I recognized him based on his clothes and teeth

In March 1999, on the eve of the bombing by the NATO Alliance, when the inhabitants from village Polac were forced to flee to save their lives, the men were separated from the women, so Beqir Koci, then 18, was separated from his mother and grandmother. The group in which he was located was attacked by Serbian forces, and they killed his minor brother. His mentally disabled older brother, who was with his mother and grandmother, was killed after being removed from the column of refugees. Beqir speaks about the difficult times during the war and right after it when he went to search for the corpses of the brothers.

Beqir Koci

I was born in Polac. I lived together with my mother, father, grandfather, and my grandmother. Before the war, we were five brothers, and only three of us survived. I went to school in Polac until the eighth grade, and I didn’t continue more than that. The same was with my brothers, some attended eighth grade, some until ninth but nothing more.

Xhevdet, the eldest brother, was born in ’79, I was born in ’81, Jeton in ’85, Nexhmedin in ’87, and Driton in ’88. My dad was born and grew up here in village Polac. He served the army in Slovenia and then continued working there. He still lives and works in Slovenia to this day. He comes often but now because of this pandemic he didn’t come for a while. My mother was born in Drenica.

Me and my brothers we grew up playing together. We also went to school together. Our life was as you would expect life in the village to be; we had cattle, we would herd them, we played all kinds of games. Out of all of my brothers, I had the friendliest relationship with Jeton. The eldest brother, Xhevdet, had mental disabilities, so he didn’t come often to play, he stayed more at home. Jeton and me we went out on the field, we played with the ball, we played everywhere. We were brothers but we were friends as well, we went everywhere together. We even took care of the cows together.

My father stayed always abroad; except when he would come for a week or two on vacation. And our mother, she was our everything – mother, father, everything. Okay, we also had our grandparents, but we were more connected to our mother. Every child is connected more to its mother.

We always had to take great care of Xhevdet, we always had to stand close to him. When he would come out, I always stayed near him, I never left him alone, because at any moment he would suddenly get some kind of seizures. So, you were never free to play with friends because you had to take care of him.

When I started going to school, Xhevdet started coming together with me. We went together until the eighth grade, and then he had to stop because he was getting those seizures. There were days when nothing would happen to him, and then there were days when he would get seizures three or four times a day. Sometimes he would get seizures at school and then one day the teacher said, “It’s better if he stays at home because he is bothering you too”.

Jeton got registered at school two or three years after us, so I was in the third grade and he was in the first. He was an average student. At first, I was doing very well in school, and then later my grades became worse. By the fifth grade, I was an excellent student. From fifth grade and on, since I was the eldest in the house, and only grandfather was working, I started to help him by going out in the fields to work the land, so I didn’t study as hard as before. As a child, I was always interested in construction. In every house that has been built in the village, I always spent time with the builders. I always wanted to become an engineer, but it didn’t happen.

We had good relations with our brothers. They were younger. I, as the eldest, took care of them all. I took care of everything. When they started going to school, I was like their parent. I always went to parent meetings for them. Whatever was needed at school, I took care of it.

The ‘90s began with protests and strikes. I remember when they put poison in the school. The students got poisoned. I didn’t get poisoned, but some of my classmates were. We helped them; we gave them water. But I didn’t get poisoned.

A car would pass by and something like smoke or steam was coming out from that car and the students would get poisoned, they would faint and fall on the ground. One of my female classmates got poisoned very often. As soon as we went on a long break at school, they would be waiting for us. There were protests, but I never took part in them.

When the war started, I know that Halil Geci was killed first. Then the war started here in Qirez and Likoshan. It was February 28th, we were in the yard, and we saw the people, they were saying, “War broke out!”. The next day we went to see ourselves, I was there myself and I saw the corpses. We all gathered there, there were men and children of my age, even younger than me. You could see everything there. It was terrible, horrible, a massacre! We got scared a lot when we were there. They killed the Ahmeti family on the other side, they killed a pregnant woman and many others. We went in every house together with my cousins, and some older men were saying, “Don’t let these young men enter.” I was 17 years old. They were shouting at us, but what we saw was horrifying!

