Political Confrontation in Albania
Sejfi Vllamasi (1883-1975). Photo ca. 1923.
Sejfi Vllamasi (1883-1975), from Novosela near Kolonja, was a political and nationalist figure of the independence and Zogist periods. He was a founding member of the Committee for the National Defence of Kosovo (Kosovo Committee) in 1918. In March-April 1919, he was part of an observer mission sent to the Paris Peace Conference, and was made a senator after the Congress of Lushnja in January 1920. In 1921-1923, Vllamasi was a member of parliament for Kolonja and nominally headed the People’s Party, known as the Clique. In May 1923, he was minister of public works and soon thereafter minister of the interior for a short time under Ahmet Zogu. Vllamasi subsequently became an opponent of Zogu and went into exile in 1924. He returned to Albania in 1939 and joined the ‘Balli Kombëtar’ resistance organization in 1943. After the communist takeover in November 1944, he was sentenced to ten years in prison, of which he served nine. He was thereafter sent into internment, and worked as a lowly herdsman and, later, as a veterinary at a slaughterhouse in Fier. His political memoirs, from which the following excerpts covering the period 1912-1920 are taken, are simply written, but contain many interesting first-hand observations on political life in Albania at the time.
The Declaration of Albanian Independence on 28 November 1912
When Ismail Qemali arrived in Vlora, Seit Qemali, Murat Tërbaçi, Alem Mehmeti and many other patriots were busy fighting as reservists against the Greek army on the Llogara Pass. When they found out why the Old Man had come, they raised the Albanian flag on the frontline, before it was raised in Vlora.
At the same time, representatives of the population, with a lot of patriots among them, were arriving from all over Albania and from abroad, and on 28 November 1912, with great enthusiasm after 450 years of enslavement, they raised the Albanian flag and declared Albania independent.
A government was formed under Ismail Qemali in which Preng Bibë Doda was made deputy prime minister and Essad Pasha Toptani became minister of the interior.
The jurisdiction of this administration covered Berat, Skrapar and Elbasan because the Turkish army was still in Fier and Lushnja, waiting to board ships to return to Turkey.
The Duke of Montpensier of the French Bourbon family, a man of considerable means, encouraged by Albert Ghica and inspired by his own ambition, sailed on his yacht from Brindisi in the company of Mark Kakarriqi and Pjetër Goxhamani and, breaking through the Greek naval blockade, arrived in Vlora where he presented himself as a candidate for the Albanian throne. Ismail Qemali accepted his candidature in principle, but wanted to await the reaction of Paris and London. In the company of Isa Boletini dressed in national costume, of Luigj Gurakuqi and of Pandeli Cali, Qemali set off for Brindisi with the duke and continued on to Paris and London where he was informed that international opinion now favoured Prince Wied as monarch. Taking advantage of the occasion, he appealed to the French and British governments and managed to get the Greek naval blockade of the Albanian coast lifted.
Essad Toptani arrived in Vlora but since the situation was not suitable for his further ambitions and for making a living, he returned to Durrës two days later where he set about to form a government of his own.
A plot was underway in Vlora to assassinate Essad, but Isa Boletini withdrew from it after talks with Ismail Qemali because the latter was strictly against any such moves. Qemali opposed all political killings as a matter of principle.
As usual, plots and conspiracies also began to thicken against the Vlora government. Bektash Cakrani, who was said to have accepted money from Greece to expand its borders to the detriment of Albania, gathered men and threatened to rise against the Vlora government. Behind him was probably Qemal bey Vrioni because he had attempted, unsuccessfully, to have Cakran made the capital of a sub-prefecture. But the government swiftly sent a force against him, commanded by Sali Vranishti and Hysni Toska, which overcame his men and burned down the houses and shops there. Bektash Cakrani was also involved in a conspiracy with Essad Toptani.
Secondly, Dervish bey Biçaku, a confidant of Essad Toptani and a sworn enemy of his own cousin, Aqif Pasha Elbasani, who at that time was the prefect of Elbasan in the Vlora government, gathered a force of men in October 1913 and rose against the government, inciting the people to rebel, and using the Koran as a means of inciting them. A force of men was also sent out against him under the command of Hysni Toska who, with the help of Aqif Pasha’s men in Gododesh, vanquished Dervish Biçaku so overwhelmingly that he lost his horse, his field glasses and his Koran on the battlefield. Biçaku continued to spread word from village to village that Prince Wied and Aqif Pasha were enemies of Islam.
The inhabitants of the Pindus mountain range supported the unification of the Pindus region with Albania. Their leaders, who spent the winter with their flocks in Konispol and Delvina, elected a commission and sent it to Vlora to tell Ismail Qemali that the inhabitants of the Pindus were resolved to link their destiny with that of Albania and were, to this end, ready to fight with the Albanians against Greece. Qemali accepted their support in principle, but Fejzi Alizoti found out and informed the International Control Commission that took position against Qemali.
At this time, the Young Turks sent Captain Beqir Grebena and four or five men to Albania to drum up support for a Turkish prince to rule Albania. Their candidate was Izzet Pasha of Serfije, former minister of war and a man of Albanian origin. The Young Turks were doing this to ensure that Albania would remain a vassal of Turkey and that Turkey would not suffer fatally from the independence of Albania. Beqir Grebena used legal means to reach his end, but was not adverse to a coup d’état. Fortunately he was stopped, and he and all of his men were arrested in Vlora by the Control Commission. The Commission set up a special court under General De Veer, head of the Dutch Military Mission seconded to organise the Albanian gendarmerie. Among the members of the latter were Captain Kasëm Sejdini, Captain Xhavit Leskoviku and two other civilians.
