Authors: Laura Aslan
Tags: #Yugoslavia War, #Women in Conflict, #KLA, #Kosovo War, #Serbia, #Croatia, #Albania, #Rape camps, #Former Yugoslavia, #Laura Aslan, #Torture, #abuse of women in conflict, #Angelina Jolie, #William Hague
THE DEVIL COULDN'T BREAK ME
A True Story
The Devil Couldn't Break Me
Published in 2015 by Andrews UK Limited
The right of Laura Aslan to be identified as author of this book has been asserted in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Copyright Â© 2015 Laura Aslan
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published, and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
I dedicate this book to my two heroes, UN troops from America, Brian and Peter who gave me hope and shelter during the worst period of my life. Ultimately they restored my faith in mankind.
I cannot possibly thank my parents enough for everything they have done for me, and in particularly for how they acted during the worst European conflict since World War II. The decisions they took and their actions were made with the sole consideration of their only child and without any thoughts for their own safety. They are indeed my two real life super heroes.
In addition I would like to thank all of the special people who supported me in every way, during and after the conflict but for obvious reasons I cannot mention any names. You know who you are.
And finally to my
, Scotty. Our journey has been an incredible one and hopefully our readers will agree that we have turned out something to be proud of.
For the purpose of security and the safety of people still living in the former Yugoslavia the names of all persons have been changed. Only the names of the two American UN Peacekeepers remain the same. They are both happy to corroborate Laura's story.
Laura was just eighteen years old when she was forced to flee her family home in Veliki Trnovac, in Serbia, twenty kilometres from the border with Kosovo at the height of the former Yugoslavia conflict. Laura's family were Albanian speaking Muslims from a small village in the mountains and it seemed the Serb Army were determined to wipe such people from the face of the earth. The young Muslim girls and women feared a fate far worse than death, as it was common knowledge that Serb soldiers were ethnically cleansing the people through systematic rape of their women. Some were even taken to rape camps where their pregnancies were overseen and monitored and babies delivered by trained doctors and midwives. The children were baptised as Christian Serbs justifying the actions of the soldiers some nine months prior.
Laura's father thought she would be safe in Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, after NATO troops had orchestrated a ceasefire of sorts and declared the city a UN safe area. Over the course of several months they had driven the Serb Army back to the borders. What Laura and her father didn't realise as she made her way over the mountains to the city, was that Kosovo, and in particular Pristina was, according to Louise Arbour, the leading war crime prosecutor - “One vast crime scene.”
Laura was kidnapped by Azem Kupi, a self-professed Kosovo Liberation Army freedom fighter, a commander known as âThe Chief.' In reality he was nothing more than a gangster, more interested in lining his own pockets than any so called
he paraded behind. Kupi's gang accused her of being ironically, a Serb spy, the very people she had tried to escape from. Taken in broad daylight from the busy streets of Pristina she was delivered to Kupi and systematically abused, physically, mentally and sexually for many hours. When Kupi realized the answers to his questions were always the same he seemingly tired of her and ordered his guards to “Rape the Serb bitch” while he looked on with amusement.
During the attempted rape one of the guards called Laura a
to which she screamed - “I'm nobody's whore, I'm a virgin.” Almost immediately Kupi ordered the attack to stop realizing that he had in fact stumbled upon a rather precious cargo. Driven back to an apartment block in Pristina, Kupi would disclose in due course that Laura would be sold to an Arab Sheik for up to one hundred thousand US Dollars. It seemed that a beautiful eighteen year old virgin was a commodity well worth paying a premium for.
Laura found herself confined within the gates of hell, kept prisoner for some weeks and forced to watch Kupi's sex games with his girlfriend while his guards brought back countless girls who were brutally raped in front of her.
Eventually the deal with the Sheik was finalised and Kupi and his gang drove Laura to the border with Albania. During the journey Kupi disclosed that the Sheik only wanted Laura for a matter of weeks and then she would be returned. Kupi said that she would then be killed and her heart and liver would be removed and sold on to a foreign buyer. This, it seemed, was Kupi's main income during the conflict bringing him up to $40,000 per organ making him a very rich and powerful man.
