Pristina ‘Told to Revise History Books’ (Dec. 1)

By Lavdim Hamidi Pristina

“During the first official meeting which I had in 2008 in Turkey, the issue of changing historical textbooks and specific content that refers to Kosovo’s – and Albania’s – Ottoman past… was mentioned by Turkey’s minister of education,” says Hoxhaj.

“During that meeting with the Turkish Education minister, I was informed that the same request was made also to other ministers from Balkan countries.”

Hoxhaj stressed that the Turkish request to revise history and school textbooks was “generalised” and did not refer to specific books or texts.

Despite numerous written and telephone requests lodged during the past month asking for a response to Hoxhaj’s claims, both Hüseyin Çelik and the current Turkish education minister have so far declined to comment.

Hoxhaj, however, does not entirely reject the possibility of revising Kosovan historical texts: “I have no personal opinion on issues that are for professionals [historians]. Textbooks should reflect a social consensus on events related to citizens of the Republic of Kosovo.”

Albania and present day Kosovo – along with large swathes of the Balkans – came under direct Ottoman rule for five centuries until the fall of the empire in Europe in 1912. The subject of Ottoman rule remains a highly charged issue in the region.

The treatment of Albanians during that era is the subject of fierce debate, with many holding the Ottomans responsible for not only arresting the region’s development but also for perpetrating numerous brutal crackdowns and bloodbaths.

About 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population today are ethnic Albanians. According to history books used in secondary schools across the territory, the Ottomans crushed all pro-independence political groups after ethnic-Albanians began an insurgency against their occupiers in the late 1800s.

Most famously, the pro-independence Albanian political group – the League of Prizren – was disbanded by force in 1881.

Kosovan textbooks state that thousands of “patriots” and ethnic Albanian teachers were arrested, deported or jailed. Schoolchildren in Kosovo learn that the Ottoman’s [sic] closed their schools to halt the spread of books and newspapers, which served to strengthen the resistance groups.

Hakif Bajrami, history professor at the University of Pristina, says Kosovan history books correctly present the Ottomans as an often brutal occupying force in what is now Albania and Kosovo.

Bajrami argues vehemently against revising history books to present a more favourable image of the past to meet current political ends.

“The current government of Turkey is a friend of Kosovo, the Turkish people today are friends of Albanians. This friendship should continue in the future but such an initiative by Turkey about changing history textbooks shouldn’t pass [be allowed],” he said.

However, while many historians agree with Bajrami, others believe Albanian textbooks present a biased view of history and are the product of intense state-building and nationalist fervour that followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Ah, Albanian nationalism caused the portrayal of the Ottomans in Albania to be more negative than it really was (for Albanians), screwing up current Albanian relations with the Ottomans whose patronage they need again. Never mind that the same nationalism is now standard for all Albanians — but it’s OK because presently it’s not the Ottomans whose image is being sacrificed at the altar of Albanian nationalism.

Ilir Deda, executive director in the Kosovar Institute for Policy Research and Development (KIPRED), disputes Bajrami’s view of the Ottomans as aggressive invaders, pointing out that most Albanians were “100 per cent faithful” to the empire.

Turkey wants Kosovo to correct its historical accounts so they are based on facts, not on nationalist, romantic myths,” he says. “Turkey’s argument that [Ottoman era] history should be re-written is much stronger given our historical accounts have been written in the last 100 years.”

Bottom line: The supposed historical Albanian ‘opposition’ to the Ottoman Empire is — as we knew — a myth, according to one of the two competing schools of thought. But let me shore up the divide between the two seemingly opposing camps, by summarizing what happened. Indeed, there’s really no contradiction here:

Albanians converted to Islam, and used the privileged position to infiltrate all the Christian lands of the Balkans and abuse the Slavs, then decided to take it a step beyond where Ottoman patronage was willing to go for Albanians — forming their own country. When the Ottomans rejected their plans, then the Albanians got upset over Ottoman rule — some perhaps even engaging in mild agitation — which is how we get: “We rebelled against the Ottomans!”

What happened to the Ottomans’ welcome mat in Greater Albania is what happens to every empire when it draws the line on how much it’s willing to deliver on the Ablanian agenda. (Current empires, take note.)

Albanians Question ‘Negative’ View of Ottomans (Dec. 3)

Aggressive invader or friendly administration? The portrayal of the Ottoman Empire in Albania’s history books remains the subject of fierce debate for Albanians and Turks alike.

Gjergj Erebara Tirana, Albania

When Dorina Zhupa decided to take advantage of free Turkish language classes in the Albanian capital Tirana, she found herself on the receiving end of a history lesson she had not bargain[ed] for at all.

While the 27-year-old expected to spend the lesson practising her Turkish, she was surprised to discover that Albania had never been a subject state of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were not so much invader as friendly administrator, the professor declared.