Syrja bey Vlora and Jorgji Çaku, a well-known and well-educated jurist, set off for Vlora from Istanbul where they were advised by the Young Turks to work with Ismail Qemali to put Izzet Pasha on the Albanian throne. However, these two men went first to see the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Istanbul to inquire about Austro-Hungarian wishes with regard to the Albanian throne and, later, when they got to Vlora, they testified against Qemali, whose collaboration with Beqir Grebena was proven by the special court in Vlora.
Ismail Qemali was a supporter of the Entente, i.e. of the British and the French, and was convinced that these two Powers would prefer a Turkish prince to a German one. He thus knew it would be difficult to win over Entente support for Albania.
Ismail Qemali maintained a neutral stance between Austria-Hungary and Italy, but Austria-Hungary wanted more from him and put him under pressure. With the help of an officer he trusted, Qemali sent a confidential letter to the British Admiral Cecil Byrnes, head of the inter-allied commission in Shkodra, apparently to get instructions from London because he had always enjoyed British support. However, the officer in question was curious and opened the letter. When he read its contents, he was enraged because all Albanians nationalists of the period were solidly pro-Austrian. Austria, in its own interests, was keen to play its trump card for the establishment of an independent Albania. Accordingly, the officer handed the letter over to the Austro-Hungarian authorities in Shkodra. From that moment on, Austria lost all confidence in Ismail Qemali. Its confidence was sapped all the more by Faik Konitza, Dervish Hima and other pro-Austrian figures, and Austria-Hungary thus decided to throw its support behind Essad Toptani.
With the exception of the well-known patriots Preng Pasha, Aqif Pasha, Abdi bey Toptani and the Kosovar chiefs, all the leaders of Albania, including Faik Konitza, Mid’hat Frashëri, Mehdi Frashëri, Dervish Hima, Abdyl Ypi and Nexhat Libohova, turned against Ismail Qemali. Their opposition stemmed from personal differences and ambitions, not to mention from a few mistakes made by Qemali.
In view of Ismail Qemali’s involvement in an agreement with the people of the Pindus region to alter the southern border as it had been envisaged at the Ambassadors’ Conference, and of his involvement in the Grebena affair in support of a Turkish prince, the Control Commission advised Qemali to resign as head of the government. He did so immediately and left Albania.
Fighting in Dibra after the Balkan War. The Serbian Invasion of 1912
The bust of Dibran warrior Elez Isufi (1861-1924) in Peshkopia
(Photo: Robert Elsie, October 2013).
With the defeat of the Turkish army in 1912, the men of Dibra were divided into three camps:
1. One camp, headed by Selman Alia and Llan Kaloshi, set off to defend the barracks in Shkodra from the Serbs and Montenegrins. The barracks were then under the command of Hasan Riza Pasha and later of Essad Toptani.
2. Another camp, headed by Elez Isufi and Shaban Lusha etc., deployed to Kolosjan near Bicaj to stop the Serbian advance from Kosovo. Elez Isufi had some artillery at his disposal, i.e. two cannons. After intense fighting, Isufi became the subject of a folksong that is sung to this very day:
Krisi pushka, gjimoi toka,
Vjen Elezi me dy topa.
Krisi topa, gjimoi kepi,
Kujtoi Serbi se asht mbreti.
Nukë asht mbreti, more Serbi,
Asht Elezi me malësi
Rifles fired, the land resounded,
Here comes Elez with two cannons.
Cannons fired, the capes resounded,
The Serbs, they thought it was the Sultan.
No, Serbs, it was not the Sultan,
It’s Elez’s highland fighters.
3. While the fighting was going on in Luma, other Serbian forces reached the highlands of Greater Dibra through Macedonia where the encountered Dibran forces under the command of the leaders of Upper Dibra. In this fighting, the Serbs made use of a local Macedonian wholesale trader called Todo Bojaxhiu to convince the Albanian leaders that the Serbs would not occupy Albanian territory, except the town of Greater Dibra which was of strategic interest to them. As such, Dibran forces agreed to withdraw and go back to their places of origin, and the Serbs entered the town.
However, the cunning Serbs did not keep their promise. They subsequently sent military forces into various key regions of Dibra and endeavoured to capture Elez Isufi. Isufi, however, managed to escape the siege in a very courageous and curious manner.
Aside from this, another Serbian force crossed over the Topojan Bridge and entered the Highlands of the Small Gorge (Malësia e Grykës së Vogël). Shot were first fired at the shepherds in the village of Mazhica, and fighting with the enemy began. Before that, the population of the Greater Highlands (Malësia e Madhe), the Small Gorge, the Large Gorge, Bulqiza and Golloborda was called together by the elderly patriot Mersin Dema to a meeting at the cemetery of Shupenza. This was known as the Assembly of the Nation (Kuvendi i Atdheut) where allegiance was sworn to fight the Serbian army. A few days after the formation of this alliance, the Serbs crossed the Drin River into the Small Gorge region, to the villages of Topojan and Mazhica in order to occupy all the territory of Dibra. Here, true to the allegiance they had sworn, the whole population, including the men of the Peshkopia Mountains, rose against the Serbian army and began fighting in Mazhica and Topojan. The Serbs were defeated and withdrew across the Drin to the village of Vojnik in the area of Maqellara where the commander of the Serbian army, General Ferdinand, died. Mersin Dema then divided his forces into three parts: one for the Topojan Bridge, one for the hills around the village of Gjorica, and one for the Spileja Bridge.
