Ali Pasha of Tepelen or of Yannina, the "Lion of Yannina", (1741 – January 24, 1822) was the ruler (pasha) of the western part of Rumelia, the Ottoman Empire's European territory which was also called European Turkey. His court was in Ioannina.
His name in the local languages was: Albanian: Ali Pashë Tepelena, Aromanian: Ali Pãshelu, Greek: Αλή Πασάς Τεπελενλής Ali Pasas Tepelenlis or Αλή Πασάς των Ιωαννίνων Ali Pasas ton Ioanninon (Ali Pasha of Ioannina) and Turkish: Tepedelenli Ali Paşa.
Ali was born into a powerful clan in the village Hormove near the Albanian town of Tepelene in 1744, where his father Veli was bey (leader). The family lost much of its political and material status while Ali was still a boy, and following the murder of his father in 1758 his mother, Hamko, formed a band of brigands. Ali became a notorious brigand leader and attracted the attention of the Turkish authorities. He aided the pasha of Negroponte (Euboea) in putting down a rebellion at Shkodër. In 1768 he married the daughter of the wealthy pasha of Delvina, with whom he entered an alliance.
His rise through Ottoman ranks continued with his appointment as lieutenant to the pasha of Rumelia. In 1787 he was awarded the pashaluk of Trikala in reward for his support for the sultan's war against Austria. This was not enough to satisfy his ambitions; shortly afterwards, he seized control of Ioánnina, which remained his power base for the next 33 years. He took advantage of a weak Ottoman government to expand his territory still further until he gained control of most of Albania, western Greece and the Peloponnese.
Ali's policy as ruler of Ioánnina was governed by little more than simple expediency; he operated as a semi-independent despot and allied himself with whoever offered the most advantage at the time. In order to gain a seaport on the Albanian coast Ali formed an alliance with Napoleon I of France who had established Francois Pouqueville as his general consul in Ioánnina. After the Treaty of Tilsitt where Napoleon granted the Czar his plan to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, Ali switched sides and allied with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1807. His machinations were permitted by the Ottoman government in Istanbul for a mixture of expediency - it was deemed better to have Ali as a semi-ally than as an enemy - and weakness, as the central government did not have enough strength to oust him at that time.
The poet George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron visited Ali's court in Ioánnina in 1809 and recorded the encounter in his work Childe Harold. He evidently had mixed feelings about the despot, noting the splendour of Ali's court and the Greek cultural revival that he had encouraged in Ioánnina, which Byron described as being "superior in wealth, refinement and learning" to any other Greek town. In a letter to his mother, however, Byron deplored Ali's cruelty: "His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte ... but as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels, etc, etc.."
Although nominally a Muslim, Ali Pasha
"...was a cruel and faithless tyrant ; still he was not a Turk, but an Albanian ; he was a rebel against the Sultan, and he was so far an indirect friend of the Sultan's enemies. "In fact, it was Ali Pasha and his Albanian soldiers who eventually subdued the fiercely independent Souli and it was more about power than anything else:
"This was a conquest of Christians by Mahometans ; but it was not a conquest of Christians by Turks. It was in truth a conquest of Albanians by Albanians. "Near the end of his, Ali Pasha eventually made peace with the Souli and Markos Botsaris helped Ali Pasha fight the Ottoman soldiers sent to conquer and kill Ali. The capricious cruelties inflicted by Ali Pasha on his subjects became notorious throughout the region. Forty years after the inhabitants of Gardhiq, Albania had wronged his mother, Ali wrought revenge by having 739 male descendants of the original offenders murdered. In 1801, he attempted to rape the mistress of his eldest son, but was thwarted; his revenge was to have the girl and seventeen of her companions bound, gagged and thrown alive into Lake Pamvotis. The incident is still remembered in local folk songs. In 1808, he captured one of his most renowned opponents, the Greek klepht Katsantonis. The unfortunate man was executed in public by having his bones broken with a sledgehammer.
The Life of Lord Byron by John Galt offers a different explanation of the Lake Pamvotis incident. In this version, Ali Pasha acted out of concern for his daughter-in-law, who was heartbroken at her husband's infidelity. It does not mention anything about rape or the additional execution of the woman's companions. Galt also points out that Ali's severe dealing with the brigands that infested the country as well as his significant improvements of infrastructure opened the country for trade, improving the living conditions of the people, and that, all in all, he "acted the part of a just, though a merciless, prince."
Ali Pasha was also renowned for his eclectic love life. Though he had a harem of five or six hundred women, he was reported to be interested in "Socratic pleasures as well, and to keep a seraglio of youths from which he selected not only his lovers but also his subordinates, chief among whom was the Greek Athanasi Vaya.
In 1820, Ali ordered the assassination of a political opponent in Constantinople. The reformist Sultan Mahmud II, who sought to restore the authority of the Sublime Porte, took this opportunity to move against Ali by ordering his deposition. Ali refused to resign his official posts and put up a formidable resistance to Ottoman troop movements, indirectly helping the Greek Independence as some 20,000 Turkish troops were fighting Ali's formidable army. In January 1822, however, Ottoman agents assassinated Ali Pasha and sent his head to the Sultan. After about 2 years of fighting, when asked to surrender for the beheading (he was deceived with offers of a full pardon) he famously proclaimed: "My head...will not be surrendered like the head of a slave" and kept fighting till the end, an act that brought him respect:
"Kursheed, to whom it was presented on a large dish of silver plate, rose to receive it, bowed three times before it, and respectfully kissed the beard, expressing aloud his wish that he himself might deserve a similar end. To such an extent did the admiration with which Ali's bravery inspired these barbarians efface the memory of his crimes."
He was buried with full honors and despite his, at times, brutal rule, villagers paid their last respect to Ali: "Never was seen greater mourning than that of the warlike Epirotes [Southern Albanians where Ali came from]."
The story of Ali Pasha's downfall was fictionalized in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, père. In this famous novel, the daughter of Ali Pasha becomes a slave of the Count and helps him take revenge on the man who betrayed her father.
The scene of Ali's death, the monastery of Pandelimonos on an island in Lake Pamvotis, is today a popular tourist attraction. The hole made by the bullet which killed him can still be seen, and the monastery has a museum dedicated to him, which includes a number of his personal possessions.