BESA: A Code of Honor

20 Nov

I can’t convey the indescribable beauty of this word for me.

For a people constantly maligned as bandits and cutthroats:

“Casting Light on Little-Known Story of Albania Rescuing Jews From Nazis”  from today’s Times:

“The exceptional difference in Albania, experts on the episode say, was rooted in a national creed called besa that obligates Albanians to provide shelter and safe passage for anyone seeking protection, particularly if there has been a promise to do so. Failure to act results in a loss of honor and standing. [my emphases]

“It involves uncompromising protection of a guest, even at the point of forfeiting one’s own life,” wrote Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an organizer of the New York event whose husband, former Representative Joseph H. DioGuardi, visited Albania in the early 1990s and helped unearth details of the rescue.”


“Another explanation, Ms. Cloyes DioGuardi says, is that in Albania, a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox country until Ottoman rule led to conversions to Islam starting in the 15th century, ethnicity has always trumped religion, and piety is less than zealous. “We knew our enemies wanted to use religion to divide and conquer us, but we knew we had the same blood,” said Akim Alickaj (a-LITCH-kye), an ethnic Albanian raised in Kosovo who owns a New York travel agency and whose father helped rescue Jews. “Religion changes, but nation and blood can’t be changed.””

And a beautiful book that came out last year:


And see Yad Vashem’s site:


And I guess why I love Afghanistan so much.



3 Responses to “BESA: A Code of Honor”

  1. Rafael April 14, 2014 at 12:28 am #

    Niko I have long wanted to leave a comment about this post. I believe that what the Albanaians did for the Jews in sheltering them from the Nazis was courageous, noble and just. And besa is at its roots a tribal, and to a lesser extent, islamic code of honor. You mention Afghanistan-there is in Pashtunistan what is known as the Pashtun code Pakhtunwali which also purports to protect an accepted guest. Pakhtunwali is also tribal and islamic. Was it not this same code that protected Osama Bin Laden after his escape from Tora Bora? Is that same code rightly honored in one instance and rightly deplorable in another? Just a thought…

    • nicholasbakos April 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

      It is the same code R., No, I personally, at least, do not think it’s deplorable in one case and not the other. Honor is absolute; otherwise it’s not honor. Whether it gets maintained more in the breach or not is another question.


  1. Besa: A Reader Responds… | Jadde-ye-Kabir - April 14, 2014

    […] …Besa: A Code of Honor  (November 20th) […]

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