Monday, December 22, 2008

History of the Arbanasi in Croatia

History of the Arbanasi in Croatia

The following page was made possible due to the generosity and kindness of Domagoj Buljat.

Due to the lack of primary resources, the following text I received from Domagoj Buljat has been gathered mainly from a book entitled Povijest Arbanasa kod Zadra (The History of Albanians Near Zadar). This book was written in an older Croatian text and therefore, forced me to translate and paraphrase a few sections that I felt were important. I have taken it upon myself to minimize any errors. However, mistakes still occur and I apologize if any are found on this page.

I hope the information presented on this page will be as interesting to you as it was for me. Although personally none of my ancestors are from the Zadar area, many present day Croatian (and even some Italian) families will be shocked to learn about their Albanian roots.

Please note that I have chosen to leave Èurkoviæ as was found in the book even though the majority of people today write it as Æurkoviæ.

I dedicate this page to the rest of the Æurkoviæ families in the world who are curious about learning more about their ancestry. The following is fairly interesting but in my case, it still leaves a lot of questions that need to be answered. In the meantime, enjoy the read.


Very few people in the world know that a small Albanian settlement was established, close to three centuries ago, south of Zadar in Dalmatia. This settlement was known as Borgo Erizzo at first, and then later as Arbanasi. Today, the settlement has been incorporated into the city of Zadar, Croatia.

The inhabitants of this one time village were known as the Arbanasi (or simply, the "Albanians" in Croatian). The Arbanasi are known to have settled the area during two different periods of migration; the first in 1726 and the second in 1733. These settlers were said to be part of the Kastrati clan, one of the numerous Northern Albanian clans known to have existed. How and why an Albanian settlement originated where it is today can be explained by many old legends and historical documents.

Many of today's inhabitants around Zadar, without a doubt, overwhelmingly originate from the first and second Arbanasi migrations. Historical records prove that their ancestors used to belong to the Archdiocese of Bari (Bari, or Bar as it is known today, is located in present-day Montenegro along the Adriatic coast near the border with Albania). However, in which villages they lived in, the records do not mention. Local legend says that they came from two different villages. The first one is Briska and the other from Šesta.

Father Šime Stipèeviæ, a priest from nearby Zadar, once swore that he has seen the two villages mentioned above around the area of Bari (also known as Antivari). Moreover, some citizens from town spoke that they were actually in these villages, which the legend mentions, when they were assigned in Albania as soldiers during the first World War (1914-18).

However, using the most accurate geographical map of Albania at that time, an Italian professor by the name of Tullio Erber, stated that he could not find the names of Briska and Šesta but instead, found Prešja and Šjak, which may very well have been the same villages mentioned in the legend. It may very well have been that the people who at one time lived in these villages may be in fact, the ancestors of today's Arbanasi. It may also help to explain the two different periods of migration as a few linguistic differences have been noted between the people from the first and second migrations.

On the other hand, Sami Flamuri, author of such books as E Perjetshme eshte Shqiperia and Zauvjek Albanija, has confirmed that the Arbanasi did in fact leave the villages of Brisk(Briska) and Shestan(Šesta). He also states that some of those that fled this area were also from the village of Arbnesh. All these Albanian villages still exist and can be found in the outlying areas of Bar and Ulcinj. It is also remarkable to note that today's settlers still remain Catholic to this very day.

Another source confirms Flamuri's comments stating that up to 250 different families migrated from this region mainly from the villages of Shestan, Brisk, Liare, and Arbnesh.

Even though the towns of Bar and Ulcinj are situated by the Adriatic Sea, it is not known for sure whether the Arbanasi were mountain dwellers or inhabitants of the coast. However, some evidence points to the fact that the Arbanasi did not live along the Adriatic Sea coast, as they do today. One clue points to the fact that the Arbanasi of Zadar had no words in their Albanian vocabulary for the various kinds of fish found in the Adriatic. All the words they had for various names of fish were Croatian in origin i.e. manula (burbot), špar (annular gilthead), glavoè (goby), tunjevina (tuna), etc.


Since the first Ottoman empire conquest over the Albanian people, there have been many instances whereby the Albanians rose up in rebellion against their Turkish occupiers. In order to pacify the Albanians (who were partly motivated by defence of the Christian faith) as well as to bring Albanians spiritually closer to Turkey, the Ottomans initiated a systematic drive toward the end of the 16th century to Islamize the population.

In the 16th century almost all Albanians were Christian, with the Roman Catholic Church being dominant in the north, and the Orthodox Church in the south. At first, only a small number of town clans became converted to Islam, in order to maintain their economic position and privileges. Within the next hundred years, however, coercion and economic pressures would change the religious makeup of the Albanian people.

In the 17th century the Turks began a policy of Islamization of the population at large to ensure peace in the Albanian lands, and to win the allegiance of this nation of warriors to the Ottoman empire: the propagation of Islam was the best means of pacifying the Albanians. They also used economic incentives to convert the people. Those who adopted Islam received land, and had their taxes lowered, whereas the raya (inhabitants) in subjugated Balkan countries worked the land without the right of ownership. The Albanian raya at first put up rather strong resistance to Islamization, as can be inferred from the length of time needed to convert most of the population. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries Islam became predominant, and its adherents far outnumbered the Christian population of Roman Catholics and Orthodox by a ratio of two-to-one. Those that remained Catholic (in the north) or Orthodox (in the south) experienced many hardships which in turn forced many of them to flee elsewhere. During these times, it is believed that up to one quarter of the Albanian population fled abroad to southern Italy, Sicily, and the Dalmatian coast.

The Arbanasi that settled around Zadar were of the Roman Catholic faith and whatever reason caused them to be placed under the protection of the Venetian Republic of Dalmatia is explained in the records. For the first migration it states that "because of the religious persecution and violence from the Turkish side, it is written that the Albanian families agreed to break free from Turkish barbarism, leaving in their homeland everything and everyone, taking refuge under the protection of the republic" (document from August 15, 1726).

For the second migration it tells "that those families were forced to flee from their homeland because of the persecution due to two Ottoman empire pashas from Bari" (document from October 27, 1733). The Turks recognized that the persecution by Pasha Akmet was wrong and it would inevitably cost him as he would be ousted for forcing the Arbanasi to move out of their homeland (document from December 30, 1733).

According to legend, one of the many ways the Turks persecuted the Albanians was by taking part in the rapes of young Christian women. The Albanians, in turn, took revenge on this act of dishonour by slaughtering the Turks by night, burning down their villages, and fleeing their homeland before encountering any new terrors or worst evils. It is not hard to believe that the first runaways left their homeland for the reasons the legend has given, for in the records it does not mention how they came, but rather that they left "everything and everyone to take refuge under the rule of the republic". However, for the second migration, legend conflicts with historical records with respect to the mention of the exact persecution faced at the hands of the Turkish pasha; and is therefore something that should be discarded.


