ALTERNATE NAMES: Shqipëtarë, Shqipëria
LOCATION: Albania; Macedonia; Greece
POPULATION: 3.5 million
RELIGION: Evangelical Christianity (Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness); Roman Catholicism; Islam; Eastern Orthodox
The name "Albania" is derived from an ancient Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, who inhabited part of modern-day Albania from around 1225 BC to AD 200. Albanians call their country Shqipëri (Skip-AIR-ee), "Land of the Eagle."
For almost 500 years, Albania was controlled by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. The Albanians fought to resist being controlled by the Turks. Their national hero, Skanderbeg, led the Albanian people's resistance to the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s in at least twenty-five fierce battles. It was only after Skanderbeg died in 1468 that the Turks were able to claim victory. They then ruled for 445 years. The Turks were Muslims, and a majority of Albanians became Muslims during this period.
Albania won independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. Its present-day boundaries were confirmed following World War I (1914–18) at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
There are two major ethnic groups in Albania—the Ghegs and the Tosks. The main difference between the two groups is the dialect (variation on a language) of Albanian that they speak. The Ghegs live in the northern half of the country, and the Tosks live in the south.
As of the late 1990s, there were as many Albanians living just outside of Albania's borders as there were within it. Observers often describe Albania as a country completely surrounded by itself.
Albania is one of the Balkan countries that form a peninsula bordered by the Adriatic, Aegean, and Black Seas. The word "Balkan" means mountain in Turkish, and the Balkan countries take their name from the Balkan Mountains.
Albania is about the same size as the state of Maryland. Albania's dimensions are 230 miles (370 kilometers) long by about 90 miles (144 kilometers) at its widest point. Albania's western edge borders the Adriatic Sea, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the "boot" of Italy. The coastline features some areas of scenic white sandy beaches.
Along the coast the summers are hot and dry, while the winters are rainy.
Away from the coast, most of Albania is covered with mountains. The North Albanian Alps reach 8,500 feet (2,590 meters) above sea level. There is more rainfall in the mountains than along the seacoast.
Albania's population numbers approximately 3.5 million, and is projected to reach 3.6 million by 2000. In 1950, almost 80 percent of the population lived on farms. By the mid-1990s, many farmers had moved to the cities, leaving only about 60 percent of the population living in rural areas.
Albanian (Shqip) is one of Europe's oldest languages. It is one of the nine Indo-European languages. Albanian has seven vowel sounds: a (ah), e (eh), i (ee), o (oh), u (oo), ë (uh), and y (ew). When ë appears at the end of a word, it is sometimes silent.
Albanian uses the same alphabet as English, and adds the letter ç, representing the ch sound.
The two main Albanian groups—the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south—both speak Albanian but use different pronunciations. For example, when speaking the word është (is), a Tosk would say EH-shtah, but a Gheg would say AH-sht. Until World War II (1939–45), Gheg was the dominant dialect. After 1945, most political leaders were Tosks, and the government tried to make the Tosk dialect the standard. Many writers and political activitists spoke the Gheg dialect, and they kept it alive in the north of the country.
Many Albanians speak Italian because Italian television programs are broadcast in Albania. Southern Albania is near Greece, so many Albanians there speak and understand Greek. Young people, especially in the capital of Tiranë, understand some English.
Fairies, snakes, and dragons are among the main figures in Albanian mythology. Characters in Albanian folklore include the kucedër (a snake or dragon with many heads), the shtrigë or shpriga (witch), and the stuhi (a flame-throwing winged being that guards treasures). Zana are mythical female figures who help mountain folk in distress. To call someone a kukudh is the ultimate insult, since it means "a dwarf with seven tails who can't find rest in his grave."
Albania has no official state religion. The communist government (in power from 1946 to 1992) outlawed religion in 1967, and confiscated (took away) all church property. Freedom of religion in Albania was not restored until 1989–90. More than 70 percent of Albanians are Muslims. Muslims are followers of the religion known as Islam.
Islam has five "pillars," or practices, that must be observed by all Muslims: (1) praying five times a day; (2) giving alms (money or food), or zakat, to the poor; (3) fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan; (4) making the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca; and (5) reciting the shahada ("ashhadu an la illah ila Allah wa ashhadu in Muhammadu rasul Allah" ). This phrase means "I witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah."
About 20 percent of Albanians follow Christianity as members of Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.
Albanian Muslims observe Ramadan and the holy days of Islam. Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn to dusk, occurs in early January. Albanian Christians celebrate traditional holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Another holiday, Dita e Verës (Spring Day), comes from an ancient pagan holiday and is still celebrated in mid-March. Albanians throughout the world commemorate November 28 as Albanian Independence Day ( Dita e Flamurit ).
Most Albanians mark the major life events, including birth, marriage, and death, within either the Muslim or Christian religious tradition.
Albania has no funeral parlors. Wakes for the deceased are generally held at home for a period of two or three days before burial.
The Albanians are very expressive people. They commonly emphasize their statements by gesturing with their hands, shrugging their shoulders, and rolling their eyes upwards. When they want to respond "no" to a question, Albanians might nod their heads or shake their index fingers. To answer "yes," they might shake their head.
When two Albanian men meet, they embrace (hug) and kiss each other on the cheeks. It is common for them to walk along together with their arms linked. Men and women limit their greetings to a handshake; kissing in public is considered scandalous.
