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.

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