The Albanian Greek-Orthodox Intellectuals

originally posted at Chronos Mag

Aspects of their Discourse between Albanian and Greek
National Narratives (late 19th – early 20th centuries)

Elias G. Skoulidas

Bearing in mind the methodological proposal of Miroslav Hroch related to the role of the intellectuals in the process of the national movements and the extraordinary work of Nathalie Clayer about the Albanian national movement, our paper is an attempt to detect aspects of the discourse of Albanian Greek-Orthodox intellectuals. It should be mentioned that according to Hroch’s proposal the goals of the national movements are: a. the growth of a national culture based on a language which will be used in administration, education and economic life. b. the gain of political rights, in a first phase autonomy and finally independence. c. a new social structure with new elites, bureaucracy and so on. Mainly, three phases can be described: phase A, the «intellectuals», who invent the idea of the nation, through their researches, phase B, the «patriots», activists who use the patriotic propaganda to gain more believers and finally phase C, characterized by the massive support of the movement by the people and later on the division in wings, such as conservatives, radicals etc. It is questionable whether the intellectuals can cause revolutions but as Grandits claims their role can be regarded in a bigger context.

To describe better the context, Albanian Orthodoxes consist one of the major religion groups in Albanian society, which includes Albanians, Greeks, Aromanians, Slav-speaking and Roma communities. After the abolition of the Patriarchate of Peć and the Archbishopric of Ohrid in the late 18th century, all the Albanian Orthodoxes became members of the rum-millet. The rise of different national movements and the establishment of nation-states in the Balkans influenced these Orthodox communities, who had to rethink themselves with terms of national consciousness, social-economic status and religious identities. During the period of tanzimat, and especially in the 1860s, these communities had to deal mainly with religious and educational issues. For the newly established Greek state and during the phase of its expansion, these communities were mostly regarded as the «other» Greek, while the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the educational network of the Greek schools affected their identities. More over it should be noted that the Greek language was alingua franca for these communities and a necessity to their economical life in the small cities and the local merchants.

Furthermore, the Arvanites in the Greek kingdom had an Albanian origin, were Greek Orthodoxes in terms of religion and their number was high in terms of demographic data inside the kingdom (as showed by Baltsiotis and Empreirikos). The vast majority of them served the Greek national program.

According to traditional national historiographies, Albanian and Greek, intellectuals like A. Pykaios (Byku), Th. Mitko(s), P. Koupitoris (Kupitori), were involved in one of the two national discourses. Usually the historiographies incorporate these intellectuals in the national narrative they represent. The situation was apparently more complex.

From a different perspective in order to understand the evolution of Albanianism, we should take a closer look at the wars in the Balkans. The different revolts, uprisings or revolutions had an impact on the growth of the intellectual networks. In the second half of the 19th century, we found out that these networks among the intellectuals of Albanianism strengthened after three major events: the Crimean War, the Eastern crisis of 1875-1878, which included the League of Prizren and incited uprisings, and the Ottoman-Greek war of 1897. Clayer has proved that a good marker to follow these networks was the press, close to the ideas of Benedict Anderson for the printing capitalism in the West and Ernest Gellner’s about the industrialization. Close to Clayer’s description is the idea of Benedict Anderson about the contribution of the bureaucracy and the public servants to establish identities.

The main issues related to the «construction» of an Albanian national program were:

-the relation of the two languages, Albanian and Greek, mainly described as a close one.

-the role of the religions related to the procedure of the two national movements, Albanian and Greek.

-the theories of common «historical continuity», as being expressed by Pelasgian theories, transferred from Western Europe. (This is the case regarding the idea of orientalist perspectives of the cultural criterion, described by Stamatopoulos).

-the relation of Albanianism with the Greek nation-state.

Although in the beginning, it was a cultural movement and which later on became political, too, the main idea was to give to the Albanian language an alphabet, while it was an oral one. Arabic, Latin and Greek characters were used to describe the albanian language. Besides the first steps taken by Albanian Greek Orthodoxes such as Naum Veqilharxhi and Vangjel Meksi, young people well-educated were in contact with the other balkan national movements. The crucial point was that these intellectuals were in close relation, either in a positive or a negative way with Hellenism.