Afterward, on the 5th of March, the fighting started at Adem Jashari. We went there to see what happened. I even participated in the burial ceremony of the Jashari family. The second day we didn’t go anymore. On the first day, we looked around, everything was destroyed. We started digging graves as much as we could. Then we were ordered to leave from there. The Serbs were parked with armored vehicles in front. After we left, they buried them. I didn’t go there anymore.

On the day when the fighting happened at Adem Jashari, we were at home. We escaped and we spent the entire day in the forest. The place in the forest was called Lugu i Lajthisë. We stayed there until it got dark, and when it got dark we came home. The fighting continued over there, but the next day I decided to stay home, I didn’t go out at all. Some even went to the forest because they didn’t dare to stay at home. I wasn’t afraid to stay at home, and also my grandmother told me, “Stay here because they will not come here, they are fighting over there.” She spoke to us and she didn’t let us go out.

The Serbs had a checkpoint at a place called Kodra e Zane, they stayed there all the time. Somehow, we continued living, but we avoided going on the asphalt. We used only dirt roads, we had to continue living more or less dealing only with agriculture and dealing with things around the house. So, everything was interrupted, we just dealt with village work to survive. Our father would send us money from abroad, otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough to live.

An offensive began in September. They started shooting early in the morning. Grandpa stayed up all night guarding us, and then he called us and said, “Everybody get up, God help us, but I think that today it’s going to start here.” The Serbs started shooting and we got on the tractor. I took the whole family, and I also took some neighbors because we were the only ones that had a tractor, four or five houses near us didn’t have a tractor.

Our whole family was in the house – my grandmother, my mother, and five brothers. My grandpa didn’t come, he just went to the forest. A woman we call Dada Hafize came with us. Dada Feride also came – her husband was killed, so she and her two daughters came. The neighbors of uncle Emin came as well, and a woman with two little daughters and two young sons; the older ones didn’t come.

We took mattresses, sheets, everything we needed, and we planned to stay in the forest. We took as much food as we could carry. But not everything we needed, because we left in a hurry. And so we went to village Shtutica, through Doshevc and Gradice. The wife of my father’s cousin is from village Gradice. We spent the night there. She stayed there, and the rest of us continued towards village Kushnica because I had two aunts who were living there. We stayed there for two or three nights, and then we went to Bajr, in Mitrovica. In Bajr there was a person who let us stay at his house; to be honest I have forgotten his name. We stayed there until the OSCE entered with those orange vehicles.

Then my father came from Slovenia and took us from there and we went home to Polac. When we arrived, we saw that the guest room was completely burned but not the entire house. We had an old house made of stone and there was a corridor between the rooms, so on both sides there was a room. Our guest room was one of the first places which were burned in Polac. Also, Rizai’s house was burned. We had the whole field planted with wheat – we had half a hectare of land, and we were just waiting to start the harvest, but they burned it completely. So that winter we stayed home until March arrived.

It was that time when the mediators started talking. We spent the winter watching what is going to happen, we were listening every day to the news. Life was hard, we couldn’t work and we couldn’t live properly. It was a warlike situation everywhere.

Dad stayed with us for a while, and he provided some food for us. As soon as things calmed a bit down, my dad left. We didn’t know how he is going to leave, or will he manage to leave, whether they will stop him or not. We were very scared for him until he got there.

Until March 21st, 1999 we stayed at home. On March 21st, the Serbian police and military began their actions starting from village Prekaz. They moved above Radevc, and from Prekaz they started shooting everywhere. We immediately got on the tractor, but no one knew what direction to go. My mother, grandmother, my four brothers, and I were on the tractor. We went to village Rezalla e re, and from there we went to Kllodonice to my aunt and uncle. We stayed there until the NATO bombing started.

