This article first appeared in New Albania, No 4, 1976. It is reproduced here to give more information about this crucial battle against Hitlerite Fascism in the final days of the National Liberation War – and only a matter of days before the liberation of Tirana and the effective end of hostilities in Albania. Hopefully this will assist in the greater understanding of the analysis of the elements of the lapidar described in Mushqete Monument – Berzhite.
This article is further interesting as it provides a Socialist Albanian view of how they saw this battle against the German invaders.
Contrast this to those reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries who took control of the country in the 1990s. There reaction was to allow the creation of a monument to the German fascist dead and its installation in the hills of Tirana Park. To add salt to the wound this paean to fascism is only a matter of metres away from the original location of the National Martyrs’ Cemetery before it was moved to its present location and the inauguration of the statue of Mother Albania in 1972.
What does this monument stand for? The Mushqeta Monument
This monument has been raised at the village of Mushqeta, some ten kilometres south-east of Tirana. It has been raised in memory of the battle waged in this village on the 14th and 15th of November 1944 against the German forces of occupation.
The forces of the Albanian National Liberation Army were waging the decisive battle for the liberation of the capital. The entire garrison of the Hitlerite troops in Tirana had been surrounded from all sides. To avoid total disaster the German command sent a contingent of 2,000 soldiers, tanks, artillery and other armoured means from Elbasan (a city 50 kilometres south of Tirana) which were to attack the partisan detachments from the rear and, together with the forces of another German column which would come from Durrës (in the west), were to surround and liquidate the partisan forces fighting for the liberation of the capital.
On November 14th the enemy column is attacked by the detachments of the National Liberation Army lying in ambush at Mushqeta. The fighting continued fiercely all through the night. In the morning of the 15th the Nazi column is completely surrounded with the exception of a small part which managed to break the siege during the night with the aid of tanks. Seeing that they had no way out, the Germans launch a desparate counter offensive using their artillery, tanks and all other means of warfare. Bloody attacks and counter attacks continue during the whole day. By 5.99 p.m. that day, the Nazi column had been completely liquidated. The enemy left on the battlefield over 1,500 dead, many wounded and prisoners together with all their military equipment.
On November 17, 1944, Tirana, the capital of Albania, was completely liberated by the Albanian National Liberation Army. The victory at Mushqeta was the forewarning and forerunner of the liberation of the capital.
To give a better idea of what happened during that battle, we are reproducing a description by a military correspondent of the First Division of the National Liberation Army, who passed over the field of battle straight after the fighting had ended. Here is what he writes:
‘From the New Palace on the outskirts of Tirana to the village of Berzhite one can imagine that this great defeat of which so much is being spoken, especially when you see, besides the wrecked vehicles, the quintals of dynamite the enemy had abandoned on the Erzeni and Farka bridges because they had no time to blow them up. Here you can see destroyed vehicles, carts, horses and corpses. You say to yourself that this must have been the greatest defeat of the enemy. After passing this zone, you are faced with a pile of dead horses and overturned wagons, vehicles upturned in ditches, others in good order, wagons loaded with booty the Hitlerites had plundered in Greece and Albania, and armaments you had never seen before. You can count the equipment and corpses as far as Berzishta, but from here on it is impossible to count them even if you walk slowly.
Wherever you look, from right to left, you see real rivulets of blood, decaying flesh, very heavy armaments hurled off the highway as if by some extraordinary physical force, almost impossible to imagine.
You think this slaughter will continue as far as the corner of the road, no matter how great the battle had been fought. It could not possibly continue any further. But on rounding the bend, the heaps become more numerous. It seems as if the vehicles and wagons had wanted to push one another. Overturned material lying all over the place in complete disorder as if there had been a particularly heavy earthquake.
Further away from the road, on the side of the small hills on the banks of the river, 4 high calibre field guns have been abandoned facing each other even though they were used against our army. Further away, there are the number of mobile cooking houses enough for a whole division. Transport trucks complete with trailer, long wagons, vehicles carrying anti-aircraft guns directed towards the sky, small cannons, light and heavy machine-guns, cars, rifles, medical supplies and a pile of other things of every colour and kind. Among them is a baby’s pillow undoubtedly stolen by the army from some family at Elbasan.
