Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Search of Faiku

I was pleased to be a participant on the panel discussion "Remembering Faik Konitza: An Albanian Luminary" at Harvard last week that was so ably planned and chaired by PhD candidate, Ardeta Gjikola. The panel was created in part because Faik Konitza, was himself a graduate of Harvard University in 1912. I had selected as my topic "In Search of Faiku" that described a 1988 visit to the village of Konitza in northern Greece with my wife, Jane, and our young son, Zachary, to locate the birthplace of our illustrious Albanian patriot, Faik Konitza.

Also speaking about Faik Konitza was panel participant, V. Rev. Arthur Liolin, Chancellor of the Albanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America, whose topic "Impressions on Konitza" presented a series of interesting and little-known information about Faiku when he served as Minister of Albania to Washinton, D.C. in the 1930s and about Konitza's many joint actvities with Fan Noli to establish the Pan-Albanian Federation VATRA. Father Liolin also described Faik Konitza's efforts to establish a significant Albanian newspaper in the USA including the short-lived newspaper "Trumpeta" that Konitza published in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1932, an example of which he showed to the audience much to their surprise and delight. Of course, Konitza co-founded with Fan Noli the much more sucessful organ of VATRA, the popular Albanian newspaprer, DIELLI, that is published to this day in New York. Father Liolin also described cataloguing activities of the extensive Fan Noli Library adjacent to Saint George Cathedral in South Boston and touched on Faik Konitza's "missing" personal library of some 2000 Albanian books each containing his personal bookmark. Father Liolin also presented to the audience a sample of Konitza's personal bookplate - to spur interest by others in helping to locate some of Koniza's missing books.

The same theme of the "missing" Konitza library was greatly expanded upon by the third and final speaker on the panel, Agron Alibali, LL.M, whose topic "New Findings on Konitza from American Archives" outlined in great detail his own extensive and ongoing archival research for new data about Faik Koniza including his long search for the missing Faik Konitza library. In a dramatic presentation, Alibali held up three newly-found books from that long lost library and he also described how he eventually located a single book of the Faik Konitza library among the personal possessions of the late Sara Panarity, the widow of longtime DIELLI Editor, Qerim Panarity. Indeed, Alibali recounting of his careful search for clues that might lead to the missing library intrigued the audience.
I have included below my talk titled, “The Search for Faiku, ” and I would encourage any of you who may have any comments or remembrances to post them.


Dudley House, Graduate Lounge, Graduate School or Arts and Science, Harvard University
April 28, 2009 4 to 6pm

In Search of Faiku

Van Christo

"Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t'u refejme te huajve se rrojme e duam te rrojme me nder ne vendin tone."
"Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land."

The words of Faik Konitza were echoing in my head on a hot afternoon in August of 1988 as my wife, Jane, our then 10-year old son, Zachary, and I drove into the city of Janina in Northern Greece. We had just completed the long trek by rented car from Salonika in the east traveling in a westerly direction through Kalambaka, Meteoria into Metsova, through the Pindus Mountains until we finally arrived in Janina. Although Jane and I had visited Janina several years earlier, I was especially excited because, this time, our stay would be a little longer in that interesting city so I'd have the opportunity to take a trip about 25 miles north near the Albanian border to visit and explore Konitza, the birthplace of Faik Konitza.
My first real introduction to Faik Konitza was his own incompleted book "Albania: The Rockgarden of Eastern Europe" (edited posthumously by Qerim Panarity and published by Vatra in 1957). Konitza's name, however, was not unknown to me because as a young boy in the mid-1930s visiting Misho family relatives in Brookline, Massachusetts, I can still remember heated discussions between my cousin Llambi Misho, my uncle Lazi Christo, the ever-articulate Fan Noli, and others where the names "Faiku" or "Konitza" were prominently mentioned. Since I was too young at the time to have any clue about who Faik Konitza was, I did, nonetheless, get the strong impression that my elders were talking about a very important Albanian person.
In any event, here we now were in Janina ready to begin the "Search for Faiku."

It was with a sense of great expectation that on the morning of our planned trip to Konitza, I brought my road map downstairs to the hotel clerk so he could advise us about the best route to Konitza. I must confess that the clerk was a bit puzzled when I stated that we wanted to spend "a whole day" in Konitza which he said was just a small town, and that there were other, more interesting places that he thought we should visit. Nonetheless, Jane, Zach and I jumped into our car and began the final leg of our "Search for Faiku." As we drove towards Konitza and the road became narrower, the scenery seemed lovelier as we came closer to the mountains that are the border between Albania and Greece.