There is a greeting ritual when entering the home of an Albanian family. A female member of the host family serves the guest a qerasje (kehr-AHS-jeh) or treat. This consists of liko (LEEK-oh), a jam-like sweet, and a drink, such as Turkish coffee. It is considered rude to refuse these refreshments. However, it is acceptable to refuse the offer of a cigarette. The visitor then inquires about the health of each member of the host's family. Then the hostess inquires about the visitor's family. Only after this exchange is completed do people relax and begin normal conversation.
|Good afternoon||Merëdita||meer DEE tah|
|Do you speak English?||A flisni anglisht?||ah FLEAS-nee ahn-GLEESHT?|
When an Albanian gives the besa (BEH-sah)—pledged word or promise—it is considered sacred. Here are some greetings in Albanian:
Under communist rule from 1946 to 1992, many Albanians were forced to live in large, poorly constructed apartment buildings that provided only a couple of rooms for a family of four or more people. Many dwellings still lack central heating. There is a shortage of water, and there are frequent electric power outages in the larger cities. There is no regular rubbish collection, and cities are littered with trash.
There are no regulations against smoking in Albania. People feel free to smoke anywhere, including in public buildings, restaurants, and when visiting someone's home.
Albanian families tend to be small, with the average being two children. The Albanian husband does not generally do housework.
Both husband and wife believe that the household is the wife's responsibility. Elderly parents often live with their children, where they are treated with honor and respect. From the time he is born, the oldest son is trained to become the head of family when his father dies.
The fustanella, or Albanian kilt, was common dress for men until the 1400s. Common villagers and rural people wore a fustanella made from coarse linen or wool; more affluent men wore silk.
When Albania was ruled by the Ottoman Empire (1468–1912), many aspects of Turkish culture were adopted by Albanians. In rural areas, men may still wear the fez, a traditional Turkish cap, and a colorful cloth belt. Women may wear embroidered blouses in the Turkish style, with loose pants.
Traditional costume for women of southern Albania features a blouse with wide cuffs in fabric to match an embroidered vest. A pleated petticoat is worn under a full skirt, and an elaborately embroidered apron and sash complete the outfit. Gold chains cascade from the neckline, are gathered into the sash, and are tucked into a pocket at the right side of the skirt. A kerchief covers the woman's hair.
In the north, the sleeves of the blouse are wide, with lace embroidery along the edges. Embroidery on the apron is elaborate, but distinct from the style of southern Albanian women. Gold coins are worn on a headband and on several strands of necklace that adorn the bodice (upper part) of the dress.
In cities, conservative Western-style dress is more common. Albanians are modest, however. Neither men nor women wear shorts or other revealing clothing. Traditional clothing is seen mostly at theatrical or folk dance performances in cities.
Albanian cooking is influenced by the years of Turkish rule. Lamb, rather than beef or pork, is the most common meat. Lakror (LAHK-roar), a typical dish, is a mixture of eggs, vegetables or meat, and butter wrapped in thin, many-layered pastry sheets. Another popular food is fërgesë (FUHR-ges), a dish usually made with minced meat, eggs, and ricotta cheese. Bread is a major staple of the Albanian diet. In fact, the word for bread, bukë (bew-KUH), is the normal word for "meal." Many Albanians enjoy raki (rah-KEE), a clear, colorless brandy made from grapes.
About 88 percent of Albanians can read and write. This is one of the highest literacy rates in the Balkan region. School is mandatory from age seven through fifteen. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire forbade the teaching of the Albanian language until 1887; the first school (Mësonjtorja) that taught it was opened that year. Before then, all teaching was done in Turkish or Persian.
Albanians love music, and there are many symphony orchestras performing in cities in Albania. Albanian folk instruments include the civility (a long-necked two-stringed mandolin); the gërnetë (guhr-NET-uh), a type of clarinet; the gajda (gahj-dah) and bishnica (bish-NICK-ah), wind instruments; and the sharkia (shar-KEY-ah) and lahuta (la-HOO-tah), stringed instruments.
Ismail Kadarë is Albania's most famous writer. Kadarë's novel The General of the Dead Army was made into an Italian film in 1982.
Since the end of the communist era (1946–92), a new spirit of enterprise has developed. Albanians have been quick to form their own businesses. Since 1992, Albanians have had a five-day work week, in contrast to the six-day work week under communism. Women make up over 40 percent of the labor force.
Albania's favorite sport is soccer (commonly called "football" in Europe). Second to football is volleyball, in which both men's and women's teams have become regional champions. Basketball and tennis are becoming more and more popular. Chess continues to gain favor, especially with children.
After a late afternoon nap, Albanians enjoy a leisurely stroll along their wide streets on their way to meet friends and relatives for a late dinner.
Albanians love storytelling. In coffee shops throughout the country, men can be found entertaining each other with humorous stories or heroic tales. Television programs broadcast from Italy are also very popular.
Classical music performances are well attended in Albania, and discos (dance clubs) are popular with teenagers and young adults.
Albanian women and girls are known for qëndisje (kuhn-DIS-jeh), elaborate embroidery created to decorate their dwellings. Using a small loom known as a vegël (VEH-guhl), they weave colorful rugs. Albanians produce sweaters, socks, gloves, and other items, using wool, cotton, acrylics, and fur. Lace-making, ounë me grep (WEE-nuh MEH-grehp), is another traditional folk art.
Men usually work with metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum to craft decorative plates, wall hangings, and utensils. Women are increasingly involved with pottery, creating unique useful and sculptural pieces.
The democratically elected government of President Sali Berisha has been accused of using some of the same dictatorial methods as the former communist government. It has been accused of silencing political dissent, restricting freedom of the press, and rigging the national elections. Journalists who strongly criticize the government can be heavily fined or imprisoned. Human rights groups charge that some have even been tortured.
Albanian television and radio programming reflects the official positions of the government.
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