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Interviews

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The Interviews- Page 8

Sebastjan Šerifović

Sebastjan requested that he not be videotaped.

Listen to the entire interview in MP3 format.

“Sometimes we thought that we should go to Serbia as well, but most of the time we thought we should stay here. Two or three days passed; more people left. It was sad to see them abandon their homes.”

Gracanica

Sebastjan exiled himself to his bedroom in the summer of 2000 with two English-language instruction books. Within two months he’d memorized them both. At the age of 17, with no formal English language education, he became a freelance translator for NGO researchers and other internationals. He dove into NGO work, becoming a sexual health teacher for Children’s Aid Direct and a camp counselor for Balkan Sunflowers. He later spearheaded Roma educational programs for that group; he taught himself Albanian in his spare time. Sebastjan now operates the OSCE-funded Roma resource center in Gracanica. Sebastjan just celebrated his first child’s birth; soon after, he celebrated his 19th birthday. Plenty of Roma and Serbs don’t like him; he has two jobs in a place where most people never had one.

Do you remember the first night of the bombing?

SS: The 24th of March, Wednesday, 8 PM .

Where were you that night?

SS: I was 16 years old. My father worked that night; the television news said that the bombing would begin that evening, but I didn’t think about it. It was all a joke for me.

I couldn’t believe it was going to happen, but I still felt a bit scared, so I asked my mother if I could go sleep at my aunt’s* for just one night. All the youth joked about what was coming, because they didn’t quite believe it either. But there was fear there. No one knew what would happen. It was all that people talked about.  

Sebastjan, Age 8

(* SS’s aunt lived in Preoce, several kilometers west of Gracanica.)

Were you at home when the bombing began?

SS: I was still at home. Like I said, I wanted to go to my aunt’s, and my mother agreed. While we walked there, the power cut off, at exactly 8 PM. * It was still a joke; I didn’t know what was happening.  

(* NATO’s first action of the war was to disable Kosovo’s electrical supply. The Korporata Energjetike e Kosovës Kosovo A and B electrical plants- in Obilić municipality, near Plemetina- were the first targets. The strikes utilized bombs which dispensed graphite strands across the area, thus disabling the plants, but not destroying them. The strike served as a general introduction to the bombing that followed, roughly half an hour later.)  

Sebastjan's Wife & Son

Did any bombs fall near Gracanica that night?

SS: Yes. That first night we heard one massive explosion. They dropped the first bombs on the

military bases outside of Pristina*.

(* Gracanica lies 9 KM directly south of Pristina. A Serb, Oliver Vujovic, who slept that night down the road from SS’s family, stated:  

“That first night I’d left Pristina, where I lived, and came to Gracanica to stay with my wife’s family. I was scared for my daughter. Several of us sat outside, talking, and after the power died we stayed there. The first bomb was a huge one, and the whole sky lit up from it. The windows in my wife’s family home blew inward. We walked onto the road, and there were dozens of people standing there, just watching, not saying anything. And then everyone seemed to realize, at the same time, that this was real, that it was finally happening, and everyone ran.”)  

Did you sleep that night?

SS: No. We stayed awake the whole night. The next day, people started to leave Gracanica for Serbia . For that, they were smart; Sometimes we thought that we should go to Serbia as well, but most of the time we thought we should stay here. Two or three days passed; more people left. It was sad to see them abandon their homes. I thought that the bombing wouldn’t last much longer.  

Did you use the bomb shelters?

SS: For almost one month people stayed there. My family stayed there only one week; we couldn’t stand that kind of life. Almost 11 families were down there; the place was full of smoke.  

It was really cold in the shelters; no one could sleep. They all waited for the morning, to return to their homes. In those days plenty of bombs fell; you could see the smoke around.

What about the Albanians? What happened to them?

SS: I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. In that time the most important thing for me was for my family to stay alive. But I heard they were being driven out, into Albania and Macedonia .

They were forced out during the bombing, but what happened after?  

SS: Many people said that the Albanians were coming back, along with NATO- as soon as the bombing stopped. More Albanians returned, and more Serbs left.

