111th Anniversary of Albania’s Independence 28 November 1912-2023

The First Albanian Bektashi Tekke of America

26 November 2023

Opening Comments & Speech

by Franz-Llesh Grishaj

Honorable clerics, Baba Eliton Pasha, Ph. D and Imam Ledjon Cikalleshi the Head mufti of Korca, distinguished guests, Deputy Nikoll Rrok Camaj representing the Parliament of Montenegro, and the Albanian Rambo – Colonel Dritan Demiraj, Ph.D., recipient of the prestigious medal “Nderi i Kombit”, loyal Vatrans, faithful members of the Tekke, and ladies and gentlemen. Good evening!

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you, in the English language, just as Mr. Rafael Floqi, (descendant of Thanas Floqi, patriot, educator, and one of the signatories of the Proclamation of Albania’s Independence) did in Albanian. Together we commemorate Albanian Flag Day; last night at St. Paul’s Albanian Catholic Church and tonight at The First Albanian Bektashi Tekke of America. This evening’s celebration is sponsored by the oldest Albanian organization in the United States – VATRA, Pan Albanian Federation of America – the Michigan Branch headed by President Julian Cefa and the Tekke’s governing body headed by Baba Eliton Pashaj.

In retrospect, how “fitting and proper” for this partnership between the Tekke and VATRA. Especially for those of us who knew all too well the friendship between His Eminence Baba Rexheb and Xhevat Kallajxhiu, the famed editor of Dielli (The official newspaper of VATRA). It is worth mentioning that for the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Albanian Tekke, Baba Rexhep asked Xhevat to write the first book to be published on the Tekke. As a young boy, I can vividly recall the times when Xhevat would visit the Tekke and stay for days as Baba’s guest and streams of old timers would flock the Tekke and sit on the wooded benches under, what I perceived at the time, a tree resembling the one in the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale. Discussing first and foremost the plight of the Albanian nation. Among them, the likes of brothers Sami and Petrit Butka, Niajziu Bardha, Rudolf Kici, Sejdi Demneri, Hysni Aliko, Xhafer Elezi, Hasan Premtaj and so many other true Albanian nationalists and American patriots – May perpetual light shine upon them!

Albanian Independence Day:

“What to the Albanians is the 28th of November?”

Dear friends, and fellow compatriots of Ethnic Albania!

At this time, I would like to publicly thank the preparatory committee for bestowing me the honor in addressing you tonight as we commemorate the 111th Anniversary of the Independence of Albania!

Having celebrated Thanksgiving only three days ago, I feel compelled to kindly remind us that this national American holiday is founded on the premise of giving thanks to Almighty God just as the Pilgrims and Native Americans did in the fall of 1621.

Therefore, we also thank God for allowing us to come together in fellowship as we celebrate November 28th. Our declaration of independence from nearly 500 years of Ottoman occupation. A day which epitomizes the names of so many patriots starting from the Albanian National Awakening, who resurrected the stories of the legendary Gjergj Kastrioti – Skenderbeg, Albania’s national hero, all the way to the eve of The Declaration of Albanian Independence!

In Belgium, as a boy of almost 6 years old, I can recall the three prominent figures whose names would be read for their invaluable contributions in the realization of November 28, 1912: Ismail Qemali, Luigj Gurakuqi, and Isa Boletina. Years later, the valiant Dede Gjo Luli, who led The Uprising of the Great Highlands in 1911, a precursor of Albania’s Independence, would be included in this pantheon. Indeed, these names along with a plethora of song and unsung heroes and heroines, all noble men and women, who we honor year after year, without a doubt consisted of fierce warriors, outstanding statesmen, distinguished scholars, devout clerics but most of all genuine Albanian patriots who gave their all for The Albanian National Cause!

In remembering these most dignified cherished souls, how appropriate are the immortal words of the great Fr. Gjergj Fishta, OFM (the laureate poet of Albania):

Dersa t’mundem me ligjrue

E sa gjall me fryme un jam,

Kurr Shqypni, s’kam me t’harrue,

Edhe n’vorr me t’permende kam.

