|Ode to the Albanian people...|
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Ode to the Albanian people...
"Ode to the Albanian people The Cries of the Eagle Echoed
By: Erman Dine
The Cries of the Eagle echoed Ode to the Albanian people who have survived, against all odds, the occupation of three consecutive empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman for a stretch of nearly 2000 years.
The cries of the Eagle echoed
For Poets and singers to hear
Its battles in blood were written
Lest we forget or bow to fear
The fight was fierce and long
Some wounds will never heal
Those who never surrendered
Will live on, in eternity!
The Albanians have managed to preserve their ancient identity, language, tradition and unique costumes for more than two thousand years. Some of their costumes have been adopted by their long time neighbors who, to put it mildly, havent always played nice. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire the territories that were inhabited by Albanians, aka know as Ethnic Albania, stretched from Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia all the way to Ioannina (Janina) which is today inside Greek territory, were taken by force by their neighbors. In the north by Serbia and Montenegro, east by Macedonia, and south by Greece. All of this was made possible with the support of the European powers at the time, mostly with the backing of England and France. In 1912 Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire, but this did not stop the efforts of their neighbors to seize more Albanian territory. There were times when this nation almost seized to exist, especially in 1913, only one year into its independence the European superpowers decided that this newly formed country, comprised of indigenous people with an ancient identity, should be divided into small pieces and given to the neighboring countries, with the stroke of the pen. It must have been the grace of God that saved them because just at the right time a country called United States of America on the other side of the world, intervened and saved them from disappearing into the population of the surrounding countries and quite possible into oblivion.
Albania was reduced to half of its natural territory by the end of WWII. It is the only country in Europe, if not in the entire world that is surrounded by its own people who live as a minority inside the borders of the neighboring countries, in Greece and what was known as Yugoslavia. The Albanian people living in these countries have suffered unspeakable atrocities. First it was the Cham (Ēam) people who were killed and raped by the so called militia and ultimately expelled from Greece, under the false pretense that they had aided the Nazis during the German occupation of Greece. Their personal wealth was confiscated. Their lands and homes were given to people who were brought there from other parts of Greece. Thirty five thousand Cham people of Albanian ethnicity were expelled from Greece. Some of them settled into Albania and still live there to this day. They are not permitted to enter Greek territory even today! The government of Greece has not accepted responsibility for these atrocities and does not even recognize the Cham Cause. As far as they are concerned it never happened.
After WWII Albania became part of the Eastern Block a geo-political map under the political influence of the Soviet Union. In 1945, Enver Hoxha became the Albanian ruler, a brutal and blood thirsty communist dictator who reigned by an iron first for the next four and a half decades and committed heinous crimes against his own people. During his reign he confiscated all personal wealth and nationalized it. Political opposition and pluralism were banned by law. Anyone who voiced disapproval of the authoritarian government was persecuted to fullest extent of the law. Some were executed by a firing squad, some were hung in public as an example for the masses. Physical and psychological torture were common methods used to get people to verbally accept wrong doing against the government. In many cases when torture failed to get a signed confession by the accused, false witnesses were used to give false testimony which was later used to incriminate the accused. Those fund guilty were, either executed or sentenced to serve tens of years in political prisons and hard labor concentration camps. This kind of psychological war-fare was justified as combating the enemy within an imaginary and fabricated enemy that would help the government terrorize the population into submission. The majority of the politically persecuted were sent to political prisons and concentration camps where they were subjugated to hard labor and were exempt from the most basic human rights. Hoxha exercised absolute power over every branch of the government from the year he took over, 1945 till the year he died in 1985. Even after his death Albania went on to continue his Stalinist legacy, until 1992. According to the ISKK Institute of Studies of the Crimes committed in Albania during Communism, there were 31,135 political prisoners. Another 59,009 were sent to concentration camps situated throughout the country. The ISKK states that during communism 7022 people lost their lives, 984 of them in political prisons and 6027 were killed, 308 people suffered severe psychological trauma while in political prisons, ultimately losing their minds. The country was hermetically closed from the rest of the world for 46 years. Anyone caught escaping was either shot dead on the spot or sentenced to a minimum prison term of 15 years, and their immediate families were sent to concentration camps where they remained for years. One such Camp was that of Tepelena, known as the 'Extermination Camp'. The survivors of this camp have given testimony of the atrocities that were committed there by the Stalinist government of Hoxha during a span of 4 years, from 1949-1953. The camp housed about three thousand people, the majority of which were old men, women and children of all ages. According to a CIA document the living conditions in the camp were beyond anything anyone can imagine. Old men, women and children, over the age of fourteen, were forced to do hard labor. They often carried fire wood and logs on their backs from the mountain down to the camps barracks which was located at the bottom of the mountain. Many people died from poor hygiene, sickness, food poisoning, famine and exhaustion from the slave labor they were forced to do. It is said, by the survivors of the camp that a total of 700 people died in the camp, three hundred of them were children of all ages. Thirty-three children perished in just one night. As if losing a child wasnt hard enough for these poor people they were forced to rebury their children, some up to three times. The bodies of the diseased were buried one final time near a river. One day they were all swept away by the surging waters of the river to never be found again. This was a deliberate attempt, by the government, to erase all physical evidence of the horrendous crimes they had committed. A survivor of the camp remembers the day the camp of Tepelen was closed. He said, the people who survived the camp of Tepelena were transferred to another one, but that didnt stop them from seeing it as the day of deliverance from the claws of hell on earth. He said he saw his mother turn to the sky and, with her hands in a praying position, thanked God for sparing her children. He would go on to say, 'that moment is etched in my memory and will haunt me till the day I die'. This was just the tip of the iceberg because these people lived and endured the most brutal communist regime known to date. And it was consistent as it was brutal and unforgiving from 1945 to 1992.
