VIII. The Albanians
5. Koritza and the Language Movement
Albania is not all a wilderness. There are plains in its southern confines which have attained a fairly high level of civilisation, where the anarchy is only relative, and the Albanians themselves are ripe for settled government and clamorous for education. The Tosks of the South have always been a milder stock than the northern Ghegs. They are more severely disciplined by the Turkish administration. They pay taxes and submit to military conscription. They indulge with less impunity in raids and forays, in feuds and civil wars. There is no Slav population among them, predestined by its unarmed helplessness to be their serfs and vassals. The alien races who do live among them, notably the Hellenised Vlachs, are a civilising influence. They are within easy reach of the Greek border and Greek culture. The Christian minority belongs to the Orthodox Church, and the Greek language is spoken pretty generally among the upper classes, whether Christian or Moslem, in such towns as Jannina and Koritza, and even by the peasants in the regions near the frontier. Albanian is still the mother-tongue. The beys are still feudal princelings. The primitive Albanian customs are still unmodified. But the world beyond the mountains is a reality and an influence, as it is not when one crosses the Scumbi at Elbasan, where the wild Gheg country begins.
There is an air almost European about the town of
Koritza. The approach to it is along a firm road which is quite convinced that it is not a water-course or an exhausted torrent-bed. Your horse, bred on Turkish highways, at length consents to cross the bridges without a protest, and on some of them you may even remark a parapet. The peasants whom you pass are dressed, it is true, in the garb which their ancestors may have worn when they followed Pyrrhus into Italy, and all of them carry arms; but they postpone their staring until you have passed them, and, insensibly, you feel that you are in a land of free men, where self-respect is almost possible. While the castles of the chiefs in the country of the Ghegs still resemble border-keeps, here, beside the primitive square-built towers of their ancestors, the modern Tosk beys have raised enormous châteaux which dwarf and overawe the mud hovels of their poor retainers. You note a coal mine, recently worked, in the outskirts of the town, and two mill chimneys — innocent of smoke — quarrel with a tasteless but magnificent new cathedral and a dazzling mosque for the possession of the skyline. The streets are relatively clean, and in the shops of this strange city, remote alike from sea coast and from railway, you meet again all those refinements and superfluities whose very existence you had forgotten in the Macedonian wilderness. The energy and virility of the Albanian character seem somehow to have found a half-expression. Yet a Greek Bishop and a Turkish Pasha, aliens both of them, still claim the allegiance of the town, though confronted by a spirit of the soil which both dread and both persecute — a spirit that is busily knitting a new people together, in spite of all their efforts.
If the secret thought in the august hearts of these two officials could be bared to the world, it would deserve to rank among the rarest curiosities of officialdom. They have one master passion, the Bishop and the Pasha, and when they have finished praying for each other's destruction in their daily secret devotions, I suspect that a fervent little clause in Greek and in Turkish is addressed in much the same phraseology to Allah and the Trinity. And that is a prayer for the destruction of a spelling-book. They look upon that
spelling-book much as Zeus regarded the torches of Prometheus. The end of the Turkish Empire is somehow predestined in the cabalistic symbols of its alphabet, and its little reading lessons in words of one syllable are like to be more fatal to the Greek Church than all the tractates of the heretics. I saw it once, and turned its pages with timid care, as one might handle a torpedo. It was locked in a glass case in the sacred precincts of the American Protestant School of Koritza, where it sheltered safely on foreign soil under the shadow of treaties and capitulations. I had just been paying a formal call on the Bishop, who had explained to me how, ever since he had been Secretary to the OEcumenical Patriarch, his hard-won leisure had been spent in ceaseless efforts to promote a union between the Anglican and the Greek Church. In business hours he had sterner work. He occupied himself in excommunicating the parents of all the children who dared to attend the Protestant school where that spelling-book is harboured. It seemed an odd way of promoting the union of Protestantism and Orthodoxy. As for the Pasha, he had lately sent the chief of police to hunt for seditious books, and only a peremptory telegram from one of the consulates in Monastir had availed to save the alphabet.
