“The day I left them, I knew they were gone”


The family Mazrekaj- from Drenoc was forced to leave home when Serbian forces came to vacant the village by the Albanian population. They force them to walk a while, once they separate men from women. Kumrija with three girls end up in the camp at Elbasan, while her husband Arif and son Jetmiri remained captured in the village of Beleg, the place in which the whole family for the last time was together.  

Jetmiri, as Kumrie found out, managed to escape wounded and shelters in the village Isniq. Many years after the war, his remains were found in a well. For Arif, Kumrija does not know anything of that event either today, twenty years after the disappearance.  

Kumrije Mazrekaj: Narration in first person 

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

My husband’s name is Arif. He was born in 1960. I don’t remember in which year we got married. But I know I was 18. We have 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 my children went to our school. Jetmir until the day he had to quit. For few days he could not finish the secondary school. The school is in Drenoc but he was going to Deçan. Then they were attending school in private houses.  

After one year of my marriage my first son was born. My husband got a job close here just for bread wining. After few days they let him work with saw, but he cut his hand. Since he had that incident – not experienced – didn’t work anymore. Sometimes he went to the forest with a donkey to take some woods. His sisters where taking care of him. He has two sisters.  

However, Jetmir except studying, he worked with wood in forest. Together with his sister he cultivated the land. With their father, they all went 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 girl. 

When they started to empty the village, they came here to our house and just told us to stand up. The table was ready 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 also. The oldest daughter was 12 years.  

We went to Jerzniq. The army wasn’t following us, they just put us forward. They were shouting in sides. We were walking in the convoy and they were shooting. When we reached at Jerzniq, we were sheltered. We have stayed there for some time and after two days we went to Beleg. There in Beleg have told us that isn’t safe to go to Isniq. We slept over that night but around five o’clock in the morning they have surrounded us. They have taken us all, young boys and whoever was there. Some they have beaten, and some taken. That night they kept us there but on the next day they split us. They loaded us on trucks and tractors and sent us to Albania. They held the men. That day they split Jetmir and Arif.   

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

They were 16 people from Drenoc. I know some of them but I don’t know all. When they took them I remained only with my daughters. Together with my daughters they loaded us on a truck and left us to Albania. Then we were taken to Elbasan. There we were send to Turk camp. There we have stayed for two-three months and later I don’t remember. I remember when was raining, the rain was coming in the tent. In that gathering I was with my daughters at my husband’s uncle. His house is close here, but both of the old people have died now. 

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

While we were there in camp, we received some news that our men are alive. It was told that they have been taken to Deçan’s church. Then my daughters were happy and said: “Mum let’s go, let’s go.” Then the young boys went because I did not go but when they were coming back, I asked them but they were told that: “They are not here.” There in church only Serbs were.  

Then it was told that they were burnt in Beleg. The body of my husband’s but not of the son. When we left in Beleg, after they split us, he jumped from balcony to escape from them. But when he jumped from balcony, two of them have noticed him and shot on him. My son was wounded in the arm.   

From Beleg he escaped wounded, trying to hold himself until he reached in Isniq. The people from Isniq where about to leave and he was found by an old man. That old man was taking care of animals and didn’t leave his place. He heard him grumbling, took him and healed him. He has said: “I have treated him with cheese, like old times.” The son stayed there for other two weeks. “Then they came” said the old man, entered and took him from me.” The have taken and after dropped in the well. He was found in the well.   

About my husband I know nothing after Beleg. Only this boy who escaped from there. From these 16 people only Jetmir is found. There were sheltered around 600 people, 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 inside only but now outside, and the windows were broken same as to everybody. We have slept there in such conditions. I put some packages wherever the windows were broken just to protect from night 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 way we arranged.  

I did not know how to seek for my husband and son. They have said: “its son, no it’s husband”, words only. Later only the son was found. Someone from our village has found. Initially they did not tell me. They just brought, buried him without any analyses. One day the second daughter came back from school and told me: “Mum, they are saying that Jetmir is found but they aren’t telling us.” The friends went at my family and have told: “the boy is found but Kumrije is not accepting.” 

