Letter to the The Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J. President of Fordham University: “Anastasios Yannoulatos was appointed head of the Albanian Orthodox Church against the wishes of the Albanian Orthodox population “/
January 23, 2014/
We, Fordham students and alumni of Albanian descent, express our opposition to Fordham University’s conferral of an honorary doctorate of humane letters on the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Albania, Anastasios Yannoulatos. We represent all four main religions in Albania Roman Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Sunni and Shia Islam and we stand for peace between the two most ancient people of the Balkan peninsula, Albanians and Greeks. However, Archbishop Anastasios does not embody Albania’s most precious values: interfaith harmony and friendly relations with neighbors.
The Albanian Orthodox Church, originally part of the patriarchate of Constantinople, became autocephalous in 1937 thanks to the efforts of Bishop Fan Noli. An Albanian-American and a graduate of Harvard University, Noli sought the creation of an Americanstyle democracy in Albania when he served as Prime Minister of that country in the 1920s. Noli is venerated in Albania and amongst the Albanian Orthodox diaspora in America for establishing an independent Albanian Orthodox Church. Anastasios has compromised Noli’s efforts by turning the Albanian Orthodox Church into an annex of the Greek Orthodox Church. One of his first acts as Archbishop of Durres and Tirana was to remove Bishop Fan Noli’s liturgies and prayers. These prayers were translated from Greek to Albanian for the Albanian Orthodox. Currently, church services are held mostly in the Greek language, not Albanian as Noli intended. Last, the church administration is dominated by ethnic Greeks, who represent the minority in Albania.
Moreover, the Greek Orthodox Church of Albania, headed by Anastasios, rejects the official census of this Balkan country. Anastasios claims that ethnic Greeks represent nearly one fourth of the country’s population. This claim is inaccurate and only serves the chauvinistic purposes of Greek nationalists, who call for the annexation of southern Albania by Greece. Orthodox authorities insist that people living in Albania, who adhere to the Greek Orthodox Church, are not Albanians, but Greeks. The actual Greek minority, as evidenced by census figures and recognized by the United States Department of State is about 2 percent.
Anastasios Yannoulatos was appointed head of the Albanian Orthodox Church against the wishes of the Albanian Orthodox population. The Statute of the Church had to be amended, which required Albanian citizenship for the primate of the Church, because Anastasios is Greek by ethnicity and citizenship. Today, there is a faction of Albanian Orthodox, headed by Father Nikolla Marku, that has broken
away from Anastasios and does not recognize his authority. This is a testament that Anastasios does not represent interfaith harmony in Albania. The Albanianborn Catholic nun, Mother Teresa, once said “I convert people to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him.” Anastasios has done the opposite with the Albanian
Orthodox by seeking to convert them into Greek Orthodox. We believe Albanians should be governed by Albanian clergy. We also believe that the Albanian language, rather than Greek, should be used in their services.
If Fordham wants to honor religious tolerance in Albania, we suggest that the university awards an honorary doctorate to Bishop Fan Noli, posthumously, or to the current Bishop of the Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America, His Grace Archbishop Nikon (Nicholas Liolin), Bishop of Boston, New England and the Albanian Archdiocese.
Lamentably, the actions of Archbishop Anastasios do not compose isolated incidents. His actions are part of a greater and systematic attempt by the Greek government and their affiliates to Hellenize southern Albania. Before the Kosova genocide in the late 1990s during which Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic sought to ethnically cleanse the region of its Albanian population, there was the human rights tragedy of Chameria. During the period of 1912145, the Cham Albanian population, living in the region of Chameria, now northwestern Greece, was massacred and collectively expelled from Greece and
forced to take refuge in Albania. For those Chams of the Orthodox faith who remained in Greece, their Albanian identity was suppressed as a deeply repressive policy of assimilation ensued, which continues to this day. The Chams have still not been given compensation or the right to return to their homeland.
We ask that Archbishop Anastasios recognize the Cham tragedy and urge Greek authorities to participate in talks on the Cham dispute with the Albanian government. We also ask the Archbishop and the Orthodox Church of Albania to acknowledge the Albanian nationality of an estimated 40,000
Christian Orthodox Albanians who still live in Chameria or northwestern Greece. As the spiritual leader of the Christian Orthodox Albanians, Archbishop Anastasios should advocate for the opening of Albanian churches and schools for the Albanian minority in Greece. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Albania should also intensify his efforts to foster a spirit of acceptance, respect and nondiscrimination for Albanians in Greece, natives and newcomers alike. Only then will Archbishop Anastasios be deserving of an honorary doctorate from our Jesuit university.
On behalf of the Roman Catholic, Christian Orthodox, and Muslim community of Albanian students, staff, and alumni of Fordham University, we sincerely hope that you and other members of the leadership at this great Jesuit institution take our plea seriously. We hope that as the leader of Fordham
University, you act on behalf of the Jesuit values and promote the justice of ethnic Albanians of all faiths and defend this plea to recognize the inherent dignity of ethnic Albanians and their right to practice their faith and their freedom to exist as such in mind, body, and spirit.
Balkan Student Association (BSA) & The AlbanianAmerican Community Fordham University