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Islami Sisters placed on administrative leave...


By Mërgim Korça

Islami Sisters placed on administrative leave after

30 years working at the Voice Of America

The two legendary journalist sisters, Isabela (Islami) Çoçoli and her sister Zamira (Islami) Edwards, have been placed on Administrative Leave at the Voice of America. This announcement rightly spurred the Albanian press to very actively cover the topic for days. They worked there since 1985 and were singled out as outstanding employees during the VOA presentation by director Mr. David Ensor on December 18th, 2013. It is not my intention to write in length about the escape from communist Albania by these two heroines and their late brother Klement, who was drawn along Corfu Canal as they swam 12 kilometers from Saranda to Corfu Island. The canal is known for the large numbers of sharks frequently passing through it. Therefore I wanted to first, briefly emphasize what links my family with the Islami family, from which the two heroines of this story descend.

After I expose the facts I know about the events that happened 30 years ago, it is important for the reader to evaluate the recent decision of the VOA to place the Islami sisters on administrative leave. This presentation of facts is also my family’s moral obligation to the uncle of these two heroines, the late Shazivar Islami, who died in a communist prison.


On their mother’s side, the communist regime executed their grandfather, Maksut Selenica, and his brother. The late honorable Nadire (Selenica) Islami, their mother was imprisoned at a young age for her anti-communist beliefs. When she was released from prison, after 10-years of suffering, she married late Mr. Hajdar Islami, who had graduated from the Academy of Physical Education, “Farnesina,” in Rome. The two sisters and their late brother Klement were the fruit of this marriage. On their father’s side, their grandfather had studied theology as an ordained Imam. His name, Dervish, had nothing to do with the official name of the Bektashi sect. Late Dervish Islami carried the duties of the Vice Chair of the Albanian Muslim Community.

Their uncle, Shazivar, had studied in Florence and was appointed Chief of Staff to the Minister of Education, just when the late professor Xhevat Korça was the head of the ministry. After the arrest, Xhevat Korça was tried on the Special Trial of April 1945 in which prosecutor Bedri Spahiu with a great triumphant tone, thinking he nailed the defendant to the wall, charged the former Minister of Education with the embezzlement of the F.A.P.I. funds, finances made available that year to all institutions. However the prosecutor made the false accusation without knowing that Shazivar Islami had released the original document in which the Minister ordered the fund to be distributed in the form of a monthly pay as a supplementary bonus for all teachers in Albania and Kosova! Faced with the unpredicted situation, the prosecutor addressed the jury, with the pretense: “the defendant gave out supplementary wages to the teachers to make them pro-fascists!” Then the former minister addressed the court, headed by Koçi Xoxe, saying, “If an Albanian teacher trades his patriotic ideals for a wage, then I’ll admit, my intention was so!”

To the account of the Islami sisters’ lineage, the heroines we are focused on, I will briefly add two of my memories that have remained with me of honorable Hajdar Islami. On one occasion Hajdar told me about his last meeting with his brother. Shazivar had fallen ill while he was in prison, and was sent to the prison hospital. A few days later and with much difficulty, Hajdar was permitted to see his brother. After he asked one prison guard, then another, where his brother was, none of them directed him to the room. He walked by a bed entirely covered with a sheet, which looked like someone was concealed beneath it. Hajdar, involuntarily, pulled up the sheet, and what did he see? His brother Shazivar…lifeless. Hajdar held strong. Reason conquered his feelings by preventing him from giving the guards the pleasure of seeing him broken. He kissed his brother’s forehead and pulled the sheet over him. Then he left the prison hospital. This event details his character and explains his display of unshakable confidence when he parted from his three children on the day the three got in the back of a pick-up truck which took them away from Çerma internment camp forever. He bid farewell to them without shedding a tear.

The second event was when one day Hajdar and I came upon each other in front of the Post Office in Lushnja city. As we embraced he said to me: “We both know the bond between us, but don’t risk meeting with me because you will have to pay for it dearly!” That was the last time I saw Hajdar Islami! Like on that occasion, having been in a similar situation which left deep traces in my memory, I can’t help but praise the gracious approach towards me of my high school and military service (labour unit) friend, Kastriot Bajraktari, who was interned in Lushnja, the son of Mul Delí Bajraktari (offspring of the legendary family of Çun Mula of Hoti), academic officer and fearless defender of the Albanian borders, as well as a well-known thinker and orator. Thus as a common rule, parents are the cornerstones of lineage and as a conclusion, I’ll parallel the demeanor of Hajdar and Kastriot with the proverb - the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Consequently, the Islami sisters with their courage and the personality they established whilst in internal exile or in their work at VOA Albanian Service, are inspiring examples that the apple indeed does not fall far from the tree!


Thousands of pages have been written on factual testimonies about that tyrannical period. If summing up those pages in a few lines, no one can challenge the fact that we lived in a country surrounded by electric current barbed wire as well as a land planted with mines in the zone before the barbed wire was reached. Those who oppose are free to openly do so, but…they cannot even deceive themselves, for today they are free to travel in any of the EU member countries without a visa, and they can travel to other countries by obtaining visas from their respective diplomatic missions without the intervention of the Albanian government. Furthermore the fact cannot be negated that within this huge concentration camp called Communist Albania, the prosperity of the system hyped for half a century by the communist dictatorship propaganda machine, was enjoyed by the people on ration stamps and bread queues.

