The Albanian flag raising event was observed at the Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan this afternoon to mark the 111th anniversary of Albania’s independence day. Hosted by NYC Mayor’s Office including several city departments and coordinated by Mark Gjonaj, NY former Council Member who led the collaboration of dozens of Albanian American organizations, the ceremony gave emphasis to the fundamental values associated with independence and freedom. that we all share.
Experiencing the actual flag raising at Bowling Green in the Financial District has become an annual event for the community. The credit for its start goes to a couple of Albanian workers at an office building on the plaza back in 1992, as Chairman of Bowling Green Association Arthur Piccolo reminded the crowd that attended the ceremony. “Those workers,” Piccolo said, “collected the money to purchase an Albanian flag that had the double headed eagle and no star above it” – a symbol added in the communist era. “That was the first time the flag went up on Albania’s Independence Day in New York City,” he recalled. Harry Metuku of Metuku Law Firm and a Board member of the Pan Albanian Federation of America Vatra said that he attends the ceremony every year.
A few guest speakers underlined and amplified the power of symbolism. Recounting the political persecution of her family in communist Albania, Orchida Harizaj, Project Manager, Mayor’s Office of Ethnic and Community Media, called today’s event “a dream come true” in the context of the “pursuit of freedom and justice”. Mark Gjonaj, organizer and emcee of the program, highlighted the importance of celebrating not only a flag but “an identity”. “At this flag raising we come as one people… – as Albanians throughout the world,” he said.
Mayor Eric Adams greeted everyone by flashing the sign of the eagle as he approached the lectern. He praised the city with a large Albanian community dubbing it “the Albanian capital of the country.”
In his remarks, Edward Mermelstein, Commissioner of Mayor’s Office of International Affairs put the spotlight on the rise of the Albanian community from perhaps humble beginnings as “a typical New York story of resilience”. “Let today’s flag raising be a symbol of our shared aspirations,” said Commissioner Mermelstein.
The opening prayer by Imam Edin Gjoni of Albanian American Islamic Center of Queens called upon all “to reflect on the history that unites us,” focusing on two points: “the harmony and unity that define Albanian spirit” and “the heartfelt gratitude to American people” going back to President Wilson’s crucial support for Albania’s independence in the early years of 20th century.
Today’s event was attended by a number of dignitaries, public figures, city officials, as well as members of the NYPD Illyrian Society of Law Enforcement Officers. The flag raising set off a two-day celebration as tomorrow City Hall honors 111th year of Albania’s Independence Day.