Memoir Outtake: Albanian Greeks at the Greek Consulate

16 Apr

All the endangered language research I’ve been doing seeped its way into the rough draft of my memoir.  Below is a scene in which I encounter two darker-skinned boys at the Greek Consulate in New York City.  From the looks of them, I gather that they must be Albanians.  As I’m dealing with my own language issues at the Consulate, I begin to think about theirs.  This section turned out to be too Wikipedia-ish in comparison to the lighter, humorous tone of that chapter in my memoir, so I was advised to take it out.  Still, I found the subject matter fascinating, and so I’m posting it here as an outtake.

Two dark-skinned boys in their teens or twenties—it was hard to tell—filled out paperwork at the long table.  They wore motorcycle-style jackets that made them look tough but in more of a poor than badass look.  I wondered if they were perhaps Albanian refugees.  Cham Albanians began migrating to Greece during the Middle Ages.  They speak the Cham Albanian language, a type of Tosk Albanian that was the language of the most well-known bejtexhinj, Muhamet Kyçyku, first poet of the Albanian National Renaissance.  Bejtexhinj is the oftentimes religious poetry written in Albanian with Arabic alphabet and Persian, Turkish, and Arabic words, that began in the eighteenth-century to rebel against the influence of the Ottoman Empire.  During that time and also in the early twentieth century, Albanians known as  Arvanites came to Greece as well.  The Tosk Albanian dialect they speak, known as Arvanitika, is now an endangered language, as they assimilate into Greek culture.  Though sometimes Arvanitika is used interchangeably, the Orthodox Albanians who in the 1920s came to northeastern Greece, namely to the areas of Western Thrace and Greek Macedonia, are called Shqiptars.  They speak the Northern Tosk Albanian.  Although many Arvanitika fought against the Ottomans in the Greek War for Independence from 1821 to 1832, by World War II the Cham Albanians had sided with Italy and Germany and had to flee from Greece to Albania, Turkey, and the United States.  After the fall of Communism in 1991, another group of Albanians came over to Greece to escape economic depravity.  Today, most Albanians living in Greece self-identify as Greek; they have converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity and speak the Greek language.  Now, listening in on the two boys consulting each other for their paperwork, I couldn’t tell whether they spoke an Albanian dialect or Greek.

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