(* In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Serbs began to flee Pristina, Ajvalja and other areas en masse, and many of them ended up in Gracanica)

Could you go to Pristina after the war?

SS: it was impossible to go there (after the bombing). A lot of time has passed, so now we can go, but we’re still scared. There are always some good people, and some bad.

Were the shops open during the bombing?

SS: Some of the shops worked during the bombing; lots of people lost interest in working though. There were always shops where you could buy necessities.

Sebastjan's Aunts & Uncle, Circa 1960s

When the bombing finished, which soldiers entered Kosovo?

SS: I saw plenty of them: Russians, French, Swedes, English. In Gracanica the first soldiers were English.  

You said that the Albanians were coming back, and the Serbs were leaving. What happened to the Roma?

SS: All of Pristina’s Roma fled. Some went to Serbia , and some even left Yugoslavia.

Sebastjan's Uncle- an Army Conscript, Circa 1960s

The Gracanica Mahala emptied out. One day I saw the last family besides us leave. I felt terrible.

Did you have any problems with the Albanians driving through Gracanica?*                                                       

SS: Some Albanians provoked us. An Albanian would see a Roma and say ‘What are you still doing here? You still live here?’

(* After the war, there were several instances of attempted kidnappings and grenade attacks in Gracanica, all from Albanians transiting the village’s main road. Now, Serbs and Albanians on Gracanica’s main road simply exchange tough looks and insults.)

SS: Albanians kidnapped two Roma from Preoce, and they killed them. Two or three years later they found the bodies*.

(* See Adem Osmani’s interview for more details.)  

After the bombing, was your situation better or worse?

SS: We had problems before, but in many cases the situation was worse – kidnappings, provocations and so on. The situation stayed the same for about two years. Now it’s getting better.

How is it now?

SS: There are some (Albanian) areas where we can go and not have problems. We talk with Albanians and they talk with us; as I said, there are both good and bad people.

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Djezida Emini

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview

"We lived in a house built from mud, and my parents had to labor for Serbs- ten days and ten nights. Now it’s better; people have salaries these days. My parents didn’t have shoes growing up, and my grandfather had shoes made from pig skin."

 

Prilužje

Where were you born?

DE: Crkvena Vodica*.

(*Crkvena Vodica- CeeVee to the internationals who cannot properly pronounce it- was a mixed area outside of Obilić town where Serbs, Albanians and Roma lived together. Since the war’s end, many of the Serbs, and all of the Roma, have left. At this project’s beginning there were two Roma families left; they fled a month later. Djezida was lucky to have family in Prilužje to put her up. Most Roma didn’t; families all live in the same area, and they all flee together. Generations of families ended up in refugee camps in Macedonia and the northern municipalities.)

My father’s name was Rifat, and my mother’s, Bahta. I’m 45 years old, and I have five children.

Djezida with her mother and grandson: May 2003

What do you know of your parent’s lives?

DE: My family were blacksmiths, and my grandfather was a blacksmith as well. They were poor and uneducated. We lived in a house built from mud, and my parents had to labor for Serbs- ten days and ten nights. Now it’s better; people have salaries these days. (REFERENCE: Also they) My parents didn’t have shoes growing up, and my grandfather had shoes made from pig skin. mp3

What was the situation in Crkvena Vodica during the war?

DE: People fled; their homes burned and their things were stolen. Only one Roma family stayed; they thought they could live with the Serbs and Albanians. mp3

Before the bombing started, I thought everyone was kidding.

How did you feel after it began?

DE: When the first bomb fell, we said, ‘look. A mushroom fell!’ Our windows broke. During the bombings, we stayed out in the open; we feared that our homes would collapse on our heads. We had no sleep those nights.

Djezida & Grandson

How was the relationship between Roma and Albanians before the campaign?

DE: An Albanian family lived behind our home, and we would speak to them all the time. They knew some Romanes, and we spoke Albanian as well.

How old were you when you were married?

DE: I was 19 years old.

Did your father marry you, or did you have a hand in the decision? What was the custom your husband followed when they came for you?  

