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Albania during the Balkan Wars

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Independent Albania was proclaimed on 28 November 1912. This chapter of Albanian history was shrouded in controversy and conflict as the larger part of the self-proclaimed region had found itself controlled by the Balkan League states: Serbia, Montenegro and Greece from the time of the declaration until the period of recognition when Albania relinquished many of the lands originally included in the declared state. Since the proclamation of the state in November 1912, the Provisional Government of Albania asserted its control over a small part of central Albania including the important cities of Vlorë and Berat.

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The period leading up to the First World War in the Balkans was a time of great confusion. Most of the nations there had only recently become independent from the Ottoman Empire and national, ethnic, and religious tensions ran high. Nowhere did this hold true more, though, than the principality of Albania. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War special episode about Albania in World War One. Albania was actually the last of the Balkan nations to declare its independence from the Ottomans, but let’s go back a bit. In the decades before the war, as countries like Serbia and Bulgaria were becoming independent themselves, Albania was in a precarious position. It had its own independence movement, but several of the other newly independent nations considered Albanian land their for the taking. Albania had, for the most part, fought alongside the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, and the treaty of San Stefano after that had assigned Albanian land to Montenegro and Greece. As the new century began, Albanian demands for greater freedoms and rights began to cause frequent revolts, but when the first Balkan War erupted in 1912, Albania, still part of the Empire, saw its cities and villages occupied in all directions, by Serbs, Montenegrins, Greeks, and Bulgarians. This finally prompted the Albanian declaration of independence November 28th, 1912, which was immediately ignored by all of the occupying neighbors. But when the war ended in May 1913, Albanian independence was recognized - though under international control and with half the lands Albania had claimed. The second Balkan War began a month later, and ended in August with a strengthening of the Serbian position in the region, and Serbian acquisition of Western Macedonia, with a predominantly Albanian population. The Balkan Wars, though overshadowed by WW1 today, got a lot of attention in the west, particularly because of the wartime atrocities committed by all sides. In fact, the Carnegie Endowment for International peace specifically wrote about atrocities committed against Albanians in order to transform the ethnic character of regions inhabited by them. Numbers vary widely in various sources, but as many as 120,000 Albanians were killed in the regions occupied by Serbian forces during the wars, as Serbia sought access to the sea. Now, the non-occupied regions of Albania drifted into pretty much total chaos at this time. The Great Powers tried to bring some order to this chaos with an international commission that would govern the country until a Prince could be found. This commission was created October 15th. The following day, Essad Pasha, an Ottoman loyalist supported by Serbia, declared the independence of the Republic of Central Albania, with the goal of reuniting it with the Ottoman Empire. He held this “republic” until February 1914. He agreed to step down under pressure from the Great Powers, in exchange for a strong position in the government of William of Wied, a German officer and noble, who had been finally chosen as Prince of Albania. That month, though, the Greek minority of southern Albania, not wishing to be stuck in a country that was predominantly Muslim, declared the Republic of Northern Epirus, which included most of Southern Albania. William of Wied arrived in Albania March 7th, 1914, and tribal leaders pledged allegiance to him. He formed a government with Essad Pasha as Minister of War, and signed the Corfu Protocol, which gave the rebellious Greek minority autonomy within Albania. Then he began making reforms, such as separating church and state, which were hugely unpopular with the people. In addition, Islamists viewed the him as a crusader. The Prince, for his part, accused Essad Pasha of double service and conspiracy and had him arrested and taken to Italy. Within days, Central Albania was in insurrection. By the time the First World War broke out, William had lost control of most of the country. In addition, the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded he send troops to fight for them, and when he refused, the financial aid he’d been receiving from the empire was cut off. William would leave the country of September 3rd, eventually joining the German army on the Eastern Front. So: power vacuum. Essad Pasha returned from Italy and made a deal with Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic that ceded mostly Christian Northern Albania to Serbia in exchange for financial and military support. Essad took over central Albania with little resistance. Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Venizelos made a deal with British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey that allowed Greece to officially invade southern Albania. Shortly after that, Muslim leaders in Central Albania rose up against Essad Pasha and by late November he was surrounded in the capital, Durazzo. He was rescued by Italian warships, and indeed Italy invaded Valona in December, and soon took control of most of the coast from Valona to Durazzo. No major European power protested this invasion because at this time both sides wanted Italy to join them in the First World War. Much of Albania was now under the rule of local chieftains or the Central Muslim movement, while in the north, the Kachaks fought a guerrilla war against the Serbs. In April 1915, the Pact of London was signed that brought Italy into the war. The pact gave Italy a protectorate of most of Albania, southern Albania to Greece, and Northern Albania to Serbia and Montenegro. By the end of June, Northern Albania had been occupied, though the Albanians resisted the invasion and there was some fierce fighting. In October, Serbia withdrew from Albania to fight the Central powers invading Serbia, only to return weeks later in the retreat to the sea that would see tens of thousands of Serbian refugees and soldiers die of the freezing weather, starvation, and guerrilla attacks from Albanian forces. Soon Austria-Hungary controlled all of northern Albania, and the future King Zog of Albania - history’s heaviest smoker, look it up, and the only modern monarch to pull out his own gun and return fire on would-be assassins, true story - joined them in taking Durazzo. Many Albanians viewed the Austrians as saviors, but that took a real blow in April 1916, when the Austrians ordered the Albanians to surrender all weapons. You would think that Italy and Austria-Hungary, both occupying Albania, would fight each other there, but you’d be wrong, except for small skirmishes. By autumn 1916, the Allies were beginning to move in the Balkans. The French soon occupied Korcha and declared it an autonomous republic. This meant that French and Italian forces were now connected and an Albanian rifle regiment was even created in the French army. In June 1917, Italy declared Albanian independence and ousted Essad Pasha. Interestingly enough, especially considering what had gone on prior to the war, there was still no major fighting in Albania. Not till mid 1918, when an Italian offensive captured the Berat region. A month later, though, the Central powers recaptured most of the territory, which is quite interesting because it was the final real military success by the Central Powers in the war. On September 15th, the Allies began the final offensive on the Salonika front, soon defeating Bulgaria and forcing the Austrians to retreat. The Allies destroyed the port of Durazzo on October 2nd, the final major confrontation on Albanian soil, and by November 5th, the whole country was in allied hands. And what happened then? Well, the political confusion continued. Albania didn’t have a recognized government and Albanians feared that Italy, Greece, and Yugoslavia would carve it up. It was US President Woodrow Wilson who spoke up for Albanian independence and in December 1920, the League of Nations recognized Albania as a sovereign nation and admitted it as a member. Okay, even though this is probably really confusing, it was still only a general outline of what was happening in Albania during the war. You should definitely look it up yourself for a deeper understanding because it’s really interesting, and almost mind-blowingly confusing. Of all the countries that took part in the First World War, it was in Albania that the Game of Thrones was played the most. Thank you to Lirm Bllaca for helping us out with this episode. If you want to learn more about the situation on the Balkans during Serbias retreat, you should check out our episode about that right here. If you want to help telling the story of your country in World War 1 on our channel, get in touch with our social media guy Flo on Facebook or through our official website.