The history of that spelling-book is the record of the one hopeful movement which gives a promise of enlightenment to the Albania of the future. There is no trace until the middle of the seventeenth century of any Albanian who was so eccentric as to wish to write his own language. Those old Skipetars, leading their strenuous life of rapine and feud, had no wish to read, and no occasion to write. If the need arose to communicate with a distant friend there was always the professional Turkish letter-writer, who sits cross-legged at his corner in the bazaar in every Oriental town, with his reed and his ink-horn, and he would translate the necessary message into the most involved and courtly Turkish. Failing him, there was the nearest Orthodox village priest, who could usually write in Greek. There were no doubt schools in such centres as Jannina, Berat, Koritza, and Elbasan, but they belonged to the Orthodox Church, and their whole
instruction was in Greek. They taught the young Albanian that he was a Greek, that he must speak Greek, and that his mother-tongue was only a nursery dialect for children, or a barbarous patois for "Turks." As for the Moslems, school hardly entered into their notions. The Turkish conception of a school was a place where little boys squatted upon the ground, and recited the Koran by heart. When they had by chance a desire to learn to read and write, even the Moslems preferred, and still prefer, to learn Greek. Greek, after all, is much more spoken than Turkish in Lower Albania; and difficult though its orthography may be, it hardly requires the years of application which are necessary in order to learn Turkish caligraphy. I knew an officer from the Jannina district whose father had actually sent him for a year or two to a Greek Gymnasium. I was even more startled, on distributing some relief-money to the villagers of a few Moslem-Albanian hamlets in the Colonia district, whose homes had been burned by the Bulgarians under Tchakalároff, when with their great horny hands these giants scrawled their signatures on the receipt forms in Greek characters. But, after all, learning which came in a foreign guise could make no progress in Albania. And here the peculiar genius of the modern Greek language is to blame. An Englishman who has had a classical education can understand a leading article in a Greek newspaper after twenty minutes' glance at a paradigm of the modern verb, and yet he would make nothing of the simplest sentence in spoken Greek. To an Albanian peasant who can speak colloquial Greek easily, and scrawl his name without undue labour in Greek letters, the same leading article would convey just nothing at all. But indeed many Albanians who can write Greek are rather able to express certain limited and conventional ideas in Greek than to command the language. I have heard, for example, of a noble Mohamedan family which called in a Greek teacher when the daughter of the family was about to be married. She learned to formulate certain precise and very limited ideas in Greek — mainly information and inquiries about health — not with the intention of acquiring a key to Greek culture, but simply
to send news about domestic events from her new home to the old. The knowledge of Greek letters was at no time rare in Southern Albania, but none the less the Albanians remained illiterate, isolated, and untaught. The few who went to the Greek Gymnasia in Koritza or Jannina, or to the University of Athens became, to all purposes, Greeks. But the bulk of the Albanian people had no intention of denationalising itself, and its patriotism in consequence was quite untainted by letters.
It was not until the second quarter of the seventeenth century that any Albanian developed the odd wish to use his language for literary purposes. The first pioneers seem to have come from among the Catholic clergy. Their record in this matter compares favourably with that of their Orthodox brethren, for whom the terms "Greek" and "Christian" seem to have been synonymous. The first Albanian book that was ever printed was an "Imitatio Christi," published in Venice in 1626. A Catholic Bishop of Uskub, by name Bogdanes, did much for the language. He used the Latin alphabet, and a few copies of his works are still extant. He had a more enterprising successor towards the end of the eighteenth century, an Orthodox teacher named Theodore, who lived in Elbasan. He was the first pioneer to attempt a serious study of the language, and his "Lexicon Tetraglosson" (Latin, Greek, Vlach, Albanian) displays a real originality, since it claims for Albanian a place among the languages of Europe. He employed a curious alphabet of his own, which is neither Latin nor Greek.  Some patriots suppose that it was an ancient Albanian alphabet which never fell out of use at Elbasan. Others suggest that it may have been founded on a secret cipher which some merchants of Elbasan used for their private correspondence. More probably it was revived and, perhaps, modified by Theodore. The old men of this district employ it to this day.  It is difficult to crush the
1. It appears to differ but slightly from the first Dorian alphabet based upon the Phoenician characters, and, indeed, Von Hahn believes that it was derived directly from the Phoenicians.