DE: Before we had Roma fairs, and there we would meet many families.* If someone comes to ask for your hand, they must pay around 500 Euro now. When my husband’s family came for me, they brought me clothes and rings.

(* These fairs are leftovers from the time when southeastern Europe ’s Roma were still nomadic. Once a year Roma would meet at pre-determined areas to sell products, trade horses, and arrange marriages. This tradition still exists in Romania .)

They will come with a bottle of brandy as a gift. Then we’ll have a feast; his family must bring half the food, and mine brings the other half. We’ll cook meat and cakes, and prepare Burek.*

(*Burek: a traditional Balkan pastry filled with salted sheep’s cheese)

They’ll pay the dowry, both families will drink the brandy, and soon I’ll put the ring on.  

On Vasilica:  

DE: We stay awake for the whole night. We have to put out water for the goose to drink, before we kill it in the morning. We bake bread during the day, and in the evening we prepare the Sarma; it must be finished by the morning. We dress up before our guests arrive, and we sell them the Sarma. All the food will be piled on the table, and different types of bread. We’ll place the Sarma on the plates and state the price: 15 Lire.

On Djurdjevdan:

DE: We wake early to bathe with Kukureg and Dren; we must collect the water from three rivers. Then we slaughter the lamb. mp3 We invite all our friends, to eat, and we’ll have many visitors that day.

The Emini home- Prilužje Mahala

Djezida Emini relates a story told to her by her mother, when she was a girl:

Hear the entire story in the Romanes language.

DE: Once there lived a rich man who sired one beautiful daughter.  

One day he asked his wife: ‘What should I do; should I eat this lovely apple, or I should give it to someone else to enjoy?’

His wife answered, ‘If you like the apple, you should give it to another.’

The man sought the opinions of his elders. He visited a monk and put the same question to him; ‘Should I eat this lovely apple, or should I give it to another? The monk told him he should eat the apple, if it will make him happy.

The man walked home. On the way there, he asked other elders. They told him something different; they told him that, for his daughter’s wedding, he should stage the most beautiful wedding that anyone could imagine; and he should marry his own daughter. The man told his wife what the elders had told him.

His wife grew distressed; she couldn’t sleep that night. She asked herself, over and over- ‘how can this be?’

The man tried to reassure her; ‘this is what the elders have said.’

A week passed; the wedding preparations were well underway.

The man’s wife hatched a plan. She called all the servants of the house together and told them to go and find a tailor, to stitch leather clothes for her daughter. She ordered her daughter not to bathe. For the leather outfit, she paid the tailor many Liras. The wife built a huge bonfire and cast a sheep into it while it raged. She dressed her daughter in the leather and told her,

‘Flee from here, because the wedding your father plans is for you and him.’

The daughter understood; she ran into the night.

The smell from the fire was terrible. The man asked his wife, ‘What is that stench?’ as he approached the fire. His wife told him that their daughter found out who she was to marry and, despairing, she cast herself into the fire; there she burned.

Their daughter fled far from the house. Late that night, she saw three men and a pack of dogs. She became frightened; she hid herself. One of the men had seen her from the distance; he approached her.

‘Who goes there?’ he yelled.

‘I’m scared of your dogs,’ she called to him. ‘My name is Leskeca.’ She emerged from hiding, and the man brought her to his home.

‘Why do you bring this dirty girl to us?’ The man’s family asked.

‘Please, just feed me some bread, and I will sleep in the corner,’ Leskeca replied.

The family then welcomed her. Soon they heard that a beautiful wedding would be held nearby, and they made preparations to attend. Their youngest son left first, on horseback. When the rest of the family departed to the wedding, Leskeca changed her clothes, cleaned herself, and walked to the wedding as well.

Leskeca was blindingly beautiful. The young man on horseback was dumbstruck.

‘Who is this girl? Where is she from?’ the young man asked. He had never laid eyes on her before. The young man tried to follow her, but she disappeared before he could do so.

Leskeca raced back to the house. She put her leather outfit on, dirtied herself again, and when the family returned they saw the same old dirty guest.

