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Nostalgia for the Bygones

Arbereshet
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Arbereshe 

Prior to the Ottoman invasion of Albania, the Albanians were all called Arbėreshė. After some 300,000 people left and settled in Italy, these Italian-born Albanians continued to use the term Arbėresh whilst those in Albania called themselves Shqiptarė.

The Arbėreshė originally lived in 'Morea' in the Epirus and in the Pindus mountains. They are descended from the proto-Albanian population dispersed throughout the western Balkans (see Arvanites). Between the 11th and 14th Centuries, the Arbėresh tribes moved in small groups towards the South of Greece (Thessaly, Corinth, Peloponnesus, Attica) where they founded colonies. Their military skill made them favourite mercenaries of the Serbs, Franks, Catalans, Italians and Byzantines.

The invasion of Greece by the Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century forced many Arbėreshė to emigrate to the south of Italy. Indeed, in 1448, King Alfonso V of Aragon, known as Magnanime (1396-1458), King of Naples, wanting to repress a rebellion of Italian lords, called on his ally, Gjergj Kastrioti i Krujės, known as "Skanderbeg", head of the Albanian Alliance. Several clans of Arbėreshė and Albanians were deployed to subdue the rebellion. Alfonso of Aragon rewarded them by giving them land in the province of Catanzaro.

In 1450, another force of Arbėresh intervened in Sicily and was established close to Palermo. Thus, the Arbėreshė contributed to the creation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

At the time of the War of succession of Naples, Ferdinand of Aragon again called on Arbėresh forces against the Franco-Italian armies, and Skanderbeg disembarked in 1461 in Brindisi. After having achieved success, the Arbėresh accepted land in Puglia, while Skanderbeg returned to organize Albanian resistance to the Turks, who had invaded Albania between 1468 and 1492. Part of the Arbėresh population emigrated to southern Italy, where the Kingdom of Naples granted other villages to them (Puglia, Molise, Calabria and Sicily).

A further wave of emigration, between 1500 and 1534, relates to Arbėreshė from central Greece. Employed as mercenaries by Venice, they had to evacuate the colonies of the Peloponnese with the assistance of the troops of Charles V, as the Turks had invaded that region. Charles V established these troops in Italy of the South to reinforce defense again the threat of Turkish invasion. Established in insular villages (which enabled them to maintain their culture until the 20th Century), Arbėreshė were, traditionally, soldiers for the Kingdom of Naples and the Republic of Venice, from the Wars of Religion to the Napoleonic invasion.

The final wave of Arbėreshė was in the 18th century with a group of Himariots (from the village of Himarė near Sarandė in southern Albania. These Himariots were fleeing a massacre instigated by Ali Pasha Tepelena, who has slaughtered 6000 Christian Albanians for refusing to convert to Islam. These refugees settled in Hora e Arbėreshėvet (Piana degli Albanesi) and subsequently founded the village of Sėndahstina (Santa Cristina Gelį).

The wave of migration from southern Italy to the Americas in 1900-10 depopulated approximately half of the Arbėreshė villages, and subjected the population to the risk of cultural disappearance, despite the beginning of a cultural and artistic revival in the 19th Century.

Since the end of communism in Albania there has been a wave of immigration into Arbėreshė villages by Kosovars and Shqiptar Albanians. Many differences are apparent between the new immigrants and the old diaspora in these villages, but there is still a sense of familiarity between them, who refer to each other as Jemi tė gjithė Kushėrinj edhe Gjaku jin i shprishur, ma na jemi arbėreshėt e ata janė shkjiptarėt. (we are all cousins and our blood is scattered, but we are the arbėreshė and they are the shqiptarė)

After the Ottoman invasion of Albania some 300,000 people left and settled in Italy.

 

Between the 11th and 14th Centuries, the Arbėresh tribes moved in small groups towards the South of Greece (Thessaly, Corinth, Peloponnesus, Attica) where they founded colonies.