Blogbox | Missing persons

‘The day I left them, I knew they were gone.’

By - 30.08.2019

One woman’s personal account of her missing loved ones.

The Mazrekaj family from Drenoc, to the north of Prishtina, was forced to leave home when Serbian forces came to expel the Albanian population from the village. They forced them to walk for a while, before separating the men from the women. Kumrije Mazrekaj, with her three girls, ended up in a refugee camp in Elbasan, Albania, while her husband Arif and son Jetmir were held in the village of Beleg. It’s the place in which the whole family would be together for the last time. 

As part of a new memory book made up of oral history accounts of some of the 1,653 missing people in Kosovo, Kumrije tells the story of her loved ones.

Kumrije Mazrekaj: 

I’m from Maznik, I was born in April 1956. My father died when he was 50 and mother 60. I have two brothers and three sisters. We had a good childhood; it was not bad. My father was a shepherd, but we had a good life. I only went to school for four years, because it was far away. I had to go through the mountains and then to another village to get to school.

My husband’s name was Arif. He was born in 1960. I don’t remember in which year we got married. But I know I was 18. We had five children, three girls and two boys. The oldest son has died. His name was Haki. The next one is Jetmir and then Mirjeta, Agoneta and Shemsie, the youngest one.

All of our children went to school. Jetmir until the day he had to quit. He could not finish the secondary school by just a few days. Their school was in Drenoc but he started going to Deçan, where they were attending school in private houses at that time.

After one year of my marriage my first son was born. My husband got a job close to here just so we could feed ourselves. After a few days they let him work with a saw, but he cut his hand. Since he had that accident — he didn’t have the skills, he just had two days of work experience — he didn’t work again. Sometimes he went to the forest with a donkey to take some wood. His sisters were taking care of him. He has two sisters.

They came here to our house and just told us to get up. The table was set as we were eating.

However, Jetmir, as well as going to school, worked with wood in the forest. Together with his sister he cultivated the land. They all went with their father, but most of the time they were cutting hay.

My daughters are all married. The oldest has no child. The second one has one boy and one girl and Shemsije has only one boy.

When they [the Serbian forces] started to empty the village, they came here to our house and just told us to get up. The table was set as we were eating. We were all there together, my son, husband and daughters. It was still there, the way we left it. Then all the village left and us too. Our oldest daughter was 12.

We went to Jerzniq. The army didn’t follow, they just kicked us out. They were pushing us from one side to another. We were walking in the convoy and they were shoving us.

When we reached Jerzniq, they took us in and they sheltered us. We stayed there for some time and after two days we went to Beleg. There in Beleg they told us that it wasn’t safe to go to Isniq. We slept over that night but at around five o’clock in the morning they surrounded us. They took us all, young boys and whoever was there. They beat some, and some they took. 

That night they kept us there but the next day they split us up. They loaded us on trucks and tractors and sent us to Albania. They held the men. That day they split Jetmir and Arif.

Jetmir had joined the army but they caught him that day with us, when they took him. He was going to guard, some older men were taking him with them, but because he was the only son, he was going just to watch.

While we were there in the camp, we received some news that the men were alive.

Sixteen of the people [that were taken] were from Drenoc. I know some of them but I didn’t know most of them, but I know they took 16. When they took them I remained only with my daughters. Together with my daughters they loaded us onto a truck and sent us to Albania. Then we were taken to Elbasan. There we were sent to a Turkish camp. We stayed there for two or three months, I’m not sure. But I do remember when it rained; the rain would come into our tent. In that group of people I was with my three daughters at my husband’s uncle’s [tent]. His house was close to here, but he has now passed.

There in the camp they put some big TVs and people were gathering there. Tony Blair came to see us at that camp. He talked to the old lady, the uncle’s wife.

While we were there in the camp, we received some news that the men were alive. It was said that they had been taken to Deçan’s church. My daughters were happy and said: “Mum let’s go, let’s go.” The young boys went; I didn’t go, but when they returned I asked them [about the men] but they were told: “They’re not here.” There were only Serbs in the church.

Then it was said that they had been burnt in Beleg. Only my husband’s body, but not that of our son. When we left our son in Beleg, after they had split us up, apparently he jumped from a balcony to escape from them, so they said. But when he jumped from the balcony, two of them noticed him and shot at him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder.

From Beleg he escaped wounded, unable to keep himself together, until he reached Isniq. The people from Isniq were about to leave themselves. He was found by an old man. That old man was taking care of animals and didn’t leave. He heard him groaning, took him and healed him. He said: “I treated him with cheese, like old times.”

Of those 16 people that they took only Jetmir was found.

My son stayed there for another two weeks. “Then they came,” said the old man. “They entered and took him from me. I told them he doesn’t know Albanian nor Serbian nor anything, but they took him from me.” The took him and later dropped him in the well. He was found in the well.

About my husband, I know nothing after Beleg. Only about my son who escaped from there. Of those 16 people that they took only Jetmir was found. Around 600 people were sheltered there, but none of them have found their relatives.

When we came back from Albania all the windows were totally broken. I didn’t find anything in there. However, people gave me many things and thus I got some of the necessary things. The house was painted only inside, not outside, but they had broken the windows like they did everyone’s. We slept there in such conditions. I put cardboard wherever the windows were broken just to protect us from the night’s cold. It was good enough. For around three weeks or a month we lived like that but later someone gave us something and someone another thing, this is how we managed.