Nine years later, between the years 1998-1999, the Albanians living in Kosovo, which at the time had a population of more than two million, endured yet another atrocity. The Serbian blood thirsty dictator Slobodan Milosevic, started an ethnic cleansing campaign. He expelled 850,000 Albanians from Kosovo. Once again the Albanians, outnumbered and outgunned were forced to take up arms and defend their homes and families from the Serbian army.
Serbian soldiers under the Serbian national flag and military uniform stormed into the towns and neighborhoods of the Albanians. Plundered their homes, and violated woman and their daughters, often in front of their helpless parents, especially if they refused to leave their homes. This happened in 1999 in the heart of Europe, at a time when the rest of the developed world was basking its self in the spoils of technological advancements, lasting peace and prosperity like never before. Thanks to the American government which initiated and financed the NATO intervention, this senseless genocide was ended, and the Serbian army was prevented from claiming more innocent lives. After the war ended, the Albanians that were expelled from their homes, returned. A few years later Kosovo declared its Independence. The political flag of the new country of Kosovo is meant to represent and include all the different ethnicities that live within its borders even though 90-95% of the population is Albanian. But in the heart of every Albanian who lives in Kosovo resides the national flag of Albania.
Before I continue with the next chapter on the Albanian history, I want to point out something that will help the reader understand the essence of this essay. The history of this part of the world is rather complicated. A lot has happened, a lot has been manipulated and twisted, politicized and polarized many times over. These historical inaccuracies are responsible for creating on going conflicts between all of the countries in the Balkan Peninsula and are still going on to this day. It all started around the end of the 18th century, when the different ethnicities living in the Balkan started to break away from the Ottoman Empire. They created their own countries and nations as we know them today. In a span of two hundred years conventional history has spread one of the biggest misconceptions and it has been perpetuated quite irresponsibly with no respect for historical truth. The perfect example is the ancient Greek language, which was the official language used by the different ethnicities who lived in the different parts of the Balkan Peninsula. There are countless archeological artifacts as well as written historical books from different periods which were written in Greek throughout the territories mentioned above. But this alone doesnt mean that the populations living in these territories were Greek! So the misconception is found in the belief that the common official language that was used by different ethnicities must mean they are all, one and the same. This is not true! Just because a particular language was written before another it doesnt not prove that the former is older than the latter. This mentality is not only infantile and ignorant but also dangerous. Many authors of antiquity referred to the languages spoken by other ethnicities in the region as barbarian languages. A term used to describe all the languages that differed from the Greek. One such language was the Albanian. These barbaric languages were unwritten languages that were spoken at home by the people living in the region. In linguistics terms they were called organic languages which were used by ordinary folk, in contrast with the artificial languages which were created and used by the elites of the empires. Again, I cant emphasize this enough! The subjects of these empires were of different ethnicities and spoke a different languages at home. Each of the official languages that were used by the different empires served a particular purpose. They were used for administrative purposes, for ease of use and communication throughout the Empire. One such language was the ancient Greek the official language of the Hellenic Period. Latin was another such language which was spoken by the elites of the Roman Empire and later went on to become the official language of the Roman Catholic Church and Middle Greek that of the Orthodox Church. As was Ottoman Turkish (a mixture of Arabic, Persian and Turkish) the official language of the Ottoman Empire and as Russian was the language of the Soviet Union. So now that we got this out of the way, lets get back to the Albanians
The Albanian people are proud of their heritage, history and ancient traditions. They have been where they are now for thousands of years. It is believed that they are descendants of the ancient Illyrian people. Some also think that they share a lineage with Thraco-Dacian as well, the ancient inhabitants of modern Romania. As a matter of fact in the Romanian language there are over one thousand words which are not found in any of the other IE languages except for Albanian. Romanian is a Latin based language, Albanian is not! There is a theory which states that at some point before the arrival of the Slavic tribes in the Balkans, around the 6th century AD, the Albanians and the Romanians shared the same territory and language, most likely were of the same ethnicity. The Albanians have never been the conqueror, but rather the liberator and the defender. Their distant ancestors gave the Hellenic Culture, the so called ancient Greeks', a higher conscience, their Gods and Myths. They