Ali Pasha of Tepelena
|Pasha of Yanina|
Beçisht, Ottoman Empire (now Albania)
|Died||1822 (aged 81–82)
Ioannina, Ottoman Empire (now Greece)
|Parents||Veli bey and Hanka|
|Religion||Islam, Sufism, Bektashi Order|
|Nickname(s)||"Arslan" (Turkish: Lion)
"Lion of Yannina"
Ali Pasha of Tepelena or of Yannina (Ioannina), surnamed Aslan, "the Lion", or the "Lion of Yannina" (1740 – 24 January 1822), was an Ottoman Albanian ruler (pasha) of the western part of Rumelia, the Ottoman Empire's European territory, which was referred to as the Pashalik of Yanina. His court was in Ioannina, but the territory he governed incorporated most of Epirus and the western parts of Thessaly and Greek Macedonia in Northern Greece. Ali had three sons: Ahmet Muhtar Pasha (served in the 1809 war against the Russians), Veli Pasha of Morea and Salih Pasha of Vlore. Ali Pasha of Tepelena died fighting in 1822 at the age of 81 or 82.
His name in the local languages was: Albanian: Ali Pashë Tepelenjoti; Aromanian: Ali Pãshelu; Greek: Αλή Πασάς Τεπελενλής Ali Pasas Tepelenlis or Αλή Πασάς των Ιωαννίνων Ali Pasas ton Ioanninon (Ali Pasha of Ioannina); and Turkish: Tepedelenli Ali Paşa.
Ali was born in 1740 into a powerful clan in the village Beçisht, at the foot of the Këlcyrë mountains near the Albanian town of Tepelenë. He was one of the Tosk tribes and his ancestors had for some time held the hereditary office of bey of Tepeleni. His father Veli was bey (and possibly a retired Janissary). His grandfather (father of his mother Hanka) was Ahmet Pasha Kurt, a sanjakbey of the Sanjak of Avlona In the middle of the 18th century, from the Muzaka family who was later appointed to the position of derbendci aga (guardian of the mountain passes). Ahmet Pasha Kurt held this position until the sultan appointed Ahmet's grandson, Ali Pasha, instead of him.
About his origin, Robert Elsie, an expert in Albanian culture and affairs, states that he was born of a Turkish family from Anatolia. However, this has been refuted since it was proven that his family originated from southern Albania. According to other sources Ali Pasha was part of the Albanian Lab tribe (Liapis). As this tribe was in disrepute among the other Albanians for their poverty and predatory habits, he thought it proper to call himself after Tepeleni, a town of the Tosks. No one dared to dispute this until after his death.
Ali's father, Veli Bey, was murdered when Ali was fourteen years old by neighbouring rival chiefs who seized the territories of his Tosk tribe. The family lost much of its political and material status following the murder of his father. In 1758, his mother, Hanko, a woman of extraordinary character, thereupon herself formed and led a brigand band, and studied to inspire the boy with her own fierce and indomitable temper, with a view to revenge and the recovery of their lost wealth. According to Byron: "Ali inherited 6 dram and a musket after the death of his father ... Ali collected a few followers from among the retainers of his father, made himself master, first of one village, then of another, amassed money, increased his power, and at last found himself at the head of a considerable body of Albanians".
Ali became a famous brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. He was assigned to suppress brigandage and fought for the "Sultan and Empire" with great bravery, particularly against the famous rebel Pazvantoğlu. He aided the pasha of Negroponte in putting down a rebellion at Shkodër, it was during this period that he was introduced to the Janissary units and was inspired by their discipline. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvina, 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 services at Banat during the Austro-Turkish War (1787–1791). In 1788 he seized control of Ioannina, and enlisted most of the Brigands under his own banner. Ioannina would be 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.
During war-time, Ali Pasha could assemble an army of 50,000 men in a matter of two to three days, and could double that number in two to three weeks. Leading these armed forces was the Supreme Council. The Commander in Chief was the founder and financier, Ali Pasha. Council members included Myftar Pasha, Veli Pasha, Xheladin bej Ohri, Abdullah Pashe Taushani and a number of his trusted men like Hasan Dervishi, Halil Patrona, Omar Vrioni, Meço Bono, Ago Myhyrdari, Thanasis Vagias, Veli Gega (murdered by Katsantonis), and Tahir Abazi.
