One morning, I decided to take a different route home past the US embassy located on Rruga Elbasanit. Amid the parade of flashy cars and guards armed with machine guns, I noticed a small woman standing by the entrance with placards attached to her body and clutching documents. Small in stature with light green eyes, Zhaneta Lamce, told me she had been standing there every morning for a month, and still, the US Ambassador who had passed her every morning had not bothered to ask her why she was there.
As I asked her to tell her tale, the words poured out of her with a mixture of passion and grief punctured with flashes of anger. For her story is like so many others here; a story of a brave ancestor murdered by the communists whose body is still missing more than 30 years after the regime fell. Not only that, but her family’s land, possessions and name have been taken from them with no hope of return.
“I have two goals in life, and they’re both about my grandfather. This story is about my mother’s father, Pasho Abdyl Bazelli. He was born in Kolanec, in Korça, and around 1939-40, he moved to Maliq, and he lived there until Sigurimi took him in 1945 and shot him,” she says as she starts her tale.
Bazelli was born in Kolanec, a village in Korca, high up in the mountains. Zhaneta describes her grandfather as a man with a great soul, a big heart, and a deep love for his country. By 1912, Bazelli was already in his 30s. It was a time when Ismail Qemali had raised the flag in Albania, but by 1914, France had invaded Korce to make it a colony.
But Bazelli was adamant that all of Albania should be democratic and free, and when the French came and started taking over villages one by one, he fought back. He created his own military unit as he was a man of means, able to buy weapons and fund soldiers.
At this time, Themiostokli Germenji had set up his own unit to fight against the French, and he heard whispers of Bazelli. He contacted him and suggested that they merge the two units together, something Bazelli agreed to immediately.
“In fact, Gërmenji didn’t have the means to buy weapons, so he accepted my grandfather’s help, they united forces and fought together. At one point, they even killed a French general. It was a war after all,” Zhaneta reasons.
The unit was successful, killing many enemies, but some Albanians began leaking information to the French, including the names and addresses of those who had killed French soldiers. They, including Bazelli, were rounded up and thrown into horrendous French prisons.
“They tied his hands and feet and tortured him. Eventually, however, the French army was defeated and fled, and my grandfather was released from prison,” she said.
But his ordeal was not over yet, as after the French left, the Greeks came, but Bazelli was not afraid and fought them too.
Some years passed, and King Zog came to power. During this time, Bazelli had started a business, selling goods and buying land. In 1929, he was summoned to the office of King Zog along with other patriots and decorated with ‘Honor of the Nation”. He was also rewarded with florins and Napoleon gold coins on a monthly basis as he served in the King’s gendarmerie, including when Italy invaded in 1939.
Between 1929 and 1939, Bazelli bought all of Maliq. “All of Maliq today belongs to me. With his money, my grandfather also opened a school in 1942 so that the children of the village could go to school. He built the school, he had his own land, he built the school with his own money,” Zhaneta explains.
During these years, Enver Hoxha was a simple teacher in the high school of Korca. He had heard of Bazelli and was aware he was a man of means. Hoxha called him for a meeting and asked him to join the partisan cause and to help buy weapons to fight the Italians.
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Bazelli was hesitant, however, and wanted to know what programme the partisans had for the country, and only after understanding that would he make a decision. Hoxha presented him with their plan, telling him, “we will build close ties with Yugoslavia, with Stalin, and we will fight for our nation.”
But Bazelli had heard Russia’s story and that of communism, and he did not want that path for Albania.
“No, I do not agree with this program, I want Albania to be free and independent,” he told Hoxha, and they went their separate ways.
In 1942, Germany invaded Albania and arrived in Korca. The President of Balli Kombetar, Mid’hat Frasheri, asked to meet him and also asked for his help. As with Hoxha, Bazelli asked to see the programme, which he found would bring Albania closer to the West. He agreed, and Frasheri appointed Bazelli as the head of the Balli Kombetar for the Korca district. At the same time, he had left the army as King Zog had left Albania.
Zhaneta explains that during the early ’40s, Bazelli had three daughters and a son. But when his son was 20 and just married with two children, he was murdered. Two villagers came across him lying injured in a field. When they enquired what had happened, they asked him what had happened, and he replied that “the Kolaneci’s killed me”.
The villagers ran to tell Ballezi, but by the time they returned, the body had gone. Today, the family do not know where the body is, and the Kolaneci family went on to become the in-laws of Enver Hoxha.
In 1944, two years after his son’s murder, Ballezi was arrested and tortured on the order of Hoxha, due in part to the claims of murder made against Teki and Sami Kolaneci. He spent a year locked in prison and brutally tortured, despite being 72 years old at the time.
“My grandfather never did anything against Albanians. He only ever invested in Albania and his own village, he built a school and never raised a hand against his own people,” Zhaneta says with emotion in her voice.
Finally, on 30 July 1945, through a decision of Enver Hoxha, Bazelli was executed as an enemy of the people, for his association with Anglo-Americans, and as a war criminal. He believed that his arrest was due to information and a case created against him by Teki Kolaneci, a relative of Klement Kolaneci, Hoxha’s son-in-law.
“When my grandfather was executed, he was executed in a barbaric manner; in the main square of Korça, his hands and feet were tied, together with his closest friend, who was like a brother to him. And they gathered all the people of the city. The firing squad was in the first row, some 10-12 people and the onlookers were behind, including my mother,” Zhaneta explains in excruciating detail.
“They shot him, and his property is confiscated. They left his family on the streets: my grandmother, my uncle’s daughter-in-law with two small children, and my mother. They were driven out of their home, and all their belongings were confiscated,” she explains.
Asides from all their land and property, the communists confiscated pots of gold and furniture brought from Greece. They ended up living in a hut in Elbasan after travelling there with one bag on the back of a truck.
But they also took away Zhaneta’s grandfather’s last name, changing it from Bazelli to Kolaneci. Zhaneta has a raft of documents to support this claim, adding that the Kolancei family were involved in this to benefit from the stolen property and status as ‘persecuted’ people.
Today, her ancestral property, due to her under Albanian law and supported by a will and court decision, remain out of her hands. She explains the government issued a VKM, instead giving it to businessman Gjergi Luca, owner of Rozafa, to build a fish processing factory.
Zhaneta has filed complaints with SPAK and claims she has been threatened by the children of Hoxha, as well as members of the Kolaneci family. Her calls on embassies and other institutions have fallen on deaf ears.
But not only that, despite years of searching, Zhaneta still does not know where her grandfather’s body is.
“Where they threw his body, what they did it, we do not know. Only the children of Teki Kolaneci and Sami Kolaneci know. We don’t know, and we have tried everything,” she said.
“All I want is for my grandfather’s plight to be recognised.”
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