Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (2/10)
It happened to me twice
She has been sexually abused twice within a few weeks. She is still struggling to be accepted by her family. Her younger son, a former KLA fighter, has observed from the distance when women were put inside a building and raped. He has also seen his own mother enter that building. He is not supportive of her. He even condemns her for this tragedy. He tortures her asking, “Why did you accept to enter that building?”
First Person Narration: You couldn’t distinguish between those bastard
My mum raised three children, me and two brothers. I was the oldest. My brothers have died, only I still live. I grew up on my own until I was six. At the age of six my parents divorced. My father remarried. They divorced because my mum could not bear any more children. That was the only reason. So my father remarried and then a year later he had a son. One year after that he had another son. I lived with my father and my step mother, but I grew up with the feeling that she was not my mother. I never saw my mother again. She remarried and I never saw her again. Until I got married myself, we had no contact with one another at all.
I only finished my first year of elementary school. In fact I did about six months of it. My father interrupted my schooling as he wanted me to help with raising up my little bothers. My step mother could not manage on her own, plus she had two small children in a row.
If I were to go to the yard and play with other girls my age, my step mother would complain to my father when he’d return from work, saying “Your daughter would not help me.” I would always fear that my father would punish me, asking “Why are you neglecting the boys?” I grew up a bit, and at the age of 12 he had me engaged. My father did it on his own, because I knew nothing. It was not like nowadays when girls chose the loved ones themselves... no, no, no, I had never seen my husband beforehand. My father had done the military service with him. He was my father’s generation. Yeah, that’s it. My husband the same generation as my father. He had been married for 25 years with his first wife. His wife was alive, but she had had problems bearing children and that’s why he had decided to try marry a young girl. I was still a child. But he was happy to have a child like me. He said, “A child will bear you children, an old woman is hopeless.” I never knew what it meant to engage and get married before. So when the day came, he came to ask for me and said, “We want to get a bride, she is suffering here. You have a lot of children and she cannot cope...” My husband came with his wife. So they came and made a deal with my father. They kept me “under the ring” as they’d call it, for about two weeks. They even brought some clothes as engagement present. Two wooden trunks they were. The deal was to come and take me after two weeks had passed. The wedding started and the girls started singing. When the women who were with the groom’s wedding guests came, the girls would sing making up lyrics to mock them. My cousins were all doing that for example. I knew nothing about it at the time. They’d come up with lyrics. My friends would take care to see that the traditional wedding rituals were observed. But I felt no pleasure at all. When I came to my husband’s place, they’d await us with musical instruments, singing... There were many invitees. But at the time it was the month of Ramadan. Some people were fasting some were not. The imam was also there. Than the tradition was for the brother in law to pick you up and send you to your bedroom. So he picked me up and it was easy for him, as I was still a child. He was about 40 at the time, I was only 12 and my husband was 42 years old. He had been married for 25 years to his first wife. Then he came to the bedroom, he started taking off my wedding dress and my gloves. And I was scared and started to cry. And he said to me, “Why are you crying, you will have a lot of fun and you will enjoy it.” He also said “I will take you to your mother, and you will see her. So don’t you worry about a thing. Your mother will come to you.” So he would say things like that. Than he suggested that we lay down. He asked me to take off his shoes and socks and wash his feet. I had not done that before in my life. I found a pot and some water and managed to wash his feet. Then he asked me to undress him and prepare him for bed. I couldn’t do it. “Come, don’t be shy for from now on I am yours and you are mine. We will share everything from now on” (sighs). I remember that first night like it was yesterday. I undressed him and we lied down. He started to touch me, caress me. But I didn’t feel comfortable. I cried, not silently but loudly, I cried and sobbed, and was very loud. He asked me to calm down and not cry. “How can I not cry? Where am I here?” “You will have fun and enjoy yourself.” “No,” I said, “I will never have fun!” Then we started the intercourse, but, you can imagine, having an intercourse between a grown-up middle-aged man and a child. So I lost my virginity. I saw my blood and got even more freaked out. He saw it too and said “Ah, that is good. That is very good.” “What’s good about it?” I asked. “You have ruined me.” He said, “No, that is a good thing.” I had no blood coming out of me for another three years. When I turned 15, I had my first period. And they’d say “The young bride is going to have a belly” and I’d ask “What belly? I already have a belly!” I was a child and had no idea what they meant by it. But my husband was nice to me, I must admit that. His first wife too. I confess. They were both very nice. And then I got pregnant. I had mixed feelings about it. I was happy to become a mother, but scared I might abort the fetus. I was under a lot of stress somehow. Now I have two sons.
