The Albanian Question at the Turn of the 20th Century

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The Great European Powers and the Balkans

The Balkans is a term connoting peoples, cultures, and states that make up a peninsula of South-East Europe between the Black Sea, the Adriatic Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. There are three crucial points of the Balkan’s significance from the geostrategic point of view:

  1. The territory of the Balkans is an important connection between West and Central Europe and the Near and the Middle East.
  2. Wealthy of the region’s natural resources.
  3. The region which is located betwixt the Danube River, the Black Sea and East Mediterranean is an important part of the Great European Powers’ political-military-economic strategy.[1]

The Albanians, who wrongly and for the pure political purpose proclaimed themselves to be the last pure descendants of the ancient Balkan Illyrians – the region’s aboriginal inhabitants from the Antique times of the ancient Greeks and Romans,[2] were constantly on the road of interests of the regional big powers and nations: the Roman Empire, the Byzantium, the Slavs, the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Monarchy, etc. This fact had extremely negative consequences for the creation of an independent national state of the Albanians throughout history. Historically, the first attempt to create a kind of Albanian state was done in the 13th century by Carlo I of Naples (1227−1285) who proclaimed himself as the King of Albania. However, the first real creator of an independent state of Albania became the legendary George Castriot Skanderbeg (1405−1468, of the Serbian ethnic origin), “a father of the Albanian nation”, who, according to many Albanian historians, established a state of Albania on November 28th, 1443. However, on the other hand, there are many historians, including and of the Albanian origin, who claim that Skanderbeg established only the “Albanian league” for resistance against the Ottomans, but not a real state.[3]

Nevertheless, after 1479, when the whole territory of present-day Albania became finally occupied by the Ottomans, the Albanians had to wait till November 28th, 1912 when a real Albania’s independence was proclaimed and in the coming years recognized by the other states. However, when Albania’s state borders were drawn in 1913 by the Great European Powers, a number of the ethnic Albanians and those who declared themselves as the Albanians as an ethnic minority were left outside of them in Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro as a result of clashes of opposite interests of both the Great European Powers and the Balkan national states in this part of the Balkan Peninsula.

Every powerful European state at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was interested in South-East Europe. A territory of Albania became a part of this interest too due to its extraordinary geostrategic importance. Therefore, for instance, Russia’s crucial driving force in her Balkan policy was the aim to acquire an exit to the “warm sea” (the Mediterranean). Germany of the Second Empire saw the territory of South-East Europe as the transversal area for its Drang nach Osten policy towards the Middle East and Central Asia. Austria-Hungary was seeking to occupy the seaport of Salonica and to establish its footholds on the territory of Albania. While Italy did not show a great interest regarding the question of Salonica, its foreign policy concerning the Albanian territory became the main obstacle for the plans of Vienna and Budapest about the “land of Skanderbeg” (Albania). Similar to the United Kingdom’s power-balance policy in Europe, France was pursuing the policy of status quo at the Balkan Peninsula.[4]

The Serbs and the Albanian Question

From the beginning of the 19th century, there were several ideas and plans regarding the (re)creation of a national state of the Serbs – the ideas and plans which very much affected the way of solving the Albanian Question at the turn of the 20th century. Thus, the Sremski Karlovci Metropolitan Stevan Stratimirović created the idea of autonomous tributary religion-language-based Orthodox Shtokavian Slavonic–Serbian state in 1804. The state was to be governed by the Russian Grand Duke, under the Russian political-military protectorate, as well as to be only nominally included in the Ottoman Empire and to pay an annual fixed tribute to the Ottoman Sultan as its formal suzerain.

S. Stratimirović’s concept of a politically united religion-language-based Serbian nation within the borders of a single national state anticipated unification of the historical and ethnic Serbian territories from both the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy. His notion of the national identity of the Serbs was innovative at that time. In other words, he created the idea of a Serbian nation combining the criteria of language and religious principles. As a result, according to S. Stratimirović, the Serbian nation was understood as the entire Christian Orthodox South Slavic population who spoke the Shtokavian (штокавски) dialect. Subsequently, all Balkan territories settled by the Orthodox-Shtokavian South Slavs had to be included in a unified Serbian national state including Kosovo-Metochia as well as populated at that time by Serbian majority and Albanian minority.[5]

S. Stratimirović’s ideas were expressed in the Memorandum submitted to the Russian Emperor Alexander I Romanov. Produced at a pivotal time, the Memorandum was one of the major contributions to the history of the Serbian modern political doctrines and ideologies. As one of the most important national state’s projects, it was created at a critical time during the turning point in the Serbian history: at the time of the First Serbian Uprising against the Ottoman Empire (1804−1813).

There were many plans during the uprising connected with the question of the Serbian liberation and national political unification. The Memorandum was one of the most important of them.