gave Macedonia, Alexander the Great. They have their own version of his name which is Leka I Madh'. This name has been passed on from father to son for 2400 years. They have even named their national currency Lek after him. They gave the world another great general by the name of Pyrros(Alb. Pirro) who belonged to the Malosian tribe (Alb. Moloset) an Illyrian tribe who lived in Epirus, one of the many names the Albanians have identified with. According to ancient authors the inhabitants of Epirus (Alb. Epir) spoke a barbaric language. This was a common term used for all those who did not speak the so called ancient Greek language. Some linguists and scholars believe his name can be explained by the Albanian language. The word prush in Albanian means ambers, this would explain his red facial and hair features. They gave Rome some of its most glorious generals who went on to become Emperors. One of them was the famous Constantine the Great, the creator of Constantinople, which means the city of Constantine. He is known as the emperor who embraced and spread Christianity. They gave the world Pops and bishops during the Byzantine Empire, during which time the first musical pentagram was created and introduced by an Albanian monk. They gave the Ottoman Empire hell like no one else. One of those people was Gjergj Kastrioti an Albanian Lord, known to the rest of world as Skanderbeg, which means Alexander the Great, a tittle awarded to him by the Ottomans because of his superior knowledge of ware-fare and personal skill in combat. His statue can be found today in many cities around Europe. He kept the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Albania (then known as Epirus) for 25 years, at which time Europe had the chance to mobilize and defend itself against the threat of an Ottoman attack. Skanderbeg was awarded the title 'Athlete of Christ' by the Pop and was chosen by the same Pop to lead the third crusade against the Ottomans who had succeeded in invading all of the Balkan Peninsula, except for Albania. The third crusade never came to fruition especially after the Pop died, at which point Europe fell into a long lasting conflict and political upheaval. Soon after Skanderbeg died, Albania eventually was conquered and ruled by the Ottomans for the next 500 years. The Ottomans never forgot Skanderbeg and all the other Albanian Lords who kept an empire at the gates for two and a half decades. Two Sultans and their armies made up of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, who brought with them the latest and the greatest weapons of the time were defeated, battle after battle for 25 consecutive years. Think about that for a moment, Isnt that remarkable? I think the Turks are still mad at the Albanians for that, to this day, by the way Turkey is whats left of what was known as The Ottoman Empire. Also what once was Constantinople today is called Istanbul. So in return for getting their butt kicked by the Albanians for 25 years the Ottomans treated them most unfavorably especially when compared to all the other ethnicities living under its rule. The Albanian language was banned and so were any symbols of Albanian ethnicity. This only infuriated the Albanians even more and from time to time they would rise up and cause the Ottomans quite a headache, so much so that at some point it was decided that rebellious Albanians should be moved deep into Asia Minor, as far away from home as possible. It is believed, today there are five million Albanians living in Turkey, in part due to this practice which at the time proved to be somewhat successful both in suppressing and diffusing the on-going revolts of the Albanian population under Ottoman rule. During the five centuries of Ottoman occupation the Albanian sense of ethnic and religious identity eventually began to weaken, so much so that Albanians were converting to Islam in massive numbers, especially in the later years of the 17th century. But around the end of 19th century a few Albanian intellectuals came to rescue their people. They rekindled the Albanian sense of identity, a period known in Albanian history as The Albanian Renaissance. In 1911 they put together one last uprising which culminated with the declaration of Independence in November of 1912. The Albanians have been self-governed throughout most of their history. They used a tribal system called Canon or Code. The two Canons (Alb. Kanun) that were used in the north were that of Dukagjini and the Canon of Skanderbeg, both prominent, Nobel families who played a key role in the fight against the Ottomans. Albanians used this type of self-governing until the early part of 20th century. This kind of self-governing allowed them to preserve their way of life for a number of centuries while they were subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Most Albanians consider the five centuries of Ottoman rule as the darkest period in their history. Due to the fact that it had a profound negative effect on the Albanian population and culture as well. They were forced to adopt a culture and a way of life which was very different from theirs. They are now beginning to learn their true history. They are slowly becoming aware of their glory days and the special place they once held in European society before the Ottoman occupation. But it hasn't been easy because the neighboring countries are pretty prolific at coming up with creative ways to portray Albanian history to the public opinion as nothing more than 'myths and legends'. Which is an attempt to legitimize the territories they have already seized from Albania.