The heat that morning had created a certain haze over the mountains, and as we got closer to Konitza, which is located on the side of a mountain, the houses seemed to glow and shimmer in the sun. Although I had imagined Konitza in my mind's eye as a rustic village, when we reached the outskirts where, after driving down a steep, winding hill, we saw that Konitza was a bustling community lined with shops, banks, and cafes on each side of streets surrounding a small town square.

I parked the car, and then we entered a small coffee shop where I could plan my strategy about getting more information about Faiku or, perhaps, even locating his birthplace. However, I had learned from several earlier experiences in that part of Northern Greece, that you had to be a little careful about telling someone that you were an "Albanian." That seemed rather odd to me because, according to a journal written by an Englishman, Stuart Hughes, about his tour of Konitza at the beginning of the 19th century, Konitza was then comprised of some 800 houses of which 600 were Albanian and only 200 were Greek!

However, we were obviously American tourists, and all during our trip, I was pleased that the local people had always been eager to help us. Now, I thought to myself, if only I could find an Albanian, then, obviously, my task would be a much easier!
I then recalled what had worked for me in Istanbul when Jane and I were once in a small restaurant where I did find some Albanians. So, in Konitza, I decided to utilize the same technique: I had looked intently at the faces of people seated around me in a restaurant to see if I could find one or two that - somehow - looked "Albanian." After I picked out what I thought might be a couple of good possibilities, I quietly approached the person with a smile on my face and politely asked "A flisni Shqip? (Do you speak Albanian?)." Well, that was probably not the wisest thing for me to do because after I did that a couple of times, the people I approached were very careful to avoid eye contact with me. Alas, that "A flisni Shqip?" technique that worked so well for me in Istanbul didn't work for me at all here in Konitza!

Then, I decided to go into a bank to exchange some American money but really to make an inquiry about where I might be able to find an Albanian. The bank clerk directed me to "a small fruit shop". The shop was, indeed, small and very modest with a few figs and some peppers, a lot of onions, and a case full of candy. After I entered, I informed the young woman behind the counter - alternately in English, Albanian, and the few Greek words that I knew - that I was an American interested in learning something about the Albanians of Northern Greece and especially about a man called Faik Konitza, who, I understood, was born right here in Konitza and who went on to become the Albanian Minister to America during the 1930's. The young lady, wanting to be helpful, understood enough to send a young boy to find a man called Spiro. After a few minutes, Spiro arrived, and after I told him that my father's name was also Spiro, he took me by the arm outside and pointed to an area a distance away on the lower side of the hill where he believed the Konitza family once lived. Much to my amazement, Spiro also informed me that he had heard that Faiku was somehow related to the most famous Albanian of all time, Skanderbeg! However, my sense, again, was that Spiro, as well as other Albanian-speaking people of Northern Greece, was very guarded when they spoke Albanian, and they rarely elaborated on their Albanian origin.

Driving from the town center toward the rural area outside of Konitza proper, I searched unsuccessfully for a local resident walking by who might be able to provide us with some positive information about the site of the Konitza home. There was no one in sight but eventually we came upon a rather grand-looking house located some distance away that I believed was fitting for the residence of a Bey (which Faiku was). A brick-and-stone structure rising two stories high, the house, surrounded by a fence, was located on gently sloping land away from the main road. An iron gate leading to the entrance of the house was partially open, and as we walked up the path towards the front door, we saw a sign that read "Museum." Although the building was old, it had obviously been renovated. Regrettably, the door was locked so we looked all around again hoping to see some sign of human life but to no avail. The place and the area were deserted.

So, reluctantly, we drove back into Konitza but spent a pleasant few hours walking around and looking at some of the older buildings. We were especially struck by a small, old arch-shaped Roman footbridge that was located in a lovely setting on the way out of town.

The time that we spent in Konitza held a certain kind of magic and unreality for me, and, to this day, I believe that I did walk on the same ground that Faiku walked on when he was a child in Konitza, and that my eyes saw some of the same sights that he saw, and that I may even have touched the home of his early youth. As I learned more about this extraordinary Albanian who went on to become a great champion of Albanian nationalism and independence, I began to realize that my "Search for Faiku" was just beginning.

There is no more fitting salute to Faik Konitza - a great man - than his own, truly inspirational words, so let me - again - leave you with:

"Te lidhim besa besen, te leftojme per te drejtat e per nderin e Shqiperise dhe t'u refejme te huajve se rrojme e duam te rrojme me nder ne vendin tone."*
"Let us pledge our sacred word that we will fight for the rights and honor of Albania and to show the world that we live and want to live with honor in our land."

Faik Konitza - i perjetshim qofte kujtimi i tij (may his memory be eternal)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home