Category Archives: Lectures

The following is a list of speeches given by Van Christo and others. Simply click on one of the links to read the speeches.

Van Christo Dita E Flamurit Speech in 1992

The following is a Dita e Flamurit (Albanian Independence Day) talk that I gave in 1992 at a commemorative dinner hosted by the world famous Albanian American restaurateur ,Anthony Athanas, at his well-known, flagship Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant located on Boston’s historic waterfront.

Van Christo

***

Dita e Flamurit (Albanian Independence Day)

We are here today to celebrate the historic date of November 28th, 1912, where in Vlora, in southern Albania, the venerable Ismail Qemal officially proclaimed the independence of Albania after almost 500 years of Turkish subjugation. It is especially important now to review some of the events leading up to that day because the spotlight is once again on the Balkans. The current war in what was formerly Yugoslavia is perilously close to Albania and the two to three million ethnic Albanians in Kosova and Macedonia. Even back in 1911, the political situation in the Balkans was very complex because at that time the Ottoman Empire (of which Albania was a part) was crumbling, and what were then Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece began implementing plans to annex parts of Albania.

Back in 1911, a group of deputies in the Turkish parliament led by Ismail Qemal began to petition the Turkish government to acknowledge Albania’s national rights and sovereign borders which Turkey had divided – for purposes of administration – into the four Albanian vilayets (provinces) of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. However, the Turkish government dissolved its parliament in order to exclude and silence the Albanian dissident members. In April of 1912, the Albanians of Gjakova began a general uprising which quickly spread to other regions of the vilayet of Kosova and then into northern, central and southern Albania. Led by Isa Boletina and Bajram Curri, Albanians took up arms and defeated Turkish armies while liberating key cities in Kosova and northern Albania. Albanian armies led by Themistokli Germenji in Korcha, Salih Butka in Kolonje, and Elmas Xhaferi in Vlora, each defeated Turkish forces in those regions.

On July 22nd, Albanian insurgents led by Hasan Pristina marched victoriously into Prishtina, and the then-existing Turkish government was compelled to resign. A new Turkish government was formed which sought to stop the fighting and to begin negotiations with the Albanians in each of the above-mentioned Albanian vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. This offer was a ruse by the Turks only to “divide and conquer” so it was immediately declined, and the Albanians resumed fierce fighting and quickly liberated Shkup, Peshkopia, Permet, and other strategic Albanian cities. The Balkan war of 1912 created a critical situation for the Albanians when Serbian, Montenegrin, and Greek armies began marching on Albanian territories.

Ismail Qemal hastily called a convention of Albanian delegates to a now-liberated Vlora even as Serbian armies were capturing Tirana, Montenegrin armies were marching on Shkodra, and Greek armies were moving from Himara towards Vlora, itself. Ismail Qemal, then, on November 28th, from the balcony of the convention site, hoisted the double-headed eagle flag of of the 15th century Albanian folk hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, as the new flag of Albania, and for the first time in the 20th century, Albania proclaimed its own national government and independence after almost 500 years of Turkish domination.

And now, 80 years later, we again see an unstable Balkan situation caused, in large part, by the collapse of communism as a major political force in Albania. Albanian- Americans and others are apprehensive because of the vulnerability of Albania and the fragility of the fledgling Albanian democratic government. Many Albanian-Americans are also apprehensive about some instances of divisiveness and intolerance in our own community. I would urge all of us to nurture and encourage the finest of our American democratic ideals in the new Albania. The Albanians have courage and fortitude, and they are going to need our help in rebuilding their country. Religious and political diversity are now encouraged and protected in Albania just as they are in the United States.

We would do well to positively encourage and protect that rich cultural, religious, and political diversity exemplified by new Albanians who are coming into our American communities so that they can have the same opportunities that we have had to be judged by our deeds and accomplishments and not by our religion or our politics.

It is now evident that neither the 500 years of Turkish domination of Albania nor the 50 years of the most repressive communist communist regime in the modern world can conquer the Albanian spirit. Like our grandfathers and great grandfathers before us we must, while acknowledging and protecting our differences, stand together to protect the freedom and prosperity of all Albanians. We must do what we can as Americans to protect not only the freedom but even the lives of our brothers and sisters in Albania, Kosova, and Macedonia. Today, the date of November 28th, 1912, has especially important significance for Albanians everywhere they are located in the world. On every November 28th, may we continue to celebrate the freedom and independence of Albanians everywhere.

Rrofte Dita e Flamurit. Rrofte Shqiperia. Rrofte Amerike. Rrofte Kosova Republike.

THE ALBANIANS: a modern history

Author: Miranda Vickers

262 pp. $49.50
I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd.
45 Bloomsbury Sq., London WC1A 2HY
Distributed by St. Martin’s Press
175 Fifth Ave., NY, NY 10010

Reviewed by Antonia Young

This third book on Albania and the Albanians to be published in English within eighteen months may be seen as complementary to rather than in competition with the others (The Albanians: an ethnic history from prehistoric times to the present by Edwin E. Jacques, reviewed in September’s issue of Liria by Van Christo, and Albania and the Albanians by Vickers’ British compatriot, Derek Hall). All three foreign authors have great concern for Albanians and have spent much time in Albanian lands over a period of many years. Each brings major contributions to the knowledge and understanding of the Albanians both inside and outside Albania. Generally found to be roughly equal (a little over three million inhabitants in Albania and at least that many elsewhere), it is worth repeating the comment often made that Albania is the only country in Europe surrounded by itself! (by Albanians in Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece). A few pages of introductory backround cover the period to the eighteenth century and the Ottoman decline. The book relates Albanians’ history during the Balkan Wars, the First World War occupation of Albanian territory, the 1992 elections, the elections, the fading of the Democratic ‘Dream’ and finally a discussion about the future of Albanians in all Balkans.

A particular merit of Vickers’ new book is its concise clarity; it should bring Albanian history to a wide readership. It is ideally suited to be a paperback (at present only available in hardback, though still half the price of the other two books).

