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Not Necessarily A Current Event: The History of Albanians in Italy By Mary Dow

Due to the war in Kosovo, thousands of Albanians will soon be taking temporary refuge in nations around the world. Though the Albanian people may be a new addition to most countries, not so in Southern Italy.

For over 500 years, Albanians have played a vital role in the history of Southern Italy. Beginning in 1448, the King of Naples enlisted the help of General Demetrios Reres, of the Albanian army, to help him defeat a rebellious uprising in Naples. In exchange for their aid, Naples’s king declared the Albanian general governor of Calabria, granting land to the Albanians in the mountainous area called Catanzaro.

One generation later, the Kingdom of Naples once again needed Albanian military assistance. This time, the legendary Albanian leader, Skanderbeg, dispatched his troops to Italy to end a French supported insurrection. The skilled Albanian soldiers effectively saved Napoli and were rewarded with land east of Taranto in Apulia. A stronger alliance was formed between the two nations and Skanderbeg became the new commander of the Neapolitan-Albanian army.

The success of Skanderbeg and the powerful Albanian army eventually came to an end. Like much of the Mediterranean, Albania became subject to the invading Turks. Many of its people fled the invasion to Venice. Throughout the 1500’s, Venice and southern Italy was a refuge to Albanians. During these periods of concentrated Albanian immigration, many Albanian villages were formed in Calabria, Basilicata, Brindisi, and Sicily. The new immigrants often took up work as mercenaries hired by the Italian armies.

Many of these villages still exist in Southern Italy. Over 800,000 Albanians in Italy speak a language called ‘Tosca.” Tosca is a type of Albanian distinct to Italy. It is primarily Aberesh ( the native language of Albania), but also contains Italian and traces of Greek. Although Tosca is not an official language of Italy, it can be heard spoken at homes in Albanian-Italian villages like Civita. There are four Tosca dialects, all spoken in Southern Italy. Those dialects are Sicilian Albanian, Calabrian Albanian, Central Mountain Albanian, and Field Marino Albanian.

Throughout Calabria and much of Southern Italy, Albanian customs influence many local festivals. Celebrations for the harvest emphasizing mushrooms and chestnuts typify Albanian influence. In some of these celebration, nostalgia for the Albanian soil left behind weaves through the festivity.

So although Italy may be facing what seems like a new immigration problem due to the war in Kosovo, the presence of ethnic-Albanians in Italy has a long historical precedence.

Mary Dow, Los Angeles

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