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Antoni Athanas: How I got to know Noli and the message he gave us when Catholic and Muslim leaders came to America
This article is part of the new section "PRINT Archive" that haP Politiko.al with materials extracted from the funds of the Periodical and the Book of the National Library. Published in the newspaper "RD", dt. June 22, 1994, p. 3.
-Interview with our compatriot in the US, Antoni Athanas. Bisedoi: TARIK LLAGAMI
"RD": - You, Mr. Anthony, did you know Fan Noli closely? What memories do you have of that time?
A. ATHANAS : - Without words, I have known him closely and I keep the most beautiful memories. For about 3 decades I worked with Monsignor Noli in the diaspora. I went to the US at the age of 4 and a half. We were looking forward to the newspaper "Dielli" of the association "Vatra". From her writings, Noli and Konica, I have been helped to learn the Albanian language. Like me and quite a few others.
Rare were those leaders who equaled Noli. I'm not saying those others were not patriots, but Noli stood above all. He was Albanian, Albanian, Albanian!
I worked with him for the church and for the Hearth. The Albanian church and nationality for us were twins and we did not separate them from each other. In "Vatra" we did not look, at whether we were Muslims, Catholics, or Orthodox, but we called each other brothers and worked for the good of the nation.
In spicy moments of crisis for Albania, we did not look at our personal views but became one in mind. I am not saying that we did not have differences of opinion, but before the issue of the Homeland, they became united.
"RD": - What is your opinion about the help that Noli has given to Albanian, for our national cause and democracy in Albania?
A. ATHANAS: - Many of these things you tell me are already known. But I want to say that every time I see or hear the name Albania, it seems to me that Noli's name is also there. For us, the American diaspora, the name of Albania, and the name of Noli are synonymous. And, on the other hand, I have to add, that those two names seem to us to be the name of each of us.
We who worked with Noli, if they asked us: - "When you turn the pages of the encyclopedia, what is the first word you look for there?" - we would say in one voice: - "Albania"! And it's definitely the merit of Noli and the other patriots we had in our heads that everyone thought so.
I think that those Albanians of the older generation if a man like Noli did not put in charge, we would not be a National Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Our neighbors had their plans against Albania. They fought us through religion and through the church. They wanted and want our Albanian land. And the separation of our orthodox church from the Greek one, for which Noli fought and succeeded, was a very big thing for Albania.
Noli had a very broad vision for the national cause. He saw its development and progress in uniting all Albanians, regardless of religion. I will bring only one example: when they came: Baba Rexhepi, Imam Vehbiu, and Monsignor Oroshi for the first time in America, Noli gathered us and ordered us to wait for them, to support them, and to support them as much as we could.
"RD": - The celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the June Revolution and the government of Fan Noli were closed. How do you evaluate these activities?
A. ATHANAS: - These days that we came to the motherland to commemorate the June Revolution and Noli, for us were very beautiful. The performance at the Opera and Ballet Theater left us very impressed, that it was related to his activity. I was impressed by the recitations of Noli's poems. Listening to those powerful and beautiful verses I once again thought of the great power of Noli's word and deed. Even today, they give us all, in the motherland and in the diaspora, strength and hope, fill us with optimism to live and work for the homeland and our people.
I'm glad that, as you tell me, these valuable things are taught to Albanian boys and girls in schools.
Noli's name given to the University of Korça, the square in Tirana, and others, made us very happy. These not only experience Noli's work but are a spiritual and mental treasure for generations.
We inherit the work and patriotic path of Noli, Faik Konica, and other prominent men. And they give us inspiration and encourage us to live and work for Albania.
I can not leave without mentioning the very high assessments that the President of our Republic made to this event and Noli at the helm of it. They are an affirmation of what really happened 70 years ago.
"RD": - You have come to the motherland several times. What special impressions do you keep from each visit?
A. ATHANAS: - I have come to Albania three times. First time in 1989. I had great emotions. I will never forget the moments when the plane stopped at Tirana airport and set foot on the land of my ancestors. I walked a few districts and saw a great beauty. They were the emotions of longing for the motherland. I want to tell you here that since the time I left Albania with my mother and little sister, riding a donkey, I remember a few things. And as through the darkness. How many dreams I have seen for Trebicka, my native village! And all these dreams were not built on the memories of childhood, that they were meager and faint, but on the basis of what my compatriots told me.
The second time in 1992, on the issue of the Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church. This time we were very worried that you were losing our autocephalous church. And we said: - “What would Noli think about this evil deed? Surely his soul was trembling in heaven for what was happening. We were not coming here to spread propaganda but to defend the rights of the Albanian Orthodox Autocephalous Church and the territorial rights of sovereign Albania.
The third time, now, for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the June Revolution and the Noli government. You are inspired by the enthusiasm of the people for this revolution and Fan Noli, the son of Albania. To us, who have come here, all these revivals of the figure of Noli and his contribution to Albania, are a great inspiration. I think that such activities should be taken further and other things and people should be included because Albania is full of them.
In this last time, we see that there is a great liveliness and development movement: beautiful and modern shops and restaurants have opened; new, large hotels have begun to rise above the ground; new houses adorn the surrounding country; some factories are working; we feel and understand that good business is being done. We see that the life of the Albanian man, as it seems to me, is materially and spiritually enriched. And all of these are good and hopeful signs for the future. To be honest, these make me think that soon our Albania will become prosperous, strong, and heard. Albania's future is here, on its land, with its people.
"RD": - Thank you Mr. Anthony, and, wishing you well, I hope to see you again soon.
A. _ ATHANAS: - Thank you and your newspaper for giving me the opportunity to speak with all my compatriots in public! Goodbye!