In 1726, 21 Albanian families left their homeland and settled a kilometre south of Zadar. The Republic of Venice, which during that time governed Dalmatia, took in the immigrants under its protection; building them houses for homes and stables for livestock, giving them the deeds to the land and, in the case of Zemunik, ploughing and nourishing the pasture land for them as well as clearing it of any trees.

A register of records from August 15, 1726 carries the names of 21 families with the following names:

Luca d'Andrea Gezghenovich
Nicolo di Luca Marghicevich
Nicolo d'Andrea Gasparovich
Giovanni d'Andrea Gezghenovich
Pere di Marco
Prem Vuca Marghicevich
Paolo Giech Marghicevich
Giech Prend Marghicevich
Giech Pepa Marghicevich
Marco Discialo Marghicevich
Prenz Prema Marghicevich
Petar Vuca Gianova
Nico Matessich
Luca Prend
Boso Nico Smira
Stanica Gielencovich
Visco Gielencovich
Lech Pero Marghicevich
Luca Lucich

In his Zara cristiana, Zadar's Monsignor Bianchi mentions the arrival of the Arbanasi near Zadar. He writes that in 1726, led by the two Petani brothers, 24 families from Turkish Albania came. He furthermore writes that they came from two directions with 12 Arbanasi families from each direction. However, in a different book, it is recorded that 16 families established an Albanian settlement. One particular peculiarity though is that there is no mention of the Petani family in the registry.

Distinguished professor, Vjekoslav Klaiæ, writes about the Arbanasi in his book Opis zemalja u kojim stanuju Hrvati (Report On The Lands Habitated By The Croats), published in 1881. Here he mentions that even the Archbishop of Zadar settled the area around the year 1720 and that there were 1354 Arbanasi residents from Scutari (in present-day Albania). However, there is no mention of a second settlement. The year of the recorded arrival is also wrong, as it may have come from an incorrect source or may have even been a publishing error. In his book Albanija i Makedonija (Albania and Macedonia), printed in 1904, Jakov Sliškoviæ looks back on the Albanian migration and writes that this Albanian migration can be called a settlement for those 27 families which took refuge from the persecution of Mahmut Begoviæ, first in Perast and then to the outskirts of Zadar, thanks to the mediation by Bishop Zmajeviæ in 1726. The bishop is credited with saving approximately 800 people. The findings by this professor are a bit skewed and at the time were in the process of being corrected.


In 1733, seven years after the first migrations, the second group of Arbanasi left their birthplaces and crossed the Bay of Kotor, some alongside and others by sea, to arrive in Hercegovina, where they temporarily settled until they were shipped to Zadar and settled upon the land known as Zemunik, which was donated by the Venetian government. Records from March 11, 1735 reveal that there were about 28 families, and 199 people in total. The names are listed below:

Nicolo Andre
Crasto Covac
Marco Giocca
Giocca Gionon
Giocca Giuchin
Stjepo Gjuri
Stiepo Luco
Prento Kneunichi
Lecca Marco
Prento Marcov
Paolo Marussich
Mar Mazia
Marco Nicadobrez
Pema Nichin
Nicolo Pantov
Marco Pertu
Frane Popovich
Paolo Prendi
Nicola Rose
Rado Ruco
Gen Sperc
Prento Stani
Vuco Tamartinovich
Vuksa Tancovich
Pietro Tioba
Andrea Toma
Capitano Nicolo Vlagdan
Jovan Vucin

Did all these families come in one trip? Don Mijo Èurkoviæ states the answer as being no because there are many other documents listed between 1733-34 that only speaks of about 150 Arbanasi immigrants. Those 49 extra people listed in the records from March 11, 1735 are thought to have come a bit later. Even documents from 1733 seem to show that 150 people arrived to Kotor and Kaštel Novi in 1733 (although other documents state that this was in 1734). The records from March 11, 1735 also make it very well known that the government credits Archbishop Zmajeviæ for intervening and allowing the Arbanasi to emigrate to Dalmatia. Because of Archbishop Zmajeviæ's influence, the immigrants were also given land in Zemunik and the use of farming equipment for their pastures and the chopping down of trees.


In 1756, the Venetian government was able to conduct a land registry for the Arbanasi. The register was able to count the number of households in the settlement and the number of people in the each family. The following is a summary of the number of households as found in Erber's book:
14 Èurkoviæ 1 Bargela
7 Duka 1 Brothers Jure and Stiepo
6 Petani 1 Gjoka
6 Vladoviæ 1 Jokiæ
4 Maršan 1 Kalmeta
3 Jelenkoviæ 1 Kotlur
3 Joviæ 1 Markuz
3 Smir 1 Marušiæ
2 Bitri 1 Nikagi
2 Kovaceviæ 1 Radojceviæ
2 Marsig-Zotiæ 1 Škopelja
2 Marsiga 1 Vuk
2 Šestan 1 Zankoviæ

Are the names of those from those from the first and second migrations been passed down to those found in this register or are they new last names? This is not easy to explain but Don Mijo Èurkoviæ gives two theories.

The first theory he states is that the names of the first families were replaced by the names of new Arbanasi families that came a short time later (for which there seem to be no records for them). He also points out that the first families may have moved away.

The second theory is a bit more complex and basically states that the last names may have been changed on the basis of the following: nicknames, the name under which a person was christened, and even their father's or grandfather's name. For example, in a document dating back to August 1726, it is seen that the head of the Arbanasi settlement was Luki Andriæ. In the first registry we notice the name of Luca d'Andrea Ghesghenovich which has to be the same as Luki Andric. He simply lost his surname and took on another using his father's christened name. Using this approach, it makes it possible to accept this theory that the family names from the first and later registries really are not different families, but in reality are the names of Albanian families that modified their names under their own or even their father's and grandfather's christened names. At the same time, some families let go of their christened last names and went back to their old family name.


In 1729, the Arbanasi asked the authorities for permission, on their own expense, to erect a dam, stretched on a present-day small bay, for the good of their settlement to protect them from flooding strong southerly winds, which would often do damage to their local workshops. At the same time, they also asked that the authorities concede the claim to the embanked piece of land until a time came when this land would be arable. Moreover, the Arbanasi had hoped to obtain permission from the government in order to create a harbour that would divert surplus water from the bay so that they could catch fish. The authorities consented to their request, and on that very same day made their claim legal (document from April 10, 1729). Forty years later, Dominik Condulmer, the provveditore (governor/military commander) of Zadar, as well as reaffirming their old claim to the bay and harbour, passed a law that would penalize trespassers 100 ducats if they were caught on this property.

