“I am Albanian. This is the most important fact in my life, more important than family even, for the conscousness of it gave me my vivid sense of what I must do, furnishing the purpose of my life.”
These are the words of the initiator of the organization of Albanian education for girls, Sevasti Qiriazi Dako, written in her autobiographical book “My Life.”
The life of Sevastia, an extraordinary woman, is intertwined with the story of Albanian history. It is a tale of will, patriotism, and the significant challenges that the journey of nation-building has faced, particularly in the realm of education.
Born in 1871, Sevasti Qiriazi-Dako was the director and teacher of the first Albanian school for girls, a pioneer of national education, the education and emancipation of Albanian women and girls, a warrior, politician, and author of various texts. The poet and prominent national figure Naim Frashëri himself was the one who gave Sevastia the opportunity to study at “Robert College” in Istanbul and play an active role in women’s education. She was the first Albanian woman to study at this American institution, which she completed in June 1891.
“Sister, you cannot do a better job for poor Albania than what you have decided to do together with your brother, for the emancipation of the women of our poor country. Your tasks now begin, and if you are loyal, persistent, and willing, you will be able to accomplish great things for the nation,” Sevasti Qiriazi quoted Naim Frashëri in “Memories of Naim Beu.”
Upon returning to Albania, Sevastia, who knew 7-8 foreign languages, participated in the establishment of the girls’ school in Korça in 1891. This school also marked the beginning of secular education in the region.
This was a significant step for the era, and perhaps one of the most modern, considering it occurred during a period when the Ottomans had ruled for five hundred years, keeping the Albanian people, especially women, in subjugation. Establishing a school for girls marked a decisive turning point toward emancipation.
The esteemed benefactor of Albanians, the Englishwoman Edith Durham, also documented the Qiriazi sisters and the first school for girls.
“Korça is civilized. I received a very warm welcome at the Albanian School for Girls. The school was so ‘modern’ that I felt as if I had suddenly returned to Europe,” she wrote two years after the school opened.
Sevastia, along with her sister Parashqevi, also took part in the Congress of Elbasan and Manastir, primarily focused on the preparation of school textbooks.
Sevasti Qiriazi-Dako published a grammar for primary schools and edited a series of history texts. Sevasti and Parashqevi, known as the Qiriazi Sisters, were the pioneering teachers and educators of the girls’ school, yet their contributions extended far beyond education.
“Sevastia was the spiritual leader, while Parashqevia was an energetic person. Sevastia led, and Parashqevia executed. They set an example for what an Albanian woman should be, channeling their full potential for the benefit of their country,” notes Teuta Toska, a researcher of the Qiriazi sisters’ work.
“They accomplished tasks that are still challenging for women today. She even founded a political party in America to support the Albanian cause during that time. Sister Parashqevia served as a delegate at the Peace Conference in Paris,” says Toska.
In 1914, due to conflicts with Greek forces in Korça, Sevastia, her husband, and their two children were compelled to leave Albania, resulting in the closure of the Girls’ School. They spent nearly 12 months residing in Bucharest and Sofia before immigrating to the United States in 1915, where she would assist her husband in opening the first Albanian school in America.
Sevastia assisted her sister in publishing the biweekly magazine “Morning Star” (1917–1920), and in this period, she and her husband became more deeply involved in the Vatra association and the Albanian national issue.
At the end of 1921, Sevasti Qiriazi-Dako and her children returned to Albania, where her husband had already gone back to work with the Albanian government. In her memoirs, Sevastia described conditions in Albania as “primitive” and expressed her inspiration to dedicate the remainder of her life to helping rebuild her nation.
Due to her husband’s roles as a minister and biographer of King Zog, Dako’s name faded into obscurity during the communist regime after World War II. Her family endured persecution, including her sister Parashqevi, and her two sons were arrested and imprisoned. Exhausted by numerous hardships and the loss of her son, Sevastia passed away in August 1949.
Much later, in 1962, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Albania’s Independence, the communist regime recognized the patriotic contributions of the Qiriazi family. Four members of the Qiriazi family, Gjerasimi, Gjergji, Sevastia, and Parashqevia, were awarded the “Order of Freedom” and the order for “Patriotic Action.” Subsequently, Sevastia and Parashqevi were honored with the title “Teacher of the People,” the highest recognition for their educational achievements.