Fighting carried on for three weeks in this region. Realising that they could not break through the front here, the Serbs then took another direction through the mountains of Struga and Golloborda and overcame Dibran forces who withdrew and took up new positions around the Murriza Pass (near the village of Bllac) and on the cliff overlooking the village of Gjuras where fighting raged for five days. Many of the men of Dibra, including Hysen Dema, were killed at this time.
Overwhelmed by Serbian forces, the Albanians withdrew to the Mat region. Reorganised and reinforced by the men of Mat, they took up position for a third time at the Murra Pass and the Buffalo Pass (Qafa e Buallit). Here the fighting went on for some time and the Serbs were unable to advance. This episode was known as the Battle of the Highlands (Lufta e Malsisë).
The rest of Dibran forces prepared for a general uprising against the enemy by deploying their men in Shumbat, Peshkopia and at the Lusha Bridge. Some of the men reached Lower Dibra in a round-about way.
The Battle of Vllajnica
The uprising against the enemy was about to break out anytime. The Dibran leaders had decided to rise, though without a specific date in mind, but the population, inspired by patriotic sentiment, opened the battle of Lusha Bridge on 15 August 1913 quite spontaneously. At the same time, fighting broke out in Shumbat, too, where the enemy was sorely defeated. Most of the soldiers were slain, the rest were taken prisoner and, as such, there were no soldiers to return to Peshkopia were their forces were concentrated. Dibran forces then marched on Peshkopia from where the enemy was shelling constantly with its artillery. When the men of Dibra reached the Pilaf Cemetery, under a hail of machine-gun fire, a highlander who was called Mehmet Skepi, a fellow with a long moustache, shouted to his comrades, saying: “Anyone who perishes today will live forever!” and called upon them to take the enemy alive. The men set off on the attack and got to the outskirts of the town. It was here that Aziz Lusha was gravely wounded. When his comrade tried to remove him, he said: “Let me die here, for this is the sweetest of deaths facing the enemy.” Having said this, he passed away.
When enemy forces were driven out of the military barracks, they withdrew to the outskirts of the town. In one street, a highlander called Ibrahim Peci came across a company of soldiers and killed four of them, but was severely wounded himself. When his comrades went to get him, he told them not to bother about him but to advance further and kill the remaining soldiers. These are but a few examples of the heroism of the men of Dibra in the fight to defend their country against enemy forces.
Hearing the echo of artillery in Lower Dibra, the men of Upper Dibra began to gather before their leaders in the various villages to decide what to do, since their fellow Dibrans were at war. Decisions were taken at assemblies in Maqellara, Kërçisht, Homesh and Sepetova. A fellow called Karaman Popinara from the village of Popinara, who had a long shock of hair and carried a Martini rifle, took 20-30 of his men and hastened to Kërçisht where 3,000-4,000 fighters had gathered. After greeting everyone, he went up to Maliq Kërçishti and said: “What are we waiting for? Lead us onwards for there is no time to lose.” He was told that they were waiting because they had not heard any news from Lower Dibra as to whether the fighting had actually begun. Karaman replied, saying: “Fighting has already begun because in our village we can hear the artillery being fired at Peshkopia,” and appealed to the leaders: “Get up, men. Don’t sit around any longer. Let’s march on the enemy and with God’s help we will not stop until we get to Belgrade!” Inspired by him, fighters marched on the town of Dibra from all directions. The first encounter occurred in the village of Krifca near Dibra, and there was a major clash with the vanguard of a Serbian regiment equipped with machine guns and light artillery, but it was overcome. The town was attacked from the west by the men of the Small Gorge Mountains and Golloborda. After fierce fighting, the town of Dibra was taken and remaining enemy forces withdrew to Reka in the direction of Gostivar.
Enemy forces in Peshkopia were wiped out by the highlanders of Lower Dibra who advanced without stopping on Greater Dibra to help their brethren at battle with the same enemy.
The men of Dibra, all united, pursued the enemy towards Gostivar. The enemy had deployed major forces in Vllajnica and Mavrova because these places were favourable for defence.
There the fighting continued for 20 days. The heroism of the men of Dibra was indescribable. Many gave up their lives to defend their villages. The heroism and personal sacrifice of many men has not been forgotten. A song was made about the fighting there and is still sung by the mountain people today. Here are a few lines:
Ditën e dielë, ditë pazari,
Emër bani komandari,
Komandari, i bir Shkinës,
S’i ke njoftun djemt’ e Dibrës,
Djemt’ e Dibrës, djemt’ e malit,
Që ta plasin kapakn’e ballit.
It was market day, a Sunday,
Rose to fame here, a commander,
This commander, Slav his mother,
Didn’t know the lads of Dibra,
Lads of Dibra, of the mountains,
Shot the cap right off his forehead.