Before the Albanians gained their independence, nearly one hundred years earlier, they helped the Greeks win their war of independence from the Ottomans. Eighty of the one hundred heroes of the Greek Independence War were Albanians and as a token of appreciation for this act of velour and sacrifice the Greek government adopted the Albanian kilt 'fustanella' as a dress for the royal guard. The fustanella was also warn by the Albanians who helped the Greeks win the War of Independence. And last but not least they gave the world Mother Teresa, whose real name was Gonxhe Bojaxhi. In Albanian Gonxhe is a bud (baby flower) bojaxhi painter!
The Albanian language is believed to be one of the oldest languages in Europe. Some linguists and scholars believe it even predates the so called ancient 'Greek'. It survived for thousands of years because it was the language spoken by the people who lived under the various empires that ruled that part of the world for nearly 2000 years.
The Albanians identify with the Eagle which in their culture is considered to be a sacred bird and is protected by law. They have identified with the eagle in different forms throughout their long and dynamic history. It predates the Hellenic Era, a culture that was comprised of many different ethnicities which used a single language. No one really knows what that language was called, but we know the Romans called it Greek and thus the terms Ancient Greece and Ancient Greek language. The truth is, during the Hellenic period there was neither a Greek national identity nor a Greek language. None of the ethnicities that made up the Hellenic Culture called themselves Greeks. Nor did the city states of that time, such as Athens or Sparta. By the way, Hollywood movies showing maps of 'Greece' in movies such as; Troy, 300, (especially the sequel of 300, where actors are heard saying phrases like For Mother Greece? throughout the movie) and Alexander the Great are historically inaccurate and misleading. But then again, who learns history from Hollywood movies? They are very entertaining but often historically inaccurate, so back to the Albanians. They have a saying there "Pėr Zotin..." which means 'I swear to God', which is interesting in and of itself. Zot in Albanian means God. The same word is used for Mr. Zot and Mrs. Zonjė . It is said the word Zot (God) is derived from Zeus which in turn is believed to have derived from the word Zė or Za (two different forms of the same word used by different dialects one by the Gegs in the north and one by the Tosks in the south). The words mean 'voice'. The Voice of all reason and wisdom as Zeus was known to be. A God above all other Gods in the Pagan hierarchy of Gods. It is also said that Albanians used to swear by Zeus. 'Pėr Zeusin which means literally I swear to/by Zeus'. Another interesting fact is that Zeus often took the form of the eagle. The Romans also identified with the Eagle as did the Byzantine Empire. Many Nobel families, from different ethnic backgrounds, living under the Byzantine Empire adopted the double headed eagle which represented East and West, the Roman Catholic Church in the west and that of the Orthodox in the East. One such family was that of the Kastrioti, the family of Gjergj (George) Kastrioti aka (Skanderbeg), Albanias most loved and revered national hero. In March of 1444 a meeting was held between all of the Albanian Lords in the city of Leshe where it was decided they would fight the Ottomans united under one flag. Skanderbeg was chosen to be the leader and his family banner as their flag. From this day forth Albanians have identified with this flag and still do to this day! Some believe that the League of Lezhė which took place March 2nd 1444 was the first attempt at creating an Albanian nation. It's worth mentioning that some people believe this was the first time any ethnic group in Europa came close to conceiving a nation as we know it today. Unlike any other place in Europe where people were living under the rule of a King. In Albania there were Lords and Nobleman but no King. The League of Lezhė was a premeditated effort to unite all Albanian Lords and their armies into one, under one flag and one leader. It seems the lines of ethnicity in the region were clearly drawn as far back as the 15th century. Especially since the Albanians formed an alliance with the Serbs who first agreed to help Skanderbeg and later betrayed him.
