by Antonina Zhelyazkova
Kastrioti-Skanderbeg's resistance to the Ottomans. Heroicity as part of
the Albanian individuality...(4)
We shall not dwell upon the detailed chronology of the intricate military strategies and battles that maintained the independence of the League over several decades in this study. It is of key importance that the successful military operations conducted by Skanderbeg against the Ottoman Empire, allowed him, as a person, and the Albanians, as an ethnos, become an important political agent in the region, particularly in the eyes of the European Christian nations, which were well-aware of the fact that it was the Albanians' stubborn resistance that checked the victorious march of Islam on the West. Skanderbeg maintained permanent foreign relations with Hungary, the Republic of Ragusa, the Holy See, the Kingdom of Naples. Together with his establishment as an international factor, Skanderbeg tried to strengthen the centralist principle in the Albanian League, to consolidate further its human and material resources. It was of particular importance for him to reduce to a minimum the destructive force of clan particularism. The marriage contracted with Andronika, the daughter of Arianit-Comnenos, contributed to a stronger union between these two distinguished aristocratic dynasties. Skanderbeg punished the hesitant princes, deprived them of their possessions, and granted feuds to officers and soldiers, who had distinguished themselves, thus forming a new military aristocracy. All these steps were aimed at the foundation of a single centralised Albanian state.25
The efforts to develop statehood met with the princes' opposition, for they placed their family interests above anything else. The League's unity began to crack, some of the princes, who feared for their personal authority and possessions, openly took the side of the Ottomans, or declared they were leaving the Albanian League. The treachery of the Albanian aristocrats reached its culmination in 1455-1457, when the League was abandoned by the clans of Arianit, Dukagjin, Balsha, even Skanderbeg's closest companions - Moïse Golem and Hamza Kastrioti.26
Sultan Mohammed II took advantage of the break-up of the League and in 1457 sent against Skanderbeg an army of 80'000 soldiers, under the command of Ishak Bey Evrenoso?lu, joined also by troops led by defector Hamza Kastrioti. The Ottoman forces raided in, burning down and devastating Skanderbeg's estates and advancing on Lezhë. Most of the Albanian lands fell in Ottoman hands. The majority of Skanderbeg's companions attached themselves to the invaders. On 7 September Skanderbeg attacked by surprise and, employing his unsurpassed art of war, inflicted heavy casualties on the Ottoman troops, who had been too confident in their own victory and safety. Many of the Ottoman warriors were killed or taken hostage. Captured was also Hamza Kastrioti.
The brilliant victory over an enemy of highly superior numbers went down in history as the battle of Albulena and had a very big military and political significance. It preserved the independence of the Albanian territories, and, in 1460, Mehmed II even proposed a three-year armistice to Skanderbeg, which the latter accepted. At the same time, it put an end to the princes' hesitations, eliminated their separatist leanings, consolidated once again the League and Skanderbeg's authority.
The international prestige of the Albanian League was
on the rise. In the 1460s, unmolested by the Ottomans, Skanderbeg engaged
in the rivalries between the dynasties of Aragon and Anjou. Ridiculed by
the Prince of Tarenta saying that his troops would be of little help to
Ferdinand I of Aragon, Skanderbeg responded by the notable phrase, which
became symbolic of the representation of the Albanian heroicity: "Remember
that we are the same Epirotes who have fought in different times with the
Romans on this very soil on which you now tread, and always in honour and
glory, and not in disgrace".27
Skanderbeg crossed into Italy in August 1461 with 1,000 cavalry and 2,000
infantry, dispersed Ferdinand's enemies and stabilised his throne, after
which he returned to Albania, having done with credit his duty to Ferdinand's
father - Philip of Aragon.28
George Kastrioti - Skanderbeg's resistance to the Ottomans. Heroicity as part of the Albanian individuality.
The two world wars, the occupation periods and the frustration of the Albanian national strivings and anticipations for independence.