But the enemy brought in reinforcements and attacked again. Dibran forces counterattacked to shore up their positions. It was there that the fighter Emin Beg Çela of Dohoshisht was slain. After two days of bloody fighting, Dibran forces were obliged to withdraw from the front when they realized they were surrounded by an enemy division coming down the Drin Valley from Monastir [Bitola] and Struga to attack them from the rear. They took their women and children with them and fled to the other side of the Drin as quickly as possible. Enemy forces were harassed the whole time by the rear guards of our men. At Mount Skertec, the men of Dibra put up much resistance to prevent the advance of the enemy, and Xhetan Kaloshi and Xheladin Shehu were killed here.
As a consequence, the whole region of Dibra was emptied of its population, with the people fleeing towards Elbasan and Tirana. Finding the region deserted, the enemy pillaged everything they could find and set fire to all of Dibra. Dibra burned for the second time.
Janina Surrenders to the Greek Army
When the Vlora government was formed, Ismail Qemali called on all Albanian officers and patriots on the various fronts of the Balkan War to withdraw from the fighting and return home.
Mid’hat Frashëri was opposed to this and went twice from Vlora to Janina to encourage Albanian reservists to continue fighting to the end. He was convinced that the longer Janina was held by the Turks, the more chance there was for Chameria to remain part of Albania. Qemali had given up hope of this. This was one of the reasons for the hostility between Frashëri and Qemali. Frashëri later admitted that Qemali had been right. Janina resisted until 6 March 1913 and then surrendered to the Greek army.
The Surrender of Shkodra
The battle for Shkodra continued to rage between the Turkish army and Albanian volunteers under the commander of Hasan Riza Pasha and later of Essad Pasha Toptani on the one hand, and the Montenegrin army on the other. Some of the highlanders of the Malësia e Madhe who had been forced to emigrate to Montenegro during the uprising of 1911 had joined forces with Montenegro and were fighting against the Turkish army.
Essad Pasha Toptani (1863-1920) at his villa in Rreth near Tirana
(Photo: Auguste Léon, 17 October 1913).The commander of the Turkish army, Hasan Riza Pasha, an excellent figure in the Turkish general staff, was a good officer and a man of fine qualities. During the siege of Shkodra, the Archbishop of Shkodra, Monsignor Jak Serreqi, and the Abbot of Mirdita secretly sent Mark Onbashi to Vlora to meet Ismail Qemali such that the two parts of the country were in continuous contact during the fighting.
While the fighting was going on in Shkodra, the Ambassadors’ Conference in London was discussing Albania’s northern border. Alush Lohja, a personal friend of Hasan Riza Pasha, said one day to Captain Xhemil Prizreni, the Pasha’s aide-de-camp: “Please convey the following to Hasan Riza Pasha because I don’t dare say this to him myself. Since Turkey has lost the war, it is meaningless to fight any longer under the Turkish flag in Shkodra.” When Hasan Riza learned what Alush Lohja had said, he went to his house with two Young Turkish officers, one of them the commander of Tarabosh and the other the commander of Bërdica, and said to Alush Lohja on his doorstep: “I regret that we have only been in contact through an intermediary because we are friends.” In the presence of the two officers, Alush repeated what he had said. The officers made no comment. Hasan Riza had taken them with him so that they could hear with their own ears what the population was saying about the battle of Shkodra.
That same day, Hasan Riza and Alush Lohja went to meet Jak Serreqi, the Archbishop of Shkodra, to convey two letters to the highland tribes that were collaborating with the Montenegrin army. A further letter was sent by the Catholic clergy to their supporters, calling upon them to defend Shkodra under the Albanian flag. The letters were despatched. On that same day, the Young Turkish General Staff took the decision to eliminate Hasan Riza. They communicated their decision to Essad Pasha, commander of the reservists, and proposed that, after Hasan Riza’s death, Essad should be made commander in his place. Hasan Riza was invited that night to the house of Essad Pasha to discuss the military situation and, when he left to return home, he was shot and badly wounded.
Qani Korça, a policeman who worked for Essad Pasha, went immediately to the house of Alush Lohja and told him what had occurred. When Alush got to Hasan Riza Pasha’s house, he found him dying. His last words were: “I would like to have taken these two decorations (bullets) to the front with me and not leave them here, but since I am dying, I call upon the young men of this country to take revenge for me.” Hasan Riza Pasha, whose aim was to save Shkodra and who fought under the Albanian flag, died at the hands of the Young Turks who were sworn enemies of Albanian independence. The murder took place with the approval and participation of Essad Pasha Toptani, on 3 January 1913.
Following the death of Hasan Riza, Alush went to the funeral ceremony where he came upon Essad Pasha and the two above-mentioned Young Turkish commanders as well as other Young Turkish officers. After exchanging a few words, Essad said to Alush: “You are the best man to find the murderer of Hasan Riza. I have the impression that the crime was committed by Ndoc Deda of Shoshi, incited by Montenegro.”
Alush replied: “My opinion is that revenge for the crime must be taken upon someone in this room.”
Essad then retorted: “I shall be your friend for as long as I am in Shkodra.”
Alush responded: “According to tradition, such an offer of friendship must be accompanied by a visit to my home.” Therefore, the next day, Essad Pasha went to the house of Alush Lohja and won him over. Alush was the cleverest and most courageous man in Shkodra and later played an important role in the Shkodra region in carrying out Essad’s diabolical plans.
On 12 April 1913, after a month of negotiations, Shkodra and its majestic fortress surrendered to the Montenegrin army, on condition that the men in the fortress could withdraw and take all their arms with them.
