Robert Elsie | AL Art | AL History | AL Language | AL Literature | AL Photography | Contact |


Robert Elsie

Texts and Documents of Albanian History

BACK  |  AL History
Sami Bey Frashëri as a young man.

Sami Bey Frashëri
as a young man.

Sami Bey Frashëri:
What will Become of Albania?

Sami bey Frashëri (1850-1904), known in Turkish as Semseddin Sami, was a writer, publisher and ideologist of the Albanian nationalist movement. He is the author of about fifty publications, as well as numerous newspaper articles. Sami Frashëri's interests were on the whole more scholarly than literary. Between 1882 and 1902, he published six teaching manuals in Turkish and Arabic. His publications in Turkish are indeed of greater universal significance than his Albanian-language works. Among his major works are the 180-page novel "Taassuk-u Tal'at ve Fitnat" (The Love of Tal'at and Fitnat); the play "Besa yahud ahde vefa" (Besa or the Fulfilment of the Pledge), published in Istanbul in 1875, and translated into English as "Pledge of Honor: an Albanian Tragedy," New York 1945; a 1,630-page "Kamûs-u fransevî, fransizcadan türkçeye lugat" (French-Turkish Dictionary), Istanbul 1882 [1299 A.H.]; a "Kamûs-u fransevî, türkçeden fransizcaya lugat" (Turkish-French Dictionary), Istanbul 1885 [1301 A.H.]; a two-volume "Kamûs-u türkî" (Turkish Dictionary), Istanbul 1900-1901 [1317 A.H.]; and a monumental six-volume Turkish-language encyclopaedia of history and geography, "Kamûs al-a'lâm" (Dictionary of the World), Istanbul 1889-1896 [1306-1313 A.H.].

Of major significance to the Albanian national movement was Sami Frashëri's much-read political manifesto "Shqipëria - Ç'ka qënë, ç'është e ç'do të bëhetë? Mendime për shpëtimt të mëmë-dheut nga reziket që e kanë rethuarë" (Albania - What It Was, What It Is and What Will Become of It? Reflections on Saving the Motherland from Perils which Beset It), Bucharest 1899. This work of Balkan pathos is indicative of the awakening of Albanian national identity at the end of the nineteenth century. The immediate goal of the manifesto was full autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, although it served to promote the ideal of full Albanian independence. After tracing the history of the Albanians, Frashëri deals in his central Chapter Three, given here, with Albania's situation as part of a crumbling empire.


I. Can Albania survive as it is?


Albania is a part of European Turkey. Its existence today is linked to the survival of European Turkey. Will Turkey survive much longer in Europe? Either it is not possible to give an answer to this question or the answer is no. Turkey has been in Europe for a long time. After the Congress of Berlin, one would have thought it might survive for another ten years. Now, twenty years have passed and it is still hanging on. Yet the empire itself has done and is doing nothing to prolong its survival. Like a sick man who will not listen to his physicians and is torturing his body, this empire is doing everything it can to shorten its days. We do not know how much longer it will survive in Asia, and it is beyond the scope of our deliberations to speak of this, but in Europe it will certainly not be for much longer. Albania itself has not yet laid its own foundations and taken hold. It is languishing in the crumbling foundations and rotten roots of Turkey. When this huge monster collapses, Albania too will fall and be crushed under the ruins.

The other nations of European Turkey have started making preparations for its downfall so that they will be able to survive on their own and not fall prey to the collapsing remains of Turkey. These nations are like the grass which feeds and grows under the snows of winter and, when the frigid, heavy mantle melts from the face of the earth, begins immediately to thrive and take on a fresh green colour. But the Albanians, who have been under Turkey's rule for so many centuries, even though they see that the huge monster is decrepit and is more and more bedridden by the day, will not give up relying upon it. The snows of so many centuries under which other nations have fed, have deadened Albania's roots. Albania has frozen over and withered during this long winter of sombre tyranny, even though it has not been oppressed as much as the other countries have.

Since the Macedonian issue, which has been the subject of much diplomatic attention at the negotiating table, will take its course and be solved one way or the other, Roumelia will not remain as it is. The Turks are going to get their nails clipped and will no longer be able to torment the peoples of these lands. The appeals of these peoples will be heard and they will obtain their rights. So, will the Albanians, too, make their voice heard? Will they, too, demand their rights? Or will they strive right to the end to keep the Turkish tyrant in power over them and over the other nations? This is the question. The more the end of the sombre tyranny of Turkey draws nigh, the more there is hope for salvation among the nations suffering under its yoke.

As we noted earlier, the Albanians long were comrades of the Turks and not their slaves, but now they are suffering under great oppression and are being beaten and trampled underfoot more than the rest. If this be the case, why are the other nations endeavouring to throw off the heavy burden, while the Albanians are struggling to maintain it? Do they not see that they are leaning against a wall which is collapsing and which will crush and bury them?