2. I take these details, and, indeed, much else in this chapter, from a manuscript entitled "", which I found one evening hidden behind an ottoman in my bedroom in Monastir. It was written by a patriotic Albanian Christian, an educated man with some literary talent, whose name I must for his own sake suppress. His object in hiding it in my room was to make the case of his countrymen known in England, and perhaps I serve his purpose best by incorporating his material with my own observations.
unpruned wealth of sound in which Albanian riots, into less than thirty-one or thirty-two characters. Certainly no ingenuity has ever succeeded in representing it in Greek. The ambition of Theodore's life was to found an Albanian press in Elbasan. He worked and schemed and saved, and at length was able to give an order to the Vlach printers of Moschopolis for a supply of Albanian types. The order was duly executed, and Theodore, full no doubt of a happy excitement as his patriotic dream approached its realisation, must needs go in person to Moschopolis to escort his precious goods to Elbasan. His concern for their safety excited the suspicions of the carriers. What could there be in these heavy boxes so dear to Theodore's heart, unless it were money? And accordingly, taking counsel among themselves, the muleteers murdered Theodore. Tradition does not relate what they did with their mysterious and useless spoil. Clearly Theodore was a pioneer born out of due time. It was a dangerous thing in those days to play with letters in Albania. Some fifty years later another Southern Albanian, Naoum Vekilcharyi, took up Theodore's task, and worked out another alphabet. It made some progress in the districts round Koritza, and a few little booklets were printed in it. But by this time the jealousies of the Greek clergy were aroused, and it is generally believed among Albanian patriots that Naoum, who was so reckless as to entrust himself during an illness to the Greek hospital at Constantinople, was poisoned by order of the Patriarch. I repeat the story not because I believe it, but because it is interesting to note that the efforts of the Albanians to throw off the ignorance of the centuries had already roused the hostility of the Orthodox Church. As yet the movement was in its infancy, and could be checked by the untimely deaths of its leaders. Meanwhile the Catholic clergy in the
North were by no means idle. The Jesuits issued a number of books, mostly, however, legends of the Saints, which can have had no particular educative value. A religious periodical was also published by them in Scutari. The happiest event for the Albanian language was the translation of the Bible by Constantine Christophorides (whose intellect had been quickened by an intimate association with the scholarly traveller, Von Hahn), under the auspices of the British and Foreign Bible Society. It was issued at first in two alphabets, more or less modified to suit the peculiar phonetics of the Albanian language — in Greek characters for the South, in Latin for the North. These early editions, however, found small favour, but between the years 1877-9 a Committee of Albanian patriots, most of them Moslems, sat in Constantinople and elaborated yet another alphabet, mainly Latin, with an admixture of Greek characters. This was at length adopted by the Bible Society, and their Albanian colporteurs were set to work to sell it. They are to this day persecuted alike by the Greek Church and by the Turks. Every journey they undertake is an adventure. Their families are boycotted and excommunicated by the Orthodox priesthood; they themselves are frequently imprisoned by the Turks. The work of the Constantinople Commission soon attracted the notice of the Turkish Government, and it had perforce to remove itself to a free centre. It settled in Bucharest and established a printing press of its own, from which about fifty books have been issued, including a Grammar, a Life of Skänderbeg, a popular history of Albania, and a number of translations. Albanian periodicals are issued in Bucharest, in Sofia, in Rome, and in London,  but comparatively few copies find their way into Turkey. There is a chair of Albanian in Vienna University, and the Austrian Consulate in Monastir from time to time recruits students among the more promising of the younger patriots. They are lured away by a promise of employment and education, and their fate is, of course, to become the agents
3. Albania, published in London, is a literary monthly edited by Faïk Hey Koñitza, a savant and scholar, whose high attainments in philology are as remarkable as his tolerance and enlightenment in politics.
of Austrian intrigue. The Austrian Foreign Office has something more practical in view than the study of an obscure and neglected branch of Aryan philology.
