Myrvete Gagica AziziAdmin2
Interviewer: Rita Berisha
Interviewee: Myrvete Gagica Abazi
R.B.: Thank you very much for telling me your story of the war time and being a refugee. Can we begin with before the war started? What did you see in the news? What did you hear? What were your concerns? Where were you living? What was the situation like when the war started?
M: It was a very scary beginning. First of all, the news that we heard on Serbian TVs were horrible, because we didn’t have our own TVs. We had 5 minutes in the Zagreb Television which sometimes gave us a little hope with a word or sentence they said. Otherwise, the start of the war made us feel extremely scared. Then, on March 19, from my house in front of the road I saw people coming. I thought, “How can they play football?” I thought they were playing football and young people had gathered. When I looked again, I saw people on wheelchair, who had been evicted from Matiçan village, now known as Mat. They stopped in front of my house, although there was a police vehicle standing there. There’s a small post office where the police tank had concentrated with about 50 police officers in front of my house. I was appalled, I was shaking! What should I do? I was alone at home. First, I turned electricity off, and I uninstalled two hanging lights I had in the living room. I gathered some things I had of value, and I remembered I had a large, three-door wardrobe. I removed the doors, emptied it all, put a small cloth under it and dragged it about 5 meters. I placed it in front of the bathroom door. Before placing it there, I took all the beautiful furnishings I had, and a mirror, the entire kitchen, the dining table and chairs, I put them on top of each-other, I closed the door, and placed the wardrobe before the bathroom door. I also took off the door handle because the wardrobe wouldn’t fit completely, so I had to take off the door handle. Oh, I forgot something. Before closing the door, I went to the grocery store which was about 5 meters away from my house. I bought a bag of pasta, detergent, salt, sugar, rice, soaps, shampoo, and oil and put them all in the bathroom so that when we come back I would have them there. I thought maybe the NATO would save us as it repeated every day, and when we come back the children will have what to eat, and we’ll have good hygiene first of all.
R.B.: So you hid them in the bathroom?
E: I hid all of them in the bathroom. I put some good carpets I had in the bathroom. And I made up a scenario and turned my house into a theatre scene. I threw some old stuff on the ground, I threw some plates on the floor, a few of them I broke, so that in case someone breaks in they would think this place had already been robbed and they wouldn’t try to steal anything else. So, I turned it into a movie scene, and I took a few things with me. I didn’t go out by the main door because the police officers could see me, instead I went out through the garden, through the neighbours’ yards, and went to my daughter’s, although an old neighbour, Uncle Osman, asked me, “Where are you going? Come here, my girls and my daughters-in-law are here, come and stay with them.” I told him, “No, Uncle Osman. I have only one child here, I want to be next to my daughter.” And I went to my daughter. It was March 19. March 20 found me at my daughter’s. We lived in great anxiety for four days, not knowing what to do. All we did was watch the news with my daughter, her in-laws, her husband, and her children. Although the daughter was only 10 months old, it was as if she felt our anxiety, the critical moments we were going through, and she kept quiet the entire time.
R.B.: Your niece, right?
A: My niece. My nephew too, he just cried sometimes and asked us questions when he would see the scenes on TV and used to say “ba ba boom”. I said to myself, “Oh my God, he can feel it in his heart that we’re not okay”.
R.B.: What do you remember about the first bombings? Where were you?
A: I was at my daughter’s. On March 24, when the darkness fell, I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want my daughter and my son-in-law to realize that I was so afraid. I just told them “It’s okay, we have NATO. Don’t be afraid. We will survive. There are good people in the world, they’re not all the same.” At 9 pm the rocket attacks started. We could see those horrible airplane lights from the second floor of my daughter’s house. We went there to see what was happening. We didn’t sleep a minute that night, and the morning came. The children woke up. We had to clean my niece, we had to cook because we couldn’t leave the house. We even cooked some food to take away just in case, because we heard that a few blocks away, the police entered people’s houses, beat them and evicted them from their houses. We didn’t know if they were killed. But what made me lose hope was the news that Bajram Bytyqi had been killed together with his two sons. I thought, “if they’ve killed him, we can only expect the worst.” Fortunately, the neighbours informed us. One of them told my son-in-law – because his brother had left earlier for Bllace – “I have been told that they will evict you too, but remember to take cardboards with you because it has rained a lot in Bllace and it is muddy, and you don’t have where to sit.” So we took cardboards, some nylon bags, we baked bread and some croissants for the children, we took water as well because he told us that there’s no water there. I felt really bad for my son-in-law and his father because they carried the water and the food. I carried my niece; I couldn’t let my daughter carry her because I was afraid she would stumble and hurt her. She carried her son. I carried my niece and a bag full of children’s clothes and cloth diapers. We didn’t have modern diapers back then. And a young man came and told us to get ready because the street below my son-in-law’s house had been completely evicted, everyone had left, and they had been told by the police and paramilitaries to leave in 10 minutes. I was later told that it hadn’t been the military nor the civilian police, but rather the paramilitaries with red headscarves. So, we got ready to leave the house.
