The picturesque lakeside city of Debar, situated in the remote western part of Macedonia, witnessed the beginning of the Second World War under the Italian occupation. At the time of the Ottoman period, Debar was recognized as a thriving economic community of mixed Albanian and Macedonian population, widely renowned for their craftsmanship. In the 20th century, Debar started declining as an urban community, and various divisions among its population, in particular ethnic, national, and social sprang up.
In these circumstances in 1927 in Debar was born Ibe Sherif Palikukja. It is known that her father was a mullah, while the remaining family members plied various trades, one of them being her brother Eshtref. At the start of the War, the Sherif family was of anti-fascist orientation, and Eshtref was the first one to join the partisan resistance movement. At the beginning of the War, Ibe was 14 years old and among the denizens of Debar involved in the resistance, she was already known by her nickname “Flyaka” (in Albanian flakȅ means ”flame”). Based on the oral testimony about Ibe Palikukja, as soon as she entered adolescence, she started challenging the traditional norms, especially those referring to the contemporary Muslim Albanian woman – marriage preparations and wearing a veil. Although of modest education, she loved books and had read the Russian classics, e.g. Tolstoy, Dumas, and Gorky. From her brother Eshtref, she borrowed and read communist books, leftist periodicals, and partisan literature.
In this wartime period, she recognized her mission first in joining the local sections of the League of Communists and later on the partisan army. In 1942, she joined the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia, and in 1943 became a member of the CPY. Like many other young people who were part of the National Liberation movement, Ibe Palikukja was first active in the courier service and in transferring illegals. The fellow fighters oftentimes pointed out her skills of disguise while moving through the neighboring villages.
After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, Ibe Palikukja became a member of the local administration of the LCY of Debar. Up to that period, she organized political activities geared toward the engagement of female youth members in the local organizational efforts. In 1944, when she was 17, she became the deputy commissary of a company at the Fourth Albanian brigade in the National Liberation Army. This brigade participated in the fighting for the liberation of the territory from the military formation of balists – members of the Albanian anti-communist organization that collaborated with the fascist allies with the aim to unite Albania by virtue of great nationalist ideas.
In one battle against these military formations, above the fort of the neighboring town of Kichevo, on September 20, 1944, Ibe Palikukja was wounded and after two days, she succumbed to the wounds. For the residents of Debar and Kichevo, Ibe Palikukja became a local legend and a symbol of ethnic cohabitation between the Macedonian and the Albanian population. On October 8, 1953, she was awarded the Order of the People’s Hero of Yugoslavia. In the local and national historical narratives, her life and work is often treated in prose and poetry for children and adolescents.
Today at the center of Debar is her memorial bust with an inscription in Albanian, and in the fort above the town of Kichevo, the site of the fight in which Ibe Palikukja was wounded, there is a memorial bust and a memorial plaque in Macedonian with inscribed historical data. The local associations that cultivate the memories of the anti-fascist struggle commemorate every year the death of Ibe Palikukja in front of her bust. In several cities throughout Macedonia (Tetovo, Debar, Kichevo, Skopje), one street is named after her. Also, the elementary school in the village Boyane is named after her, as well as one of the oldest Albanian ensembles for folk dances and songs in Skopje.
For the residents of Debar and Kichevo, Ibe Palikukja became a local legend and the symbol of ethnic cohabitation of the Macedonian and Albanian population.
Memorial bust of Ibe Palikukja, Debar
The memorial bust of Ibe Palikukja is located in the memorial park dedicated to the fighters of the National Liberation Struggle, at the center of Debar, immediately next to the park “Skenderbeg” and a few hundred meters away from the main city square. The park is accessible on foot, by bike or by car. It is accessible for persons with a physical disability.