VIII. The Albanians
10. Note. Letter from an Albanian Officer
If ever an autonomous Albania comes into being the educated Albanians now dispersed in Roumania and Egypt, or kept in a sort of official imprisonment in the Turkish army or Civil Service, will undoubtedly return to lead their countrymen. There are men among them who would be a credit to any race. I cannot do better than translate some passages from a letter which reached me the other day from an Albanian friend, a nominal Mohamedan, who holds a high place in the Turkish army. As a military commandant in a certain garrison in Asia Minor during the Armenian massacres, wielding large civil powers, he earned golden opinions by his tolerance and his humanity. The letter serves to prove how little these men, even when they are Turkish officials, share the attitude of the average Turk. It also shows to what level of culture these Albanians often manage to attain in Turkey, cut off though they are from European schools, and rarely able to obtain any book which treats of serious topics in a modern spirit.
"I have long waited for an opportunity of writing to you and expressing myself fully and frankly on the situation and destiny of the peoples of the East, whom the trend of events has placed in perpetual conflict, because of differences arising from religion, manners, political interests, and historical tradition. They lack as yet a protector who should be at once liberal and strong, capable of satisfying their national tendencies in such a way as to conciliate their bitter dissensions. The Ottoman Empire, mistaking its own interests, persists in its system of oppression and despotism, refractory to European advice, incapable of any change, by reason of its ingrained vices, social and political. For the moment it seems incapable of preserving its integrity or of conforming itself to the demands of modern principles. It prefers to submit to serious measures of intervention which wound its dignity, rather than adopt of its own free will, reforms which are necessary as much for its own self-preservation as for the happiness of its conquered peoples.
"The Albanians, Christians as well as Moslems, have for centuries shed their blood for the honour of the Empire — the Catholic mountaineers have always fought under the standards of their own chiefs against the Russians, the Serbs, and the Montenegrins, and the military history of the Empire is full of examples of the heroism of these brave soldiers. But by way of recompense for these services the Empire has decreed the suppression, by the most Byzantine of methods, of the cultivation of their language, the first of the intellectual rights of man. You tell me that you will endeavour to create an interest in the Albanian question in England. In that way, my dear friend, you will perform a humanitarian work. The general prosperity depends on the enfranchisement of every branch of the human family. Those who are at the head of civilisation are in duty bound to succour their backward brethren. Truth will emerge from the ocean of mystery only through the highest development of the greatest number. Above all, the unhappy Albanians are the elder sons of the European family. The remarkable affinity of the Albanian language to Sanscrit proves them to be the earliest emigrants of the Aryan race who settled in Europe. The descendants of the ancient Pelasgians are not lacking in intelligence, in bravery, in force and independence of character, and though Islam has conquered Albania, their morals have remained intact. Their conversion to Islam has only changed their belief, from a faith in the Trinity to a belief in the unity of God, but the vices of Islam, polygamy and slavery, have never infected the Albanians. The Ottoman conquest has been able neither to enslave nor to corrupt their indomitable temper.
"To raise themselves to the level of their European brethren, the Albanians need nothing but the light of modern science. The right of cultivating their language will be the gage of their enfranchisement. English diplomacy, by assisting the Albanians in this legitimate direction, would accomplish a service worthy of its renown and of its reputation for disinterested philanthropy. The Albanians are generous enough to be eternally grateful to their benefactor. By the enfranchisement of the Albanians English policy might put an end to the interminable complications of the East. The Albanians are moderate enough not to put forward exaggerated pretensions like those of the Greeks and the Bulgarians. England, by using her influence on behalf of the autonomy of Albania, would increase her predominance in the balance of power in the Balkans. She would gain for ever an element faithful to her policy, and, to speak more precisely, a vanguard against the dangerous invasion of Panslavism in the East. We are not opposed to the enfranchisement of our neighbours of other races, but at the same time we wish to preserve our natural frontiers. Greece has found her natural limit towards the North. "Old Servia " is nothing but an historical term, a memory of the ephemeral reign of the Servian Emperors. Montenegro has already seized several Albanian districts. Macedonia, within its proper limits, ought to have a cosmopolitan autonomy, neutral and subject to European control, since it does not possess a distinctive national character — all the races of the Balkans are mixed there pell-mell. As for the Sultan, he must be contented with the sort of nominal suzerainty to which he is already accustomed. He can find in Asia concubines and flatterers and spies enough to dazzle with a display of his legendary greatness."
[Back to Index]