Friday, November 28, 2008

Albanian Independence Day

We often think of our country's Independence as a seminal event in history. Rightly so. If you don't know why, shame on yLinkou! In addition to our contributions (overwhelmingly positive), to world history, there are other nations that have done as much. In fact, ours has roots in the tiny nation of Albania. You have heard of Albania no doubt, for the ongoing issue of the Turkish denial of the great massacre of Albanians that occurred in WW I.

I was perusing Red State to see how that site has moved on since the election, and found this gem- why we should note Albania's independence, and feel some kinship with the tiny country:

"You’re probably wondering why you should care at all about any of this. "But here’s why. It’s because Skanderbeg and a small group of Albanians saved Western Civilization. "Here’s the short version of the story. "When Skanderbeg returned to Kruja and raised the double-eagle flag in rebellion against Ottoman domination, a huge storm that had been rumbling in the east for more than two decades was about to break. Beginning sometime in the 10th or 11th century, Turkish tribes and clans had been drifting down from the steppes of central Asia and settling in Anatolia. At the tail end of the 13th century, one particular clan, headed by Osman, expanded its power – Osman subdued the rival Turkish tribes and unified them into a single authority. From Osman’s name comes the moniker assigned to this newly unified Turkish power – the Ottomans. The Ottomans quickly developed a (deservedly) fearsome reputation for foot-soldiering and for cavalry skills – the latter brought with them from their long-term horse-based culture of the central Asian steppes. "The Ottomans expanded rapidly, largely at the expense of the decaying Byzantine Empire. By the early part of the 14th century, the Ottomans had bypassed fortified Constantinople, crossed the Dardanelles, and begun to rapidly expand their power in southeastern Europe. By 1443, the Ottomans were attacking into Hungary. "The Ottoman system was a strange one, combining (to various degrees over time) a fervor for expanding the sway of Islam with a straightforward conquest-based spoils system. The latter was the only way that the Ottoman sultans could effectively recruit the various clan leaders into their projects of conquest – by offering them the spoils of land in conquered territories. These Ottoman “landlords” owned and exploited the land as absentee landlords; local lords-of-the-manor were charged with running the day-to-day operations and channeling the proceeds back to the absentee landlords. This system became so entrenched in many places that the local name for these lords-of-the-manor persists in local languages to this day; the Romanian term hospodar is a good example. "However, the early part of the 15th century saw the rise of the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II. Mehmet is still known as “The Conqueror” – both for his general achievements, and for his signal accomplishment. "Mehmet leaned heavily toward the “Islamic fervor” pole of the two competing Ottoman drivers. He dreamed of being the great conqueror who would finally complete the divine mission of universal Islamic domination of the world. "Mehmet had obvious goals. He wanted to capture both Constantinople – and Rome. With those symbolic goals achieved, Mehmet would then have a free hand to complete the conquest of a weak and fractured remainder of Europe. "Ottoman diplomacy had already enjoyed great success in exploiting the hyper-fractious politics of Europe – coming in on one side of a conflict, winning, and then taking over their erstwhile allies. This could continue. "And Mehmet also knew that he now had better technologies. While the early Ottomans were nearly unbeatable in open battle, their infantry and cavalry were ineffective against heavily fortified cities. But Mehmet had modernized, and his armies now had excellent siege cannon. "Mehmet put these abilities to good use. In 1453, after relentlessly blasting the walls with these new cannon, the Ottomans breached the fortifications of Constantinople and stormed into the city. The Byzantine Empire was no more, and Mehmet made Constantinople his new capitol. "However, Mehmet’s Italian project faced a problem. With Skanderbeg having taken Albania away from the Ottomans ten years earlier, Mehmet’s easy route into Italy – from the Albanian coast and across the Straits of Otranto – was now blocked. "Thus, all of the furies that Mehmet had prepared to unleash on Italy and Rome were instead thrown at tiny Albania. And in that regard, Mehmet received a very nasty surprise. "Led by Skanderbeg and his outstanding generalship, the Albanians were able to hold off the Ottomans – defeating them time and again. In 1461, Mehmet led an unbelievably large army – reputed to have been 300,000 strong – into Albania to try to complete the conquest. However, Skanderbeg, skillfully handling outnumbered forces and