The persecuted people and their families were the first who experienced the violence and cruelty, and then they were followed by a great number of families of former communist leaders whom the dictator targeted. Oh, how the communists felt when the state security vehicle stopped in front of their house, for not only were they 100% sure they had not acted against the government, but they also had never dreamt of speaking out thoughts on the poor quality of the bread (which if expressed…were reason enough to be officially sentenced to ten years of loss of freedom), and surely they did not dare to judge how the government was run. So the country lived with unfounded and seemingly sustainable fear on one end, and extreme poverty on the other. The dictator himself called it the dictatorship of the proletariat while disguising it as the most democratic country in the world. What a paradox that in such a democratic country, the Islami family was interned to Çerma concentration camp in Lushnja only because Klement (at that time only 17 years old) was brought to an interrogation office on the account he had alluded against the government and later was locked in the Elbasan Psychiatric Hospital, where he underwent depersonalization through drugs administered by the doctors. This treatment towards the Islami family under the devilish class struggle was the main motivation that drove Klement, when he rejoined his family in the internment camp, to persuade his sisters to flee the country by endangering their lives and leaving their parents behind.

Let us continue and broaden the focus of our objective, while shedding light on some new facts. Mr. Arben Xhixho worked at the foreign section of Radio Tirana Service in Communist Albania from 1986 to 1992. Whoever has lived through the communist dictatorship period in Albania thoroughly understands that without being a person with certain political assurances one could not hold a position in the field of communist propaganda! However in the coming years, after the crumbling of the communist dictatorship, the stratagem for carefully choosing and appointing former communists at the head of every department required the manipulation of the public opinion. Mr. Arben Xhixho was one of them. He paved his way to US and got hired by the VOA Albanian Service in the distant year of 1992, initially as journalist, and then as the Chief of Service.

At his heels was Mr. Ilir Ikonomi, who also came to US and was hired by VOA Albanian Service in 1992. He, too, had worked in the section of Chinese propaganda at Radio Tirana Service of Communist Albania.

The infiltration of the scions of communist families into the VOA Albanian Service will not end here. At the end of 1998 the Voice of America hired the high-ranking communist leader Drago Siliqi’s daughter, Laura Konda, an ex-employee of the Voice of the Albanian Communist Youth having worked there from 1984 to 1991. In brief all these appointments can no longer be seen as accidental without further wide-ranging deliberation. There is one particular moment I want to emphasize which will allow us to generalize all that has been written up till now. The fact that Mr. Arben Xhixho started working for the VOA as a journalist was known to me since 1993 or 1994, for I have known well his father, Jani, a staunch communist with deep communist convictions. He was the secretary of the communist party of the Agriculture Mechanization Station in Tirana and directed the communist educational meetings at which he never missed out on a chance to quote Enver Hoxha, mostly citing his book, “When Laying the Foundations” in which Hoxha denounced “the class enemy.” Furthermore he was so dogmatic that one time a communist Xhavit Çalliku caused an incident by saying, “enough with this, or you will make me leave the meeting.” However it never had crossed my mind to raise my voice against employment of a son of a communist in one of the services at the VOA. Logically the question arises, why? Well, as long as I considered entirely wrong both “the class struggle” and its devilish and condemned tool, “the class enemy,” which was so intensely ill-used by the communist dictatorship in Albania, then I should by no means let myself look from the same angle the collaboration of Mr. Arben Xhixho with the VOA. And now, the following question comes up: why did I decide to speak up and expose his actions today? It is because they are identical to the directives given out by Ramiz Alia when he predicted the communists would morph into capitalists. To this day I believe Mr. Arben Xhixho conformed his stance at every opportunity to condemn the communist dictatorship to its core, just as Ramiz Alia directed when the communist dictatorship crumbled. It is clear to the eye, he did it only to be trusted by his VOA superiors. Today, as the chief of the Albanian service of VOA, he turns back to “the class struggle” and plays it out on the two sisters, who were extremely persecuted by the communist dictatorship, by placing them on administrative leave after their thirty years of work at the VOA Albanian service. So it is his deceitful approach that makes me fill with disgust, for I see their placement on administrative leave as an extension of “the class struggle,” a creed that nurtured Mr. Arben Xhixho from his very young age.


It is not effective to discuss supposed directives given by the last Albanian communist dictator Ramiz Alia to appoint communists or their scions at the head of every political pluralistic institution in Albania’s democratic foundations, but it is essential to analyze the aftermath of the events, from the time when the communist dictatorial system crumbled. The placement on administrative leave of the two heroines is a flagrant act of “the class struggle” mentality, which occurred not in Albania but in the US, at the Albanian Service of the Voice of America. Inevitably, supported by the course of factual events, it is crucial to make inferences and draw conclusions.

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