In 1735, due to the deaths of some landlords and the movement of people to different parts of Dalmatia, much arable land soon became available. The same thing occurred in 1739. A few of the Arbanasi submitted a request to the authorities that the free arable land be divided among them. The provveditore came to a fair decision that legally entitled the oldest land owners to a tenth of the land. Some of the Arbanasi were annoyed by this decision and moved further away to Zemunik. On the other hand, Arbanasi living in Zemunik since 1727 had also moved closer to town. The decision to change homes cost the Arbanasi their property but by the end of 1739 they were firmly in their new surroundings. No matter how inconvenient it was for them at first, the move would later prove to a blessing for their entire families.

In 1749, some of the Arbanasi were already employed in Zadar as masons. However by 1763, Zadar experienced a cholera outbreak and the Arbanasi, which had opened up many taverns in town by this time, took advantage of the situation by bribing the district authorities to buy food off them for later resale to the town inhabitants at a higher price.

However, Provveditore Micheli was not able to tolerate such lawlessness and betrayal. He severely ordered against any similar smuggling, bribing, and profiteering under the threat of fines, jail, and hard labour. As well, Micheli tried to alleviate town fears by reassuring people that there was food (meats, etc.) that was thoroughly smoked in Šamarak (now Preparandija). However, this decree would do little to stop the Arbanasi from maintaining this illegal trade.

In an effort to discontinue this defiant behaviour, Provveditore Frano Fallier gave an order to the knez (prince) of Zadar to report to him on which taverns and how many of them were actually needed in town for people visiting Samarak (Samarak was thought to be a large storehouse where the district authorities brought their products and where the town inhabitants came to buy them).

The Venetian government did not want to irritate these valuable and defiant citizens. A plan was in place to get the Arbanasi to work in a factory packaging tobacco, which in those times was planted and cultivated on land in Grbe near Nin, owned by the rich Venetian citizen Manfrina Jerka. There was much discontent among the Arbanasi, the working class, and the civil servants over this decision to halt their black market trade. Provveditore Andeo Memo, was forced to deal punishments with great severity to those that continued in this illegal trade by threatening fines, jail, and slavery on galleys to anyone who, under any excuse, corrupted workers or supervisors with any acts or words and purposely damaged any factory equipment (document from May 10, 1783). His firm and clear stance must have silenced the Arbanasi for it is not observed in any other documents of any other problems regarding them.


As mentioned earlier, the Arbanasi were of the Roman Catholic faith. When they first arrived, the churches of St. Donat (sv. Donat) in Zadar and that of St. John (sv. Ivan), near the marketplace, were given up to the Arbanasi for public worship. The Arbanasi did not have their own church. However, under the leadership and vision of Archbishop Zmajeviæ, construction of a church for the Arbanasi would begin in 1734. It was to be named Our Lady of Loreta and would be completed three years later. This is evident by the death records which bear the names of those that passed away up to the year of 1737 in the churches of St. Donat and St. John. As well, the marriage records mentions all marriage engagements and the marriages which were performed at those churches up to January 1738. Of all the information available, it is possible to confirm the church was completely built and handed over for public worship in 1737.


In Zemunik lies another Arbanasi settlement established by the Venetian republic in 1727. It is located 14 km east of Zadar.

A document from February 12, 1728 carries the names of these Arbanasi settlers:

Giovanni di Giovo
Gieci d'Andrea
Pietro di Marco
Giovanni di Vucchia
Giovanni di Nica
Giovanni Prenci
Nicolo Giovi

Today's generation in Zemunik does not regard themselves as being of Albanian descent even though names such as Paleka, Šestan, Pinèiæ, Prenða, and Èurkoviæ strongly confirm their ancestry. It seems as if some of the Arbanasi closer to town assimilated relatively early. This is evident during the middle of the 19th century when it was found that none of the older men living in Arbanasi had any recollection that they were Albanian or even knew how to speak Albanian. This is thought to have occurred slowly, possibly due to quarrelling among the Arbanasi amongst themselves. Anger may have been caused due to mutually unjust land claims with respect to family graves, pasture land, and the cutting down of trees. This in turn, more than likely, may have contributed to the aversion of their native heritage.

For those Arbanasi that later settled in Zemunik, they still belonged to the Arbanasi church, for in the register of the Arbanasi church it reads many times, that so and so died in Zemunik, received confession and communion from Arbanasi priests, was buried at the church of Our Lady of Loreta, etc. In fact, the burial records extend all the way to the year 1812.


The village of Ploæe lies 5 km east of Zadar. In Ploæe there are two groups of houses. One set lies on the hills, four kilometres away on the left side of the main road. At the beginning of the street leading to the village of Draèevac (Malpaga), lies another group, 200 metres ahead on the slope of another hill. Here live the true Arbanasi inhabitants, which took up residence and slowly started to acquire land in the nearby vicinity. In the village, homes are named for the families living there. These included the Buliæ, Èurkoviæ, Marnik, Peroviæ, and Stipèeviæ families.

In everyday life, this generation all spoke the Albanian language; and according to Don Mijo Èurkoviæ's book in 1922, "even to this day, the Èurkoviæ family speaks beautifully and correctly, the way it is spoken in Albania". This statement is probably an incorrect one as the Albanian language spoken in this region today is most likely unrecognizable to the average Albanian. If spoken today, the language is likely a dialect composed of a mixture of Albanian, Croatian, and Italian words.

Until the middle of the 19th century they all belonged to the Arbanasi church. However, after that they fell under the lead and guidance of the church in Draèevac. The inhabitants were said to have occupied themselves exclusively in agriculture and most have been described as being in good standing. They were known for having stern characters, but otherwise all were good people of noble heart. As well, everyone in the village is said to have treated each other like members of their own family.


Buliæ, Æuæula, Èurkoviæ, Dadiæ, Dešpalj, Duka, Gjergja, Jelenkoviæ, Joviæ, Kalmeta, Karuc, Kotlar, Krstiæ, Maršan, Marušiæ, Matešiæ, Mazija, Moroviæ, Musap, Mužanoviæ, Nikpalj, Peroviæ, Petani, Ratkoviæ, Relja-Vladoviæ, Smolèiæ, Stipèeviæ, Tomas, Vladoviæ, Vukiæ


1. Ardolli, Gani. Personal communication via e-mail regarding the 250 Arbanasi families that fled the area. March 26, 2001.
2. Èurkoviæ, Mijo. Povijest Arbanasa kod Zadra. Sibenik: Nagr. Tiskara E. Vitaliani, 1922.
3. Flamuri, Sami. Personal communication via e-mail regarding the name of the villages which the Arbanasi originally fled. December 12, 2000.
4. Karuc, Vedran. Personal communication via e-mail regarding the language spoken by the Arbanasi. October 26, 1999.
5. Marmullaku, Ramadan. Albania and the Albanians. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1975.
6. Marsan, Giorgio. Personal communication via e-mail regarding the nationality of Tullio Erber. Èurkoviæ stated that Erber was German. May 19, 2001.
7. Šimunoviæ, Petar. Naša prezimena: porijeklo, znaèenje, rasprostranjenost. Zagreb: Nakladni zavod matice Hrvatske, 1985.

