The Albanian Question At The Turn Of The 20th Century (III)

Part I, Part II

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.[i] The war was declared firstly by Montenegro on October 8th, 1912 followed by the rest of the alliance.[ii] 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[iii] 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.[iv] 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.[v]

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.[vi] 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.[vii] 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.[viii]

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.[ix]

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.[x] 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[xi] 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[xii] but crucially of Austria-Hungary.[xiii] 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.

Alnanians
Depiction of the revolt by The Illustrated Tribune, August 1910

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.[xiv] 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[xv] 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.[xvi] 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.[xvii]

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.[xviii] 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.[xix]

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.[xx]

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.[xxi] 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.[xxii]

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

Endnotes:

[i] 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].

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

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

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

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

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

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

[viii] 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].

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

[x] About 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].

[xi] 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].

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

[xiii] 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].

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

[xv] 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].

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

[xvii] 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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