The family returned home; Leskeca begged them for something to drink, and they scolded her.

‘Why are you mad?’ Leskeca asked.

‘Our son saw the most beautiful girl,’ they answered. ‘But she vanished.’

Soon another wedding was announced, and the family prepared to attend. Leskeca cleaned herself and changed after their departure, and followed them to the wedding. The young man saw her and, smitten, followed her on his horse. She handed out sweets, and when the boy approached, she gave him kokrlija. As he looked at it, she disappeared again.

The young man grew sad. He vowed that, somehow, he would find this beautiful girl that eluded him.

That evening his mother baked him bread. When she left the kitchen, Leskeca snuck into the kitchen. In the bread she hid her ring, and a note:

Your luck is at home, it read.

The next morning, the young man left with the bread. He walked until he ran into a miller, with whom he fell into conversation. The young man was hungry, and he began to eat as they talked. And when he found the ring and read the note, he suddenly raced home.

He showed his mother the note. His mother turned to Leskeca, thought for a moment, and ordered her to change from her leather and clean herself. She did; she blinded them with her beauty.

Hear the entire story in the Romanes language.

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Isak Avdo

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview (1)

Watch a Video excerpt of the interview (2)

"Five hundred years ago, many people lived here, and the Roma always worked for them. That’s why Roma know so many languages. I speak Albanian perfectly, because I worked with them for so long. This is also why I speak Serbian, and Turkish."

"They can call themselves whatever they want: but when Albanians call them, they don’t say 'Hey, Ashkalija,' or 'Hey, Egyptian, come here.' They say 'Hey, Gypsy, come here.'"  

Prizren

IA: I’m 66 years old, and from Prizren; I was born here. My grandfather and my father were born here as well. I am Arlija Rom, from the Terzi Mahala. Our Mahala bears this name because one Terzi- an Albanian holy man- built a mosque here once, and our Mahala bears his name.  

How many Roma Mahalas are in Prizren?

IA: There’s our Terzi Mahala, Jeki Mahala, Dušanova Mahala, and Durmish Aslanu Mahala. Durmish Aslanu has both Roma and Ashkalija, and Terzi has both Roma and Albanians.

What kind of Roma are you?

IA: I am Roma, and Muslim. We are not Gurbeti* here.

(*Gurbeti/ Gurbets- Gnjilane/ Gjilan Roma)

Did you go to school?  

IA: What can I say? I finished four years of primary school, but my wife actually finished primary school.

Have many children do you have?

Isak, Circa 1950s

IA: I have five daughters and one son; they are all married. My son lives in Denmark , two daughters are in Germany , and another daughter is in Belgrade . Here we’re just two- my wife and I.  

Why have so many older Roma not finished school?

IA: We didn’t attend school because we were too poor. Our whole family were blacksmiths; they forged many things. For us, it was not possible to attend school, and many did not go because they were scared of Albanians.

Isak's Wife, circa 1980s

What were your parent’s names?

IA: My mother’s name was Hido Isaka, and my father’s name was Ismirko.

Do you know about their lives?

IA: My mother was a musician. She played the Defi*. And my father was a blacksmith. He was a blacksmith for a long time, but he stopped and went to work in Belgrade * and Novi Pazar* for the Serbs. mp3

(* Defi (Greek) is a small hand drum.)  

(* Belgrade lies 289 kilometers north of Prizren.)

(*Novi Pazar lies 104 kilometers north of Prizren. NP is a textile town with a predominantly Slavic Muslim population.)

Did your parents attend school?

IA: No, they didn’t finish school. They went to the other kind of school*.  

(*IA refers to Islamic schools, or Medressas*, where students memorized the Koran and learned to write Arabic.)

What were the names of your grandparents?*

IA: My grandfather’s name was Semsedin; my grandmother’s name was Melja.  

(* When asked this question, every Roma interviewee named only two grandparents; always the parents of the father.)  

On Djurdjevdan:

A: We stay awake the whole night, and we place willows on the doors of our homes. And then, two weeks after Djurdjevdan, we have Hedenebiri*: this Mahala calls this celebration Hedenebiri, but in other Mahalas they call it Shinkol-hedenebiri*.