Ali Pasha as ruler
During the early days of his rule he was personally known for his alertness. He soon became a well-known Albanian Muslim figure, He also commanded one of the largest battalions of Albanian Janissaries; his servicemen also included men such as Samson Cerfberr of Medelsheim. Ali Pasha adhered to the Sufi Order of the Bektashi Brotherhood. Ali Pasha was also known to have fasted during the month of Ramadan.
Ali's policy as ruler of Ioánnina was mostly governed by expediency; he operated as a semi-independent despot and pragmatically allied himself with whoever offered the most advantage at the time. In fact, it was Ali Pasha and his Albanian soldiers and mercenaries who subdued the independent Souli.
Ali Pasha wanted to establish in the Mediterranean a sea-power which should be a counterpart of that of the Dey of Algiers, Ahmed ben Ali. In order to gain a seaport on the Albanian coast that was dominated by Venice, Ali Pasha formed an alliance with Napoleon I of France, who had established François Pouqueville as his general consul in Ioannina, with the complete consent of the Ottoman Sultan Selim III.
After the Treaty of Tilsit, where Napoleon granted the Czar his plan to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, Ali Pasha switched sides and allied with the Britain in 1807; a detailed account of his alliance with the British was written by Sir Richard Church. His actions were permitted by the Ottoman government in Constantinople. Ali Pasha was very cautious and unappeased by the emergence of the new Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II and his despotic Turkish yoke in the year 1808.
Lord Byron visited Ali's court in Ioánnina in 1809 and recorded the encounter in his work Childe Harold. He evidently had mixed feelings about the despot, noting the splendour of Ali Pasha's court and the Greek cultural revival that he had encouraged in Ioánnina, 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.."
Different tales about his sexual proclivities emerged from western visitors to Pasha's court (including Byron, the Baron de Vaudoncourt, and Frederick North, Earl of Guildford). These documenters wrote that he kept a large harem of both women as well as men. Such accounts may reflect the Orientalist imagination of Europe and underplay the historical role of Pasha rather than telling us anything concrete about his sexuality.
Ali Pasha, according to one opinion, "was a cruel and faithless tyrant; still he was not a Turk, but an Albanian; he was a rebel against the Sultan (Mahmud II), and he was so far an indirect friend of the Sultan's enemies". Throughout his rule he is known to have maintained close relations and corresponded with famous leaders such as Husein Gradaščević, Ibrahim Bushati, Mehmet Ali Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha.
Though certainly no friend to the Greek Nationalists (he had personally ordered the painful execution of the Klepht Katsantonis), however his rule brought relative stability. It was only after his forceful deposition that the people of Greece objected the rule of Sultan Mahmud II and the newly appointed Hursid Pasha and thus began the Greek War of Independence.
Ali Pasha was using Greek almost as his official language, and over the gate of his castle in Yannina there was an inscription in Greek in which he claimed descent from King Pyrrhus of Epirus. It is reported that he was conversing with foreigners in Greek.
A long epic poem known as the Alipashiad consists of more than 10,000 lines is dedicated to the exploits of Ali Pasha. The Alipashiad was composed by Haxhi Shekreti, an Albanian Muslim from Delvino and was written entirely in Greek.
Impact on modern Greek Enlightenment
Although Ali Pasha's native language was Albanian he used Greek for all his courtly dealings since the population of the region of Epirus (now mainly in northwestern Greece) which he controlled was predominantly Greek speaking. As a consequence, a part of the local Greek population showed sympathy towards his rule. This also activated new educational opportunities, with businessmen of the Greek diaspora, subsidizing a number of new educational purposes. As historian Douglas Dakin notes:
[Ali's] colourful career belongs to Greek as well as to Turkish history. His court was Greek and had been the centre of a Greek renaissance.
The cruelties inflicted by Ali Pasha on his subjects became notorious throughout the region, and have been described in local folksong and poetry. Forty years after the inhabitants of Gardhiq and Hormova had wronged his mother after murdering his father Veli Bey (according to the story, she was tied and put in prison and, with her daughter, raped and tortured every night by another group of men), Ali wrought revenge by having 739 male descendants of the original offenders executed.
