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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balazs Trencsenyi
Michal Kopecek

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

Albania, what it was, what it is and what it will be?

Sami Frashëri
Traduction de Rigels Halili

Texte intégral

1Title: Shqipëria ç’ka qënë, ç’është e ç’do të bëhet? Mendime për shpëtimt të mëmëdheut nga rreziket që e kanë rrethuarë (Albania, what it was, what it is and what it will be? Thoughts on saving the motherland from the perils that beset it)

2Originally published: Bucharest, Shoqëria ‘Dituria’ (‘Knowledge’ Society), 1899

3Language: Albanian

4The edition used is Shqipëria ç’ka qënë, ç’është e ç’do të bëhet (Albania, what it was, what it is and what it will be), (Tirana: Sh. B. Luarasi, 1993), p. 96.

About the author

5Sami Bey Frashëri (Şemseddin Sami) [1850, Frashër (Southeast Albania) – 1904, Istanbul]: linguist, lexicographer, novelist and playwright. The multifarous Ottoman/Albanian intellectual was born in the village of Frashër, then in the province of Yanya (Gr. Jannina, Alb. Janina). He is the brother of Abdyl (Abdül) Bey (politician) and Naim Bey (poet), two important names in the formation of the Albanian nationalist movement. In 1868, Sami was sent to Zossimea, a Greek gymnasium in Jannina, where he learned ancient and modern Greek, French and Italian. He also acquired fluency in Arabic and Persian by taking private lessons. In 1871, he moved to Istanbul and started working in the Government Press Office as a translator. In 1876, he started publishing the Sabah (Morning), one of the most prominent newspapers of the period. In 1872, he authored one of the earliest novels in the Ottoman Turkish language, the Ta‛aşşuk-ı Tal‛at ve Fıtnat [The love affair of Tal‛at and Fıtnat], where traditional male-female relationships in Ottoman Muslim society are addressed critically. At the same time, Sami deserves to be called the most important ideologue of the Albanian nationalist movement. Between 1877 and 1881, along with his brother, Abdyl, and other Albanian-born members of the Ottoman elite, he actively participated in the founding of various Albanian cultural clubs and organizations that promoted the rise of national consciousness among Albanians. He was among the founders and an active member of the Komiteti Shqiptar i Stambollit (The Albanian Committee of Istanbul) and also the founder in chief of Shoqëria e të Shtypurit Shkronja Shqip (The Albanian Printing Association). It was through his inspiration that a new Albanian alphabet was prepared on the basis of Latin and Greek scripts. Sami was indisputably the most competent Ottoman scholar using the Turkish language. His Turkish Lexicon (Kamus-ı Türki), still a standard reference for studies involving Ottoman Turkish, was a monumental achievement for its time with its technical rigor and its careful deployment of modern linguistic protocols. A vocal advocate of simplification in language, Sami Bey contributed tremendously to the development of a modern, more vernacular form of academic and literary expression in Turkish. Interestingly, due to his diverse intellectual output and multiple cultural/political allegiances as an “Ottoman Albanian,” Şemseddin Sami is venerated as a significant national figure both in Albania and in Republican Turkey. Sami Bey’s multiple ‘national’ persona is sufficient proof to the complex realities of a multicultural empire imperiled by the ordeals of mounting nationalism.

6Main works: Ta‛aşşuk-ı Tal‛at ve Fıtnat [The love affair of Tal‛at and Fıtnat] (1872); Besa Yahud Ahde Vefa [Pledge of honor, or loyalty to an oath] (1874); Kamus-ı Fransevi/Dictionnaire Français-Turc (1882); Kamus-ı Fransevi/Dictionnaire Turc-Français (1885); Abetare e gjuhës shqipe [Primer of the Albanian language] (1886); Shkronjëtore e gjuhës shqipe [A grammar of the Albanian language], (1886); Kamusü’l-A‛lam/Dictionnaire universel d’histoire et de geographie [Universal dictionary of history and geography] (1889–1896); Shqipëria ç’ka qënë, ç’është e ç’do të bëhët [Albania, what it was, what it is and what it will be?] (1899); Kamus-ı Türki [Turkish Lexicon] (1900).