As long as I can speak (talk)

And with breath alive I am

Never Albania will I forget you

Even in my grave I will mention (speak of you) you.

Undoubtedly each one of them uttered these patriotic sentiments in their endeavors for Ethnic Albania. However, if we truly are to pay homage to these great Albanians, we must all have the courage to speak the truth, but speak it with love, and no longer live in the past glory of our forefathers. But in the current reality of our times.

Therefore, taking a page from the famous abolitionist Frederik Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” With utmost respect, sincerity and malice toward none, I ask you dear brothers and sisters, “What to the Albanians is the 28th of November?” It is indisputable that Albania’s Independence was an astonishing achievement especially considering the insurmountable internal and external forces against it! Yet, this remarkable accomplishment remains incomplete.

Consequently, the words of the renowned Naim Frasheri (patriot, national poet, and righteous son of Bektashism) so eloquently illustrates this harsh, but irrefutable fact:

Mjerisht! A do të zbardhë dita

a do të jetoj ndonjëherë për të parë

Atdheu im i dashur nënë

Të lumtur, të begatë, me të vërtetë të lirë!

Alas! Will the day be dawning,

will I ever live to see

My beloved mother country

Happy, prosperous, truly free!

As these words were true when written almost a century ago in describing nearly 500 years of Ottoman subjugation, they also rang true under the roughly 50 years of Stalinist rule in Albania and continue to ring true today with ethnic-Albanian lands under Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. Furthermore, an unfortunate truth that must be acknowledged, since the fall of Stalinism and the demise of the former-Communist Yugoslavia, for the most part, it is oligarchic rulers who govern the respective Republics of Albania and Dardania.

It is equally important that we should remind the Globalists of today, that your predecessors, the Great European Powers of the past orchestrated the unjust partition of Albania’s territorial integrity with the Treaty of San Stefano (1878), the Congress of Berlin (1878), the London Conference of Ambassadors (1913), and the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919). These shameful and disgraceful acts prompted Fr. Fishta, to write the following in total despair for his beloved Mother Albania being annexed to its land hungry neighbors:

Uh! Evropë, ti kurva e motit!

Që i re mohit, besës së Zotit!

Po, á ky asht sheji i qytetnisë?

Me da token e Shqypnisë,

Për me mbajt klyshtë e Rusisë?

Oh! Europe, you whore of the times!

Your oath to God you have denied!

Yes, is this the sign of civilization?

To divide Albania’s lands

So you can satisfy the cubs [dogs] of Russia?

Friends and allies we need. But, we, in clear conscious, cannot allow our allies or our foes become masters of the Albanian Cause! However, we permit Globalists to transform the traditional Albanian national identity into something totally alien to our ethos. We have a history, a culture and tenets that have sustained us through centuries. Why then should we tolerate the outside world to impose foreign beliefs contrary to ours? Have we not learned from the consequences of Turkish invasion, Stalinist tyranny, Slavic oppression and Greek domination that have caused irrefutable damage to our nation as a whole?

It seems like yesterday that we just commemorated the Centennial of the Independence of Albania. Yet, besides acknowledging our legitimate accomplishments during the festivities regarding The Albanian National Cause, what have we done since? I dare say, “Not much, if anything at all.” The Albanian Cause will forever be the realization of an Ethnic Albania! One that is free and representing the entire Albanian nation! That means all Albanians! Nevertheless, the Albanian politicians in Albania and Dardania have ignored the plight of their brethren who although living on their ancestral lands are unfortunately under foreign occupation.

Has our memory faded to the point that we either, no longer remember, care, or value the sacrifices made for the common good of the Albanians by the Albanians?

Vatran’s have we forgotten Fan Noli’s clarion call, “Mbahu nene mos ki frike, Se ke djemte ne Amerike!” A motto that inspired young Albanians to leave their newly established lives in America, and go fight for Albania’s independence?

How about the clandestine missions’ where Albanian political emigres voluntarily returned to liberate Albania from Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship? If I may, members of this very Tekke were among the ranks of these military expeditions because they, like Baba Rexheb himself, were ardent supporters of Mid’hat Frasheri’s Decalogue which called for a free, ethnic and democratic Albania.