To keep Albania savage and ignorant is a fundamental principle of Abdul Hamid's statescraft. Macedonia is covered with schools which disseminate the views of every conceivable racial propaganda. There are Greek schools to Hellenise Vlachs and Slavs and Albanians. There are Bulgarian schools which maintain the schism within the Orthodox Church. There are Servian schools to split the Slav element. There are Roumanian schools to detach the Vlachs from the Hellenic interest. On all of these the Porte smiles with an indifferent and capricious favour. The more schools there are and the more propagandas, the less fear is there of a coalition among the Christians against the Turkish yoke. For all of these there is a contemptuous tolerance. They are part of the hereditary Ottoman tradition of dividing to conquer. But Albanian schools fall under a very different category. In them the Turks have seen a force making not for discord, but for unity. The Albanians, divided in religion, have only their language in common, and in the cult of that language lies the hope of the reunion of Moslem and Christian. The Albanian movement, nationalist like all the others, differed from them in seeking its rallying-point not in a religious but in a secular propaganda. Though the earlier pioneers were all Christians, their work was never partisan, and they readily won the patronage and the sympathy of the Moslem aristocracy. It is a matter of indifference to the Turks under what national or religious banner the Christians may enrol themselves. But that Moslems and Christians should unite, that Moslems should discover a racial consciousness, was quite intolerable, and at once marked out the Albanian movement for persecution. Turkish political theory does not recognise race as a legitimate line of distinction among peoples. It is religion which divides. A good Moslem has no business with history or language or aspirations. He is an Ottoman and a subject of the Caliph-Sultan. Christians, within certain limits, may indulge in what political sym-
pathies they please. They may even hang portraits of a Greek or a Servian King in their cafés if they choose. They do not bear arms, they are ineligible for any real executive office in the State, they are nullities who may safely be allowed to play at sentimental disloyalty, provided it stop short of secret association or armed demonstration. But when Moslems take to these vagaries it is a very different matter. It is upon their arms that the Empire rests. Their loyalty is necessary, and anything less than loyalty is not merely treason, but schism. That is doubtless why the "Young Turkish" Liberal movement, ineffective and innocuous though it is, is persecuted more severely than any Bulgarian conspiracy. In the case of the Albanians there were additional reasons at work. They are a military people whose revolt would be as formidable as their loyalty is valuable. Their country is difficult and inaccessible, and therefore it seemed wise to check the first signs of particularism, since an armed rising would be peculiarly difficult to subdue. Further, it is from the Albanians that the Sultan recruits his bodyguard, and what would become of Yildiz if its sentries were to develop national aspirations? Finally, if the Albanians were to become milder and more civilised under the influence of letters, who would keep the Serbs and the Bulgarians in check? They would cease to be the marauders and the tyrants of the marches, and the Slavs of these border regions might some day raise their heads. These were cogent reasons why the Albanian movement should be ruthlessly suppressed.
All experience in the East goes to show that when a people begins to cultivate its language and to claim schools of its own, its next wish is an eccentric and uncomfortable demand for decent government. Indeed, the surprising thing is that Albanian schools ever came to be established at all. In 1884, however, the Albanian Society, which was busied in publishing its booklets and periodicals in Bucharest, contrived to open a secondary school for boys in Koritza. It had on an average about sixty pupils, who came from both Moslem and Christian families, while the teachers belonged to the Orthodox rite. Its success
among the Christians, however, was limited, because from the first it was subjected to the systematic persecution of the Greek clergy. The reading of anathemas against it soon became a regular part of the ritual in the Greek cathedral. Its teachers were steadily boycotted. But even these methods proved ineffective, and ultimately the Greeks found it necessary to denounce the two principal Albanian teachers as traitors who were conspiring against the Sultan. Their efforts went unheeded for some years, since the war of 1897 had left the whole Greek race under a cloud. But in 1902 the teachers, two brothers named Naoum and Leonidas Natcha, were arrested, and still languish untried in prison. The school, as I saw it, is a wrecked and dismantled shell, its garden overgrown with weeds, and its class-rooms littered with the stones which the apostles of Hellenism and culture cast through its broken windows as they go arrogantly by. Another interesting experiment still survives in a maimed form. In 1889 an Albanian Protestant School for girls and young boys was started under the auspices of the American Mission by Mr. Gerassimo Kyrias, an able and devoted