About 250,000 Albanians live in New York State; most reside in the Bronx
/By TANYANIKA SAMUELS-NEW YORK/ DAILYNEWS/
Each year around this time, the streets of Bronx neighborhoods like Belmont and Morris Park are festooned with bright red and black Albanian flags.
This year’s celebration of Albanian independence is proving a little more special.
On Wednesday, Albanians worldwide will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Turkish rule.
“(This anniversary) means so much,” said Esad Rizai, founder of Albanian American Society Foundation. “We are the oldest people in Europe and we have been oppressed for so long. But thank God we survived.”
“This is a huge event for us,” added Assemblyman-elect Mark Gjonaj, who recently became the first Albanian-American elected to state office.
There are about 250,000 Albanians in New York State; most of them live in the Bronx.
The local Albanian community has been holding fetes in the days leading up to the milestone anniversary, including last weekend’s Vatra Federation dinner that drew hundreds to Maestro’s in Morris Park.
The celebration moves to Manhattan on Tuesday with a special ceremony at City Hall at which some outstanding Albanians will receive proclamations.
On Wednesday, there will be flag raising ceremonies and entertainment at Battery Park and in Times Square.
While it is a time to celebrate, some also see it as a chance to dispel stereotypes.
“People think of Albanians as pizza men and doormen,” said Danny Blloshmi, of Vatra Federation. “But we are professors and doctors and politicians too. Education is a number one passion and goal. That is something I don’t think many people know.”
“Albanians are unique in many ways,” added Rizai. “We are Albanians first. We are bound by Albanian blood. We are one culture, one history, one flag. We are proud people.”
The Republic of Albania is a small nation of about 3 million people on the Adriatic Sea bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece.
The Ottoman Empire ruled Albania from the late 14th century to the early 1900s. But on Nov. 28, 1912, following a groundswell of nationalism, Albania declared its independence.
During World War II however, Albania was occupied by Italy then Germany. Decades of Communism followed. Since 1991, the Republic of Albania has been ruled by Democratic and Socialist leaders.
Many count such historic events as the liberation of Kosovo among the key Albanian milestones of the past century. Still much work needs to be done.
“Back home, they’re trying to get the democratic process going,” Blloshmi said. “It’s slowly but surely working out but it is not where we want it to be.”
email@example.com(Captions: Actors in tradtional garb portraying three Albanian heroes)