Again corpses and dead horses and larger streams of blood. In the distance on the edge of the fields bordering the river bank, one sees horses which have escaped from this slaughter. They say there are also a number of hidden enemies who are giving themselves up to the surrounding villages. Further on, a colonel killed inside a car, the vehicle is completely wrecked, motor cycles abandoned on the road and the same scene as before.
You still walk through trails blocked by material, transport vehicles, dead horses and so on. You walk along the trails of the clearing, and then you are stuck on a sharp bend, below your right, where a small stream flows, the material and bodies are piled up in disorder. The horses lying prostrate on the ground and the bodies give the impression as if they had been knifed rather than killed by bullets. The stream looks like the channel of a slaughterhouse, the body of an enemy has fallen into the water.
Further across, the same scene over and over again. Horses, bodies, innumerable motor vehicles and wagons, war material and stolen booty in one great mess. The road looks as if the garbage of the city has been strewn along it.
Further on, guns, armaments and ammunition. The flag with the swastika lies hidden inside a wagon like some stolen article barely distinguishable. It reflects the present situation of Nazi Germany which tries to hide its criminal objectives now that the onslaught let loose against the peaceful and innocent peoples is rebounding on its own head.
Two kilometres on the other side of Ibe, two wrecked tanks give the impression as if the enemy column was not heading towards Tirana but towards Elbasan.
When you walk through the place you can’t believe that there had been only 2 to 3 thousand enemy troops. On the basis of the war material and the means of transport, it is calculated that there must have been at least a German division. The booty is so big that it gives the impression not of an army but of a savage horde of barbarians. This is a complicated scene, which reflects the character of the Nazi bands, pirates with modern means.
The destruction of these forces saved Tirana from the peril of devastation and mass massacres.
When comparing the numerous and heavy means of the enemy, their huge army on the march, the ruggedness of the terrain and their fortified positions with our armaments and positions, one wonders how it was possible to smash up and liquidate more than 2 to 3 thousand Germans by only 1,200 partisans.’
To date the majority of the lapidars that have appeared in this blog have been those which have had an artistic or architectural ‘merit’, that is they have been designed by those who have had training in their art and wanted to express meaning via the structure itself rather than have the reason for the monument written on an attached plaque.
This means that probably more than two thirds of all the lapidars in the country were structures that could have been created by competent bricklayers and others in the building trade. But even in that style they would range from something akin (and the same size as) to a trig point on a mountain to something that comprised of a short wall to the side of which there would rise a pillar, or two. On the pillar would be attached a red star and to the wall a plaque with the names, dates and occasion the lapidar had been constructed at that particular place.
It was towards the latter part of the 1960s that sculptors, artists and architects started to really get involved in the construction of the lapidars. This was the occasion of Albania’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ and this lasted from, roughly, 1966 to 1986. At some time in the future I’ll try to put together a chronological table of the artistic lapidars to illustrate how they developed in both scale and complexity.
That doesn’t mean to say there weren’t public works of art, over and above the simple lapidars, before the 1960s. Andrea Mano’s Monument to the Partisan in Tirana was inaugurated in 1949. Odhise Paskali’s Shoket – Comrades was installed in Përmet Martyrs’ Cemetery in 1964. But both these sculptors were from the pre-liberation, pre-revolutionary era. Their approach was traditional, especially that of Paskali’s creation in Përmet which is very reminiscent of countless images of the deposition of the Christ from the cross to be seen in innumerable art galleries and Catholic churches throughout Europe.
It was only when the sculptors and artists, who had been trained by the likes of Mano and Paskali, reached their maturity as artists, together with the campaign of the Cultural Revolution (which was in essence a campaign to change the mentality of the Albanian workers and peasants) did a uniqueness, an innovativeness, appear in the public monuments that were created throughout the country. This was a twenty year period when sculptors such as Muntaz Dhrami, Hector Dule, Shaban Hadëri, Kristaq Rama and many others created their finest work.
