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The Early Years of an Unknown Albanian Patriot

Evelyne Noygues discusses the early life and achievements of Jashar Sadik Erebara, journalist, Albanian-language teacher, civil servant, founding member of various patriotic societies and deputy in the Albanian parliament from 1924 to 1939.

August 7, 2013 - Evelyne Noygues - Articles and Commentary

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The year 1912 corresponds to an event of paramount importance for the Albanian people: in 1912 the Albanian nation became a fully-fledged member of international society, although it has been contested by its neighbouring countries as well as by the major powers. After much discussion, the independence of Albania was internationally recognised by the Conference of Ambassadors, which took place in London from December 1912 to July 1913, launching a new age for the Albanian nation.

The communities of the Albanian diaspora, national elites which were dispersed all over different countries within and outside the borders of the Ottoman Empire, played a key role by supporting the national movement and committing themselves to identity building. In many countries of the Balkans, the process of nation building, was pursued thanks to the efforts of educated personalities, more or less isolated who operated in an environment which was not always favourable to them. Among those personality, it is worth mentioning the unknown Albanian patriot Jashar Sadik Erebara (1875-1953) a journalist, Albanian-language teacher, civil servant, founding member of various patriotic societies and a deputy in the Albanian parliament from 1924 to 1939. However, in spite of so many brilliant roles, not many works have been published about his life.

It seems that Jashar S. Erebara’s years of training were particularly interesting. Although he is not a very well-known character, he appears to be a significant protagonist of an essential era of the constitution of a state and the birth of national awareness. His life offers numerous sorts of teachings on the formation of a new cultural legitimacy which has allowed the process of identity formation as a creative principle of modernity.

The early years of a patriot

Jashar S.Erebara was born in early 1875. According to many, he was born in Mostar (Herzegovina), where he spent the early years of his childhood. Erebara belonged to a modest but educated social background; his parents were natives of Podujevo (Kosovo) and moved to Mostar because of his father’s job. Jashar’s father was in fact a civil servant of the posts of the Ottoman Empire, who from the position of a mere employee succeeded in reaching a managerial position, having responsibility for a post office with a telegraph, as Jashar would later relate in several letters.

The Albanian issue appears on the international stage in the context of the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano on March 3rd 1878 (by which Russia imposed important transfers of territories, and notably the creation of a Great independent Bulgaria on the Ottoman Empire), which for the Albanian nation in particular, implies a territorial question. The Ottoman Empire gave up many provinces that were inhabited by Albanians to many newborn states: the Sanjak of Pristina to Serbia, the regions of Ulqin and Hoti to Montenegro, and the regions of Korça, Pogradec and Dibra to Bulgaria (the final act of this treaty recognised the independence of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro whose territories are widened).

After the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Serbia became independent and conquered the city of Mostar, which had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire: the non-Serb part of the population found itself in a difficult situation, both from a political and social point of view, and thus part of the population had to move; and so did the Sadik family. Fleeing from war, the family of the young Jashar settled in Dibra (in the territory of the present day Macedonia) first seeking refuge in the Bajram Bey mosque, and then hosted by the wealthy and prominent family of Sejfulla Erebara.

At the age of 6 or 7, the young Jashar entered the Turkish school system of elementary schools in Dibra and later secondary schools in Manastir (Bitola), which welcomed pupils destined to become civil servants. The teaching there was conducted in Turkish and would be particularly profitable to the young Jashar in 1912 when, after having worked in the press as a journalist, he would apply his knowledge and experience in assisting the young Albanian State.

After his studies in Serbian and Turkish, Jashar still had a low level of the Albanian language, which he only used to speak at home. He got the change to strengthen his knowledge of Albanian under the supervision of a militant of the nationalist movement, Saïd Najdeni, who taught him how to read and write in Albanian, notably thanks to manuals published by the diaspora in Bucharest. In those school textbooks, the young Jashar at the same time familiarised himself with the ideas supported by the national movement. It is interesting to point out that one of the first claims made by a patriotic society as the Albanian one in the declining Ottoman Empire is, indeed, the right to official education in the Albanian language in schools.

When Jashar’s parents died when he was ten. He was adopted by the head of the family Erebara, who had welcomed his family, and from that moment on, Jashar officially took the surname Erebara.

The intellectual and patriotic training of Jashar

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the nationalist message irradiated from the still very few cultured Albanian environments in the South and North of current Albania, in the diaspora settled inside and out of the Ottoman Empire and, primarily, from the community established in Istanbul. The Albanians’ national assertion benefitted from the awareness of the intellectuals who had acquired experience abroad. This group of intellectuals undertook the duty of teaching the less cultured sections of the population by relying on the Albanian diaspora.

