The 24 January 1844 was born in Vlora, Ismail Qemali the man who would have marked the history of the Albanian state. Qemali led the National Movement in the proclamation of Independence and secession from the Ottoman Empire took place on November 28 1912.
At the head of the Valona Constituent Assembly and elected by this Prime Minister of the provisional government, Qemali laid the foundations of the state of which the citizens of the land of the eagles are today heirs. Due to a political context against him, he resigned in 1914 in January, but he continued to commit himself to the Albanian question until the 24 January 1919 was extinguished in Perugia.
Known to the Italian press at the beginning of the '900 for having moved away from the Ottoman Empire of his own accord in open opposition to the Sultan Abdul Hamid, Ismail Qemali often traveled also to Italy and had relations also with Italian and European politicians.
AlbaniaNews interviewed Darling Vlora, great grandson of Ismail Qemali to talk about this historical figure, his contribution to the Albanian state and his relations with Italy. Darling has also set up two photo exhibitions on Ismail Qemali in Italy. The first at Sirtori in the 2009 on the occasion of the 165 anniversary of birth, the second in Parma, last November as part of the Albanian Culture Week. In addition, in 2008 he edited Ismail Qemali "Albania and the Albanians" (Shqiperia dhe shqiptaret), published in Albanian and English.
Who is Ismail Qemali for Darling Vlora?
Ismail Qemali, or Ismail Qemal Bej Vlora, is an ancestor of mine. My paternal grandfather, Qamil bey Vlora, was one of Ismail Qemali's sons. So, in the male line, I am his great-grandchild.
What role does Ismail Qemali play in the history of the Albanian state?
I am reminded of an expression by Roberto Cotroneo on the great Genoese artist Fabrizio De André: "The architect De André used engineers to get his accounts back, but the design was his". Ismail Qemali was the architect of the Albanian Independence, the Father of the Nation and the founder of the Albanian state. It is the opinion of the people, of those who knew him and of the patriots who responded to his appeal by supporting him in that great national event.
Dhimitër Zografi, one of the delegates of the Vlore National Assembly who accompanied Ismail Qemali from Trieste to Vlore and together with the other patriots signed the Act of Independence, wrote: “What merits has Ismail Qemali for Albania, what an honor the he must be reserved and where his name must be named, only those who know and have seen his works can judge him ”. Qazim Kokoshi, another of the signatories of the Act of Independence, the 12 February 1919, in the mortuary ceremony of the "Father of the Nation", as he called Ismail Qemali, turned to those present, many of whom had participated in the proclamation of Independence , reminding them that they were "The living history of the new Albania, but the founder and first hero of this story is Ismail Qemali". Here, who is Qemali in the memories of two of the signatories of the Act of Independence, not to mention others such as Ferid Vokopola, Mustafa Kruja, Liugj Gurakuqi, Rexhep Mitrovica and all recognize him as "Father of the nation".
Ismail Qemali served the Ottoman Empire for 50 years. He is one of the first Ottoman liberals and in the 1909 founder and President of the Liberal Party. His commitment to the progressive currents of the Empire is also earlier than that in the Albanian national movement. What prompted Qemali to be liberal: the greater autonomy of the Albanian provinces or his conscience as an Ottoman statesman?
Lately I have perceived as a kind of criticism that Ismail Qemali was in the service of the Ottoman Empire. And it's a completely wrong position. His service in the Empire coincides with the historical period in which Albania was a part of it, so Qemali did not serve it but his country. He has been involved since the age of 16 years in the Ottoman administration which at that time was led by reformist statesmen like Mit'hat Pascià, Fuad Pascià and Ali Pascià. Ismail Qemali stood out for his liberal and reformist ideas, and his activity should be considered as closely linked to his commitment to Albania. From 1864, Qemali participates in Istanbul in meetings for the foundation of a national cultural society for the opening of schools in Albanian language and the development of Albanian literature.
As a far-sighted man, Ismail Qemali was convinced that the strengthening of the Empire was also useful to his country. Qemali collaborated with Mit'hat Pascia for the drafting of the first Ottoman constitution enacted in the 1876. The 108 article of this constitution provided that "the administration of the provinces is based on the principle of decentralization". One of the ideas of Mit'hat Pascia, at the suggestion of Ismail Qemali was also the formation of a Province (province) Albanian.
We are two years from the Prizren League and almost 40 years since the proclamation of Independence. Unfortunately Mit'hat Pascià was arrested, the Constitution was suspended until 1908 and Ismail Qemali himself was confined. After being allowed to return to Istanbul, noting the firm position of the Sultan on reforms, Qemali decided to leave the Empire in the 1900 to devote himself entirely to the Albanian national question. In the letter he wrote to the Sultan from the English ship that would take him to Europe, there is also a phrase that is worth mentioning: "My crime against the homeland is love for it".
Sami Frashëri or Semsedin Sami, is one of those historical figures considered by the Albanian and Turkish historiographies as one of the fathers of the respective nationalisms. How is Ismail Qemali seen from today's Turkish historiography?
