FEUILLETON Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I (13)
Writing for Kosovo Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic
"Kosovo has been inhabited by Albanians from time immemorial"
Continuing to idealize his perception of Albanians, Fan Noli moves on to religious topics, where he concludes that Albanians are "superior" in that regard compared to all other nations in the Balkans, and also more civilized than many advanced European countries.
"As for religious tolerance, Albanians are superior to all Balkan races and some highly civilized Western European nations; Albania is the only country in the world where Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Greek Catholics have always lived in peace and harmony, always tolerated religious differences and united to defend their common homeland, Christians choose a Muslim leader, and Muslims a Christian leader without prejudice for religious reasons. The Pan-Albanian Federation of America had a Muslim president when the majority of its members were Christians, a Protestant president when no other member professed his faith, and now that the majority of its members are Muslims, the president is an Orthodox Christian; which explains why the Jews of Southern Albania and especially Janina prefer to live under Albanian rather than Greek rule. On the other hand, it is a well-known fact that the Romanians from Pindus, or Kucovlasi, have appealed several times to the Great Powers since the London Conference to intervene in Albania and thus avoid Greek oppression and misrule. Similarly, the Bulgarians from western Macedonia would not hesitate for a moment to opt for Albania if the alternative for them were to be subordinated to Greece or Serbia. The arrogant claim of the Greeks and the Serbs to "civilize" the Albanians by dividing their country can find a sharp rebuke in the pages of the Carnegie Commission's report where their atrocities and massacres in Albania and Macedonia are duly recorded by impartial investigators with documentary evidence, while the chivalrous behavior of Albanians during the catastrophic retreat of Serbian armies through Albania in 1915 could serve as a contrast, illustrating the civilization and humanity of the involved races", Noli claims.
It is interesting that these claims take credit from Essad Pasha Toptani, who, due to his cooperation with Serbia and his allied and friendly relationship with the Serbian Army in 1915, according to assessments from the end of World War I until modern times, became, alongside Enver Hoxha, the second most hated figure in Albanian history.
Even more than that, the survival of the Albanian state owes itself to him, as the assistance to Serbia enabled Essad Pasha to have a completely different position from other Albanian leaders who during the Great War aligned themselves with the Central Powers.
But, more on that later. Let's first finish the analysis of how Fan Noli's document became the programmatic basis for Albanian actions at the Paris Peace Conference.
Turhan Pasha's theory about the Serbs
Turhan Pasha Permeti repeated Noli's claim about Kosovo and Metohija, stating that "Kosovo, also known as Old Serbia, has been inhabited by the Albanians from time immemorial". "The Serbs appeared there only in the 7th century, but they could never establish their rule due to constant Albanian uprisings and Bulgarian rivalry. Serbian dominance in the Kosovo region has always been transient, and despite Serbian oppression and persecution, the vast majority of its population has always been Albanian. The Serbs that penetrated there constitute a minority of only 15 percent", Turhan Pasha wrote.
Greece's claims that Orthodox Albanians are Greeks were dismissed with the argument that there "cannot be any talk of a civilizational difference between children of the same race who live together under the same conditions, speak the same language, and have the same customs". If Orthodox Albanians attended Greek schools, on the other hand, Muslim and Catholic Albanians, who were denied the right to be taught in their mother tongue, attended Turkish, French, Italian, English, and American schools.
Great emphasis was placed on Greek sympathies for Orthodox Albanians, but several opinions were presented that contradicted this, such as Lord Hobhouse, who accompanied Byron in Albania and wrote the following about the population that formed the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 19th century, "Only the Albanians are aware of their nationality; all other nations of the Empire are grouped according to their faith".
The French delegate to the Commission for Eastern Rumelia, Monsignor Overath, stated in a memorandum presented to the Commission on August 13, 1880, "They (Albanians) live in complete unity; they are Albanians above all. If it is true that Catholics are warmly attached to their faith, it is no less true that both they and their Muslim compatriots highly value national consciousness, love for the land, and respect for old customs, placing them above all other considerations". In the magazine "L'Illustration" dated April 7, 1917, M. Vosher writes about the district of Korce:
"Albania for Albanians is the motto of all the inhabitants of this rich plain of Korce. In two months (as a republic), Albanians have shown that they are capable of living in good relations with each other. There are no more religious quarrels, for an excellent reason, that there is no one to ignite them now".
Then he also called for help to the Serbian Army, stating that it "gains new importance considering the atrocities and systematic massacres that the same Serbian troops committed against the Albanians of Kosovo during and after the Balkan Wars, as reported by all European press correspondents at that time".
"Don't speak ill of the Scottish mountains"
Albanian journalist and researcher Ilir Ikonomi published in 2016 a biography of Essad Pasha Toptani that sheds an entirely new light on the real events in his life and removes the chauvinistic and Comintern stigmas from Toptani.
Their precursor was Edith Durham, who demonstrated a consistent intolerance towards Essad Pasha's actions and presented a series of inaccuracies about his life and work, and after his assassination in 1920, these assessments, based on an anti-Serbian platform, only multiplied.
The US President Woodrow Wilson, during the peace conference, stayed at the 'Prince Murat' residence, a palace from Napoleon's era. His apartment was visited daily by some of the most famous people in the world: presidents, chief executives, ambassadors, scientists, and writers. Wilson was seen as a symbol of justice and a great protector of small nations.
Before Wilson, who received a large number of petitions regarding the Italian mandate, the question was sometimes raised whether Albania should be granted independence. "I really don't know what would become of it", Lloyd George replied, "except that they would slaughter each other". Albania would be exactly what the Scottish Highlands were in the 15th century.
"Don't speak ill of the Scottish mountains," Wilson said. "That is the cradle of my family".
Tomorrow the continuation of the feuilleton "Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I"