man who did much in a short life for his language and the cause. Like so many of the pioneers of the movement, he came to an untimely end. He was captured by brigands, and dragged about by them for the best part of a year, while his friends collected an exorbitant ransom. The exposure, the privation, and the wanton cruelty to which he was subjected during this experience practically killed him, and he died soon after his release. The school is carried on by his sister, a graduate of Robert College. For four years it thrived and was much patronised by the Moslem gentry of Koritza. But its success in due course aroused the suspicions of the authorities. It would never do to allow the next generation of the Mohamedan aristocracy to be brought up by mothers who had imbibed the idea of patriotism with a knowledge of their own tongue. It was given out that the father of any Mohamedan child attending the school would be sent immediately, and without trial, into lifelong exile. Too many had gone that road before — now a
hapless poet whose whole crime was to have published a version of the legend of Genevieve in the proscribed Albanian language, and again a generous and tolerant bey who had assisted the Koritza schools. The threat proved effective, and only the Christian scholars remained. With them the Greek clergy knew how to deal. There were the usual anathemas, excommunications, and boycotts, and in 1904 when I visited Koritza, Miss Kyrias found her pupils reduced to about twenty boarders, some of them Protestants, and most of them members of families whose homes lie beyond the immediate influence of the Bishop of Koritza. Her teaching is carried on as though it were a furtive and shameful practice, and her school, centre of high influences, model of order and sweetness and goodwill, would be more readily tolerated if it were a nest of vice and crime. At any moment the chief of police may come clanking into the courtyard, and more than once the brave woman who works there alone and unprotected has stood in her doorway and dared him to execute his threat of confiscating her books. The school itself is under a foreign flag, but Miss Kyrias is a Turkish subject, and liable to the same treatment that was meted out to the masters of the boys' school. There are also the Catholic schools in the North, conducted by the Jesuits in Scutari, and one or two other of the larger Gheg centres. The Catholic clergy has done much for the Albanian language, but it conducts its schools on a definitely religious basis, which deprives them of any influence upon the Mohamedans, who form, after all, two-thirds of the population. They owe their immunity to the fact that they are under Austrian protection.  Unhappily their civilising mission is confined to the towns. If ever the Ghegs are to be reclaimed from savagery it will be through neutral or secular schools which the sons of the Moslem beys can attend. The same organisation which founded the Albanian boys' school in Koritza, opened
4. The Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul were formerly established in Prizrend, but since they are under French protection the Austrian interest intrigued against them, and they were compelled to abandon their work.
schools at Pogradetz and in the Colonia district, but these also were closed mainly through the jealousy of the Greeks. On the coast there are secular Italian schools at Durazzo and Vallona, which have also had their share of persecution. Their aim is to propagate Italian influence and their success is limited.
The fears of the Turks and the jealousies of the Greeks have worked their will upon the Albanian movement so far as any external organisation goes. They have destroyed the machinery of propaganda, and left it a cult of the heart which depends on the devotion of individuals. It has neither schools nor churches nor committees. There are Albanian societies no doubt in Roumania, in Italy, and Egypt, more or less active and more or less independent. But they have no branches in Albania. Nothing would be easier than to found a secret society on the lines of the Bulgarian Committee, but in fact nothing of the sort exists. There is not even a rudimentary organisation to carry on the smuggling of nationalist literature, and venal and inefficient though the Turkish customs and police may be, they are a barrier which suffices to exclude the periodicals that preach revolt. It is in one sense a singular proof of political incapacity that with such ample opportunities so little has been done. Perhaps it also is due to the fact that in most respects the bulk of the Albanian race has already the freedom which it values. The Albanians enjoy anarchy and they have not the same motives as the Bulgarians to combine for the achievement of political autonomy. For already they have liberty to do anything but learn. And yet, despite the want of organisation, a bloodless and innocent propaganda goes forward below the surface, which is in surprising contrast to the martial spirit of the race and to the traditions of the Balkans. It works neither by open warfare nor secret assassination, but the cause has none the less its unpaid and unofficial missionaries, who create wherever they go a spirit of brotherhood, which is in its own way more valuable than any disciplined and tyrannical society. Beyond the reach of the Turkish authorities, in Corfu, in Cairo, in Bucharest, and even in Sofia, wherever