Then, around 10 – 15 people came at 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 are gone.” He pulled out those letters and said: “his ID was found in the well.” When it was found they have brought at me. I said: “Did you come today?” you should have brought the ID, would be known better.” No ID, no nothing. Then the second daughter reacted and said: “I will not accept in this way.”  His son reacted and said, you should show the papers.” “Show the papers, let’s see if it is our blood.”  

The uncle said: “no, I will not show the papers.” The son said: “Show the papers because tomorrow I will go to Prishtina on my own.” He reacted to my uncle: “Daddy, did you come to enlighten this matter for my auntie or leave her in mess?” he replied: “Fine, you do what you want.” 

My cousin together with my brother have taken the picture of my son and the papers and went to Prishtina but they said: “We did not check for this boy, didn’t receive documents for him. No blood nor anything.” 

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

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

When they came to burr him again, the son came with garland, likely it was real, and on that poverty was trying to do something for me. It was on 07 June 2007. Thus, we conducted whole traditional courtesy. From all over the village people came. We buried him. The army brought him. I said to the soldiers: “Can you bring him to our yard?” they brought in. We had not gate, half of the perimeter wall was destroyed; they brought and let there for around 15 minutes, then all was done as our tradition requires.   

They all gathered, sisters, brothers and whole village and together with people from the village we have taken to the graves, as per our tradition. The soldiers put him in the grave. The soldiers carried on their own up to the place. 

But Arif was not found. No one ever 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 tell us “We found!” or say that “they were burnt and lose our hope!” or something but no, no one anything at all. 

The day we split. Arif’s last word were: “My last will is take care for these girls – he told me – because we are done!” And Jetmir, he just put a pen on my hand, the one that was holding on his pocket and a necklace pulled from his neck and hanged on mine. I still keep that pen; I never take it out of the house. Only when I suffer, I open it. And this bracelet, Arif bought for me. So, these two things I never take off my body.”  

We have had some of their clothes, but I gave them away to other people. They were almost new. Some of their clothes I have saved but others I gave away. When we came back all things have been taken, couches, television. All the things have been robbed, quilts, mattresses. When we came back, we were covered with some black quilts that we have taken in Albania.   

Both were good. It’s not because they are mine but never ever happened any incident in this village, no quarrels or touched anything that didn’t belong to them. My husband was in big need, but he never ever taken an apple to anyone. He was two years younger than me. His mother has died, and he remained only with his father, then we got married. My uncle arranged our marriage. It’s not like now, they marry each other, exchange their rings. My uncle arranged my marriage within two weeks. We have had the wedding with tambourines. It was good, very good.  

Jetmir has had many friends. Here is a guy, a neighbour, who is born ten days before Jetmir. There are also other people, 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 in their family remained only one boy and one girl.   

Now I live all alone. They have cars and sometimes the come to pick me up, my brother, daughters, sisters-in-law and 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 and pays invoices, utilities. But for Arif I don’t receive anything. Nor anyone comes to ask me about him. Only that blood when they came to take, 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 about this issue. They don’t talk either. Lately for the anniversary a son-in-law paid a tribute song for them. The oldest daughter was amazed and said “Mom, have you heard this song?” I said: “No” My brother-in-law has sent the link and then they played. Berat Ozdauti is his name. He also works with the organization for towers. 

I don’t dream them. Maybe it’s better. I would be more grieving if I dream. It happens when I stay awake sitting during the night. I can’t sleep, I sit and say: “How could God do this?” 

(This story is part of “Living with memories of the missing: Memory book with stories of family members of the missing from the last war in Kosovo”, implemented by forumZFD program in Kosovo and Integra, in cooperation with Missing Persons Resource Centre, with the support of Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Rockefeller Brothers and Swiss Embassy in Kosovo)