BUT we should not forget the less ‘impressive’ structures that were in virtually every town and village (as well as in isolated locations in the countryside and mountains) in Albania as these were all monuments to the memory of those men and women who had fought against the fascist invaders from Italy and Germany and whose sacrifice made the Liberation of the county on 29th November 1944 at all possible.
On the other hand to talk about all of them would serve no purpose and would be very repetitive. Tragically, many of them have been either damaged by outright political vandalism or have just been allowed to lose the battle against the elements. For those interested in a particular lapidar or area of the country one or two images of all those listed in the Albanian Lapidar Survey can be seen in Volumes 2 and 3 produced at the conclusion of the project.
However, in order to give an idea of these simpler lapidars what follows is a description of those that still exist in Tirana. The fate, condition and respect given to these monuments in the capital is indicative of that in the rest of the country.
Perhaps one thing to stress here is that of the creators of these more ‘humble’ lapidars there is no record of who designed, created or constructed them.
To the victims of Fascism – Tirana market
The first one on the list you won’t be able to see. It existed up until 2016 when a new and very un-Albanian market was created on the site. In place of incorporating the lapidar into the design of the new structures the local/national governments sanctioned the demolition of the monument.
Victims of Fascism – 01
You couldn’t say that the lapidar (and those whom it commemorated) was being treated with a great deal of respect, as it would have been in the days of Socialist Albania, but it was being ‘tolerated’. It consisted of a pillar (about 4 metres high), which was wider at the top that at the bottom and from the lower part of the pillar, at 90 degrees to each other, there extended two short, low walls (again about 4 metres long).
This monument was meant to be seen from the outside of the space created by the walls as it was upon this front there were attached two marble plaques into which had been carved – and then painted in gold the following;
Victims of Fascism – 03
Më 22 tetor 1942 u var në litar Shyqyri Ishmi
On October 22, 1942, Shyqyri Ishmi was hanged
Victims of Fascism – 02
Më 29 shkurt 1944 u var në litar Muhamet Gjollesha
On February 29, 1944, Muhamet Gjollesha was hanged
This indicates that the reason for the lapidar to these victims of the Nazis being in this location was because they would have been hung in public, as was the norm of first the Italian and then the German fascists in an (in the Albanian context, failed) effort to intimidate the local population. This would seem to indicate that this space (just off what is now called Avni Rustemi Square), therefore, had long been a public market.
This is not exactly the monument that was first constructed here.
Victims of Fascism – 06
Notice here that the wording on the face of the walls is different from the more modern picture. Although it’s difficult to say from such a poor reproduction (the only I’ve so far been able to acquire) the lettering could well have been made up of individual bronze letters, inset into the concrete. When chaos and anarchy replaced the stability of Socialism in the 1990s anything that wasn’t nailed down, and often that which was, would be stolen by someone desperate enough to gain a few lek.
However, someone at some time in the intervening years had paid for and had had installed two simpler plaques to commemorate the two young people who had died at the hands of the Fascists. It had also been painted white (whereas the original seems to have been just the bare concrete) and the indented star at the top of the pillar – on two sides – had been painted red (the southern facing side slightly more faded than its northerly companion). This indicates that there was some sort of respect for the past. What changed to allow it to be demolished I don’t know.
Victims of Fascism – 04
But in its latter days it provided an anchor point for an electricity cable and a bit of shadow for the goods in the summer. If, as is obviously the case with this one, a lapidar had survived the chaos of the 90s it was more than likely just accepted as part of the environment, few caring especially of its significance but at the same time not doing any conscious damage.