S. Stratimirović was soon followed by a philologist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić and a stateman Ilija Garašanin who continued to further develop the ideas of the Serb national identity and plans on solving the Serbian Question at the Balkans that as well as affected the Albanian Question:

  1. S. Karadžić’s understanding of language in the conception of the Serbian linguistic national identity model was primarily of ethnic nature as he considered the Serbian language (the Shtokavian tongue) as the crucial integral part of the Serbian national identification.
  2. Garašanin drafted in 1844 his project of a united Serbian national state by implementing a linguistic model of the Serb national identification, which was earlier in 1836 developed by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić.
  3. National projects of the Serbian liberation and unification were based on the ideological constructions to consolidate all Serbs (in the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy) and to create the Serbian state, which became the chief subject in Vuk Stefanović-Karadžić’s Srbi svi i svuda (Serbs All and Everywhere) and in Ilija Garašanin’s Načertanije (Draft).[6]
  4. Both these works have been the most meaningful and influential theory for the definition of nationhood, national idea, national aims and basis for the national policy in the future.
  5. They are written as a matter of Serb national self-defense policy against the Croat claims of the time that all the South Slavs and especially all the Roman Catholic Shtokavian speakers belong to the Croatian national corpus and as such their populated territories have to be included into a Greater Croatia.
  6. Srbi svi i svuda constructed a model of national determination based on a linguistic criterion: entire Shtokavian-speaking South-Slavic population, regardless of denominations (the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic or the Muslim), belongs to the genuine Serbdom.
  7. Načertanije composed a secret plan of Serbia’s foreign national policy based on both V. S. Karadžić’s linguistic model of national identity and historical rights of the Serbs: the creation of a unified Serbian state in the Balkans which should embrace all linguistic Serbs and all Serbian territories from both the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy including ethnically Serbian-Albanian mixed region of Kosovo-Metochia too.[7]

The Albanian origin

The question of the ethnogenesis of the Albanians became one of the most disputable issues dealing with the Albanian Question. The Albanians believe themselves to be the last pure and direct descendants of the ancient Illyrians, the Balkan people who lived in this region before the second (returning) migration of the South Slavs to the peninsula at the turn of the 7th century AD.[8] Many scholars consider Albanians, like the Greeks and Romanians, as the offspring population of the ancient inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula, either the Pelasgians or the Illyrians, i.e. the population residing in this part of Europe before the Roman rule.[9] During the mid-19th century and especially after the establishment of the Albanian national political organization the First Prizren League in 1878, the romanticist understanding of the nationhood according to the linguistic principle prevailed among the Albanian intellectuals, particularly of those who were living as emigrants in Italy.[10]

The Albanian national movement of Rilindja (1878−1912)[11] took anti-South Slavic politically-ideological orientation, which in any case cannot be considered as exclusively anti-Christian. The Albanian national identity to the great extend was derived from the confrontation with and from differences in comparison with their neighbors. The majority of the Albanian political workers from the time of Rilindja accepted the German-romanticist principle of “linguistic” nationhood and they created the notion of the Albanians that designated an ethnic group whose mother tongue was the Albanian. However, referring to linguistic features, some scholars defend the thesis that the Albanians are descendants of the Dacians inhabiting the lands south of the Danube (the Roman provinces of Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior) and migrating southwest to the territory of present-day Albania. They claim that some serous indications refer to the Albanian ethnic origin to Dacian-Moesian root. In the first place, it is an Albanian name for themselves – Shqiptars, the word of the Dacian-Moesian origin which means the “highlanders” in the Bulgarian language.  

However, the proponents of the “Illyrian” theory of Albanian ethnogenesis connected the contemporary (inter)national name for the Albanians with the Albanoi what was the name of an Illyrian tribe living in present-day North Albania, mentioned for the first time in the works of Greek geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD.

Among the Albanians, numerous transformations have taken place through their historical development, which has resulted in an alternation of their ethnic entity. There are no “pure” peoples (nations) in the world and the Albanians are not “pure”, either. They are an ethnic substratum that is present in all Balkan peoples (nations). However, it is beyond doubt that the Albanians have retained the Illyrian elements in their ethnic make-up but all the peoples (nations) who lived today in West and Central Balkans have Illyrian elements too.

However, in other regions of West and Central Balkans, the Slavic element predominates. The pro-Albanian linguists claim that among the Albanians the Illyrian element is dominant, especially in the point of language. Nevertheless, this fact cannot be utilized by anybody to claim that the Albanian historical and ethnic rights on certain Balkan territories are stronger and longer than Slavic or Greek once. At this point, the Illyrian-Albanian cultural-ethnic continuation can gain a new political dimension.

Nevertheless, all of those “linguistic” theories about Albanian origin have a common scientific lack: they are based on speculations but not on any single historical evidence in a form of a historical source. Contrary to such “linguistic” theories, many Balkan historians are kin to point out that according to several existing historical sources from the Antique time and the Middle Ages, the Balkan Albanians originate, in fact, from the Caucasus where they had their own Kingdom of Albania at the time of the Alexander the Great (356−323 BC).[12] This “historical” theory of the Caucasian ethnogenesis of the Balkan Albanians is supported even by Albanian historians like Stefang Pollo and Arben Puto.[13]

The 1878 Berlin Congress and the Albanian Question    

A breaking point in the development of the Albanian Question became the 1878 Berlin Congress and its decisions. The Albanian hindering to the decisions of the Great Powers at the Berlin Congress to divide the Albanian ethnic space and historic territories claimed by the Albanians as such contributed tremendously to the further development of an Albanian self-consciousness and nationalism. In the other words, the negotiations among the members of the European Concert of Great Powers that took place in 1878−1881 caused radical changes in the attitude of the Albanian political leadership but as well as of ordinary people. Both the 1878 San Stefano Treaty and the 1878 Berlin Congress assigned certain Albanian inhabited territories (but as well as Slavic and Greek ones too) to the neighboring Christian states of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria what compelled local Albanian folk to carry out self-defensive actions in the forms of guerrilla and terrorist attacks on the local Christians. This resistance was carried out and through the protests, sending various memorandums and finally by organizing the open-armed defense of claimed national territory against the unjustifiable policy of the European Great Powers towards the Albanians, as it was understood by the Albanian political leadership of the first pan-Islamic and the Muslim Albanian national-political organization: the First Prizren League (1878−1881). Subsequently, the League developed a notion among the Muslim Albanian population, regardless of their three different denominations, that the Albanian nationality of the Islamic denomination deserved an autonomous political-administrative-cultural status within reformed and remodeled Islamic Ottoman Empire. Clearly, the League had been formed primarily to defend the Islam, the Muslim Ottoman Empire and Albanian national-historic lands from their division and partition by either domestic Balkan states of foreign European powers, but it was not in agenda at that time the establishment of an independent (Islamic) Albanian state as separate from the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire.[14]

