Photo by: Korab Krasniqi
Stories of women survivors of torture during the last war in Kosovo (7/10)
The War Destroyed It All
She was happy, happily married and loved. They had a daughter. Everything was perfect until the day they came.
They came and killed her husband and their small daughter. She was sexually assaulted, but that was not all.
First Person Narration: My Mother, Sister, Sister-in-law and I...
We were many kids. And we come from an educated family. We are all educated. The war made it impossible for us to progress any further, and we have lost some of the knowledge gained, but we are still OK. In our childhood we had enough, because our father was a hard worker. We lived well, went to school, had good parents, and they were understanding although we were many.
When I turned 18, a young man asked me to marry him. I knew him from the school days. We used to go to the same primary school and so, from one friend to the other, they had asked my brother to ask me if I want to get engaged to him. And as the traditional ways dictated, they had to send someone to ask for me. Then I got married.
We were engaged for six months and then got married. We had a good life.
There were many wedding guests at our wedding as our houses were nearby.
Three months after my marriage I got pregnant. Everyone was so happy. And then I gave birth to a beautiful girl. The husband’s family were very excited. It was the first baby in their family. What a joy it was.
Imagine, the family came with musical instruments to pick me up from the hospital, that’s how happy they were. Both families were happy. But then the war started, and it destroyed our life. It took away from me everything I held dear. They took the husband I loved, the girl I loved. Everything.
We were having dinner at home. I just remembered when they announced “The police have entered the neighbor’s house. They are taking the educated people.”
And after a short while they came to our house. They killed my husband. And while shooting at my husband, they also killed my daughter. Me they grabbed by my hair and pulled me. I used to have long hair then. They took me to a police station.
And then they started to rage over me. Four hours later they let me go. I went out, but where was I to go? So I decided to go to my parents’ house. When I went there, all of my sisters had gathered in the house. My mum saw me disturbed. “Why are you so stressed out?” she asked. I was hesitating to tell her right away. But then she asked “What was the shooting we heard in your neighborhood?” “It was nothing.” I said to her. Then I fainted. My brother took care of me and helped me get back to my senses. And then I started to tell them very slowly and carefully (sighs). And then they came to the house we were in. They came in and took us all. They beat up my mother. They did all that while my brother and we sisters were watching. To us women they would say “My sweetheart” and “This is what is awaiting you too.” They put us on a truck and then they took us to... rather transported us, from one place to the other. Our sister-in-law, our aunts, my sisters, all of us there were loaded on that truck. And took us to some place.
There was a school there, but they had transformed it into the police station. It looked like a school, but it was the police station. They referred to it both ways. Then they took all of us in a row. I don’t know how many of us there were, but there were many women. Then they raped us all. Those who opposed were threatened with a knife. My whole body is covered in knife cuts. I was too weak to resist. When I thought of what they did back in the house and when I saw what they were doing in the police station I was terrified. I would see my sisters, my sister-in-law, my aunt, my nieces… I thought they were going to kill us. I said to them, “Please kill us then do this to us.” They would come one after another, one after another… Then they put us on a truck, tied our hand and legs. Our entire bodies were bleeding. One of them would come on to me and then he would call another one, and then another one. They all referred to each other as Jovan, using that same name.
When we came out of there they tied our legs and arms again and loaded us on those trucks. We could not move. We had lost so much weight. I heard them talk and learned they were taking us to Zvecan. I looked inside of the track and saw a bottle. They will give us water and raki. And I saw some syringes. I did not know what they were.
One of them goes “We give it to you so you can be stronger.” We had nothing to eat or drink, apart from some water that they would give us. And then when they were raping us, they would fill our mouth with water. We would faint from the abuse. And I hear one of them say “there are this many women in this truck, that many in that truck.” I was in the truck with a sister of mine, my sister-in-law and two cousins. I was wondering how I could break glass. My sister said “Don’t, or they will do to us what they did before.” I said “Once the truck starts moving again I will break this bottle. They will not know what happened. But I will break the bottle.” I kicked it and kicked it. And then I hit it hard and broke the glass. I pulled it with my feet, picked it up carefully and then I cut the rope around my arms.
You can still see the scars around my arms. Ten I cut the rope for everyone else. Their arms, their legs. I forgot my own legs. I said “Jump women!” “No, we dare not, they will see us.” I said, “Do you want me to go first? If they don’t shoot me, then you should all jump after me.” I jumped from the truck and then watched to see if the others were jumping. And then they started to jump. Every ten meters one would jump. And then I crawled looking for them. I tried to find where they are. I went for a long time looking for the others, trying to see if there are others.
