Reflecting on the History of Albanian Repression and Resistance: A Journey through Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosova
By Hon. Joseph DioGuardi
The main purpose of the latest Albanian American Civic League delegation to the Balkans was to visit Montenegro for the first time with a senior Member of Congress. We took Congressman Tom Lantos and his wife, Annette, with us to see and hear firsthand the continuing struggle of the fast-dwindling Albanian population in Ulqin, Tuzi, Kraja, and Plave-Guci to retain their national Albanian identity, cultural heritage, and even property rights. Much more about this historic and most important aspect of our delegation will be presented soon in a detailed report by Shirley Cloyes, our Balkan Affairs Adviser.
The purpose of this short, preliminary review of our recent trip, including photographs, is to share some thoughts about our Albanian history of repression and of resistance, which struck me as our delegation traveled through Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosova.
When I first gazed on the ancient Illyrian castle in beautiful Ulqin, the first image evoked in my mind was of our Albanian forebears fighting off the Romans to preserve their freedom. Passing later through now Slavic Tivar on the way to Albanian Tuzi, one can visualize the brutal massacre of 4,300 Albanians trapped by the Serbian and Montenegrin armies at the end of World War II—a precursor to the unthinkable brutality of Srebrenica in 1995. That brutality was confirmed by Azem Hajdini, one of the few remaining survivors, when we met with him in Prishtina a week later. As Hajdini talked about the forced march of Albanian troops to Tivar, I was reminded of the similar way in which so many Americans were killed at the hands of the Japanese army on the Baton death march.
Near the Grand Hotel in Prishtina, where Shirley and I met Azem Hajdini, stands the great statue of Skanderbeg as a lasting monument to the 450-year Albanian struggle for freedom from the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Turks, which forced my Albanian family in the fifteenth century to seek asylum in the then Kingdom of Naples (now Italy) and in 1929 to seek economic opportunity in the United States.
While Shirley stayed behind to work in Kosova, I traveled with members of the delegation to Qafa, a village outside of Gostivar in Macedonia, where the Jonuzi family of Atlantic City introduced me to another great symbol of the fight against Slavic racism: Sulltana. Ninety years ago, an eighteen-year old girl named Sulltana Saliu witnessed the massacre of the men in her village, including her father, by the Serbian and Macedonian army. Sulltana took matters into her own hands by hiding the separated sides of a large, sharp pair of scissors in her long sleeves and then by single-handedly killing the captain of the army and his two aides. Her last words to her people as she was seized and killed still ring in my ears today: “Don’t give up! Fight back! You can win!”
I addressed thousands of Albanians who came to the high mountaintop shrine in Qafa to commemorate Sulltana’s courage and used her last words to make the point that today we face the same challenge in Montenegro, Kosova, Macedonia, Presheve, and Chameria.
Today, while the battlefield is in Washington, we still need the courage and determination of Sulltana, the cleverness and strength of George Kastrioti, and the long memory and unending quest for justice of Azem Hajdini. What is different now is the weapon that we need to win on this latest battlefield. The sword of Skanderbeg, the scissors of Sulltana, and the guns of UCK will no longer work. The pen, the computer, and the strong unified voice of continuing Albanian resistance to injustice, oppression, forced assimilation and genocide will work if we do not give up. The Albanian American Civic League’s fight in Washington for the independence of Kosova now continues the age-old struggle for freedom and justice for all Albanians. Perhaps, as I thought many times on this historic trip, after all these years it is our generation that will do the job of freeing the Albanian nation once and for all.