Arbneshi i Zarës -dhimbja e së kaluarës
Si te presin njerezit qe jetojne me mallin per gjuhen dhe atdheun e braktisur qe ne kohen e Skenderbeut
Ngado që të futesh në qytetin e Zarës, domosdo se duhet të kalosh nëpër Arbnesh, qoftë në rrugë detare, automobilistike apo hekurudhë. Pastër tia, rregulli dhe arkitektura karakteristike i tërheqin vëmendjen çdo kalimtari. Kisha e re, me këmbanare të lartë, me mure guri, ngrihet lart mbi të gjitha godinat tjera. Aroma e luleve, pemët e shumta, llojesh të ndryshme, rrugët e ngushta, disa të shtrura me kalldrëm, janë cicëroni më i mirë për këtë vendabnim. Sidomos, kur lexon emrat e rrugëve: Mbretëresha Teuta, Gjegj Kastrioti Skenderbeu, Gjergj Fishta, Josip Rela, etj, për ne shqiptarët, është e qartë, se jemi në Arbnesh. E Arbneshi, ashtu qetë - qetë, sikur nuk dëshiron të largohet nga e kaluara. Arbneshasit, mikëpritës, shumë bujarë dhe tepër dashamirës, të ftojnë brenda, sapo marrin vesh se je shqiptar. Kush të fton për kafe, një tjetër për një raki, e një i tretë që të bisedoj e të çmallet me gjakun e tijë. Biseda fillon shtruar, ashtu valë-valë, si uji i detit që përplaset në Vaun e Joviqit /Gjonit/. Ashtu pa u ndjerë, mblidhen pleq e të rinjë. Të gjithë kureshtarë, për të dëgjuar fjalën shqipe, për të ndjerë gjuhën e gjyshërve të tyre, për të rikujtuar të kaluarën e tyre sa tragjike aqë edhe të mjerë. "Ne banorët e Arbneshit jena prush i ndezur dhe kena gjak arben" thotë Bruno. "Sa herë herë ndiejmë mirë për Arbninë, zemra na rref më shumë, kurse gjaku na valon në trup ia pret Xhani, flokëthinjur. "Brigjet e Dalmacisë nuk kanë qenë të huaja për shqiptarët e Shqipërisë etnike", rrëfen Pino Gjergja, dhe vazhdon: këto troje janë të fisit të Dalmatëve të Ilirisë, e këtu në Zarë gjithmonë ka pasur shqipëtarë. Në vitin 1437 kemi disa familje bujare shqiptare, por edhe në vitet e mëvonshme, e sidomos në vitin 1602 kemi 200 banorë shqiptar si dhe familje bujare, në krye me guvernatorin shqiptarin, Pal Gjinin. Pra, ne këtu, që kur jemi vendosur, kemi vazhduar një traditë të moçme, të të parëve tanë". E zonja shtëpisë, Ana Peroviqi, me një zë melodik, kumbues dhe tepër të këndshëm, pas bisedës së parë njohëse, ia fillon një kënge arbëreshe, e si në kor, të gjithë e përcjellin. Ky është nderi më i madh që i bëhet mysafirit. Kënga tregon fatin e arbëneshasëve:
"Nër mal mi Liqen të Shkodrës,
Në Brisk Shestan ele Livarje,
Të veta shpijat i lishoven,
Po ul u gjetën me familje.
Mendimet t'jona po frutulojn,
Të randa vjeteve të parve ton,
Ata kur kejshin të dëbuom,
Për fen krshten - katolike jon".
Është shumë interesant, se gjatë vizitave të shumta që i kemi bërë tek këta vëllëzër gjaku, në Arbnesh, çdoherë pa asnjë rezervë, ata pohojnë përkatësinë e tyre kombëtare shqiptare. Pjesa më e madhe e tyre e flasin gjuhën shqipe, e cila, për fat të keq, është në zhdukje e sipër. Kjo është një shqipe e dialektit të vjetër, gegë arkaik, e cila në vete ruan një brum mjaft interesant për gjuhëtarët, për pasurimin e fondit leksikor. Përveç gjuhës, në Arbënesh, ruhen reliket të vjetra dhe eksponate të ndryshme shtëpiake të sjellura nga atdheu. Arbëreshët e rajonit të Zarës janë shumë interesantë si ngulim, edhe për atë se ka ruajtur deri më sot tipare të karakterit gjenetik të veçantë dhe një mentalitet i cili i dallon ata nga popullsia kroate përeth.
Arbneshi ka mbajtur lidhje të regullta me atdheun.
Thënë më drejtë ai, ka frymuar me ngjarjet që ka kaluar Shqipëria. Ishin Arbëneshasit, ata që hedhin tutje mosmarrëveshjet e ndryshme, por edhe ato ndërpartiake, iu bashkohen vëllezërve të tyre, dhe duke i përkrahur, me peticione e memorandume, tubime e demostrata, apelojnë tek fuqitë e mëdha ndërkombëtare, t'iu ndihmojnë shqiptarëve të fitojnë pavarsinë. Me rastin e shpalljes së Pavarsië, një delegacion i përbërë nga burrat më të njohur të Arbneshit, viziton Shqipërinë dhe qeverinë e Ismail Qemalit. Ngjarjet e bujshme që shoqëruan shpalljen e pavarësisë së shtetit shqiptar, si dhe lufta që shqiptarët u detyruan ta zhvillojnë në muajt e parë të pamvarësisë, për përkrahje ndërkombëtare të shtetit të ri, solli nevojën e thirrjes së kongresit të shqipëtarve në Trieshtë, në të cilin morën pjesë jo vetëm shqiptarët e Shqipërsisë, por edhe ata të diasporës. Kongresi me pjesmarrjen e afro 200 delegatëve zhvilloi punimet prej 1 deri me 4 mars 1913. Në të mori pjesë edhe një delegacion nga Arbëneshi i kryesuar nga Pal Gergji. Pali, mbajti në kongres, një referat mjaft interesant në gjuhën shqipe me titull: "Ballkani dhe popujt e Ballkanit", ku nuk harroi të përmendë diasporën shqiptare dhe rolin që ka luajtur dhe që do të luajë në të ardhmen për ndihmë shtetit amë!
Kontribut të veçantë dhanë arbneshasit edhe gjatë luftës së fundit të kosovarëve, kur këta u detyruan të lëshojnë vatrat e tyre të ndjekur nga okupatori serb. Ndihmat humanitare dhe format e tjera, si dhe pranimi dhe strehimi i disa dhjetra familjeve refugjate, ishte një kontribut modest, i cili në fakt, siç e pohojnë edhe vetë arbneshasit, ju kujton atyre fatin e hidhur që kanë pësuar edhe ata vetë, para 280 vjetëve.
Arbneshin, herë pas herë e kan vizituar edhe personalite politike dhe kulturore, si Fan Noli, Faik Konica, Simon Ferizi, at Gjergj Fishta, Nikollë Ivanaj, Shtjefen Gjeçovi, etj. Arbneshi në fund të shekullit XIX dhe në fillim të shekullit XX, ka shërbyer si një urë lidhëse për Shqipërinë, në mes Italisë dhe Austro-Hungarisë. Pothuajse çdo veprim politk ka shkuar përmes Arbneshit! Kjo gjë edhe ka mundësuar lidhjet intensive dhe të shumta me Shqipërinë. Një pjesë e mirë e intelektualëve tonë, ka botuar veprat e veta në Zarë, duke shfrytëzuar lidhjet me personalitet e Arbneshit, Fishta, Prendushi, Gjeçovi, etj.
Problemi i diasporës shqiptare, si pjesë përbërse dhe shumë e dhimbëshme kombëtare, kohët e fundit është gjithnjë e më aktuale në rrethet shkencore e politke, si brenda, ashtu edhe jashtë vendit. E kaluara e Arbëneshit, si koloni shqiptare, jeta shoqërore, politike, ekonomike dhe kulturore, gjatë shekujve XVIII-XX, ka tërhequr vemendjen e shumë studiuesve vendës e të huaj, të fushave të ndryshme, të shkencave filologjike dhe shoqërore.
Shpërngulja e shqiptarëve si pjesë e një marrëveshje sekrete e cila parashihte që vendin e tyre ta zënë kolonistët sllav.
Studimet e shumta dhe të llojllojshme, linguistike, etnografike, arkeologjike, sociologjike, ekonomike, politike, në të cilat në mënyrë krahasuese është tentuar të studiohet dhe paraqitet gjendja e tanishme e ruajtjes së elementeve gjuhësore, traditës, etnografisë, zejtarisë, përkatësisë kombëtare, e posaçërisht përshtatja e rrethanve të reja shoqërore, politike dhe kulturore në një ambient të ri me ndryshime të konsiderueshme në karakter dhe mentalitet, nuk na kanë dhënë një sintezë apo studim të kompletuar, duke krijuar kështu një zbraztësi, të cilën shpresojm se së shpejti do ta e tejkalojmë, me një studim komplet, të mbështetur, në hulumtime dhe kërkime disavjeçare, ku janë përfshirë momentet që nga shpërngulja e parë e deri në fillim të Luftës së dytë Botërore.
