The Balkan Wars and Creation of Independent Albania

The Balkan Wars and Creation of Independent Albania

The Albanians once more rose against the Ottoman Empire in May 1912 and took the Macedonian capitol, Skopje, by August. Stunned, the Young Turks regime acceded to some of the rebels' demands. The First Balkan War, however, erupted before a final settlement could be worked out. Most Albanians remained neutral during the war, during which the Balkan allies--the Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks--quickly drove the Turks to the walls of Constantinople. The Montenegrins surrounded Shkodėr with the help of northern Albanian tribes anxious to fight the Ottoman Turks. Serb forces took much of northern Albania, and the Greeks captured Janina and parts of southern Albania.

An assembly of eighty-three Muslim and Christian leaders meeting in Vlorė in November 1912 declared Albania an independent country and set up a provisional government, but an ambassadorial conference that opened in London in December decided the major questions concerning the Albanians after the First Balkan War in its concluding Treaty of London of May 1913. One of Serbia's primary war aims was to gain an Adriatic port, preferably Durrės. Austria-Hungary and Italy opposed giving Serbia an outlet to the Adriatic, which they feared would become a Russian port. They instead supported the creation of an autonomous Albania. Russia backed Serbia's and Montenegro's claims to Albanian-inhabited lands. Britain and Germany remained neutral. Chaired by Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, the ambassadors' conference initially decided to create an autonomous Albania under continued Ottoman rule, but with the protection of the Great Powers. This solution, as detailed in the Treaty of London, was abandoned in the summer of 1913 when it became obvious that the Ottoman Empire would, in the Second Balkan War, lose Macedonia and hence its overland connection with the Albanian-inhabited lands.

In July 1913, the Great Powers opted to recognize an independent, neutral Albanian state ruled by a constitutional monarchy and under the protection of the Great Powers. The August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest established that independent Albania was a country with borders that gave the new state about 28,000 square kilometers of territory and a population of 800,000. Montenegro, whose tribesmen had resorted to terror, mass murder, and forced conversion in territories it coveted, had to surrender Shkodėr. Serbia reluctantly succumbed to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy to withdraw from northern Albania. The treaty, however, left large areas with majority Albanian populations, notably Kosovo and western Macedonia, outside the new state and failed to solve the region's nationality problems.

Territorial disputes have divided the Albanians and Serbs since the Middle Ages, but none more so than the clash over the Kosovo region. Serbs consider Kosovo their Holy Land. They argue that their ancestors settled in the region during the seventh century, that medieval Serbian kings were crowned there, and that the Serbs' greatest medieval ruler, Stefan Dusan, established the seat of his empire for a time near Prizren in the mid-fourteenth century. More important, numerous Serbian Orthodox shrines, including the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, are located in Kosovo. The key event in the Serbs' national mythology, the defeat of their forces by the Ottoman Turks, took place at Kosovo Polje in 1389. For their part, the Albanians claim the land based on the argument that they are the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, the indigenous people of the region, and have been there since before the first Serb ever set foot in the Balkans. Although the Albanians have not left architectural remains similar to the Serbs' religious shrines, the Albanians point to the fact that Prizren was the seat of their first nationalist organization, the Prizren League, and call the region the cradle of their national awakening. Finally, Albanians claim Kosovo based on the fact that their kinsmen have constituted the vast majority of Kosovo's population since at least the eighteenth century.

When the Great Powers recognized an independent Albania, they also established the International Control Commission, which endeavored to exert its expand its authority and elbow out the Vlorė provisional government and the rival government of Esad Pasha Toptani, who enjoyed the support of large landowners in central Albania and boasted a formidable militia. The control commission drafted a constitution that provided for a National Assembly of elected local representatives, the heads of the Albanians' major religious groups, ten persons nominated by the prince, and other noteworthy persons. The Great Powers chose Prince Wilhelm of Wied, a thirty-five-year-old German army captain, to head the new state. In March 1914, he moved into a Durrės building hastily converted into a palace.

After independence local power struggles, foreign provocations, miserable economic conditions, and modest attempts at social and religious reform fueled Albanian uprisings aimed at the prince and the control commission. Ottoman propaganda, which appealed to uneducated peasants loyal to Islam and Islamic spiritual leaders, attacked the Albanian regime as a puppet of the large landowners and Europe's Christian powers. Greece, dissatisfied that the Great Powers did not award it southern Albania, also encouraged uprisings against the Albanian government, and armed Greek bands carried out atrocities against Albanian villagers. Italy plotted with Esad Pasha to overthrow the new prince. Montenegro and Serbia plotted with the northern tribesmen. For their part, the Great Powers gave Prince Wilhelm, who was unversed in Albanian affairs, intrigue, or diplomacy, little moral or material backing. A general insurrection in the summer of 1914 stripped the prince of control except in Durrės and Vlorė.

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