7The last decade of the nineteenth century was a relatively calm period in the southwest regions of the Balkans. For Albanian activists, though, it was a period of intense agitation. With the opening of the first schools which offered education in Albanian (the first one was established in Korça in 1887), greater efforts were dedicated to education. The Albanian diaspora in Bucharest undertook the important task of supporting these schools materially but also providing a large range of publications. After the founding of Shoqëria ‘Dituria’ (‘Knowledge’ Society), this activity became institutionalized and more consistent. It was at the printing house of this society that textbooks, literary works and political manifestos were published. However, publication activity was increased also in other regions, where Albanians used to live. In 1897, in Brussels, Faik Konitza (Alb. Konica) started publishing his review, Albania, which became the most significant periodical in Albanian during this period and among the best in the history of Albanian publishing. His vast knowledge was combined with a rare ability in analyzing political events and a spicy writing style.

8The educational and publication activity was combined also with a political one, though still not well organized. Thus, in 1899 in Pejë (Tur. Ipek, Srb. Peć) an attempt was undertaken to found a new Albanian League. The main leader of this organization was a Muslim cleric, Haxhi Zeka, already known as a main figure in Kosovo during the Albanian League of Prizren (see the Program of the Albanian League of Prizren). As a matter of fact, the political program of the new League did not contain significant deviations from that of the Albanian League of Prizren. The main demand was still that of creating an Albanian autonomous vilayet. But during the founding meeting, there appeared a controversy regarding the political organization of this future vilayet. Most of the participants envisaged this vilayet as a unification of the four ‘Albanian’ vilayets (Janina, Kosova, Shkodra and Manastir), while another group, mainly landlords, demanded that the vilayet of Salonica (Gr. Thessaloniki, Tur. Selanik, Bg. Solun) should also be incorporated into this entity. Though it was well known that there was no Albanian population living in this area, this demand stemmed from the fact that Albanian landlords possessed a large part of the land in this vilayet, mainly in Thessaly. This ambiguity was also present in the documents of the League. From that assembly, two memoranda were sent to the central authorities in Istanbul, each containing different claims. But the reaction of the Ottoman authorities was prompt and severe. After some efforts to resist, the League was crushed.

9It was in this historical context that Sami’s book was published. The work is divided into three main parts, which refer to the past, the present situation, and the Albanian future. The brief historical account contains a list of some of the stereotypes about Albanian history as they were formulated and presented often by foreign scholars and Albanian intellectuals during the whole nineteenth century. Sami starts with the issue of the origins of Albanians by supporting the theory that the Albanians are descendants of Pelasgic tribes. For him, Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus of Epirus were Pelasgs, i.e. ancestors of the Albanians. Sami refers to the Illyrian tribes without relating them to the Albanians, which means that at that time the theory of the Illyrian origin of Albanians was not so popular as it is today. Following a chronological order, Sami focuses on the arrival of the Ottomans in the Balkans and the consolidation of Ottoman rule in the peninsula. Moreover, in his work, central place is given to Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu (Skanderbeg), who is depicted in a romantic manner and idealized as a national hero. The figure of Skanderbeg was crucial for the cultural and national identification of the Arbëresh, the population of Albanian origin, which had lived in southern Italy since the fifteenth century. For them, Skanderbeg was the main hero of a glorious past, the only and unique leader of the Albanians, and, finally, a continuous point of reference in their popular songs or in any other cultural activity. The Skanderbeg era provided the poetic material for some of the main Arbëresh poets such as Jeronim De Rada or Gavril Dara i Riu, whose poems lie at the foundations of modern Albanian literature. But in Albania itself, he was merely a local hero whose name was involved in legends and tales especially in the region of Kruja. Nevertheless, due to the enormous role of the Arbëresh intelligentsia in the ‘Albanian Awakening,’ Skanderbeg soon became a symbol of the whole Albanian movement. Naim Frashëri, Sami’s brother, wrote an epic poem dedicated to him, which soon became used as a textbook. In his description of Skanderbeg, Sami follows the poetic style of his brother. However, Sami does not criticize Ottoman rule. On the contrary, he emphasizes the central position of the Albanians in the Ottoman Empire until the introduction of the reforms in 1839, and the fact that a large number of Ottoman high officials were of Albanian origin.

10Contrasted to the ‘glorious past,’ Sami presents the political stagnation, economical under-development, cultural obscurantism and the absence of a vernacular education system—the main features of the Albanian reality of that period. In his view, the political and especially economic status of the Albanians deteriorated following the introduction of the Tanzimat. Corruption had increased, coupled with economic decline, and the Albanians lost their influence. The political impact of the national ideologies of the neightboring nations complicated the situation even further. Following the example of the Albanian League of Prizren, Sami defined the main aims of the Albanian League of Pejë as the achievement first of political autonomy and later on of full independence.