In 1808, Mühürdar a commanding Janissary of Ali Pasha captured one of his most renowned opponents, the Greek klepht Katsantonis, who was executed in public by having his bones broken with a sledgehammer. One of Ali's notorious crimes was the massive murder of arbitrarily chosen young Greek girls of Ioannina. They were unfoundedly sentenced as adulteresses, tied up in sacks and drowned in Lake Pamvotis. Oral Aromanian tradition (songs) tells about the cruelty of Ali Pasha's troops.
In October 1798 Ali's troops attacked the coastal town of Preveza, which was defended by a small garrison of 280 French grenadiers and local Greeks. When the town was finally conquered a major slaughter occurred against the local people as retaliation for their resistance. He also tortured the French and Greek prisoners of war before their execution. A French officer described the atrocities ordered by Ali Pasha and his cruel character:
- "The chamber where Mr. Tissot had been locked, was facing to the place with the bloody remainders of the French and Greeks killed in Preveza. The officer witnessed the cruel death of several Prevezans whom Ali sacrificed to his rage, and the behavior of the Pasha during executions: one hundred times more cruel than Nero, Ali was viewing with sarcasm the torments of its victims. He counted their sighs, confronted their pallor and seemed to observe the clouds. His bloody soul enjoyed with execrable pleasure his indiscribable vengeance, and meditated still more atrocities.
Every French captive was given a razor with which he was forced to skin the severed heads of their compatriots. Those who refused were beaten on the head with clubs. After the heads were skinned, the masks were salted and put in cloth bags. When the operation was finished, the French were driven back in the hangar, and they were warned to prepare for death.
- Soon after they brought the unfortunate Prevezans, whose hands had been tied behind their back the Albanians. They piled them in large boats and drove to Salagora (a small island in the gulf of Arta), where a legion of executioners were waiting. Ali did a hecatomb of these four hundred misfortunes. Their heads were carried in a triumph offered soon in Ioannina, a spectacle worthy of his ferocity".
In the early nineteenth century his troops completed the destruction of the once prosperous cultural center of Moscopole, in modern southeastern Albania, and led its Aromanian population to flee from the region.
In 1819, Halet Efendi brought to the attention of Sultan Mahmud II issues conspicuously related to Ali Pasha; Halet Efendi accused Ali Pasha of grabbing power and influence in Ottoman Rumelia away from the Sublime Porte. In 1820, Ali Pasha, after long tensions with the Turkish Reforms, allegedly ordered the assassination of Gaskho Bey, a political opponent in Constantinople; Sultan Mahmud II, who sought to restore the authority of the Sublime Porte, took this as a major opportunity to move against Ali Pasha by ordering his immediate deposition.
Ali Pasha refused to resign his official post and put up a fierce resistance to the Sultan's troop movements, as some 20,000 Turkish troops led by Hursid Pasha were fighting Ali Pasha's small but formidable army. Most of his followers abandoned him without fighting and fled, including Androutsos and his sons Veli and Muhtar, or passed to the Ottoman army, such as Omer Vrioni and Alexis Noutsos, who went unopposed to Ioannina, which was besieged from September 1820.
On December 4, 1820, Ali Pasha and the Souliotes formed an anti-Ottoman coalition, to which the Souliotes contributed 3,000 soldiers. Ali Pasha gained the support of the Souliotes mainly because he offered to allow the return of the Souliotes to their land, and partly by appeal to their perceived Albanian origin. Initially, the coalition was successful and managed to control most of the region, but when the Muslim Albanian troops of Ali Pasha were informed of the beginning of the Greek revolts in the Morea, it was terminated.
Ali's rebellion against the Sublime Porte increased the value of the Greek military element since their services were sought by the Porte as well. He is said to have contracted the services of the Klephts and Souliots in exile in the Ionian Islands as well as the armatoles under his command. However he feared that the Klephts might rout him before the arrival of the Ottoman Turks.
