The most important leader of the Albanian national movement in the early part of the nineteenth century was Naum Veqilharxhi. Born in Vithkuq, near Korça, in 1797, In 1806, while still a boy, Veqilharxhi emigrated with his family to Romania, where he was exposed to ideas of nationalism and the enlightenment. Influenced by these ideas, Veqilharxhi joined the Greek revolutionary organization, Filiki Hetaria, and participated, along with many of his countrymen, in the rebellion of 1821 in the Romanian principalities led by Tudor Vladimirescu. The exposure to ideas of nationalism and the practical political experience they gained in Vladimirescu’s revolt, led Veqilharxhi and other Albanians living in Romania to begin to work for the cause of Albanian national development. As a lawyer in Braila, Veqilharxhi became wealthy and used his money to promote the development of a national consciousness among the Albanians. He became part of an intellectual circle of Albanians in Braila who believed that the development of language and culture among their countrymen was a necessary prerequisite for Albania to become a modern nation. As the Romanian historian Victor Papacostea observed, “Veqilharxhi and his companions formed a political group, the first which in the century of nationalities was engaged in the struggle for the Albanian idea.”
Western ideas of nationalism had a strong impact on Veqilharxhi. He expressed these clearly when he wrote, “The time has come to rouse ourselves and to reconsider our way of life, to change our course more radically and follow the example of the advanced nations throughout the world.” To do this, Veqilharxhi realized that the development of the written language was essential. Like other Albanian intellectuals, such as Pashko Vasa, he believed that education and the spread of culture were important prerequisites to any political struggle for national rights. As early as 1824, he began compiling a special Albanian alphabet of 33 letters. Veqilharxhi felt that rather than adopting the Latin, Arabic, or Greek alphabets, the Albanian language should have a special alphabet all its own to testify to its unique character. This alphabet also served a political purpose. It rejected the religious implications of the other three in an attempt to promote ethnic unity. Using this alphabet, Naum Veqilharxhi published the first Albanian primer, Evetor, in Romania in 1844. The book was distributed in southern Albania in Veqilharxhi’s home region of Korça and as far west as Berat by Naum Hogi Basile. The book received an enthusiastic welcome. In the spring of 1845 Veqilharxhi received a letter from Athanase Pascali and others of Korça requesting as many more copies of the book as possible and proclaiming that, “Our nation will count, thanks to this beginning, among the enlightened nations of Europe.” This led Veqilharxhi to publish a second edition of the work, Fare i ri evetor shqip [Completely new Albanian Primer], in 1845.
The enthusiastic response which these first Albanian primers received is evidence that a national consciousness had begun to form in the Albanian lands. Veqilharxhi was very encouraged. He travelled to Istanbul in 1850 and tried to organize cultural society to promote education and the printing of books in his native language. The Porte and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church opposed his efforts to foster Albanian culture. Both looked upon the Albanians as either Turks or Greeks depending upon their religious affiliation and they thwarted Veqilharxhi’s efforts to create an Albanian cultural society. In 1854, Naum Veqilharxhi was assassinated, poisoned by agents of the Patriarch. Despite his untimely death, his work for the development of the Albanian national consciousness could not be suppressed and marked an important step in the formation of modern Albania.
Recommended Reading: Stavro Skendi, The Albanian National Awakening.
For more on the history of Albania, see 550th Anniversary of the Death of the Great Albanian National Hero George Castriota Scanderbeg. See also Scanderbeg: George Castriota and the Albanian Resistance to Islamic Expansion in Fifteenth Century Europe available on Amazon and at HistriaBooks.com.
© 2018 by Histria LLC. All rights reserved.