Theofan Stilian Noli, better known as Fan Noli (January 6, 1882 – March 13, 1965) was an Albanian-American writer, scholar, diplomat, politician, historian, orator, and founder of the Albanian Orthodox Church, who served as prime minister and regent of the Albania in 1924 during the June Revolution.
Fan Noli is venerated in Albania as a champion of literature, history, theology, diplomacy, journalism, music, and national unity. He played an important role in the consolidation of Albanian as the national language of Albania with numerous translations of world literature masterpieces.His contribution to the English-language literature are also manifold: as a scholar and author of a series of publications on Skanderbeg, Shakespeare, Beethoven, religious texts and translations.
He acquired his education at Harvard and was ordained priest in 1908, establishing thereby the Albanian Church and elevating the Albanian language to ecclesiastic use. He briefly resided in Albania after the 1912 declaration of independence. After World War I, Noli led the diplomatic efforts for the reunification of Albania and received the support of U.S. President Wilson.
Later he pursued a diplomatic-political career in Albania, successfully leading the Albanian bid for membership in the League of Nations.
A respected figure who remained critical of corruption and injustice in the Albanian government, Fan Noli was asked to lead the 1924 June Revolution.
He then served as prime minister until his revolutionary government was overthrown by Ahmet Zogu. He was exiled to Italy and permanently settled in the United States in the 1930s, acquiring U.S. citizenship and agreeing to end his political involvement. He spent the rest of his life as an academician, religious leader and writer.
Fan Noli was born in 1882 in the Albanian community of Ibrik Tepe, Eastern Thrace (then part of the Ottoman Empire) as Theofanus Stylianos Mavromatis.He was either of Albanian Greek origin, Vlach origin, or born to a Bulgarian Jewish father and a Greek mother.
As a young man, Noli wandered throughout the Mediterranean Basin, living in Athens, Greece, Alexandria, Egypt and Odessa, Russia, and supported himself as an actor and translator. He spoke many foreign languages such as Greek, Albanian, English, French, Turkish, and Arabic.
Through his contacts with the Albanian expatriate movement, he became an ardent supporter of his country's nationalist movement and moved to the United States in 1906. He first worked in Buffalo, New York, in a lumber mill and then moved to Boston, Massachusetts and worked as an operator on a machine which stamped labels on cans
In Boston, some Albanian Christians were part of the Greek Orthodox Church, which was vehemently opposed to the Albanian nationalist cause. When a Greek Orthodox priest refused to perform the burial rites for Kristaq Dishnica, a member of the Albanian community from Hudson, Massachusetts, because of his nationalist activities, Noli and a group of Albanian nationalists in New England created the independent Albanian Orthodox Church.
Noli, the new church's first clergyman, was ordained as a priest in 1908 by a Russian Orthodox bishop in the United States under questionable circumstances. In 1923, Noli was consecrated as a bishop for the Church of Albania.
In 1908, Noli began studying at Harvard, completing his degree in 1912. He returned to Europe to promote Albanian independence, setting foot in Albania for the first time in 1913. He returned to the United States during World War I, serving as head of the Vatra organization, which effectively made him leader of the Albanian diaspora.
His diplomatic efforts in the United States and Geneva won the support of President Woodrow Wilson for an independent Albania and, in 1920, earned the new nation membership in the fledgling League of Nations.
Though Albania had already declared its independence in 1912, membership in the League of Nations provided the country with the international recognition it had failed to obtain until then.
In 1921, Noli entered the Albanian parliament as a representative of the liberal pro-British "People's Party" (Albanian: Partia e Popullit), the chief liberal movement in the country.
The other parties were the conservative pro-Italian "Progressive Party" (Albanian: Partia Përparimtare) founded by Mehdi Frashëri and led by Ahmet Zogu, and "Popular Party" (Albanian: Partia Popullore) of Xhafer Ypi.
The conservatives of Zogu would dominate the political scene.
Noli served briefly as foreign minister in the government of Xhafer Ypi. This was a period of intense turmoil in the country between the liberals and the conservatives.
After a botched assassination attempt against Zogu, the conservatives revenged themselves by assassinating another popular liberal politician, Avni Rustemi. Noli's speech at Rustemi's funeral was so powerful that liberal supporters rose up against Zogu and forced him to flee to Yugoslavia (March 1924).