Victims of Fascism – 05
The authorities saw an end to that.ast
Fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers
The next lapidar is a very simple affair, being a tall, narrow, truncated pyramid which commemorates those from the neighbourhood who died in a confrontation with the Nazis at the beginning of 1944.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 03
On one of its faces there’s a large marble plaque bearing the date and the names of those who died in the battle.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 02
The wording is;
Në shënje kujtimi luftëtarëve që ranë nga plumbat e pushtuesve naziste me 28 shkurt 1944. Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci
In memory of the fighters who fell from the bullets of the Nazi occupiers on February 28, 1944.
Gjergj A. Frashëri, Skënder A. Kosturi, Trajan S. Pekmezi, Viktor S. Gjokoreci
This looks like the original plaque. Now the letters are filled in with gold paint (not done very professionally) which I don’t think would have been the case originally.
The colouring of the stone work is ‘interesting’. Originally it would have been just the plain, unadorned concrete – or perhaps painted white. The present colouring is to go with the building beside it. Monuments to those killed in the struggle for national liberation from the fascists are now become colour co-ordinated to fit in with the chosen colour scheme of the bar beside which it stands.
Fallen fighting the Nazis – 01
It will be interesting to see if, in the future, the new (or present) bar owner decides on a different colour scheme the change will be applied to the lapidar as well.
Place where Qemal Stafa was killed
Qemal Stafa was one of the founding members of the Albanian Communist Party (later to be called the Party of Labour of Albania) on 8th November 1941 and was the head of its Youth Section until his death, in this location, on 5th May 1942. After Liberation that date was chosen as Martyrs’ Day, to commemorate all those who had fallen in the War for National Liberation against the Italian and German fascists.
Qemal Stafa 03
This is a simple structure, with slight embellishments. It consists of a low wall (about 4 metres long) and on the left hand side two rectangular columns rise up to about the same height, that is about 4 metres. These columns are on either side of the wall and the one at the back is slightly taller. On the face of the wall is a plaque with the words;
Këtu më 5 maj 1942 me lufte me fashiste ra Heroi i Popullit Qemal Stafa
Here on May 5, 1942, during the anti-fascist war, the People’s Hero Qemal Stafa fell
Qemal Stafa 02
This is not original as there are signs that there had been other attachments, possibly individual letters, carrying the same message. This plaque is well made and the lettering, which has been coloured in gold paint, is done professionally.
Another point to make is that the whole structure was made of concrete and then faced, on all sides, by white marble. Apart from a missing piece at the top of the front column the monument is generally intact.
I would have thought that in the original design there would have been a red star attached somehow at the top of the columns. There’s no indication of anything being attached to the faces so it might have been a stand alone, metal star attached to the very top.
There’s a little bit of graffiti to the left of the plaque but there are no signs of any substantial damage.
Although originally this would have been standing alone, with little close by. Now it’s right in the middle of a large street market.
However, dying as he did before Liberation Stafa doesn’t have the same enemies as those who survived to fight for the construction of Socialism. There are a number of locations, including the main sports stadium (which was demolished in 2016 and I don’t know if a new one that had been proposed was eventually built, where it might be if built and what it might now be called) and a high school on the Durrës Road in Tirana that bear his name.
I think this element of respect which he still has in Albanian society accounts for the fact that even though getting close no street trader has the nerve to use the space in front of the actual monument (which isn’t the case in other locations I’ve visited in the country), prime though it might be.
Monument to Mina Peze
‘Humble’ is not really an appropriate word to describe the lapidar to the honour of Mina Peza. Although not particularly large it’s different from virtually all other lapidars in the country. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about when it was created as that would say a lot.
Unlike the other lapidars in this post the one in the street that still bears her name has obviously been designed. There are four distinct, component parts.
First it sits on a small platform that’s three steps up from street level. This platform and steps are all faced with red (steps) and cream (platform) marble. There’s a bit of careless damage to one corner of the steps but that’s about all.
Then there’s a tall, rectangular column, perhaps three metres high. This is faced in white marble. This stands separate from the rest of the monument, a metre or so in front.
Then we have a huge piece of stone where the rough edges are clear to seen but the top has been levelled off to take the final part of the structure which is a curved piece of concrete that has been faced with white speckled, red marble. Towards the top left corner of this curved marble a white marble plaque takes the place of the red slabs, thereby maintaining a smooth surface.
