The largest ethnolinguistic group present in the country has a six-century long tradition

They call themselves Arbëreshë, but they are also known as Albanians of Italy or Italo-Albanians. With a population of 100,000 individuals, they are one of the most numerous ethnolinguistic groups in the country. In particular, they concentrate in fifty communities scattered in villages in Apulia, Basilicata, Campania, Molise, and Sicily. In Calabria, there is the largest community, with over 58,000 people.

They call themselves Arbëreshë, but they are also known as Albanians of Italy or Italo-Albanians

They are the descendants of mostly Tosk Albanian refugees, who fled from Albania between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries in consequence of the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans. For centuries, this community has been able to maintain its own specificity: from the language to the religious rites up to the arts and gastronomy. The Albanian diaspora took place between the 15th and 18th centuries, following the death of the national hero, the legendary Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg (1405-1468). Despite his military successes, the Albanian leader was not able to prevent the Ottoman conquest and the Country of the Eagles slowly had to yield to the Turkish dominion. This led to the intensification of the migration of refugees towards Apulia.

Today, at least 80% of Italo-Albanians, speak or understand their own local variant of the Arbëresh language. This idiom is an ancient variety of the Tosco, the southern dialect spoken in Albania. And in Italy, it survived for six centuries being handed down mostly orally. Of the motherland, the Italo-Albanians, preserve, in addition to the language, a whole series of religious, cultural, and gastronomic traditions. An identity that is still based on customs, art, and gastronomy, jealously handed down from generation to generation. Nevertheless, the church is the most important organization for maintaining the characteristic religious, ethnic, linguistic, and traditional identity of the Arbëreshë community. In fact, most of the 50 communities still preserve the Byzantine rite during the liturgy. The Italo-Albanians are, therefore, part of that rich heritage of ethnolinguistic and cultural diversity present in Italy and protected by its Constitution. Indeed, a 1999 law recognizes Albanian among the languages to be valued.

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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