Suliots and their ‘epitome state of Albania’ - Albanian History & Culture

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Suliots and their ‘epitome state of Albania’

Suliots and their ‘epitome state of Albania’

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ne: 30-06-2010, 13:22:35
Suliots and their ‘epitome sate of Albania’
April 26th, 2010

With naming of Ali Pasha dervendji an effort to centralize all power into his own hands began. He commenced a series of measures to weaken the influence of Othoman Turks holding property, thus to weaken the power of sultan in Thessaly and parts of Macedonia; Epirus/Lower Albania did not have a Turkish presence. The effect of this was that civil and fiscal business passed into hands of the Greeks, while the Albanians saw an extension of their military authority.

Albania did not have a significant Turkish presence, but it offered another problem. Several Albanian tribes retained the privilege of bearing arms. One of these Tribes in southern Albania was that of Suli, the subject of this essay.
Suliots were a part of the Albnian Chams/Tsamidhes(gr.). William Martin Leake indicates that Suliots always spoke Albanian at home, although the men and most woman could speak Greek.1 Their community was divided into faras (Albanian for clans/kinship). At its height, the Suliot community consisted of 450 families. “The traditions of the Suliots, with respect to the origin of their community, did not extend farther back than towards the middle of the seventeenth century. The manner in which it was formed is variously related. Some persons (and their opinion is not unplausible) imagine that the nucleus of the Suliote population consisted of Albanians, who, after the death of Scanderbeg, sought refuge in this inaccessible district from the despotism of the Turks. By some it is said that, about a century and a half ago, some goat and swine herds, who had led their animals to feed on the heights of Kiaffa, were struck with the eligibility of the site, and occupied it with their families; while others affirm, that the primitive settlers were shepherds from the neighbourhood of Gardiki, who fled hither, with their flocks, to escape from the tyranny of their Ottoman masters. It is obvious, that the last two stories are by no means incompatible with each other.” 2 A constant problem with western philhellenes was that they were ready to believe any hearsay coming from the Greeks.

Being that their land was small and bore arms, they formed a military caste to protect the agricultural peasants in their richest parts of territory. They eventually extended their responsibilities to include protection of Christians and open their ranks for other Christian Chams to join. They gradually acquired the reputation of being the best warriors among the Albanians. As the orthodox Greeks were at that time generally as little disposed to oppose the sultan’s government as they were to unite with the Catholic Venetians, the pashas of Albania and northern Greece favoured the military ardour of the orthodox communities.” 3 To advance their own prestige, individual Suliot leaders made alliances with foreign states.

Upwards of sixty villages and hamlets paid tribute to Suliots. Suliots in many ways ran an autonomous entity. Historian George Finlay that this “sate of Suli now became an epitome of the state of Albania”.4
By the time Ali Pasha assumed the pashalik, the Suliots had pushed their forays into the plain of Joannina. This, at a time when Ali Pasha resolved to destroy all independent communities in his pashalik, whether Mussulman or Christian. As he commenced his attacks on Suliots, a typical Albanian phenomenon occurred. All their neighbors were alarmed and grievances against them were forgotten. Mussulman (Albanian) beys supplied them secretly with aid. Aid also came Venetian governors of Parga and Prevesa who encouraged them to defend their independence.5
As continuous attacks on the Suli ended in failure, and Suliot confidence increased, the Suliots “began to fancy that their alliance was a matter of importance to the Emperor of Russia and the Republic of Venice, and exercised their authority over the Chrisians in their territory with increased sverity, and plundered their Mussulman neighbors with grater rapacity.6 By 1799, The Suliots lost their popularity, and neither the Christian cultivators of the soil, nor the Greeks in general, showed much sympathy with their cause. Indeed, many Greek captains of armatoli served against them in the army of Ali.7 Ali was able to split Suliot leadership and penetrate throughout the Suliot stronghold. In December 1803 they signed their capitulation, and the resisting Suliots were allowed to retire to Parga.

