Authentic heritage

In the search for my identity I felt a lack of truth about the authenticity of it. I followed my thoughts to seek this hidden history of the traditions to which I  belong. So many in and outs in my country’s history have shaped the originality of its people, sometimes controversially, the Albanian I could have now been. I wander in misdirections trying to find the authentic albanianhood; I see no connection between what I am supposed to be and what I am. I was grown differently from reality; I was grown in mythology and isolation of my identity. Where is this Albanian I ought to be? Where is the Albanian I was always preached to about? Why am I left without an option for the authentic Albanian?

I was being curious and restless until I found a solution, until I managed to invade an unknown side. I realised that I needed to explore beyond the outlines of the lofty mountains of harsh Albania. The Promised Land for the discovery of the true Albanian was outside these borders of fragility. I was an Albanian I had never known, I looked for it in the perfect world of Arcadia and Elysium, and I went in Sicilia and Calabria to find the true myths of my origin….and there was Arbereshi.

The Arbereshi were somewhere in these paradises of the beauty of mankind. They had gone there enchanted by the perfection these places offered. These people preserved their identity without being renovated or modified by time. Immediately after having found the roots of my objectives I was lost in books and rumours of lies and truths about these authentic Albanians. Some people told me they were not Albanians at all. Some other told me they were Albanians of another kind, and I was suffering at not being able to find the connection between my desire of defining myself and these Albanians “chronologically” stopped in time.

But I kept on with my mission to identify myself…as I had started reading……

The first page…

The first Albanian migrations to what is today Greece took place during the early XI-XII centuries, where they settled in the depopulated areas at the request of the Byzantine, Venetian and Catalan rulers. Other and more significant migrations took part during the XIV-XV centuries to be followed by the latest migration. During these centuries they were called as Arbereshi. The main areas of their settlements were in Central and Southern Greece, in Peloponnesus (in the region of Attica and Beotia), in the surroundings of Athens and the islands of Spetses, Andros, Poros and Hydra. Then we have the later settlements in Northwestern Greece (Epirus) and some small number of villages in the eastern part of Greece (Thrace).

After a while: Unique highlanders

Even after long period of Christianity, Arbereshi maintained elements of pagan culture in their rites and legends. During the formation of the Arbereshi identity  we find two specific characteristics that are found in Albanian traditions.

Besa is a totally Albanian concept, in the past it was considered a sacred as the Bible and it coexisted as an institution harmoniously with the Church’s authority. Besa means the word of honour given from someone to another person. Besa belongs to the unwritten code of law also called as Kanun. And the blood feud is part of Kanun too. These two elements have survived during the centuries in the Arbereshi settlements of Greece (we can also mention the same for the Arbereshi settlements in Sicily and Calabria). The Arvanite’s (Arbereshi) character is to always be the first among others, to show to the rest pride, bravery and non-submission. The same goes for the Arbereshi settlements in Sicily, Naples and Cargese (Corsica).

Enlightenment: The role in the founding of modern Greece

The Stradioti were Balkan mercenaries in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, who fought for Spanish ruled Naples, Venice and sometimes even for the Holy Roman Empire; most modern, as well as a good number of early authors have indicated that the stradioti were Arvanite.

Nicholas Hammond tells us that in the Greek War of Independence the Arvanite, above all, drove the Turks out. Indeed Hammond points out that the Arvanite role in the resistance to the Turks, and in the formation of the Greek nation, was significant.

Katharina Botsaris in the Souliote dress

Finally they were recognised,as the vigorous Arvanite of Hydra and the warlike Arvanite of Souli (who directed the resistance of the Greeks toward the long-invasion from the Ottomans.) Most of their leaders had joined the Filike Etaireia, the Greek Revolutionary Resistance group fighting against the Ottomans.

It is a striking fact that the leading defenders of Greek liberty at this time were largely Non-Greek. Koundouriotis was descended from the Arbereshi settlers in Greece in the 14th century and spoke Greek only with difficulty. One of the few leaders who maintained resistance far to the north of the Gulf of Corinth was the Souliote, Marko Botsaris, whose followers were largely Souliotes.

The Souliote women by Ari Scheffer

An important claim for Marko Botsaris’ Albanian-hood comes from his identically named Grandson in 1994,  a professor in the University of Queensland in Australia, when he reacted harshly toward a Greek deputy that neglected the contribution of Arvanite in the Revolution of 1821 and the origin of Marko Botsaris…

Today’s Arbereshi

Arbereshi – Mother country Greece

The Arbereshi (Arvanitas), do not see themselves as Albanians or related to the Albanian nation. They prefer to call themselves as Arberesh and specify that they belong to the Greek Nation. There have been discussions about the Arvanite gaining minority status by Albanian politicians but the Arvanite communities have been strongly opposed to it and have not accepted being seen as minorities even though they preserve their traditions and language.

During the 80s there was a visit study in the Arvanite communities in Greece by a group from the Council of Europe directed by the well known Arbereshi (of Southern Italy) scholar A. Belusci. Other important efforts were made by the well known Arvanites scholar Aristide Kolias also the former president of the Arvanite Association “Marko Botsaris” who made research for years on the authenticity of the Arvanite culture and language. The Arvanite communities today are highly integrated in the Greek society and have positioned themselves in important fields such as politics and arts.

Arvanitika (Arbereshi) and the Arvanites would present precisely the old version of albanian language. The Albanian that was centuries ago, meeting with the past, not in the effect of evolution. And this “archaic” Albanian, which has somehow separated from the modern Albanianism, has decided to give up its authenticity.

The Souliote Dress by Eugene Delacroix

Arbereshi : Mother country Italy

As for Italy the essence of the real Albanian struggles to fight with globalisation of society while having not only preserved itself as Albanian, but connecting itself with the modern Albanians. The contact of the Italian-Albanians and the other Albanians has grown into unification of values and culture. During the nineteenth century, the Italian-Albanians played a very significant role in the awakening of Albanian nation and the enlightenment movement. They were a fortress for their promised land which they had abandoned in the XV century. Literature was the main weapon used by them. In modern times the Italian-Albanians remain a distinguished entity in Italian society with conviviality. 

As I travelled in thoughts I realised that the authentic Albanian was far away from the authentic land. I had recognised myself in it and it occurred in my mind that the authentic Albanian was nowhere in Albania, that they had remained in suspense. This helped me to realise the beauty of such diverse Europe. How this mixture of values and cultures are the basis for the unification of Europe and how being an albanian is not neccessary anymore, but rather a european. A citizen of the world that the future europeans may become.

*Arvanitas and arberesh are kind of synonyms to each other

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