FEUILLETON Americans, Serbs, and Albanians in the Balkan Wars and World War I (6)

Esad paša napušta Drač
Source: sh.wikipedia.org

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic, a journalist

"The withdrawal of Serbian troops"

The Royal Serbian Army occupied Durres on November 29, 1912, without any resistance. On the same day, they established the Durres District and appointed a district chief, the mayor of the city, and the military garrison commander. Edith Durham claimed that numerous crimes had been committed during Serbian rule in Albania, especially during the siege of Shkoder, while the Serbian Government denied all those reports.

On the Turkish side, there were accusations that the Albanians were responsible for the Ottoman defeat. In the memoirs of Turkish surgeon, politician, and writer Riza Nur, who blamed the Albanians for the defeat of Ottoman forces, it was stated, "Albanian battalions, deceived by the Serbs, left the front; Albanian soldiers deserted Janina; Albanians killed the Ottoman commander defending Shkoder; Albanians, Greek mercenaries, surrendered Thessaloniki without a fight and unconditionally". This passage ends with the sentence, "The chain of events shows that all these misfortunes were caused by Albanians".

By signing the London Agreement in May 1913, which granted Serbia territorial expansion, including a significant part of the Kosovo Vilayet, the Serbian Government agreed to withdraw its troops from areas outside the territories acquired through the agreement. This allowed for the peaceful establishment of the state of Albania. The final withdrawal of Serbian soldiers from Albania occurred in October 1913.

The London Agreement

The occupation of parts of the Balkan vilayets of the Ottoman Empire was the direct cause for convening an international conference of ambassadors from the six great powers. The outcome of this conference was the signing of the London Agreement of 1913, which was signed by the six great powers, the Ottoman Empire, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Greece, and on May 31, 1913, they handed over the decision regarding the fate of the territory that now constitutes Albania, to the great powers. Based on the provisions of the London Peace Agreement, the great powers established a new state, Albania, on July 29, 1913.

Colonel Aubrey Herbert became a passionate advocate for Albanian independence after visiting the country in 1907, 1911, and 1913. During his stay in Tirana in 1913, he befriended Esat Pasha.

When Albanian delegates arrived at the London Balkan Peace Conference of 1912-1913, they secured Herbert's assistance as an advisor. He was very active in advocating for their cause and is considered to have had a significant influence on Albania's success in eventually gaining independence based on the London Agreement (1913). He was offered the Albanian throne twice. The first time was in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I. He was interested, but Prime Minister Asquith, a family friend, dissuaded him. The offer remained unofficial, and the Foreign Office rejected it. The Albanian crown went to Wilhelm of Wied.

The second time the crown was offered was after the defeat of the Italian army by the Albanians in September 1920. Again, the offer was unofficial, though made on behalf of the Albanian Government. Herbert discussed the offer with Philip Kerr and Maurice Hankey, pursuing the idea that he might act under the League of Nations' flag. Eric Drummond, Herbert's friend, became its first Secretary-General, and his lobbying led to Albania's acceptance as a member of the League of Nations in December 1920.

The change of foreign ministers in the Albanian Government significantly reduced Herbert's chances of gaining the crown. In April 1921, even more informally, the crown was offered to the Duke of Atholl, Jim Barnes, by the British Friends of Albania living in Italy.

By occupying parts of the Balkan vilayets of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan allies created the conditions to establish an independent Albanian state together with the great powers and the Ottoman Empire, despite the fact that the Albanians fought on the side of the defeated in the First Balkan War. Once the final borders of the new state were established, the Balkan allies withdrew their armies from Albanian territory without firing a single shot, even though the lives of many soldiers were sacrificed in the struggle against the Ottoman army to possess these territories, especially the soldiers of the Montenegrin Army during the siege of Shkoder.

At the time, there were claims that the occupation of the vilayets populated by Albanians, for some reason, incited Albanian resentment, particularly towards Serbia, leading to frequent uprisings that required substantial financial and military efforts to suppress.

This resentment was fueled by press reports, based on claims from Austro-Hungarian and Italian sources, about the crimes committed by the armies of the Balkan allied states against the Albanians. The Socialist opposition in Serbia, led by Dimitrije Tucovic, exploited these reports, and in 1914, he published his well-known work "Serbia and Albania".

"Through its conquest policy, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro did not succeed in dividing Albania, but they did manage to diminish and despoil it", Dimitrije Tucovic claimed. Tucovic concluded that the "boundless enmity" of the Albanians towards Serbia was the first result of the Serbian Government's Albanian policy. The second, even more dangerous result, was "pushing Albania into the hands of Italy and Austria-Hungary", the two great powers most interested in the Western Balkans.

The Role of Esat Pasha

In the Balkans, territory rarely consisted of entirely ethnically homogeneous populations. This is one of the reasons why it was impossible to ensure that all members of a particular nation lived within their national state when defining the national borders on the Balkan Peninsula. The newly established Principality of Albania included the majority of Albanians and about half of the territory where Albanians were the predominant population, while a significant number of Albanians found themselves within neighboring states.

In September 1913, the first armed conflict erupted on the Serbian-Albanian border.

Representatives of the Ottoman Empire claimed that the new Principality of Albania was a puppet state under the control of the Christian Great Powers and called on the Muslim population in Albania to rebel. Soon after the outbreak of World War I, a civil war erupted in Albania, where the forces loyal to Prince Wilhelm of Wied clashed with pro-Islam rebels led by Esat Pasha Toptani. Following the defeat during the civil war, Prince Wilhelm of Wied left Albania on September 3, 1914.

The rebels under the command of Esat Pasha Toptani, whom Wied had previously appointed as Minister of Defense, seized Tirana and Durres, declaring an Islamic "mini-state" that some referred to as the Albanian Islamic Emirate. This entity never received international recognition. In such circumstances, an International Crisis Commission established a Regency Government in Vlore, which coexisted with the Government formed by Esat Pasha.

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