11Sami dedicates the third part of his work to the question of the organization of a future Albanian state. It was the first time that such a detailed political, economical, and social program has been elaborated in Albanian by an Albanian born ideologue. According to Sami, the political organization of this state was supposed to follow the republican principle. At the top of the executive power, Sami envisioned a Council, which would hold competences similar to those of the President in other states. But the real executive power would remain in the hands of a cabinet headed by a prime minister. The legislative power would lie with the General Council—an assembly similar to a Parliament—whose members would be elected by the people. Sami foresaw a reform in the field of education by creating a general educational system, based on gender equality (a revolutionary step if we consider the very low position of women in Albanian society at that time), the development of industry and economy, the foundation of a university, and reforms in several cultural domains.

12This work was the most articulate program of the Albanian Revival and had a strong influence among Albanian intellectuals. Very soon after its publication the book was translated into other languages. In 1904, Shahin Bey Kolonja (1865–1919), another leading Albanian activist of the period, translated Sami’s book into Ottoman Turkish and published it in Drita (The Light), a fortnightly that Kolonja edited in Sofia, between 1901 and 1908. An Albanian reprint of Sami’s book and its translation into Greek was published in 1907, again in Sofia. Further on, a German translation was published in 1913, in Vienna.

13In independent Albania, Sami’s book was regarded as the fundament of Albanian identity. Enver Hoxha once wrote that during the whole Second World War he kept this book in his bag, finding in it a great source of inspiration. After the war, when a new version of Albanian history was imposed, Albanian historians interpreted Sami’s account on the wonderful Albanian-Turkish coexistence before the Tanzimat only as an attempt of the author to avoid the reaction of the Ottoman authorities. But this interpretation seems rather unfortunate. As many among the Albanian notables as well as other activists of Muslim origin, Sami was truly convinced that the Albanian population was better off before the implementation of the Tanzimat. On the whole, the romantic and manipulative treatment of history, characterizing especially the first part of Sami’s work, never became the object of critical scrutiny. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this work played a crucial role during the final phase of the Albanian Revival and became an inspiration for the new independent Albanian state established in 1912.


Albania, what it was, what it is and what it will be? Thoughts on saving the motherland from the perils that beset it

15[…] Albanians speak one of the oldest and most beautiful languages of the world. The languages contemporary to, or sisters of the Albanian language, bеcame extinct a thousand years ago, leaving but fragments behind. Albanian is contemporary to Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and the language of Ancient India, as well as the language of Ancient Persia, Celtic, Ancient German, etc. Among the above-mentioned languages, however, some were the little sisters of Albanian, and some the younger; a lot of them have not been spoken for thousands of years and have no life outside old books. They are called “dead languages,” while our native Albanian, though just as ancient as they are, is alive and spoken nowadays as it used to be in the time of Pelasgs, who were Albanians just like us but disappeared since they forgot their language. The current inhabitants of the country called Albania, however, retained their language very well and kept the old language of legendary Pelasgs spoken to the present.

16How did it happen that Albanians were able to preserve their language during all these barbarian times? How was it possible that the Albanian language survived without changes or damage despite the lack of letters, writing, and schools, while other languages written and used with great care have changed and deteriorated so much that they are now known as other languages? The answer to all these questions is very simple: Albanians preserved their language and their nationality not because they had letters, or knowledge, or civilization, but because they had freedom, because they always stood apart and did not mix with other people or let foreigners live among them. This isolation from the world, from knowledge, civilization and trade, in one word, this savage mountain life allowed the Albanians to preserve their language and nationality.[…]

