Gjakova (or Gjakovë when in a sentence with a preposition as in "to", "in" or "from Gjakova") is a city of around 90,000 people in western Kosovo. The Serbian name is Ђаковица (Ðakovica or Djakovica). Around 95% of the population is Kosovo Albanian, while the balance is made up of Bosniaks, Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians. Almost all Serbs have now left; before the war around 3000 Serbs lived in the town.
Gjakova was very badly affected by the war, suffering great physical destruction and large-scale human losses and human rights abuses; many atrocities were committed against the local Albanian population. The Çarshia e Madhe, Gjakova's old bazaar was destroyed by fire during 1999 as the entire city was targeted by the Serbian military and paramilitary as an Albanian stronghold. As much as 90 million euros worth of property was destroyed in the fire. The top of the minaret of the main Hadum mosque was shot off by Serb soldiers using a shoulder-launched missile on 8 May 1999. About 75% of the population was forcibly expelled from the town by Serbian police and paramilitaries as well as Yugoslav forces, with many civilians being killed in the process. Yugoslav military barracks were attacked on several occasions by NATO forces. In one incident, NATO aircraft misidentified a convoy of Albanian refugees and attacked it, killing dozens of civilians. Large areas of the town were destroyed, chiefly through arson and looting but also in the course of localised fighting between government security forces and members of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army). The actions of the government forces in Gjakova formed a major part of the United Nations war crimes indictment of the then - President Slobodan Milošević. The number of missing people from Gjakova municipality is among the highest in all Kosovo, numbering over 300. Several dozens of corpses have now been identified and returned to their families, though it still remain a relatively small number compared to the figures of those who are still missing. As a result, any idea of return of the former Kosovo Serb population is unthinkable.
When I visited the town for the first time in 1967, I was asked by an otherwise friendly Serb why on earth I wanted to go there: "Ðakovica ništa" (nothing) he said, a place only inhabited by Albanians! But I found great hospitality there from local Albanian families, like the Çarkaxhiu family. It was a really friendly place, the imam of the Hadum mosque opening the building and switching on the lights so I could take a photo inside and other acts of kindness and friendship. It is really distressing that this town had to suffer so much. The early photos on this page give an idea what it was like in the late sixties; now there is again hope, the bazaar reconstructed and mosques repaired and restored.