The Albanian is like a man who has fallen into the sea and knows how to swim, but who not only wants to save himself, but who also wants to save another man who has fallen into the sea and does not know how to swim. The wretched fellow, the Turk, will not let the swimmer rise to the surface and clamber out of the water, but instead grasps him by the two legs or by a leg and an arm and drags him down, not letting him swim. Thus not only does the Turk drown, but the Albanian drowns, too, and is lost at sea. Why do the Albanians, who see this peril, let themselves be clung to by this sick and demented fellow who cannot save himself and will not let the other one survive, but who rather endeavours treacherously to drown him, even though the Albanian is struggling to keep afloat? What ought a person to do in such a perilous situation? Well, he must give the traitor who is trying to drown him a good kick and expedite him to the depths of the sea, thus saving himself. This is the road to salvation. There is no other.

Turkey cannot survive much longer, nor will it or should it. If the Albanians cannot tear themselves away from Turkey, they will perish with it. It is like a dead man. Although we must show respect for the dead, we must also bury them in the ground. If we cannot bring ourselves to say farewell to them, we have no choice but to jump into the grave with them. That which is rotting will decompose. We cannot hold it back, for its stench will poison the globe.

I therefore stress again that Albania cannot continue to exist as it did in the past simply because Turkey is dead and cannot be lived with. Even if the empire could be revived and continue on for a certain time, Albania would still not survive with it. The revival of Turkey means death for Albania. We saw earlier that the Turks have tied the Albanians up and are feeding on them, causing dissension among the others. Up to now, Albania has managed to maintain its national identity and its language, but it will not be able to do so anymore if there are no schools and learning in the country. Yet the government of Turkey will not let the Albanians open schools and promote their language, as it does for the others, its enemies and those of Albania, whom it allows to do as they wish.

Thus, if Turkey should live on for another few years, Albania will not survive. It will be forever divided up between the Greeks and the Slavs.


II. Are the Albanians capable of governing and defending themselves?


Two things are essential in life: law and order. Law without order and order without law are like a bird with one wing, and no bird can fly with only one wing. Order without law can rarely achieve anything, and law without order is rarely respected. Big fish always gobble up the little ones.

There is no doubt that, at present, the Albanians have justice on their side. Why should the Albanians not have the right to read and write in their own language while all the other nations, even the weaker and smaller ones, have the right to do so and no one hinders them? Why should the Albanians be deprived of this right, which all other nations on earth have? Why should they not be able to write and study their language when the other nations are opening schools in their languages and devoting themselves to their national identity? Are the Albanians that weak? No, they certainly are not!

The Albanians are stronger than all other countries of the Balkan Peninsula. Relative to their numbers, they are indeed more robust and healthy than all the nations of the earth. At this very moment and in the state it is in, Albania could assemble an army of five hundred thousand men! Two to three hundred thousand could be mustered immediately. Those who know Albania are not surprised by such numbers and that Albania could assemble such an army, and do so immediately. And it is well known that an army of two hundred thousand Albanians is equivalent to an army of five hundred thousand foreign soldiers. The foes of the Albanians have never doubted the latter's courage.

We have seen what courage the Albanians have shown and how the foreigners who have ruled over them or lived among them have praised them for it. Are these men who have evinced such courage on behalf of foreign powers that have not even appreciated those deeds, not capable of maintaining and defending their own country, language and people? How could it be that they might not be capable of such a right, given that they have a strong country to back them up? Up to now, they have always struggled by means of might, but never by exercising their rights. The time has now come for them to exercise their rights and to do so for the sake of those rights. No right is more sacred for a people than that of national identity, language and homeland. A warrior who fights for booty and to abduct people is an eternal disgrace, but a warrior who fights for such rights is twice a hero. The rights give him power and might so that he can never be overcome. They give him the power to conquer the world!

If the Albanians have always been so courageous and heroic, why do they have their hands tied and why do they allow their foes, who have neither might nor right on their side, to divide them and cause their downfall? They have their hands tied because the Turks are holding them prisoner and their foes are decimating them with the help and assistance of the Turks. But are the Turks strong enough to hold the Albanians down with one hand and assist their foes with the other? No, we know they are not, but they are cunning. Albania is being held captive by a sly and cunning fox. I would even go so far as to say that the Albanians have tied themselves down because of their ignorance and blindness.