I remember when the bombing started, we were sleeping in the room. They shot about 200 meters away from where we were, and then a grenade dropped from the direction of Mokne. I don’t know how, but they were saying that the Serbs were shooting from the direction of Mokne. My cousin, who was 20 years old, went up there to see what has happened, and when he came back he said, “Some people were killed,” he said, “they were killed because the grenade had fallen on a house yard.” Then we decided to spend the entire day in the forest. People were saying that civilians are gathering in village Tushila, so we decided to go there.

From village Kllodonice we continued by tractor in the direction of Tushila. We were two families there, my cousin’s family and my uncle’s family. Xhevat also came there with his tractor. Both families were put on the tractors. On the uncle’s tractor got my uncle’s entire family. Two cousins, my aunt, and the wife of my other uncle. My aunt’s husband died in a traffic accident when he came from Germany, he had left orphans, also his sister was there, sister of Xhevat and Esat, they were two brothers and one sister.

We went from Kllodonice in the direction of Turiqevc, and we reached Tushile. There they said that men should be separated from women because the women and the children are not being harassed. People were saying, “The men should go and hide in the forest”. Because they were killing all the men.

Then we met some of our soldiers, I knew three or four of them. We left together with them. My mother, my two younger brothers, and my grandmother stayed with my uncle’s family, so they got separated. I got separated from my brother Jeton, Xhevat, Esat, and my father’s cousins. We had some relatives that were soldiers. Xhevdet stayed with our mother. We started leaving Tushile in order to reach Polac because they were saying, “The Serbs are coming this way!” Every time we somehow planned to stay behind them during the night, so that we would be behind them during the day, we thought that we would be safer like this. But in war you are never safe, you are not safe anywhere.

We kept walking for some time until the sun started to rise. When we reached some valley, in the hills, they said, “Until it gets dark in the evening, we will stay here. When it gets dark again, we will continue.” So we spent the day there. And then some people came to that place because the Serbs were chasing them. When the Serbs started shooting at us, we climbed the hill in order to escape from them. They were shooting and we were running away. We were a large group of people, maybe about 100 people, maybe more.

While running away, we managed to reach the hill, because we were following the forest path. But when we reached that place, the Serbs were waiting on the road. My father’s cousin, who was four years older than me, always used to say, “Don’t run away quickly, when they shoot at us just lay on the ground”. And at the moment when they started shooting, I was about 30-40 meters behind my cousin Esat and my brother. They were in front, and we were behind.

Jeton was killed, but I didn’t see it with my own eyes until later. Then I also saw Esat on the way back. While he was running back, he just fell. I ran towards him, grabbed him, and my father’s cousin, Bashkim Koci, came with me. I put his head on my lap and I started calling him, “Esat, Esat”. Bashkim started checking his body, to see where the bullet caught him, to see from where he was bleeding, in order to give him first aid. And then in those moments, a bullet passed between us, crushed the tree and we laid on the ground and didn’t move at all. We stayed there for half an hour, pretended to be dead until the Serbs left. We didn’t move at all.

Esat passed away. And when we started moving, we noticed that two other persons were killed a bit further. It was my brother and a person from Prekaz. But we didn’t know who they were until we came close to them. Bashkim stood up and said, “Stay here because I am going to see if the Serbs are still here.” I stayed lying on the ground until he came back and said, “The Serbs are gone”.

I looked at Esat’s whole body, he was not shot anywhere but as a young man, I guess he had a heart attack. The bullet didn’t catch him at all, and my brother Jeton was shot. He had many wounds, I approached him and I saw it.

At three o’clock in the afternoon, it started getting darker. Another person from Prekaz was killed as well, we knew him as a figure, we knew whose brother he was. We were thinking about how to bury them, we were planning but we had nothing to do it with because we had no tools. Our houses were far away. We had no shovel at hand. So, we had to leave them there. There were three of us, Bashkim with his brother and myself, we spent that night in the forest. The other group already left. It rained all night long, and we had nothing to cover ourselves with.

And Xhevati, my other cousin, in those moments ran away far. He was killed in Llausha while attempting to return to Tushila. He was found after 4-5 years.

