Avni Rustemi in the 1920s
|Born||September 22, 1895
Libohovë, Gjirokastër, Albania
|Died||April 22, 1924
Avni Rustemi (born September 22, 1895, Libohovë, Gjirokastër, Albania, then Ottoman Empire – June 10, 1924) was an Albanian teacher, activist and member of the Albanian parliament. Rustemi was the leader of the democratic organisation "Bashkimi", and member of the democratic opposition in the Albanian National Assembly preceding the Revolution of June 1924.
Rustemi was born in Libohovë, in a family of landowners. He attended secondary school in Janina (Ioannina) and Istanbul. In 1908, only 13 years old, he abandoned school to join the guerrilla group of Çerçiz Topulli and in 1910 he attempted the assassination of the Ottoman army general of expedition, Shefqet Turgut Pasha in Shkodër. In 1912-13, he studied at a teacher training college in Geneva and returned to Albania in 1914 where he served as a volunteer fighter against Greek forces in southern Albania during the Occupation of Albania (1912–1913). In 1915 he studied at a Jewish school in Ioannina run by the Alliance Israélite Universelle. In 1917 he returned to Albania and taught school in Tepelenë and Vlorë, but seems to have been in eternal conflict with his superiors. In early 1919, Rustemi began further studies at the Arberesh College of Saint Adrian in San Demetrio Corone in Calabria. In the spring of 1919 in San Demetrio Corone, he formed the League of the Albanian Youth (Albanian: Lidhja e Rinisë Shqiptare) for the defence of the Albanians Nation. After a stay in Rome, he returned to Vlorë in the spring of 1920 and to the political chaos reigning in Albania. It was here, after contact with certain individuals who were no doubt supporters of those in power, that he was encouraged to assassinate Essad Pasha Toptani, who was scheming to overthrow the new and unstable government. Essad Pasha was regarded as a traitor for having murdered Hasan Riza Pasha, commander of Shkodër, in April 1913, and for turning the fortress of Shkodër over to Montenegro.
The Assassination of Essad Pasha
Essad Pasha was in Paris at the time and was hoping to return to Albania at the head of a new government or indeed as the country's monarch. Essad had already managed a coup d'etat to overthrow Wilhelm of Wied, the then Prince of Albania. Although living in Paris and away from legislative governing of Albania, Essad Pasha claimed to still be the ruler of the state and attempted to represent Albania in the Paris Peace Conference. On 21 May 1920 Avni Rustemi travelled to Rome and continued from there to Paris, pursuant to his instructions. Three weeks later, on 13 June 1920, he shot and killed Essad Pasha Toptani as the latter was leaving the Hotel Continental (now the Westin Paris Vendôme) in rue de Castiglione.
Albanian historians characteristically give lofty patriotic motives for this spectacular deed that caught the attention of the French and European press. Rustemi was nonetheless acquitted of the crime before a French court on 2 December 1920. The assassination was largely seen as a heroic act as it has historically been seen as a signal of a new bourgeois revolution against the feudal traditions of Albania and a crossing bridge in the newly democratic-bourgeois values.
On his return to Albania later that month, he was lauded as a national hero and entered the political arena. In April 1921, he took part in the founding in Vlora of the Atdheu (Fatherland) society and, when he founded Bashkimi (Unity) society on 13 October 1923, Rustemi was chose for parliament with the support of Bajram Curri as deputy of Puka and came to lead the democratic forces of Fan Noli, Bajram Curri and Sulejman Delvina in an increasingly bitter struggle with the conservative landowners under Ahmet Zogu. On 23 February 1924, Rustemi was involved in an attempt to assassinate Zogu.
Two months later on April 20, 1924, Avni Rustemi was himself shot in Durrës Road in Tirana by a miller called Jusuf Reçi, an agent of Zogu, and died two days later of his wounds. His widely attended funeral in Vlora on 30 April of that year gave rise to the anti-government demonstrations which led to the Noli Revolution and the rise to power of Fan Noli in June 1924.
Avni Rustemi was an eminent democratic ideologist and democratic activist. His ideology, expressed through different forms of speeches and journalism, became a strong weapon for the democratic Albanian youth. In his speeches he claimed that when the government does not fulfill the needs of the people, then this need must be fulfilled with the organised interest of people to push government to do so. For the solution to the country's crisis, Avni Rustemi pointed at the development of the independent national economy. He is quoted saying that without an independent economy, there can be no independent politics. His ideology was further enforced in the National Assembly of 1924, where he was chosen as a deputy of the people from ex-prefecture of Kosovo. He bravely criticized the bureaucratic system of that time and the ignorance of the governing classes while fiercely defending traditional values and the human rights of the Albanians living in ethnic Albania.
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- Jan Myrdal, Gun Kessle Albania defiant (1976) page 105, 107, 112
- Miranda Vickers The Albanians: a modern history IB Tauris (2006) page 96 
- Vladimir Viktorovich Aleksandrov Essays in contemporary history, 1917-1945(1989) page 86