On this plaque are the words;
Këtu në 17 shtator 1942 u vra ne krye të demostratës së grave nëna patriote Mine Peza
which translates as
Here on September 17, 1942, the patriotic mother Mine Peza was killed at the head of the women’s demonstration
The stand-alone column has indications of some small holes towards the top and this is where a star might have been placed. (As I’ve written elsewhere the stars were the first target of the reactionary, counter-revolutionary hoards when the breakdown of order in the 1990s provided them with the opportunity to carry out their vandalism.) Also someone has painted a red and black (anarchist) sash from just below the base, diagonally, to just below the top. This has now faded somewhat.
This wouldn’t look out of place in a minimalist art collection, very much out of character to all other Albanian lapidars. But who designed it or when is still a mystery. It all feels very locked in now, there being bars and fast food outlets very close (there are a lot of bars and fast food places in Tirana). I assume originally it would have stood on the corner of the street with very little close by and with a much greater opportunity to appreciate the design.
The story of the demonstration
In the summer of 1942 the National Liberation Movement had assumed broad proportions. The prisons were full of patriots. To ease the situation, the fascists exiled some of them to the desolate islands of Italy. In conformity with the instructions of the Albanian Communist Party the secret anti-fascist organizations of the prisoners which operated inside the prisons organized protests and resistance to the fascist measures. Protests were held in February 1942, in the prison of Elbasan, in May and August in the prison of Tirana, and later, in Vlora. The biggest demonstration was the one held by the prisoners of Tirana, which took place in the afternoon of the 17th of September, 1942, just one day after the opening of the National Liberation Conference at Peza. This demonstration was of particular importance because it was coordinated with a demonstration held by the anti-fascist women of Tirana, in support of their imprisoned sons and brothers.
The events took place as follows: the prisoners refused to give up their comrades who were to be deported. Fighting with the carabinieri broke out in the prison. The prefect of Tirana was called to the scene. Meanwhile, about 100 women began a demonstration outside, in front of the prison. The fascists were in a critical situation. The order was given to break up the demonstration of the women by force. From their fortified posts, the guards opened fire on the women. Several were wounded, while one of them, the Heroine of the People, Mine Peza, was mortally wounded. Her comrades lifted her and carried her through the city streets. Mine Peza died while the demonstration was still going on. The people have dedicated a song to the heroism of Mine Peza and her comrades: Down with the terror, oust the occupier, we Mothers can no longer bear it! Let us smash the cruel iron bars!
New Albania, No 5, 1977
On the corner of Rruga Mina Peze and Rruga e Bogdanëve.
National Anti-Fascist Liberation War Headquarters
This is a squat, square monolith about 2 metres high sitting on a platform, twice as wide as the monolith, which is four steps up from pavement level. Each corner is inset to break the monotony of the square and at each changing angle there is a strip decoration of light brown marble. At the base there is the effect of three thin layers, the middle inset from the other two, which replicates the decoration of the sides of the block. On the left side of the platform there is a thin border with small, low, circular laurel bushes. At each end of this border there’s a small, low level light to illuminate the area at night.
On the side facing the road there’s a white marble plaque with the words;
Këtu ka qenë baza më e rëndësishme e L.A.N.Ç. (Lufta Antifashiste Nacional Çlirimtare) me emrin Baraka e Nushajve nga këtu jepeshin orientime për luftën e qarkut të Tiranës dhe mbarë vendit
which translates as
Here was located the L.A.N.C’s (National Anti-Fascist Liberation War) most important base by the name of Baraka i Nushajve. From here were sent out orders for the Tirana district and the whole country
This plaque looks original and although there are some marks on the marble it is in a generally good condition.
This is a strange one in that although given its own space it is so hemmed in with the surrounding trees (much more substantial than when the lapidar was erected) it seems to be made invisible, especially in the day time when I’m sure that many people pass by without even knowing it’s there.