making good use of fortified positions, ran rings around Mehmet’s oversized army. By the following year, Mehmet’s battered army withdrew from Albania in disgrace. "During the critical 25-year period from 1443 to 1468, the Ottomans were unable to subdue Albania. Skanderbeg defeated them each and every time – compiling, depending on the exact nature of the counting, a record of twenty-two victories and no losses. "But, alas, defensive resistance against overwhelming force cannot go on forever – particularly when it is in the charge of a leader as energetic and gifted as was Skanderbeg. So the story does not have a happy ending. "In 1468, at age 63, Skanderbeg died – of natural causes, unbeaten and unconquered. With no one of even minimally-comparable skills (either military or political) to take his place, Albanian resistance faced a fatal crisis. "Mehmet himself understood this perfectly. When he was informed of Skanderbeg’s death, he was beside himself with joy. “Christendom,” he chortled, has lost both her shield - and her sword.” "But for Mehmet, his time and his chance had also passed. So much time and so many resources had been dissipated in the mountains of Albania that his grand project, which still burned in his heart, was no longer possible. "Following the passing of Skanderbeg, Mehmet did finally manage to subdue Albania. And in one of history’s forgotten but very frightening moments, Mehmet did manage to send a force across the Adriatic from the Albanian coast into Italy – which captured the Italian port city of Otranto in 1480. Mehmet still harbored the dream of capturing Rome, and this was a last-gasp attempt, with Otranto to serve as the bridgehead. "But in the following year, 1481, Mehmet himself died. The Turkish bridgehead at Otranto, already more a stretch of ideology than a solid military position, was of little interest – even to those holding it. Italian troops, dispatched by the Pope, were quickly able to chase out the Turkish garrison and send it packing back across the Adriatic – for good. The Ottomans never again threatened Italy. "After Mehmet II passed from the scene, the Ottoman Empire changed greatly. Mehmet’s successors increasingly moved toward the pole of a spoils-based conquest system; no succeeding Ottoman sultan ever matched Mehmet’s interest in being “the completer” of the final, universal Islamic conquest. The Ottomans continued to press forward into the rich land of central Europe – more for the prize of the land-as-spoils than for Islamic fervor. The high-water-mark came in 1683, when the Ottomans nearly captured Vienna – with Vienna being saved by a Polish army coming to its rescue. "But after Mehmet II, Ottoman conquest-energy was much more disproportionately focused to the south and east. The Ottomans conquered the Middle East, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian Peninsula; thus, the Ottoman sultans became the secular guardians of the sacred sites of Mecca and Medina – a role they held until 1917. The Ottomans also expanded northward, controlling all of what is now Romania, as well as the entire littoral of the Black Sea – which became, in effect, an Ottoman lake. "But even in this form, the huge bulk of the Ottoman Empire produced drastic changes in European history. Before the encroachment of the Ottomans, most of the “action” in Europe was in the middle of the continent; the areas on the Atlantic coast were dim and foggy backwaters. The intrusion of the Ottomans into the middle of the continent drastically altered this situation; tied down battling the Ottomans, the powers of central Europe weakened and lost influence – and the lost strength and vigor shifted to the littoral areas. "And it was in these littoral states that a new and revolutionary idea arose. The Ottoman Empire sat across all the trade routes to the east – and at that time, the ability to levy fees on the thriving spice trade was enriching the Ottomans and impoverishing the western Europeans. In frustration, the littoral Europeans began to wonder if they could find a literal work-around. Would it be possible to bypass the Ottomans (and their chokehold on the spice trade) by sailing around them? By sailing around Africa perhaps? Or, more radically, perhaps even by sailing westward around the other side of the globe? "(The story from there is well-known.) "But none of this would have happened if Mehmet II had been able to pursue his dream – for which he had originally had ample time and resources. Without the quarter-century of defiance from Skanderbeg and the Albanians, Mehmet would have had a good chance of realizing his dream – of moving into Italy, taking Rome, and then mopping up what was left of Europe as he saw fit. "Skanderbeg and his men were unable to save Albania. But by carrying on the fight, they were actually able to save something much more important. Skanderbeg and the Albanians saved civilization itself. And that is why we should all celebrate today…."

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