Shortly, foreign propaganda and pretensions of the Balkan states on the parts of Albanian populated territories on which they have been at that time minority population crucially contributed to the development of the Albanian nationalism and national movement at the end of the 19th century.[15]

Toward the Albanian nation-state

The Albanian people, already faced with major difficulties in the process of building a modern (European) society, were even more affected by the division in the spiritual, political, confessional, and cultural aspects. During the period of the Albanian national movement – Rilindja, 1878−1912 – the leading Albanian national workers tried to constitute Albanians in their entire ethnolinguistic territory based on their common identity, which was primarily considered as linguistic nationality. The crucial reaction of an Albanian leadership to any attempt to dismantle Albanian ethnolinguistic-historical territory from its core was the response to the announced terms of both the Treaty of San Stefano and the Berlin Congress in 1878. Thus, the international community faced the Albanian arguments, which invalidated the proposals concerning the distribution of the “Albanian” lands among its Christian neighbors. The negative attitude of the Great European Powers towards the Albanian Question at the end of the 19th century, served as a catalyst, which strengthened the Albanian (Muslim) domestic forces to struggle for either autonomy within the Ottoman territory or the independence in the case of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. A national division on the confessional basis was not seriously understood as a significant obstacle for the Albanian unification, at least not from the beginning of the Albanian national movement and, therefore, a single (united) “Albanian” autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire became the major political task of the movement. However, the ethnic Albanians would compose only 44% out of a total population of such “united Albania”.[16]

The interest and perceived goals of the Great European Powers, especially of Austria-Hungary and Italy, in the Albanian geo-strategic and culturally-confessional regions, clashed as these states vied with one another to achieve a position of dominant political-economic influence and power. Austria-Hungary was primarily motivated to counter Serbian and Montenegrin territorial aspirations and the tendencies of the Balkan Orthodox Christians (Bulgarians, Serbs, Greeks, Montenegrins, Romanians) to look to imperial Russia of the Romanovs as their national savior; Russia which had already proclaimed herself as the “Protector of the Orthodox Christians within the Ottoman Empire”. Unified Italy after 1861/1866, found that real possibilities to accomplish its Balkan policy were limited as the Italian Balkan ambitions did not correspond to the Italian economic and political power. France and Great Britain most definitely opposed the Russian desire to take control over the Straits. Thus, both Albania and the Balkans became a microcosmic replica of the larger European political and international relations scene of power competition.[17]

The ideology and efforts of the Albanian national Rilindja movement in 1878–1912 to unify all Albanian Balkan population who lived in compact masses into a single independent and homogenous state from the ethnic point of view of the Albanians surely jeopardized the idea of territorial integrity of the Serbian, Montenegrin, and Greek nation-states.

There were four main factors, which mostly influenced bilateral relations between Serbia and Montenegro on one side and the Albanians on the other at the turn of the 20th century:

  1. Historical factor as the Serbs, Montenegrins, and Albanians lived for centuries under the Ottoman governance and had a similar historical destiny.
  2. Geopolitical factor because all of them belonged to the same geopolitical – Balkan – region and have a long common ethnic line of demarcation.
  3. Ethnic factor based on the fact that one-third of the Albanian population lived on the territories – Kosovo-Metochia, East Montenegro, and West Macedonia – claimed by the Serbs and Montenegrins to be their ethnohistorical lands and because on the territory of North Albania proper lived Serbo-Montenegrin minority.
  4. Territorial-political factor since there was a permanent territorial dispute between the Serbo-Montenegrins and Albanians referring to Kosovo-Metochia, East Montenegro, North Albania, and West Macedonia.

Contested Macedonia

The area of geographic-historical Macedonia was the crucial point of disputes among the Balkan states at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The Macedonian Question became urgent when the Russian diplomacy successfully pressed the Ottoman Government to allow the formation of a separate autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox Church (an Exarchate), extending its jurisdiction over parts of the Ottoman Macedonia populated by the Albanians too. The clash of Balkan nationalisms – Serbian, Albanian, Greek, and Bulgarian – over the territory of Macedonia was a result of several sources: a struggle among the Great European Powers over the territory of the Balkans, a development of young Balkan Christian states and a national awakening of the Christian population and ethnic Albanians within the borders of the Balkan part of the Ottoman Empire.

The policy of the western Great European Powers concerning the Eastern Question (i.e., a destiny of the Ottoman Empire) supported the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire favoring the status quo on the Balkans.[18]  On the other hand, the Balkan states and nations had to finish their process of national liberation, which means to dissolute the Ottoman Empire. However, their wish to finish the process of liberation was faced with their nationalism concerning the partitioning of liberated territory from the Ottoman Empire which had two main issues: historical and ethnic backgrounds which were bases for their requirements over Macedonia. In fact, the crucial problem was of fixing the boundaries in ethnic point of view between the Serbs, Albanians, Bulgarians, and Greeks. The Balkan states accepted the leading European principle at the time: one nation – one state, as it was the main principle for the creation of the Italian and the German nation-states in the 1860s and the 1870s. However, the situation on the Balkans was tremendously different since the nations were mixed in consequence of centuries-long migrations.[19] Because of an inability to fix clear ethnic borders, the Serbian, Greek, Albanian, and Bulgarian nationalisms were backed mainly by their historicism and the real or quasi historic rights on the land.