Pouqueville describes the Suliot departure more specifically. “At last massacred, subdued, and driven from their homes by the Turks, the rear-guard, the remainder of the Schypetar or Albanian Christians found and formed for themselves a place of retreat and security, on Cape Chimaerium, where now stands the citadel of Parga. The Venetians, then masters of the sea-coast of Epirus and of the Ionian islands lying before it, rejoiced to have a settlement of men of such acknowledged enterprise and valour as the Souliotes of Parga, to act as an advanced-guard, if not as an effectual barrier between them and the Turks, took the new settlers under their particular protection.8
The Suliots who escaped to Parga passed over into the Ionian Islands, where they were hospitably received by the Russians. Many entered the Russian service; but when the treaty of Tilsit transferred the possession of the Ionian Islands to France, most of the Suliots passed from the Russian into the French service. Some quitted Corfu with the Russians.
During their 17-year stay away from their native villages, they found themselves in close contact with Greeks, and became dependent for their existence on the pay as Greek soldiers. Their characteristics as an Albanian tribe were gradually lost. The principles of civil eqauality and of the brotherhood of all the orthodox had been imprinted on their minds.9
In the year 1820, the Othoman empire seemed to be on the eve of dissolution. Ali Pasha was in open rebellion and with reasonable hope of establishing an independent throne in Albania. An insurrection of the Greeks was also awaited.

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#1 ne: 30-06-2010, 13:23:45

Captain of Suliote Albanians, illustration from Canto II of ‘Child Harold’s Pilgrimage’, 1822
As Ali Pasha’s relations between Constantinople deteriorated, Sultan saw a way of counterbalancing the situation by offering to put the Suliots back in their old possessions. The Suliots were first offerd to join the army in Jonnina which they agreed. But unhappy with the way they were treated, they entered into an alliance with Ali and were allowed to take possession of Kiapha in Suli.
By the end of 1821, Suliots were still allying with Ali’s troops and participated in common attacks against Turkish forces. Finlay indicates that as of this stage of development, all Suliots wanted was “securing the independent possession of Suli.”10
But the balance of forces was changing. Ali was still under attack (by the Turks), Morea had revolted and Greek forces had taken Acarnania and Etolia. As Ali’s forces weakened, Suliots, who could not be supplied, began again to to plunder ‘Christian’ cultivators of the soil, who in turn sought protection from the Turks, thus allowing the Turks to extend Turkish authority over whole of the Suli territory. With no other alternative at hand, the Suliots turned to Greeks for assistance. Even other supporters of Ali were persuaded that Ali’s interest required the support of the Greeks.11

Foto Xhavella
In describing this Suliot association, George Finlay mentions that “They were drawn into the vortex of the Greek Revolution without their forming any preconceived design to aid the Greeks, just as they had been led by circumstances to aid their enemy Ali Pasha. But, once engaged in the cause, they embarked in it with their usual vehemence, and formed the van of its warriors, sacrificing their beloved Suli, and abandoning all the traditions of their race, to join the modern Greeks and assume the name of Hellenes.”12
Greeks have made much to claim Suliots resistence as well as its main heroes, Foto Xhavella(1774-1811) and Marko Bocari(1790-1823) as part of their history, but as we saw above, the Suliot resistence was authentically Albanian and historically characteristic of other Albanians challenges to Ottoman domination. The Greek claim is fake and masks chauvinistic designs.
Suliots join many other Albanian tribes and communities that rose and bravely faced their challenges, but found these challenges overwhelming and had to succumb to them. By joining the Greeks in the struggle against Turkish domination, they chose the best alternative the situation offered. They were not the only Albanians to do that, even Muslim Albanians had joined. Greek-Albanian relations had a long tradition of cohabitation, but the turbulent, and for the Albanians unfair, history that accompanied the 19th century made clear that the Albanians again were at a disadvantage in the joint struggle with their ever conspiring neighbors. If cooperation with Greeks ended, as George Finlay states, with sacrifice of the “beloved Suli” and abandonment of Suliot “traditions of race” it was due to the Albanian tendency of “embarking (on their struggles) with their usual vehemence” and affirming themselves in the ideals of the struggle, but circumstances relegated them to subservient roles, a role which the Albanians have frequently played.
1. Leake, William Martin, Research in Greece, 1814, p. 414
2. Devenport, Richard A., The life of Ali Pasha of Tepeleni, 1827, p. 89
3. Finlay, George, History of the Greek Revolution, 1861, p. 57
4. Ibid., p. 54
5. Ibid., p. 54
6. Ibid., P. 57
7. Ibid., P. 59
8. Pouqueville, Charles Hugues Laurent, Travels in Epirus…, p. 22
9. Finlay, p. 103
10. Ibid., p. 111
11. Ibid., p.112-113
12. Ibid., p. 103

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