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, later Bektashi|
|Nickname(s)||"Aslan" (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 a Muslim Albanian ruler who served as an Ottoman 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: Muhtar Pasha (served in the 1809 war against the Russians), Veli Pasha of Morea and Salih Pasha of Vlore.
Ali first appears in historical accounts as the leader of a band of brigands who became involved in many confrontations with Ottoman state officials in Albania and Epirus. He joined the administrative-military apparatus of the Ottoman Empire, holding various posts until 1788 when he was appointed pasha, ruler of the sanjak of Ioannina. His diplomatic and administrative skills, his interest in modernist ideas and concepts, his popular religiousness, his religious neutrality, his win over the bands terrorizing the area, his revengefulness and harshness in imposing law and order, and his looting practices towards persons and communities in order to increase his proceeds cause both the admiration and the criticism of his contemporaries, as well as an ongoing controversy among historians regarding his personality. Ali Pasha of Tepelena died in 1822 at the age of 81 or 82.
His name in the local languages were: 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.
Ali Pasha was part of the Albanian Lab tribe . As this tribe was in disrepute among the other Albanians for their poverty and predatory habits, he thought it proper to call himself after Tepelena, a town of the Tosks. No one dared to dispute this until after his death. There have been allegations that his ancestors were Turkish settlers that came from Anatolia, but this claim is now rejected.  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 Muftar 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[clarification needed]. 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 was also known to have fasted during the month of Ramadan.
As pasha of Ioannina, he slowly laid the foundations to create an almost independent state, which included a large part of Greece and Albania. During his rule, the town of Ioannina developed into a major educational, cultural, political and economic hub. In order to achieve his goals he allied with all religious and ethnic groups in his territory. At the same time he did not hesitate to fiercely crash any opponent. He also developed relations with European powers.
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[clarification needed] the Czar his plan to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, Ali Pasha switched sides and allied with 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 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 and 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), his rule brought relative stability. It was only after his forceful deposition that the people of Greece objected to the rule of the Sultan Mahmud II and the newly appointed Hursid Pasha and thus began the Greek War of Independence.
Ali Pasha used Greek in his court, and over the gate of his castle in Yannina there was an inscription in Greek claiming his descent from King Pyrrhus of Epirus. It is reported that he conversed with foreigners in Greek.
A long epic poem known as the Alipashiad consisting 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 mass 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 his victims. 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 his 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 into 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 by 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 forced 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.
His separatist actions constitute a great example of the institutional corruption and dividing trends prevailing in the Ottoman Empire at the time. His effort to become an independent ruler finally causes the reaction of the Sublime Porte, which sends the army against him. 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 was born into a Muslim family. Regardless, the struggle for power and the political turmoils within the Empire required for him to support non-Muslim or heterodox preachers, beliefs, and orders. One of the spiritual figures which influenced him was St. Cosmas. Ali ordered and supervised the construction of the monastery dedicated to him.
He strongly supported the Sufi orders, well spread in Rumelia at those time. Ali was close to the dominant Sufi orders as Naqshbandi, Halveti, Sâdîyye, or even Alevi. Specifically the famous Sufi shrines in Yanina and Parga were Naqshbandi. The order that was mostly supported by him was Bektashi and he is accepted today to have been a Bektashi follower, initiated by Baba Shemin of Fushë-Krujë. Through his patronage, Bektashism spread in Thessaly, Epirus, South Albania, and in Kruja. Ali's tomb headstone was capped by the crown (taj) of the Bektashi order. Nasibi Tahir Babai, a Bektashi saint, is regarded as one of three spiritual advisers of Ali Pasha.
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.
Alexandre Dumas, père wrote a history, Ali Pacha, part of his eight-volume series Celebrated Crimes (1839–40).
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.
Ali Pasha provokes the bey Mustapha (a fictional character) in The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian to come out fighting on his own account, when the British navy is in the area seeking an ally to push the French off Corfu. The Turkish expert for the British Navy visits him to learn this tangled story, which puts Captain Aubrey out to sea to take Mustapha in battle.
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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Sources agree he was born into an aristocratic Muslim Albanian family in the Albanian village of Tebelen
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Tepedelenli Ali Pasa, governor of Yanya (Yannina) who was an Alevi-Bektashi and who also had great love for the Saint.
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KOLIKONTASI Monastery....thirty-four years after his tragic end, on the orders of 'his highness the Vizier Ali Pasha from Tepeleni'
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...he seemed to have been closer to the Sadiyye, the Halvetiyye or even the Nakshibendiyye (the tekke of Parga was Nakshibendi, as well as a well-kbown tekke of Ioannina)....
Ali Pasha was considered to be 'responsible for the propagation of Bektashism' in Thessaly, in South Albania and in Kruja...
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Around that time, Ali was converted to Bektashism by Baba Shemin of Kruja...
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Most of the Southern Albania and Epirus converted to Bektashism, initially under the influence of Ali Pasha Tepelena, "the Lion of Janina", who was himself a follower of the order.
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Bektashism was widespread during the reign of Ali Pasha, a Bektashi himself,...
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The most illustrious among them was Ali Pasha (1740-1822), who exploited the organisation and religious doctrine...
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The great expandion of Bektashism in southern Albania took place during the time of Ali Pasha Tepelena, who is believed to have been a Bektashi himself
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...and the tomb of Ali himself. Its headstone was capped by the crown (taj) of the Bektashi order.
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- G. Plataris, Kodikas Choras Metsovou ton eton 1708-1907 [Chora Metsovou Log of the years 1708-1907], Athens 1982, pp. 105, 120.
- V. Skafidas, “Istoria tou Metsovou” [History of Metsovo], Epirotiki Estia 11/121, 122 (1962), p. 387.
- M. Tritos, “Ta sozomena firmania ton pronomion tou Metsovou” [The surviving firmans about the privileges granted to Metsovo], Minutes of the 1st Conference of Metsovite Studies, Athens 1993, pp. 404.
- Brøndsted, Peter Oluf, Interviews with Ali Pacha; edited by Jacob Isager, (Athens, 1998)
- Davenport, Richard, The Life of Ali Pasha, Late Vizier of Jannina; Surnamed Aslan, Or the Lion, (2nd ed, Relfe, London, 1822)
- Dumas père, Alexandre, Ali Pacha, Celebrated Crimes
- Fauriel, Claude Charles: Die Sulioten und ihre Kriege mit Ali Pascha von Janina, (Breslau, 1834)
- Glenny, Misha The Balkans 1804-1999 Granta Books, London 1999.
- 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)
- Plomer, William The Diamond of Jannina: Ali Pasha 1741-1822 (New York, Taplinger, 1970)
- 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
- Pouqueville, François, Voyage en Grèce (Paris, 1820–1822, 5 vol. in-8° ; 20 édit., 1826–1827, 6 vol. in-8°), his capital work
- Pouqueville, François, Histoire de la régénération de la Grèce (Paris, 1824, 4 vol. in-8°), translated in many languages. French original edition available on Google books 
- Pouqueville, François, Notice sur la fin tragique d’Ali-Tébélen (Paris 1822, in-8°)
- Skiotis, Dennis N., "From Bandit to Pasha: first steps in the rise to power of Ali of Tepelen, 1750–1784", International Journal of Middle East Studies 2: 3: 219–244 (July 1971) (JSTOR)
- Vaudoncourt, Guillaume de Memoirs on the Ionian Islands ... : including the life and character of Ali Pacha. London: Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1816
- Media related to Tepedelenli Ali Paşa at Wikimedia Commons