In Rruga Sami Freshëri, just a short distance on the Lana River side from the new police station.
The article below was first published in New Albania, No 4, 1977. It addresses the somewhat complex issue of the origin of the Albanian people and the roots of the Albanian language – a language very different from all others in the surrounding area. It is included here to give some background to the obelisk to this topic in Gjirokastra, which was posted some time ago. That post looked at the images and what they signified, this article puts more flesh on the bones of that explanation and answers some of the questions that might arise from the particular images.
The problem of the origin of the Albanian People and their language
by Professor Eqrem Çabej
When the problem of the origin of a people is raised, it will be examined and solved more readily from the aspect of the perseveration and continuity of its language than from the ethnic viewpoint, because language, more than other elements, is the characteristic which distinguishes one people from the others. However for any people of any country or period, such a problem is complex and in the Albanian conditions it is especially complicated. It is complex because, as we know, in the formation of a people as an independent entity with its individual features which distinguish it from other peoples, various circumstances of a geographic nature and multiple historical, ethnical, economical, cultural and linguistic processes, play a part. It is complicated because in this field of Albanian Studies the lack of historical sources and documents is keenly felt. However, despite this poverty of sources, with the constant care of the Party of Labour of Albania and comrade Enver Hoxha, the new Albanian science is striving to get to the solution of this problem with the means at its disposal. And in this field it has achieved lasting results which have taken their place in the field of international science. Because of the complex nature of the problem the method to be applied must also be complex. A number of scientific disciplines must collaborate on it. In particular historical geography, history, linguistics, ethnography and prehistoric archaeology are involved in this. The results in any one of these fields should be taken into account and duly appreciated by the other disciplines, should be combined with their results so that wide range of facts can be gathered together into a few general principles, into a few more reliable facts, in order to arrive at some sort of synthesis.
The Albanians are autochthonous or native to the Balkan Peninsula since they have been living there since early prehistoric times. Together with the Greeks, they are the most ancient people in this region; they are heirs to the ethnical situation of the period of antiquity in this part of South-eastern Europe. Under these circumstances, the question as to where the Albanian people originated can be put in other words: Under what name were the forefathers of the Albanians, that people which has spoken the language from which the present Albanian is derived, known in the Balkans in ancient times? Hence, from which ancient people of this Peninsula do the present Albanians descend?
During the last century the hypothesis was very widespread that the Albanians were the descendants of the Pellasgians. This hypothesis or theory, founded by foreign scholars, was re-echoed far and wide among the Albanian poets and writers in Albania and Italy. It found fertile soil in the ideas of romanticism which spread later in South-eastern Europe, at a time when other literary trends had emerged in the West. Subsequently the Pellasgian theory was refuted. In Greek and Roman documents, the Pellasgians are mentioned as a pre-Greek ethnical stratum no longer in existence during the ancient period. Authors like Herodotus and Strabo speak of them as of a more ancient period and describe them as barbarians, that is, not Greeks, and having a language different from the Greek language. They place them in the zone of the Aegean Sea, principally in Thessaly spreading on one side towards Epirus and on the other side towards Asia Minor, towards Crete and other islands of the Aegean zone. Meanwhile, they are presented everywhere as a legendary people, shrouded in the mists of mythology, a people without concrete historical consistency. Although in later periods there has been some acceptance of their connection with the Illyrians and Thracians, it must be said that such ethnic and linguistic element as may, with considerable reserve, be called Pellasgian, for many reasons, including those of a geographical character, is in no way sufficient to provide any scientific basis for accepting a Pellasgian origin of the Albanian people.