Vickers’ sympathetic yet balanced treatment is admirable. An im dportant aspect of her book is its attention to Kosovo (Vickers is currently working on a book of its history) as a center for intellectuals in the last century at a time when Albania itself was suffering serious prohibitions on education, writing and publishing in the Albanian language. Vickers explains the crucial role of Kosovo in the Albanian national awakening and the peoples’ revolt against Ottoman oppression as well as its permanent effects on developments within Albania, especially since the nineteenth century. The rise in national consciousness she relates to the handling by present day Kosovars in their situation of gross human rights abuses at the hands of the Serbs (observing that they have also suffered here in earlier times; she mentions elsewhere that Serbs and Montenegrins were “mercilessly killed” by Albanians in Montenegro.

Twice during this century plans to re-unite Kosovo with Albania fell through (in 1928 and again under Tito in 1940. By the end of World War II Tito changed his mind, expecting to annex Albania as a seventh republic of Yugoslavia. It was in 1944 that the Kosovo Rising brought particularly harsh reprisals from the Yugoslav army commanders.
Chapter four clarifies for the reader the competition of many nations in their varying desires to control different parts of Albania. She notes that after all that was played out in that small area of the Balkans, it was remarkable that Albania emerged as an independent state (p. 97). Vickers allows her readers to draw their own conclusions while also showing that although foreign intervention has been excessive throughout history, lack of exemplary leadership within the country has contributed to its problems.

The often controvertial Ahmed Zogu is shown in both positive and negative lights: positive in his religious toleration, giving all religions equality within the state; on the negative side Zogu manipulated laws and people to suit his needs, even finding ways of disposing of those in opposition to him. Using Gwen Robyn’s Geraldine of the Albanians for much of her information on Zogu, Vickers notes humorously that while exiled in the Ritz Hotel in London with his retinue of 30, the Albanian Royal family had the ladies’ cloakroom coverted into an air-raid shelter.

There is discussion of the fact that Albania came under Communist rule without the assistance of the Soviet Union: and a further corollorary that fighting would have lasted much longer had Britain not supported the National Liberation Front (LNC), a controversy which still arouses debate today.

Using a wide selection of sources, the author draws considerably from Stavro Skendi and Joseph Swire, she also had access to the unpublished correspondence exchanged between the late Harry Hodgkinson and Edith Durham, both of whom devoted their lives to Albanian causes.

Three clear maps show Albania’s changing position in Europe. There is a glossary of terms, though no explanation of political groups nor their initials. There are a variety of photographic illustrations, from many different sources, which bring the text to life. The story behind the photograph on the dust-cover holds great interest to many who barely know the whereabouts of Albania: the small boy at the right-hand end is Rexh Meta, then aged twelve, at the time when he was the guide of American writer/reporter Rose Wilder Lane whose Peaks of Shala (referred to on p.102) deserves republication. Rose Wilder Lane, once one of the world’s best paid women writers, has now faded behind the fame of her mother whom she urged to relate her life story: the renowned “Little House on the Prairie” series. Rose took a lifelong interest in Meta, sponsoring his attendance at the American Technical School in Tirana and later at Cambridge University, UK. This interesting tale needs further telling elsewhere.

There are a few faults, for example Albanian place names are sometimes but not always given in Serbo-Croatian in parentheses, and sometimes visa-versa (given in Serbo-Croatian with the Albanian in parentheses). Clarity would have been better served by listing the names seperately and including, where relevant, the Italian names also. Secondly, the bibliography omits publishers’ names. Margaret Hasluck’s last name is incorrectly spelt at every mention, and although her writing is cited, it is not listed in the bibliography, the same is true of A. Adoni. The last names of John Allcock and Thomas Hughes are both incorrectly spelt. The non-European diaspora is apparently beyond the scope of this book. However, these are minor criticisms for a book which will long serve as an invaluable resource to all with an interest in the cohesive society of the Albanians.

THE ALBANIANS: An Ethnic History from Prehistoric Times to the Present

Author: Edwin E. Jacques

731 pp., $75
McFarland & Company, Inc.
Box 611
Jefferson, NC 28640

Reviewed by Van Christo

Present day Albania, located between the former Yugoslavia and Greece on the western shore of the Balkan penisula, still remains as the least known European country. As the last Turkish province in Europe, it was closed tightly to foreigners over the centuries, and until 1991, the country was even more isolated by its postwar Communist regime. Historically described as mysterious and xenophobic, the people and country of Albania are both little known to most westerners.

There has been a remarkable paucity of books about Albania in the English language that make any credible attempt to document the history of the Albanians from the time of their Illyrian ancestors to the present day. Of the several post-WWII books on the subject of Albania, Kristo Frasheri made an effort to place the Albanians in some archeological and historical context with the 1964 publication in Tirana of his “History of Albania (A Brief Overview).” Of the 370 pages of the Frasheri book, the Illyrians are mentioned almost in passing during the first 15 pages while the development of the Albanian nation from the 12th through the 19th centuries occupies only some 40 pages. The remainder of the Frasheri book describing Albania up to 1960 has a Marxist point of view which undermines any attempt at an objective history of the country.

A subsequent book published in 1981 entitled “The History of Albania” by Arben Puto and Stefanaq Pollo (Routledge & Kegan Paul) represents a more comprehensive underaking to position Albania in historical perspective with a writing style that is much improved from the Frasheri English translation. Although produced under the aegis of the then-communist government of Albania, the Puto/Pollo book has, in the opinion of this reviewer, remained as the benchmark of the history of Albania in the English language until the publication in 1994 of “The Albanians” by Edwin E. Jacques. A retired missionary, Dr. Jacques was a teacher in Korcha, Albania from 1932 to 1940, and has subsequently visited Albania on several occasions during more recent times. His exhaustive and thoroughly indexed work about the Albanians (originally the subject of a doctoral dissertation) based on Albanian, French, Italian and many other sources, may now be considered the authoritative collection of data and information about Albania.