Most (if not almost all) of the Albanian national movement's activists have served in the Ottoman administration without ever forgetting their homeland. As Sami Frashëri served with his commitment the knowledge and culture of all nationalities making up the Ottoman Empire, even Ismail Qemali wherever he served stood out as an advocate of knowledge and progress. Even today, in places where he has been governor, he is remembered with respect for his commitment in opening schools and against racial and religious discrimination. Moreover, he is remembered with respect as a liberal politician, among the first of the Empire. Lately, his memoirs have also been published in the Turkish language and years ago a publication was also made with his speeches to the Ottoman Parliament.
Compared to other figures, Ismail Qemali seems to be very active in the Albanian National Movement especially in the years before the Revolution of the Young Turks. How can this "delay" be explained?
It is right, it seems to be very active in the National Movement especially in the years before the Revolution, but in truth it is not so. The whole activity of Ismail Qemali is closely linked with its origins, with love for the homeland, the history of its country and its family. It was these factors that together with intelligence and its rare formation, created the liberal state man who, as declared by himself, wanted to serve all nationalities making up the Empire through its strengthening. So it also went beyond the national dimension. And if we talk about his "delay" before the 1900, we must not forget that he was confined by the 1877 to the 1884 and, as the Albanian historians Luarasi, Xoxi and Naska claim, the Sultan kept him away from Istanbul even afterwards, just to prevent that he dedicated himself to the Albanian National Movement.
In the last show you set up a Parma on Ismail Qemali, in collaboration with the Scanderbeg Association, I was impressed by a photo of 1908, the year in which Ismail Qemali returned to Albania and was elected Member of the Ottoman Parliament. The Qemali carriage is carried in the arms by the citizens of Valona, and in the caption of the photo it was specified "from the port to the city center". Was he so loved in Vlore?
Ismail Qemali was born in Vlora and his family has led the Valona Sangiaccato since the 1480. Even though he left Valona as a child, he always maintained ties with his city. The Albanians who went to Istanbul always found his support. At the time, he was considered the most famous representative of the Vlora. Immediately after the restoration of the Constitution by the Sultan in the 1908, the people of Valona asked him to return to Albania, sending them a telegram. And his return turned into a popular event. A delegation of 39 people had been waiting for him in Corfu. Instead at the Port of Vlora they had gone out to welcome everyone. In his honor, patriotic speeches and cannon shots were read in the city and at the port. To express his gratitude and his respect, the people of Vlora released the horses of his carriage, carrying them in their arms for about two kilometers to the city center.
In the memory of the Vlora family, the Albanians gained independence or was it the result of the nineteenth-century policy continued in the '900 and based on the balance between the great powers and the compensation of the winners?
In my opinion, but also based on the "Memories" of Ismail Qemali and other citizens of Vlora, the Albanians have conquered and deserved Independence. The 28 November 1912 was the coronation of the secular wars of our people. Those who claim that Independence was a "gift" of European politics or a choice of their own, do nothing but denigrate the work and sacrifices of our patriots and the commitment of the Albanians to Independence. Obviously, during the First Balkan War, when the Albanians proclaimed Independence, there were strong contradictions between the Great Powers of the time who thought that not to create but to support an independent Albania to safeguard the balance between them. And here is the difference.
Ismail Qemali during his trip to European capitals between October and November of the 1912 in defense of the national question, was able to convince the Great Powers to support the action of the Albanians and what was obtained from the contradictions and interests of the Great Powers, should be considered as an unprecedented result. So isn't this another victory too? It is beyond dispute that Albania's independence was also in Europe's interest. The 2 April of the 1913, in an interview with Ismail Qemali, published on the front page of the newspaper "Il Giornale d'Italia", the journalist Benedetti wrote: "the cause of peace owes much to this man who had the most historic task difficult for the diplomatic struggles he had to endure. It would have been easy for him to turn Europe upside down ".
Ismail Qemali often traveled in Italy too. Already at the beginning of the '900, some Italian newspapers devoted the first page to them. What are your links with Italy?
Yes, Ismail Qemali often traveled to Italy, staying long in cities like Rome, Milan, Naples, San Remo. Moreover, he had created personal relationships with many Italian personalities of the time, including the Marquis of San Giuliano who later, just before Independence, became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Qemali's ideas on the future of Albania and relations between Albania and Italy can be found in the interviews released to the Italian press of the time, often published in the front pages of prestigious newspapers. Although he had stronger relationships and friendships with British statesmen, as regards the future of Albania, he wanted to find Italy's main support. Qemali has fully believed in Italy's sincere help and has done the impossible to attract the attention of the Italian government and industrialists to collaborate with Albania.
And what did Ismail Qemali newspapers write?
There are many articles that appeared in different periods but I can read you a description of Ismail Qemali in an article published on the second page of the 30 November 1912 Press, two days after the proclamation of Independence:
"Waiting for the events that inevitably will follow the proclamation of the Albanian autonomy, the curiosity is addressed to the man who has set himself at the head of the movement, which has now reached its conclusion, namely: Ismail Kemal Bey, President of Provisional Government.