In the period between the end of the Crimean war and the Eastern crisis of 1875-1878, Anastasios Pykaios/Anastas Byku published in Lamia the periodical edition: Pelasgos and Fthiotis with the subheading «Albanian and Greek journal», written in the Albanian language and using Greek letters (January 1st, 1860). Pykaios reached Lamia after he had tought at a Greek school in Ottoman empire. He was Anastasios Sakellarios’ and Constantin Assopios’ student, probably at the schools of Ioannina (important was the role of Zosimaia Sholi of Ioannina to the education of balkan muslim and christian intellectuals). Many Albanianists of this first period were educated at Zosimaia, such as Jani Vreto (1847), Pykaios from Lekël, near Tepelena (1848) and Konstantin Kristoforidhi, an important Christian Protestant intellectual. The latter would be the future translator of the New Testament in Albanian. (at the same period he taught Albanian the Austrian consul in Ioannina, Georg von Hahn).

The agenda of Pykaios’ publication focused mainly on the point that, the Greeks and the Albanians had the same identity in terms of religion, language and nation. The identification was boosted by the idea that the Albanians were descendants of an ancient tribe, Pelasgoi/Pelasgues, ancestors of the Greeks, as well. Pykaios had a different conception about Albanians: he used the term Skipetar to describe all the Albanian native people and the term Albanians to define the people belonging to a clan of Skipetar. He believed that the future generations of the Greek-Albanians would be «shaped»on the basis of the Christian education. In political mentality he was conservative. People who didn’t comply with the Greek-Orthodox tradition were suspects even of anarchism.

For Pykaios the Albanian language had the purpose to serve the hellenisation of the Albanians. He accepted the challenge of P. Koupitoris and created the precursor of the Albanian alphabet with the use of 32 charecters (in the beginning he tried only with 18, to represent the albanian sounds). In 1861 he published a pamphlet with his proposal. Although language was a major issue for Pykaios, the possible future of Albanians in the Ottoman Empire and their relation with the Greek state proved out to concern him, as well.

It seems that the edition of Pelasgos was in the middle of a large conversation among the Albanian Orthodoxes. The dialogue opened in 1859 by Thimi Mitko/Efthimios  Mitkos, a member of the Albanian orthodox community in the diaspora in Egypt, with origin from the region of Korça (Korytsa). As a subscriber of Pandora he answered to some points of Panagiotis Aravantinos, claiming that the majority of the population in Korça (Korytsa) were Albanians and not Aromanians.

At the same period, two wealthy persons Evangelos Zappas, from Labova e Madhe /Mega Lambovo (with a letter to Elpis), and Hristaki Zografo from Qestorat/Kestorati, another village from Lunxhëri, proposed the use of an alphabet with Greek characters. To understand the mentalities, it wasn’t a problem for Hristaki Zografo to promote the teaching of the Albanian language at elementary or primary schools and at the same time to be the president of the Epirotic Syllogue ( Ηπειρωτικός Σύλλογος) in Istanbul for the expansion of the Greek educational network in the Ottoman Empire.

The construction of the network of Orthodox Albanianists in the late 1860s grew rapidly. Thimi Mitko and Dora d’ Istria (real name Elena Ghika) from Roumanian principalities played an important role. In the late 1860s Panagiotis Koupitoris/Panajot Kupitori discussed the issue of an Albanian alphabet to literate the Albanian language.

An exception to the approach of Greek and Albanian Christian Orthodoxes was, from his early steps, Spiro Risto Dine (from Vithkuq), who wrote against the hellenisation of the Albanian Orthodoxes, educated in Athens or being under the influence of the «Greek Patriarchate in Istanbul».

In this second period, during the 1870s and the Eastern crisis, the political dimension of the Albanian issue appears. The first political attempt of the Albanians to follow a national political program, with the League of Prizren is detected. After the Uprising of the League of Prizren (1878-81) and the other Albanian revolts that followed, move according to Clayer from the network of intellectuals to that of the readers. Many pamphlets or newspapers were published.

Three interesting cases are notable:

First, an attempt for the codification of the Albanian folklore in the Albanian Bee by Thimi Mitko.

Then, a more interesting case, Anastas Kullurioti/Anastasios Koulouriotis, a radical Arvanitis, one of the orphans of the Greek War of Independence, who was sent to the United States and later on was affiliated to the British and Foreign Bible Society. He published in Athens for 40 weeks the newspaper “The Voice of Albania”. The networks with Egypt and the Arbëresh communities in Italy appeared in the newspaper. The problems were the same as in the other intellectuals, the language, the historical «continuity» from the ancient times, the religion and the relations with the Greek state. He created a new alphabet, but when he tried to sell it in Gjirokastër/Argyrokastro, he was prisoned due to the influence of the Greek consul in the city on the local ottoman provincial administration.

