"I didn't bring you freedom, but I found it here, among you".
It is said that with these words the Albanian national hero, Athleta Christi, Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg, turned to his army ready to fight, immediately after having freed his principality, Kruja, from the Ottomans, and having triumphantly raised the Castriota flag (which later became the national flag of Albania) on the main tower of his castle.
This anecdote is reported by Marin Barleti in his work Historia de vita et gestis Skanderbegi Epirotarvm principis.
It is likely that the author, due to an excess of romanticism, attributed to the Prince of Kruja words that the hero never uttered; but inside this sentence there is a great historical truth: the desire for freedom of the Albanian people.
An indomitable people, who could not stand Ottoman tyranny, and who expected nothing but a spark to unleash the revolt.
The 28 November 1443, date of the return of Skanderbeg to Kruja, is a historical recurrence for the Arbëria (so called Albania in those days). This date marks the beginning of the Albanian heroic resistance against the greatest war power of the time: the Ottoman Empire; resistance that lasted for twenty-five years, until Skanderbeg's death.
But the true masterpiece of Skanderbeg can be considered the accomplishment of the 2 March 1444 to Alessio (Lezha), when he managed to unite all the Albanian princes under a single flag and with one goal: to free the country from the Turks.
With the death of Skanderbeg (17 January 1468), the Ottomans reconquered Albania which will thus enter its darkest period, which will end only after four centuries. Four centuries of suffering for the Albanian people.
The majority of it forcibly converted to Islam. The "Sublime Porte" was tolerant of non-Islamic subjects; in fact, it allowed the Greeks to teach their language. However, the treatment given to Albanian subjects, even if of Muslim religion, was different. In fact, Turkey had forbidden the opening of Albanian schools and even the official use of the language.
The policy of the Young Turks who came to power in Turkey in the 1908, aggressive towards the Albanians, was the drop that caused the vase to overflow. The Albanians began to claim their rights. The requests of the Albanians to the "Porta" grew so little at a time, starting with that of the use and teaching of their language.
The internal situation in Albania and relations with the "Gate" began to deteriorate seriously at the beginning of the 1910 in Kosovo, soon degenerating into an uprising that spread further south. The 29 September 1911 Italy declared war on Turkey.
The Italian-Turkish conflict precipitated the situation in the Balkans. The Balkan wars extended into the region as a biblical scourge. The conflict was marred by mass executions, mainly to the detriment of unarmed Albanian civilians, in the North by the Serbs and even more so by the Montenegrins, but especially in the South by the Greeks.
Hate and racial and religious intolerance led, in the absence of any government authority and in a climate rendered unstable by the widespread presence of weapons throughout the territory, to massacres and destruction in vast areas of a country that did not yet exist.
The correspondences of the newspapers of the time and the stories of the memorialists speak of burnt villages, mutilations, families destroyed or deported, of men and children massacred in the sign of "ethnic cleansing"; of a settler of refugees and scenes of collective despair, of all kinds of violence that recall in an impressive way the images of the horrors perpetrated in the wars of Bosnia and Kosovo, in the late nineties of the last century.
The Albanian uprising resumed again strongly starting from the North and soon spread throughout the country. This insurrection created the conditions for the subsequent victory of the Balkan allies against Turkey and made it possible, playing a role that perhaps did not receive due attention.
It was in this climate of formation of the national consciousness of the ancient people shqipëtar, that the "wise old man" Ismail Kemal Bey Vlora, the 28 November of 1912, raised the Albanian flag, red with Skanderbeg's double-headed eagle, to Vlora, and Albania became independent of the Ottoman Empire.
A provisional government was formed, directed by Ismail Kemal himself, and it was decided to elect a Senate to control and help the government. The proclamation of independence was notified to the "Porta" and to the European Powers; a delegation was sent abroad to defend the rights of the Albanians.
Neither the choice of the date nor the choice of the Skanderbeg myth were random. The 28 November, as we have seen, recalled a historical date: the date of the liberation from the Turks of Kruja (stronghold of Skanderbeg), at a time when the Albanians were about to escape definitively from what remained of the Empire Ottoman.
The cult of Skanderbeg became a unifying element of the feeling of national identity. The Albanians set aside their disagreements of various kinds. Despite the differences between the North and the South, between the Gheghie e Toschi, all the Albanians had a patriotic reaction. The 28 November of the 1912 will be remembered in Albanian historiography as "the day of the flag".
Albania had finally acquired independence. According to international agreements, however, Albania would have become truly independent only in the 1913. The 29 July 1913, in London, the Conference of Ambassadors of the Six Great Powers decided that Albania was constituted as an autonomous, sovereign and hereditary principality, under the guarantee of the six Powers [that would have designated the Prince]; on that occasion the outline of the new state was also drawn.
But shameful decisions were also taken at this conference. In the north, Kosovo was annexed to Serbia. In the south, Greece acquired the Çamëria. As can be understood, independence cost the Albanians dearly. More than half of the territories populated by Albanian ethnic groups remained outside the borders of the newly born Albanian independent state (Prizren, Peć, Ochrid, Struga, Djakova, Ulcinj, etc.).
The repression and genocide suffered by the populations left outside the borders of Albania by the Greeks and the Serbs should not be forgotten. The blood of those innocent people still cries out for revenge. The chauvinist policy of countries bordering on Albania, such as Greece and Serbia, also shows today in the 2010 that these countries have never stopped maintaining territorial claims against this nation.
The Albanians should not make the mistake of feeling safe and sleeping on their laurels, but they should always remain vigilant. The facts of the London Conference should serve them as a warning for the future.
"The day of the flag", still today, manages to unite all the Albanians, wherever they are, because it is the only party that is celebrated in all the territories inhabited by Albanians, of all backgrounds and religions (Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims), and by all those who feel they belong to the glorious and ancient Albanian people.
This article is part of the book The enigma of the Albanian language available from November 28, 2018 on Amazon