At best, scholarly and assertive, and, always, thought-provoking and fascinating, Jacques tantalizes his readers with rich tidbits such as (describing Albanians who had gone to Italy in the sixteenth century) “The Albani family (who) furnished the Catholic church with a great number of distinguished prelates, including Pope Clement XI (1700-1721) and numerous cardinals. Alexander Albani was curator of the Vatican Library” and that “The ‘Albanian Altar’ of marble at the Cathedral of Milan was largely the work of the Arberesh refugee Andrea Aleksi (1425-1505) of Durres … the central figure being that of Our Lady of the Illyrians” (p.197), and that “a Turkish Author, Osman Zade Naib, who referred to Albania as the ‘Garden of the Viziers’ in his book of that title published in Constantinople in 1853… expressed amazement at the disproportionally large number of cabinet ministers contributed by the subjugated Albanians. He listed 26 grand viziers or prime ministers of Albanian blood who had directed the affairs of the Otytoman Empire since the 1500s. These grand viziers originated in such places as Orchrida, Arta, Monastir, Pojani of Korcha, Vlora and Berat. Among them were three who carried Turkey to the peak of her military renown: Sinan Pasha, Ferhad Pasha and Kupruli Pasha”
(p. 325-6), or that “The town of Opari just west of Korcha produced three Albanian architects who designed several of the most superb mosques and fountains in Turkey …Petro Korchari, chief architect for Ali Pasha of Yanina; the Katro brothers, identified with the exquisitely beautiful Byzantine churches of Voskopoja …and especially Mehmet Isa, chief builder of the incomparable Taj Mahal for Shah Jahan at Agra, India and that Sadefqar Mehmeti of Elbasan, was the architect credited with the famous Blue Mosque (1562) in Istanbul.” (Ibid)

During twelve consecutive periods of foreign domination, the ethnic identity of the Albanians was constantly threatened, first by the Eastern and Western empires of Christendom, then by the Ottoman Turks, and during more modern times, by Yugoslav, Soviet and Chinese communists. It was after its final conquest of the Albanians that the Turks divided Albania into the four vilayets (provinces) of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina for adminstrative purposes. Alas, history has been both unjust and unkind to the Albanians whose country was dismembered by the Great Powers as part of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Congress of Berlin in 1868 ceded major portions of the vilayets of Kosova, Manastir, and Janina to Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece, respectively. A portion of the vilayet of Shkodra was ceded to Montenegro, and what remained after all the partitioning is the nation of Albania as it is known today.

From 1912 when Ismail Qemal raised the double-headed Albanian flag in Vlora proclaiming the sovereignty of Albania after almost five centuries of Turkish subjugation, some fourteen successive ineffective governments tried to rule Albania culminating in the short-lived kingdom of Ahmed Zogu which ended in 1939 when Italy invaded Albania. Jacques has placed that 14-year period in perspective leading the reader to WWII and its unfortunate aftermath of almost 50 years of rigid communist control.

If there is any fault to be found with The Albanians, it’s only that it suffers from a lack of photographs, illustrations, etc. that are certainly warranted to accompany a book of this scope. Indeed, there are only three maps (Ancient Albania, Medieval Albania, and Modern Albania) at the end of the book, and it is hoped that the next edition will remedy that glaring oversight. Clearly, The Albanians invites frequent rereading because of its outstanding research and important value as a reference source, and, if any one point is to be made about the Albanians it is that, even as they are surrounded by hostile nations, they will invariably survive. Dr. Jacques’ The Albanians is an exemplary chronicle of these ancient Balkan peoples.

THE BATTLE OF KOSOVA (1389)

An anti-Ottoman coalition of Hungarians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Poles, Serbs and Albanians headed by the Serbian prince Lazar fought a Turkish army twice its size on the plain of Kosova near Prishtina on 15 June 1389. Troops of Gjergj II Balsha of Shkodra and of Theodore Korona Muzaka of Berat participated. Even though an Albanian named Milosh Kopiliq penetrated the Sultan’s tent and assassinated Amurat I, the Turks succeeded in breaking the Balkan coalition. This bloody defeat opened the way for yet deeper penetration of Albanian teritory under Sultan Baysazet, surnamed “Thunderbolt.” He overran Albania from 1394 to 1396 and occupied it from Gjirokastra in the south to Shkodra in the north, and from its eastern border to Durres on the coast.
From “The Albanians”

Editor’s Note: McFarland, the publisher, specializes in reference books for libraries and has sent its catalog to 60,000 libraries. Readers may not find it necessary to purchase a personal copy of “The Albanians” because of its $75 price if a local library carries the title.

THE ILLYRIANS

Author: John Wilkes

Blackwell Publishers
108 Cowley Rd., Oxford, OX4 1JF, UK
238 Main St., Cambridge, MA 02142
(1-800-216-2522), $49.95]

Reviewed by Dr. Neritan Ceka, Professor of Archeology, Tirana University, Tirane, Albania
(Translated from the Albanian Language by Arben Kallamata)

Anglo-Saxon scholarly studies have never shown any lack of interest in the ancient and large Illyrian populations although a complete and general work about them had never been published. That void is now filled in a very fundamental manner with the publication in 1992 of “The Illyrians” by John Wilkes, professor at University College of London. Prof. Wilkes, a well-known authority in this field especially because his previously published book “Dalmatia” (1969) – an important work on this Illyrian province of the Roman Era – has now been able to provide, combined with this latest book, the most complete synthesis of Illyrian culture and history available to date.

The book examines the origin of the Illyrians (The Search for Illyrians), their history in the framework of the Hellenic World (Greek Illyrians), their place and role in the Roman Empire, and, finally, the ethnic and cultural inheritance of the Illyrians during the Middle Ages to the present (Roman Illyrians). For the author, the first task was to establish the Illyrians as a large population that spread all over the Central and Western Balkans during ancient times. Prof. Wilkes criticizes, in a very objective way, existing theses that attempt to describe the Illyrians against the framework of contemporary political thought that either understates them through identification with an older concept of Illyrians as an undefined group of tribes, or by their ethnic and cultural unification over the entire period that they are mentioned in ancient times.

The diversity and unity of the Illyrian world is now explained in a more detailed manner by the author based on Illyria’s colorful and geographic identity in ancient times. It is this period, oriented towards a symetric division from the Danube, the Egean and the Adriatic Sea, that the author has been able to trace the different cultural groups that begin to take shape in an ethnogenetic process (beginning with the close of the Eneolitic period) to become quite distinct in almost twenty units during the Iron Age.

