Faces of kosovo: The uncovered truth


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Faces of kosovo: The uncovered truth

  1. 1. Faces of Kosovo: The Uncovered TruthBy: Ermira Babamusta, Ph.D., New YorkHow does one survive a war that took the lives of 12,000 Kosovar Albanians, expelled863,000 Albanians from Kosovo, and displaced at least 90% of the Kosovar Albanianspopulation during the war? (October 1999 UNHCR estimates, quoted in OSCE"Kosovo/Kosova: As Seen, As Told”, 6 Dec. 1999). How does one try to rebuild lifewhen grief haunts you for the rest of your life not knowing why your loved ones werekilled? The truth is that you will never “get over it”, but perhaps justice can ease the painjust a little.Egzona and Gëzim Kunoviku, victims of the Kosovo war have come to terms with‘acceptance’ of their parents’ death. However, the unknown answer to why their parentswere killed makes it nearly impossible to piece their life back together. It is a dailystruggle of overcoming the most painful memory in their life and a constant pursuit offinding answers. What is more outrageous is that no one has ever paid for the death ofMr. and Mrs. Kunoviku.In the Photo: Zylije dhe Namon Kunoviku, innocent victims of Kosovo War 1
  2. 2. Egzona Survives the Killing Squad“During the Kosova war, for safety reasons, parents did not permit their children to spendthe night at home. On April 24, 1999 Egzona, a 9-year-old girl decides to stay at homewith her mother while her brother, Gëzim leaves for the night. At approximately 9:00PM, someone comes and kills her father and while she is crying on her mother’s lap hermother is shot four times. Miraculously Egzona survives. With no place to go she ends upsleeping on her dead mothers lap until the next day when her brother returns home anddiscovers the atrocity” (Roko Markolovic, director and writer of the play “Why Did YouKill My Parents”).Egzona’s Brother Escapes Death“Without an explanation, only because my family was Albanian and was standing in thedoorstep of their house, they killed both of my parents in front of my sister, who at thattime was only nine years old. My sister experienced the biggest trauma in her life. Eventhough she had only lived 9 springs, she initially experienced my father’s cold-bloodedmurder and then my mother’s, whose last words were: “Thank you God that my son isnot here!” while my sister was grabbing hold of her legs. I cannot give a concreteexplanation why my sister came out alive, but I think that at that moment she must havelost consciousness and perhaps they must have thought she was dead.On the morning of Sunday, the 25th April I came back home with my girlfriend, because Ihad spent the night at a cousin of mine in the city as per my father’s request. I returnedhome without having an idea that such an unseen tragedy had taken place. Once I enteredthe yard, I saw my father lying in front of the steps with his face on the floor, with aboutone meter diameter of blood pooled around him. The bullet had struck him in the head.Whereas, at the entrance of the one-storey house, on the couch in a half laid position, Ifound my mother who had also been murdered, also covered in blood. My sister wasawake, shocked and covered in blood. As soon as she saw me, she stood up and told mewhat had happened.This was the last moment that I was in my house, because immediately after I hadcovered my parents’ bodies with the jacket I was wearing that day, my sister and I wentto our cousins. I later learned that our parents’ bodies had been taken by the Romanypeople, who at that time were collaborating with the Serbs, and buried them in thegraveyard. Only when NATO forces forced the Serbian army out, I was able to visit myparents’ graves for the first time dated June 16th 1999.” (Gëzim Kunoviku Interview,Prishtina, Kosovo, 17 April 2007 quoted in “Kosovo Status Talks: A case onInternational Negotiations,” by Ermira Babamusta, p. 129 ). 2
  3. 3. Egzona Today“After the April 24 events, Egzona’s life was totally different. Even though we tried tooffer her somewhat a normal life, we knew that deep in her soul something was missingand she felt empty inside. Fortunately, she still had the will to live. In the beginning Iwanted to change Egzona’s school because she had to pass everyday through same streetwhere the destroyed house was. I didnt want my little sister to face the trauma again andagain. However, the new school proved to be more difficult because she felt even morelonely and secluded. She was very withdrawn, unable to make conversation with anyoneor make any new friends at that brittle age. So I decided to return her to the sameprimary school.After completion of the Natural Science High School, she was accepted at the Universityof Prishtina, Economics department, to pursue Management and Informatics. She becameindependent, more lively, very ambitious and motivated, started making friends, tookinterest in traveling and even got her driver’s license. She’s a very good driver now.Later on, during my work with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan Egzona expressed herinterest to come and work there. She wanted to have a different experience in her life, andalso to contribute to the U.S. Army as her way of showing gratitude for U.S.A.’sintervention and its tremendous help in Kosovo. She worked for a year for the FluorCorporation in the management office to support the U.S. Army in the Middle East ”(Gëzim Kunoviku Interview, New York, 6 April 2012).In the Photo: Egzona Kunoviku, Kosovo War SurvivorAfter working in the Middle East, Egzona returned to her homeland to finish her studiesin Prishtina and is preparing for her second year final exams. She plans to continue highereducation and pursue graduate studies. 3
