Ali Pashe Tepelena - the Lion of Janina

Date: Wednesday, June 21 @ 14:58:20 PDT
Topic: Albanian Heroes

    Ali was assassinated by an agent of the Turks; his head was exhibited at Constantinople. The wild yet cultured court of Ali was described by French and English visitors, notably by Byron in Childe Harold.

    Ali PashŽ Tepelena in Albanian, Tepedelenli Ali Paşa in Turkish, commonly known
    Ali Pashe Tepelena
    as Ali Pasha, (1741 Ė January 24, 1822) was the military ruler (pasha) of a large area of the Ottoman Empire's European territories. Known as the Lion of Janina (after his capital in the Greek town of IoŠnnina), he achieved a notorious reputation as a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.

    The rise of Ali Pasha

    Ali was born into a powerful clan in the Albanian town of Tepelene in 1744, where his father Veli was bey (leader), and his mother was a Slav Muslim. The family lost much of its political and material status while Ali was still a boy, and following the murder of his father in 1758 his mother, Velija, formed a band of brigands. Ali is herald as a hero to this day in many regions of Montenegro for impeding the expansion of Serbian armies. Ali became a notorious brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. He aided the pasha of Negroponte (Euboea) in putting down a rebellion at ShkodŽr. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvino, with whom he entered an alliance.

    His rise through Ottoman ranks continued with his appointment as lieutenant to the pasha of Rumelia. In 1787 he was awarded the pashaluk of Trikala in reward for his support for the sultan's war against Austria. This was not enough to satisfy his ambitions; shortly afterwards, he seized control of IoŠnnina, which remained his power base for the next 33 years. He took advantage of a weak Ottoman government to expand his territory still further until he gained control of most of Albania, western Greece and the Peloponnese.

    Ali Pasha as ruler

    Castle of Ali Pasha in Albania.Ali's policy as ruler of IoŠnnina was governed by little more than simple expediency; he operated as a semi-independent despot and allied himself with whomever offered the most advantage at the time. In order to gain a seaport on the Albanian coast Ali formed an alliance with Napoleon I of France. After Napoleon was defeated in Egypt, Ali switched sides and allied with the United Kingdom in 1814. His machinations were permitted by the Ottoman government in Constantinople (Istanbul) for a mixture of expediency - it was deemed better to have Ali as a semi-ally than as an enemy - and weakness, as the central government did not have enough strength to oust him at that time.

    The poet Byron visited Ali's court in IoŠnnina in 1809 and recorded the encounter in his work Childe Harold. He evidently had mixed feelings about the despot, noting the splendour of Ali's court and the Greek cultural revival that he had encouraged in IoŠnnina, which Byron described as being "superior in wealth, refinement and learning" to any other Greek town. In a letter to his mother, however, Byron deplored Ali's cruelty: "His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte ... but as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels, etc, etc."

    The capricious cruelties inflicted by Ali Pasha on his subjects became notorious throughout the region. Forty years after the inhabitants of Gardiki, Albania had wronged his mother, Ali wrought revenge by having 739 male descendants of the original offenders murdered. In 1801, he attempted to rape the mistress of his eldest son, but was thwarted; his revenge was to have the girl and seventeen of her companions bound, gagged and thrown alive into Lake Pamvotis. The incident is still remembered in local folk songs. In 1808, he captured one of his most renowned opponents, the Greek klepht Katsandonis. The unfortunate man was executed in public by having his bones broken with a sledgehammer.

    The Life of Lord Byron by John Galt offers a different explanation of the Lake Pamvotis incident. In this version, Ali Pasha acted out of concern for his daughter-in-law, who was heartbroken at her husband's infidelity. It does not mention anything about rape or the additional execution of the woman's companions. Galt also points out that Ali's severe dealing with the brigands that infested the country as well as his significant improvements of infrastructure opened the country for trade, improving the living conditions of the people, and that, all in all, he "acted the part of a just, though a merciless, prince."

    The downfall of Ali Pasha

    In 1820, Ali ordered the assassination of a political opponent in Constantinople. The reformist Sultan Mahmud II, who sought to restore the authority of the Sublime Porte, took this opportunity to move against Ali by ordering his deposition. Ali refused to resign his official posts and put up a formidable resistance to Ottoman troop movements. In January 1822, however, Ottoman agents assassinated Ali Pasha and sent his head to Constantinople.

    The story of Ali Pasha's downfall was fictionalized in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. In this famous novel, the daughter of Ali Pasha becomes a slave of the Count and helps him take revenge on the man who betrayed her father.

    The scene of Ali's death, the monastery of Pandelimonos on an island in Lake Pamvotis, is today a popular tourist attraction. The hole made by the bullet which killed him can still be seen, and the monastery has a museum dedicated to the tyrant, which includes a number of his personal possessions.
Classiclady June 21, 2006

This article comes from ACLIS - Albanian Canadian League Information Service - A logistic office of Albanian Canadian League

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