Based on the results of archeological research of what were identified as Illyrian regions over these last 100 years, a detailed study of the ancient onomasticis has been compiled by the author. His view, the distinction between a Venetian – not Illyrian – linguistic and cultural province as opposed to two large regions with Illyrian characteristics in the Central and Southwestern Balkans between Drava and the Adriatic Sea, is now presented. Within this work, the author also includes the largest part of Dardania in a discussion which is generally based on existing political biases.

The historical synthesis of the Illyrians is short and quite easy to comprehend. One can grasp the true meaning by comparing the historical geography of the Illyrian regions and tribes to the most significant events and characters. By their integration within this framework, the archeological data about Illyrian economies and the populated cities help define the historical and social basis in which the Illyrian state functioned previously, from the time of Bardylis to Gentius.

The section entitled Illyrians under Roman Rule , one of the most comrehensive parts of the book, focuses mainly on the northern parts of Illyria. Here, too, through archeological analytical studies, conclusions are highlighted thus making it possible to comprehend some of the most important aspects of the social and political organization in the north of Illyria during the pax-romana. Various aspects of Illyrian life are also revealed including dress, food, women, wine, and economic activities based on archeological documentation during the Roman Empire.

One of the most interesting chapters is how Illyria became integrated into the Roman Empire where its most significant result was the series of famous Roman Emperors who were of Illyrian origin such as Aurelianus, Diocletian, Constantine, and others.

The chapter “Medieval and Modern Illyrians” concludes with the historical destiny of the Illyrians where the author deals with the ethnic continuity of the Illyrians to the present day Albanians based mainly on the archeological findings of the Koman-Kruja cultural group.

It is only natural that such a broad overview of the Illyrians, which at times includes deep and competent analyses, is not always able to escape some shortcomings. In general, however, the weight of documentation derived from studies of the northern parts of Illyria (that are better known by the author) is more substantial although they have not always been the determining factors of Illyrian history and culture. As a consequence, a somewhat spontaneus explanation of historical events, influenced in part by an exaggeration of the role of Illyrian piracy, is more heavily stressed.

Also, Greek colonization is more closely examined through sites in the North than through the resistance and eventual integration processes of Dyrrhachium and Apolonia. In this vein even Gajtan, a prehistoric tribal center, is erroneously transplanted as representative of the settlements of the IV-III centuries (p.127), a period that was identified by civilian settlements such as Bylis, Dimalo, Lissus etc. to which the author accords a proper place in his book (pp.133-136). On the other hand, the association of Illyrian cities with the activities of Pyrrhus (V. Garasanin, Moenia, Aeacia, Starinar 17, 1966) is simply an exaggeration of an unproven concept. Similiarly, the invasion of Dyrrhachium by a Dardanian king called Monounios around 280 BC should be regarded as a factually unfounded hypothesis. It should suffice to mention certain other points where this rich material has eluded critical evaluation and absorption by the author. Despite these shortcomings, Prof. Wilkes’ book, enhanced and supported by many illustrations and a selective bibliography, has undisputable value as an important and fundamental history of the Illyrians.

Through Miredite in Winter

Over 70 years ago, a young Harvard Professor of Anthropology, Dr., Carelton S. Coon, led an anthropological expedition in the Miredite region of northern Albania. This book, Through Miredite in Winter tells the story of that expedition. The book was recently published by the Columbia University Press in New York. Written originally in Albanian by Stavre. Th. Frasheri, it was translated into English by Peter R. Prifti.

This is a slender violume but it is packed with data not only about Dr. Coon’s expedition, but also åbout the society of Miredite at the time. Frasheri, an Albanian educator who accompanied Dr. Coon as a guide and interpreter, was a keen observer and serious writer, who gives a faithful and revealing portrait of the people of Miredite and northern Albania in that time-frame.

The book tells of Dr. Coon at work, measuring the heads of Albanian Highlanders, who were as curious as they were mystified by his research. There is material on the social organization of the five Miredite clans, all of them based on the patriarchal system. This was a male-dominated society, and there is much data on men’s physique, native costume, character and so on, including their astounding skills with rifles. The lot of women was hard, yet not without virtue.

The author writes about the hospitality of the Miredite people – one of their most honored traditions. He tells about their Greetings and Oaths, which were delicate social rituals suffused with symbolic meaning. He devotes a whole chapter to the notorious “blood feud” tradition – a heavy burden on their lives. Another tradition of rare interest was that of the “Man-Virgin” meaning women who chose not to marry, and dressed and lived like men. Weddings were elaborate rituals, involving among other things payment for the bride-to-be in gold coins.

Life was hard in Miredite, but as the book shows, it had its lighter side. The Highlanders had their own brand of humor and homespun amusements, such as age-old games, native songs and dances, instrumental music and lively social banter. They lived impoverished lives, but were sustained by bedrock virtues like honor, respect for rank, pride and personal bravery.

In addition to text, Through Miredite in Winter, is illustrated with some twenty pages of photographs of people and places in Miredite and elsewhere. The book has hard covers, and can be ordered from the Columbia University Press.

Women in Modern Albania: Firsthand Accounts of Culture and Conditions from Over 200 Interviews

Author: Susan E. Pritchett Post

Reviewed by Melissa J. Perry, Harvard University

Women in Modern Albania presents interviews with over 200 women born in Albania during this century. The interviews are divided into three broad age groups of Older, Middle and Younger generations, loosely based on the political climate of the era in which they were born. Women from a broad range of education, life experience and geography in Albania are represented among the interviews which is a major feature of the book. A commendable feature of the collection of interviews is the common theme of Albanian women’s characteristic strength and resilience.