  4. 4. Though Egzona survived the horrific event, she has not escaped from the pain. Egzonastill awakens at night to the memories of the war and the atrocity committed to herfamily. For a young girl to witness such daunting crime and survive it is nearlyimpossible. But she fought back and changed her life. She is now pursuing her passionsand is making an independent living.While women in Kosovo fought during the war in different ways, they are understood asheroes, icons and leaders. They are now the driving force behind the socialtransformation and are leading the nation in the democratic, constitutional, economicfront (Remarks of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prishtina, Kosovo, 13 October2010).Egzona is among the women heroes of the Kosovo war survivors. She is truly inspiring.She is the symbol of courage, virtue and hope that keep us humble and hopeful."What I enjoy in life first of all is family. I also love taking trips with my friends to seedifferent places. I enjoy learning different languages, especially, Latin languages such asItalian and Spanish. In the near future I see myself as a successful economist andpursuing graduate studies, perhaps outside of Kosovo.During my recent visit in New York, I tasted great food in exquisite restaurants and metgreat people who offered their hospitality to show me the most beautiful sites in the city.Iliked the way of living in US. It was different from the places that I been in Europe likeGermany, Netherlands and Sweden, " said Egzona.In the Photo: Ermira Babamusta and Egzona Kunoviku at Ground Zero, 911 Memorial, April 2012, NYC 4
  5. 5. Gëzim TodayGëzim, twenty-two at the time of the incident, was psychologically devastated. He wasleft with no money and the house was completely burnt down. He had to work very hardto look after the family, with no support and no resettlement from the government.Gëzim is now married to his beautiful wife, Ermira and they live happily in Kosovo.They have four children: Labeat (12), Alba (9), Jon (6) and Rron, the youngest sonsixteen months old. Gëzim is a very strong and driven individual, with passion to helpothers. He risked his own life to save the life of others. His parents would have surelybeen proud to see what an extraordinary person he is today.In the Photo: Gëzim Kunoviku, Medical Doctor“Losing my dear parents was not the only thing that I had to deal with. It was so muchmore. I was left without a house, no job, no money, nothing at all. And I had to take careof my sister and my wife. Later I became a father, so I had no choice but to interrupt mystudies for five years and work instead. I just couldn’t continue to support my familyanymore.After lot of difficulties I graduated college and became a medical doctor on July 2009. Istarted working as volunteer at the Emergency Center in Prishtina. And in April 2010 Ijoined the U.S. Army as a medical doctor, stationed in Afghanistan, where I worked for16 months. After that I returned in Vushtrri (Kosovo) to work at the Emergency Center. Iam expected to start medical residency in Anesthesiology very soon. 5
  6. 6. As a family we made it on our own and have moved forward. I am happy that my sisterEgzona is pursuing her goals and following her dreams in life. I am very grateful to mylovely wife, Ermira, who has been my only support throughout this very difficult time.Ermira has been the backbone of the family and has kept me strong. She knows how tomotivate and encourage me. She never left me alone for a moment and she never stoppedtaking care of Egzona and our children” (Gëzim Kunoviku Interview, New York, 6 April2012).Accountability and Justice for the war victimsRebuilding a post-war Kosovo has been a critical battle of political and socialreconciliation and reconstruction. Over 810,000 refugees have returned to Kosovo as ofDec. 1999. (UN Dept. of Public Information, "Bringing Peace to Kosovo: The First SixMonths", Dec. 1999) After the 2008 declaration of independence, the young Kosovo hasbeen in the process of building itself as a sovereign nation. The Kosovar governmentmust now decide how to best resolve its aftermath issues, such as crimes againsthumanity and human rights abuses. The Kosovo judiciary must develop and implementstrategies that fully address such crimes. The individuals responsible for the killing, massdestruction and forced expulsions that convulsed Kosovo in 1998 - 1999 must be broughtto justice. International Organizations such as the United Nations and the EuropeanUnion have an obligation to see that justice is done.How can there be reconciliation in a society without justice for the victims? Any legalstrategy that deals with reconciliation should be complemented by a strategy that helpsthe victims. For the Kunoviku Family there has been lack of accountability since theperpetrators have not been captured. Egzona and Gëzim Kunoviku strongly feel that theirjustice has been ignored.“During the war I kept thinking about what freedom would be like. I hoped for a changedand just society in Kosovo. I imagined that the murderers of my parents and the ones whocommitted the genocide in Kosovo would see their day in court. However that day nevercame. Even the accountability process was never done properly. To this day, in Kosovo,there are still missing persons and bodies. Serbia refuses to give information of thewhereabouts of the dead bodies. Mass graves are often discovered in the Serbian region.I strongly believed that the Ministry of Justice would further investigate into my parents’death and initiate a claim with the higher courts, but this never happened. It has beenthirteen years since the incident and no answers. It seems that after the Milosevic trial inthe Hague Tribunal ended with his mysterious death in the prison, crime cases in Kosovoclosed too” (Gëzim Kunoviku Interview, New York, 6 April 2012). 6
