The Ivanaj Family

Ivanaj House 1930

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Martin and Mirash Ivanaj were the youngest of 8 siblings born to a well known family of the area known as Malësia of Shkodra since the time that it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Their father was Dodë Ivani Ivanaya, a wealthy land owner in Beqaj which belonged to the Tribe of Triepsh. Their mother, Zogë Nickea (Eoghe Nickine), was born in the Tribe of Grudë. Having been politically persecuted and condemned to death by the Turks, Dode relocated his family to Podgoriça, together with his brother Leka, around 1882.

Their paternal and maternal families consisted of a great number of people (50 to 70 members) of Illyrian and Albanian patriarchal ancestry. After the occupation of Podgoriça, their uncle Leka who had represented his region at the Congress of Prizren in 1878, was killed in Shkodra in 1894 while attempting to relocate his family because he had refused Montenegro’s Prince Nikolla offer to be his representative for Malësia of Shkodra.

The two Ivanaj brothers

More pictures of the two brothers

Martin and Mirash’s household continued to preserve an old, typical Illyric way of life reflected in legends and myths about the heroes of their tribes. The same can be said about the religious conservation of names and events of past generations of their family, which formed an unbroken chain for hundreds of years. They were brought up well, in a classic, full sense, Albanian system, based on traditions of bravery, courtesy, and honesty. These were the well-known qualities of the Albanian tribes, which their family belonged to, devoted to the Code of Leka (old Canon of Law).

Within their own family circle, among other things, they understood in detail the perpetuation of various well-known ceremonies, thousands of years old, and very well conserved, such as the ones related to matrimony and death, because their sisters, although with only elementary education, were united in marriage to other tribes (Hoti and Grudë) of Malësia of Shkodra. Both the national original dresses and language were very well preserved throughout the entire families existence.

In Podgoriça Martin and Mirash began learning Slavic. Thanks to their newly acquired language, their father was able to send them to Belgrade to attend high school, because there was no such level of education in Montenegro at the time.

The two brothers continued their higher education abroad, even after their parents’ demise (father in 1913 and mother in 1916) and obtained in the 1920’s their degrees in Jurisprudence and Letters/Phylosophy at the University of Rome in Italy, known today as “La Sapienza”. (Click link for more: “Mementos“.

They lived and remained together, serving their country, for the rest of their lives, but died in different places under very different circumstances. Since 1995, however, their remains have been reunited and they now rest in peace in Tirana’s main cemetery, the motherland they worked for and loved so much. Their biographies follow.

Dr. Martin Ivanaj

(1888-1940)

Dr. Martin IvanajMartin Dodë Ivanaj was born in Podgorica on October 26, 1888 in a patriotic Albanian family of Triepsh that comprised of 5 daughters and 3 boys. He was one of the youngest among his siblings and attended the early studies in that city where he learned the Slavic language together with his younger brother Mirash. He was sent by his father to Belgrade with his brother, and there they continued their education throughout high school and some University studies.

Martin lived in Belgrade until 1907 making great sacrifices and teaching privately. This profession was his only source of income and having gained enough experience by exercising this work, in 1909 he founded a private school named “Prosveta” (civilization), which became quite famous in Belgrade at the time.

Since childhood he had idealized the Albanian language especially in folk songs. He enjoyed listening when his father sang them while playing the lute for his family members during the long wintry nights around the fire-place. The talent for writing poems, inherited from his father, inspired him to express his thoughts through poetry, even though his legal studies and later legal profession contradicted any poetic demonstration of simple literature. During 1907-1913 he wrote many lyric poems and fables in both the Slavic and Albanian language with themes and titles such as “Hope of Albania” and “the New Albania”, etc. Most of his poems were published in Belgrade’s literary magazines, and are still available to researchers in the archives of that city.

From 1905 he started collecting and, since then, meticulously maintained all Albanian manuscripts published abroad, which would be valuable in later times to researchers and historians. He continued to collect such documents with great zeal, even when he was studying in Belgrade and Rome, by using money from his personal account until the fatal day of April 7, 1939 when the Fascist occupation of Albania occurred, making the country part of the Italian Empire under King Victor Emmanuel III. This gathering of documents related to Albania and Albanians was one of the most private, fully compiled assemblies of works by Martin Ivanaj, who, also with his brother Mirash, assembled what became the largest private library of books and manuscripts in the country at a time when no public libraries existed.