Fortunately for Laura, a NATO roadblock at the Albania border prevented the transaction and they were forced to return to Pristina. Incredibly, Laura managed to escape and made it back to the safety of the American troops in the city and once there insisted she should be repatriated back to Veliki Trnovac. The UN troops escorted her to the bus station in Pristina where she climbed aboard an armed and guarded bus to Veliki Trnovac and once there walked the short distance to her parents' home believing her nightmare to be over.
Within minutes of arriving home, a car load of Serb soldiers drove into the garden and she was kidnapped for the second time, accused of being a Kosovan spy and interrogated all over again. The abuse and torture (including being branded with a cattle iron) was unimaginable and she lapsed in and out of consciousness several times. After her interrogation she was transferred to a small cell where she could not fully stand and described it as something resembling the movie Midnight Express. She would be kept in that hellhole for six months. Her father eventually found out where she was being held and persuaded her captors to let her out for one night explaining her mother was gravely ill and not expected to last the night.
After agreeing a $40,000 bail payment Laura was released but her father had no intention of returning her to her tormentors and instead had arranged to smuggle her through to England. Eventually she made it to London as an asylum seeker and eventually gained British Citizenship.
Laura is one of the few people alive who managed to escape Azem Kupi's clutches. Every other captive she has come across or found out information about is dead, hunted down and eliminated by Kupi's henchmen so that they could not give incriminating evidence against him.
Veliki Trnovac 1998
I found my parents in the basement of our house. I was so relieved. I was convinced they were dead.
“What is it?” I said. “Why are you living down here?”
I never got a reply to my question nor did I receive the sort of welcome I expected. Where was the âBig Greek Wedding' kind of love and almost over the top drama and outpourings of affection that I had been used to? I had been held captive for many months, I had not been able to get any form of communication to them and here I was safe and sound and back home but there were no hugs and no tears of joy from my parents, no kisses or smiles. Instead my father ranted at me about how stupid I was to come back and my mother begged me to run for the hills.
“Go Laura,” my father said. “Run as fast as you can, go back to where you came from, go anywhere but get out of here.”
My father continued. He said the soldiers had come looking for me many times and he'd told them I'd gone. They didn't believe him and had beaten and tortured him and abused my mother. They had returned again and again and he said he was lucky he had not been thrown in prison or worse.
“They'll be back,” my mother whimpered through the tears.
Her words were instantly prophetic because as soon as she had uttered them I heard the rumble of a truck from the garden of our home and just a few seconds later the vibration from the heavy vehicle reverberated around the basement area. I heard their heavy boots on the kitchen floor above us as we sat huddled together frozen in terror. I put two and two together - someone had been watching the house. The soldiers knew the house well and they found me within minutes as they kicked and punched me up the stone steps that led upstairs. My father was trying to fight with them, begging them to leave me but he was no match for their youth and aggression as they hit him with their rifle butts. My last overriding memory was of my poor parents lying in a heap in the garden, holding onto each other with tears running down their dirty, bloodied faces. I remember being frightened and feared because of what had just happened I might never see them again. I consoled myself with a small grain of comfort that at least they hadn't been shot in front of me but I blamed myself because although my name meant âthe gift' I now knew I was not a blessing after all but surely a curse because to have this happen to you not once, but twice in your lifetime was surely the only explanation.
The soldiers took me to a warehouse and I was led to a sparsely furnished room and made to sit on a chair. A big brute of a man walked into the room. He smiled at me and for a second I thought he might listen to me, perhaps a few questions and he'd allow me to return to my parents. He walked towards me, leaned over and grinned. He then took a step back and punched me full force in the face. It felt as if I had been hit by a train as the chair catapulted backwards and I sprawled onto the hard floor.
“You are a fucking spy you bitch. We've been watching you and we know all about you. You've been to Kosovo. You've been spotted.”
