Report of the Albanian Congress, November 1908

Report of the Albanian Congress, November 1908

Following the momentous November, 1908 Albanian Alphabet Congress in Monastir (also known as Bitola, Macedonia), Mr. George Kyrias wrote a detailed report on January 16, 1909 to the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), being their Albanian station director based in Monastir, to Director Rev. T. R. Hodgson of the main office located in Constantinople, Turkey.

Previously on September 4, 1908, Kyrias had conveyed to Hodgson that,

The Albanians here have founded a club, which they have named “Bashkimi”. This club here will be the centre of all the clubs that are being founded all through Albania. The city of Monastir will be the centre whence enlight[en]ment, progress, learning and art will be distributed. These days we will order a printing press of 300L for this purpose will be needed 800L. This printing press will publish an Albanian newspaper named “Bashkimi” which will be the greatest paper in our language … Fehim Bey that was sent to exile … is President, myself the Vice President, …

As the Albanians planned for the strategic Congress to determine their alphabet that would have resounding political impact in the Ottoman Empire, Kyrias was appointed as the Vice-President of the Monastir Congress. His family housed the meetings of the chosen eleven delegates that met separately in his home. There they determined the highly significant decision which profoundly influenced the formation of their country that continues to bear weight even throughout the Albanian world today. Below is the short BFBS summary of Kyrias’ lengthier twenty page account of the Albanian Congress. Below is the short BFBS summary of Kyrias’ lengthier twenty page account of the Albanian Congress penned by Rev. T.R. Hodgson a few days later from his Constantinople office.

The BFBS Summary of the Monastir Congress

The report of the Albanian National Congress for the settlement of the vexed Alphabet question has just reached me. The Bible Society has hitherto published its Albanian versions (of) three distinct characters: the Gheg for the Ghergeri districts of North Albania, the Tosk, in Greek characters, and the so-called National character which is an adaptation of the other two. Besides these about four other alphabets have been in use more or less for such scanty literature as Albania has produced. The Gheg, mentioned above, which was introduced by the Jesuit priests of Scutari in North Albania about 300 years ago, has not only stood this test of time, but has proved more acceptable to the Albanians than the others from its use of the Latin characters. Some of the Bible Society’s editions have been printed in parallel Tosk and Gheg but there is no doubt that the Latin alphabet which brings the Albanians more into touch with the modern life and thought of Western Europe, has been slowly but steadily gaining its way, and that in the end it will gradually supersede the others. It is also maintained by the majority of educated Albanians to be the medium best adapted to represent the consonant and vowel sounds, hardly distinguishable to a foreigner, of the Albanian language.

The Congress which opened at Monastir on November 14th was attended by about 60 delegates from all parts of Albania. I was unable, to my great regret, to avail myself of the invitation which reached me from the promoters of the Congress, the newly-formed Albanian club of Monastir. The Bible Society, however, was worthily represented by Mr. George Kyrias our Depositary in Monastir who at the first meeting of the Congress was appointed vice-president and presided in the absence of Midhat Bey the president who arrived later. The Governor-General of the province, Hifzi Pasha, and all the high officials, civil and military, were present at the opening meeting which was very largely attended, the audience numbering about 400 people of various nationalities,. This was followed by enthusiastic demonstrations later in the day when the assembled Albanians took the national “Besa” (a form of oath) to give their lives for the fatherland. Indeed throughout the whole series of meetings the fiery spirits of the Albanians seemed to have reached fever-heat, finding at last an opening for the free expression of patriotic fervor in the new-found liberty of meeting and of speech.

The meetings of Congress were held daily from the 14th to the 22nd November. On the third day a committee of eleven members was appointed with full powers to decide the question of the alphabet and report to Congress. The three following days were occupied by private meetings of the committee which made its report on the seventh day of the Congress. The report is a somewhat technical document to the foreigner who cannot enter into the niceties of Albanian pronunciation, and represents an amount of hard and conscientious orthographical work which is quite astonishing considering the nature of the materials with which the Committee had to deal. The conclusion is practically to the effect that the committee had declined to take under review the existing alphabets: That they adopted the Latin alphabet as a basis adapting each letter to the phonetic needs of the language. The value of each letter was carefully noted and where the Latin characters of 25 letters were found to be inadequate the remaining sounds were to be found by the union of two letters of the alphabet. Alphabets in the amended form are appended, two alternative lists being given, the first containing duplicate sounds in the Greek characters, of the more doubtful letters. This first table has apparently been intended as a concession to the advocates of the Tosk Albanian and it is suggested it might be used where the Tosk is still preferred. The report ends with a proposal that another congress should be held in two years’ time when and where the present congress should decide with the object of deciding further questions concerning Albanian orthography and literature.

The congress unanimously adopted the report and passed two resolutions:

  1. That all Albanian clubs and societies send a monthly report to the Monastir club with the object of enabling this club to keep in touch with all such societies.
  2. That after two years, on the 10th July 1910, another congress be held at Janina to discuss further on the question of the Albanian language and literature.

The congress passed off with the greatest harmony and enthusiasm, many long and patriotic speeches were made, and there was much social festivity and rejoicing. The pleasant little town of Monastir forgot its gloomy annals of the last troubled years and became the centre for the time of new and unbounded hopes and aspirations hitherto undreamt of. The last act of the congress was a commemoration of all famous Albanians and those who had served their country. Many names were mentioned as worthy of all honor, and among others the British and Foreign Bible Society was distinguished as worthy of a special mention. The official report closes with the words, “Thus did this congress and ended after laying strong the foundations for a future Albania.”

For the Bible Society the time and the event are most opportune. The Albanian editions of the Society brought out thirty or forty years ago by the labor and devotion and foresight of the later Dr. Thomson, my predecessor in the Agency, have been slowly but steadily diminishing and the time has come to replace them by other editions which will be needed to meet a growing demand and a larger circulation. Up to the time of the new regime in Turkey we saw no opportunity of producing new supplies: our efforts of eight years ago were nipped in the bud by the refusal of the Turkish censorship to allow us to print Albanian editions of the Psalms and Four Gospels in the new or so called “national” character which we had prepared to meet a demand. One of our first cares after the dawning of the new day in Turkey was to proceed with these editions and we are now expecting their issue from the press. The prevision of new Albanian versions is a large question and will require anxious care and thought and preparation. The way has been perceptibly smoothed by the adoption of a uniform alphabet, but the larger questions of revision and translation remain and present difficulties arising from the fact that so few qualified scholars can be found with knowledge of the Albanian language. Fortunately we command the services of two of the best Albanian scholars of the day in the persons of Mr. Kyrias our depositary at Monastir and Mr. (Thanas) Sinas our depositary at Rustchuk. I hope to meet both these gentlemen at the earliest possible date my duties will permit me to leave Constantinople for a visit to Monastir. It will then be possible, I hope, to lay before the Society our plan and proposals for the new Albanian versions so eagerly expected and so largely demanded by all the Albanians —who have so often testified their affection and veneration for the Bible Society which gave them in their own language the Scriptures of hope and consolation in their days of darkness.

Editor’s note: The signature was simply three non-legible letters. There is solid reason to believe that they are those of Rev. T. R. Hodgson, the director of the BFBS in Turkey during 1909, since in the text he mentions his predecessor as Dr. Alexander Thomson. Rev. T. R. Hodgson assumed the Constantinople post in 1896 following Dr. Thomson’s long tenure from 1861-1895 with the BFBS.

The correspondence between George Kyrias and Rev. T. R. Hodgson is located in the British & Foreign Bible Society Collection (BSA/F2/8/1/6/2/ (C2), Cambridge Library, England.