The geopolitical background played also a significant role concerning the Macedonian Question. Serbia as a continental state, laying on North Balkans with the state borders on the Danube River, was under strong political, economic and cultural influence from Central Europe. The Serbian policy was completely changed after the Berlin Congress in 1878. Up to the Berlin Congress, the Serbian foreign policy was pointed towards the west; in other words, towards Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, from 1878, the Serbian aspirations concerning territorial enlargement turned to the south where the Ottoman Empire was in fact in the process of internal dissolution and dismemberment. However, here the Serbian aspirations faced a strong challenge by the Albanian, Bulgarian, and Greek nationalisms and vice versa. The Serbian policy toward the Macedonian Question, actually, had two characters: the aggressive and defensive. The aggressive one was expressed in its desire to annex one territory, which had a specific ethnic character. The second one was expressed with its desire to escape political as well as economic encircling by Vienna and Budapest,[20] to provide an exit to the Aegean Sea and to endure a competition by other Balkan states on this area. Such Serbia’s foreign policy was depended on two facts:

  1. The Adriatic Sea was cut off for Serbia after 1878.
  2. The strategic importance of the Vardar-Morava valley for Serbia’s economic development.

The similar requirements and desires were present and among other Balkan states and nations. Greece was the Balkan and Mediterranean state. During the period of national revival, the Greek policy concerning territorial enlargement was fluctuated between the north and the south; in other words, between the mainland and the islands. Among the Serbian penetration into Macedonia from the north, Albanian from the west, Greek from the south and Bulgarian penetration from the east the last one was strongest. The whole issue of the Bulgarian foreign policy was all the time pointed to West Balkans particularly towards Macedonia. Serbia and Greece wanted to have common state borders and in this case, the most significant barrier was the Bulgarian desire to annex Macedonia and the Albanian requirement to occupy the western portion of Macedonia and to include it into either autonomous Albanian province within the Ottoman Empire or an independent state of a Greater Albania in the case of the dissolution of the Ottoman state. The Bulgarian and Albanian policies over Macedonia became a deadly danger for Serbia and Greece since in the case of the creation of a Greater Bulgaria and a Greater Albania, Serbia, and Greece would be separated by the common Bulgarian-Albanian border.[21]

In the last decade of the 19th century, among the Serbo-Greco-Bulgarian-Albanian disputes over Macedonia one additional political factor emerged and took important place and role. It was a Macedonian, its own political movement, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (the IMRO, but sponsored by the Bulgarian Government), which put a slogan; “Macedonia for the Macedonians”. The IMRO was fighting either for the autonomous status of Macedonia within the borders of the Ottoman Empire or a free Macedonian state within the community of the Balkan states. However, the IMRO was under strong propaganda from Sofia and financial support by Bulgaria as well as under a great influence of the Bulgarian “vrhovists”.[22] Clearly, from the Bulgarian point of view, the IMRO from 1903 was a genuinely Bulgarian national organization aimed at the annexation of the three historic-geographic Macedonian regions of the Pirin Mountains, the Vardar valley, and the Aegean sea-coast to the Bulgarian state. The organization received the Bulgarian character and, actually, became an organization under the control of the Bulgarian state.

The Serbian propaganda and official political circles rejected to recognize a Macedonian autonomous status within the Ottoman borders fearing that such kind of autonomous Macedonia will be finally included in the Bulgarian national state. The Serbian propaganda at that time was weakened then Bulgarian one and the idea of a Macedonian autonomy was in direct opposition to the idea of Serbian integral nationalism. Besides, the shadow of an idea of the 1878 San Stefano Bulgaria was present as crucial fear either for the Greek and Albanian or Serbian territorial aspirations on the Balkans. In Belgrade and Athens, likewise among the Albanian political leaders, after 1908 it has existed a strong fear that Bulgaria can incorporate a whole of Macedonia as she did the same with East Rumelia in 1885. In fact, Belgrade and Athens wanted to divide Macedonian territory among themselves and Bulgaria, but not taking into consideration the Albanian national(istic) aspirations.

The struggles over Macedonia between the Balkan states and nations escalated on the level of armed fighting from the very end of the 19th century. In fact, from 1897, when the first armed clash was recorded, the Macedonian issue entered a new stage. The area of Macedonia became from the beginning of the 20th, century territory of bloody struggles among Bulgaria, the Albanians, Serbia, and Greece. In addition to the tremendously complicated situation concerning the Macedonian Question,[23] from the very beginning of the 20th, century the Austro-Hungarian diplomacy alongside the Russian one was strongly involved in the Macedonian issue. Because of the Austrian great influence into North Albania, the Sanjak of Novi Pazar, as well as Kosovo-Metochia, Serbia, for instance, was afraid that Vienna and Budapest will succeed to get the European mandate for Macedonia and Kosovo-Metochia similarly to the case of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878. The Balkan states and nations knew as well as that Rome and Vienna and Budapest made a plan to create an independent Albanian state with the eastern borders till Skopje. In such a way, a territory of Macedonia was under tremendous pressure either by the Balkan states and nations with their nationalistic policies or under the interests of the Great European Powers. For the Balkan Albanians, the real opportunity to realize their national idea about the creation of the independent nation-state came during the Balkan Wars in 1912 due to the combination of two focal factors:

  1. The disappearance of the Ottoman power almost in the whole Balkan Peninsula.
  2. The crucial support for the realization of the idea by Austria-Hungary.