What is Hedenebiri?

IA: This is our flag; it is 600 years old. We celebrate for the whole night. We kill lambs, and after, we parade through the Mahala. mp3 We also celebrate Bajram and Ramazan*.

(*Ramazan- Turkish/ Romanes for Ramadan)

The Roma National Flag
Isak and his Friend, Ilijas Culjangji

What do you do on those days?

IA: (On Bajram) Our women prepare baklava. On the first day of Bajram, no one visits another; this day is reserved for the families to celebrate, on their own. On the second day, however, we will go to visit all of our neighbors. The Mahala children will kiss our hands and ask for money.

On Ramazan we will rise at 2 or 3 AM to feast- sifire (Sehri). Then we fast for the day. When the night comes, we eat again- Iftari. Then we go to the mosque. Here we are Albanian-Roma; we have the same traditions as Albanians.

Where were your grandparents from?

IA: They came from here.

How was it growing up here? Are there many differences between then and now?  

IA: We were poor before. When Tito was alive, everything was much better. Our children found work, and we lived better lives. mp3

IA: Roma had work then. They got credit. They had better salaries. And at the end of the month, we could afford to buy sugar and oil. mp3

How old were you when you were married?

IA: I have been married now for 40 years; I was 22 years old when I got married.

On Weddings:

IA: Families spoke. If the groom’s family is good, then the groom will be good. But if that boy’s not a good person- if he drinks alcohol- then nothing will happen at all. At the wedding, all of the women will dance, and the music will be great.

Prizren's Ottoman Mosque

Do you know any Ashkalija or Egyptians in Prizren?

IA: No. Before, I had never heard of Ashkalija or Egyptians. They didn’t exist; but they (Roma) lived in Albanian areas, and they were afraid to speak Romanes; if anyone asked if they were Roma they’d say ‘No- we’re Ashkalija.’ mp3

This is terrible for the Roma people- because everyone has to be who they are. If I am Roma, then I am Roma, and I cannot be anything more. mp3

They (Ashkalija) are the same people as us, but they don’t want to be us. They can call themselves whatever they want: but when Albanians call them, they don’t say ‘Hey, Ashkalija,’ or ‘Hey, Egyptian, come here.’ They say ‘Hey, Madjup,* come here.’ mp3

(*Madjup is the Romanes spelling for Maxhup- an Albanian pejorative term for Roma.)  

IA tells a Roma fable he heard when he was a boy:

Hear the entire story in the Romanes language.

IA: I know a few stories, stories I heard from the older Roma; in their time, there was no electricity, so they told many stories.

Once there were three sisters; they were without parents and very poor. The three built themselves a small home to live in.

A rich man passed their home, and he noticed a star over the door. He immediately asked if any of the three sisters would have him as their husband.

One sister asked: ‘What would you offer us, were one of us to marry you?’

‘Gold and money and a beautiful home,’ he said, and the three declined his offer.  

The next day, another man saw the star, approached the home, and asked the same question. Another sister asked, ‘What would you offer us, were one of us to marry you?’  

‘I have many riches, and I will share them with you,’ he said.

‘We’re not interested in your riches,’ the sisters said.

One sister said, ‘If you were to marry me, we would have two children. A boy and a girl.’

‘And I would marry you for that,’ the man said, ‘For without children, one has nothing.’

So the man and the sister were married, and soon they had a son and a daughter. Both of the children were very beautiful, and stars graced their foreheads.

The other two sisters became extremely jealous. They kidnapped their sister’s son and daughter; they nailed them into a coffin and threw them into a river.

A fisherman downstream spied the box, dragged and wrestled it from the water, and pried it open. Before him, scared, sat two beautiful children with stars on their heads. The fisherman brought the children home to his wife, who became very, very happy, for the couple was childless.

‘These children are now ours,’ she cried.

‘And at last I am a mother.’

The woman was very old, and she could produce no milk to feed her new children. But the couple had a female horse that produced milk, and the children fed from the horse. The mother horse gave them life.

