Bajazid Doda

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“During the Turkish period, my homeland, the Upper Reka Valley, was isolated from the outside world due to a short-sighted policy aimed at propping up a barbaric regime. As a result of recent events, it has come under Serb rule, and it is now to be feared that the Muslim element in Upper Reka, in view of its traditional isolation, will vanish and leave no trace. The purpose of this book describing the life of the Muslims in the Upper Reka Valley is to counter this trend, to help my fellow Muslim villagers preserve their identity, and to create a lasting monument among the publications dealing with Albania.”

— Bajazid Doda

It is not uncommon within our research to find someone as deeply unappreciated as Bajazid Doda, but we find a first in that Doda's murderer overwhelms any story about his life. Doda was an Albanian ethnographer and photographer who watched the destruction of his culture and took action against it, recording the landscape and identity of the Upper Reka Valley within Albania. His work has served as a touchstone within academia surrounding the Upper Reka Valley. Still, he is most well-known for his relationship with the man who would ultimately take his life.

Doda was born is 1888 in Štirovica, a village within the Upper Reka region. There he witnessed much of the discrimination and isolation faced by the Muslim community, so when he had the chance to work under Baron Franz Nopcsa, a Hungarian scholar, he took the opportunity to become an ethnographer and photographer. He spent much of his time travelling with Nopcsa pursuing this work.

As the secretary to the Baron, Doda was able to explore Albania in an entirely new way. However, because he was poor and Albanian, his exploration and access to academic resources were limited. The Baron, who was not an Albanian citizen and had a much less nuanced understanding of the culture, did not face such barriers.

This, of course, did not stop him from doing his own studies of Albania. He wrote a number of books and despite his understanding of Albanian people relying on stereotypes, exoticism, and personal bias, he found repute for his study of Albania. He is now considered a founder of Albanian studies.

Though it was said that Doda was employed primarily as a companion for the Baron, he was more than that. Doda was not only the Baron's partner for many years but an incredible asset. The two found themselves on a number of adventures during their time together; they were kidnapped by a famous bandit, searched for dinosaur bones, wrote books, served in the first world war, and reportedly stopped fights between Albanian citizens.

During their time together in London, Doda fell ill with influenza. The Baron would later cite this as his reason for killing Doda. In April 1933, Doda's employer and partner of many years killed him in his sleep before committing suicide. Nopcsa left a note declaring the reason to be his own struggles with mental health. He believed that because Doda was of a lower economic class and fell ill at times, he would never survive without the Baron.

Bajazid Doda was forty-five when he was murdered in his bed. Despite his short life, he left behind an incredible legacy, recording and studying a region of which we would have little knowledge otherwise. He described his reasons for the book in the preface:

“During the Turkish period, my homeland, the Upper Reka Valley, was isolated from the outside world due to a short-sighted policy aimed at propping up a barbaric regime. As a result of recent events, it has come under Serb rule, and it is now to be feared that the Muslim element in Upper Reka, in view of its traditional isolation, will vanish and leave no trace. The purpose of this book describing the life of the Muslims in the Upper Reka Valley is to counter this trend, to help my fellow Muslim villagers preserve their identity, and to create a lasting monument among the publications dealing with Albania. What Spiridion Gopcevic has to say about Reka in his notorious book on Macedonia (Makedonien und Alt-Serbien, 1889) is all tendentious lies, something which has been noted by other travellers before me.

I did not intend to write an academic treatise on ethnography or some serious dissertation, but simply to describe this part of the world as I experienced it myself on a daily basis.

When those who exterminated the Albanians in the region of Nish [Niš] have also wiped out my people, the simplest accurate description of their daily life will suffice to serve both as a permanent monument to their one-time existence and as an indictment to those who annihilated them.”

While he may not have intended it as a serious piece of academic work, that's exactly what it has become. Though it was stored away in the Austrian National Library for many years, it was found, edited, and finally published in 2007. Štirovica, which was destroyed by the Bulgarian army in 1916, is now remembered through it.

Of course, that makes it all the more unfortunate that his work is often dismissed or overshadowed by Franz Nopcsa, some going as far as to claim that the book itself was written entirely by Nopcsa.

While there is credit due for his translations of the work, it's difficult to believe that a man who sought notoriety and underplayed Doda's role in his life would ever give up credit he was owed.

Right now there are a number of advocates and activists fighting to have Nopcsa's contributions to Albania recognized, as he has largely been forgotten partly due to his sexuality. It's easy to wonder then why Doda's contributions have not been given the same treatment. The antisemitism and general prejudice of Nopcsa's work are often ignored. However, there is another level of scrutiny and attentiveness paid to Doda's work simply to prove it was written by Nopcsa, rather than the work of a lower class Muslim secretary.

Good work can come from anyone; one does not need a doctorate to provide an accurate and detailed ethnographic work of their own village. Though academic resources can no doubt be incredibly useful, they are not the only source of knowledge. In fact, the voices of the people living on the land are just as, if not more, useful. The narratives of those more privledged writing as outsiders should not be used to erase those voices.

"Legacy" is impossible to ignore when looking at history. When we share someone's life, we're telling a story. Some stories are easier to tell than others; the story of a queer adventurer scientist who spent his life exploring an oft-ignored country is an easy one to tell, but Bajazid Doda deserves to be more than a footnote. His life and his work cannot be dismissed as quick distractions from Nopcsa's big show. While Doda was unable to accomplish all that the Baron did, it doesn't make his story less worth telling.

The way we tell stories is often just as important as the stories we choose to tell. Today we look at the footnote, the home of many queer people throughout history, and we look closer.

[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]

Doda, Bajazid Elmaz. Albanisches Bauernleben im oberen Rekatal bei Dibra (Makedonien). Vol. 1. Lit, 2007.

Mandler, David. “Nopcsa, Baron Franz. 2014. Traveler, Scholar, Politician, Adventurer – A Transylvanian Baron at the Birth of Albanian Independence (ed. and trans. from German Robert Elsie).” Hungarian Cultural Studies. eJournal of the American Hungarian Educators Association, Volume 7 (2014): http://ahea.pitt.edu DOI: 10.5195/ahea.2014.154

Photo Archives of the Austrian National Library http://www.albanianphotography.net/doda/

Pieroni, Andrea, et al. “One Century Later: the Folk Botanical Knowledge of the Last Remaining Albanians of the Upper Reka Valley, Mount Korab, Western Macedonia.” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, vol. 9, no. 1, 11 Apr. 2013, p. 22., doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-22.

Veselka, Vanessa. History Forgot This Rogue Aristocrat Who Discovered Dinosaurs and Died Penniless. Smithsonian Mag. 2016. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-forgot-rogue-aristocrat-discovered-dinosaurs-died-penniless-180959504/