Albania, with a total area of 28,750 square kilometers, is slightly larger than the state of Maryland. It shares a 287- kilometer border with the Yugoslav republics of Montenegro and Serbia to the north, a 151-kilometer border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the north and east, and a 282- kilometer border with Greece to the south and southeast. Its coastline is 362 kilometers long. The lowlands of the west face the Adriatic Sea and the strategically important Strait of Otranto, which puts less than 100 kilometers of water between Albania and the heel of the Italian "boot."
The distinct ethnic character of the Albanian people and their isolation within a generally definable area underscored their demands for independence in the early twentieth century. In some places, however, the mingling of different ethnic groups complicated the determination of national borders. Kosovo, across the northeastern Albanian border, was a Serbian-governed province, although ethnic Albanians made up over 90 percent of its population. Many Albanians still regarded Kosovo's status as an issue. Greeks and Albanians lived in the mountains on both sides of the southeastern Albanian boundary. Neither Greece nor Albania was satisfied with the division of nations effected by their common border.
With the exception of the coastline, all Albanian borders are artificial. They were established in principle at the 1912-13 conference of ambassadors in London. The country was occupied by Italian, Serbian, Greek, and French forces during World War I, but the 1913 boundaries were essentially reaffirmed by the victorious states in 1921. The original principle was to define the borders in accordance with the best interests of the Albanian people and the nationalities in adjacent areas. The northern and eastern borders were intended, insofar as possible, to separate the Albanians from the Serbs and Montenegrins; the southeast border was to separate Albanians and Greeks; the valuable western Macedonia lake district was to be divided among the three states- -Albania, Greece, and Yugoslavia--whose populations shared the area. When there was no compromise involving other factors, borderlines were chosen to make the best possible separation of national groups, connecting the best marked physical features available.
Allowance was made for local economic situations, for example, to prevent separation of a village from its animals' grazing areas or the markets for its produce. Political pressures also were a factor in the negotiations, but the outcome was subject to approval by powers having relatively abstract interests, most of which involved the balance of power rather than specific economic ambitions.
Division of the lake district among three states required that each of them have a share of the lowlands in the vicinity. Such an artificial distribution, once made, necessarily affected the borderlines to the north and south. The border that runs generally north from the lakes, although it follows the ridges of the eastern highlands, stays sixteen to thirty-two kilometers west of the watershed divide. Because negotiators at the London conference declined to use the watershed divide as the northeast boundary of the new state of Albania, a large Albanian population in Kosovo was incorporated into Serbia.
In Albania's far north and the northeast mountainous sections, the border connects high points and follows mountain ridges through the largely inaccessible North Albanian Alps, known locally as Bjeshkėt e Namuna. For the most part, there is no natural boundary from the highlands to the Adriatic, although Lake Scutari and a portion of the Bunė River south of it were used to mark Albania's northwest border. From the lake district south and southwest to the Ionian Sea, the country's southeast border goes against the grain of the land, crossing a number of ridges instead of following them.
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