“We were discussing Albanian history in the class and, at some point I said that Albania was freed from Turkish occupation in 1912. However, Professor Derjaj corrected me immediately by saying that, indeed, the Ottoman Empire administered Albania and had not occupied it,” says Zhupa.

And the professor in charge of the course, which was taught last year and was funded by the Turkish government, stands by his statement.

Adriatik Derjaj, professor of modern Turkish and Ottoman-era languages at the University of Tirana, says: “The Ottoman Empire was a conglomerate of nations with equal opportunities…”

That is, if you converted to Islam. Here one is reminded of a sentence by Daniel Greenfield:

[T]he choice [is] between being a Dhimmi or a Muslim. To be one of the oppressed or the oppressors…And those who voluntarily converted to Islam chose to be the oppressors, the killers and the slave-masters. That is what Islam really is, the historical legacy of a billion people who chose to brutalize others, rather than to be brutalized. To enslave others, rather than to be slaves. It is the poisonous dregs of the human soul, the choice that destroys your morality and humanity in the making of it. That is what being a Muslim really means.

Back to the main article:

“There were 36 viziers who ruled the empire and were of Albanian blood [nationality].

“I think that living together with the Ottomans was welcomed by Albanians. If we analyse the language and customs of Albanians today, we can see that Albanians and Turks lived together and Turks were welcomed.”

The Ottoman Grand Viziers acted as de facto prime ministers and effectively [ran] the empire. They came second only to the Sultan himself.

However, like most Albanians, Zhupa learned little about these Albanian-born viziers. Instead, she was taught that the Ottomans invaded Albania and occupied the country by force for five centuries until the 1912-1913 Balkans War.

So generations of Albanians were tricked by other Albanians into thinking that Albanians stood up to the Ottomans rather than welcomed them and willingly adopted their nightmarish religion. Maybe in another hundred years Albanians will figure out that they were oppressing Slavs and not the other way around, as they flocked to Slavic lands quite willingly and aggressively.

As was the case with other nations in the Balkans, not only is the Ottoman presence in Albania seen as an invasion, it is widely regarded as a national tragedy. The Ottomans are still blamed for arresting Albania’s development to such an extent that Albanians still suffer the consequences today. To be told the Ottomans were friendly administrators came as something of a shock to Zhupa.

While Derjaj’s views may be controversial for Albanians, he is certainly not alone in questioning whether Ottoman rule in Albania was an occupation by force. Many historians now believe that, in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, Albania’s new leaders and nation-builders set about deliberately constructing a new, unifying western identity that cast the Ottoman past as a tragic accident.

Ah, there it is. The signature Albanian pragmatism and opportunism that I’ve come to know and stand in negative awe of. The main non-contradiction between the two competing school of thought here. Whatever is more expedient for Albanian goals, history and reality will be adjusted accordingly. Notice that not accidentally, today’s Albanian “reevaluation” of the Ottomans comes at a time when being Ottoman-friendly is politically helpful to Albanians. So the current correcting of history also serves current Albanian ambitions.

Similarly the official histories of other Balkan states, notably Bulgaria and Serbia, describe their past in terms of a centuries-long fight to liberate themselves from their Ottoman yoke. However, while such predominantly Christian countries could portray their history in such terms with relative ease, the issue among Muslim-majority Albanians was more complex.

No shit! What this is trying to say is that unlike Albanians, Slavs actually fought back. (Except the ones known today as “Bosniaks.” As we know, those are conquered Slavs, and proud of it.)

The idea of a national, Albanian identity was a novel one, given that Albanian Muslims were still regarded as ‘Turks’, and their Christian counterparts as ‘Greeks’, until the 20th century.

In an attempt to unify and strengthen the newly-independent Albania, the political elites downplayed religious differences, choosing instead to focus on cutting links with the Ottoman past.

Turkish words were purged from the Albanian language and those Albanian-born grand viziers who ruled the Ottoman Empire are not even mentioned in the country’s official historical records.

This new, post-Ottoman and purposely western identity was forged at the expense of historical accuracy, argue some historians, as these new leaders – some of whom were former Ottoman Empire officials - sought to falsely emphasise Albanian resistance against their Ottoman oppressors.

“Creating a western identity was a matter of survival for Albanian elites in the late 19 century,” explains Tirana-based sociologist Enis Sulstarova.

“The kind of history that portrays Turks simply as enemies of Albanians begun in the late 19th century as part of the Albanian nation-building process known as the ‘national revival’… this practice of nationalistic history-telling continued under communism and continues today.