This took place at a time when the Ambassadors’ Conference in London was considering giving to Albania not only Shkodra but also Gjakova. But after the surrender of Shkodra, Austria-Hungary’s diplomatic hand was weakened and they were faced with the dilemma of giving Albania either Shkodra or Gjakova. Of course they chose Shkodra.
Essad Pasha Moves on Tirana
After handing Shkodra over to the Montenegrin army on the basis of an agreement that was later published in Shkodra in the 1918 Calendar, Essad Pasha went to Tirana with an army consisting of Turks and Albanians. In accordance with the agreement, this army was welcomed with honours by the Serbian army in Lezha. When he reached Tirana, Essad left the Albanian soldiers their weapons, telling them to keep them in their homes so that they would be ready for use whenever needed.
The Turkish soldiers in Tirana left for Durrës and boarded a Turkish steamship to return to Turkey.
Essad then continued on to Vlora where he was appointed minister of public works in the Cabinet of Ismail Qemali. A few days later, he returned to Tirana where he brought together the leaders of the region and of central Albania, including Ahmet Zogu, Elez Isufi, Dinë Hoxha, Mersin, Dinë and Shaqir Dema, Selim Noka and Dervish Biçaku. Among them, Essad showed particular respect for Ahmet Zogu who was now 18 and increasingly influential, both because Zogu had taken part in the battle of Shkodra and because he had saved the Mat region from occupation by the Serbian army during the Balkan War (in fact, Zogu and his men from Mat wanted to take part in the battle of Shkodra but they were ambushed by Montenegrin troops in Kakarriq and dispersed).
Ahmet Zogu was a welcome guest at the home of Essad Pasha.
When the representatives all gathered, Essad Pasha greeted them and said: “As you will have heard, the Great Powers have recognised the independence of Albania. In such a fortunate situation, each of us must now consider how the country is to be ruled and who is to rule it. For my part, I believe that since Albania has a Muslim majority, its ruler should be a Muslim. I am sure that you will agree with me on this.” When he finished speaking (in the home of Selim Pasha Toptani), he departed without giving anyone else a chance to respond. Thus, since no one openly opposed his view, it was taken as accepted by everyone, with the exception of Ahmet Zogu. When Essad left for Durrës to set up a government for central Albania, Zogu sent a telegram to Osman Bali, pretending that it had been written by Essad. Osman Pasha was the commander of Essad’s men in Tirana at that time. The telegram urged him to give Zogu arms and ammunition which the forces he had brought with him needed.
Essad was furious when he heard about this treacherous trick, but as he was busy with the formation of the government for central Albania, he had no time to act against Zogu.
Abdi, Murat and Refit Toptani were all against the views and doings of Essad Pasha.
Taking advantage of Essad’s preoccupations in Durrës, Ahmet Zogu surrounded the Mat region and defended it until Prince Wied arrived. Mat was thus virtually independent at the time of Essad Pasha’s administration.
* * *
On 18 September 1913, Essad returned dissatisfied from Vlora and sent the cousin of Abaz Kupi to Lezha to take a letter to Mano beg Lezha to initiate contact with Preng Pasha in Kallmet. In his letter to Preng Pasha, Essad said: “I have come to work in Durrës as minister of the interior. Let us work together. I would at least ask you to support me because Prince Wied has been appointed as our monarch and there is nothing we can do about this.” Essad asked Preng Pasha to send his messenger to Shkodra because he had more letters to distribute. There were four letters for Shkodra: to Myfti Adem Efendi, Alush Lohja, Sulçe Begu and Muharrem Kazazi.
Ibrahim Kumanova, who was Preng Pasha’s secretary, opened one of the letters and read the following: “I have come to work in Durrës as minister of the interior because I cannot work with Ismail Qemali. Why don’t you come, and we’ll talk about finding a Turkish prince for the country.” When Preng Pasha saw the difference in the contents of the letters, he was shocked, as were Musa Shehu (of Prizren), Hysni Curri (nephew of Bajram Curri) and Dan Hasani who were with him. Bajram Curri was in Kthella at that time. Preng Pasha and his men decided to send Dan Hasani to Essad with Preng Pasha’s visiting card, on which was written: “Dan is charged with giving you my reply.” Dan reached Essad Pasha in Tirana where he was with Fadil Pasha Toptani and Dervish Hima. When Dan was alone with Essad for a moment, he handed him Preng Pasha’s visiting card and said: “I do not think it is a good idea to set up a new government in Durrës because this would give the outside world a bad impression of Albania, as if I were to set up a government in Mirdita or Gjeto Coku were to do so in Lezha. This discredits us abroad. I would invite you as minister of the Vlora government to meet me as deputy prime minister so that we can talk and discuss the situation. If we find that Ismail Qemali has faults, we can overthrow him legally.” Essad Pasha responded to Dani as follows: “I cannot work with Ismail Qemali at all so at least try to persuade Preng Pasha to remain neutral,” adding: “and ask Bajram Curri to come to Tirana. He is in Kthella at the moment. If he cannot come, let him at least come to Kruja where I can go and talk to him. And give Bajram Curri a thousand quintals of grain to feed the highland tribes of Gjakova.” With this, Dan returned to Kallmet.
Statue of Kosovar rebel leader Bajram Curri in the town of Bajram Curri in northeastern Albania
(Photo: Robert Elsie, October 2013).