Proceeding from a more realistic basis, in order to clear up the problem of the origin of the Albanians, we shall turn, first of all, to history as the continuation of the prehistoric situation in the Balkan Peninsula. In the period of antiquity, this part of Southern Europe was inhabited by a number of peoples, different from the present ones and differing from one another. It is known that the western regions of the Peninsula were inhabited by the Illyrians, the eastern regions by the Thracians, the southern regions by the Greeks, and the centre by the Macedonians, who were different from the Greeks and spoke a language of their own, according to Herodotus a ‘barbarian language’, that is, not Greek. Leaving aside some minor populations, like the Iranic tribes in the eastern part of the Peninsula and certain Celtic tribes in the north-western and central regions, this was the ethnic situation during the Greco-Roman epoch. Hence the question arises: from which of these peoples do the Albanians descend, from which of these languages does the Albanian language descend? In this problem, the Greeks, or the Hellenes as they were called at that time, are automatically excluded as a different people from the Albanians. Likewise excluded are the ancient Macedonians, as a relatively small people and geographically more remote from the Albanian language region, although, because of the territorial affinity, some links cannot be completely denied. Under these circumstances, there are two peoples, the Illyrians and Thracians, who can be considered as the ancestors of the Albanians.
The Illyrians were one of the major peoples of ancient Europe. Leaving aside their distribution in prehistoric times, during the historical period they extended from Istria near Triest in the north-west and from the regions near the banks of the Danube in the north, to the Gulf of Arta in Gameria in the south to a city which at that time, was called Ambria. Thus, the Illyrian tribes inhabited the present regions of Albania together with Qameria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia and Croatia, hence, all the eastern seaboard of the Adriatic with its respective hinterland. The Messapians and Iapygians of Apulia in Southern Italy are, by all indications, Illyrian tribes as well. In the east the Illyrian tribes extended up to the banks of the Vardar and Morava rivers in Northern Macedonia, to Kosova, a region which in ancient times was called Dardania, and to a part of present Serbia. In those regions the Illyrians bordered the Thracian tribes and here and there were mixed with them. The Thracians, too, were one of the major peoples of ancient Europe. Herodotus calls them the greatest people next to the Indes. They extended from the borders of the Illyrians in the west up to the shores of the Black Sea in the east, from the Aegean in the south to the Carpathian mountains in the north. Thus they included part of present-day Greece and European Turkey, Bulgaria, Rumania and part of Hungary and Poland. Because of the lack of source material, mentioned above, we are able to discover very little about the fate of these peoples and their component tribes, and the further back we probe into antiquity the more this obscurity deepens. We know, for instance that the concept and name Illyrian came and was spread only after some time, emerging from a population of this name and including tribes with ethnic and linguistic affinity. In Homer’s epics this name does not appear. The names of individual peoples, like those of the Dardanians and the Peonians, who in historical times lived to the north of the Macedonians, appear on the historical scene much earlier than the general name, Illyrians. It is known, also, that under the influence of the Greco-Roman civilization and, especially, during the long period of the domination of the Roman Empire, these ancient peoples of the Balkans were eventually partly hellenized and many of them romanized. In other words, without being wiped out as peoples, they were assimilated, gave up their own language and in some regions adopted the Greek language and even more of them, the Latin language. This took place especially in cities, in administrative and military centres where the Romans had established their garrisons. However in mountain regions this assimilation was not carried out completely. The local population preserved its ethnic character and mother tongue for a longer time. Some of these peoples entirely escaped romanization. Living evidence of this is the Albanian people, who must be the descendant of one of these unromanized peoples or tribes.
The question of the paternity or line of descent of a present-day people from an ancient people, of a known modern language from an extinct ancient language, is quite simple when we have relatively accurate knowledge of the ancient people and their language. But, as we have said, in connection with the Albanians and the Albanian language this problem remains specially difficult. Because of the lack of written documents, the ancient languages of the Balkans are little known or entirely unknown. From the language of the Thracians there are a few inscriptions, from the language of the Illyrians of the Balkans up till now not a single inscription has been found. The inscriptions of the Messapians of Southern Italy can be read but up till now the interpretation of them remains uncertain. From both these languages, Illyrian and Thracian, certain so-called glossa remain, that is, few words quoted by Greek and Roman authors, together with their meanings, given in Greek and Latin. There are also quite a large number of names of places and persons engraved on stone or quoted in texts by classical authors, the majority of them of unclear linguistic significance and meaning, among which modern scholars have found a free field for what are often arbitrary judgements. Thus the two languages in question remain almost unknown by us. We do not know their linguistic structure, grammatical system, or their vocabulary. Under these circumstances the means for comparison are missing. We lack the key to compare the material of the Albanian language with that of the two languages in question.
