by Rafaela Prifti/
The 11th anniversary of Shoqata Rugova (Rugova Society) was celebrated by a large gathering of Albanian-Americans, a wide range of community organizations and agencies representing many regions and age groups sitting at the tables in the main hall at the Maestro Restaurant in the Bronx. Among the guests of honor there were dignitaries and high-ranking officials as Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija and Counselor Albana Bylykbashi of the Consulate General of the Republic of Kosovo in New York, the New York City Council Member, Mark Gjonaj, the newly elected member of the Westchester County Board of Legislatures, Vedat Gashi, members of the Pan-Albanian Federation Vatra, representatives of Kosova Lindore (East Kosovo Society), the prominent philanthropist Richard Lukaj and others. Opening the evening with the national anthems, the Master of Ceremony, invited everyone to stand up for an a cappella performance by Leyla Lukaj of the Star Spangled Banner, followed by Besim Muriqi’s tuneful rendition of Albania’s Hymn to the Flag, succeeded by an intonation of the Kosovo anthem. The President of Shoqata Rugova (Rugova Society) Feriz Muriqi expressed his thanks as he acknowledged the honored guests, congratulated all the members for the support and dedication in service of the society’s goals as well as recognized the donors’ contributions. He presented the Rugova Autochthonous Ensemble and the epic lead singer – pun intended – Hysen Kurti of Kosovo.
By way of reviewing, the President said that “Shoqata Rugova was founded in 2008 in New York. Its main mission is to preserve the Albanian language and Rugova tradition and to campaign for these values through events and cultural projects in the United States. Rugova and its inhabitants have been a part of the historic changes and the national development throughout decades.” While the New York based Shoqata Rugova (Rugova Society) continues to cherish the heritage and enrich the community ties while increasing the appreciation and respect for our cultural prosperity. In concluding, President Muriqi called upon ‘being united’ as the key to our strength that powers us to “make the impossible possible” and called for unifying around the community organizations even more.
The next speaker was the new Legislator of Westchester County, Vedat Gashi. He addressed the event briefly with heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped with the campaign and who endorsed him. “Even people he didn’t know’ were there for me”, said Vedat Gashi. He was born in Kosovo under a repressive regime and was forced to flee with his family. His 2019 Candidate Profile states that he first moved to the Bronx and later settled permanently in Yorktown. “Vedat’s commitment to public service came from his family’s experience as political activists and refugees, opportunities he had working with inspiring leaders, and his experience helping to create a country out of the ashes of war.” Raised with strong principles, Gashi returned to Kosovo and engaged in formulating the legislation of the new country. “Upon passing the New York Bar, Vedat was called to service in Kosovo to join the US/EU effort to help establish the newly formed state of Kosovo – first through a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and later through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations. While in Kosovo, Vedat’s hard work lead to remarkable accomplishments, including drafting some of Kosovo’s foundational legal documents and establishing Kosovo’s Ministry of Local Government Administration. Vedat was later nominated by the United Nations to serve as the Chief Legal Advisor to Kosovo’s Prime Minister. Shortly after Kosovo declared independence, Vedat returned to his home in the United States,” states the website. It is a testament to the strength of character that gives the people of Rugova immense pride. New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj spoke to the point. He began his remarks in Albanian by recognizing the place of Rugova region in the pages of history for ‘the noteworthy contributions” of its people and specifically by paying tribute to the main political figure of Kosovo, the late Ibrahim Rugova. He finished in English amid cheers and feelings of exaltation. Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija of the Consulate General of Kosovo in New York drew attention on the valiant past of Rugova and the bright present in New York in keeping with the region’s well-known contribution in education and in preserving tradition. She expressed appreciation for “giving hope to Kosovo” during a dark time and for continuously standing by it. In closing, Ambassador Teuta Sahatqija noted that two previous speakers were New York elected officials, which is cause for celebration because it signifies a new era of progress beyond the areas of business, economics, education, culture into politics and governance. “That is indeed cause for celebration just as we are tonight,” she said.
The artistic program by the Rugova Autochthonous Ensemble featured folk dance from the region performed by the women and men adorned in traditional outfits. Playing the cifteli and singing in the style of the legendary ‘epos of the mountains’, Hysen Kurti’s presentation brought back a part of the highlands of Rugova in New York.