However, several aspects of the book remain troubling. Especially problematic was the author’s inclusion of her personal impressions of Albanian people upon arriving in Albania. Numerous generalizations about the nature, temperament and behavior of Albanians were insulting and evidenced a lack of respect for non-Western culture. The description of how some Albanians interact with foreigners is illustrative:

“The ignorance of some people extends to their dealings with others on a social level as well. Foreigners frequently find questions they are asked as guests to be overly direct and personal, lacking in tact and politeness. However, Albanians themselves do not themselves respond well to direct questioning. They have a million responses to such questions that range from a sudden lack of understanding of whatever language you are speaking to answering with irrelevant information or ignoring you.” (p.40)

Among other generalities that were cast upon Albanians was their argumentativeness:

“Albanians are highly critical and unwilling to accept the good part of something if they find other parts to be faulty. This critical nature results in one of the most immediately noticeable characteristics of the Albanians: their arguementativeness.” (p.43)

Upon reflection, the author decides to transform her judgements into forgiveness for the “offensive” behaviors of the Albanian people as reflected in the concluding paragraph in Chapter 2 of Part I, “The Albanians as I Found Them”:
“My first attempts to understand the most negative of these behaviors led to my hypothesis that if you treat people like animals for long enough they will begin to act like animals. As time has passed, however, I have seen more directly the poverty of the people, experienced living in the conditions in which they live, and heard the stories of the women of the challenges they have faced in their lifetimes. So I have developed an understanding and acceptance of these behaviors and have learned to look past them to the people and their spirit.” (p.43)

Western ethnocentrism and a lack of cultural respect reverberates in these and other reflections by the author, particularly in this chapter. Had the author chosen an anthropologic/ethnographic approach to study the lives of Albanian women, one would not be concerned that such Western biases were subsequently infused into the women’s interviews. The non-verbatim transcriptions, which lack in idiomatic or colloquial expression, suggest that the author’s interpretations and perspectives were present in the retelling of each story. If this is so, then the book is not an accurate representation of Albanian women’s lives, but rather one American woman’s interpretation of Albanian women. In this capacity, the book is severely limited.

ALBANIA: A Country Surrounded By Itself

Albania, as we know it today, is a small country located on the Adriatic Sea surrounded, beginning in the northwest in a clockwise direction, by Montenegro, the Kosova province of Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and, finally, Greece in the south. In physical size, Albania is about 230 miles long by about 90 miles at its widest point. It has a population of approximately 3 million, 200 thousand people. The Albanian language is not derived from any other language, that is, it does not have a Slavic or Greek base as is commonly believed, but is, in point of fact, one of the nine original
Indo-European languages, the other eight Indo-European languages being Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Hellenic, Indian, Iranian, Italic, and Keltic. As such, Albanian is one of Europe’s oldest languages!

The Albanians are essentially a homogenous people but have been divided traditionally into two basic ethnic groups, the Ghegs in the North, and the Tosks in the South, the dividing line being the Shkumbini River. Both Ghegs and Tosks speak the same language but pronounce it with some difference. A simple example is the Albanian word for the English verb “is”. A Tosk would say “eshte” (EH-shtah) whereas a Gheg would pronounce it as “asht” (AH-sht). The former communist government of Albania made the Tosk dialect the official dialect of the entire country.

The Albanians are the direct descendents of the ancient Illyrians whose territories in 1225 BC included all of former Yugoslavia, that is, Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia, Herzogovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and portions of Macedonia and northern Greece. It was from one of the Illyrian tribes called the “Albanoi” located in central Albania, that Albania derives its name. Shkodra, the 3rd largest city in Albania and located in the northern part of the country, was also the capital of Illyria so it has deep historic roots.
The Romans conquered Illyria in 227 BC for which they had to pay dearly by making frequent expeditions across the Adriatic Sea to quell the insurrections that had become chronic. An interesting footnote may be the fact that during the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Albania served as the battlegound for the contest of the supremacy of Rome. The decisive battle between Octavious and Antony for the imperial throne of Rome was also fought on the Albanian seacoast, and in commemoration of his naval victory at Actium, the future Emperor Augustus built the new city of Nicopolos on the southernmost part of the Albanian seaboard whose ruins may be seen to this very day in the modern day city of Preveza which was taken away from Albania and assigned to Greece by the Conference of London in 1912.

When the capital of the Roman Empire was transferred from Rome to Byzantium in 325 AD, Albania, then known as the Thema of Illyricum, became a province of the eastern section and remained part of the Byzantime Empire up until the early Middle Ages when certain feudal families managed to form independent principalities which eventually evolved into a Greater Albania – that is, territories where the population was almost exclusively Albanian-speaking and Albanian in terms of history, laws, tradition, and culture. One of those independent principalities was governed by the Kastrioti clan which later produced Albania’s greatest folkhero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, who fought the Ottoman Turks for some 25 years until his death in1468 thereby preventing them from overunning all of of Europe and postponing the inevitable conquest by the Turks of the entire Balkan peninsula.

The Ottoman Conquest of Europe began in 1354 when the Turks captured the Byzantine fortress at Gallipoli located on a narrow peninsula where the Dardanelles opens into the Sea of Marmara. This military victory established their first stronghold on European soil. The defeat of the Bulgarians at Maritsa in 1371 and the defeat of the Serbs at Kosova in 1389 marked the collapse of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania which all then came under Turkish rule.
As in other occupied Balkan territories, the Turks established a system of adminstration of Albania by dividing it into 4 provinces or “vilayets” – the vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. Until the 16th century, almost all of Albania was Christian, the Orthodox Catholic religion being dominant in the south and the Roman Catholic in the north. In the 17th century, however, the Turks began a policy of Islaminization by using, among other methods, economic incentives to convert the population. A simple example is that some Albanians who adopted Islam received land and had their taxes lowered. By the 19th century, however, Islam became predominant in Albania with about 70% of the population while some 20% remained Orthodox and 10% Roman Catholic. These groupings remained in effect until the communist government outlawed religion in1967 making it the world’s only atheist state. Freedom of religion in Albania was restored only in1991 but it must be noted that the overwhelming majority of Albania’s population was born under a communist regime which pursued an aggresively atheistic policy. Altho reliable statistics are lacking, observations and anecdotes demonstrate that the historical 70-20-10 percentages are no longer valid. Altho the collapse of the old communist order has seen a religious revival of sorts, when I was in Albania in September, the USIA officer in Tirana told me that he believed the religion with the most new adherents in Albania were the Christian evangalists such as the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.