As soon as it got dark, we decided to stay because we didn’t know where to go, we couldn’t orient ourselves, we were afraid that we might run into the Serbs. As we were walking like that, there are some high voltage lines, which go through Polac, Llausha, and they go to Montenegro. When we saw it, we knew how to position ourselves. We said, “Tonight we are staying here, when it gets dark, we will observe the terrain a little, looking for a way to exit”. We stayed underneath the lines.

And when suddenly they started to shoot at us, we were completely lost. We didn’t know where to turn. Three days and three nights we stayed hidden in the forest. On the first night, it rained all night long. When it dawned, we went a little further up the hill, and we saw the path to Skenderaj, there was a valley and we slowly went towards that way. There was a person from Llausha, he had some bread with him and he gave it to us. He said, “Listen, everybody left, you are the only ones left here. As soon as it gets dark, you should leave from here and go this way”.

We spent the whole day with him until it got dark, and at around ten we continued our way, we went near the town of Skenderaj. We went to the neighborhood Tre, and someone gave us some bread there. Then we went towards Prekaz, we entered behind Polac, and we spent the night in Deshevc. When it started dawning in Deshevc, we saw an uninhabited house. It was a building where they leave the animals and the food for livestock. The three of us slept there on some hay. From there, as soon as it dawned, we went to the top of the forest, and we saw Polac. We went there and we saw many of our cousins there. They were asking us, “Did every one of you survive?” and we told them what happened. They got upset and sad when they heard about the death of my brother, the nephew, and others.

Then we spend the whole day there. They had food with them because they would go to the house during the night and prepare some food, and during the day they would stay in the forest. Then we came down here. All the houses were burned. My cousin’s house was burned, and he repaired his garage so his family could stay in it. We went to his garage. We stayed there during the night and we prepared food. My grandmother came from Kllodonice, she passed through all the Serbian checkpoints. She passed but she was stopped many times. She said, “They would put the knife on my throat.” When she came to the place called Te Betoni, just above Hadec, she said, “My sons were killed here”, and she checked 25 corpses in a row, she looked at them and she asked, “Which one is my son because he was killed”. She was convinced that we were killed because someone told her so.

When she came here and found me alone, she asked, “Where are the others?” We tried not to tell her that they were killed. “They are in the forest; don’t worry they will come” and we would tell her things like that but eventually we told her. She was very upset. She spent a night with us, and then she went to stay with her relatives in Drenica. They gathered all of them at the school in Tushile. And from there they left for Albania. So, from my whole family, these two brothers were killed. Only my grandmother and I knew that Xhevdet was killed, he was taken by the police. Until the war ended no one knew that they were killed.

Xhevdet was taken by the police when he was in Tushile. They separated men from the women, and Xhevdeti remained with our mother in Kllodonica. When the Serbs came, they told each and everyone in Tushila, “Get out of here.” They started burning the tractors. They burned our tractor completely. People started walking in the column. Serbs were on both sides. They stopped every male adult they saw. Xhevdet was more attached to our grandmother because she didn’t bother him due to his condition.

Grandmother said, “I was holding him by the arm, and the police took him away; I told them, ’Please don’t. He is disabled’ but they didn’t listen to me.” They had taken him to the police station in Skenderaj and they kept him there all night long. Some people that knew him, told us afterward that they tortured them, but the next day they were released and they were told, ‘Go to your houses because no one will kill you.’ But, he was disabled and he didn’t understand what he was told. As as soon as they were let go, all of them went towards Llausha, but he got separated and went towards our house in Polac. He went behind the bus station and there were some police officers there. My mother’s cousin said, “I saw with my own eyes when he was killed near the river. The police officers went and grabbed him and he pushed one of the police officers to the ground. As soon as he pushed the police officer down, the other police officer killed him.”

A person from village Vojnik, in the neighborhood Dy, lived just above the police station, and his mother died and he couldn’t bury her. He was afraid to go out, so he had to go to the police station. He went there and he asked them, “Will you give me permission to go and bury my mother, and can you help me carry her with something because I have nothing to carry her?” They told him, “Yes, we give you permission, but you have to take also a person who died at the police station, he started to smell bad”. They didn’t tell him that they killed him.