My husband said “I feel sorry about you. I should have taken you for a grown-up son of mine, but instead I took you for myself. I feel like I am with my own child but what can I do.” I said “What can I do? It was my father’s decision. I had to agree to be with you.” I really went on really well with his other wife. She cooked for me, cleaned for me and took care of me as if she were my mother and not the other wife. She was really very nice to me and we did get on really well.
Then my husband died. Although he was much older, I was very pleased with him. He would take me places. We went to Brezovica. We went there and had fun. His other wife looked after my children at home, and I went there with my husband. We went to Matarushka Bath, with his friends and their wives for two years in a row.
Then my mother came to visit me. My mother had heard that I got married. My mother’s sister was married to my father’s brother, so mum would get all of the good news and the bad news. My aunt told her about my marriage and then five or six months later, my mother came.
When she first came, she went at my husband’s, but I had been visiting my father back home, so we did not meet. Then my husband took me to where my mother was remarried. I started going to my mother’s for visits. I had much fun. I’d go and spend a week there. She did not have any other children there. She had told the other husband that she was forced to leave a daughter behind and therefore wanted no more children. Her husband’s children from his first marriage loved her dearly. They would also treat me like I was their sister.
My children loved me and supported me. But they loved my husband’s other wife more. They loved her much more. Her brothers lived abroad and would send her some money, and then she would give some money to the children so they would love her. She would give them, in dinars at the time, sometimes 5, sometimes 10 or 20 dinars even.
My oldest son found his wife on his own. He was in school and a friend of his said he had a neighbor, and introduced them. They got married. We were relatively well off. They had a big wedding, we bought a lot of clothes for the bride.
When my mother’s husband died, I took her to live with me. She had nowhere to go. The Serbs had burned her house in Vushtrri. My aunt’s son took her to live with her brothers. But my oldest son said “Mom, go get granny, she is living with your brothers!” So we went and got her and now we live together in the same house. My sons live in another house with their wives and I live with my mother in another one.
Before the war I remember the Serbs came to get the weapons from my husband. They came to bust up our house. He had two lawfully owned weapons. So they came to ask for the weapons. My husband wouldn’t give them. He said he possessed them legally, why give them?
My husband died before the war started. He had a high blood pressure. The Serbs had beaten him up in the protests. He was spitting blood and then he died.
My youngest son joined the Kosova Liberation Army. When the war started they would not let us settle in one place for more than three days. They would drag us from one place to the other.
I was with my daughters-in-law, with the neighbor women, with my sisters-in-law. There were many of us. And we were on a tractor with our brother-in-law. They took our tractor and made us walk on foot. My daughter-in-law had a suitcase, I wanted to help her with it. The minute they removed us from the tractor, they set fire to it. We would walk amid soldiers on both sides. Tanks were moving behind us.
They took us to a village school. Once they took us there, they kicked out all of the old men and women, as well as the children, and kept us inside. They had long knives. What could have happened inside there? The worst thing possible. Sexual abuse. Of the worst possible kind.
They came at about 10 o’clock in the evening. We were alone inside. We had no lights, it was an utter darkness, just like a prison. We couldn’t see a thing. And they would come in, it would last for one hour or two, and then they would leave. As soon as they separated us, we knew what was going to happen. They left all of the elderly and the children outside. They kept the young girls and women. I wasn’t the youngest or the oldest. It lasted for an hour or an hour and a half.
They would fear that NATO would see their movements and bomb the school. So the came in at night, did it quickly and got out. They’d say “Let us do this quickly before they bomb us.” They banged my head really hard. They banged my head so hard, they threw me on a toilet and it still aches.
We saw all of the other women being raped. We cried and scream. And the bastards, you couldn’t even tell which one was which. They all wore masks.