The Ottoman Conquest of Europe lasted for more than 400 hundred years before it went into decline, in large measure because of persistent unrest and nationalism in the conquered territories and the corruptive self-rot of its own body politic. After the defeat of the Turks by the Russians in the war of 1877, the Great Powers evoked the Treaty of San Stefano the following year signifying the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.

Greater Albania, still comprised of the 4 vilayets, was penalized by the Great Powers because it was considered part of the Ottoman Empire for almost 5 centuries. As a result, the Albania of 1878 was divided by ceding the major portions of the vilayet of Shkodra to Montenegro, the vilayet of Kosova to Serbia, the vilayet of Manastir to Macedonia, and the vilayet of Janina to Greece. Thus, what remained after the partitioning is the nation of Albania as it is known today. It should also be noted that Albania’s neighbors wanted the total partitioning of Albania so that it would no longer exist as a separate entity and nationality. The one person who prevented that from happening at the Paris Peace Conference in1919 which eventually confirmed Albania’s official boundaries was President Woodrow Wilson of the United States of America who declared, “I shall have but one voice at the Peace Conference, and I will use that voice in behalf of Albania.”

So, today, northwest of Albania beginning clockwise, there are approximately 40,000 Albanians living in Montenegro along its border with Albania, about 2 million in Kosova, 100,000 in South Serbia, 600,000 in Macedonia, and 250,000 in northern Greece. Albania, indeed, is a country compeletely surrounded by itself!

Right now, Albania is in the process of waking up from almost 50 years of a repressive communist regime. Today, Albania has a democratic government that, notwithstanding some of the same problems as other former communist countries, is possibly one of the most stable in the Balkans. It has the advantages of high literacy, less rape of land and resources than its neighbors such as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland. It is the world’s second largest producer of chromium and has signifcant natural resources such as petroleum, copper, nickel, and coal waiting only further development by foreign investors. Up until 1991, Albania, because of its mountaineous terrain that resulted in the construction of a network of hi-rise dams, shipped hydro- electric power all over the Balkans and as far west as Austria.

Albania also has an incredibly beautiful Adriatic seacoast that runs the entire length of the country with gorgeous white sandy beaches plus breathtakingly impressive mountainous areas with tremendous ski resort and winter sport potential. Albania has a diaspora scattered all over the globe with significant concentrations of Albanians in the USA, Italy, Germany, Canada, and as far away as Australia.

The USA is a strong supporter of Albania and is playing a continuing role in encouraging and supporting democratic institutions and the democratization of the governing infrastructure. Albania has a long way to go, but I am confident that it will continue to improve. I believe it will take at least a dozen years to undo most of the damage caused by the former communist government and for Albania to find its place in the European Community. I have been to Albania a number of times during the past few years working alongside my lovely wife, Jane, with the US State Department to help in the democratization process, and I am proud of the progress this small country of my birth has made in such a short period of time.

Dita e Flamurit

We are here today to celebrate the historic date of November 28th, 1912, where in Vlora, the venerable Ismail Qemal officially proclaimed the independence of Albania after almost 500 years of Turkish subjugation. It is especially important now to review some of the events leading up to that day because the spotlight is once again on the Balkans. The current war in what was formerly Yugoslavia is perilously close to Albania and the two to three million ethnic Albanians in Kosova and Macedonia. Even back in 1911, the political situation in the Balkans was very complex becuse at that time the Ottoman Empire (of which Albania was a part) was crumbling and what were then Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece began implementing plans to annex parts of Albania.

Back in 1911, a group of deputies in the Turkish parliament led by Ismail Qemal began to petition the Turkish government to acknowledge Albania’s national rights and sovereign borders which Turkey had divided – for purposes of adminstration – into the four Albanian vilayets (provinces) of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. However, the Turkish government dissolved its parliament in odrer to exclude and silence the Albanian dissident members. In April of 1912, the Albanians of Gjakova began a general uprising which quickly spread to other regions of the vilayet of Kosova and then into northern, central and southern Albania. Led by Isa Boletina and Bajram Curri, Albanians took up arms and defeated Turkish armies while liberating key cities in Kosova and northern Albania. Themistokli Germenji in Korcha, Salih Butka in Kolonje, and Elmas Xhaferi in Vlora, each defeated Turkish forces in those regions.

On July 22nd, Albanian insurgents led by Hasan Pristina marched victoriously into Prishtina, and the then-existing Turkish government was compelled to resign. A new Turkish government was formed which sought to stop the fighting and to begin negotiations with the Albanians in each of the above-mentioned Albanian vilayets of Shkodra, Kosova, Manastir, and Janina. This offer was a ruse by theTurks to “divide and conquer” so it was immediately declined, and the Albanians resumed fierce fighting and quickly liberated Shkup, Peshkopia, Permet, and other strategic Albanian cities. The Balkan war of 1912 created a critical situation for the Albanians when Serbian, Montenegrin, and Greek armies began marching on Albanian territories.

Ismail Qemal hastily called a convention of Albanian delegates to a now-liberated Vlora even as Serbian armies were capturing Tirana, Montenegrin armies were marching on Shkodra, and Greek armies were moving from Himara towards Vlora, itself. Ismail Qemal, then, on November 28th, from the balcony of the convention site, hoisted the double-headed eagle flag of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg as the new flag of Albania, and for the first time in the 20th century, Albania proclaimed its own national government and independence after almost 500 years of Turkish domination.

And now, 80 years later, we again see an unstable Balkan situation caused, in large part, by the collapse of communism as a major political force. Albanian- Americans and others are apprehensive because of the vulnerability of Albania and the fragility of the fledgling Albanian democratic government. Many Albanian-Americans are also apprehensive about some instances of divisiveness and intolerance in our own community. I would urge all of us to nurture and encourage the finest of our American democratic ideals in the new Albania. The Albanians have courage and fortitude, and they are going to need our help in rebuilding their country. Religious and political diversity are now encouraged and protected in Albania just as they are in the United States.

We would do well to positively encourage and protect that rich cultural, religious, and political diversity exemplified by new Albanians who are coming into our American communities so that they can have the same opportunities that we have had to be judged by our deeds and accomplishments and not by our religion or our politics.