When Ismail Qemali left Vlora, Preng Pasha and his men decided to send a delegation consisting of Musa Prizreni and Dan Hasani to Nice in France to ask Qemali on behalf of Preng Pasha and Bajram Curri to return to Lezha and re-establish the Vlora government now that Shkodra was under occupation by international troops, and thus counteract the doings of Essad Pasha. Ismail Qemali replied: “My sons, Albania will be drenched in blood. We must avoid the blood-letting. Embrace Preng Pasha and Bajram Curri for me.”
* * *
Essad Pasha formed his government of Central Albania on 14 October 1913 with Ali bey Zajmi (of Dibra), Isuf bey Dibra and Aziz Vrioni, and its administration was stable. With the new government formed, the International Control Commission asked Essad to form a delegation including all the leaders of the country to go to Germany and offer the Albanian throne to Prince Wied. Essad accepted on the following two conditions: 1) that Durrës be the capital city; and 2) that he be given the posts of minister of the interior and minister of war in the coming cabinet. The Control Commission accepted and the delegation of Albanian leaders set off for Germany to offer Prince Wied the throne. The latter arrived in Durrës as the country’s new monarch on 7 March 1914.
The Formation of Prince Wied’s Cabinet and the Plots of Essad Pasha Toptani
Prince Wied charged Turhan Pasha with the formation of the cabinet. He had been recommended by the Tsar of Russia since he had been Turkish Ambassador in Saint Petersburg for 25 years. He won over the Palace because he was a good speaker and knew several foreign languages.
Essad Pasha was made minister of the interior and minister of war, and Preng Pasha became deputy prime minister.
After his arrival, Prince Wied visited Tirana and was ceremoniously received there. However, rumours spread here and there at the time that Wied was acting to the detriment of the Muslim faith and had, for instance, given his officers caps in the form of a chapel.
In March, a few days after his visit to Tirana, rumours spread that Greek Andartes had begun moving towards the Albanian border. Several days later, these rumours were confirmed.
For this reason, Prince Wied returned to Tirana and assembled the population in front of the Scanderbeg Barracks. He informed them of the Greek invasion and told them to: “take arms and fight the enemy for the sake of the nation.”
Before going to Tirana, Essad Pasha went to Vora where he met Man Picari, Myrto and Dervish bey Arbana and others, to whom he said: “My view is that, although Wied was chosen by the Great Powers, he remains a foreigner and does not know our customs. Especially, he is not a Muslim whereas most of the people are and, recently, he has not been respectful of our faith. For instance, you will notice that he has put that cap on the officers. For these reasons, I think that something ought to be done to get rid of him and replace him with a Muslim.” The rest of them agreed and gave him their word, saying: “We are ready to carry out your orders at any time.” Having come to an agreement, Essad said: “I am going to Tirana to tell the people to take to arms to fight the Greeks who, as you know, have attacked our southern border, but when they set off for the border and pass through here, you must stop them, even if you have to use your weapons to do so, and tell them you will not let them pass because you are going to rise against Wied.”
When the force of nationalist volunteers of some 500 men led by Refik Toptani, Musa Beqiri (Musa Qazimi, the mufti of Tirana), Sheikh Musa Dushku and others, all from Tirana, reached the Limuth Bridge at Vora, they encountered the rebels under Man Picari and his cohorts who were waiting for the volunteers and stopped them. A small skirmish occurred between them, and the volunteers were forced to return home on 6 May 1914.
The Greek invasion began and there was fierce fighting between the two sides. Essad did whatever he could to urge the ignorant peasants to rise against Prince Wied and most of the ammunition reserved for the fighters going to war with the Greeks was distributed instead among Essad’s followers.
Essad also sabotaged the structure of the army to be sent south to fight the Greeks. Only one battalion of reservists was sent to Korça. It was under the command of Major Ali Fehmi Kosturi.
The Situation in Shkodra
During the Balkan War, the Muslims of Shkodra fought for seven months side by side with the Turkish army. The volunteer forces of Dibra also took part in the war and fought heroically against Serbian forces at the battle of Bërdica.
The Catholic mountains tribes of Malësia e Madhe who had taken part in the uprising against Turkey in 1911 erroneously supported the Montenegrin army.
Hasan Riza Pasha was killed after the agreement had been made to defend Shkodra under the Albanian flag. Essad Pasha handed Shkodra over to the Montenegrin army which was shortly afterwards obliged to surrender to international naval forces. Later, Shkodra was handed over to international land forces, except for Russia, and was placed under the command of the British Colonel Phillips.
The international forces set up an administration with Albanian functionaries. Essad Pasha and his supporters, including Alush Lohja, still endeavoured to get Shkodra under their control. He had sufficient funds given to him by France, that was promoting Slavic influence over Austrian. At this time, the Bashkimi Club was formed in Shkodra, consisting of 12 members, six Catholics and six Muslims, including well-known nationalists of the period.
In February 1914, the highland tribes assembled in Shkodra, including groups that were both for and against Essad Pasha. The Abbot of Mirdita also took part.
The first person to speak at the meeting and explain the reason it was being held was Nikollë Mirashi, an Essad-supporter from Kastrati, who said: “Since Essad is an Albanian and a brother of ours, as Ismail Qemali is, we will all support him.”
Ded Gjo’ Lule replied: “That is not true, you are a Montenegrin.”