The children grew up; they both wished to leave the fisherman’s village, because it was too small, and there were few people. They moved to their cousin’s home.

The mother horse brought them to an old house, and before she left, the horse told the children to not open the door for anyone. The horse told them of their aunts, and how they had nailed them into their coffin and thrown them to the water. And how, of the children, the aunts hated the boy most of all, and would return to deal with him.

Soon the aunt came to the door of the children’s home.

‘Open the door,’ the aunt cried, ‘I only wish to see you.’

And the girl did,

‘Look at your hair,’ the aunt said. ‘It’s not combed well. When will your brother arrive at home? When he does arrive here, you must tell him to travel to the nearest large mountain, and there he will find an old woman who will give him a special comb for you.’

The aunt knew of this old woman; she was a sorceress, and anyone who approached her would be turned into stone. The girl knew nothing of this, and she told her brother of his new task.

The boy set out to the mountain, and when he finally arrived he found the old sorceress and asked her for the comb. She attempted to turn him to stone, but could not; the star that graced his forehead protected him. The boy returned with the comb.

Soon the aunt returned to the children’s home.

‘Let me enter,’ the aunt asked the girl through the gated door. ‘I only wish to gaze upon you.’

Inside the house, the aunt uttered another command. ‘You must tell your brother that he is to return to the old woman on the mountain. She has something else for him.’

And the sister commanded this to her brother, who again set out to the mountain on his horse. The sorceress tried to turn him to stone again, but the star upon his forehead protected him still.

‘What do you want from me?’ the Sorceress asked. ‘What do you seek here?’

‘I seek nothing,’ the brother said. ‘What do you want from me? You must come with me,’ the brother commanded, and the sorceress followed him to his home. She fashioned herself a home next to his. And the sorceress stitched the brother new clothes. She placed them on him and revealed that she knew who his real father was, and more, she knew the tea house where he bided his time.

‘Go there,’ the Sorceress said. ‘Sit near him, and wait for only ten minutes. After that, take your leave.’

The boy went to the teahouse, and sat near his father; the father watched him, but did not recognize his own son; too much time had passed, and the boy had concealed the star upon his forehead.

The boy returned home. ‘Tell me,’ the Sorceress asked. Did one speak to you in the tea house?’

‘Yes,’ the boy said. ‘My father spoke to me.’

‘He asked me where I was from.’

‘Return to the teahouse tomorrow,’ the Sorceress said. ‘And stay twice as long. If your father speaks to you, tell him where you live and invite him for dinner.

The boy did as she said, and the father, not knowing who the boy was, came to dinner. It was a large, well prepared feast, and at the end of it the sorceress slipped a silver spoon in the guest’s pocket.

Soon she made a fuss; she realized that the spoon was missing. And eventually the guest realized that the spoon was in his pocket, and he revealed it to those who had invited him to eat.

‘I’m no thief,’ the man said, ‘and I shall prove this to you.’

The man then led them to a place in the fields where the horses slept. And there they found the grave of a woman.

‘Speak to her,’ the man said.

‘Why?’ the brother and sister asked.

‘This woman promised me that she would bear me a son and a daughter. Her sister changed my children into animals; one dog, and one cat. Raise this woman from the ground; she is not guilty of her sister’s acts.’

‘Let us call her sisters, and they shall tell us what happened,’ the man said.

‘These are your children,’ the sorceress said. ‘All that this woman in the ground promised you became true. And I am your sister-in-law.’

That’s the story. We are here and they are there.

Hear the entire story in the Romanes language.

Do you remember World War II?

IA: I was around 5 years old; I was born in 1937. There was no bombing, but we ran away, and we hid in the grape fields. The older people hid their children; they thought, ‘if we are killed, our children shall live.’ mp3

My father also told me that when the first Serbians came down here, around 1937, he worked with them, and that during the war he saved some of them.

Five hundred years ago, many people lived here, and the Roma always worked for them. That’s why Roma know so many languages. I speak Albanian perfectly, because I worked with them for so long. This is also why I speak Serbian, and Turkish.