R.B.: By car or on foot?
M: On foot, of course! Everyone on foot. In that crowd of people, I could only hear the sound of wheelchair carrying older people or new mothers. I saw two mothers with their babies, who had just delivered two or three days ago. They were carrying them in wheelchairs. I can never forget those faces. The babies who had just come to life 48-50 hours before this tragedy occurred didn’t make a single sound. Our house was in Bregu i Diellit, and when I looked down from Qerimi Bakery, I saw a sea of people down at the building of Electricity and Economy! There were paramilitaries, police officers and soldiers on both sides! There were soldiers too, quite a large number of them, who just looked at us, and signalled to us with their heads and hands, saying “Napred! Idi! Novi zastaneš!” “Walk! Don’t stop! What are you looking at?” And we kept silent, not making a single sound, and arrived at the train station somehow. It was horrible! They sent us there, but we didn’t know what would happen to us. We waited there for five hours until the train arrived. They evicted us at around seven a.m. I remember it very well, at 9 a.m. we were at the train station in Prishtina. I looked at my watch. 1 p.m. Still nothing. We’re waiting for the train to arrive from Serbia, through Podujeva. At 1:30, the train arrived. I told my family to hold the children, so that I could get in first and save a train cabin for us. I didn’t want the children to stand in the isle, and I wanted to get my son-in-law in and hide him somehow because there were rumours they were taking young people off of the train. I got in first and I quickly pulled my daughter’s mother-in-law in, then my daughter. I left them in the isle, and I found a cabin. My son-in-law, his father, my daughter and her children got in, and another woman who was with his. She was the wife of a doctor. Her name was Lirie Dinishi. She was with her son and daughter. She got in too, and I closed the doors and the curtains, and I said “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do for the others.” The train started. When we were going through some turns, I could count up to 40 wagons! There was one locomotive in the front pulling it, and another one in the end pushing it. We also stopped in Fushe Kosova for about thirty minutes. That’s when I thought they were going to… because there was a field. Then we stopped again, and I was really scared, in a field between Ferizaj and Lipjan. Then we arrived in Ferizaj, we stopped there for a long time. But fortunately, they didn’t stop us like they say they did when they got young men off the train. It didn’t happen to us. We stopped at Gerlica too, where the road for Tetovo and Brezovica is divided. There were many police officers, many police vehicles. There were also tanks and trucks. I said, “Alas, they’re going to take our children, and throw them there!” But the train didn’t stop. We stopped in…
M: Not in Bllace. We arrived in Janovic. The train stopped, and a girl said with a loud voice, “When you stop in Bllace, don’t walk left or right, walk on the railroad only!” And that’s what we did. We arrived in Bllace around 4 p.m. When we arrived in Bllace, my daughter’s father-in-law said, “Let’s sit here!” I couldn’t blame him. He was old and tired. He couldn’t stand on his feet anymore, but there wasn’t anywhere we could sit: mud, people were hungry and thirsty, children’s tears had dried on their cheeks, old women lying on the mud, uncovered, some only covered with nylon bags. It was terrible. We didn’t have where to sit. That’s why it’s called Bllace, it’s a low-lying place, so the water accumulated in that mud. What terrified me the most was the flying of NATO helicopters which I didn’t expect. They threw Tetext blankets as much as they could. Tetext was a factory in Tetovo. Those were very good blankets. But they threw them from above, and they ended up in the mud because people couldn’t catch them. We couldn’t use them because they ended up in the mud. I was growing even more afraid and terrified. I didn’t see anyone from NATO or internationals providing the smallest help to the massive number of refugees. There were over 10,000, for sure. I saw women who had hung clothes from one tree to the other and had put three babies in them and would swing them, afraid they would fall. They weren’t safe there. I don’t know how they had done that, but obviously they were trying to put them to sleep. I was shocked! I was trying to see where we came from, or where east, north or south was. I kept looking around out of fear. All of a sudden, I saw a door opening and a tractor came to distribute bread and milk. They didn’t give them to people who were waiting with their hands up to eat that bread. Most of it fell on the ground because they threw it to people from the tractor. They were probably Albanians from Macedonia, I don’t know. I know they were random people. I ran quickly and told my son-in-law and daughter, “Quick, after me. No words, come just!” Because we were closer, luckily. When I left my house, I took an album which I folded and thought it would help me in this irreversible, hopeless journey. I had my children’s diplomas. They were all successful students. And I had my wedding certificate, when I got married in Skopje on April 1965. At the time, my in-laws were living in Skopje so we got married there. So I took it with me, since we were going to Bllace, and Bllace is close to Skopje, I assumed it would help me get in. I approached a soldier, he was a good young man, and I told him in Macedonian, “Ja sum ud Skopje, ja sam vencana vo Skopje i kucam je u gazibana, te moluvam pustime!” I told him, “I am from Skopje. I got married in Skopje. I am here to take my daughter, please allow us to get in!” He was a very humanitarian soldier. He opened the door. Luckily, he let me, my daughter, her husband and their children pass. But my daughter’s in-laws remained there. He didn’t let them pass. I didn’t look behind anymore. My only goal was to save my little grandchildren. We soon arrived in the main road in Skopje, in the asphalt paved road, and I saw a bus. Further away there was a taxi. I thought I’ll go and rent that taxi. One of them told me, “Natreg!” “Back off!” I didn’t back off, he repeated it again. Then he hit me in the shoulder here. I had a bruise here for a month because he hit me with a baton, or what are they called?
