ALBANIA- THE MOST ANCIENT ETHNIC COMMUNITY IN EU

Founder Editor Tazeen Akhtar..

---------Dr Sajid Khakwani-----------
Albania , republic in southeastern Europe, It lies along the northwestern edge of the Balkan Peninsula. The capital and largest city is Tirana. With a total area of 11,100 sq miles. Albania is bordered by the Adriatic Sea to the west, Greece to the south, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the east, Serbia to the northeast, and Montenegro to the northwest.

Present-day Albanians probably descended from Illyrian people who lived in the southern Balkans long before Greeks, Romans, and Slavs migrated to the region. During the 7th and 6th centuries BC, the Greeks established several colonies along the Albanian coast. By the 3rd century bc the colonies began to decline and eventually disappeared. As the Greeks left, the small Illyrian groups that predated them evolved into more complex political units, including federations and kingdoms. The most important of these kingdoms flourished between the 5th and 2nd centuries bc. At the same time, Rome was developing on the Italian peninsula, across the Adriatic Sea from Illyria. By 168 bc Romans had established effective control over Illyria and renamed it the province of Illyricum. Rome ruled the region for the next six centuries

In 395 Albania became part of Byzantine, Empire. By the 5th century Christianity had become the established religion, and Albanian Christians remained under the religious jurisdiction of the Roman pope, despite being subjects of the Byzantine Empire. In the 5th century invading Visigoths, Huns, and Ostrogoths devastated the region, and between the 6th and 8th centuries Slavic peoples settled in Illyrian territories. From the 8th through the 11th century, Illyria gradually became known as Albania. The name Shqiperia replaced Albania in the 16th century.

Byzantine rule disappeared by the middle of the 14th century, and in 1388 the Ottomans invaded Albania. By 1430 the Ottomans had conquered Albania. At the end of the 16th century, the Ottomans began a policy of Islamization as a way of preventing future unrest. By the end of the 17th century, about two-thirds of the population had become Muslims. The Ottomans also extended their control through a feudal-military system, under which military leaders who were loyal to the empire received landed estates. As Ottoman power declined in the 18th century, the power of some military lords increased. These local rulers created separate states until they were overthrown by Ottoman sultan Mahmud II. A number of Albanians also rose to high positions in the Ottoman government in the 18th and 19th centuries, with more than two dozen becoming prime ministers. The existence of an Albanian Muslim class of pashas and beys who played an increasingly important role in Ottoman political and economic life became an attractive option career for most Albanians.

There was even a place for the non-Muslim. In classical Islamic tradition, non-Muslim religious communities that possessed an accepted, written holy book were granted a covenant of protection and were considered to be protected people. In return for this status they paid a special poll tax. The Ottomans continued this tradition. The three leading non-Muslim religious communities—the Jews, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Church—were established as recognized protected communities known as millets. Each millet was headed by its own religious dignitary: a chief rabbi in the case of the Jews, and patriarchs in the case of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities. In the millet system, each community was responsible for the allocation and collection of its taxes, its educational arrangements, and internal legal matters pertaining especially to personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In the pre-modern Middle East, identity was largely based on religion. This was a glories age of Albania under the rule of Ottomans, specially in frame of religious freedom reference.

The Ottomans were in 1912, defeated by Serb, Greek, and Bulgarian armies in what was later called the First Balkan War. Albania immediately proclaimed its independence from the Ottoman Empire on Nov. 28, 1912.. At a conference following the war, Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria, France, and Italy agreed to accept Albanian independence. In 1920 Albania was admitted to the newly formed League of Nations, thereby gaining international recognition as an independent state. From 1944 to 1990 Albania was a staunchly Communist state, and in 1991 Albania began its transition to a democratic state and market economy.

Albanians are among the most ancient ethnic groups in southeastern Europe. Their ancestors, the Illyrians, were an Indo-European people who settled in the Balkans long before the Greeks. Modern-day Albania consists almost exclusively of ethnic Albanians, who call themselves Shqipetars (Sons of the Eagle). In 2008 Albania’s population estimate was 3,619,778. In 2005 some 45 percent of the population lived in urban areas. Albania has had one of the highest birth rates in Europe since the end of World War II (1939-1945) while the death rate has been one of the continent’s lowest. A high rate of population growth was state policy under the Communist regime, which viewed it as essential to Albania’s strength and prosperity. The official language of Albania is Albanian. With 70 percent of its population Muslim. Orthodox Christians, living mostly in southern Albania, make up 20 percent of the population, and Roman Catholics, mainly in the north, make up another 10 percent. Religious divisions in Albania are not significant, and religious tolerance is such that members of the same family sometimes belong to different religions. The Communist government outlawed all religions in 1967, making Albania the world’s first officially atheist country. Places of worship were closed, church property was confiscated, religious services were banned, and religious practitioners were persecuted. The ban on religion was lifted in 1990. Many churches and mosques have been rebuilt or reopened, and a growing number of people express religious beliefs.

Under Communist rule, education was also used to indoctrinate students with Communist beliefs. Before entering college, students were required to work for one year; after finishing their studies, another year of work and military training was required. After Communism collapsed, reforms removed politics and ideology from schools, although schools continue to receive large subsidies from the state. Work and military requirements were also dropped.
Albania’s distinctive culture also borrows from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks, Slavs, and Italians, who conquered the Balkans. Despite the foreign influences, Albanian culture retains a remarkable degree of homogeneity (sameness in composition). Under Ottoman rule (16th century to 20th century), Turkish and Greek Orthodox stories and myths played an important part in Albanian folklore. Tales were passed down through the generations in the form of heroic songs, legends, and epics. This oral tradition helped the native language and national identity survive until written texts emerged.