Then we decided to withdraw to a nearby village. I don’t remember the name of the village anymore but it was on the way to Zvecan. We came to a graveyard. A Roma man came with a carriage pulled by a horse. I ask him if he would take us. “What happened to you?” he asked. “We were hit by NATO airplanes,” I said to him. He said “No, NATO hasn’t started to bomb yet.” I said, “NATO came, they brought us here and this is where they left us. He took us. “What ethnicity are you”, he said. “I am Turkish,” I said to him. Then I would speak to the women in Turkish, so that he thinks we are all Turkish. And when we came to our city, we decided to disperse each our own way, because there was a police station there, so we had to hide.
We went back home crawling. I did not know where I was. When you are exhausted, and then get a rest, that’s when the trauma hits you. I just remember myself in the psychiatric ward.
I saw myself there and had no idea about my brother or sisters, or my husband and daughter.
We have suffered so much, but no-one is doing anything about us. Someone says this, another one promises that, But God willing, it will be better for us. I have said this way back during the UNMIK period, for mothers and wives. My life is over now, but at least for the others. I have no children or anything, but I spoke about their children, their sisters. I have said, “God willing and a good day dawns for us too.” But nothing has been done so far.
The president Jahjaga helped us rehabilitate. It was enough to see her during the meetings for me to have this feeling that the soul of my daughter and husband would rest in peace. I’d say “Thank God someone is here to support us.”
In the beginning I, on my own, came out and told several people about what had happened. They would point a finger at me and say “Look at her.” Now everybody is supportive at least. And there are other things to tell, but I cannot tell everything because it will be hard to go back home. I am an epileptic, I have pain in my arms and legs, all over. But at least now it looks as if there is support for us. And we have managed to brace ourselves a bit, because you cannot cry your entire life.
My sister died of depression. She had suffered just like me. She died some years after the war. When the doctors operated her, they said “You will not imagine what we found in her womb.” And we did not dare say what the Serbs had done to her, because nobody spoke about it at that time. And they would say “We don’t know what caused this.” She left a daughter behind, who is now 12. Hopefully our government will finally do something about it and do something for these women, as we are tired of waiting.
About two or three years after the war, it was 2002, or 2003, I don’t remember exactly, I started to feel terrible stomach pains. I had no idea what was causing it but it would not stop. My brother took me to see the doctor. The doctor examines me and says, “Your womb is in a terrible state. It is either from an undeveloped fetus or something terrible happened.” But he did not know what had happened to me. I was operated, and it turned out that I had a tumor in my womb. And then 24 hours after the operation, as the doctor was talking to me to see how I was doing, he held a piece of paper and asks me “What did you do? What could have caused it?” how could I tell him what had happened.
“That was a terrible thing you had inside, you must have been subjected to some sort of abuse,” he said. “Could it be that you were pregnant and then the fetus was injured and died inside you?” “Doctor, please. I cannot tell you what has happened. Because if I tell you, you will tell someone else, and then they will tell someone else, and so on.” The doctor knew me, he had known my husband, and he said “I think I might have an idea of what has happened.”
We are tired of his all. It has been 17 or 18 years. Someone would ask me of my birthday, and I could not remember the day or the month.
One more thing. After they killed my husband, and picked me up, they put me in some sort of an electric chair. That made me lose my memory. My school, reading and writing. Until recently I could not even sign a document. “How is it you can’t read or write? Do you remember how good you were at school?” they’d ask me.
Four hours in the police station. A chair, and they tie my stomach. They say “Find where Adem Demaçi is!” “What do I have to do with Adem Demaçi...” They say, “Do you know of any KLA movements?” I say, “I don’t know, I am learning about this group from you.” And indeed I did not know. We were not dealing with any of that thing… And we did not dare speak of anything. My husband was an educated man. I was myself educated, we were not dealing with any of that. And they’d ask me about KLA, and this and that. And they say “Who is the Snake?” “What snake are you talking about?” And they would press my throat and say “Come now, tell us all you know about him.” And I seriously did not know about any of those names. I do now, but then I did not know. So in other words, they would torture me for Thaçi, and Adem Demaçi.
My brothers were younger than me. They did not know what this or that was. Today they say to me “Poor you, what you have gone through.” For at least five or six months I had no idea where I was. When I was asked at the psychiatric ward “Who are your parents?” and “Where do you come from?”, I just did not know. This lasted for at least seven months. The doctors brought me back to my senses, with therapy. I had to undergo a strong therapy, as I was heavily drugged. And the doctors told me that I had been injected with syringes in my stomach with drugs while in hands of Serbs. I am also thankful to President Jahjaga and Feride. Ever so grateful to them both. They found me a work place, so that at least I go out, and come in. I have a bit of an income and a life.
My family feels very sad for me now. They all know what has happened. Not just them, but the neighbors too. They respect me and treat me nicely. They do not know all the details of what happened, but they all know my husband and daughter were killed, and that I have no other children, alone by myself. So they support me. But they do not know about what happened to me during the war. Now that they see me engage for our rights I hear some of them say, “You too must have some secret story.” But before we came here we did not dare speak anywhere else. Here we were told everything will be kept confidential, they will not mention us by name. And we trusted them and started to talk. We have received a therapy. We have had meetings, and even managed to laugh, not just talk.