M: Baton. I told him, “But I am from Skopje. I want to go to Skopje!” He said, “okay, the bus is leaving.” “Which bus?” “This one” I told my daughter and son-in-law to quickly follow me. We went to the bus. I asked to see the driver. When I approached him, he told me, “Mrs. Myrvet, come here. It’s me.” He knew my husband, luckily for us. He opened the door to my daughter, son-in-law and their children. I didn’t even get in the bus. I immediately returned to get my daughter’s in-laws, and that doctor’s wife, Lirie Binishi and her two children. I also remember, I had 100 Marks in my pocket, and I approached a short soldier and told him, “Please, the other soldier allowed me to take my daughter and son-in-law, but his parents remained here, and he is anxious. He wants to return for them. Can you allow me to go and take them?” He said, “Go get them. Don’t look at me.” I wanted to give him the money, but he said “Go, they can’t see me talking to you.” I told him, “Thank you very much!” He allowed me to go, and told his colleague, “Open the door to the lady.” He opened the door. I took my daughter’s in-laws and Lirie Binishi with her children. We got in the bus. I asked the driver, “Can you take us to Mr. Shukri in Gazibane, to our house?” He said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Myrvet. We’re taking you to Stenkovac. It’s a large field, at the entrance of Skopje on the left side. That’s where they’ve planned to send the refugees. They will take you today from here.” They took us there. They built the tents for us in no time. It was all planned. I realized that this war was planned. We got off the bus. About four soldiers came and started setting up the tent. I told them, “No one shatorr, two! Me big family!” I told them we’re a big family. They said, “Alright, no problem, thank you!” And they set up two tents for us. We put the kids to sleep. I asked the doctor’s daughter, “Do you speak English? Can you help me find someone we know, so that we don’t stay here and go to Gostivar, or Skopje, or Tetovo?” Because we had friends waiting for us everywhere. I had a sister in Gostivar who was dying out of anxiety that I was the only one who remained in Prishtina. “Yes,” she said, “I can speak English, aunt Myrvet!” As we were going to the centre, where I saw those leaders with their grades on their shoulders, I saw someone with a phone. I told him “Please, just one moment, we are telefon, my two daughter London, please, conservation little”. “Alright, no problem”. He gave me the phone. I will always be grateful to me. I forgot my daughter’s number for a second but I quickly remembered and gave him the number, and I talked to her. “Lili, Suzi, it’s mum! I’m in Skopje with Val.” They didn’t let me speak, asking me if “Are you alive? Where are you? Where’s Val? Where are her children? Where were you staying?” I told them, “We are all in Skopje. Don’t worry. I have to go because I borrowed a NATO soldier’s phone. Goodbye!” We went there, but we didn’t find anyone. Evening came, it got dark. We slept in Stenkovc that night. The following day, I got up and went out again with that girl. The tents weren’t even 40 cm away from each-other. There were probably 10,000 tents there. I could see records of people coming all the time by buses from Skopje, Kumanova, and Tetovo. They kept coming and going, bringing more people. We went to the centre. I heard some young men speaking Albanian. “Good afternoon, boys.” I said, “What is going to happen to us?” One of them said, “Let’s see. We will see today or in the next days. You’re safe now.” I told them “But my sister lives here, I have friends.” He said, “Who are you?” I told him, “I am Myrvete Azizi, professor Nijazi Azizi’s wife.” He said, “What?! He was my professor! Come!” And he took us with two Mercedes cars. I told him, “I have a lot of people with me, my daughter, her children, her in-laws.” He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll come and pick you up.” They came and picked us up. All of them wanted to shelter us in their houses. I told them, “Can you please just take us to the station in Skopje?” Because my sister Ajten was waiting for us.