It is now evident that neither 500 years of Turkish domination nor 50 years of the most repressive communist regime in the modern world can conquer the Albanian spirit. Like our grandfathers and great grandfathers before us we must, while acknowledging and protecting our differences, stand together to protect the freedom and prosperity of all Albanians. We must do what we can as Americans to protect not only the freedom but even the lives of our brothers and sisters in Albania, Kosova, and Macedonia. Today, the date of November 28th, 1912, has especially important signficance for Albanians everywhere they are located in the world. On every November 28th, may we continue to celebrate the freedom and independence of all Albanians. Rrofte Dita e Flamurit. Rrofte Shqiperia. Rrofte Amerike. Rrofte Kosova Republike.

In Search of Faiku

“Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t’u refejme te huajve se rojme e duam te rojme me nder ne vendin tone.”

“Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land.”

The words of Faik Konitza were echoing in my head on a hot afternoon in August of 1988 as my wife, Jane, our then 10-year old son, Zachary, and I drove into the city of Janina in Northern Greece. We had just completed the long trek by rented car from Salonika in the east traveling in a westerly direction through Kalambaka, Meteoria into Metsova, through the Pindus Mountains until we finally arrived in Janina. Although Jane and I had visited Janina several years earlier, I was especially excited because, this time, our stay would be a little longer in that interesting city so I’d have the opportunity to take a trip about 25 miles north near the Albanian border to visit and explore Konitza, the birthplace of Faik Konitza.

My first real introduction to Faik Konitza was his own incompleted book “Albania: The Rockgarden of Eastern Europe” (edited posthumously by Qerim Panarity and published by Vatra in 1957). His name, however, was not unknown to me because as a young boy in the mid-1930s visiting the Misho family in Brookline, Massachusetts, I can still remember heated discussions between my cousin Llambi Misho, my uncle Lazi Christo, the ever-articulate Fan Noli, and others where the names “Faiku” or “Konitza” were prominently mentioned. Since I was too young at the time to have any clue about who Faik Konitza was, I did, nonetheless, get the strong impression that my elders were talking about a very important Albanian person.

In any event, here we now were in Janina ready to begin the ” Search for Faiku” It was with a sense of great expectation that on the morning of our planned trip to Konitza, I brought my road map downstairs to the hotel clerk so he could advise us as to the best route. The clerk was a little puzzled that we wanted to spend “a whole day” in Konitza which he said was just a small town and there were other, more interesting places that he thought we should visit. We jumped into our car and began the first leg of our “Search for Faiku.” As we drove towards Konitza and the road became narrower, the scenery seemed more lovely as we came closer to the mountains that are the border between and Albania and Greece. The heat had created a certain haze over the mountains, and as we got closer to Konitza, which is located on the side of a mountain, the houses seemed to glow and shimmer in the sun. Although I had imagined Konitza as a rustic village, when we reached the outskirts where, after driving down a steep, winding hill, we saw that Konitza was a bustling community lined with shops, banks, and cafes on each side of streets surrounding a small town square. We parked the car, and then entered a small coffee shop where I could plan my strategy about getting more information about Faiku or maybe even locating his birthplace. I had learned from several earlier experiences that in that part of Northern Greece, you had to be a little careful about telling someone that you were an “Albanian.” That seemed rather odd to me because, according to a journal written by an Englishman, Stuart Hughes, about his tour of Konitza at the beginning of the 19th century, Konitza was then comprised of 800 houses of which 600 were Albanian and only 200 Greek!

However, we were obviously American tourists, and all during our trip, the local people had always been eager to help us. If only I could find an Albanian, I thought, then obviously my task would be alot easier!

I then recalled what I did when Jane and I were once visiting in Istanbul. I had looked intently at the faces of people around me in a small restaurant to see if I could find one that – somehow – looked “Albanian.” After I picked out what I thought might be a couple of good possibilities, I quietly approached the person with a smile on my face and politely asked “A Flisni Shqip? (Do you speak Albanian?).” Well, that was probably not the wisest thing for me to do because after I did that a couple of times, the people I had spoken to were very careful to avoid eye contact with me. So, what had worked for me in Istanbul – especially in restaurants where I did find some Albanians – wasn’t working for me here in Konitza!

Next, I decided to go into a bank to exchange some American money but really to make an inquiry about where I might be able to find an Albanian. I was directed to “a small fruit shop” which was believed to be owned by Albanians. The shop was, indeed, small and very modest with a few figs and some peppers, a lot of onions, and a case full of candy. After I entered, I told the young, very pretty woman behind the counter alternately in English, Albanian, and the few Greek words that I knew, that I was an American interested in learning something about the Albanians of Northern Greece and especially about Faik Konitza, who, I understood, was born right here in Konitza and went on to become the Albanian Minister to America during the 1930′s. She understood enough to send someone to find a man called Spiro. He took me outside and pointed to an area a distance away on the lower side of the hill where he believed the Konitza family once lived. And much to my amazement, he informed me that he had heard that Faiku was somehow related to the most famous Albanian of all time, Skanderbeg! However, my sense, again, was that Spiro, as well as other Albanian-speaking people of Northern Greece were very guarded when they spoke Albanian, and they rarely elaborated on their Albanian origin.

Driving from the town center down towards the rural area outside of Konitza proper, we came upon a grand-looking house located at some distance away that was fitting for a Bey (which Faiku was). A brick-and-stone structure rising two stories high, the house, surrounded by a fence, was located on gently-sloping land away from the main road. An iron gate leading to the entrance was partially open, and as we walked up the path towards the front door, we saw a sign that said “Museum.” Although the bulding was old, it had obviously been renovated. Regrettably, the door was locked so we looked all around hoping to see some sign of human life but to no avail. The place and the area were deserted.
So we went back into Konitza and spent a pleasant few hours walking around and looking at some of the older buildings. We were especially struck by an old arch-shaped Roman foot bridge that was located in a lovely setting on the way out of town.