Indeed, the Albanians scurried to create a communistic identity when that was politically expedient, and then they scurried to de-communize when the winds shifted again. Which is how we have two hard-core communists — Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha (dictator Hoxha’s doctor), and Kosovo “prime minister” Hashim Thaci (co-founder of an Albanian Leninist party while in Switzerland) — remade as ardent “Western-facing” “capitalists” (in the Mafioso sense of the word, of course.)

“Today, the legacy of Ottoman Empire is considered in Albania as responsible for almost every economic, cultural or political issue that the country encounters. This is a banal historicism where many people find it easier to blame today’s problems on the Turks. Some say that if we were not invaded by the Ottomans (referred to simply as Turks in Albania), we would be a developed western nation today.”

The other hallmark of Albanianism: having someone to blame.

Historians generally agree that Albanian historical records were influenced by nationalistic propaganda during the ‘national revival’ of the 19th century and the communist regime during the second half of 20th century.

Ah, so Albanian “truth” — which dominates today’s official Western truth — is highly mutable “nationalist propaganda.” Except, of course, when Serbs are its victims.

Ferid Duka, a historian and Ottoman era specialist at the European University of Tirana, says: “Albanian history under communism portrayed the Ottoman period in an extremely negative way by unreasonably emphasising… underdevelopment, subjugation and the violence used by the Ottomans and by defining that period simply by the popular uprising against the Ottoman rule.

“This point of view also dominated the historiography of other countries in the Balkans, but to a lesser extent. The main reason for this kind of history was simply that the official ideology of the communism dictated that any reality created by foreign rule must always be considered as dark and hated.”

In September this year, the group produced four new books to be used by history teachers across the Balkans.

“The new workbooks… do not offer a new, single ‘truth’ about past controversies, but provide a variety of information and sources through comments, documents, letters and pictures,” says historian Dubravka Stojanovic, the editor of the Serbian history books.

Despite historical disagreements between Ankara and Tirana over the Ottoman past, Turkey is now seen as a friendly nation. Frequently referred to as a ‘brother nation’, Ankara is the chosen ally when it comes to Turk-Greek influence in Albania.

(Like we didn’t know that both Albanians and Turks hate Greeks.)

Economic benefits have also helped to override historical mistrust [no shit!], and Turkey is now one of the biggest investors in Albania with strategic holdings in telecommunications and finance industries, public engineering contracts and higher education.

In addition, today’s Turks are looking to their Ottoman past with a renewed sense of pride [no shit!]. Once shamed of the collapse of the empire and its reputation for decadence, the Ottomans have enjoyed a sort of rehabilitation to Turkish society.

The current government is now keen to encourage other countries to portray what it would regard as a more balanced view of the Ottoman past in other countries too. To that end, the government in Ankara has set about countering the widespread, negative view of the Ottoman Empire among Albanians by financing scholarships to study Ottoman history and publishing new books in Albania.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, has purposefully sought to put the Ottoman Empire of the 16th and 17th centuries – the empire’s ‘golden age’ which is also referred to as “Pax Ottomana” by some historians – into context.

During an official visit to Tirana in October 2009, Davutoğlu purposely declared that Balkan countries and Turkey share a “common history, destiny and future”, while also claiming “until the 16th century, cities in the Balkans were wealthier than those of Western Europe”.

While Davutoğlu statements about the Ottoman past were controversial in themselves, there was intense speculation by the Albanian media that Davutoğlu had officially requested that Tirana revise the negative portrayal of the Ottoman Empire in its textbooks. Albanian government officials have refused to confirm or deny that any such requests have been lodged.

Historian Ferid Duka recalls that the first Turkish ambassador to Kosovo, appointed shortly after Pristina declared independence in 2008, also called for historical accounts in that country to be revised. Almost 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population of 2m are ethnic Albanians. […]

The above article came with an extract from a 2002 Albanian textbook titled The History of the Albanian People. I’ll cite just two paragraphs of the extract:

Albania was ruled by a medieval and despotic invader, with the ugliest features of economic and political violence, like heavy taxation, political discrimination that led to the denial of identity of the Albanian nation, the barring of teaching in the native tongue in schools, the absence of most elementary human rights, and even the massacring of the Albanian population through punitive expeditions.

So let’s get this straight. The charges described here, which were later inaccurately ascribed to supposed oppression by Serbs, included “the barring of teaching in the native tongue.” As we know, at the very least Serbia allowed Albanians to have their own schools — indeed they allowed an entire parallel education, court and medical system (from which non-Albanians were banned). So assuming that the paragraph is accurate as regards the Ottomans, what we have is a situation where Albanians are being best buddies with people who did worse to them than the Serbs supposedly did. And that has something to do with a common Islamic identity and supremacy.

The diffusion of national culture and education would help in the emancipation of the Albanian nation from fanaticism, backwardness, intolerance and religious divisions, which had been planted by the Ottoman rulers.

So much for that.