Albanians migrate in search of labour and wealth, they find some countryman possessed of education and enlightenment, who urges upon them the cult of their own language, awakens their pride in their own nationality, and teaches them to look for a future of progress and independence. Returning to their own mountains, they bring with them the mysterious lore of the new alphabet. The Albanian who despised letters when they came to him in a foreign guise, conceives a new attitude towards learning when he discovers that his mother-tongue can be written and printed. Civilisation is no longer the alien thing which demanded of him some sacrifice of his nationality, some disloyalty to his past. He becomes an enthusiastic worshipper of this Minerva in fustanella, and his smuggled spelling-book opens out to him a vista of culture and advancement. Even the Turkish prisons have become centres of enlightenment, and schoolmasters incarcerated for the offence of teaching boys find themselves enabled to influence men. I count among my friends an Albanian bey who, condemned for murder, entered the gaol of Salonica a savage of the old school, dreaming of no life but the turbulent round of vendettas and oppressions which his ancestors had led before him. He learned in his captivity to read and write Albanian, and to-day, if he is still uneducated and naïve, his whole attitude has undergone a fresh orientation. He is regarded by the Christians of his district as a champion and a protector. If he is still suspected and disliked by the Turks, it is for his charity, his tolerance, and his friendship with the disaffected. He cares no more for the old tribal feuds and dreams instead of a war of liberation. And such cases are by no means uncommon. I cannot do better than quote the quaint words of my manuscript, the work of an Albanian who is himself engaged in the midst of his other avocations in this informal and romantic propaganda. "The only means which the Albanians possess for spreading the national idea is some well-thumbed spelling-book, which works many a miracle as it passes from hand to hand, hunted though it is by the Turks and the Greek clergy, who both anathematise it as a seditious and subversive
book. The spelling-book carries with it a magic that dissolves feuds, and unites by indefinable bonds the most ancient adversaries, brings peace and the warmest friendship among all ranks and ages, awakens an indescribable enthusiasm for the language and the race, and for every good work, and in short transforms the savage and inhuman clansman into a civilised citizen." Again, after describing the deplorable feuds and jealousies which are caused among Albanians of good family by the everlasting struggle for precedence, the manuscript goes on to say :—
"But among Albanians who have been enlightened by learning to write their own language, nobility of birth has no longer a meaning, for all of them are equal, sincere friends and, so to speak, blood brothers. Forgotten are offences and feuds, rank and caste, and whatever might tend to separate. You may see in Albania to-day that men are ranged and ranked and valued not according to their creed, their age, or their birth, but according to the depth of their patriotic feeling. To Albanian patriots, creeds and ranks are senseless and obsolete inventions; in their view the highest nobility and the best religion is to love and write and cultivate their tongue and their nationality." Nor is this quaint and enthusiastic language exaggerated. I have seen an official in the Turkish hierarchy, a Moslem Albanian of good family, publicly embracing a Christian peasant, and the tie between them was simply the prohibited cult of their common language. Under the joint persecution of the Church and the State, the cult of the Albanian language has deepened and broadened into a patriotic movement at once nationalist and democratic. Because the Moslems are more in earnest about it than the Christians, it has swept aside the barriers of creed; and because the Christians who did the work of pioneers are men of the people, it has broken down the prejudices of caste. To the indifferent foreigner it may seem a trivial matter that an unlettered race should discover their own language after centuries of neglect. It has no literature save the ballads of the brigands and the threnodies of the old women who carry on the ancient trade of professional
mourners. It has nothing to add to the music or the wisdom of European
speech. And yet the cult of it has, for the first time in their history,
united a divided and barbarous people. Persecution has strengthened their
fibre, and the spiritual stimulus of this preoccupation about an idea has
enlarged their mental horizon, softened their manners, and raised them
to a moral level where self-discipline and disinterested devotion alike
become possible. In this cult of letters and language lies the best pledge
for the future of Albania. Thanks to the folly of Greeks and Turks, it
is already laying the foundation of her independence, and, at the same
time, of her civilisation. When, in the fulness of time, an Albanian prince
takes his seat on the throne of Skänderbeg, he will swear his fealty
to the enlightened constitution of the youngest of European kingdoms neither
on Bible nor Koran. He will take his oath, if he be wise, on the Albanian
[Back to Index]