Kolonitë shqiptare në brigjet e Adriatikut janë mjaftë karakteristike. Në to pasqyrohen shumë elemente të veçantë dhe mjaft të rrallë, të cilat nuk i hasim në diasporën shqiptare. Numri i këtyre kolonive nuk është i vogël, disa iu kanë përballuar rrebesheve të kohës, e disa janë asimiluar fare dhe, për to dihet vetëm se kanë ekzistuar. Njëra nga këto koloni që veçohet më së shumti dhe ka diçka të posaçme, është Arbneshi i Zarës - Borgo Erizzo. Përveç këtij emri, të themi zyrtar, sipas dokumentave që ruhen në arkivin historik të Zarës, kjo lagje, nga popullsia kroate, në fillim u njoh me emrin Eriçin Varosh /Ericovo selo/, e më vonë edhe Arbanasi; dhe Arbnesh, nga vetë banorët shqiptarë.
Në vitin 1721, nga fshatrat rreth Liqenit të Shkodrës, Brisk, Shestan Ljajre, u shpërngulën 32 familje shqiptare me 227 frymë, dhe u vendosën në paralagjen e Zarës, që u quajt Borgo Erizzo, sipas providurit gjeneral për Dalmaci e Shqipëri, Nikola Erizzo. Shkaqet e shpërnguljes duhet shikuar në prizmin e ngjarjeve të kohës dhe rrethanave politiko shoqërore. Luftat e shumta, sëmundjet, plaçkitjet, ftesa e të rinjëve shqiptarë për rekrut në ushtrinë turke, kushet e rënda ekonomike, varfëria e madhe, trysnia e ushtruar nga ana e Perandorisë, që të ndërrojnë fenë si dhe pazarllëqet e dëmshme në kurriz të shqipëtarve, për interesa të caktuara në mes të Venedikut, sllavëve dhe disa personaliteteve kishtare. Këto shkaqe studiues të ndryshëm, varësisht nga pikëpamjet, orientimet, analizat dhe shqyrtimeve të materialit arkivore, i trajtojnë në mëyrë të ndryshme, e shpeshherë edhe kontradiktore.
Inisiator kryesor për këtë shpërngulje ishte arqipeshkvi i Zarës, Visk Zmajeviqi. Është mjaft indikative një marrëveshje sekrete në mes Zmajeviqit, përfaqësuesve sllav dhe Venedikut e vitit 1713, në të cilën vendoset që të shpërngulen shqiptarët e rreth Liqenit të Shkodrës dhe të Shqipërisë Veriore. Tokat e të shpërngulurve do t'iu ndaheshin serbëve, ndërsa shqiptarët do të vendoseshin në Zarë, në afërsi të Pulës dhe qytete të tjera bregdetare dalmatinase. Deri diku ky plan edhe është realizuar, por për fat të mirë jo në tërsi. Në këtë kuadër duhet shikuar edhe shpërnguljen e Kelmendasve në vitin 1737, në Srem. Përveç shpërnguljes së vitit 1721, kemi edhe tre shpërngulje të tjera të rëndësishme, të shqiptarve në Arbnesh, por edhe vendbanimet përreth Zemunik dhe Plloqe; në vitet 1726, 1727 dhe 1733. Pos këtyre shpërnguljeve, kemi edhe disa të tjera, por që janë më të vogla. Numri i familjeve të shpërngulura është me qindra, kurse frymët janë me mijëra. Në të gjitha shpërnguljet, të shpërngulurit, ishin shqiptarë, edhepse, disa studiues, kanë tentuar që të nxierrin disa familje me origjinë sllave, kryesisht duke u mbështetur në prapashtesat me: iq dhe viq.
Në Arbnesh janë ruajtur shumë toponime, mikrotoponime dhe antroponime shqiptare Pas vendosjes në Arbnesh, Zemunik dhe Plloqe, arbneshasit, si puntorë të vyeshëm, u dalluan në: bujqësi, blegotri, zejtari, tregti dhe një pjesë e vogël u muar edhe me peshkatri. U shquan sidomos për prodhime bujdësore, nga ku furnizonin gjithë qytetin e Zarës. U ruajt e drejta zakonore. Kryeplaku ose në arbnishte: "shkopi i katundit" e kishte fjalën kryeosre në konflikte të ndryshme dhe mosmarrëveshje. Ai zëvendësonte institutin e gjykatës. Në Arbnesh janë ruajtur edhe sot e kësaj dite, disa toponime me origjinë shqiptare si: Karma, Fusha e Vorreve, Fusha e Arbneshit, Bregdeti, Vani i Joviqit, Vilat, Grapa, Shkambat, Kisha, Kulla, etj. Por edhe mbiemra krejt shqiptarë si: Kalmeta, Gjergji, Petani, Nikpali, Marshani, Deshpali, Marseni, Çoba, Luka, Vuka, Ndreka, Gjoni, Marku, Gjini, Stani, Nika, Duka, etj.
Përshkrimet që i janë bërë Arbneshit dhe banorëve të tij, janë mjaft interesante dhe zbavitëse. Po veçojmë, atë të Stjepan Buzoliqit, i cili shkruan se Arbneshi nga përendimi kap livadhet e gjelbërta - fusha e Zarës; nga veriu shtrihen kopshtijet, arat dhe vreshtat e panumërta; nga lindja dhe jugu vijnë valët e lehta të detit që lëkundën ngadal nën gjiun e mrekullueshëm të Zarës. Arbneshët, vazhdon Buzoliqi, janë njerz me faqe të kuqe, që pëlcasin nga shëndeti. Shikim e kanë të mprehtë dhe plot zjarrë, shtatin e mesëm por të bukur. Për nga karakteri janë hijerëndë sa edhe të njerzishëm. Fjalën e kanë në majë të gjuhës, shpërthejnë si orteku, por edhe qetësohen shpejt, zërin ekanë melodik dhe këndojnë shumë bukur. Ndërsa Josip Vlladoviq Rela, në përshkrim e tij veçon: gratë e janë po ashtu shtatëhedhura e të dretja, të njohura anembanë si të bukura. Përndryshe ishin të zgjuara, të çiltëra, të vendosura dhe burrnore. Në fillim shtëpitë i kishin përdhese, por të pastërta dhe të rregulluara me mirë. Më vonë filluan të ndërtojnë kulla të rrethuara me mure të larta dhe me kopshte me lule për rreth. Këto janë, pa mëdyshje, rrejdhim i zakoneve nga viset e tyre të vjetra.
Që nga kur u vendosën në Arbnesh, arqipeshkvi, Zmajeviq, kishte vendosur që çdo vit, një i ri nga Arbneshi, të ndiqte mësimet në Seminarin Ilirk të Glagolicës në Zarë. Nga ky shkak kemi edhe një numër të madh priftërinjësh. Duhet cekur se arbreshasit janë besimtarë të mëdhej. Rregullisht shkojnë në kishë. Shkolla shqipe në Arbnesh është hapur në vitin 1901, dhe ka vazhduar deri në vitin 1918. Fillimisht në Shkollën Normale dhe ushtrimoren e saj, e pastaj edhe në shkollat fillore të femrave. Mësuesit të cilët kanë punuar në Arbnesh janë: at Pashk Bardhi dhe at Shtjefën Gjeçovi, dr. Gjergj Koleci, porf. Anton Paluca, prof. Shtjefën Rrota dhe prof. Pal Gjergji. Arbneshi si vatër e kulturës dhe e shkollës ka nxierrë të cilët kanë shërbyer në vende të ndryshme duke dhënë mësim në gjuhën shqipe si: Josip Vlladoviq - Relja, në Vuthaj; Tomë Moroviqi, në Plavë; Budimir Peroviqi, në Pejë; Zef Duka, në Gjakovë, Pal Gjergji në Prizren, etj.
Arbneshët e Zarës në fund të shekullit të XIX, vunë lidhjet e para me kolonitë e tjera shqiptare si në Itali, Rumani, Egjipt, etj. ngaqë ata i bashkonte ideja kombëtare shqiptare dhe dëshira për shtetin e tyre të pamvarur. Në të vërtet me arbëreshët e Italisë vunë kontakte përmes revistës "La Nazione albanese" në vitin 1897, e cila botohej në Romë. Nuk është rastësi që po këtë vit, dmth. më 1897, kur filloi të botohet edhe e famëshmja "Albania" e Faik Konicës, arbëreshët bënë përgatitjet e para për botimin e gazetës së tyre në gjuhën arbëneshe me emrin "Zani i Shqyptarit", e cila duhej të dilte dy herë në muaj, por për shkaqe politkie nuk e pa dritën e botimit kurrë!
Kompaktësia teritoriale, lidhjet e ngushta në mes të gjithë anëtarëve të kësaj oaze, në fund të shekullit XIX dhe fillim të atij të XX, luajnë një rol vendimtar për zhvillimin kulturor, intelektual, ekonomik dhe politik të këtij oazi arbneshësh në Dalmaci. Ky grusht arbneshësh, do të shënoj suksese të jashtëzakonshme në fusha të ndryshme të veprimtarisë shkencore, fetare, politke, ekonomike, diplomatike, univerzitare, muzikore, sportive, duke e bërë të njohur edhe jashtë kufinjëve të Kroacisë dhe popullit shqiptarë në përgjithësi.