In 1913 noticing that the government of the time was very indifferent towards the Albanian matters and it displayed an unfair policy concerning the creation of a free Albania, he abandoned his studies in Belgrade and returned to Albania. In Vlora he visited Ismail Qemali, who helped him to go to Rome, where, at the Royal University (today’s “La Sapienza”), he completed in 1921 his studies in Jurisprudence with a thesis on Canon of Leka. Being originally from, and having observed the codes of law by living in his patriarchal family of Malësia of Shkodra, especially during a four-year period of war, he had excellent knowledge of this subject.

Although he was educated abroad, during the period of his studies he never stopped demonstrating his national feeling about his fatherland, even in difficult times and circumstances. Several are his interventions such as his publishing during 1910-12 of several articles about Albania and the national movements in the political official bulletins of Belgrade, the creation of the Albanian Students Association in Rome (1914-20), the drafting of a protest to Gabriele d’Annunzio for published documents that used dirty and humiliating phrases against Albanians when Vlora was fighting against the Italians and for the liberation of the entire Albania, his participation in the grand manifestation in Rome that opposed the consignment of the Italian military forces to Vlora, etc.

Martin Ivanaj also left several handwritings that he had intended to publish after retirement from public life, but, unfortunately, these precious manuscripts were stolen and misappropriated by others, and the Ivanaj library was also dispersed over a period of time. Some of the books are now part of Albania’s National Library.

In 1922 Martin was appointed Judge in the First Level District Court in the beautiful southern city of Korça, but in April 1924, when some people were preparing a revolt in Albania, he resigned his position to actively participate in political life, in opposition to the separatist and dissenting policy of a party in Shkodra. After the revolt of 1924 he crossed the border, stayed in Hoti for seven months, and returned home in December 1924.

During 1925 he exercised the profession of Advocate in the Legal Offices of Shkodra. At the end of 1925 he was appointed Member of the High (Supreme) Court, where until 1929 he was the first and only Judge of the court with Western experience. He was also nominated Member of the Council of the State, from 1929 to 1932, while he continued his legal career in Tirana that culminated as Chief Justice of the above High Court until April 7, 1939.

In July 1932 he had married in Rome a northern Italian teacher, Giuseppina Pogliotti, descendant from a noble family with English ancestors, and a year later became the father of a daughter, Drita.

While his family remained in Tirana during the Italian 1939 occupation, he with his brother Mirash and most of Tirana’s population chose to leave the country and went into exile. The Ivanaj family residence, a villa of 14 rooms barely completed, was immediately confiscated by the top command of the Italian military forces and became the headquarters of its General, who forced both mother and daughter to leave their property and furnishings.

On the day of the occupation of Tirana, Martin was feverish, but decided to leave his country like many others and, on top of a truck travelled and reached Turkey with his brother Mirash. He was hospitalized in Istanbul and for the next 13 months he was assisted with great care by his brother. He died on May 27, 1940 of natural causes and was buried, with great participation by the Albanian community, in the grounds of the Feriköy cemetery.

Only after 55 years, when Albania opened up to democracy, Martin’s daughter was able to arrange for her father’s remains to be transferred to Albania. In 1995 the reburial was done at Tirana’s cemetery (at Kombinat), in the same plot where his brother lies. Martin and Mirash now rest in peace, next to each other, and united in death as they were in life.

Prof. Dr. MIRASH IVANAJ

(1891-1953)

Prof. Mirash IvanajMirash Dodë Ivanaj, was born in Podgoriça on March 12, 1891, three years after his brother Martin with whom he shared very closely his whole life. Like Martin, he attended primary school in Podgoriça, secondary school and high school in Belgrade, and moved to Rome where he excelled ‘magna cum laude’ in two academic faculties of Letters/Philosphy and Jurisprudence, graduating at what is now ‘La Sapienza’ University, respectively in 1921 and 1923.