Ismail Kemal Bey is not unknown in Europe, and especially in Italy. His love for his native land earned him several times the persecution of Abdul Hamid, and finally exile. The Young Turks revolution drew him from his industrious refuge in Paris. He believed in a renewal of Turkey transformed into a Confederation of nationalities, with equal rights, such as Switzerland and Austria.
The story of the last three years given to Ismail Kemal Bey justice. But before the collapse of Turkey was accomplished, foreseeing the fate threatened to his country, he ran to Rome and Vienna, in defense of the Albanian rights, then passed to Durazzo and Valona, where the Albanian Diet appointed him President of the Government provisional. Ismail Kemal Bey is a handsome old man, tall in stature, rosy complexion, with clear, lively eyes, a white beard. Distinct figure, European dress, generally with an irreproachable "frock coat". Mind caught, he speaks fluently five languages, includes Italian, but speaks it with some difficulty. He is aware of international issues and knows the main politicians of Europe personally ".
Italy is also the country where Qemali passed away on 24 in January 1919, as many claim "in unclear circumstances". Why was he in that period in Italy and could there have been a conspiracy against him?
Last time, Ismail Qemali went to Italy on 9 December 1918 and the 24 January 1919 died in Perugia. At the end of the First World War, the question of Albania's borders would be discussed again at the Peace Conference. Italy's interests in Albania were still very present and the Italian government invited Ismail Qemali to Rome to coordinate positions.
At the time, Ismail Qemali was in Spain and was elected by the Albanian community of the United States as their representative in Europe in defense of the national issue. On 23 January 1919 while waiting in Perugia, Ismail Qemali suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and despite the treatment he died the next day. There are different opinions on his death which coincided with a very delicate moment for the national question and his support was very important. Surely as a representative of the national question he also had enemies, and therefore it is not excluded that there was a conspiracy against him by anti-Albanian circles.
Another fact that makes an impression is the demolition of the cemetery of the Vlora family by the communist regime? What year did it happen and why?
Since 1500, the year in which Sinan Pasha, Grand Vizir of the Ottoman Empire, known as founder of the House of Vlora, was buried at Kanina Fortress, the other members of the family have also been buried there. The place has turned into a majestic family cemetery. Among the prominent ancestors, there was also another Gran Vizir: Ferid Pascià Vlora.
The hatred of the communists towards the great families knew no limits and to make disappear all traces, they destroyed the cemetery of the Vlora in the first years after the liberation. Instead in the 1980 they also opened the bar of Ferid Pascià and his embalmed body, almost 70 years after his death, they threw it away. Today, there is nothing left, except for the tomb of Sinan Pascià. His majesty exists in the photos to demonstrate the crime and the destruction of communism.
It seems that you were the first to have set up photographic exhibitions on Ismail Qemali both in Albania and abroad. The first even in the rooms of your home in Sirtori, on the occasion of the 165 anniversary of his birth which then coincides with the 90 ° of his death. I don't want to be rude, but it seems that the historical memory of a statesman like Ismail Qemali in Albania is a family matter. Is this so?
It is true that I was the first to set up a photographic exhibition dedicated entirely to Ismail Qemali. I organized the first one in the rooms of my house. It was more a private ceremony in which among the invited guests there was also the Albanian Consul in Milan, Spartak Topollaj. Subsequently, with the support of the Scanderbeg Association of Parma, during the Seventh Albanian Culture which coincided with the anniversary of the Albanian Independence, we organized another exhibition where I presented some photos and articles from the Italian press about the work of Ismail Qemali. I do not think that the historical memory of a statesman, let alone that of Ismail Qemali, must remain or become a family matter. From time to time, as everywhere, there are antinational, denigrating, indifferent moments, but they are transitory. In the historical memory, the name and figure of Ismail Qemali has been indelibly scratched, because his name is linked eternally with the most important historical event, the proclamation of Independence and the people, the one who makes you immortal, wrote of him: "I am Ismail Qemali, and the story follows me".
Undoubtedly, it is the task of historians to write the history of Albania and its national figures and, in the second case, also the task of family members to help them. But when historians deal with politics and write history at his service, or keep silent, then the task of the heirs is to tell the story of their ancestors. In this case, I gave my contribution with what I can and I will always try to do it. Regardless of family ties, of which I am proud, I no longer see Ismail Qemali in this respect. Surely the origin is an extra element that pushes me to contribute to shed more light on his work, but for me it is now a historical figure, which like many others, the generations of today and tomorrow must know to always have them as reference points.
What is the next goal in your commitment to "do justice" to the historical memory of Ismail Qemali?
After having been in Kosovo last October, together with Prof. Eqrem Zenelaj, who has found many interesting, important and until now unknown documents on the Vlora family from research in the Austrian archives, we want to work on the genealogy and history of the Vlora family. So it will be a work that will shed light not only on the work of Ismail Qemali but also on other personalities of this family who have honored the Albanian nation, a story that until now has been forgotten.
You can also read this interview in language Albanian language
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