When I first came here, the trees over there seemed to me like soldiers. I would ask my sister-in-law, “Take me away, at least until those soldiers are gone.” “What are you saying? What soldiers?” she would ask me.
While looking at them, it would seem to me that I was also seeing their hats, not just their uniforms. I was going out with my friends from this center. “I won’t go out until they leave.” “Why?” I would say, “Don’t you see them?” I would think the trees are them. We came out and touched them. “Here. Are you now convinced that it is a tree?”. Than the trauma hit me, the crisis, the sadness. I woke up at night and just walked around the room. When it is my daughter’s birthday it gets worse (cries). I start to look for her in the room.
My family are trying to calm me down, saying I am neither the first nor the last to experience what I did. Remember, they say, the mother in Gjakova, who had five people in her family and now lives alone. You should be thinking about cases like hers. You have to go out and about, and be places and enjoy our company and us. We are still one family. For example, my brother will always bring his son when he comes to visit.
One day my brother says to my mother, “I want to divorce my wife!” “No!”, she said to my brother. Why do you tell what they did to you in Sfërkovnica prison to you? What did you tell us when you were released? Do you remember how your behind was? How your anus was swollen from Serbs raping you?”
“They were also raped without their will.”
My brother said, “I cannot take it mother, when I think that the Serbs have had my wife I just cannot overcome it.”
“My son, you have to. Look at your sister and your wife. And let me tell you one more thing.” “Tell me what?”, my brother asked her. “I cannot tell you for as long as I live.” Then my brother understood that my mother was raped too. He started to cry. He got up, and embraced us all.
And my mum said “You cannot? How would you feel if your brother-in-law divorced your sister because she was raped?
Then after a while another brother-in-law of ours divorced our sister. Four children, and she cannot cope to this day.
May God make sure to return to them what they did to us.
I took the bus the other day to go to another city.
And I see a Serbian woman, sitting there, dressed in Kosova Police uniform.
I said, “Grant me strength my God, to not make a scene here.” I prayed and prayed, and God helped me, and I calmed down. I was thinking while looking at her, “They have slaughtered and killed us. Our girls are schooled but find no jobs, and have no income. She would speak Serbian loudly. A woman saw I was feeling sick and she asked me how I was. She asked the driver to open the window so I could get some fresh air. I said “Ask the driver to stop this bus.” I knew I might say something, so I chose to get down. The woman who saw I wasn’t feeling well got down with me. “Let us take the next one and we go together as you’re not feeling well. Did you undergo a surgery or what?” “Yes, I am feeling sick,” I said. “Are you pregnant?” “Something like that,” I said. She insisted to remain with me and wanted to know what had happened to me. I did not tell her. She said “I saw that the Serbian police woman was bothering you.
“I just cannot take it when I hear Serbian,” I said to her. “Why?” she asked. “They have killed my husband and my daughter right in front of my eyes and I can never, for as long as I live, forgive them. And I will speak and ask of other women to speak and tell what they have done to us.” And the greatest wonder is that none of them have been put to justice after so many years.
And immediately after the war, as early as while UNMIK was around, I started to speak and tell, explaining what had happened, so that people know, not just about myself but also other women. Until recently, because now I don’t remember all the victims any more. Years have passed and faces have grown older and changed. Some of them sometimes send regards via other people.
We often discuss with other women who have suffered similar things. And when we do, we make sure that no children are around, as we don’t want the children to know.
I have tried to kill myself about ten times. Do you know how God would let my mother know about it? She would come and ask “Are you there?” “Yes, I’m here” “You weren’t earlier, where you by the well?” Ten times I tried to jump inside the well but God would inform my mother. “Were you by the well earlier on?” “No!”. But I’d go to jump inside the well, thinking what good is life like this. Why live? When I’d hear my mum’s voice I would go back. My brother finally decided to close the well. I would go to the well and cry at night. My tears would drop deep down inside. I would think, tonight I’m wetting it with tears, tomorrow I will jump inside. But my mother’s voice would stop me.
Then they sent me to a shrink. I don’t remember how many times they would tie me to the bed so I cannot get up at night. I would wake up and notice that I was tied to the bed.
I look at the children of my brothers and sisters. And I imagine what age my own daughter would have been, I look at her peers. She would be close to me, right next to me. But what can I do? A woman would say to me “It was God’s will”. I said, “It was not God’s will, it was the Serb’s will.” Because God granted her so as to live with me, but the Serbs took her away... And still, you need to continue your life like this.
Everyone needs to speak up for themselves. We have been saying for the last 16 years, “Come out and speak, speak up, speak of your life, for what you suffered, for what they did”.
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.