Albania today is like some strong lion whose limbs have been bound and that is surrounded by jackals and foxes ready to attack and devour it. It can do nothing but writhe and struggle to break the chains. Then, the jackals and foxes will back off, lose courage and not dare to show their faces. It must first of all show Turkey its teeth and say: "Back off and do not get involved, for I know how you have rewarded me for the good deeds I have done. I have defended you for five hundred years, and you keep me tied up so that the others can attack me. Are you going to cast me to the bottom of the pit that you intend to fall into yourself?" Who are the Turks? They are a savage folk come from the wilds of northern Asia with goads in their hands. In their savagery, they have seized the fairest and most civilized countries on earth. Even though these countries were subjected, beaten and tossed about, the Turks hold them to this very day in savage servitude, poverty and oppression, to the horror of the whole world. Poor Albania is one of these countries that has been suffering for hundreds of years and putting up with tyranny, indeed with more suffering than the others due to the negligence of the Albanians. The Turks are like those ancient peoples who blotted out the dearth like a hailstorm or a snowstorm. Where are the Huns, the Vandals, the Mongols, the Avars, the Goths and other savage peoples now, who once seized half the globe, marauding, pillaging and spilling blood? The Turks do not have any more right to live like this than these other savage peoples, yet even today they continue to live as freeloaders. They no longer have such rights. Up to now, they have created neither a state nor a government, as other countries have. They prefer to live in savagery. They will fall and must perish so that humankind can survive. But what have we done to them that, in their fall, they want to take us down with them? What do we have in common with them? Did we arrive with them? No, not at all. We are not Turks, nor did we arrive from the wilds of Asia. We are the oldest people of Europe. We have more rights to live in Europe than any others.

The Albanians are capable of preserving these sacred rights and of defending them, arms in hand. When justice is combined with might, a force is created which cannot be opposed. The Albanians are capable of preserving and defending their rights, i.e. their national identity, their language and their homeland against all foes, if they only so wish.


III. The survival or fall of Albania is in the hands of the Albanians


Albania is now standing at the edge of a steep and perilous cliff. It cannot stay there. If it does, it will fall from the brink and be shattered into a hundred pieces. If it wishes to survive, it must step back from the precipice and find a safe place on flat ground.

If Albania should succeed in saving itself from the perils that surround it and in embarking upon the path of security and well-being, it could become one of the best and fairest countries in Europe. Though it is not a large country, it is not much smaller than Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Denmark, Belgium, Holland or Switzerland, etc., which are all independent nations of their own. It is on the threshold of Europe and is a neighbour of Italy and Austria. It could very soon become a civilized country and become part of Europe. It has everything it requires, as we have seen. The Albanians are clever and intelligent people. They have a great longing for civilization and knowledge of all kinds. They make courageous and excellent soldiers.

Our beloved homeland cannot survive much longer as it is today. Will it perish and will Albania and the Albanians disappear forever, or will it survive and rise in an incomparable manner so that all the other nations of the earth will be envious of it? Albania's survival or fall is in the hands of the Albanians themselves. If they wish to, they can survive. If they prefer, they can perish.

The Albanians have no need to take to arms, to take up positions on mountain tops and in caves, to kill and ravage as other nations have done to gain their freedom. The Albanians are not as trodden upon and broken that they need to involve themselves in such ventures. They need do nothing but unite, swear a common oath to one another in manly fashion, keep their oath steadfastly, and demand their rights from Turkey and of Europe. Turkey will listen and will cede to their demands, willingly or unwillingly. Europe will help as it has helped other nations, and will compel Turkey to grant them their rights.


IV. Besa and the league


The Albanian word of honour (besa) is and has always been known and respected in the world. If the Albanian gives you his besa, he will not betray it and will be faithful to his pledge until the moment his body gives up the ghost. The besa, which has been a tribute to the Albanians up to now, will save them from all perils. Above all, the Albanians must unite in a common besa and create a league and union among themselves which will cover all of Albania. Every Albanian must be part of this league and pledge. They must abandon hostilities and feuding among themselves. What has happened in the past must be forgotten. Those in a feud who are set to take blood must instead forgive their foes. Albanian blood is ancient. Why should it be spilled in vain? Why should we be killing one another, when we should rather unite and spill the blood of the foes of our land? If the Albanians all join in an unbreakable besa and a league, they will be as one, strong and courageous, united in one desire, one word and one single goal. Who would then dare to oppose the Albanians? Who would dare to steal and trample upon their rights, as happens today when they are weak and divided?

Albanian men! Join your two hands in a besa, a league and in unity. This is what will save you. Otherwise you will be lost. Do not turn to religions and beliefs. Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox - they are all Albanians wherever they are, and they are all brothers. They must all unite under the sacred flag of Albania. Any Albanian who abandons his brothers and leaves them to join the foes of Albania, breaking his besa, is a traitor. He is an enemy of our people and our homeland. Better that such a man not exist. He must be regarded as a foe and not as an Albanian.