Gjergj Kastrioti “Skenderbeg” by Joseph J. DioGuardi

Gjergj Kastrioti “Skenderbeg” by Joseph J. DioGuardi

Gjergj Kastrioti “Skenderbeg, Matchable to the Greatest of the Great”
–Edmund Spenser (Elizabethan poet)

From 1443, when he returned in triumph to the White Castle in Kruja to his deathbed at Lezha in 1468, Skenderbeg left an unforgettable legacy of great heroism in the defense of freedom. Gjergj Kastrioti lived and died for what he firmly believed were the sacred values of faith, virtue, honor, freedom, courage, and love of country. These universal values are clearly displayed in his correspondence and speeches, along with his deep philosophy of life and his incredible deeds. Who was Gjergj Kastrioti? Why is he an important historical figure? What can Albanians today learn from his life and deeds? Why is he not better known around the world?

Kastrioti was the son of an Albanian prince, Gjon Kastrioti, who ruled the Albanian lands in the Balkan Peninsula at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the fifteenth century. Gjon had kept the invading Ottoman Turks at bay for more than twenty years when he was forced into a deceptive peace treaty in 1422 with Sultan Murad II to secure the rear of the Turkish army in Southeast Europe and spare the lives of his people from the wrath of the Ottoman Empire. To guarantee the arrangement, the Sultan took Gjon’s youngest son, Gjergj, hostage to Adrianople, the European capital of the Ottoman Empire. Here, Gjergj was sent to the Ottoman military academy where he excelled in all ways and adopted the Moslem alias “Iskender Bey,” or Lord Alexander after Alexander the Great. Skenderbeg’s excellent academic and military record caught the eye of the Sultan, who gave him the rank of general even before reaching twenty years of age. Skenderbeg’s military successes against the enemies of the Ottoman Empire became legendary, as were the decorations and gifts bestowed on him after each incredible triumph.

