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

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