This being the case, the criterion of the language must be considered together with the geographical and historical situation. From the standpoint of historical geography it is known that the present Albanians inhabit those regions where the Illyrian tribes used to live in ancient times. From the historical point of view, it has been rightly pointed out. as far back as two centuries ago, that there is no fact, no historical reference, to show that the Albanians come from somewhere else, that they settled on this territory at a given historical period, for instance, towards the end of antiquity or during the early mediaeval period. Under these circumstances, common sense urges acceptance of the idea that the Albanian people is native, autochthonous, in these regions, if not as far back as the dawn of prehistoric times, at least since the period of antiquity. These two reasons, that of their inhabiting the former Illyrian territory and that of autochthony, automatically give rise to the idea that the present Albanians are the descendants of the Illyrian tribes of the south and that the Albanian language is the continuation of one of the ancient Illyrian dialects. Indeed it can be said that the burden of the argument falls more heavily on those who deny the Illyrian origin of the Albanians and of their language rather than on those who accept it. In this connection, it cannot be accidental that the name of the Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, which the astronomer and geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria in Egypt, mentions during the second century of our era in the region between Durres and the Candavia mountains in Central Albania continues to exist in the form of Arbër, Arbën, Arbëresh, Arbënesh, the name by which Albania and the Albanians were known in the Middle Ages, is alive to this day. From the linguistic viewpoint, to these circumstances must be added the fact that the continuity of the names of cities, mountains and rivers of the Albanian territory of the ancient days in their present forms has developed in conformity with the phonetic rules of the Albanian language. These include such comparisons as Scardus – Shar, Scodra – Shkodra, Drivastum – Drisht, Pirustae – Qafa e Prushit, Lissu – Lesh, Isammus – Ishëm, Ishm, Dyrrachium – Durrës, Aulon – Vlonë, Vlorë, Thyamis – Çam and others. This also is evidence of the Illyrian autochthony of the Albanian people, because this development from the ancient forms of these names to the present forms cannot be explained except by means of the Albanian language. It cannot be explained either by means of the Roman or Slav languages or by any other language of the Balkan region. There are also other data from the field of linguistics of the Illyrian continuity, such as the identity between a number of names of early Illyrians and present-day Albanians. Apart from this, those few words which are known from the Illyrian language can be clearly explained by the Albanian language. And many words in Messapian inscriptions can be explained by our language. In this way the date of historical geography and of the language supplement each other. There are also a number of parallels of an ethnographic character which we shall not go into here. From the field of archaeology it is worth mentioning that in certain prehistoric settlements on the Albanian territory a continuity of the material culture can be seen, a continuity from ancient epochs to the early mediaeval period. This fact adds weight to the geographical, historical and linguistic arguments already mentioned.
As regards the Thracians and their language, on the evidence of certain historical and linguistic data (place names with Thracian features), the presence of Thracian elements in the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula and especially along the southern Adriatic coastal regions was pointed out long ago. They must have long been mixed with Illyrian elements, but we are unable to tell from the Illyrians and the Thracians who were natives and who newcomers. In conclusion, for historical reasons also, one can say that the Illyrian element lies at the basis of the formation of the Albanian ethnos, although there may have been a Thracian component also, but certainly of smaller dimensions. At the present stage of knowledge it is difficult to determine how the process of this ethnic and linguistic formation took place and in what territorial and historical circumstances it took place. The result of the process, which is the Albanian people and their language, can be seen more clearly than the course of development which was traversed until the present situation was brought about.
Eqrem Çabej (1908-1980) was a linguist and academic specialising in the origin of the Albanian language. His name was given to the University of Gjirokastra when it was declared as such at the end of 1991.