They had given him permission, he said, “The Serbs came with an armored vehicle”. First, they took his mother and afterward they went to that place and they took my brother. They went to the graveyard, they opened a grave, and they put him in.

After the war ended, we looked everywhere for him. We asked people around. Xhevat’s father-in-law was from Llausha and he asked around as well. A year and a half or two years after the war, he told us, “Someone says that he buried a person, and based on your description of what he was wearing, it could be him”.

So, my grandmother, grandfather and I, went to ask that person for more details. He told us what he could remember, and based on what he told us, it matched. We went to that place, and we started to dig. My cousins wouldn’t let me dig, ”No, you stay there, stay over there.” When they dug his grave, some clothes appeared and they asked my grandmother, “Is it him?” My grandmother looked at him and said, “Yes, it’s him.” In order to be sure, I said, “I want to see myself.” And when I saw him, I said, “Yes, it’s him”. I recognized him based on the clothes and based on his teeth. The body was decomposed, but I could recognize him.

Then my cousin took me away from there, they didn’t let me stay any longer. They unburied him, covered him and then they buried him. Then we held a burial ceremony. People came here to the house to express condolences.

We got separated, because the people were saying, “The women and the children should stay all together because they won’t do anything to them”. Then the Serbs came, and they expelled them, they sent them to Kllodonica. They entered all the houses and they gathered all the people at the school in Kllodonica. They told them, “Now all of you must walk towards Albania.” When we knew that the Serbs entered, we were leaving Kllodonice, and we asked the grandfather from mother’s side, “Come in the tractor with us.” He just said, “I was born here, I will die here, I will not leave my place, let them come and kill me, but I will not leave my place”. They killed him at the door of the barn, while he was feeding the cattle.

The rest of the family left towards Albania and they joined the column of refugees. They continued walking through Turiqevc, they went to Buroja and then they continued towards Klina, Gjakova, and they reached Prizren. From there they went to the other side. Initially, they went to Kukës, as they say, there was some kind of a camp there with lots of people. My father came from Slovenia. They waited all day long in line to speak on the phone and inform my father that they came out. They couldn’t do it that day, so they had to do it the next day. Many people were waiting to inform their relatives abroad. Finally, they managed to inform him that they are in Albania.

My father went from Slovenia to Albania, he found them there and he took them from Kukës to Durrës in a village called Shijak. He settled them in a house, and he also paid for the rent. My grandmother was also there, and even though she knew who died, she didn’t tell anyone, she just kept it to herself.

During all this time I stayed here in Polac for about two-three weeks. When we went to see the cousins who live nearby, their house was burned but they had a garage. We went to that garage and we made some bread and some cousins said, “We will not leave at all.” My cousin had a basement in front of the house which was a hole the size 60 by 60. There was no other entrance to it, and before it dawned seven of us entered inside it. We pulled a burned stove, and we put it over the entrance hole. At around 11:00 hrs in the afternoon, the Serbs came to the yard. There were seven of us inside. The Serbs stayed all day long there. The Serbs were above and we were under.

There were three houses in a row, two were burned and the third one was not. They were stationed there, we heard them speaking in Serbian. I didn’t understand Serbian, but some of us knew it, and they were saying that the Serbs were planning where to put the guards. When it got dark, at exactly 11 o’clock we all went out and we went up in the forest.

In the forest, there were some people from the Ali Uka neighborhood, they told us that seven people had been killed that day. We found them in the evening burying them after it got dark. From there we continued in the direction of Mikushnica, and from Luzhnica we went to Lubavec and then to Kuqica. My father’s cousins had their relatives there. I stayed with them for about three weeks there. Then we returned to Polac from Kuqice, and I stayed for a week in Polac. Then I went to Kushnica where for three weeks I stayed at my aunt’s place. My aunt was already in Albania and only her son-in-law was there and I stayed with him.

Village Kushnica didn’t have a valley or a forest, so the Serbs didn’t go very often there and so we stayed in the village houses. They were all burned, but we repaired them a bit, we would put a cover over just so we would stay there. There were some cows, we had milk and flour, and so we continued living there.

