From Independence to the Second World War
by Huseyin Abiva
Albania’s declaration of independence on the 28th of November, 1912 did nothing to bring about political stability. As Serb, Montenegrin and Greek armies quickly occupied most of Albania’s territory, the self-determination of the Albanian people remained an illusion. Countless towns and villages were decimated as invaders sought to clear the land of its indigenous inhabitants in order to justify territorial ambitions. Albanian religious and cultural institutions were particularly targeted, and the Bektashi community suffered tremendously. In the mayhem of the Greek occupation of southern
Albania from 1913 to 1922, nearly 80% of Bektashi tekkes were destroyed and scores of babas and dervishes either killed or scattered.
But the devastation of war brought renewed hope to the faithful as the Bektashi Order was honored by the nation for its patriotic endeavors. In 1920 the fledgling Albanian government officially acknowledged the Bektashi Islamic community as being distinct from the larger Sunni one. During the Ottoman period all Muslims lived under the authority of the Sunni clergy, and all Sufi Orders were expected to comply with this reality. But the Lushnjë Constitution appointed four regents who would each represent one of the four religious denominations of the country: Orthodox, Catholic, Sunni and Bektashi. The reasons for this recognition can be found both in the demographic realities of the day (those affiliated with the Bektashi Order formed roughly 15% of the total population, while Sunnis were 55%) and an in acknowledgment for the role Bektashis played in the formation of the nation.
One of the first moves carried out by Albanian Bektashis in the wake of independence was the reorganization of the order. In 1921 a large gathering of babas was held in Tirana to prepare the first statutes of a nationwide community. A second congress took place a few years later in Gjirokastër in the summer of 1924 where moves for further structuring and expansion were discussed. Near the end of 1929 Albanian Bektashis agreed on a solid administrative configuration in which the nation was divided into six zones (dedeliks), each headed by a dede (or gjysh in Albanian). The dedebaba (kryegjysh) was chosen to be the highest authority of the Bektashi community of Albania, although at that time he still resided in Turkey.
A break with Turkish Bektashism quickly came thereafter, but it was a break that was brought about by the political realities of the newly secularized Turkey rather than interethnic contention. In fact many of the leading Bektashi babas in Turkey were of Albanian origin. In November of 1925 Atatürk’s republican government ordered all dervish tekkes closed and Sufism was effectively outlawed, making contact between Albanian and Turkish Bektashis impractical. The then dedebaba, Salih Nijazi Dede, was compelled by this prohibition to leave the Tekke of Haji Bektash (the Pirevi) and in 1930 he moved to Albania. In Tirana he was reinstalled as dedebaba over an order that now had functioning tekkes not only throughout Albania, but in Macedonia, Kosova, Greece and Egypt as well.
In the 1930s Bektashism in Albania entered its golden age. New tekkes were established and smaller centers (dervişhânes) were built, primarily in the lands south of the Shkumbi River. A seminary was established in Tirana to train and educate dervishes and candidate babas in a methodological manner. Many tekkes possessed substantial properties (vakıfs) and these provided income for activities.
In general most Bektashis were ardent nationalists and supported King Zog I. Yet when the Italians occupied the country 1939, the order’s establishment did not respond uniformly. The murder of Salih Nijazi Dede at the end of 1941 was widely blamed on the Italians, although the occupational government denied any complicity. During the Second World War a few babas sided with the communist resistance (most notably Baba Faja Martaneshi) and fought with the partisans. The hard-line Marxist leader of Albania, Enver Hoxha, came from a family that had Bektashi connections. Yet most Bektashi babas and dervishes opposed the communist partisans and many even took an active roll in this opposition by joining the nationalist anti-communist Balli Kombëtar militia, as did the venerable Baba Rexheb (d. 1995).