R.B.: Where was your sister?
M: She was in Gostivar. We arrived at the station in Skopje, and they left us there after I asked them to. They told me, “You’re underestimating us,” but I told them “Go and pick up the rest, I’m telling you I have where to go. There are people who have nowhere to go, so go pick them up.” They agreed, went back, and we sat there. I said “Let’s eat something.” We were hungry, we haven’t eaten anything! The food we took from home we shared with the people who had been there for days and hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. One woman said, “I’m eating the crumbles left in the bags.” So the following day we didn’t have anything to eat. We sat there. They brought us meatballs, kebap, and drinks. And the manager of the station in Skopje saw me and said, “Oh, Mrs. Myrvet, you’re here? I’m so glad you arrived. Trust me, I was worried about you!” He was a friend of my husband and a neighbour at our house in Gazibabe. His name was Jakup, I remember very well. He treated us, and when I wanted to pay, they told me he had paid for the food, saying that he had been a close friend and neighbour of my husband’s. We got in the bus and went to Gostivar. I borrowed someone’s phone and I called my sister Ajten, and told her we had arrived in Gostivar. She was crying of joy! Then we went there, and I told my sister to find us a house away from her. I didn’t want to be there with my daughter’s in-laws and the other lady. And her husband found us two houses of his cousins who had just had a wedding two weeks earlier, their son had gotten married. And believe me, they had told their uncle, my sister’s father-in-law, “please, let only Ajten’s sister stay in the house” because the houses were completely new, with new furniture and everything. When we left Stenkovc, I took 6 blankets they gave us in the tents. I thought I’d take them to have them just in case. I laid them on the carpets in the house so that we wouldn’t damage the carpets because they were so beautiful, the houses were so beautiful and clean. The old woman of the house told us there’s a lot of food in the fridge and we can eat. But we didn’t. The kitchen in Gostivar provided food for us. So, we stayed there in Gostivar. We arrived there on April 7. On April 9 we went to Ajten’s, and we stayed until May 15 because I reunited with my daughters. We had a family reunion there, although my son-in-law sent me money from London. We had money, then we could buy food with our money. We didn’t want to be a burden for anyone. It was enough for me that we were sheltered, my children were safe. We used to clean my little niece just like in her own house, and the nephew also calmed down.
That’s what happened.
Then I went to London. My daughter returned to her home. When I returned, nobody had come into my house because my neighbour whose 13-year-old son I had saved from poisoning had protected my house.
R.B.: How did you save his son? What happened?
M: I was at the grocery store. A women came in, saying “Does anyone have yoghurt because my son was poisoned? He drank caustic soda.” It was exam term, and he was a teenager and wanted to poison himself. I looked at her. She was a nurse. I told her, “kojšika, ja imam”. I told her, “I have yoghurt. Wait here,” because my house was near. I came to my house and got the yoghurt in the fridge. I had made 2 litres of yoghurt. And I always kept chocolates, as a grandmother of nieces and nephews. I gave her a chocolate and told her, “Here it is. I hope he gets better soon. You can return the can here.” About a month later, I saw her again at the store. I didn’t recognize her. I had forgotten about her. She asked me, “How are you doing mam?” You are the one who saved my son, thank you!” She was loud, people were looking at her. Her husband had been behind me. She told him, “Dragane, ova gospođa spase naše Miloša”. Her son’s name was Miloš. The husband said, “Oh, I know this lady. She is a teacher.” He was a police officer but he knew us. He said she’s a teacher at the school “Josip Broz Tito”, now called Ismajl Qemajli. I turned around to see who he was, and he said, in Serbian, “I will never forget what you did for us. You saved my 13-year-old son.” I told him, “I’m glad he’s doing better. That’s why I ran to bring her the yoghurt and asked her if she wanted anything else.” When I returned, Uncle Osman told me, “Myrvet, the police officer protected your house for two and a half months because of a yoghurt you gave to him. He sent security at the front entrance where the police were and behind. Your house was protected by two guards for two months and a half. When the police started leaving, one of the officers talked to me because I sent them water, and told me that police officer had told them “If anyone so far as touches this house, start praying for yourselves because the owner of this house saved my son’s life just a month before the bombings. The police were standing in front of her house at that time too, but as a mother, grandmother, teacher, and humane woman, she brought us the yoghurt and I will be forever grateful to her.””
R.B.: So he saved your house?
M: That officer saved my house. My action, my fear for their son when the woman said “My son is dying, he is having foam at the mouth,” made me run quickly for the yoghurt. Even if she had asked for the world, I would give it to that woman that day to save her son, that young child. And this was my story.
R.B.: Thank you very much for your time and story.
M: Thank you.