by Antonina Zhelyazkova
The Albanian identity and the geographical environment... (2)

Even in modern times, scholars may hear from Albanians living in Kosovo, or in the valley of Bitola-Prilep, live recollections about the two reasons for their migration from Northern Albania ages ago: good opportunities for cattle-breeding and flight from blood feud, in which most of the Albanian clans have ever been involved.8

Only in places where the action of the Church could be persistently reinforced, was it able to tame these independent peasants, argues Braudel. But it took an incredibly long time. In the 16th century, the task was far from complete and this applies to Catholicism and Islam alike… Everywhere in the 16th century, the hilltop world was very little influenced by the dominant religions at sea level; mountain life persistently lagged behind the plain.9  One proof of this is the great ease with which, when circumstances did permit, new religions were able to make massive, though unstable, conquests in these regions. In the Balkan world in the 15th century, whole areas of the mountains went over to Islam, in Albania as in Herzegovina around Sarajevo. What this proves above all is that they had been only slightly attached to the Christian church. The same phenomenon was to recur during the war of Candia, in 1647. Large numbers of Cretan mountain dwellers, joining the Turkish cause, renounced their faith. Similarly, in the 17th century, when faced with the Russian advance, the Caucasus went over to Muhammad and produced in his honour one of the most virulent forms of Islam.10

Further on, when we go into the specifics of the spread and adaptation of Islam across the Albanian lands, we shall see as entirely applicable Braudel's theory about the "separate religious geography for the mountain world, which constantly had to be taken, conquered and reconquered. Many minor facts encountered in the traditional history take on a new meaning in this light."  11

The primitive originality and cultural isolation of the Albanian mountain settlements is a sound evidence that life from the plains and towns penetrated with difficulty the highland world. The feudal order as a political, social, and economic system and as an instrument of justice failed to catch in its toils most of the mountain regions, And those it did reach it only partially influenced. All imperial attempts to impose an administration and order of its own in the mountains of Albania ended in failure. F. Braudel asserts this is characteristic of any highland and "the observation could be confirmed anywhere where the population is so inadequate, thinly distributed, and widely dispersed as to prevent the establishment of the state, dominant languages, and important civilisations".12  The author gives as an example the blood feud tradition so typical of the Albanians (solely among them throughout the Balkan region). A study of the vendetta would lead us to the same conclusion: the countries where the vendetta was in force (and they were all mountainous countries) were those that had not been moulded and penetrated by medieval concepts of feudal justice: the Berber countries, Corsica, and Albania, for example.

Historical background. Ethnogenesis
The Albanian identity and the geographical environment.
George Kastrioti - Skanderbeg's resistance to the Ottomans. Heroicity as part of the Albanian individuality.
Ottoman colonisation and establishment of the new administration.
The Islamisation of the Albanians and its impact on the Albanian religious identity.
The Balkans Revival in the 19th century and the Albanian patriotic ideas
The two world wars, the occupation periods and the frustration of the Albanian national strivings and anticipations for independence.
The survival of the Albanian identities under Enver Hoxha. The role of the isolationist policy of the regime in Tirana.

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