitions, games, and that was a distraction for us as 10-year-olds. But again, being among the families, seeing people sad and crying, you had to stay with someone... My mother, after she came, she cared for me so much that I did not experience that sadness. She used to take me with her when she went to work in the kitchen, where she prepared the food for the refugees.So I avoided seeing people crying and talking sad things. They always took care for us not to be present. Even though during the night, we slept together in the same room... we were 14-15 people in the same room and of course you could hear my uncles’ wives crying and mentioning their husbands. But the school, the activities, all these served as distraction. And as a 10 year old I also worked with a woman. A market was near the building where we lived... and there was a woman who had three daughters, she employed me, she gave me food and money during the day and I used to carry plastics and other things for her. I worked there around one month.
Bjeshka Guri (interviewer)