Amira Arnon: My beautiful experiences as the Ambassador of Israel in Albania
Ambassador of Israel in Albania during two years from 2007 to 2009.
By Amira Arnon
Former Ambassador of Israel to Albania
I had the honor and pleasure to serve as an Ambassador of Israel in Albania during two years from 2007 to 2009. At that time we did not have an embassy in Tirana and I served as a roving ambassador located in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem covering three countries in the Balkan by paying official visits once a month to each country.
I left Albania with heavy heart In August 2009 when I was assigned as an Ambassador to Singapore. I had to leave many dear friends in Albania, the country I fell in love with and is one of the most beautiful and charming countries I have served in my long carrier as a diplomat.
But before I start, I have to first of all tell you how fortunate I was to have Ambassador Canaj Bardhyl as the honorary consul of Israel in Albania at that time. Canaj was my most important asset an ambassador can wished for, not only as a professional guide but mainly as a precious friend. With Canaj I toured Albania from south to north and beyond. He introduced me to the best of his country and best of people, officials and non officials. He attended In all my meetings, he always created a pleasant atmosphere. I will always remain grateful to him for that.
The first and most important word I have learnt in Albania is BESA! This word, which is the basic to understand the commitment of the Albanians to honor promises, helps to understand the special nature of the Albanian people who stood bravely against the Nazi regime during the World War II. Albanians, given the small population of Albania, saved and gave shelter to more Jews from the Nazi death machine than any other country in Europe. They preferred to protect Jews who escaped from other countries in the Balkans in spite the risk to their own life.
We in Israel will never forget these brave generous Albanian people.
Thanks to the warmth and open hearted people I have met during my visits in villages and towns, I became personally attached to Albania where I had many remarkable experiences. But unfortunately I will not be able to cover all in one page except but a few.
During my time in Albania I have travelled a lot, but my first impression of Albania was Hoxha’s famous bunkers along the road from the airport to Tirana and the colourful buildings of Tirana painted by Edi Rama who was then the Mayor of Tirana. Later, and following my study of the history of Albania, I made a point to visit Kruja, the Skanderbeg museum and the ancient market which remained untouched since antiquity time.
In Shkodra, where we initiated an Israeli film festival, I was amazed how the viewers laughed watching an Israeli comedy movie. they enjoyed the comedy just the same like any given Israeli audience. The festival was not only a great success but also proved that we, Israelis and Albanians, have so much in common.
Among other things, I visited the industrial zone in Shkodra and met Albanian entrepreneurs in order to enhance mutual cooperation with Israeli businessmen. A special visit was in one of the greatest artist’s studio who is the creator of the famous Venice festival masks. It goes without saying that one of his wonderful masks is hanged in my house.
Another exciting experience was the ceremony in Berat on the occasion of naming one of Berat’s streets as the “Jewish Street”. This gesture was initiated by Fadil Nasufi, the mayor of Berat, in honor of Jews who found shelter in this unique city of Berat which is recognized by UNESCO as one of the world cultural heritage.
In the city of Saranda, I was proud to be one of the first visitors in the archaeological site where a mosaic floor of a synagogue from the fourth-fifth century CE was discovered. In the centre of the mosaic floor is a description of Jewish symbols ( the Menora – the Jewish Candelabra) were exposed, which proves that a Jewish community lived in Saranda during the Hellenic and Byzantium era.
One of the most exciting, if not the most exciting of all, was our visit to Tropoja. Canaj, Natasha and Lowell who are my dear friends from Tirana and myself, arrived to Tropoja following the most beautiful ferry sail on the Drini river. The mayor of Tropoja hosted us on a trip to the wild valley of Valbona where we were hosted to lunch by local villagers.
They told us that during winter they are confined to the valley because the valley is covered with high snow which blocked most of the valley and that the children have to walk for hours to reach their school. The wild views of the valley, the beauty of the surroundings greenery, the high mountains and the lunch with the locals will remain as one experience I cannot forget.
Among my many official meetings I cannot forget the great honor of meeting with the late King Leka Zogu in the Royal family Palace. The king shared with me the history of the Royal family during World War II and the suffering endured by the Albanian people during that time. He was kind and very attentive to my remarks and when I left the palace I felt that I was granted with a very unique part of Albanian history.
Having telling you the above there are two important notes to mention on the official part of my time as the Ambassador to Albania.
The first is that very soon after my first arrival to Albania I started to work on my first assignment to cancel the visa regime between Israel and Albania. It was my most important target and It did not take too long before I was able to announce that Albanians do not need anymore to apply for a visa to Israel and they can travel to Israel free of any barriers. It was very well accepted mainly because at that time Albanian needed visa to almost all countries except to Turkey. I was as happy as my friends in Albania….
The other note that I wanted to reiterate is that I was the first lucky ambassador that gave a big reception on the occasion of the State of Israel independence day. It was a successful evening with the attendance of the President of Albania, the Prime Minister, Members of parliament, representatives of the academia and the military and lots of Albanians friends of Israel.
To conclude I wished to proudly say that I was honoured with the high Albania’s medal presented to me by president Bamir Topi. It was a very touching moment and a wonderful surprise to receive the medal which I keep as my very precious jewel.In the conclusion report of my service in Albania I recommended the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open an Embassy in Tirana and was glad to see it happening.