Need I mention the historic date of June 16, 1977, which marks the first Albanian anti-communist peaceful rally in Washington, DC on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters of the then-Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia?

As a 13-year -old, accompanied by my father and maternal uncles, I along with some of you here tonight, like Mr. Vasel Pjeter Ujkaj, participated in this peaceful demonstration organized by Lidhja Kosovare (under the leadership of Prof. Luan Gashi, Hafez Jusuf Azemi and Ajet Rushiti). At the encouragement of Prof. Luan Gashi, I recall giving my first impromptu speech in front of the Capitol steps.

This was the momentous event that opened the flood gates to other countless rallies. Immediately after the Albanian student protest in Prishtina (March and April 1981), we found ourselves marching in DC, New York, Chicago and Windsor in solidary with them. Again, we protested together in front of the Albanian UN Mission supporting the pro-democratic protests in Shkoder, Kajava and Tirana (1990-1991). During the Kosova War (February 1998-June 1999), once again we hit the pavement this time against Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing campaign. We also rallied on behalf of our people under Montenegrin subjugation, specifically the part of Malesi consisting of the surrounding highlands of Tuzi. Most recently, demonstrating against the injustices committed by the chauvinist government of Greece toward the Cams.

I say we, not boasting about my participation as I was only taking my father’s lead, but I say we because together we have exercised our constitutional rights to assemble, to protest, to petition, and to promote our legitimate concerns about Albanian issues to the best of our abilities.

Except for paying them homage and lifting our prayers we cannot say anything to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Hence, I pause. But! What do we say to those who endangered their very lives in the Prishtina protest? And we know that we have them amongst us. What do we say to those who risked their lives by crushing the last bastion of Stalinism with their massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Albania? And we have them in our mist as well – look no further but to the Torch of Democracy, Alfons Dede Grishaj. Please accept my apology for being repetitive, but what do we say to those Albanians who left the comfort of their daily lives for the battlefields in Dardania against the invading Serbian army? And we also have them in our community.

I believe what we say is, “God bless you all as you have served with sacred honor. But we still have one more task at hand. The undertaking is that we get our own house in order!” We, as Albanians, must challenge the status quo of our political leaders in Albania and Dardania. By demanding in the words of President Lincoln, that they work in establishing a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”! Albania and Dardania must belong to its people, and not the people belonging to the government. By no means is this a blanket statement on all politicians. Nevertheless, it is an indictment on those who keep getting richer at the expense of the people, and those who exchange the national interests of Albanians for their personal gains.

How and when will the ideas founded in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution of creating “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” start in Albania?

Unless a New Albanian National Awakening occurs, I believe the answer is simply not now, or more accurately never! There can never be “a more perfect Union” without the reunification of the Albanian nation! And without the silent majority, peacefully and with resolve, rise as the mythical phoenix from the fire and ashes the indomitable spirit to inspire an Ethnic Albania will remain buried under the ruins. Therefore, we must demand and hold our political leaders accountable. If they are unwilling, or incapable of continuing the legacy left behind by our forebears. They do not merit the honor of serving the people!

With respect to those who say, “The time is not right.” I politely ask, “If not now, when will the time be right as 111 years have already passed?” For those who say, “It’s not up to us.” Again, I politely respond, “If not us, then who will take on the task that belongs to the Albanians?”

In conclusion, if “What to the Albanians is the 28th of November?” is to be relevant then sacred honor must prevail! The impossible is always possible, because “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) The psalmist assures the faithful when he writes, “The eyes of God are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.” (Psalm 34:15) The Albanian National Cause is most definitely righteous! Therefore, let us no longer be content to celebrate Albanian Flag Day as we have done in the past. Instead, we must persistently endure in demanding that the proper government officials of Albania and Dardania do all they can, socially, culturally, economically, politically, and diplomatically to begin laying a foundation for the reunification of the Albanian Nation!

I sincerely thank you for your patience and attentiveness!

God bless the Albanians!

God bless Ethnic Albania!

God bless our adopted homeland – The United States of America!

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