Provisional Government of Albania

Caricature shows Albania (the lion) breaks the chain of Islam that linked it to the Turk (man with the fez, left) and  Orthodoxy that bound it to the Greek (man with hat and tassel, right). In background a Serbian (man wearing šajkača behind tree, centre left) and Montenegrin (represented as black rat in tree branches, top left) preparing to ambush the lion
Caricature shows Albania (the lion) breaks the chain of Islam that linked it to the Turk (man with the fez, left) and Orthodoxy that bound it to the Greek (man with hat and tassel, right). In background a Serbian (man wearing šajkača behind tree, centre left) and Montenegrin (represented as black rat in tree branches, top left) preparing to ambush the lion

1912 was to be an eventful year in Rumelia. From August, the Ottoman Government recognized the autonomy of Albania.[1][2] In October 1912, the Balkan states, following their own national aspirations[3][4] jointly attacked the Ottoman Empire and during the next few months partitioned nearly all of Rumelia, the Ottoman territories in Europe, including those inhabited by the Albanians.[5] In November, with the outbreak of the First Balkan War, the Albanians rose up and declared independence of Albania.[6]

Conflicts of the Balkan Wars in Ottoman Albania

Serbian campaign

The Serb army first entered Ottoman territory inhabited by ethnic Albanians in October 1912 as part of its campaign in the then-ongoing First Balkan War.[7] The Kingdom of Serbia occupied most of the Albanian-inhabited lands including Albania's Adriatic coast. Serbian Gen. Božidar Janković was the Commander of the Serbian Third Army during the military campaign in Albania. The Serbian army met with strong Albanian guerrilla resistance, led by Isa Boletini, Azem Galica and other military leaders. During the Serbian occupation, Gen. Jankovic forced notables and local tribal leaders to sign a declaration of gratitude to King Petar I Karađorđević for their "liberation by the Serbian army".[8]

The army of the Kingdom of Serbia captured Durrës on 29 November 1912 without any resistance. Right after their arrival in Durrës, on 29 November 1912, the Kingdom of Serbia established Drač County, its district offices and appointed the governor of the county, mayor of the city and commander of the military garrison.[9]

During the occupation, the Serbian army committed numerous crimes against the Albanian population "with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of these regions."[5] The Serbian government denied reports of war crimes.[8]

Following the signing of the Treaty of London in May 1913 which awarded new lands to Serbia, including most of the former Vilayet of Kosovo, the Serbian government agreed to withdraw its troops from outside of its newly expanded territory. This allowed an Albanian state to exist peacefully. The final withdrawal of Serb personnel from Albania was in October 1913.