  7. 7. Roko Markolovic’s Play is Making the Truth Visible A simple play, yet deeply emotional and triumphantWriter and director Roko Markolovic heard the story in 2007 from a family memberwhile shooting his movie “My Destiny: An Albanian Love Story” in Kosovo. He wasbothered that justice for Egzona and Gëzim has been ignored. He interviewed Gëzim tobring to light Kosovo’s “invisible war crimes”. He wrote a play titled “Why Did You KillMy Parents?” to share the feelings from the interview with the American public. Theplay, directed by Roko Markolovic, and produced by Diana Cena was staged in Bronx inJanuary 2012 at the UFT Theatre and in Manhattan in April 2012 at Joria Theatre.Photo by Alex Selimaj“When I heard about this story it was clear what the intent of the killers was. That is theywanted to send a message to Albanians that no Albanians were safe. It was get out or getkilled. I can’t think of a more innocent person losing their life than someone sitting attheir own home, minding their own business and drinking coffee”, said RokoMarkolovic.Roko Markolovic is an extremely talented director and an extraordinary writer. Hisavant-garde creativity and confidence is impressive, which offers a fresh style ofstorytelling and observational directing. He is the writer/director of three feature lengthfilms My Christmas Gift, Till Death Does Us Part and My Destiny an Albanian LoveStory. Roko returns to the stage as director of Why Did They Kill My Parents?. 7
  8. 8. Previously he directed Macbeth, All My Sons, No Exit, Vanities and The GlassMenagerie.“Why Did They Kill My Parents?” is a powerful play that depicts the agony of a Kosovowar young survivor Egzona, as she witnesses the murder of her parents. It is anunforgettably powerful show that leaves you speechless, for having witnessed an atrocity.The audience identifies with the play on a deeply emotional and intellectual level, whichembodies the director’s passion and eloquence. The brilliant director Roko Markolovicsets the stage for something more than just a stage performance and a historical drama.The experience gives the audience a dose of reality by witnessing the killing – a trueawakening. It stimulates thought-provoking after-play conversations on justice/injustice,forgiveness, survival, defiance and healing.“I didn’t want the audience to come and be entertained. I wanted them to be involved. Iwanted the audience to feel the pain of what this family went through. I wanted them feelfor Egzona. I wanted them to be witnesses. No words can better articulate how theaudience felt than the tears on their faces as they witnessed the atrocity,” said Mr.Markolovic.In the Photo: Egzona and Gëzim Kunoviku and Dia Zyrafete Cavdarbasha (in the middle), at Producer’sClub, NY. Dia is a young talented actress, who played the role of Egzona in the play. She if a fifth graderwho attends “Shkolla Shqipe” in Bronx.Egzona and Gëzim were in the audience at the Joria theatre during the April 2012showing. It was very difficult and emotional for both of them to see the actors reenact thehaunting night of their parents’ murder. Their presence was kept a surprise for the cast,until the end of the play, when producer Diana Cena opened up the Q&A session and 8
  9. 9. introduced Egzona and Gëzim Kunoviku. Egzona and Gëzim traveled from Kosovo toNew York to show their support for the amazing director and the play written for them.In the Photo: Producer Diana Cena introducing Egzona and Gëzim Kunoviku to the cast, crew andaudience during the Q&A after the play, at Joria Theatre, NYC (April 2012)The cast is stunning with each performance revealing the vivid details and engaging thesenses. As shots are fired on stage by the two killers, played by the talented Agim JimmyRrugova and the gifted Alban Veliu, the audience gasps for breath, stirring up powerfulemotions. Convicting performances by the lead cast intensify the emotional level and theroom energy. The brilliant and graceful performances of the three young adorableactresses, namely Dia Zyrafete Cavdarbasha, Rina Vatovci, and Emine Demarovski,portraying a nine-year old Egzona, captured the hearts and the minds of the audienceswith their remarkable sincerity. The outstanding performances of the amazing KristoforLulaj, playing Gëzim, the exceptional Maxemilian Corkum, playing the mother and thetalented Nikolin Gjoklaj, playing the father, give the audience what they have beenwaiting for – to bear witness to the suffering and heart-breaking story of the Kunovikufamily.“Looking at the scene where the family is together, sitting at the porch, I felt a smile for afew seconds. But it was sad because I was faced with the same reality again,” said GëzimKunoviku. “Most importantly, the director was able to show to the American public atrue story of real war survivors. I am sure it was something unseen before for them, verydifferent from watching the news on TV or a documentary. The audience was verycurious to know how we moved on and they had a lot of interesting questions to ask. Itwas great that I was able to thank in person all the great people of this country for theirsupport, especially for what U.S.A. did for Kosovo,” he added. 9
  10. 10. "As a Kosovo refuge, this story is important because it tells the world what people in mycountry endured. The American public loved the play and anyone who has seen it, willnever forget Egzonas ordeal. I cant wait to take this play to other parts of United Statesand then eventually to Kosova and Albania," said producer Diana Cena. 10