Where did your father tell you the Roma were from?

IA: Where did the Roma come from? India . Many people speak about these origins.

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Ilijas Čuljandji

Watch a Video excerpt of this interview.

 

A note on Ilijas’s surname, Čuljandji: this word, in Turkish, means of peasant origin, and is a pejorative term, likely assigned by a Turkish official. Please refer to Orhan Galjus’s Roma of Kosovo: the Forgotten Victims. Published in the Patrin Web Journal

"Before we couldn’t attend school, because no one respected us; they didn’t care if we knew anything at all."

Prizren

IC: My name is Čuljandji- Ilijas. I’m 68 years old. I was born in Prizren. All my family is from here- my grandfather, everyone. We are all from the same street- Fatatarde.  

Fatatarde means blacksmith street. In this Mahala, in the front of every home there was a shop, and all worked as blacksmiths. mp3

My father died when I was a child- in 1942. But I finished school.

The Young Ilijas, Circa 1960s

I finished school as a teacher of Privreda*. But it was very difficult, because I had to travel to Mitrovica* to sit for my exams. I had no money to get there, so I kept working as a blacksmith. I made knives. I’m one of the more active Roma; I started my first job in 1969.

(*Privreda- Serbian- Agriculture.)  

(*Mitrovica lies 77 Kilometers north of Prizren- a three hour bus ride.)  

When we bought our flag,* my daughter’s husband was here. His name was Nisret Sehiri, and there was another one; his name was Slobodan Veberski. They were in England in 1969; there, they could say whatever they wanted.  

(* IC refers here to the Hedenebiri- the Roma national flag.)  

The Roma National Flag

I had a friend, and we both worked together. We still work. When I began work as a blacksmith, I liked working with the Albanians, because I learned a lot from them. They were interested in us. 

After Djurdjevdan, the most important thing for Roma is the day of the flag. We have the flag of our religion*, which is 640 years old, and we have a newer flag* for us (for Roma), which is only 64 years old. I’m sorry to say it, but I don’t know much about the new flag.  

(* This holiday- flag day, or Hedenebiri - seems exclusive to the Roma of Prizren, though other Roma throughout Kosovo openly display the younger flag IC refers to in their weddings, festivals and parties. Other Roma in Kosovo do not recognize or celebrate a holiday for this flag.)

(* The older (640 years) flag IC refers to is a simple green flag with Koranic calligraphy; this flag was introduced by the Ottomans and was absorbed by Prizren’s Roma.)  

Ilijas with Portrait
Ilijas's Grandfather- an Islamic Dervish, Circa 1890s.

Ilijas and his grandfather, a Roma dervish

I have four sons and two daughters; I have 14 grandchildren. Before we couldn’t attend school, because no one respected us; they didn’t care if we knew anything at all.  

On Roma Origins:

IC: As far as I know, the Roma came from India . Roma were Indians, but they had troubles; they had to escape. They moved around, from place to place, and when some Roma wished to return to India , the Indians would not have them.  

There are Roma all around the world: in Iran , Afghanistan , Russia , Egypt and other places. There are Roma in Turkey … and we all have the same traditions.

I’ve heard some say that we are from Egypt . One day on television I saw Ibrahim Tatlas.* He asked a Roma- Where are the Roma from? And the Roma said: we are from India . But when we worked in the fields of cotton, people would tell us that we were Egyptians. mp3

(*Ibrahim Tatlas is one of the most popular musicians in Turkey .)

We know exactly where our language is from. And we are still searching, trying to discover more about our language. We have many words that the Albanians took*.

(*This is an unsubstantiated claim. While Kosovar Roma have many words borrowed from the Serbian and Albanian languages, there are very few Roma words, if any, that were borrowed by Serbian and Albanian. The words IC refers to may be originally Turkish; Romanes, Albanian and Serbian are rich with Turkish loan-words from the 500-year Turkish occupation of southeastern Europe .)

I am Muslim; we celebrate two Bajrams, Ramazan* and nothing more.

(*Ramazan- Turkish/ Romanes for Ramadan)

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