As soon as the war was over, from Luzhnica I returned to Polac and I stayed with my cousins, in the valley of Lajthia. During the day we prepared food and during the night we stayed there. We made a plastic cover, when it rained, we would go under it, and when the sun would shine, we would sit under the shade.

We would listen to the news with a transistor and we didn’t even have batteries. We charged the batteries with a tractor battery just enough to listen to the news, to know what was going on. We were in the mountains when the Voice of America said that NATO is entering Kosovo. We were very happy. When the Serbs started to gather their forces in order to withdraw, we came out from the forest, and before they left, we went to our houses and I stayed with my father’s cousins.

Here at my house, everything was destroyed. There was nothing, we had no chickens and cows. The grass grew and it was all a mess. That day we stayed at the house and the next morning, I said, “I want to go find the bodies and bury them.” The others said, “Yes, we will come with you.” Also, Bashkim Koci came with me. We followed the high voltage lines to Montenegro. We knew where we left the bodies and we got oriented through the high voltage lines that go to Montenegro. We found the path, and we continued to follow that path even though it had changed a lot. It was foggy and in March there was no fog. NATO still didn’t enter Skenderaj, they just came to Drenas.

We found the bodies. First, we found Esat, and then Jeton. There were three of them in that place. When we found them, it was late in the evening, so we weren’t able to take them. We decided tomorrow to go take them and bury them. The next day my cousin came with a tractor.

My cousins noticed that I was getting very upset. They told me, “You stay here, tell these people where to open the grave and we will go and bring the body”. They went there and they were very late. They took their nephew to Kllodonica and buried him. Some of their uncle’s neighbors came and buried him and then they brought my brother here. I asked them, “Why did you take him there without me?” I asked because I wanted to participate in the ceremony but it was over.

My grandfather had a brother, who lived at a place called Belincë which was in the forest. It was located closer to the Serbs and he lived there before the war started. My grandfather stayed all the time with him, I never knew where grandfather was. He stayed all the time there and he had no idea that our family members were killed. Only when he found me, he found out about the ones that were killed. Then he got very sad. People started coming to see us, to express their condolences and we had no place where to receive them, there was no place. Some of them stayed under the shade and they comforted us.

When we buried Jeton all my cousins and my father’s cousins were present. We went and we opened the grave. I took some bad boards because we didn’t have better ones, I placed them, and we buried him.

I don’t know who killed him, because I didn’t see it. It would have been good if the case would be solved, if someone would get convicted for these crimes, not only for my brother but for every crime in Kosovo.

Two or three weeks after the funeral, my mother came from Albania. When they came, only me and my grandfather were here. We had nowhere to sleep, there was no house, we were staying in my father’s cousin’s basement because also their house was burned. We stayed in the basement until they gave us a tent. Then we stayed in the tent in the yard. The house that got burned was quite old, it was made with stones, and it collapsed. Only the guest room was not old because it was built later, it had some walls, and then we bought tiles, we covered it somehow and we continued living there. For three years we stayed in that room. Just a corridor and one room.

When mother came and found only me, she understood what had happened, and she got very upset, but then grandmother told her slowly about everything.

The cold weather started in September. We were fixing the room up until autumn. We covered it, we paid a person for two days to fix our roof. A cousin works with electrical installations, and we called him to install electricity. He didn’t take any money from us. I fixed a part of the house with cement. We made some wood plank walls, and we also made a ceiling so we can pass the winter. It was warm enough, but it was a small place for all of us.

We started to repair the house in 2001. They gave us some building material as aid. I wanted to have a two-story house, but we didn’t have money to pay the builders, so I built this house myself. I was about 20 years old and the boys also helped me a bit. I made the foundations myself, I filled them, but I also asked people to help me. I made the walls, tiles, I did everything up to the roof. I did all by myself because I was the eldest in the family. My grandfather was old, he couldn’t work because he was 75-76 years old.