So, they feared that NATO was going to bomb them and they were rushing to finish it and leave. We’d be in there until 9 or 10 o’clock next morning. Then they’d let us come out of there.
We cried all night long. “What happened to us?” “What they did to us!” We’d cry and tell each other things like that. My husband’s other wife was outside. She said to me “I heard you scream, I heard you all scream.” She knew what had happened to us and she had cried together with us.
I felt so terrible. They let us go one morning. Then we never saw them again. They let us walk away. We went to a village and stayed there for two nights. Someone suggested that we go home. As we went home, they’d observe us from the distance and shoot at us from a nearby hill. We entered a house, all together sheltering inside it. All of the houses had been burned down. It was terrible. After a while they come down and asked “Is someone inside? Come out as we will not let anybody come here anymore. We have burned down everything” I did not dare utter a word there. I was so scared; I never spoke a single word. We all went outside. We had baked some bread during our stay there. They were still in the oven so I went and took them out before we left. I put them inside a sack and carried them in my back. Some women said, “Don’t take that bread. They will see it and then kill us.” I said “Let them kill me, and if they do, I want to be carrying my bread.” They asked us if we had all gathered. There were men, my husband’s relatives from the villages.
As we walked for a while they stopped the men and tied their hand behind their backs. And then they killed the men. Wherever they went, they would burn the houses they’d encounter. They had some arms and they would use them to burn the houses. I don’t know what sort of an arm it was. It would surprise me to see that you can burn a house with an arm. The roof tiles would fall in front of us. They killed the men. Children would see their fathers being shot and they started to scream. We did not see the ones who shot the men any more. They took us to another village. They went away, disappeared. They left us in that village and policemen in uniforms came out, saying “Line up, the doctor will check you.” Check what? There was nothing there. They just wanted to have us in that house and leave us there.
They left us in the yard until dusk. They wouldn’t leave us go anywhere. In the evening they decided which ones from us should enter the house. They were selecting the young women and girls.
There were three or four rooms in that house. It was a two-store house. They would point the finger and order you to enter the house. They were policemen in uniforms, but they all wore masks so I could not recognize any of them. But I saw that there was a policeman who knew us all too well. He was from our village. When they got us in there, he goes to another one, “Get her!” But the other one did not respond. “What is it? Are you afraid of women? What can they possibly do to you? Why are you fearing them?” And then he said, excuse my language, “These Albanian women are good for sucking it.” And then I said to him “So it is you? You are the one who came to our village and collected our arms?” And he said, “I came here just for the spite of your husband!” I know he was the first one to come for the arms. And then they tore my clothes, they ripped them lengthwise. I started to scream and cry; I cried and screamed. After them the paramilitaries came. Long greased hair, unwashed, dressed in black clothes. I just cannot describe what we went through. They would not let us in one place for over three days, moving us from one place to another. The sexual violence was horrible. I’d rather they killed us, slaughtered us to death, decapitated us, or mutilated us by cutting an arm or a leg, whatever, but not have us experience that. That was horrible.
They were shouting and screaming from the other rooms too. They took out some syringes in which they had some white liquid. They gave that to us so as to numb us down. I don’t know what it was, but they’d give that to us, and then I lost my senses and don’t remember anything until I woke up the next morning. When I got up in the morning, I noticed blood coming out of my stomach. They had cut my stomach with a knife, and I was bleeding. I don’t know what they did.
I was totally naked. I couldn’t stop my bleeding. I was covered in blood. A friend of mine gave me a garment. We left the house as they were not there in the morning. We walked and walked. We would stop from time to time to check on the others. So it happened to me twice. Yes, twice it happened to me.
When the war ended we all knew it because we saw the NATO troops enter. When they first came we thought they were Serbian forces. They also came with tanks, trucks and flags. When we saw the flags we were so relieved. The men in the mountains were also aware of the end of war. “We’re free! Free!” The Serbs were all trying to get away. They were singing while withdrawing. The bastards were finally withdrawing. They lifted their three fingers, yelled and swore.
