This is a reprint of an article written by Marigo Dulaku about the IAPS in the Tirana Times, August 5-11, 2016.
David Hosaflook has a long and rich story in Albania. Much like the history of Protestantism, Hosaflook’s contributions to Albanian culture and society are often unnoticed in the busy hub of life and politics that consume most people. His most recent accomplishment in Albania is the formation of a community of researchers, scholars, and volunteers that, in 2014, came together to form the Institute for Albanian and Protestant Studies. The goal of the institute is to encourage research into Protestant history and thought in Albania. The institute is not a religious institute, nor does it focus only on Protestant Studies. The institute’s emphasis on researching Protestant thinking and teaching in the culture, though, is particularly significant, as Albanian religious identities are most generally understood as a triangulation between Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim. The unrecognized history of Protestantism provides an important alternative lens through which to see Albania’s religious history. While Albania rightly and proudly claims a history of peaceful religious coexistence, the tensions between Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim heritages are linked to conflictual histories such as the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, Slav migration, Greek-Albania tensions. The institute raises important questions about the role of Protestant teaching and thinking, and, in doing so, helps to shed light on one of the richest and least-researched fields of the Albanian history. While not a demographically large movement, Protestantism had a significant impact on culture and society.
Hosaflook serves as the IAPS’s executive director. After years of studying the culture first hand, he is now completing his Ph.D. in Albanian history. He first came to Albania in 1992 as part of the human rights work in early transition. His work with orphans led him to work with churches in Northern Albania, where one day, walking on the sidewalk of Shkodra, he found Marine Barleti’s 16th century classic, The Siege of Shkodra. After buying it, he began his long labor of translating and publishing the first English version of Marin Barleti’s story. The translation process heavily involved him in research and historical investigation. He consulted scholars from Cambridge to Turkey, and the information he found convinced him that, in fact, Barleti’s history provided an important missing link in Mediterranean history.
Hosaflook’s translation of Barleti’s work coincided with the 2012 celebration of 100 years of independence for Albania. This pivotal time—a shift in empires, power alignments, and global identities—sparked his interest in the Albanian Protestant Movement. There were only a small number of people interested in researching this movement, so he began contacting them to create an intellectual network. His desire was simple: “What if,” he said, “we work together and create something that is more institutional so that we can be efficient with all of our resources?” And so an intellectual hub that offers an important alternative lens through which to consider intellectual and religious histories in Albania was born.
IAPS’s goal is to provide a wealth of information, particularly focusing on the publication of primary source materials. These resources are invaluable for historians, anthropologists, theologians, and ethnographers among others. The archives will be open access. The IAPS is less concerned with interpretation and more concerned with dissemination. Making little-known documents available to a wide range of researchers provides the Albanian people, and in particular those working in the social sciences, with information and resources that they can interpret through their own disciplinary lenses. This is especially important as these primary historical resources hold out the possibility of expanding discourses in the social and political sciences.
In addition to serving as an academic institute, the IAPS also participates in events and celebrations that highlight heroic Albanian accomplishments. Too often, the history of which Albania can be proud is overshadowed by years of dictatorship and a troubled transition. Hosaflook believes it is important to recover stories of Albanian accomplishment, such as the creation of the first Albanian school for girls. In October 2016 IAPS will co-sponsor celebrations of the 125th anniversary of Gjerasim and Sevasti Qiriazi, the fist Albanian school for girls, created on the model of Protestant mission schools that were established all over the Ottoman Empire and European Turkey in the 1800s. Sevasti Qiriazi was the first Albanian girl to receive a degree in higher education, and “she should be praised in Albanian society. Her story is inspiring, Sevasti and her brother Gjerasim attained official authorization under very difficult circumstances from the Ottoman government to open a school for girls,” Hosaflook says. With the 125th anniversary celebration of the Qiriazi family, the IAPS strives to emphasize the message of idealism, unity, hope, and hard work. The Qiriazi siblings were born in what is today modern day Macedonia and came to Albanian to spread their Protestant ideals. The Qiriazi family are indeed heroes of Albania, and the IAPS is bringing attention to the accomplishments of the Qiriazi family and the models and ideals they represent. Fundamental to their teaching and vision is that working for rights—the right to education, the right to work, the necessity of hope and unity—are matters of the nation. While nationalism today has turned into aggressive enmity, the Qiriazi family provides a model social work for the rights of people that is based on raising all people to a higher level (rather than conquering or repressing parts of the population). In the Western Balkans, the Qiriazi family demonstrates a beautiful and inspirational example that, in a time of conflict, one can be a patriot and a good neighbor.
The future objective is to make all of the archives digital in order to serve students, scholars and for people to have access to the resources all around the world. By nature IAPS is not a religious institute but an academic one with a diverse group of people. The institute is providing fresh materials for Albanian social sciences industry and religion. The materials IAPS has gathered and documented thus far have the power to inspire and showcase examples of heroes who have scarificed for ideals rather than fought for a piece of land. The IAPS’s dream is to provide resources that can inspire the younger generation, though how much and who will take up the call to imagination and action the IAPS raises remains to be seen. With the same vision and hope of the Qiriazi family, the IAPS serves as something akin to an operating system, mediating between the user and the programs; the system allows the programs to run and the user to use them.
The IAPS’ mission is to serve the people as well as other institutions. In a spirit of cooperation (rather than the competition so often seen in Albania), the IAPS models collaboration, where neighbors, community leaders, and global citizens join forces for the common good.