FEUILLETON Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I (11)

Delegacija Jugoslavije na Pariskoj konferenciji
Source: sr.wikipedia.org

Writing for Kosovo Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic, a journalist

"Premature creation of the Albanian State"

During the war, Greece and Italy attempted several times in unrelated discussions to reach a compromise. At the beginning of the conference in Paris, Sonnino and Venizelos, without much mutual respect, attempted several times to reach a common agreement.

Sonnino suggested that Greece allow Italy to take the entire coastline of Albania and half of the territory inland. In return, Greece would receive the territory around Korce (in Greek, Koritsa), then the Dodecanese Islands, and the region around Smyrna on the coast of Asia Minor.

Although the two statesmen were willing to negotiate about Albania and the Dodecanese Islands, neither of them made any progress when it came to Asia Minor.

An eventual agreement would have spared both sides many later troubles, but there was no chance for that. Neither trusted the other; both thought that it would be best for their countries to negotiate directly with the great powers.

Turhan Pasha against Yugoslavia

In February 1919, it seemed that Venizelos was right when he took the gamble. The only major unresolved issue was the stance of the United States, and Venizelos had every reason to believe he could successfully court the Americans, just as he had courted the British. He had lengthy discussions with Colonel House, who assured him that the United States would help the Greek side.

Nicholson arranged a meeting with some of the younger Americans; "He is modest, charming, capable, in a word, brilliant. I had the most successful lunch with him".

Venizelos was always good at gauging his audience. Seymour, an American expert, describes a meeting with him: "Realizing that his strongest card was trust in his honesty, he decided to lay his cards on the table and speak absolutely openly, I think that's what he did. Such a policy equals Bismarckian skill and wisdom".

The Americans sympathized with Greece, but not blindly. They had reservations about Greek claims to Albania and Thrace. When it came to the question of Asia Minor, they favored Greek demands over Italian ones. Earlier, American relations with Italy had deteriorated.

On February 24, 1919, Turhan Pasha Permeti submitted a document to the Paris Peace Conference opposing the creation of a South Slavic state and the inclusion of Kosovo and Metohija in its composition. Since Albania was not a participant in the conference, it communicated with the delegates of the Paris Peace Conference only through papers, but Albanian action was a part of broader efforts by Turkey to preserve its heritage and influence in the Balkans as much as possible. From the beginning, the approach was accepted by the three great powers—the United States, Great Britain, and France—that the proclamation of an independent Albanian state in 1913 was premature, given its economic underdevelopment and primitive social relations.

In accordance with this, it was decided that Albania be included in the mandate system established at the end of the World War for countries and peoples that had not yet achieved independence and that would need to be under the auspices of a "civilized power" to lead them to independence. In this way, the Albanians were included in the group of nations that would separate from disintegrating multinational states, such as the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, nations colonized by defeated Germany.

The three major powers at the conference also reached a common opinion that this external force should be Italy, which had been seeking a protectorate over Albania since the end of the war. Italy would demand control in the form of a mandate over Albania even during the Peace Conference. Representatives of the three powers expressed their readiness to place post-war Albania under Italy's mandate for the first time in May 1919, as a part of efforts to settle claims in Albania and on the Adriatic. This position was reiterated in September 1919, following a formal request for a mandate submitted by the then-new Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tittoni, in late August.

Albania had a different position in the Greek and Serbian approaches, as Serbia was a participant in the conference, and both were important to Albania. Greece sought the annexation of certain territories, while the Serbian delegation recognized the existence of Albania within the 1913 borders and had no territorial claims. Serbia was thus an ally of the Albanian delegation in preserving its independence and did not join the demands of Greece and Italy for the dismemberment of its southern neighbor. One of the reasons was also the gratitude and given word of Essad Pasha Toptani for his friendly attitude towards Serbia and the support and protection of the Serbian Army during its withdrawal through Albania.

Division of Albania on the table

The division of Albania was constantly on the table, and a final agreement was reached by the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and France, Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, who agreed on January 13, 1920, with their Italian counterpart Nitti. According to the agreement, Albania would be divided among three neighboring countries, almost in the same way as envisaged by the London Agreement of 1915. Under this compromise, Rijeka would be transferred to Italy, while the Kingdom of Serbia, Croats, and Slovenes would receive a part of northern Albania with its center in Shkodra and enjoy autonomy similar to the Ruthenian region in Czechoslovakia. Greece would annex Korcc and Gjirokaster, while Italy would gain sovereignty over Vlore and its region and mandate over the remaining part of the Albanian state within the borders of 1913.

The Albanian delegation had already split into two groups long before, one that was close to the British-French plan and another that saw the solution in Italy. A third group with Fan Noli agitated in the USA for America to take over the protectorate of Albania. Albanian lobbyists were already demanding that "the USA lead Albania in its first steps of political life". Fan Noli wrote in his memoirs that he had personally received support for the Albanian cause from Wilson and his wife Edith.

Contemporary Albanian authors cite Noli's claims that he participated in the celebration of Independence Day in the USA on July 4, 1918, "the day when President Wilson announced his famous 14 points". This is not only untrue but also overlooks an important fact – that US President Woodrow Wilson presented his program for post-war arrangements and American war aims known as the "Fourteen Points" on January 8, 1918, in the US Congress. The only foreign representatives present at that session were members of the Serbian military mission, which was on a several-week visit to the US.

Turhan Pasha Permeti belonged to the group that sought support in Italy, but the memorandum he submitted was a modified version of the paper drafted by Orthodox priest Fan Noli on November 27, 1918, and signed it along with 5 of his colleagues on behalf of the "Orthodox Albanians in America". In the activities of the American Pan-Albanian Federation, where Noli was active, Aubrey Herbert and Edith Durham played a crucial role. Edith Durham was the organization's secretary, and they essentially created the ideological and programmatic platform for these and other Albanian claims.

Tomorrow the continuation of the feuilleton "Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I"