Until 2004 we stayed in the guest room, and then the house was finished. My father was in Slovenia, but he had a very small salary, just enough for food, so he couldn’t send us money for building the house.

I worked for my relative, he was selling construction material and things like that, and I took material to build the guest room and then I repaid my debt by working for him. I washed the roof, I worked here and there, I was trying to make some money, to have something. When I was building the second floor, my father came from Slovenia and he bought some blocks, and then little by little, we built the house until 2004 when we entered it. At the moment in this house lives Driton, my brother, his wife, my mother, my wife, my grandmother, and my father when he comes from abroad. Nexhmedin bought an apartment in Skenderaj.

Nowadays I work with water and heating installations. Now I have built a house for myself, and this one now belongs to Driton, and our mother and grandmother will stay with him. I have worked for different people since 2006, and four years ago I opened my own firm, and I am doing a little better. I work together with Driton, my younger brother and I have one employee.

I got married in 2008. My wife’s name is Valmira. We got together with a wedding arranger. I got engaged in 2007. I was 27 years old, and the whole family wanted me to marry because I was the eldest, but I was saying, “No, not now because it’s not the right time”, because our living conditions before and after the war were very difficult. We were a poor family because we had no income. And now our life is better. And my grandmother, mother, and aunts were always saying “We hardly wait for you to get married”. One day my father’s cousin came and my grandmother told him, “We must find a wife for this boy because I want to see him get married before I die”. And she lived long enough to see all three of us get married.

We got married in a traditional way: we invited all the relatives, cousins, and friends. We went to take the bride with many cars. I didn’t go, I got married according to the tradition we have in these parts. But, about three months before I got married, my grandfather died. Just before he died, he fell ill for a couple of months. His daughters came often to see him. We had already decided when I will get married, and I remember him saying, “My will is that you don’t stop the wedding, even if I die, the wedding must go on and the drums must be heard”. And my aunt paid for the drummers. And so, we had a wedding, some 100 men went in 25 cars, and they brought the bride.

We got married on August 10th, 2008, and our daughter was born on August 7th, so she was born three days before our first anniversary. When the baby was born, of course I was a little emotional, as parents are for the first time. You are happy and all that, but it’s an additional obligation, things get different then.

Then two years later Jetlira was born, in August 2011. Our third child is Jeton, I gave him my brother’s name. He was born in December 2014, and this year he will be six years old. I renewed the name; I wanted to have a son and give him my brother’s name. When he was born, I told my mother what I want to do. Everyone wanted that, they were happy.

At first, I could hardly call him by his name. But here in Drenica many people renewed the names of their loved ones. People used to tell me, “It is better to start calling him by his name, and later it will not be difficult for you.” And now when I call him by his name it relieves my pain a bit.

My son knows where he got his name from. Usually, on the night of Eid when we visit the graveyard, I always go to clean the graves. My son was three years old when I went to the graves, and my second daughter and my son said, “We want to come with you”. My grandmother came as well. When I go to the graveyard, I always clean his picture. My son was three years old when I took him there. He just stood at the photo and he would clean it. Now he knows he had an uncle.

The other brother, Nexhmedin, has a son, Elion. Dritoni got married this year. But because of the pandemic, he didn’t make a wedding. He got engaged and we had a small engagement party. We wanted to make a wedding for him, but the pandemic complicated things and so he took his bride without a wedding. He is now married; he is living well and he is staying at my place.

For the people who read this book, my message would be that the past should not be forgotten, we shouldn’t forget the war, we shouldn’t forget what happened, the blood of our martyrs, the blood of the killed civilians, we shouldn’t forget the suffering of all the persons that lived in this country, everybody should work for this country a little better and try harder.

The story is extracted from the book “Hijacked Childhoods: Accounts of children’s wartime experiences’ and is published in series as part of the framework of coordinated activities of CSO’s in Kosovo, organized to mark the International Day of Enforced Disappearances – 30 August 2023. The book is published in partnership between forumZFD Kosovo program and the Missing Persons Resource Center, and is supported by funds received from the German Federal Ministry on Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Kosovo. Prishtina, 2022.