After about two years of fighting, in January 1822, Ottoman forces had taken most of the fortifications of Ioannina except the fortified palace inside the kastro. Ali Pasha opened negotiations. Deceived with offers of a full pardon, he was persuaded to leave the fortress and settle in the Monastery of St Panteleimon on the island in Lake Pamvotis, previously taken by the Ottoman army during the siege. When asked to surrender for beheading, he famously proclaimed, "My head ... will not be surrendered like the head of a slave," and kept fighting till the end, but was shot through the floor of his room and his head cut off to be sent to the Sultan. Ali Pasha of Tepelena died in 1822.
Hursid Pasha, to whom it was presented on a large dish of silver plate, rose to receive it, bowed three times before it, and respectfully kissed the beard, expressing aloud his wish that he himself might deserve a similar end. To such an extent did the admiration with which Ali's bravery inspired these men efface the memory of his crimes.
Ali Pasha was buried with full honors in a mausoleum next to the Fethiye Mosque, which still stands. Despite his brutal rule, villagers paid their last respect to Ali: "Never was seen greater mourning than that of the warlike Epirotes."
The former monastery in which Ali Pasha was killed is today a popular tourist attraction. The holes made by the bullets can still be seen, and the monastery has a museum dedicated to him, which includes a number of his personal possessions.
Ali Pasha in literature
In early 19th century, Ali's personal balladeer, Haxhi Shekreti, composed the poem Alipashiad. The poem was written in Greek language, since the author considered it a more prestigious language in which to praise his master. Alipashiad bears the unusual feature to be written from the Muslim point of view of that time.
In the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père, Ali Pasha's downfall was brought about by the treachery of Fernand Mondego, an officer in the French Army. Not knowing of the betrayal, Pasha entrusted his wife and daughter to Mondego for safekeeping but he sold them into slavery. Monte Cristo subsequently located the daughter, Haydée, and helped her take revenge on Mondego by testifying in Paris of his betrayal of Ali Pasha.
Ali Pasha is also a major character in the 1854 Mór Jókai's Hungarian novel Janicsárok végnapjai ("The Last Days of the Janissaries"), translated into English by R. Nisbet Bain, 1897, under the title The Lion of Janina.
Many of the conflicting versions about the origin of the "Spoonmaker's Diamond", a major treasure of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, link it with Ali Pasha – though their historical authenticity is doubtful.
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- Fishta, Gjergj; Robert Elsie & Janice Mathie-Heck (trans.) (2005). The Highland Lute (Lahuta e malcís): the Albanian national epic. London: I.B.Tauris. p. 402. ISBN 978-1-84511-118-2. Retrieved 26 August 2010. "Lion of Janina, was born of a Turkish family from Asia Minor."
- Ahmet Uzun.Ο Αλή Πασάς ο Τεπελενλής και η περιουσία του.. [Ali Pasha from Tepeleni and his fortune] (Greek), p. 3: "Εξαιτίας της μοναδικότητας του ονόματος μιας οικογένειας που μετανάστευσε από την Ανατολία στη Ρούμελη και εγκαταστάθηκε στο Τεπελένι, υπάρχουν ισχυρισμοί που τον θέλουν Τούρκο. Εντούτοις οι ισχυρισμοί αυτοί είναι αβάσιμοι αφού στην πραγματικότητα είναι αποδεδειγμένο ότι καταγόταν από τη νότια Αλβανία."
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- Fauriel, Claude Charles: Die Sulioten und ihre Kriege mit Ali Pascha von Janina, (Breslau, 1834)
- Jóka, Mór: Janicsárok végnapjai, Pest, 1854. (in English: Maurus Jókai: The Lion of Janina, translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1897). 
- Manzour, Ibrahim, Mémoires sur la Grèce et l'Albanie pendant le gouvernement d'Ali Pacha, (Paris, 1827)
- Pouqueville, François, Voyage en Morée, à Constantinople, en Albanie, et dans plusieurs autres parties de l'Empire Ottoman (Paris, 1805, 3 vol. in-8°), translated in English, German, Greek, Italian, Swedish, etc. available on line at Gallica
- Pouqueville, François, Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly (London: printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co, 1820), an English denatured and truncated edition available on line
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- Media related to Tepedelenli Ali Paşa at Wikimedia Commons