J. Erebara continued his secondary school studies in Bitola (today Manastir in present day Macedonia). Within a circle attended by Albanian patriots, he met Qerasim Qiriazi, a future teacher and publicist, who recommended him to Sami Frashëri, one of the main Albanian intellectuals of the 19th century. Jashar met him during a short stay in Istanbul, one of the most active political and cultural centres of the diaspora and where he headed along with Beqir Plangarica.

Back in Dibra, after having completed his secondary schooling, Jashar became friends with Dervish Hima who would greatly influence the formation of his patriotic awareness. Both attended the Albanian circle and tried to disseminate the ideas of the patriotic movement in the town.

Both Jashar and Dervish had to exile on the basis of an arrest warrant given by the Ottoman authorities. Their journey led them to Tirana and Durrës by going through Elbasan. In 1893, while they were both 20 years of age, they met Nikolla Naço in Durrës, who succeeded in convincing a handful of young people, already educated, to join an institute in Bucharest, organised as the very first regular Albanian school.

Jashar S.Erebara joined this institute of masters’ training in the Campo Lungo district of Bucharest, which welcomed a fairly large number of young intellectuals that the patriotic societies predestine to the teaching of the Albanian language. It is interesting to note that, during those years, the feeling of national awareness was still far from being unanimous and even understood by all Albanians. It became progressively mature thanks to solidarity which first operated beyond the territory of the Albanian population. Indeed, the assertion of this national awareness was associated with an important linguistic work, a literary production which was intended to polish and promote the language, which led to the creation of associations.

Gaining national awareness in exile

In agreement with the patriotic society of Istanbul, Erebara perfected his knowledge of the Albanian language, between 1893 and 1895, together with many future characters of Albanian politicians, writers and heroes of the Rilindja Movement (the Albanian National Revival movement) such as Mihal Grameno, Aleks Stavre Drenova (known as Asdreni), Jani Lehova, Kristo Luarasi and many others. The Romanian capital was at that time one of the most important centres of the Albanian diaspora outside the Ottoman Empire, a crucial city for the dissemination of the thought and political and cultural activity of Albanian Civil Society.

Just as the Ottoman government forbade the opening of Albanian schools between 1887 and 1892, it also banned those which openly expressed a somewhat national feeling to go back to their homeland. The road back home was thus closed to the young Jashar, as it was for many of his colleagues.

During the ten years Jashar S.Erebara stayed in Bucharest, he remained in contact with many personalities. In his publication on teaching in Macedonia between 1830 and 1912, Dr Neshat Abazi noticed that Jashar S.Erebara was “a compatriot, colleague and close friend of Josif Bageri, Said Najdeni, Dervish Hima, Dr Ibrahim Temo, Hamdi Ohri, Kristo Dako, Asdreni and many others who, during the last two decades of the Rilindja movement, have largely contributed to paving the way towards freedom and national independence, in the fields of education, sciences, literature and press and in many others.”

There is a long exile ahead of Erebara: he would only see his country again 20 years later in 1912. Among the ten young Albanians who were trained in this establishment in Bucharest, some chose to stay and settle down, others left to Sofia or dispersed throughout the Balkans. As for Jashar, he would live for almost ten years in Romania, where he would write in Romanian language for many newspapers such as Avdeni, Dropetul and even Lassa, as well as in Albanian for the publications of a number of patriotic societies.

Once grown up, Erebara continued his activity as a journalist and then as a media entrepreneur between 1895 and 1912, mostly in Belgrade and Skopje. After the declaration of the young Albanian state, Erebara became a civil servant, and then a deputy in the Albanian parliament between 1924 and 1939. Having fallen into disgrace during the middle of the 1940s, under the communist dictatorship established at the same time in Albania, he died destitute and forgotten in Tirana in 1953.

The question of “National (Re)births” of different people who make up the Balkan peninsula, has marked the Balkans’ history. As for Erebara, the “isolated intellectual” is a recurrent Balkan figure, created by a group of Balkan “Don Quixotes” who served the independence of nascent nations through their substantive work, the transmission of new ideas and the command of a language for the many.

Translated by Lana Ravel

This article was submitted to New Eastern Europe for a competition organised in collaboration with the Russian Department of the University Rennes 2 in France, and is dedicated to students from French universities who have a passion for Central and Eastern Europe. This piece was selected among the best five sent to New Eastern Europe’s editorial team.

Evelyne Noygues is a PHD student at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Rares, Paris.

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