The 1912−1913 Balkan Wars and the Albanians

At the beginning of October 1912, the members of the Second Balkan League (Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Serbia) decided to act entirely on their own against the Ottoman Empire which was at that time involved in the war against Italy.[24] The war was declared firstly by Montenegro on October 8th, 1912 followed by the rest of the alliance.[25] The 1912−1913 Balkan Wars, however, started just after the end of (three)  rebellions of the Balkan Muslim Albanians against the central Ottoman Government in Istanbul in 1910, 1911, and 1912[26] that is not so difficult to think that the Muslim Albanians stopped fighting at the very critical moment for the Ottoman Empire, when it was already involved into the war against Italy in Libya and when the Balkan Christian states could start the new war at any moment.[27] As a matter of fact, a territorial decomposition of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans was the worst political solution for the Muslim Albanians and, therefore, they have been stubbornly fighting against the Second Balkan Alliance during both Balkan Wars.[28]

The focal aim of the Second Balkan Alliance was to liberate and divide between the member-states all Ottoman Balkan (European) provinces including Istanbul as well. Subsequently, certain ethnically mixed territories populated by the Albanians and other Balkan peoples became the objective of several military campaigns of the Christian Alliance. The Balkan Wars which came immediately after the Albanian Rebellions put many Muslim Albanians in difficult positions. Nevertheless, the reactions to such situations by the Albanians have been very opposite as the majority of the Muslim Albanians supported the preservation of the Ottoman Empire while the majority of their Christian compatriots did not and even actively participated in the military actions against the Ottoman army. For instance, several Roman Catholic Albanian tribes around Scutari, who had been given refuge during the Albanian Rebellions in Montenegro, during the First Balkan War actively collaborated with combined Montenegrin-Serbian military forces in their operations to occupy the town of Scutari (on the Lake of Scutari) in North Albania today.[29] The fact was that scars from the three recent Albanian rebellions against the Ottoman authority had yet to heal and some Albanians welcomed the war as they hoped it would bring at the end about the independent Albanian nation-state what in reality happened. But the majority of Albanians rallied to the Ottoman cause, often spurred on by accounts of perceived atrocities committed by the armies of the Second Balkan Alliance.[30] However, there were many Albanian bandits and criminals who simply made great use of the war to plunder and terrorize non-Albanians as it was the case, for instance, with notorious Kosovo gangster Isa Boletini (1864−1916) who firstly organized his paramilitary units to fight the Ottoman regular army in 1910−1912 and now organized Albanian bands in Kosovo-Metochia to fight Serbian army and terrorize Serbian civilians.[31]

The first attacked Ottoman territory during the 1912−1913 First Balkan War was of present-day North Albania when the Montenegrin Army put a siege around the town of Scutari. In early October 1912, the Montenegrin army came in force across the Ottoman border but faced stiff Ottoman resistance. The Ottoman border positions became flanked and isolated, and by mid-October 1912 these border positions have been forced to finally surrender and the Montenegrin army moved southward pushing the Ottoman detachments out. Such situation opened the way to the fortress and town of Scutari, which was the Montenegrin focal objective during the war as the town was a capital of the early Montenegrin state in the Middle Ages and, therefore, it had to be annexed by Montenegro. However, before the siege, there were constant cross-border raiding from both sides – the Montenegrin and the Albanian during the 1910−1912 Albanian Rebellions against the Ottoman power.

The siege of the fortress and town of Scutari was, actually, a prolonged engagement in the First Balkan War between besieging Montenegrin and Serbian units and the Ottoman army assisted by the local Albanians within the town of Scutari which was the fortified administrative center of the Ottoman province of the same name. The city’s population as well as in its surroundings was overwhelmingly Albanian with Serbo-Montenegrin minority. Scutari was the northern counterpart of Ioannina, a fortified town on a lake. In the case of Scutari, the lake lays to the north-west of the town. By controlling Scutari, the Montenegrins would have a possibility to impose a dominant position in North Albania.

Two Montenegrin units advanced on Scutari on October 9th, 1912. At that time, the Ottoman Scutari Corps of some 13.600 soldiers under the command of Hasan Riza Bey have been defending the town and the fortress. The 15.000-man of the Montenegrin Zeta Division was under the command of Crown Prince Danilo (1871−1939) and they moved around the eastern shore of Lake Scutari. Some 8.000 Montenegrin soldiers of the Coastal Division (commander – Brigadier Mitar Martinović) moved along the western shore of the Lake Scutari while the Montenegrin Zeta Division started attacking the fortress of Scutari on October 24/28th, 1912 but with no success for the crucial reason that the Coastal Division failed to participate in the attacks. However, the Montenegrin army set Scutari into a siege.[32]

However, a strategic situation in present-day North Albania drastically changed on November 18th, 1912 when the Serbian Third Army with heavy artillery appeared on the Adriatic litoral at Alessio to assist the Montenegrins to take over Scutari. The Ottoman commander of Scutari Hasan Riza Bey was murdered in unclear circumstances on January 30th, 1913 to be succeeded with Esad Pasha Toptani, an Albanian patriot. There were several failed attacks on Scutari in February and March 1913 even though the Serbs sent additional troops and artillery.