In 1923, back in the homeland, Mirash actively participated in the political life of the country and education. In Shkodra, a missionary of republican ideas, he established and directed the newspaper “Republika”. In that city’s Gymnasium “28 November” he was first Professor and then Director for several years (1924-1930). The Shkodra Gymnasium at the time that was led by Mirash Ivanaj became a model of education at the time.

In the years 1930-1933 he was a Professor at a secondary school in Tirana. For his skills and merits in the field of education, Mirash Ivanaj was then elected Minister of Education. During this tenure (1933-1935) he led and implemented changes for which he became known as a great reformer of Albania’s educational system and National leader of the Albanian Public School system.

He resigned this position in 1935 because his ideas and attitude did not coincide with those in government, but, he was elected Member of the Council of State and later on, President of such Council, by the then ruling monarch, Zog, who appointed him as his adviser on educational issues.

As a self-determined warrior that defended national education and independence for his country, Mirash Ivanaj was one of the most vocal opponents of the fascist aggression and the Italian invasion of Albania. Along with his brother Martin, other intellectuals and students, he supported anti-fascist demonstrations that took place before the country’s invasion of April 7, 1939. On that day he left the country with his brother and they reached Istanbul, where, unfortunately Martin was hospitalized and died 13 months later. Throughout his exile that lasted six years, Mirash continued his support and work for Albania by traveling through Lebanon, to Jerusalem to connect with and assist other key progressive Albanian political figures living abroad.

At the end of WWII in 1945 he returned home, invited by the Minister of Education at the time. Spurred only by noble and patriotic purposes to serve the war-torn Albania within the sphere of education and culture, he accepted the task of educating and lecturing in a school that instructed teachers in Tirana, while living in one room of the original Ivanaj residence, which he obtained possession of, although in bad shape and in great need of repairs.

The communist dictatorship however arrested him a year later for no specific reason and subjected him, in secrecy, to torture during 270 days of complete segregation. Lastly, after these several months of total confinement, a military court tried him for “crime against the state” (conspiring with foreign nationals against the state). On May 29, 1948, he was sentenced to “7 years in prison with confiscation of all properties and deprivation of political and civil rights for 5 years”, which were officially confirmed to him, while in prison, only on October 14, 1950.

Due to his knowledge of several languages (including Russian, which he learned during his imprisonment) he was used as a translator during his confinement.

On September 23, 1953, toward the end of his sentence, he died in Tirana’s hospital where he was brought when he fell sick. There seems to be no record of his death in the prison’s logs. A fellow prisoner informed the family of his demise in writing a few months later. Only in recent years it was learned that his body was used, among others, for experiments and demonstrations in medical school curricula of the then newly formed Faculty of Medicine in Tirana, and the location of his burial was fortuitously found by a fellow ex-political prisoner who survived his confinement.

During Mirash’s tenure in Albania’s government he received the decoration of the “Order of Skanderbeg”. Posthumously, with the advent of democracy, he was awarded, the Presidential medal “Martir i Demokracisë” (“Martyr of Democracy”) during a ceremony at Shkodra’s museum in May 1993, for its resistance and martyrdom in prison. A larger, well attended, and televised commemoration in his memory was organized by the Albanian government at the Palace of Congress in Tirana in September 1993 on the 40th anniversary of his death.

An additional honor in his name as “Mësues i Populit” (“Teacher of the People”) was dispensed by Albania’s President and presented to Mirash’s only heir, Drita, at a ceremony in the Gymnasium of Shkodra in October 1996, for his role as an educator.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death in 2003, Mirash Ivanaj was remembered with a scientific conference, organized by the Ivanaj Foundation at Tirana’s National Historic Museum, followed by an exhibition of hundreds of Ivanaj documents abstracted from Albania’s National Archives. Another Presidential decoration “Nderi i Kombit” (“Honor to the Nation”) was bestowed again in his name at that time for his “contributions as a prominent figure of the Albanian nation and culture, a great reformer of education and the Albanian national school, as an independent and uncompromising fighter for national freedom and social progress”.


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