I didn’t know how to search for my husband and son. They were saying: “It’s your son, it’s your husband,” just words. At some point later, all of a sudden my son was found. Someone from our village was found. Initially they didn’t tell me. They just brought him, buried him without doing any blood tests or anything. One day, my second daughter came back from school and told me: “Mum, they’re saying that Jetmir has been found but they’re not telling you.” Some friends went to my father’s side of the family and told them: “The boy has been found but Kumrije is not accepting it.”

Then, around 10–15 people came to my home, my uncle was with them. He hugged me and said: “Honey, be strong!” I said: “My uncle, the day I left them, I knew they were gone.” He pulled out these papers and said: “They found his ID in a well.” When they found it they should have brought me the ID. I said [to him]: “So you came today [without the ID]? If you’d have brought me the ID, I’d have known for sure.” No ID, no nothing. Then my second daughter grabbed the papers and said: “I won’t accept it in this way.” His son reacted and said, “You should show her the papers. Show her the papers, let’s see if it’s our blood.”

Afterwards, they came and exhumed him and took him there for analyses.

My uncle said: “No, I won’t show her the papers.” His son said: “Show the papers because tomorrow I’ll go to Prishtina on my own.” He reacted to my uncle: “You father, did you come to relieve my aunt about this matter or to leave her in a mess?” He replied: “Fine, you do what you want.”

So he, together with my brother, took a picture of my son and the papers and went to Prishtina, but they said: “We did not check for this boy, we didn’t receive documents for him. No blood [tests] nor anything.”

Afterwards, they came and exhumed him and took him there for analyses.

After a few days he [the cousin] came with two people, black people, they were foreigners. The black people were crying when they saw the pictures, holding their heads. My daughters were at school. Then they said to me: “Do you accept it now?” I said: “Yes, you have to accept your fate.” Then I said to them: “Don’t bring him for another two days until I tell my husband’s sisters!” They kept me alive, they helped me to raise my children; my husband’s hand was cut, and they helped us with bags of flour and many other things.

When they came to bury him again, my son came with flowers and everything — then it felt real — and even in that poverty he was trying to be there for me. It was on June 7, 2007. On that day we conducted the whole traditional ceremony. From all over the village people came. He was buried. The army brought him. I said to the soldiers: “Can you bring him to our yard?” They brought him in. We had no gate, half of the perimeter wall was destroyed; they brought him and left him there for around 15 minutes, then all was done as our tradition requires.

At least to be found somewhere and to tell us, “We found him!” Or to say that, “They were burnt! Lose your hope,” or something.

They all gathered, sisters, brothers and the whole village and together with people from the village we took him to the graves, as per our tradition. The soldiers put him in the grave. The soldiers carried him by themselves up to the place.

But Arif was never found. No one has even mentioned him since he was taken. We never heard anything about him. No one knows anything about him, nothing. At least to be found somewhere and to tell us, “We found him!” Or to say that: “They were burnt! Lose your hope,” or something, but no, no one [has said] anything at all.

The day they split us up Arif’s last words were: “My last will is for these girls to be taken care of — he told me — because we are done!” And Jetmir, he just put a pen in my hand, the one that he kept in his pocket and he pulled a necklace from his neck and hung it around mine. I still keep that pen; I never take it out of the house. Only when I struggle, I open it. And this bracelet, Arif bought for me. So, these two things I never take off my body.

We had some of their clothes, but I gave them away to other people. They were almost new. Some of their clothes I’ve saved but others I gave away. Because when we came back here someone had taken a lot of things. I didn’t find any couches, nor the television. All the things had been robbed, the quilts, the mattresses. When we came back, we covered ourselves with some black quilts that we had brought from Albania.

Both [Jetmir and Arif] were good. It’s not because they’re mine but never has any incident ever happened in this village, no quarrels or someone touching anything that didn’t belong to them. My husband was in big need, but he never ever took an apple from anyone. He was two years younger than me. His mother had died, and he remained only with his father, then we got married. My uncle arranged our marriage. It’s not like now when they marry each other, they know each other [already] and they exchange their rings. My uncle arranged my marriage within two weeks.

We had the wedding with tambourines. It was good, very good.

I don't dream about them. Maybe it's better. I would be in more grief if I dreamt.

Jetmir had many friends. There’s a guy, a neighbor, who was born 10 days before Jetmir. There are also other people, a father with two sons, who were taken on the same day in Beleg. One of them was 14 and the other one was 19. Now only one boy and one girl remains in their family.

Now I live all alone. They have cars and sometimes they come to pick me up, my brother, daughters, sisters-in-law, and I stay at theirs for two-three days, one week but I cannot stay longer. I receive a pension on behalf of Jetmir. My daughter goes to pick it up and pays invoices, utilities. But for Arif I don’t receive anything. Nor does anyone come to ask me about him. Only that blood when they came to take it, never anymore.

My daughters grieve a lot for their father and brother. Before when I came back from my daughters’ home, I used to cry a lot. I don’t like to talk to them about this issue. They don’t talk either. Lately, for the anniversary, a son-in-law played a tribute song for them. My oldest daughter was amazed and said, “Mom, have you heard this song?” I said: “No.” My brother-in-law sent the link and then they played it. Berat Ozdauti is his name. He also works at an organization.

I don’t dream about them. Maybe it’s better. I would be in more grief if I dreamt. It happens when I stay awake sitting up at night. Last night, for example, I sat up. I lie down, but I can’t fall asleep, I get up, I sit like this and say: “How could God do this?”

Feature image: Korab Krasniqi / Forum ZFD / Integra.

This personal story is one of 10 accounts of missing people from Kosovo published in a new memory book. “Living With the Memories of the Missing,” compiled by Forum ZFD and Integra, is being launched on Friday, August 30 to mark the International Day of the Disappeared and is available in Albanian, Serbian and English.