During the siege of Scutari, at the Conference of Ambassadors in London, the representatives of Italy and especially Austria-Hungary stubbornly insisted both the recognition of the newly proclaimed independent state of Albania (on November 28th, 1912) and that Scutari would become a part of it.[33] Under their diplomatic pressure and due to the anti-Russian geopolitical interests in the Balkans, the Western Great European Powers finally agreed and, therefore, the Austro-Hungarian, Italian, British, French, and German military vessels arrived on April 2nd, 1913 off the Montenegrin sea coast to enforce their mutual decision upon Scutari. Eight days later, the Serbian forces have been withdrawn. At the same time, the Ottoman defenders were exhausted[34] and, therefore, after three days of negotiations, the Ottoman troops of Scutari finally surrendered to the Montenegrin forces on April 22nd, 1913 which entered the town two days later but have been forced to evacuate it on May 5th, 1913 under the pressure of the Western Great Powers[35] but crucially of Austria-Hungary.[36] With the fall of Scutari, the military operations in the First Balkan War ended. The Montenegrin troops have been in Scutari for less than two weeks. After the Balkan Wars, the town of Scutari was included into Albania.

Serbia’s forces have been concentrated against the Ottoman province of Kosovo and crashed into the Ottoman-Albanian forces defending the borders of the province (the Kosovo Vilayet). The Serbian army entered its central historical and national territory – Kosovo-Metochia, where won the crucial battle on its part of the front against the Ottoman Empire that was the Battle of Kumanovo on October 23−24th, 1912.[37] The winning Serbian army after the battle entered the Vardar Macedonia. The Albanians, especially those being of the Islamic denomination, after the Kumanovo Battle became extremely considered about the regions of both Kosovo-Metochia and the Vardar Macedonia not to be annexed after the war by Christian Serbia.

After the second winning battle of the Serbian army against the Ottomans in the Vardar Macedonia – the Battle of Bitola on November 20th, 1912, the remains of the Ottoman Vardar Army retreated into Central Albania where it was welcomed by the local Albanians whose political leaders on November 28th in the town of Valona proclaimed an independent Albania[38] and, therefore, the prospect of (the Muslim) Albanian cooperation with the Second Balkan Alliance became crucially problematic. The Serbian army moved down on the Ottoman Vardar Army but was stopped by the armistice in December. After the fall of Ioannina in March 1913, what left of the Ottoman army from Ioannina started to approach Central Albania followed by the Serbian forces. Those two armies fought the Battle of Loshne on April 6th, 1913 and as a result, the Serbian army occupied Berat and Loshne several days later. The Battle of Loshne was the final one of the First Balkan War. The Ottoman forces have been saved in Central Albania from the Serbian-Greek pincer movement only be an armistice in mid-April 1913. The First Balkan War was finally over by the London Peace Treaty signed on May 30th, 1913.[39] As one of the consequences of the First Balkan War, the territories of Kosovo-Metochia and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar became divided between Serbia and Montenegro: Serbia annexed the western portion of Kosovo-Metochia and the northern portion of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar while Montenegro annexed the eastern portion of Kosovo-Metochia and the southern portion of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar.[40]

The most important war aim of the Greek Government regarding the Ottoman territories populated by the Albanians was ethnically mixed historical region of Epirus especially the area around the town of Ioannina. A Greek army moved toward the Ioannina Vilayet in South Epirus and opened hostilities on this front as well as soon in the southern parts of present-day Albania (North Epirus), populated by a huge number of the Christian Orthodox population claimed by Athens to be of the Greek ethnic origin. Both parts of the historical region of Epirus became under the Greek military pressure to include it into the united nation-state of the Greeks. In fact, there were three battles for Ioannina which started on December 14th, 1912, and focused on the fortress on Mt. Bizani, which has been of the extreme strategic significance as it controlled the road to the town of Ioannina itself. During the operation, the Ottoman-Albanian and the Greek military positions were fluctuating back and forth until the Greek army reinforced with the new detachments made the final attack and on March 6th, 1913, the town of Ioannina and the administrative center of Epirus surrendered.[41] In the following days of March 1913, the Greek army steadily was pushing northward and faced very disorganized resistance on both the Ottoman forces and the Albanians in South Epirus and the southern parts of Central Albania.[42]

A map of the wanted territories of the Balkan states in 1915

An Independent Albania   

For the majority of Albanians, i.e. for those of the Muslim faith, it was quite obvious that with the defeat of Ottoman military in the Balkans in October and November 1912 by the Serbian, Montenegrin, and Greek forces, the practical possibility to remain within the Islamic Ottoman Empire finally disappeared and, therefore, they had to try to find another solution for resolving of the Albanian Question. As the only option simply left Albanian nationalism and, therefore, the proclamation of the formally independent state of Albania which, however, in the practice has to be patronized. In November 1912, the Albanian national movement was crowned with the proclamation of the independence of Albania which was officially declared by an assembly (congress) held in the Adriatic seaport of Valona on November 28th, 1912 along with the formal secession from the Ottoman Empire. It was formed a Provisional Government and in such a way it was founded the corner-stone for the building of an independent nation-state of the Albanians. The Treaty of London of May 30th, 1912, which ended the First Balkan War, recognized the independence of Albania but the question of its borders left open. The Ottoman Empire officially renounced all rights in the Balkans on the Adriatic Sea in May 1913, and Albania was formally granted independence as a Muslim principality on July 31st, 1913.[43]

Albania’s independence was not altered either by the Treaty of Bucharest of August 10th, 1913 which ended the Second Balkan War or by any other postwar treaties. However, the existence of a newly proclaimed state, as well as its international recognition, became soon seriously challenged by the proclamation of the Republic of Central Albania under Esad Pasha Toptani, the former Ottoman commander at Scutari. His republic asserted its sovereignty in 1913 and 1914 but was later incorporated into the rest of Albania. Another challenge for a single Albanian state was the Greek-supported Autonomous Republic of North Epirus in which the majority of the population have been the Christian Orthodox who opposed the Muslim-led authority of Albania that was proclaimed in Valona. Nevertheless, after WWI, North Epirus Republic was incorporated into a single Albania and, therefore, did not alter its borders.

