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.