“If I am a Montenegrin, you are an Austrian a hundred times over,” replied Nikollë Mirashi. Ded Gjo’ Lule seized his rifle, but the abbot intervened and prevented a massacre. The meeting then broke up.
After the meeting in February, Cuf Lohja (the nephew of Alush Lohja) and Nikollë Mirashi prepared to leave and join Essad with 900 highlanders. Essad retained only 50 of them. He wanted these men to join the forces of central Albania, to overthrow Prince Wied and to make him the new head of state. Both Lohja and Marashi were agents of Essad, but Lohja was also commander of the volunteer forces. When Essad went to Germany to pay homage to Prince Wied, the highlanders returned to Shkodra to await his orders.
When he returned from Germany, Essad Pasha called Cuf Lohja and Nikollë Marashi to his estate at Lapraka near Tirana and asked them to assemble 2,000 highlanders within three days. While they were getting this force ready, rumour spread that Prince Wied had attacked and shelled Essad, who had now gone abroad. Colonel Phillips summoned Lohja and Marashi and told them to place the men who were going to join Essad under the command of Preng Pasha to help Prince Wied, but they refused to do so.
Essad Pasha set off for Naples and Paris where he conducted talks with the French government and later went to Athens and Nish. From Nish, he sent a letter to Alush Lohja in Shkodra by means of Selim Xhija of Peqin in which he urged Shkodra to join the ehli kijam (rebel folk) against Prince Wied.
The red and black flag of Albania still flew on the fortress of Shkodra. Both Muslims and Catholics had agreed on this, although the Muslims still refused to accept a flag with an eagle on it, despite the fatwa issued by Haxhi Vehbi Dibra, the mufti of Vlora. The Catholics supported Wied and Austrian policies whereas the Muslims, under the influence of Essad, preferred to have a Muslim prince. Later, when Essad went to Germany to pay homage to Prince Wied, all of the Muslims, except Alush Lohja, turned against him.
* * *
Under the international administration in Shkodra, relations between the Catholics and the Muslims were the worst that they had been since the time of the Turkish Constitution. The animosity between the two religious communities was worse there than anywhere in Albania because the Catholic majority in the Prefecture of Shkodra was under the rule of a Muslim minority that constituted the majority in the town itself. The Muslims, favoured by the Turkish government, had played a more active role in the administration of the country. Their rule extended into the mountains with a Kir Serdari [local Turkish commander] and a primitive code called the Kanun of the Mountains (Kanuni Xhibala). The Muslims here, as in other parts of Albania, considered themselves to be more competent to rule the country than the Catholics because they were used to working as public officials and possessed land, whereas the Catholics were hand-workers and merchants. Since they had been more involved in administration and in settling conflicts outside the town, the Muslims had long gained a certain expertise in administrative matters.
With the political and financial support of Austria-Hungary, the Catholics established the Jesuit Saverian College as well as elementary schools run by the Franciscans and an order of nuns. In this way, they contributed to the promotion of Albanian as the national language.
The animosity that arose from time to time between the two communities was caused more than anything by erroneous interpretations of events that had taken place and by extremist words and deeds of individuals incited by fanatics or foreign interests. The community to which a person belonged was unjustly accused of being the guilty party. What is more, a new situation was created with the collapse of Turkish rule and the installation of the international regime and of a more modern administration. The Catholics were more prepared to use Albanian as the official language and were therefore favoured for public service positions whereas the old Muslim employees who did not have these skills were gradually removed. The Muslim side was offended by these changes.
The vast majority of Muslims had been for a Muslim prince whom they considered would serve as a guarantee for the continued predominance of their religion.
Various newspapers began to be published in Shkodra under the international administration. Among them was Sadai milet (The Voice of the People) that was printed in Turkish. It openly supported the idea of a Muslim prince. The newspaper was managed by a board of six leading figures, among whom Musa Juka and Ymer Luftia were the most active.
New and old conflicts between the two communities led to anarchy in Shkodra. Both Essad Pasha and the Young Turks were working actively to transform the situation as they, respectively, wanted to have it. The Muslims, however, came to realise that the Young Turk idea of a “union between Albania and Turkey” was impossible. Adem Efendi, the mufti of Shkodra, replied to Beqir Grebena as follows: “We could not deal with Turkey while it was here and we do not want to return to the past. Such an attitude would be bad for us in world opinion.”
The Catholics, under Monsignor Serreqi, the Archbishop of Shkodra, were the first to go to Durrës and swear allegiance to Prince Wied. Later, the Muslims held a meeting at the Plaka Mosque to discuss the matter from religious and national perspectives, and most of them agreed to recognise Wied as the monarch of Albania. They elected a delegation of 18 men to go to Durrës on their behalf and swear allegiance.
Xhemal Naipi, the kadi of Shkodra, took a letter of recommendation from Colonel Phillips with him to Prince Wied, asking him to receive the delegation in a personal audience, but without Essad Pasha. The delegation was received on a day in March 1914 at two o’clock in the afternoon and Shkodra thus recognised Wied.
The Revolt of the People of Central Albania against Wied (1914-1915)
Having urged the people of central Albania to rise against Wied so as to become head of state, Essad Pasha was himself forced to leave Albania. Kavaja was the first place to raise the Turkish flag. The government decided to second an expeditionary force against the town on 23 May 1914, made up of a company of gendarmes and volunteers from among the mountain tribes of Shkodra who had arrived in Durrës to defend Wied. At the moment this force was to depart for Kavaja, Murat and Tefik Toptani arrived in haste from Tirana begging for assistance and telling alarming tales of the situation there. The government thus changed its plan and seconded a company of gendarmes, headed by the Dutch Captain Jan Sar and Lieutenant Bajram Fevziu, and consisting of highland volunteers and about 20-30 nationalist volunteers under Reuf Fico, the deputy prefect of Tirana.