An important turning point in Skenderbeg’s life came when, in 1443, he received the sad news from Kruja of his father’s death. Gjon had defied and frustrated the Ottomans for more than fifty years and the Sultan grew suspicious of Skenderbeg’s potential to take his father’s place in trying to perpetuate a free Albania even after Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia had been conquered. Skenderbeg sensed the danger to him and to his father’s people and decided to seize the moment in November 1443, when he was sent on a military excursion to defeat the Hungarians led by another great freedom fighter (and thorn in the side of the Sultan), Janos Hunyadi. Rather than do the Sultan’s dirty work at Nish (in Serbia today), he fooled his fellow Ottoman commanders and fled the battlefield to Kruja with three hundred of his loyal Albanian horsemen. Two weeks after triumphantly entering Albania at Dibra, he stormed the White Castle at Kruja on November 28, 1443 and deposed the Ottoman governor there. The next twenty-five years would see some of the greatest military feats against the ever powerful and growing Ottoman Empire. It was only after Skenderbeg’s death in 1468 that the Ottomans were able to get a foothold in Albania. Without their great leader, the struggle against the Ottomans faltered, leading to a complete occupation of Albanian lands in 1488. This lasted 425 years until Ismail Qemali raised Skenderbeg’s double-headed eagle banner at Vlora on November 28, 1912.

It is one thing for Albanians today to praise and honor Gjergj Kastrioti. But let’s now take some time to hear about this saintly knight, his incredible military genius, and our Albanian national hero from those who knew him well. Having now read a great deal about Skenderbeg, it became evident that a Roman Catholic priest from Shkodra, Marin Barletius, wrote the most comprehensive and vivid account of Skenderbeg’s life and deeds. His twelve-volume work included Kastrioti’s letters, speeches, and his philosophy of life, religion, and nation. Since Barletius was a contemporary of Skenderbeg, he had access to firsthand information from the battlefields, the archives in Rome, and many other personal firsthand accounts from witnesses of Kastrioti’s phenomenal accomplishments, character, and charisma. The scholarly work of Barletius, originally written in Latin, was translated widely, including French and English, which allowed many to know about the legendary feats of Skenderbeg.

The nineteenth-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had been mesmerized reading about the incredible life and deeds of Gjergj Kastrioti. His epic poem “Scanderbeg” gave a vivid account of Kastrioti triumphant in Kruja on November 28, 1443:

…Anon from the castle walls

The crescent banner falls,

And the crowd beholds instead,

Like a portent in the sky,

Iskander’s banner fly,

The Black Eagle with double head.

And shouts ascend on high …”Long live Scanderbeg.

Skenderbeg’s genius has been likened by many military experts to Alexander the Great. Major General James Wolfe, commander of the English army at the siege of Quebec, Canada, wrote to Lord Sydney that “Scanderbeg exceeds all the officers, ancient and modern, in the conduct of a defensive army. I met him in Turkish history but nowhere else.”

Historian Edmond Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire said: “In the list of heroes, John Hunyadi and Scanderbeg are commonly associated and entitled to our notice since their occupation of arms delayed the ruin of the Greek (Byzantine) Empire…. The Albanian prince may justly be praised as a firm and able champion of his national independence. The enthusiasm of chivalry and religion has ranked him with the names of Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus….”

Even the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser held that Scanderbeg was “matchable to the greatest of the great” in his preface to an English translation of Barletius, which concluded by saying:

To one whom later age has brought to light,

Matchable to the greatest of the great:

Great both in name and great in power and might,

And meriting a mere triumphant feat.

The scourge of Turks, and plague of infidels,

Thy acts, O’ Scanderbeg, this volume tells.

Finally, among the many, many accounts of one Albanian hero, we turn to the notable nineteenth-century English literary figure Lord Byron who fell in love with everything he saw in Albania. Like Kastrioti, Byron had a deep love of freedom and national independence. In his poem “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage,” he wrote:

Land of Albania, where Islander rose,

Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,

And he, his namesake, whose oft-baffled foes

Shrunk from his deeds of chivalrous emprize.

Land of Albania, let me bend my eyes

On thee, though rugged nurse of savage men!

Where is the foe that ever saw their back?….

In short, Gjergj Kastrioti was an exceptional military genius, a man of great faith and courage, a philosopher and one who cherished personal freedom and national independence. He was the subject of many books, poems, and even an opera by Vivaldi! His imposing figure, sword in hand, atop his majestic stallion, graces the capitals of Italy, Austria, and Hungary today. And, on the 600th anniversary of his birth, a Congressional Resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the most democratic forum in the world, recounts his many deeds and his importance as an historic figure not just for Albanians and the Balkans, but Western Europe, which he saved from Ottoman domination.

What Albanians can learn today from Skenderbeg’s life and deeds is limitless. As a man of great faith, he placed himself at God’s mercy on many occasions where he was facing overwhelming odds. On one such occasion, after defeating the Hungarian army at Varna in 1445, Sultan Murad sent a threatening letter to Skenderbeg, who now stood between the Ottoman Empire and a Europe in disarray. True to his nature as a great leader and man of God with a steadfast vision of freedom for his people and all of Europe, he boldly responded to the Sultan:

Cease your angry threats and tell us not of the Hungarian (mis)fortune. Every man has his own resolution…and so will we with patience endure such fortune as it shall please God to appoint us. Meanwhile, for direction of our affairs, we will not request counsel of our enemies, nor peace from you, but victory by the help of God!

Albanian leaders today, especially in Kosova seeking complete independence from Serbia, would do well to emulate the resolute way in which Skenderbeg pursued his vision of freedom for his people. He made no room for compromise with his enemies and showed fierce determination to prevail even in the face of such a formidable adversary as the Ottoman Empire. He did this relying not only on his skill as a great national leader and military tactician, but on his belief in God’s providence as well. We can all learn from Skenderbeg’s great example in pursuing the Albanian national cause today. Skenderbeg again showed his great faith in God and deep loyalty to friends after his great friend and patron Alphonse, King of Naples and Sicily, died in 1460. Italy was plunged into bloodshed and rebellion, and Ferdinand I, Alphonse’s son and successor, came under attack from the French once again. Feeling a deep moral obligation to repay his steadfast friends and allies on the other side of the Adriatic, Skenderbeg himself led an elite cavalry of two thousand men there in the summer of 1461 and soon turned the tide against the French and their Italian collaborators in the bloody battle of Apulia. In reading the accounts of Skenderbeg’s exhortation to his soldiers before the battle of Apulia, one is reminded of George Washington exhorting his troops at Valley Forge:

This now is our case, my good soldiers…. We are now across the sea far from

our own homes and from our own country…. We are amongst strangers,

altogether without hope of ever returning again to our own (home)…if we do not

win a notable victory over our enemies. But have courage, my men:

Let us consider that this is God’s will…that we should maintain…the seat of the Church.

