Hundreds of Albanian-Americans gathered at Pasha Events in Manhattan on Saturday February 16th to celebrate the independence of Kosova. The dinner was organized by Illyria newspaper to recognize and honor the members of our community who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom or who did not live to see the day of independence.
It was also an event of reflection about the last twenty years of history and the role of the Albanian diaspora in the United States in changing forever the fate of Kosova. A number of US politicians, diplomats and authors were also recognized. Sulejman Gashi moderated the event and held an introductory speech, drawing from his personal experience in Kosova. Vehbi Bajrami, publisher of Illyria, welcomed the guests.
A short documentary realized by Albanian-American cinematographer Andamion Murataj (Silver Bear in 2011 Berlin Film Festival), based on a text by Ruben Avxhiu (editor-in-chief of Illyria) and voice-over by talented actor James Biberi was shown for during the dinner.
A number of local and national politicians spoke during the event, including Congressman Eliot Engel, one of the earliest supporters of Kosova’s cause in the US Congress, Mark Gjonaj, the first Albanian-American member of New York State Assembly and Ken Biberaj who is running for a seat in the New York City Council.
The Ambassador of Kosova in the United States, Akan Ismaili and Albania’s representative to the United Nations, Ferit Hoxha addressed the crowd, after Rev Peter Popaj, pastor of the Albanian Catholic Church Our Lady of Shkodra, had blessed the dinner.
Other speakers included Yehudit Barsky, who spoke on behalf of David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and emphasized the traditional Jewish-Albanian friendship, David Philips a well-known author, university lecturer and former diplomat, Naum Prifti a distinguished Albanian writer whose late-brother, Prof. Peter Prifti was a respected US scholar who devoted a great part of his life to the subject of Kosova, Rexh Xhakli a dedicated activist who together with his Dr. Shpresa Xhakli has contributed selflessly to the cause of Kosova, as well as Kreshnik Spahiu, the leader of the newly founded political party from Albania, the Red and Black Alliance.
The moderator Gashi thanked Dardanesha Andoni for her participation and for joining the event in remembrance of her late-brother Luan Gashi, founder and leader of Kosova League in the United States and Martin Camaj, whose brother Pashko Camaj was a distinguished human rights activist who spent his entire life fighting for the cause of Kosova.
The highlight of the event was the emotional speech of Ahmet Bytyqi, father of three Albanian-American brothers who left their life in America to volunteer in the war for the liberation of Kosova. They never made it back. Trying to save their Gypsy neighbors, after the war had ended, they were caught by Serbian police for crossing the border without a visa, released after two weeks and executed in a secluded forest, without a trial despite of their US citizenship.
Bytyqi’s speech brought many to tears but he was defiant. “May the blood of my sons serve Kosova and the Albanian nation,” he said.
Another emotional moment was the speech by Eddie Egriu, founder and leader of PUSH (Partia e Unitetit Shqiptar) whose brother, Naxhi Egriu a former KLA member, died from a heart attack on his way to join the fight in Presheva Valley, the Albanian-dominated province left inside Serbia, which faced ethnic cleansing and military oppression as a revenge for the loss of Kosova.
Besides speeches, the event was rich in Albanian music, songs and dances. Great food and wine were served. The musical background and repertoire were provided by Alba Orchestra led by Edmond Xhani. Well-known Albanian singers Lindita Mezini Lole (opera and classic singer), and brothers Arben Krasniqi and John Krasniqi made a lasting impression to the participants with their voices and warm interpretation.
Opening remarks by Sulejman Gashi
Good evening: It is an honor and privilege for me tonight to have been given the opportunity to host this event. Tonight as we celebrate, the 5th anniversary of the Independence of Kosova, we honor and remember those who died and those who are still among us, we are reminded that freedom didn’t come easy: it took blood and guts and pride.
I remember being in Kosova about two months after it’s liberation. While driving going to my father’s burned down house on the Prishtine-Peja highway in late July of 1999, I stopped at this village of Llapushnik and counted 17 new roofs of houses being rebuilt with Red and Black flags standing high. I saw this and I said this is FREEDOM.
I passed by several wedding lines of cars with Albanian flags, in joy and music. They were smelling, breathing and celebrating long sought and long awaited liberation. I saw this and I said this is FREEDOM.
Many times we have gathered in New York, in the Bronx, in New Jersey, Connecticut, in Michigan, Illinois, Dallas, in Boston, dozens and dozens of times in Washington DC to protest the discrimination, the occupation the prosecution of two million Albanians in Kosova. You never rested, you always believed in freedom and in independence. Independence was achieved 5 years ago. Each one of us here may take the pride, be proud of the efforts we all put towards the freedom.
As we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the independence, I am quoting here president Barack Obama who in a recent letter said that “Kosovo has made significant progress in solidifying the gains of independence.’ On behalf of the American people, Mr. Obama ‘congratulates the people of Kosova on this historic milestone, in which Kosovo is heading toward its rightful place in a free, whole and peaceful Europe.’
And we hold to the promise of the letter that was sent to Kosova’s leadership yesterday by the new Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry where he says that ‘The United States remains firmly committed to supporting an independent, and sovereign Kosova.’ As you celebrate this special day, know that the United States stands with Kosova as a partner and friend,’ says the US. chief diplomat.
God bless and long live the independence and the freedom of Kosova.
God bless and long life the United States of America.
Blessing by Rev Peter Popaj
Tonight we are gathered to celebrate with one another the fifth anniversary of the independence of Kosova. We thank the Almighty God for February 17, 2008; the day longed and desired by our people. Many brave men and women gave their lives for the freedom and independence of the Albanian land, of the heroic Kosova.
Tonight, we thank the Illyria Newspaper that has organized this evening to remember our heroes who sacrificed their lives for Kosova, their names will always be remembered with honor and praise.
Let us thank The Almighty God that has kept us in existence throughout the centuries when we were facing our national crisis to the point of losing our identity. Our enemies not only occupied our land but also wanted to destroy our people as well. They tried to change our people’s names, language and culture. But Albanians always stuck to their roots, they never forgot who they are. For this reason God sent us good friends to help us stand on our feet. This became evident with the intervention of America for the independence of Kosova. Throughout our history we had few friends, but our friends were powerful.
Heroic Kosova, went through Calvary, struggling and suffering to the point of dying but by the help of Almighty God in heaven and America on earth, Kosova rose again to its independence. Today we rejoice in this merited freedom, desired from our great – grandfathers.
Today we pray that leaders of Kosova use their wisdom and peace to guide the people in freedom and prosperity, keeping the moral values in family and society. Protecting human rights with peace, unity and understanding. Always stressing the things that unite us as Albanians.
We thank our forefathers who shed their blood to give us a history of honor and praise. Our Albanian land was washed clean with their blood. They fought for the highest values in life: Their trust in God, trust in one-another (Besa) honor and fortitude of our people.
We pray that we too will imitated them as we continue living these values and teach them to the coming generations. Learn to help one another in need, living as brothers and sisters of the same blood, language, history – always in peace with God and with one another.
Happy fifth anniversary, praise and honor to our heroes, God Bless Kosova, God Bless Albania, God Bless America and God Bless you all.