The Western Great Powers agreed to install the Austro-Hungarian candidate a German Prince Wilhelm zu Wied as the ruler of Albania as a clear sign that Albania was put under the political protectorate of Vienna and Budapest.[44] He arrived in Albania in March 1914 but left it soon in September after WWI erupted. He became totally unable to cope with different Albanian factions and belligerent tribes. After his departure, Albania reverted to political anarchy and during the whole WWI, it did not have a functioning central Government as the most interesting West European Great Powers in Albania installed their regional structures and supported their favorable local armed bands. Nevertheless, such structures, regardless of the fact to be under the direct sponsorship of foreign power, maintained the essence of the concept of the Albanian national identity and the idea of the independent nation-state to be realized after the war and to close the Albanian Question in the Balkans for a while.[45]

Prof. Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirović

© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2020


[1] See more in [Stojanović T., Balkanski svetovi: Prva i poslednja Evropa, Beograd: Equilibrium, 1997; Шушић С., Геополитички кошмар Балкана, Београд: Војна књига, 2004; Glenny M., The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers 1804−2011, New York: Penguin Books, 2012].

[2] See, for instance [Marmullaku R., Albania and the Albanians, London: C. Hurst & Company, 1975 , 5−9].

[3] Бартл П., Албанци: Од средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 42−44.

[4] See more details in [Wachtel B. A., The Balkans in World History, Oxford−New York, Oxford University Press, 2008].

[5] The first Albanian settlers emigrated from North Albania to Kosovo-Metochia in 1754 [Gaćinović R., „Prva Prizrenska Liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, 2019, 328].

[6] About Serbian political thought in the 19th century, see [Симеуновић Д., Из ризнице отаџбинских идеја. Слободарски међаши наше политичке мисли 19. века, Београд: НИЦ Војска, 2000].

[7] See more details in [Sotirović B. V., Srpski komonvelt, Vilnius: Štamparija Pedagoškog univerziteta u Viljnusu, 2011].

[8] Деретић И. Ј., Антић П. Д., Јарчевић М. С., Измишљено досељавање Срба, Београд: Сардонија, 2009.

[9] The theory of the Dacian origin of the modern Romanian nation got its political expression and value during the lifetime of the Romanian Greek-Catholic (Unionist) Bishop from Transylvania, Ioan Inochentie Micu-Clain (1700−1761). Fighting for the equal rights of the Romanians in Transylvania with the recognized members of the Transylvanian “political nation”, the Hungarians, Saxons, and Szecklers, Micu-Clain invoked the theory that the Romanians were the most ancient population on the territory of Transylvania, i.e. descendants of ancient Dacians and Roman colonists. His compatriot from Transylvania, the leading Romanian Greek-Catholic intellectual, George Şincai (1754−1816) accepted this theory which got its scientific explanations in his linguistic hypothesis of Dacian-Romanian ethnic-cultural symbiosis elaborated in the treatise Elementa linguae daco-romanae sive valachicae. G. Şincai was an ideological inspirer and creator of the Supplex Libellus Valachorum Transsilvaniae submitted to the Austrian Emperor Leopold II (1780−1790) in March 1791. It was a memorandum in which the Romanian intellectuals from Transylvania required political and social rights for Transylvanian Romanians claiming that the Daco-Romanians are the autochthonous inhabitants of this Austrian province. He used as evidence the Chronicle of the Anonymous, a notary of Hungarian medieval King Bela, discovered in 1746. Finally, the theory of Daco-Romanian ethnogenesis became the leading ideological background for the 19th and 20th century Romanian politicians to demand political unification of all “Romanian historical and ethnic lands”: Wallachia, Oltenia, Moldavia, Dobrodgea, Bessarabia, Transylvania, Bucovina, Maramures, Banat, and Crisana.

[10] About the Albanian League of Prizren from the political perspective of Albanian historiography, see in more detail in [Pollo S., The Albanian League of Prizren 1878−1881, Tirana, 1978].

[11] Rilindja means the Renaissance.

[12] The focal historical source in this matter is one by the Byzantine chronicler Michael Ataliota [Ataliota M., Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae, Bonn: Weber, 1853, 18].

[13] Pollo S., Puto A., The History of Albania, London−Boston−Hebley: Routledge−Kegan, 1981, 37.

[14] About the Islamic essence of the Albanian nationalism in the Balkans and secessionism in Kosovo-Metochia, see in [Јевтић М., „Исламска суштина албанског сецесионизма и културно наслеђе Срба“, Национални интерес, 2, 2013, 231−252].

[15] Within the boundaries of a single “Albanian” province in the Ottoman Empire, as it was required by the First Prizren League to be composed by four Ottoman provinces (of Kosovo, Ioannina, Bitola, and Scutari), there were 44% of ethnic Albanians out of total population [Gaćinović R., „Prva Prizrenska Liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, 2019, 334].

