The Long Night of Communism (1945 to 1990)
by Huseyin Abiva
The communist takeover of Albania at the end of the Second World War had an extremely detrimental effect on religion in the country. The new government quickly sought to impose its will over the four national faiths and in both 1945 and 1950 Bektashi congresses were held to bring the community’s statutes in line with the state’s Stalinist policies. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the communist regime slowly deprived Bektashis (and all other faiths) of their religious rights as it sought to gradually eradicate religion altogether. Many babas and dervishes who refused to bend to the communists’ mandates were executed or sent to hard labor camps. The agrarian reforms implemented by the “people’s” state caused the expropriation of much of the community’s vakıf properties, rendering the order economically unviable. In March of 1947 a clash opened up between those babas who saw collaboration with the communists as positive and those who sought to stay true to time-honored ideals. The then head of the community, Abas Hilmi Dedebaba, shot to death two pro-communist babas, Faja Martaneshi and Fejzo Dervishi, in a meeting, after which (as communist authorities alleged) he committed suicide.
The enforced social revolution of 1967 was the last stage in the communist regime’s draconian war against religion. In that year religion in Albania was categorically outlawed and any open expression of pious sentiment became a criminal offence. All religious structures were closed down. Bektashi tekkes were no exception, and they were either demolished or put to other use, as was the seat of the dedebaba in Tirana when it was converted into an old folks’ home. Other surviving tekkes, which frequently stood on mountains or hills, were transformed into army barracks or factories.
Notwithstanding the rigorous monitoring of religious sentiment by the communist government over the next two decades, Albanian Bektashis continued to preserve their sacred traditions. Time and again they met in private homes, and secretly visited the now closed türbes, lighting candles in their windows during the dead of night.
Communist attempts to eradicate religion caused serious damage to the spirit of the Albanian people. During these trying decades the light of Haji Bektashi was upheld by those few remaining Bektashi establishments that existed outside of Red Albania. After the death of Abas Hilmi Dede, the Albanian Bektashi community in the diaspora met at the Kaygusuz Tekke in Cairo and selected its baba, the revered Ahmed Sirri Dede (who was originally from southern Albania) to assume the rank of dedebaba in a move intended to counter the communist-approved dedebaba, Ahmet Myftar Dede. Regrettably the pro-Soviet Egyptian revolution of 1952 closed the Kaygusuz Tekke, ending any effective counteraction to Enver Hoxha’s stranglehold over Bektashism. Two years later in 1954 Baba Rexheb opened The First Albanian-American Bektashian Monastery in Taylor, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Together with a tekke in Kosova that was under the direction of Baba Kazim Bakalli (d.1983), the American tekke, with its community of ardent believers, was one of the few remaining centers of the Bektashi Order in the world.