Praise be to God! The league is becoming a reality in Albania, the besa is being strengthened and unity is expanding. The league was created in one corner of Albania and is spreading daily throughout the country. On the surface, this league seemed other than it was, at odds with the goal of the Albanians, but on closer inspection, the situation is different. It was consciously made to look that way on the surface by the people who founded it. Otherwise they would not have been able to create it. Once it was created and established, it could then show its true purpose and could do what needed to be done. The second and third meetings will prove the validity of these words.

We must believe and hope that the league, meeting and besa which are being put into place in Albania at the moment, will be the start of Albania's salvation, since all Albanians have now understood the great peril the country is in and where their salvation lies. The current besa is unlike any of the past. It is a besa of life or death.

The Albanian league must not function simply for a short period of time, but must carry on forever until the Albanians have attained what they want and until the country has been rescued from the perils surrounding it. Until that time, the league must serve as a government for Albania because the Turkish government is not one devoted to construction, but to destruction. The Turkish government will not bring salvation, but rather perdition to Albania. The Albanian league must therefore replace it in all activities relating to the nation and its rights. The Albanians must take over these duties themselves or force the Turkish government to carry them out, against its will, thus saving our language and national identity and all the rights belonging to the Albanian people.

The league will be divided into as many branches as there are sandjaks in Albania. Each branch should have a permanent council which will meet once a week, and a large, general assembly that meets once a year, or whenever necessary. The members of the general assembly must be elected by the members of the permanent councils, who will be the following: a chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and four or five other members. Whenever they deem it necessary, they will convoke the general assembly and will communicate with the latter in writing.


V. The goal of the Albanians


The one and only goal of the Albanians is to preserve Albania and not let it be divided up by foreigners, to preserve our language and national identity, to confound all the intrigues of our foes and to impede the spread of Greek and Serbian languages and ideas which are destroying our foundations and uprooting the Albanians and their country.

Everything detrimental to this goal must be fiercely combatted by all true Albanians and by the Albanian league. Everything conducive to this goal must be embraced by them and unhesitatingly supported. First and foremost is the language. There can be no Albania without Albanians; there can be no Albanians without the Albanian language; and there can be no Albanian language without a writing system for it and schools in which to teach it. Therefore, language is the first thing. The Turkish government must be compelled to rescind the ban which it has imposed upon the Albanian language. It must allow Albanian schools to be opened and must let books and periodicals in Albanian enter the country unimpeded. Every Albanian must learn to read and write in Albanian, and then must learn other languages.

The second thing is the Church. The Albanians must be saved from the yoke of Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian priests and have their own Albanian priests and Albanian-language Bible. Christ was neither a Greek nor a Serb.

But in order for this to happen, the present government must be done away with and a patriotic government must be installed, a government which will act in accordance with the needs and the rights of the Albanians - a vigilant Albanian government and not a blind foreign government as we have today. What we need is proper government, whatever it may be called.

This is the goal of the Albanians.


VI. The future government


The government we have described is as necessary for the Albanians as the bread they eat and the water they drink. Without such a government, the Albanians will not be able to revive, spread their language and maintain their national identity.

Albania must secede as soon as possible and reflect on where it is and where it is going. Our country must be recognized as Albania, by Europe, too. The Albanians must advance and embellish their language with a writing system and education. They must unite and act like a single nation which has the same rights that all other nations on earth have.

Then, even if the Balkan Peninsula is plunged into chaos and Turkey falls and is destroyed, Albania will survive on its own. No one will be preoccupied with Albania, nor will anyone dare to consider stealing an inch of the country.

The government will remain for the time being under Turkey. The Albanians who have been shedding their blood for the empire for the last five hundred years, do not want its perdition, even though they realise it is determined to destroy itself and be cut up among its enemies. The Albanians will continue to the very end to spill their blood for the empire and will maintain their allegiance as they have in the past. When they finally obtain a good government, one which is sufficiently stabilized, they will then be able to assist Turkey more and better. But if Turkey insists on maintaining its present course, hurling itself into an abyss and refusing salvation, as it has always done, the Albanians will be able to preserve themselves and will not perish with that madman committing suicide, especially since, as everyone knows, he has the means to save himself.

Thus, the government will be under Turkish suzerainty but in a way that, if Turkey collapses, Albania will not be swallowed into the abyss, too, but will be able to stand on its own two feet. As long as Turkey survives, it should not be allowed to harm Albania and cause its downfall, as it has done in the past. If Turkey should be snuffed out, it must not take Albania with it to the grave.



[Extract from Shqipëria - Ç'ka qënë, ç'është e ç'do të bëhetë? Mendime për shpëtimt të mëmëdheut nga reziket që e kanë rethuarë, Bucharest 1899. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]


Sami Bey Frashëri as a young man.