In the Shadow of Russia: Eastern Europe in the Postwar World

By Nicholas Halasz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Albania

The state of Albania was born from a great power agreement in 1913, but the race of the Albanians, the Squipetars, is ancient. The figure of the Squipetar, which means "Son of the Eagle," has been known through the recorded ages.

Skanderbeg, the Albanian national hero, organized the Balkan Christians in the fifteenth century to stop the invasion of the Ottoman Turks who eventually conquered the Balkans. Albania was submerged in the Ottoman empire for four hundred years. Most of the Squipetars embraced Mohammedanism, and many had spectacular careers in the Turkish army and administration. Four rose to be grand viziers; one of them, Mehmet Ali, became governor and later ruling prince of Egypt.

Not all Squipetars turned Muslim, however. Among the mountaineers in the north, many retained their Roman Catholic religion, while in the south, in the vicinity of Greece, part of the peasants stuck to the Orthodox church, although this involved their remaining serfs on the lands of Muslim Albanians. Yet fanaticism had no place among the Squipetars. Members of the same family often belonged to different religions. A baby baptized one day might be circumcised the next as a Mussulman. What divided them was the Shkumbi River. North of it lived the Ghegs in tribal society, Muslims and Roman Catholics; south of the river the Tosks-Muslim landlords and free peasants, Orthodox Christian serfs. Both groups speak more

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