Albania emerged from the Communist era as the poorest country in Europe. Under the Communists, the state controlled all economic activities; private ownership and private enterprise were forbidden. Because the state tended to invest in heavy industry, the popular demand for consumer goods was neglected. Furthermore, the constitution did not allow other countries to invest in or aid Albania. In the early 1990s Albania’s new, democratically elected leaders started a far-reaching program to reform Albania’s economy. Many state businesses were privatized, key decisions about production and demand were taken away from the state, and restrictions on trade and foreign investment were lifted. While living conditions for most Albanians have improved and consumer goods and services are more available now than they were under Communism, poverty is still extensive. Under the Communist regime, free labor unions were outlawed and the ruling party tightly controlled the workplace.

Under the Communists, agriculture was collectivized and prices were strictly controlled by the government. A series of land reforms beginning in 1991 transformed Albanian agriculture. State farms and cooperatives were taken apart, almost all cultivated land (21 percent of the country’s total land area) was privatized, and peasants were allowed to raise crops and livestock for profit. Important crops are wheat, corn, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, tobacco, fruit, and potatoes. Albanian farmers have shifted away from industrial crops like cotton, partly because the country’s textile industry is declining. Numbers of livestock, especially cattle, have grown, as has the dairy industry. Meat, more affordable than it was under the Communist regime, is becoming a more regular part of Albanians’ diets. In the mid-1990s about half of Albania’s exports were unprocessed goods, with food and cattle occupying a high percentage. However, in many villages mules and donkeys were still used for transportation and cattle still pulled farm tools. The country’s chief manufactured products include machinery and equipment, cement, soap, furniture, bricks, footwear, textiles, cigarettes, and electronic equipment.

Forests cover 28 percent of Albania, mostly with willow, alder, tamarisk, poplar, oak, maple, horn beam, lime, elm, beech, and conifer. The country’s forests provide wood and fuel, as they have for centuries. Since the end of Communist rule, much of Albania’s timber harvesting and processing has been performed either by privatized businesses once owned by the state or by new businesses. Albania is rich in natural resources. The southwestern part of the country is well endowed with natural gas and petroleum. The northeastern region has large reserves of mineral deposits including chromium, copper, iron, and nickel. Large deposits of lignite (a soft, brown coal) are found near Tirana, and natural asphalt is mined near Selenicë. For centuries the forests have provided fuel in wood and charcoal. Albania is rich in mineral resources, including large reserves of chromium, copper, and iron-nickel. The country also has smaller deposits of gold, silver, bauxite, magnesite, and zinc. Albania is the world’s third largest producer of chromium and the only country in Europe with significant reserves, estimated at more than 33 million metric tons of recoverable ore (5 percent of known world deposits).

From 1944 to 1991 Albania’s government was controlled completely by the Communist Party, known from 1948 as the Albanian Party of Labor (APL). The party’s control over society and public institutions, which was near-absolute, was reinforced by the Sigurimi, the secret police.  In 1985, Albania began to emerge from its isolation. Due to Afgan Islamic Jihad anti-Communist upheavals swept across Eastern Europe in 1989, and in 1990 Albania legalized opposition parties. In March 1991, after an interim constitution was approved. In November 1998 voters approved Albania’s first post-Communist constitution, which declared the country a parliamentary republic. The new constitution provides for multiparty elections and guarantees freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and organization. A president serves as Albania’s head of state and shares control of the armed forces with the prime minister. The president is elected by the parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, to a five-year term, and is limited to two terms. The president appoints the prime minister nominated by the party or coalition of parties that has a majority of seats in the Assembly. The Assembly must then approve the appointee. The prime minister is the head of government and chair of the Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The People’s Assembly consists of a single house. All citizens age 18 and older are eligible to vote. In addition to passing legislation, the Assembly approves the president’s appointment of the prime minister and the prime minister’s choices for the Council of Ministers. In 1992 Albania extensively reorganized its judiciary. The new court system is headed by the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the president to nine-year terms with the consent of the Assembly. Below the Supreme Court are the appeals courts (one for every district court) and below the appeals courts, the district courts. A separate constitutional court rules on constitutional matters and consists of nine members appointed by the president with the Assembly’s consent.

Albania is divided into regions (rrethe), which are subdivided into communes and municipalities. Popularly elected local peoples’ councils administer most of the economic, social, and cultural affairs of communes and municipalities. The regions are governed by regional councils. Each regional council includes the chairperson of each local council within the region, delegates from the local districts in proportion to the percentage of the region’s population each district represents, and a prefect appointed by the Council of Ministers.

In Albania Following the second world war, the Albanian Communist Party (ACP) began the total destruction of Islam. In 1945, all waqf properties were nationalized and hundreds of ulema were executed. The final blow came on Feb. 6, 1967, when Albania was proclaimed the world's first atheistic state. All of the country's 530 mosques were locked up. Those that were allowed to remain open were turned into museums, gymnasiums and even artist's studios. Although Christians make up only some 20% of Albania's population, they hold more than half of the membership of the Albanian politburo. The first Juma' prayer in over twenty years was held Nov. 23, 1990 in Tirana . A recent tour by a group of Tablighi Jama'at brothers late last fall had revealed that Islamic teachings were virtually unknown to the youth, and only a few elderly came forward to announce that they were Muslims. The jama'at brothers did note, however, that the youth showed great curiosity when the group made the Adhan and prayed. Although Islamic literature is now, for the most part, allowed, very few outside organizations have shown interest in having any sent to be distributed. In April 2011 Albania is given the membership of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and recently an Islamic University is inaugurated in capital city of Albania.
(28 November: National Day)