I dedicate this to all of the Albanian people, who have struggled to preserve their identity more than any other nation or ethnicity in continental Europe. They have had to fight for survival for consecutive centuries, especially at the beginning of the 20thcentury and as late as 20 years ago during the Kosovo War. The Kosovo Liberation Army was quickly formed to come to the aid of its people until America and NATO finally decided to intervene. To those American, British soldiers and all others who were involved in liberating Kosovo from Serbian occupation. The Kosovo Liberation Army known in Albanian as the UĒK (Ushtria ēlirimtare e Kosovės) although outnumbered and outgunned put up an honorable fight and were able to keep the Serbian army from taking over some of the towns in Kosovo. To the soldiers, the true unsung heroes who after the war often return to their homes and their families, who lead humble simple lives and never feel entitled to any special treatment or privilege. To the Albanians living in Macedonia aka FYROM who are discriminated against by the Slavic population in Macedonia. They are treated as second class citizens, who only recently, less than a month ago, managed to have the Albanian language become the official language throughout the country, something well over due especially since they make up 25% of the countrys population. Some surveys say the number is as high as 40%. To the Albanian people who survived the longest and most brutal dictatorship Europe has seen in its modern history, the communist era which in Albania lasted longer than any other country, from 1945-1992. To all those who died trying to break free of the chains of oppression, domestic and foreign. To those who never gave in, who never collaborated with the autocratic government that turned its people against one another. To those who chose persecution and even death rather than cause harm to other fellow Albanians. And last but not least to my parents, their brothers and sisters who survived this nightmare which lasted for 46 long years. They are also survivors of the infamous Extermination Camp of Tepelena. They were in their early teens when the camp closed, in 1953. They have been the solid rock upon which I built my foundation, a true inspiration and a beacon of light throughout my life!
The strength required to preserve ones self-identity or that of a nation by its people against all odds is not found in the brut physical strength nor in the numbers nor in the quality of the weapons of the time. It is found in the hearts and souls of the people that refuse to give up. Those who will protect that which is near and dear to them at all costs. That which is passed on from previous generations, from parent to child, in the form of words, songs, and carvings on the stone. Much like the Hebrew people managed to survive the Holocaust, and many other atrocities before it. They finally realized their two thousand year old dream of building a nation of their own. The identity of a people who share the same language, traditions and sacrifices for tens of centuries is a bond that is stronger than any opposing force. The will of Man to preserve what he has seen, and recorded in his memory during his brief time on earth, the desire of a mortal being for eternal life is a force of nature that knows no boundaries, neither time nor space. This force of nature, like all other forces of nature, may give and bend around man-made objects but in time, always returns to its true form. The Albanians have survived and will continue to survive by this very Virtue!
To all those Albanians who light up like a match at the smallest dose of injustice, don't be ashamed of it. Dont try to hide it! Embrace it and learn to channel it to your benefit!
You have fire in your heart that refuses to burn out because you were there when Prometheus gave the gift of fire to Man!
You learn any Indo-European language with ease because your language is the missing map that can connect all the dots and can shed light on the darkest corners of the linguistic world, which is plagued with countless speculations and rash theories aimed at giving the unknown a familiar form!
You have empathy for the suffering because you have suffered tremendously. It is this reason why you saved more Jews during WWII than all the other countries combined. As well as your code of honor Besa which requires you to keep your word once a promise is made!
You are rebellious because you know injustice like no one else.
You are caring and nurturing because you value and love life, you know how fragile it really is.
You love and hate like no one else because you have been hurt and betrayed like no one else.
You are proud, because despite all the opposing forces working against you, old and new, domestic and foreign, you are still here!
Embrace these unique characteristics which define you. They are deeply rooted in your psyche. They are the collective memories of your ancestors written in your DNA who have equipped you with an indestructible core, which is your Identity! You were a Pagan, a Catholic, an Orthodox a Muslim and an Atheist. You did what you had to do to survive, but you always knew who you were. You Identity is the very source of the fuel that has given you the energy and strength which propelled you through countless centuries and will continue to guide you to the end of time!
Note on the Author of the Essay: Erman Dine has studied Liberal Arts as well as Music Theory and Composition at Kings Borough Community College of Brooklyn, NY, and Ramapo College of New Jersey.
He is an aspiring singer/songwriter who has special interests in history, linguistics, western literature and philosophy. He has written a theses on the Albanian language, titled: How deep are the roots of the Albanian language and its affinity with the other Endo European Languages.