FEUILLETON Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I (14)
Writing for Kosovo Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic
“Pasic's assistance in maintaining independent Albania"
Essad Pasha Toptani was one of those who expressed a desire to meet with the US President, and his prayer was answered, thanks to the actions of the Serbian Government. After the opening of the Peace Conference in Paris, Essad Pasha Toptani appeared there as the President of the legitimate Albanian Government and opposed the delegation of the Government in Durres.
The Yugoslav Government and its delegation were, by all means, on the side of Essad Pasha at the conference. Pasic and other members of the delegation felt the need, for the support Essad provided during their retreat through Albania, to do everything possible to have him appear at the conference and speak on behalf of the Albanians, as well as to return to Albania.
With Serbian material assistance, a building called the "Office of the Government of Essad Pasha" was maintained in Debar, where he and his associates lived and operated.
An audience with Pasha was scheduled on the President's agenda for April 17th and was set for 12:45.
Pupin on the delimitation with Bulgaria
This meeting was scheduled just three days after Nikola Pasic's meeting with the US President, during which Pasic spoke about Albanian affairs and recommended to Wilson to meet with Essad Pasha.
A few days earlier, Mihajlo Pupin arrived in Paris, starting to address the delimitation between Serbia and Bulgaria. In the memorandum, he expressed the opinion that President Wilson had not attached importance to the strategic and historical reasons advocated by Jovan Cvijic. He attached much greater importance to economic and transportation issues. He advised against seeking US mediation in the Yugoslav-Bulgarian delimitation. The reason given was that Wilson's close friends and supporters, Charles Crane and Cleveland Dodge, were Presbyterians. They sat on the board of Robert College in Istanbul, i.e., they were pro-Bulgarian.
In addition, the Bulgarian Envoy in Washington, Panaretov, as already noted by Mabel Grujic, was educated and a professor at the same college, and his wife was an American who maintained close ties with the White House. In other words, Wilson's understanding of the Macedonian issue was influenced by his conversations with Panaretov.
Five minutes before the meeting with Wilson, Essad Pasha was in the presidential lobby with the translator Stavros, who, in addition to Albanian, spoke fluent French, Greek, and Turkish. Waiting, Essad remembered that President Wilson did not speak French, so he ordered Stavros to go get an English translator at the Hotel de Crillon, where the US delegation was housed.
One of the secretaries stopped him and said, 'The President doesn't really speak French, but he understands, so another translator would be unnecessary'.
When the meeting took place, Essad spoke in Albanian, and Stavros translated into French. It was a monologue where Wilson listened silently. Those in the room had the impression that he understood the essence of Essad's sharp criticism of Italy's behavior. To be sure, the President asked the visitor to write down everything he said and send it to him.
Essad returned to the Continental Hotel and dictated the text to the translator, which Ikonomi discovered in 2015 among numerous archival materials of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The French text had no date and no further indications. Perhaps that was the reason why the document had not been noticed earlier. The document reads, 'Essad Pasha considers it a great honor to have been received by the President. He regrets that his lack of knowledge of English forced him to express himself in Albanian and is curious to know if he understood everything he said. Essad Pasha fought against the common enemy throughout the war. As the head of the Albanian Government, he declared war on Austria, but since the enemy was stronger, he had to flee his homeland. He sought refuge in Italy, then in France, and, after an agreement, stationed his Albanian Government and army in Thessaloniki, where they carried out their mission. As the allies themselves acknowledged, they never lacked Essad Pasha's loyalty. However, when it was decided to hold the peace conference, we were not invited to attend as representatives of other states. Why? Because Italy intrigues in the vicinity of the great powers. It seeks an agreement to take over the protectorate of Albania. But Albania fought against the Turks for 500 years, who wanted to impose another 'protectorate' that she did not want. It aspires to create a fully independent state and is capable of self-government. How is it possible for the conference, which aims to liberate so many other nations, to dare to put Albania back under the yoke when, due to the declaration of war, it suffered as much as Belgium? How can it haggle over the reward it fully deserves? It has the right to independence. But Italy turns a blind eye to justice, opposes guaranteeing unlimited peace in the Balkans, and hinders Albania's progress towards the future. An Italian protectorate, hated in every way, would be a source of constant turmoil in the Balkans. On the contrary, a temporary mandate, entrusted to an impartial authority, would be a great thing. 'This force should be America, from which the Albanians expect their happiness,' Toptani wrote to Wilson.
Ikonomi included this document in the book "Essad Pasha Toptani – The Man, The War, The Power", published in 2016.
As seen from the text, Essad Pasha presents two fundamental requests to the US President: not to accept Italy's protectorate and to entrust the temporary mandate over Albania to America as an impartial force. Toptani believed that Albania had no choice but to accept the borders established by the great powers in 1913, an idea contradicted by many of his contemporaries, such as Fan Noli, who built their political agenda on imperialistic ambitions to include Kosovo and Metohija in Greater Albania.
During 1919 and the early 1920s, the Allied forces entertained numerous ideas on how to resolve the issue of Albanian borders. In all possible combinations, Albania was seen as a bargaining chip. Its fate was in question. Ultimately, European powers, by the time the US President left Paris, decided to cripple helpless Albania.
The Influence of Essad Pasha's lobbying
On February 10, 1920, President Wilson sent a note to the Allies rejecting the idea of changing Albania's borders in the north and south in exchange for an Italian mandate, as they had requested. This note from Wilson was the strongest support the US President had given to Albanian independence up to that point.
Ikonomi explains that the fate of Albania at the Paris Conference was much more complicated than the established versions dominating historiography.
Questioning whether the meeting with Essad Pasha influenced President Wilson to oppose the division of Albania, among other factors, he starts from the premise that "nothing in the world happens for one reason", and concludes that "Essad Pasha's lobbying undoubtedly helped, along with other factors”.
Toptani was the only Albanian representative who met face-to-face with the US President, and the meeting was allowed because, during the war, he aligned himself with the victorious powers, unlike his opponents who sided with Austria. The second Albanian delegation, which also lobbied strongly in the country's interest, did not have that privilege.
"I think the meeting between Essad Pasha and the US President, which scientists have long denied and underestimated, is an episode that should be viewed not only as a curiosity but also seriously when talking about such significant events as the Paris Peace Conference. Stubbornness has no value when we talk about truly objective and impartial studies", Ikonomi concluded.
However, Essad Pasha's personality is far from any public rehabilitation in Albanian historiography and politics today, as they are now in positions opposed to Essad Pasha's, on Fan Noli's platform, and under the strong influence of ambitions to annex Kosovo and Metohija to Albania. These ambitions gained momentum after the NATO military operation in 1999 against Serbia, lasting 78 days, and the ongoing unsuccessful attempts to detach Kosovo and Metohija from the territory of Serbia.