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Albanians mark freedom

More than 300 New Yorkers of Kosovar and Albanian descent packed into City Hall on the evening of Tuesday, February 17, to mark the first anniversary of the Republic of Kosovo’s historic declaration of independence.

The event, which included music, dancing, poetry, a presentation of honorees, and a catered reception, was sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Council Members James Vacca, Joel Rivera, and Eric Gioia, and the Albanian American Society Foundation, a Bronx-based cultural group.

Distinguished guests including Kosovo’s Chargé D’Affaires to the United States, Avni Spahiu, Albanian Consul to the United States Dr. Albert Jerasi, former Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, and former Councilman Stephen DiBrienza joined the event’s hosts to pay tribute to the young nation of Kosovo and honor five outstanding individuals: Spahiu; Vehbi Bajrami, publisher of Illyria; Haxhi Berisha, Professor of Computer Information Sciences at Monroe College; Rrustem Celaj, community counselor for the Council of Belmont Organizations; and Jim Xhema, entrepreneur and human rights activist.

“I am so honored to be able to invite all of you to City Hall, in the heart of the most multicultural city in the world, to celebrate a day that stands for democracy, freedom, and hope,” said Vacca. “This remarkable turnout tonight is indicative of the pride and the unity of the Albanian and Kosovar people, and our honored guests reflect the incalculable contributions that people of Albanian descent are making in our great city every day. I can’t wait until next year, when we return to celebrate the second anniversary of Kosovo’s independence!”

“The Albanian American Society Foundation is honored and proud to receive the generous support of Council Member James Vacca for this momentous event,” said Esad A. Rizai, founder and president of the Society Foundation.

The evening also included performances by the traditional Albanian song and dance troupe Gurra; Merita Halili and Raif Hysenil, who sang the U.S., Kosovar, and Albanian national anthems; Elton Vojkaj and Valentina Aldaraj, who performed American and Albanian standards; and actors Valbona Adairij and Shaban Lajqi. Dinner was catered by Prespa Restaurant.

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