That’s how this life is. Joy and sadness. Sadness and joy. For example, my younger son had seen them ordering to enter that house and said to me, “Why did you accept to enter there? Why did you enter?” He was a KLA fighter. The KLA soldiers saw us from the hills. They were following us from the distance. And he says “Why did you accept to enter that house?” I say “I was expecting them to kill me or slaughter me altogether. I thought they would cut some limbs so as to leave me disabled my whole life. They didn’t, they only wanted to please themselves, and do the improper things so us. They raped us; abused us.”
I was having such a hard time with him. Such a hard time. With the younger son. He was not supportive of me at all. The other one, as he had his own wife, he would understand. His wife was also raped. He could do nothing about it. He was with the soldiers. He did not dare do anything. They were left in the mountain. They were saying, “We could kill them!” “Yeay, right you could. You could not, because they were so heavily armed and what arms did you have? A gun in your hands.” They luckily ran to the mountains and were sheltered there.
After NATO entered, we continued our way towards home, to stay in our yards if necessary. There was nothing else to do. That’s where we would stay, in poverty. We had nothing.
A charity organization came and gave us a tent. It was small but better than nothing. At least we could shelter our children. What else were we to do?
I was in a hospital with a woman from Gjakova. Her daughter was a member of the parliament. And the girl came to visit her mother and her mother told her I am from Drenica. The girl asked me how did we manage to cope during the war.
Tears started to pour out of my eyes. She asked me not to cry. “I know everything”, she said. “Did you report it anywhere?” “Report what?” Then she explained to me and said that she could go and do it for me. Then I said, “I will tell you like you were my sister about what has happened. But I never dared report anywhere.” She gave me the address of the organization. If it weren’t for this organization, maybe I would not be here today.
I was very disturbed afterwards. I tried to hang myself. I tried to kill myself. My brother-in-law found me as I tried to hang myself. A friend of mine killed herself by drowning in the well. We had both suffered the same tortures. She decided to end it by throwing herself inside a well. We just could not live with ourselves and wanted to end our lives. We simply didn’t want to live any more. But my brother-in-law found me. When he did I was holding the rope and had climbed an old chair. I wanted to put it over a branch and then push the chair with my leg and end it. But I had been destined to live. I would rather be dead than have to live like this.
After the war we had more problems than joy. My youngest son would not support me. I still have problems with him. He just won’t support me. He is married and has his own family.
The older son knows about it too, and he understands. Nobody wanted for this to happen. I was not the only one there. There were other women too. Women and girls. They would cut your fingers if you opposed them. There was a girl about 14 or 15-year-old, no more than that. They cut her fingers. She wanted to defend herself by grabbing their knife. And the Serb, he pulled the knife hard and he cut her fingers off. She now has four fingers missing. I haven’t seen her; I don’t know if she has gone abroad or what happened to her. I never saw her again.
With my husband’s other wife I had a chance to talk. She knows what has happened. She knows for they locked us inside and she could hear us scream and cry inside. My husband’s sister was also outside and she heard me scream too. She mentioned it the other day, said “You were screaming so much.” I said, “They would cut us with their knives, they were about to slaughter us.” She knew it very well, but did not talk about it. And I never spoke about any of the other women. Everyone knew about their own, everyone was only minding their own business.
For a long time, it seemed like they were coming after me. They would appear in front of my eyes. I would imagine them. They would appear in pictures in front of my eyes just like in the movies. I could not sleep for such a long time. The organization I was going to, I would get pills from them. They helped me clam down.
And my mother… just like all mothers. I would stay up the whole night, she would ask me “What is it my daughter? Why are you not sleeping?” And what could I do? I had to tell my mother why I could not sleep and what had happened to me. I told her and she was shocked. She fainted. Later she asked me “Why didn’t you tell me before?” I said, “Am I telling you about anything good?” She was very supportive. She would see me not sleep all night long. I would turn on the light and stay in the living room. I had a small radio, and I would listen to it. NATO soldiers had given me that small radio. It was small but it had a wheel and you’d turn it and get all sort of songs.
I would love to see someone support us somehow. We have been neglected. It would be nice to have some support from the government. We would like to see that our rights are met. Nothing else.
This story is part of "I want to be heard: Memory book with stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo", powered by forumZFD and Integra in collaboration with KRCT - The Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims, and supported by German Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Economic Development, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and UN Women.