[16] Gaćinović R., „Prva Prizrenska Liga kao putokaz političkog nasilja nad Srbima u Staroj Srbiji“, Vojno delo, 3, 2019, 334.

[17] Carrie A., Diplomatic History of Europe Since the Congress of Vienna, New York, 1958, 40−43.

[18] About the Eastern Question, see in more details in [Успенски И. Ф., Источно питање, Београд−Подгорица: Службени лист СЦГ−ЦИД, 2003].

[19] About the Balkan migrations in historical perspective, see in [Цвијић Ј., Метанастазичка кретања, њихови узроци и последице, Београд: СКА, 1922].

[20] About Serbia’s relations with Austria-Hungary at the beginning of the 20th century, see in [Ћоровић В., Односи између Србије и Аустро-Угарске у XX веку, Београд: Библиотека града Београда, 1992].

[21] See in more detail in [Војводић М., Србија у међународним односима крајем XIX и почетком XX века, Београд: САНУ, 1988, 390−402].

[22] Историја на македонскиот народ, II, Скопје, 1969, 165−167; История на Бьлгария, София, 1962, 140−144.

[23] About the Macedonian Question, see more details in [Pettifer J. (ed.), The New Macedonian Question, New York: Palgrave, 2001].

[24] The Second Balkan League of 1912 was the outcome of bilateral agreements between Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece against the Ottoman Empire. Those military-political agreements led to the First Balkan War of 1912−1913 against the Ottoman Empire. However, the league collapsed in June 1913 when Bulgaria attacked both Serbia and Greece in the hopes of preventing them from annexing the biggest portions of historical-geographic Macedonia [Barraclough G., The Times Atlas of World History, Revised Edition, Maplewood, New Jersey: Hammond, 1986, 299].

[25] Castellan G., History of the Balkans from Mohammed the Conqueror to Stalin, New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 378−379.

[26] Бартл П., Албанци од Средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 126−138.

[27] About the Balkan Wars, see in more detail in [Hall C. R., The Balkan Wars, 1912−1913: Prelude to the First World War, London: Routledge, 2000].

[28] About Balkan Wars as a historiographical source, see [The Balkan Wars 1912−1913: The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky, New York: Pathfinder, 1993].

[29] The town with the fortress of Scutari was an administrative center of the Ottoman province (vilayet) of Scutari.

[30] About the alleged war crimes in both Balkan Wars, see in [Enquete dans les Balkans, Paris: A Carnegie Inquiry Commission, 1914].

[31] About criminal activities of Isa Boletini, see in [Батаковић Т. Д., Косово и Метохија у српско-арбанашким односима, Београд: Чигоја штампа, 2006, 110, 144, 146−150, 157−159, 183−184, 188−189, 191−194, 197−198, 205−206, 300, 302, 305; Батаковић Т. Д., Косово и Метохија: Историја и идеологија, Београд: Чигоја штампа, 2007, 73, 83−84, 108−110, 113, 116, 311].

[32] Durham M. E., The Struggle for Scutari (Turk, Slav, Albanian), London: Edward Arnold, 1914.

[33] About an aspects of Great Power involvement in the Balkan Wars, see in [Király B, Djordjevic D. (ed.), East Central European Society and the Balkan Wars, New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, 289−364].

[34] About the army of the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars, see in [Erickson J. E., Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912−1913, Westport, CT. 2003].

[35] Ратковић Б., Ђуришић М., Скоко С., Србија и Црна Гора у Балканским ратовима 1912−1913, Београд: БИГЗ, 1972, 222−224.

[36] About the relations between Montenegro and Austria-Hungary, see in more detail in [Treadway D. J., The Falcon and the Eagle: Montenegro and Austria-Hungary, 1908−1914, West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1983].

[37] Ратковић Б., Ђуришић М., Скоко С., Србија и Црна Гора у Балканским ратовима 1912−1913, Београд: БИГЗ, 1972, 68−86.

[38] Valona was at that time the only town in Albania not occupied by the forces of the Second Balkan Alliance. The independence was proclaimed by the Albanian National Congress composed by 37 delegates [Бартл П., Албанци од Средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 139].

[39] Ратковић Б., Ђуришић М., Скоко С., Србија и Црна Гора у Балканским ратовима 1912−1913, Београд: БИГЗ, 1972, 224−228.

[40] For all Albanophils and Serbophobs, like the British “Kosovo expert”, a historian Noel Malcolm, Serbia conquered but not liberated Kosovo-Metochia in 1912 [Malcolm N., Kosovo: A Short History, New York: HarperPerennial, 1999, 239−263]. Noel Malcolm’s wife is Albanian and he was a President of the British-Albanian society.

[41] Clogg R., A Concise History of Greece, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992, 81.

[42] See more in [Hellenic Army General Staff, A Concise History of the Balkan Wars, 1912−1913, Athens: Army History Directorate, 1998].

[43] See in more detail in [Puto A., Albanian Independence and the Diplomacy of the Great Powers 1912−1913, Tirana: 1978].

[44] Бартл П., Албанци од Средњег века до данас, Београд: CLIO, 2001, 142−148.

[45] See more in [Puto A., The Albanian Question in the International Acts in the Period of Imperialism, Vol. 2, (1912−1913), Tirana, 1987].

Originally written for and published on Oriental Review in July & August 2020.

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Written by Policraticus

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