At the heart of the Shebenik National Park, lies a village surrounded by mountains, providing it with a natural seclusion which offers complete tranquillity. This is the village of Qarrishta, nestled amongst the mountains and along the valley of the similarly named river. It is the most remote village in Librazhd and is inhabited by two tribes, Biçaku and Hasa. It is believed that two shepherds hundreds of years ago created the village named Biçaku and Hasa. They were thought to be originally from the village of Kosharisht, Librazhd.
Qarrishta, meaning: – of Albanian origin, takes its name from a tree (lat. Quercus cerris) which was common in the valley. Traditionally this tree was found in more favourable geographical positions and warmer climates compared to the mountains surrounding this area. So, the presence of the Quercus Cerris (Qarri) indicates a mildness to the climate.
Twenty-five to thirty years ago, the village was bustling with residents. However, today, the abandoned and unoccupied houses have engulfed Qarrishta in an almost complete silence. The school is now closed and the number of children left is minimal. Those who have remained will eventually leave – like the last family with children who will want to give their children a future and an education. There are no young people as they have all gone, leaving behind their parents, loyal to the land where they were born. We can see that the residents there are inextricably linked to nature and the resources that Qarrishta offers. They showed us the Peshkori (peshk-is the name for fish) stream, which got its name from many fish caught there decades ago. People used to go out with baskets woven with willow branches and catch fish for their families. Many things have changed today, yet nature remains abundant. The difficult infrastructure conditions have forced the residents to move towards more urban areas. Qarrishta, however, offers much spiritual tranquillity and a wonderful yet fragile nature. Regrettably, such a hidden gem among the mountains must be recognised and exploited for eco – tourism. It is wonderful for us as visitors, as even a phone reception does not reach us, and we feel disconnected from the noisy world. But the residents experience it in a different way.
What we must mention is that their hospitality is also abundant! An open door for everyone, they welcome visitors with love, and have done so even in the most difficult times.
In 1943, during the war, Qarrishta, the small village in Librazhd, harboured at the foot of the mountains, delivered a story of loyalty, bravery, and Albanian hospitality. The story tells of how 26 Jewish people seeking refuge there, were sheltered in this village for two and a half years, behind the fierce loyalty of the people of Qarrishta. This was kept so secret, no one knew anyone was being sheltered there. This has been called “The Land of Besa” (Besa – pledge of honour, faith, oath), and rightly so. By listening to such stories, we feel honoured and responsible for sharing them with others and raising awareness of this village.
Albantyra staff were accompanied by the village nurse, Razie Bicaku, throughout their trip. She introduced us to the women of the village which was the main purpose of our visit. Razie was born in Qarrishte and though she is nearing retirement, she continues to serve the few remaining people in the village. She takes special care of the last two children who have remained in the village, constantly seeking educational opportunities for them. With all the stories she knows, every moment of sorrow, of joy, she has shared with the people of this village, every house she has visited; Razie is a living book of stories for Qarrishte.
Author: Migena Kukli, representing the NGO AlbNatyra
AlbNatyra is collecting such stories under their grant “Foster connection with the local community to support the sustainable management of Shebenik Park” with PONT.