Zogu was succeeded briefly by his father-in-law, Shefqet Vërlaci, and by the liberal politician Iliaz Vrioni; Noli was named prime minister and regent on July 17, 1924.
Noli was consecrated in 1923 as the senior Orthodox bishop of the newly proclaimed Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania out of the Congress of Berat.
Downfall and exile
Despite his efforts to reform the country, Noli's "Twenty Point Program" was unpopular, and his government was overthrown by groups loyal to Zogu on Christmas Eve of that year. Two weeks later, Zogu returned to Albania, and Noli fled to Italy under sentence of death.
Conscious of his fragile position, Zogu took drastic measures to consolidate his reassert in power.
By the end of winter, two of the main leaders of the opposition, Bajram Curri and Luigj Gurakuqi, were assassinated, while others were imprisoned. Noli founded the "National Revolutionary Committee" (Albanian: Komiteti Nacional Revolucionar) also known as KONARE in Vienna. The committee published the periodical called "National Freedom" (Albanian: Liria Kombëtare).
Some of the early Albanian communists as Halim Xhelo or Riza Cerova would start their publishing activities here. The committee aimed in overthrowing Zogu and his cast and restoring democracy. Despite the efforts, the committee's access and influence in Albania would be limited. With the intervention of Kosta Boshnjaku, an old communist and KONARE member, the organization would receive unconditioned monetary support from the Comintern.
Also Noli and Boshnjaku would make possible for exile members of the Committee for the National Defence of Kosovo (outlawed by Zogu) to get the same financial support.
In 1928, KONARE changed its name to "Committee of National Liberation" (Albanian: Komiteti i Çlirimit Kombëtar). Meanwhile in Albania, after three years of republican regime, the "National Council" declared Albania a Constitutional Monarchy, and Ahmet Zogu became king. Noli moved back to the United States in 1932 and formed a republican opposition to Zogu, who had since proclaimed himself "King Zog I".
Over the next years, he continued his education, studying and later teaching Byzantine music, and continued developing and promoting the autocephalous Albanian Orthodox Church he had helped to found.
While in exile, he briefly allied with King Zog, who fled Albania before the invading Italians in 1939, but was unable to set a firm anti-Axis, anti-Communist front.
After the war, Noli established some ties with the communist government of Enver Hoxha, which seized power in 1944.
He unsuccessfully urged the U.S. government to recognize the regime, but Hoxha's increasing persecution of all religions prevented Noli's church from maintaining ties with the Orthodox hierarchy in Albania. Despite the Hoxha regime's anticlerical bent, Noli's ardent Albanian nationalism brought the bishop to the attention of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI's Boston office kept the bishop under investigation for more than a decade with no final outcome to the probe.
In 1945, Fan S. Noli received a doctor's degree in history from Boston University, writing a dissertation on Skanderbeg. In the meantime, he also conducted research at Boston University Music Department, publishing a biography on Ludvig van Beethoven. He also composed a one-movement symphony called Scanderbeg in 1947.
Toward the end of his life, Noli retired to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he died in 1965. The branch of the Albanian Orthodox Church that he had governed eventually became the Albanian Archdiocese of the Orthodox Church in America.
Writing in his diary two days after Noli's death, Albanian leader Enver Hoxha gave his analysis of Noli's work:
As we are informed, Fan S. Noli died from an operation done last week in which, because of his age, he did not survive. A cerebral hemorrhage caused a quick death. Noli was one of the prominent political and literary figures of the beginning of this century.
The balance sheet of his life was positive. . . .Fan Noli today enjoys a great popularity in our country, deserved as a literary translator and music critic. He was a prominent promoter of the Albanian language. His original works and translations, especially of Shakespeare, of Omar Khayyám and Blasco Ibáñez, are immortal.
But especially his anti-Zogist, anti-feudal elegies and poems are beautiful jewels that have inspired and will inspire our youth, especially in creativity. He was also respected as a realistic politician, as a revolutionary democrat in ideology and politics.
The Party has assessed the figure of Noli. As is deserved, we have had a patriotic duty to point out the really great merits of his in literature, the history of the arts, and his merits and weaknesses in politics. I think we will do our best in bringing his body to Albania, as this distinguished son of the people, the revolutionary patriot, deserves to bask in his homeland, which he loved and fought for his entire life.