Albanians - History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological and prehistoric evidence for Illyrian settlements on Albanian territory date from the second Millennium B.C. At first influenced by ancient Greek civilization, Illyria belonged to the Roman Empire after 168 B.C. From the fourth to the sixth centuries the Illyrians suffered Hun and Gothic invasions, and from the sixth century Slavs began to settle on Illyrian territory. In Kosovo the plains settlers withdrew into the mountains, thus laying the historical foundations for modern territorial disputes between Serbs and Albanians in Yugoslavia. From 750 the area was under Byzantine rule, and from 851 to 1014 it belonged to the Bulgarian Empire. Later came the Normans (1081-1185) and Neapolitans (the "Regnum Albaniae" of Charles of Anjou in coastal Albania, 1271), and the country became part of the Great Serbian Empire from 1334 to 1347 under Stefan Dušan. The Venetians then claimed the area until 1393, when the Ottoman Empire absorbed it; the area finally declared its Independence in 1912.

Today Albania is relatively homogeneous ethnically. The 1976 Albanian constitution recognizes national minorities and guarantees minority rights concerning language, folklore, and tradition, but not religion. The Greeks (5.2 percent) live mainly in the Albanian Epirus. Thousands of Albanian Greeks have gone to Greece since the end of 1990 over a border that had been virtually closed for decades. The Balkan Romanians (0.5 percent), also known as Aromuns or Vlachs, are regarded as an assimilated minority. Their earlier nomadic pastoralism came to an end through restrictions on their mobility after World War II, when political borders were closed, and through the socialist government's collectivization of agriculture. In the thirteenth century, Vlach pastoralists, artisans, and traders founded their capital, Voskopoja, in southern Albania, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became a center for international trade and cultural relations (with Venice, Vienna, and Budapest) with an Educated class. More than 100,000 Vlachs were still recorded in Albania around the turn of the century. There are also groups of Macedonians (0.4 percent) and Montenegrins (0.2 percent). The Gypsies (less than 0.2 percent), both Sinti and Roma (Albanian evgjitë, a reference to a formerly assumed Egyptian origin, or kurbetë ), were compelled by state programs to settle down permanently. In the cities they live in apartment blocks or single dispersed apartments, though separate residential quarters for Gypsies can still be found. Traditionally basket makers, smiths, and tinkers, today they are employed as street cleaners or in road construction, being Socially marginalized. A very few Blacks (Albanian arigi ), the descendants of Ottoman slaves, also live in Albania. Many Jews were taken from Albania to Israel in January 1991 by Operation Flying Carpet.

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