  • 1 Today’s Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

17In the North, Albania borders on Montenegro, Novi Pazar and Austrian-ruled Bosnia, and finally upon Serbia, in the East on Macedonia, in the South-East on Greece, and in the West and South-West on the sea that separates Albania from Italy and civilized Europe. The place contained between those borders is Albania, our lovely motherland. It is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Maybe it is not very rich, but it is really very beautiful. […] Its population amounts to around 2 million people or maybe more. From them some 100,000 are Vlachs, who live mostly in the Pindos Mountain and a few other places, about as many are Greeks living around Janina, and also Slavs inhabiting the Monastir1 valley and in some parts of Kosova. But even these people could be Albanians who have forgotten their language and have learned Greek or Slav languages at school or in church. Many of them do not possess any land or homes, because they are just tenants on someone else’s land who were brought to these territories when Albanians could not leave the rifle to take up the plough. All other people in Albania are simply Albanians, divided into Geg and Tosk. The Shkumbin river separates Gegëria in the North from Toskëria in the South, but even in the South there are some Gegs and one can occasionally hear the Geg dialect. Between Gegs and Tosks there are no significant differences. All are the same nation and speak the same language with some small differences, which will soon disappear after the introduction of a literary language. From a religious point of view two-thirds of the Albanians are Muslims and one third are Christians. Half the Christians are Catholics, or as we say Latins, and half are Orthodox. The Christians in Gegëria are Catholics and in Toskëria they are Orthodox. Muslims are also divided into Sunnites and Bektashi. […] Apart from Albanians living within Albania, there is about half a million of Albanians living abroad—in Italy, Greece, in different parts of Turkey, Montenegro etc. Among them, the Albanians in Greece and Italy are the most numerous. Those living in Greece left Albania before the coming of the Turks, during the Byzantine period: they fled the invading Huns and other tribes that came from the North and overran all of Albania. Then thousands of Albanians left their motherland and moved to Morea, Attica and other different regions of Greece. […] Most of the people living in Attica are Albanian; before it became the capital of the Greece, Athens was just a simple Albanian town and no other language but Albanian was heard there. […] In Italy the Albanians live in Calabria and Sicily in their own villages or regions, separate from the Italians and preserving their language and faith as many among them are Orthodox. There are around 300,000 people in Italy who are Albanians in blood and language. They left Albania after the death of Skanderbeg, when Albania fell in Turkish hands. Many other Albanians left the country at that time and moved to different places around Europe, but they all have been lost without a trace after losing their language and mixing with the local population. […]

18Albania was once a rich and prosperous country. Albanians earned their living by serving in the army, plundering the conquered territories or by practising several professions. […] This is no more the case; Albanians do not earn money in the army, but are forced to enroll; they do not return with gold-plated clothes and beautiful guns, but come home naked, sick and poor. European competition has thwarted Albanian production. What little money Albanians earn disappears into the hands of the European merchant. Government taxes are high and hardly payable. […] There is no good government in Albania. Day after day Albanians fight against each other, wasting Albanian blood, the blood that should be saved for the defense and salvation of our motherland.

19[…] The only aim of Albanians is to defend their country from being divided among its neighbors, to preserve its language and nationality, to resist the intrigues of their enemies, and finally to stop the infusion of the Greek and Slavic languages and propaganda, which are destroying the very essence of Albanian and Albanians. Every true Albanian will fight against any attempt to stop us in achieving these aims. Every possible means will be used. The first problem is language. There cannot be an Albania without Albanians; there cannot be Albanians without their language, and no Albanian language without an Albanian alphabet and schools, where Albanian will be taught. Therefore, our first goal is the language; the Turkish government should be forced to allow Albanians to learn their native tongue, to permit the opening of Albanian schools and the entry of Albanian books into the country. Any Albanian should first learn to read and write in Albanian, and only then should he flex his tongue with other languages. The second problem is the church. Albanians should have their own church, independent from the Greek or Slavonic churches, they should have their Albanian priests and should be able to read the Bible in Albanian, because Christ was neither Greek nor Slavonic. Unfortunately, this is impossible without replacing the present government with a new one that would be friendlier to Albanian efforts. Albanians need a government that would keep its eyes wide open unlike the blind rulers of today. What matters is how good our rulers are, not what names they bear. This is what Albanians strive for.

20Such government is as necessary for Albanians as bread and water. Without such a government they will not be able to resuscitate and spread their language, nor defend their nationality.

21Our boundaries should be delimited as soon as possible, because it is vital to know what Albania is and what it is not. European recognition is necessary as well. Albanians should perfect their knowledge and books for the benefit of their language; they should unite their efforts and appear as one nation in one country. Then, even if there is a war on the Balkan Peninsula and Turkey is defeated, Albania will stand on its own feet; no one will be able to either harm or split it. For the time being, however, this government shall pledge allegiance to the Empire as Albanians have been shedding their blood for the Porte for 500 years and they would certainly regret its fall; and yet they are aware that the Ottoman Empire is trying to destroy them and to disperse them among their enemies. Albanians will give their blood for this kingdom to the end, and they will keep their word as they always have. Under a good government they will become stronger and of even greater help to Turkey. But if Turkey does not change its attitude and continues to risk its security even in the face of its demise, as has so often been the case, then Albanians will try to save their minds and not lose themselves with this mad state that beckons death despite knowing well enough how to save itself.


1 Today’s Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.


Rigels Halili (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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