The time that we spent in Konitza held a certain kind of magic and unreality for me, and, to this day, I believe with all my heart that I did walk on the same ground that Faiku walked on when he was a child in Konitza, and that my eyes saw some of the same sights that he saw, and that I may even have touched the home of his early youth. As I learned more about this extraordinary Albanian who went on to become a great champion of Albanian nationalism and independence, I began to realize that my “Search for Faiku” was just beginning. Now, perhaps more urgently than ever before, is the time for other Albanians to inspire us with a “Shqipetarizme” that is so needed today – both in this country and in Albania! On this day, I wish that the ” Search for Faiku” in all of us may never end.

There is no more fitting salute to Faik Konitza – a great man – than his own, truly inspirational words so let me leave you with:
“Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t’u refejme te huajve se rojme e duam te rojme me nder ne vendin tone.”*
“Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land.”
Faik Konitza – i perjetshim qofte kujtimi i tij (may his memory be eternal)!

*ALBANIA, Nr. 6, 1897, page 19

The Writings of Faik Konitza from his Review “ALBANIA”
While in Paris in 1895, Faik Konitza first learned about the existence of an Albanian national movement and the books in Albanian printed in Bucharest. He attempted to go there to publish a daily, but the project did not materialize. He then decided to publish in Brussels his own review, ALBANIA, the first issue of which appeared on March 25, 1897. Issued as a monthly and sometimes a bimonthly and written in Albanian and French, its publication first in Brussels and later in London, lasted until 1909, something of a record for an Albanian periodical of this era. ALBANIA was much sought after by Albanian intellectuals, both in the south and in the north – in the north because it contained articles in the Geg dialect and used an alphabet which was close to that of the Bashkimi of Shkoder. In 1899 Faik also started the publication of the fortnightly Albania e Vogel (Little Albania) which comprised news of special political interest and noteworthy events. In addition, he published a calendar and a primer for adults. Faik Konitza’s work in ALBANIA, which he always called the organ of the Albanians of Albania, at a time when the Albanian movement was in its infancy, may be said to have been patriotic in its motives and a highly valuable contribution. –The Albanian National Awakening, 156-9, Prof. Stavro Skendi, Princeton University Press, 1967

“Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t’u refejme te huajve se rojme e duam te rojme me nder ne vendin tone.”
- Nr. 2, 1897, page 19

“Sot mire, neser keq. Ku vemi, pse duallme? A duam te meremi vesh dhe te bejme ndonje pune? Ahere le te mblidhemi te peshojme punen mire, edhe mos te humbasim kohe, se u poshtruam ne sy te botes.”
- Vol. B, 1898, page 103

“Mjerisht, ne Shqiperi ka pake pula. Shqipetaret jane te gjithe kendeza.”
- Nr. 2, 1900, page 51

“Trimeria e vertet eshte ajo qi vihet ne sherbim te se drejtes e t’atdheut.”
- Nr. 9, 1901, page 139

“Ti qe leve trim, beje fora nje here jataganin per nder te Shqiperise.”
- Nr. 3, 1903, page 44

“Palla ime eshte penda: ate palle e kam, me ate perpiqem t’i sherbej atdheut.”
- Nr. 3, 1903, page 44

Remembering Albania’s Protection of the Jews During the Holocaust

Author: Dr. Anna Kohen

I’m honored to be here today commemorating the biggest tragedy of our nation, the Holocaust. We are also here to celebrate one of the aspects of human behavior — that of helping each other in time of need. We look back on these dark times of civilization with tearful eyes and broken hearts trying to find lighter moments to ease the pain.

Every tradegy has its own good side. It brings people together regardless of race, color, or religion. It tries to restore hope in their victim’s soul and attempts to heal the wounds inflicted on them by their fellow humans. The Holocaust is not only going to be remembered for the millions of lives that perished into the flames of hatred, it will also be remembered for the humanity of others helping the Jews.

There is a small country in the heartland of Europe called Albania where I was fortunately born, where hospitality to foreigners is part of their tradition. During the Second World War, not only did the Albanians save all the Jews who were living among them but they dared to share their homes, their food and their lives with them. Albania has its share of Oscar Shindlers, and, indeed, so many that we could never have thanked each glorious one of them.

Let us be reminded that not one – not one – of the Jews living in Albania, or those who sought refuge there were turned over to the fascists — all found a safe haven at great danger to their protectors.

My family was one of many who were saved. I’m not a survivor but a child of survivors, born in Vlora in southern Albania. My parents, Nina and David Kohen, came from Janina, Greece. They were living in Vlora when the Nazis invaded Albania. They fled to the mountains and hid in a small Muslim village called Trevlazer. They took Muslim names, my father David became Daut, my mother Nina became Bule, and my brother Elio became Ali. Everyone in the village knew they were Jews but not one person betrayed them.

I had a very interesting experience that I would like to share with you: when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I was walking down the street with my mother, and I heard someone shouting, “Bule, Bule!!!” I turned my head to see what was going on, and this woman was running towards us. She ran to my mother and started to kiss and hug her with tears streaming down her face. Later on, my mother told me that she was one of the women from the Muslim village that had saved her life. Other Jews were hiding in people’s houses. As you can see, the Albanian people risked their lives for the Jews. I would not be here today delivering this speech if it were not for the courage and generosity of those Albanians.

Until the year 1990, little was known about Albania and the Albanian Jews but when things began to change in the country, an Israeli photographer, Gavra Mandil, remembered the Veseli family who saved his life. Gavra Mandil had taken refuge in Albania after the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia, and the Veseli family saved him. He invited Refik Veseli to Israel, and, for the first time, an Albanian Muslim was honored with the title Righteous Gentile. As a matter of fact, if you look at the calendar in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, on the second page in the month of February, is a picture of Gavra Mandil and Refik Veseli. Since then, more and more Righteous Albanians were discovered and honored in Israel. A list of all of their names is posted in the museum.

On behalf of the Albanian Jews living in Albania, Israel, and America, I would like to give a message to the Albanian people and the Righteous Gentiles: thank you for saving us, we will never forget you.

As Apostol Kotani says in his recent book, The Hebrews of Albania During Centuries, “Sikur te kisha krahe e te fluteroja do te veja te puthja token Shqipetare qe me shpetoj jeten. / If I could have wings to fly, I would come to kiss the holy Albanian land which saved my life.” Thank you.