Step by step, Kullurioti changed his mentality, as Pykaios before him, but the issue for Kullurioti wasn’t only the alphabet, but also, the political situation. Ideas of a dual monarchy, like the Austrian-Hungary model started to appear. Later on, after his return from the vilayet of Yanya/Ioannina he tried to establish societies close to this dual monarchy idea, or the idea of independent Albania.

The real problem was that the conveyors of these ideas, either of Epirotan, or Arvanites, or Souliotes’ origin, were the same who promoted the ideas of the Greek irredentism to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The purposes of these people were not quite clear, though personal agendas existed.

The third interesting case was that of Efthim Brandi/Efthimios Prantis, another notable of the Albanian diaspora in Egypt. Pranti wrote the Albanian complains (Minia 1884) with the purpose to depict the close relations of Greeks and Albanians, but also to present the Pelasgian theories again and to prove that the Albanians were faithful servants and friends of the Greeks.

The muslim Albanians played the major role to the Albanian national programme and Jani Vreto had to remind the existence of Albanian Orthodoxes to his muslim brothers. But still Vreto, to exclude Albanians from barbarians, he pointed out the contribution of the Albanians to the Greek civilisation, in the past but in the present, as well. Furthermore, Vreto referred and to the national consciousness, the national feeling of the Albanian muslims, trying to fill the gap between muslim and christian Albanians. For this purpose, he referred to the custom of blood brotherhood.

During the third period after the Ottoman-Greek War of 1897, we are faced up to a new phase of «construction» of identities, where religious identities were revealed as important and the orthodox identity was connected more clearly with greek identity. A major case for the Albanianists was to invent an Albanian Orthodoxy, the same way the Bulgarians constructed their identities with the Exarchate.

Leader in this effort was Fan S. Noli, a native of İbriktepe/Qyteza, a small village near Edirne/Adrianople. His biography is representative of his mentality. He went to Athens, to become a teacher, where he used the name Theofanis Mavromattis, and after that, he went as a teacher or a member of a theater in the diaspora in Egypt, where he followed the Albanian national program. At the beginning of the twentieth century he went to the United States, where he was named priest, and, later on, bishop, by the Russian archbishop Plato, in Boston, where Fan Noli made his first mass in Albanian. Years later, in the early 1920s he went to Albania to become Archbishop of the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, self-declared. The problem with the Ecumenical Patriarchate was solved in 1937 by a Tome, like the one for the Greek Autocephalous Church, almost a century earlier. In 1924, he became Prime Minister for some months in Albania. Due to his good relations with the Soviet Union, he was called the Red Bishop. When he left the country, he went back to the States, where he died in 1965 as an anti-communist, although a new archive material from the archives proved that he had relations with Enver Hoxha, as well.

During this third period, we detect the use of violence in the religious matters: we have the assassination of the priest Kristo Negovani, a person close to the ideas of Albanianism, from Negovani (Flambouro), a village near Florina, and the assanisation of the bishop of Korytsa (1906) by the first Albanian četa.

At the same period, the networks of the Albanian Orthodoxes in Rumania and Bulgaria «produced» a lot of printed material (e.g. Kristo Dako and Mit’hat Frashëri/Lumo Skëndo in Sofia) to support the national program. And thanks to the few available statistics, we are able to talk about a significant growth in the number of the readers of these books, journals or pamphlets.

To conclude, the main idea of this presentation is to understand the choices of this crucial group between the Greek and the Albanian national discourse. Due to their affiliation either under the influence of the Greek Patriarchate, or the Greek educational system, mainly oriented to Athens, or the economical situation, the poverty was the real factor which usually sent them to migration. Therefore, they had difficulties in following the national political programs in the region.

The intellectuals were a good marker of these mentalities, and the construction of a national political program wasn’t easy for people having a variety of relations with their neighbors, muslims or orthodoxes.

Even if muslim national leaders such as Ismail Kemal Vlora were under the influence of the Greek policy for a short period, then the case for the illiteral agricultural orthodox communities such as those of Myzeke/Muzakija, for example, was much harder. But this fact wasn’t related with the ideas of exceptionalism or stereotypes about the Balkans. It was a kind of a rule regarding the mechanisms of «construction» of identities for such groups. As Kokolakis pointed out correctly, even the young Hristos Hristovassilis, the son of a Greek notable was confused if Ellinopoulo was something different from Romioi orGraikoi.

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