The Albanians are an ethnic group primarily associated with Albania, Kosovo and the Albanian language. About half of today's Albanians live in the Republic of Albania, with the second largest group living in the UN administered province of Kosovo (an autonomous province of Serbia), central Serbia, Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia. There are also Albanian minorities and immigrant communities in a number of other countries.
Due to the high rate of migration of various ethnic groups throughout the Balkans in the last two decades, exact figures are difficult to obtain. A tenuous breakdown of Albanians by location is as follows:
- 3,385,000 in Albania according to CIA World Factbook
- 2,179,000 in Serbia, of which 2,112,000 in the province of Kosovo (the OSCE estimates)
- 31,000 in Montenegro (according to the 2003 census; an estimated 50,000 by Albanian accounts).
- 509,000 in the Republic of Macedonia (from the 2002 census).
- more than 2,033,000 Albanians in Italy, the majority having arrived since 1991. See also Arbëreshë.
- In Greece, there were more waves of immigration from Albania, from the 11th century to the 1990s. As such, they are divided into different groups:
- Cham Albanians: an unknown number reside in the Greek region of Epirus (Çamëria in Albanian) - there were thought to be around 19,000 before the end of World War II. The Muslim Cham Albanians left Greece for Albania and Turkey in 1945; the exact reasons for their departure vary depending on source. According to Greek sources, it was to avoid the impending military court sentences, a consequence of their collaboration with the Italian/German occupying forces. Albanian sources claim they were forcefully expelled by the EDES troops of the Greek resistance for having collaborated with the Italian/German occupying forces.
- The Arvanites are the descendants of ethnic Albanian immigrants from 11th century to the 15th century. They have been largely assimilated into the dominant Greek society and generally do not self-identify as Albanians.
- Albanian nationals who arrived during the 1990s, mainly as illegal immigrants. According to the 2001 census, there were 443,550 holders of Albanian citizenship in Greece. The Watson Institute rose this number to 600,000 in 2004 .
- In Turkey: demographers estimate up to 5 million of Albanian descent . However, many Albanians, who immigrated from their homelands to Turkey, have been largely assimilated and may not necessarily espouse ethnic Albanian affiliation. Turkey does not recognize any minorities other than those mentioned in the Treaty of Lausanne, and thus does not compile official census figures for ethnic Albanians.
- In Australia: by birthplace of individual, the total number of persons born in Albania is 1,451. By ancestry, the count of responses with Albanian ancestry is 10,459 according to 2001 Census of Population by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) regarding Albanians living in Australia.
- Albanians living permanently in Scandinavia:
- In Ukraine, 5,000 Albanians.
- In Egypt: 18,000 Albanians, mostly Tosk speakers. Many are descendants of the soldiers of Mehmet Ali. A large part of the former nobility of Egypt was Albanian in origin.
- In the United States: 114,000 Albanians, according to the latest 2000 US Census.
- In Canada: 14,935, Albanians from Albania as of the 2001 census.
There are two major dialect groups, the Ghegs, to the north of the Shkumbin River, and the Tosks, to the south. Kosovar Albanians are Ghegs. There is a large intermediate area between the two regions, which includes the capital, Tirana.
The Ghegs, who make up two-thirds of Albanians, are less intermarried with non-Albanians than the Tosks, who throughout history were more often subjected to foreign rule and other foreign influences. In the past, the Ghegs were organized in clans and the Tosks in a semifeudal society. Before World War II the Ghegs dominated Albanian politics, but after the war many Tosks came to power because the new Communist government drew most of its support from Tosks.
During Enver Hoxha’s regime in Albania, the cultural and economic differences between the Ghegs and the Tosks were suppressed. The 1997 civil disturbances in Albania largely followed these ethnic lines, with Ghegs supporting Berisha and Tosks opposing him.
Contribution to humanity
Prominent individuals from Albania have included the defender of Albania during the mid-15th century Skenderbeg, the writer Ismail Kadare, the painter Ibrahim Kodra, the composer Simon Gjoni, the Nobel Prize winner Ferid Murad, the Olympic athlete Klodiana Shala, the Roman Catholic missionary Mother Teresa and Pope Clement XI.Other well known individuals include the prime minister of the Ottoman Empire Ferhat Pasha and Mehemet Ali the viceroy of Egypt. John Belushi and his brother Jim Belushi were of Albanian parents who immigrated in the USA after WWII. Also the American actress Eliza Dushku is born of an Albanian father and a Danish mother.
Most Albanians speak the Albanian language, a member of the Indo-European language family. There are several variants of Albanian. The two main Albanian variants are Tosk and Gheg. Some members of the Albanian diaspora do not speak the language (mostly in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom) but are still considered Albanian by ethnic origin or descent. Non-Albanians who studied the Albanian language include prominent individuals such as Franz Bopp, Norbert Jokl and Robert Elsie.
Since Ottoman rule, the majority of Albanians have been Muslim. Most of these are Sunni Muslims, and a minority (20% of total Muslims) are Bektashi. Significant numbers of Albanians are Albanian Orthodox or Roman Catholic, and some have no formal religious affiliation. This rich blend of religions has rarely caused religious strife and fanaticism; today people of different religions are freely intermarrying. For most of its history, Albania has had a noticeable Jewish community. Most of this community was saved by the Albanian people during the Nazi occupation . According to Yad Vashem's database, 67 Jews lost their lives in Albania. The German test for Jewish identification was circumcision (ie. if men were circumcised, then they were Jews). However, Muslims were also circumcised and due to the large population of Muslims in Albania this test was not valid. Furthermore, Germans remained for only 14 months in Albania, from September 1943 to November 1944. By that time, news on the Holocaust began spreading, causing more Jews to flee. The majority of Albanian Jews have left to settle in Israel, but a small number still remain..
The flag of Albania depicts a double-headed eagle on a red background, which was raised by the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg in his Albanian rebellion against the Ottoman Turks and which bore Skanderbeg's heraldic emblem. The Albanians are called Shqiptarët (originally Shqyptarët) in the Albanian language, which freely translates as "The Sons of Eagles".
The Albanians are descendants of ancient Balkan people, but the exact identification is still under debate, see Origin of Albanians. Most historians and linguists support either an Illyrian or Daco-Thracian origin. They were first mentioned in the Balkans in 1043 AD. Islam replaced Christianity as the majority religion during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule from the 15th century until 1912, though Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism are also practiced. Among the poorest of Europe's nationalities, in the latter half of the 20th century Albanians experienced the highest rate of natural population growth of any of Europe's major indigenous ethnic groups, increasing their numbers from 1.5 million around 1900 and fewer than 2.5 million in 1950.
Albanian is also a term often given to what would otherwise be called an ethnic Albanian. This is usually someone who is considered by himself or others to be Albanian or of Albanian descent. Several distinguishing characteristics might be:
- Cultural connection with Albanian culture
- Speaking the Albanian language
- Having ancestors who lived in Albania or an area out of which the current Albanian state was formed (i.e. the occupied lands that were part of the Ottoman Empire)
Albanians outside Republic of Albania
Both Kosovo (a Serbian province) and the western regions of the Republic of Macedonia have in recent years seen armed movements (Kosovo Liberation Army, UCPMB, Macedonian NLA) aiming either for independence, greater autonomy, or increased human and political rights.
The fate of Kosovo remains uncertain owing to the reluctance of the Albanian majority to contemplate a restoration of Serbian sovereignty and of the United Nations and NATO to separate the territory definitively from Serbia in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from 1999.
The situation in the Republic of Macedonia seems to have been resolved by giving the Albanian minority greater government representation and the right to use the Albanian language in education and government.
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