Montenegrin campaign

Shkodër and its surrounding had long been desired by Montenegro, although its inhabitants were overwhelmingly ethnic Albanians. The Siege of Scutari took place on 23 April 1913 between the allied forces of Montenegro and Serbia against the forces of the Ottoman Empire and the Provisional Government of Albania.

Montenegro took Shkodër on 23 April 1913, but when the war was over the Great Powers didn't give the city to the Kingdom of Montenegro, which was compelled to evacuate it in May 1913, in accordance with the London Conference of Ambassadors. The army's withdrawal was hastened by a small naval flotilla of British and Italian gunboats that moved up the Bojana River and across the Adriatic coastline.[10]

Greek campaign

Caricature shows Albania defending itself from neighboring countries. Montenegro is represented as a monkey, Greece as a leopard and Serbia as a snake. Text in Albanian: "Flee from me! Bloodsucker Beasts!"
Caricature shows Albania defending itself from neighboring countries. Montenegro is represented as a monkey, Greece as a leopard and Serbia as a snake. Text in Albanian: "Flee from me! Bloodsucker Beasts!"

The Greek Army controlled territory that would be later incorporated into the Albanian state before the declaration of Albanian Independence in Vlorë. On 18 November 1912, after a successful uprising and 10 days prior to the Albanian Declaration of Independence, local Maj. Spyros Spyromilios expelled the Ottomans from the Himara region.[11] The Greek Navy also shelled the city of Vlora on 3 December 1912.[12][13] The Greek Army didn't capture Vlore, which was of great interest to Italy.[14]

Greek forces were stationed in what would become southern Albania until March 1914. After the Great Powers agreed on the terms of the Protocol of Florence in December 1913, Greece was forced to retreat from the towns of Korçë, Gjirokastër and Sarandë and the surrounding territories.[15]


Under strong international pressure, Albania's Balkan neighbors were forced to withdraw from the territory of the internationally recognized state of Albania in 1913. The new Principality of Albania included only about half of the ethnic Albanian population, while a large number of Albanians remained in neighboring countries.[16]


  1. ^ Balkan studies, Volume 25 Author Hidryma Meletōn Chersonēsou tou Haimou (Thessalonikē, Greece) Publisher The Institute, 1984 p.385
  2. ^ The case for Kosova: passage to independence Author Anna Di Lellio Publisher Anthem Press, 2006 ISBN 1-84331-229-8, ISBN 978-1-84331-229-1 p.55
  3. ^ Balkan studies, Volume 25 Author Hidryma Meletōn Chersonēsou tou Haimou (Thessalonikē, Greece) Publisher The Institute, 1984 p.387
  4. ^ The Ottoman Empire and Its Successors, 1801–1927 Author William Miller Edition revised Publisher Routledge, 1966 ISBN 0-7146-1974-4, ISBN 978-0-7146-1974-3 p.498
  5. ^ a b Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan War (1914)
  6. ^ Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia at peace and at war: selected writings, 1983 – 2007, by Sabrina P. Ramet
  7. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 50–62.
  8. ^ a b Leo Freundlich: Albania's Golgotha Archived 31 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Popović, Bogdan; Jovan Skerlić (1924). Srpski književni glasnik, Volume 11. p. 275. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 16. novembra odred je stigao u Drač gde je oduševljeno dočekan od hrišćanskog stanovništva. Odmah su postavljene naše policijske vlasti (načelstvo okruga dračkog, upravnik varoši, predsednik opštine i načelnik vojne stanice) i potom je bilo preduzeto utvrđivanje Drača... [transl.: 'On 16 November (i.e. Gregorian 29 November) the army units arrived in Durres, where they were welcomed warmly by the Christian population. They immediately began to organize our police authorities (the county of Durres, a city major, a president of the town and commander of the military station) and then set up further fortification of Durres.']
  10. ^ Edith Durham, The Struggle for Scutari (Turk, Slav, and Albanian), (Edward Arnold, 1914)
  11. ^ Kondis Basil. Greece and Albania, 1908–1914. Institute for Balkan Studies, 1976, p. 93.
  12. ^ The Balkan Wars, 1912–1913: prelude to the First World War, by Richard C. Hall
  13. ^ The Albanians: a modern history, by Miranda Vickers (Page 69)
  14. ^ Koliopoulos, John S.; Veremis, Thanos M. (2009). Modern Greece: A History Since 1821. Malden, Massachusetts: John Wiley and Sons. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-4051-8681-0.
  15. ^ The Albanians: a modern history, by Miranda Vickers (Page 80)
  16. ^ The Conference of London 1913 Archived 11 February 2011 at WebCite. Robert Elsie.

See also

This page was last edited on 16 November 2018, at 08:46
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