And never doubt that He will send us even from heaven an easy and speedy

victory…and then shall we return to our own country victors, joyous and triumphant.

One might ask, after hearing of the greatness of Skenderbeg, why he is not as well known today as before. I believe that the history of Gjergj Kastrioti is inextricably tied to that of the Albanian people. The Albanian nation was submerged under the Ottoman Empire for 425 years. When it emerged in 1912, it was unfairly divided so that only half of the seven million Albanians who live in the Balkans today live in the State of Albania, with the other half living on her borders in five other jurisdictions. The State of Yugoslavia was created after World War I on the backs of the Albanian people and on their land. Then Communism again submerged the Albanian people—this time throwing them into a political and economic “black hole,” stretching from Belgrade to Tirana, for almost fifty years after World War II. It is a wonder that the Albanian people kept their language, their history, and their hope alive throughout the last six hundred years of occupation and resistance. It is a wonder that, amid all the national stress and personal sacrifice, that Gjergj Kastrioti has not been forgotten altogether.

But he has not been forgotten, and it is a tribute to this greatness and to the besa* of the Albanian people that, against all odds, Albanians are standing free today, in Albania and Kosova, and that the sons and daughters of Skenderbeg continue to adore him as their national hero and liberator, and are building even more memorials to his past and present glory and significance—even, with a U.S. Congressional Resolution (H.Res. 522), in the capital of the only superpower in the world today, Washington, DC.

Author’s Postscript

The battle of Apulia in the southern part of the Italian Peninsula, near Naples, is of special significance to me and my family. In 1461, after Skenderbeg and his elite cavalry helped save the Kingdom of Naples from French domination, the future security of the Kingdom was assured when Gjergj Kastrioti decided to leave two thousand horsemen there, while he returned to Albania to continue to defend the Albanian people from Ottoman Turkish domination. As an inducement for Skenderbeg to agree to what must have been a difficult decision for him, the King of Naples awarded the Albanian soldiers an area about forty miles east of Naples, including a high mountaintop village called Greci. Greci had been formed by Greek farmers and merchants in 535 AD and had since declined after most Greeks abandoned the area that they had controlled in the first millennium. Albanians changed the name of the village to “Katundi,” which is the name used today by the Albanian residents, even though the Italians still call it Greci. My father, Joseph, Sr. immigrated to America from Katundi in 1929 at the age of fifteen. His family is descended from one of Skenderbeg’s two thousand soldiers, and this is a great reminder that the seeds of Skenderbeg are still spreading across the oceans of the world today. * Besa is derived from the ancient moral code of the Albanian people.

Albanian Fustanella

Albanian Fustanella
The famous Albanian kilt (or fustanella as it is known in the Albanian language) was common dress for men in the 13th century where it was regularly worn by a tribe of the Dalmatians, one of the Illyrian progenitors of the Albanians. At that time, the kilt was called Dalmatica, however, theories exist that the kilt really had its origin during much earlier times as a long shirt called linja which, when gathered at the waist by a sash, gave the appearance of a knee- or calf-length kilt. Depending on the social status of the wearer, materials used in fabricating the fustanella (thereby defining the number of pleats) ranged fromcoarse linen or woolen cloth for villagers to luxurious silks for the more affluent. Although the kilt was once worn by men throughout Albania, today it is seen only on special occasions in southern Albania, especially in the Gjirokaster area, and in the Albanian regions of Montenegro, Kosova, Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece.

The Hungarian sociologist, Baron Nopcsa, believed that the Albanian, or Illyrian, kilt became the original pattern for the Roman military dress, and, because of its similarity to the Celtic kilt, he also theorized that the Roman legions in Britain, through the presence of its Illyrian element, probably started the fashion among the Celts (it may also be interesting to note that the Celtic word for Scotland is Alban).

Lord Byron, in Childe Harolds Pilgrimage, observed the ...Albanian kirtled to the knee, and T.S. Finlay in his Travels through Greece and Albania states, unequivocally, that It was the fame of the Albanians which induced the modern Greeks to adopt the Albanian kilt as their national costume.
See The Albanians and Their Territories, Pages 164-166, 8 Nentori Publishing House, Tirana, 1985, and Faik Konitzas Albania: Rock Garden of Southeastern Europe , Pages 81-90
From at least the 14th century, a strong cotton cloth called fustan was produced - hence the name of the garment fustan and later the diminutive fustanella. But archeological evidence points to the fustanella as being a more ancient form of clothing. Among the more important (archeological) finds are 1. a small ceramic statue from the 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Durres which depicts a man wearing a long fustanella fastened with two bands across the chest; 2. a gravestone from the 3rd to 4th century C.E.(AD) found in Smokthine, near Vlora, which shows a man dressed in a fustanella; and 3. a much more ancient figurine found in Maribor, Slovenia, which dates from the 5th century B.C.E. (BC) which also shows a fustanella worn with the two bands across the chest.

The fustanella is typically used from those who spoke arbanian language, and not only the fustanella but the whole look was typically albanian.

Lord Byron:
The Arnauts, or Albanese, struck me forcibly by their resemblance to the Highlanders of Scotland, in dress, figure and manner of living. The kilt, though white; the spare, active form; their dialect, Celtic in sound, and their habits, all carried me back to Motven. No nation are so detested and dreaded by their neigbours as the Albanese; the Greeks hardly regard them as Chrystians, or the Turkd as moslems; and in fact they are a mixture of both, and sometimes neither. Their habits are predatory; all are armed; and the red-shawled Arnauts, the Montenegrins, Chimariots and Gedges are treacherous; the others differ somewhat in garb, and essentially in character.

Memoir of a Campaign with the Ottoman Army in Egypt, from February to July 1800:

The troops which are raised in the Morea, Epirus, Albania, and Macedonia are known under the general apellation of Arnauts. They are warlike people.They retain much of the ferocity of the Spartans, of whom they are said to be the descendants: their dress would favour that supposition, from its resemblance to the the tunic. They wear a breastplate of silver and a species of armour covers their legs; many of them walk in sandals; the fore part of the head, as far as the middle of the crown is shaved, and only a tuft of hair hangs loose on the back part of the head; a red sjull-cap of cloth comes far over their eyebrows, and gives them a fierce look. Their fire-arms are in general beautifully ornamented in silver and gold. The Arnauts have the reputation of being very courageous; they certainly carry with them a very exalted notion of their own prowess; and, as they are commanded by officers from their nation whom they respect.

(He call Albania only the territory of Alpes mountain which I think the name Albanian come from and later got used for all of us. Arbani (Arberesh was the way we called ourself) Arvanites and Arnauts are just the derivates of that name.

The Greek King Otto Wearing garments that are Influenced from Albanians.
By Niko Lyrtas (oil painting)
Hangs in the Greek International bank Lobby in Athens.