I dragged myself back into the chair and straining through the blood and tears made eye contact with him, mistakenly believing that if he looked into my eyes he would see the truth.
I could feel blood in my mouth and loose teeth as I begged him to listen to me.
“I'm not a spy, I was kidnapped by a Kosovan gang. I have lived in Serbia all my life. I am eighteen years old. How could I possibly be a spy?”
Between the tears I attempted to tell him the story from start to finish. I told him the truth as my father had always taught me and sincerely believed that the soldier would see that I was not lying. My thoughts drifted back to my childhood. My mother had often said that the way of truth and love always wins through and my father knew instantly when I lied and when I told the truth. He was never wrong. It's a gift all men have surely?
Not this time it seemed. The soldier punched me again and again as I begged for mercy and he kicked me all around the room. The interrogation went on for some hours and then the door opened. I was pleased to see someone else enter the room but my joy was short lived. Two men approached me and began to tear at my clothing. They hauled my jacket off and then the second man produced some sort of metal contraption that he plugged into the wall and after just a few seconds it glowed red.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“The farmers use it to brand cattle,” he said. “But today we will use it to extract the truth from a spy bitch... a Kosovan whore.”
They were laughing at me as I begged them to believe me. The second soldier passed the branding iron to my interrogator while he lunged at me and threw me to the floor. I struggled for all I was worth but it was no good as he held his full bodyweight on top of me. He pulled at the belt buckle to my jeans as I tried to kick out at him. He pulled at each leg of the trousers with little effort and within a few seconds I lay on the dirty floor in just my knickers. Despite the iron contraption being more than a metre from me I could feel the intensity of the heat from it as he held it over me. I was struggling and fighting and felt two hands clamp hard on my right leg as the sensation of heat grew ever stronger and I began to tremble as my whole body began to perspire. My interrogator held the branding iron just millimetres from my calf and then pushed down hard as it came into contact with my skin. Despite the hurt and suffering I'd been through in Kosovo, nothing could have prepared me for the pain that seemed to go on and on forever. I remember screaming hard and then a misty vapour drifted up to my face. I recalled the smell of cooking meat just before I passed out.
When I regained consciousness I had been transferred to some sort of prison cell and I remember thinking that they knew I had been telling the truth but it didn't seem to matter. My cell was not so much a cell as a small broom cupboard. It was big enough to stand up but not big enough to lie down straight. There were no lights and the floor was concrete and deathly cold and I was aware of something scurrying around on the floor. And yet I was so tired, more tired than I had ever been in my life and I wanted to ignore everything around me and close my eyes. My previous period in captivity, the torture, interrogation and living constantly with the fear of death as well as the journey from Pristina had taken their toll and miraculously I fell asleep and sleep I did. I slept like a day old baby.
When I awoke I wanted to go to sleep again. I wanted to believe I was in my own personal nightmare and I convinced myself that when I opened my eyes again it would all be over and I'd realise I'd been dreaming. I closed my eyes and prayed for sleep to take over me but it was a hopeless cause. I opened my eyes and as they became accustomed to what little light there was, they filled up with tears as the horror of where I was and what had happened became apparent. Pain wracked my body, my bones and muscles ached and the pain on my calf kicked in too as it throbbed and stung as if a hundred wasps had attacked me and my whole being screamed for relief from the agony I was suffering. I felt at my swollen mouth and took a sharp intake of breath as I realised some of my teeth were missing.
But the worst bit of all was when I realised I had been taken prisoner for a second time. I was in a hellhole; there was no other way to describe it, a living nightmare that wasn't going to go away. And so the only thing I could do was pray. I prayed to my God with everything I had to lift me from my dungeon hell and get me out of there.
“Please God,” I whispered, “if you are testing my faith then surely I have passed. Please God get me out of here... please God take me back to my parents and let this be over.”
I was crying hard and the tears dripped onto the hard concrete floor.
“Please God answer my prayers, I don't want to spend one more night in this terrible place.”
Perhaps God didn't hear my prayers that day, because although I didn't know it at the time, that hellhole would be my home for six long months.