Albania’s imposed monarch, Prince Wilhelm zu Wied,
at the konak (royal palace) in Durrës, 1914.This armed force departed after midnight and stopped over in Shijak. When they were about to set off for Tirana in the morning, the highland volunteers, who had been won over by the people of Shijak in the night, refused to go, saying: “We came to defend Wied and not to fight,” and they returned to Durrës. Captain Xhavit Leskoviku informed Captain Sar that they would all have to go back to Durrës because they could not continue on to Tirana with such a small force. Sar insisted that they carry on, but sent an urgent telegram to his commander in Durrës. Unfortunately, the telegram fell into the hands of General De Veer and not of Colonel Thomson who had issued the marching order in the first place.
The force continued its march but fighting broke out when it reached a hill to the left of Shijak and in no time at all, everyone was shooting. Government forces withdrew to the hill on the right side of the road and were forced to return to Shijak where most of the gendarmes took refuge in a government office made of mud and others in a school building. Fighting began here, too, and some of the gendarmes were killed by bullets that went right through the mud walls of the office building.
Captain Xhavit Leskoviku of the general staff advised Captain Sar to withdraw, abandon Shijak, and take up position in Rrashbull to avoid being surrounded. But Sar, who did not know the countryside and the customs of the people, would not listen to him. As such, government forces were surrounded and forced to surrender, but the men of Shijak later came to regret what they had done and, to shirk any possible responsibility, claimed that government forces had broken the ceasefire. Captain Leskoviku announced: “Whatever the case may be, we will ask Wied to issue an amnesty decree and the matter will be brought to an end.”
Sar departed for Durrës and got the decree but, unfortunately, when he got back, he found that the rebels of Shijak had taken Rrashbull before the national volunteers, of whom I was a member myself, could get there. The commander of this volunteer force of 50-60 men was Captain Meleq Frashëri who advised General De Weer, telling him that Rrashbull could not be taken with such a small force of men lacking proper military training. The Dutch general, who was not up to the task with which he had been entrusted, rejected the advice and ordered them to attack on 23 May 1914. Meleq got on his horse and set off with the volunteers on the attack along both sides of the road. There, Meleq was wounded and 13 of the volunteers were killed, including Ceno Sharra and Haki Glina. Some of the volunteers were taken prisoner and others withdrew to Durrës.
With the complete defeat of the volunteers, the Durrës road was in the hands of the rebels. People in Durrës were in panic and expected the rebels to arrive any time. Wied, his government and most of the high-ranking figures in the town took flight onto a steamship.
Wied then sent Mehmet Pasha Dërralla with a white flag to seek a ceasefire with the rebels. The fighting had subsided by this time, but the rebels were undecided and did not know how to take advantage of their unexpected victory. Some of the Kavaja rebels now made their way to Shijak and caused the ceasefire to break down. As such, the prisoners of war could not be released. Captain Sar addressed the rebels and, at the end of his speech, he called out: “Long live Albania!” To this the rebels replied: “Long live the Father of the Nation” (Rroftë Baba Dovleti)!” meaning the Sultan.
The International Control Commission later arrived in Shijak and Consul General August Kral, the Austrian delegate, addressed the rebels in Albanian, saying: “The Father you are calling for was not expelled by the Albanians, but by your enemies, the Greeks and Serbs, in war. He was forced to flee from Albania. What you are doing is nonsense. Stop it right now. Otherwise the Serbs will come and slaughter you all!”
The prisoners were released. Captain Xhavit Leskoviku informed Colonel Thomson of what had really taken place and Thomson rescinded De Weer’s order to send troops to Tirana. The Albanian government then asked Wied to choose one of the two men to be commander. The government decided on Thomson and informed the Dutch government accordingly, which called De Weer back to Holland.
Thomson and Xhavit Leskoviku now prepared a defence line because they were convinced that the rebels would still attack Durrës. This line went from the Weir Bridge (Ura e Dajlanit) to Cape Palla and was constantly patrolled by gendarmes and volunteers.
On 23 May, Tirana fell to the rebels.
At dawn on 15 June, the rebels attacked Durrës from Cape Palla with 500-600 men of Shijak and from the Weir Bridge with men from Kavaja under the command of Sheh Hamdiu of Shijak. Government forces withstood heroically, indeed both sides fought heroically, and the rebels were defeated, with many of them killed. Their commander, Sheh Hamdiu was wounded and was offered treatment in hospital in Durrës. The veteran patriot, Captain Kamber Sejdini, who was one of the most distinguished officers in Albania at the time, was slain in the fighting in the hills.
Colonel Thomson was directing operations in Gazhana with several of the leaders of the volunteer force. A fellow from Kavaja snuck secretly in by sea from the direction of the Weir Bridge and got close to Gazhana. He then hid in a bush from which he shot and killed Colonel Thomson. He also shot and killed Ajdin Draga, the brother of Nexhip Draga. Neither of them even realised where the bullets had come from. But a gendarme from Kurvelesh caught sight of the fellow from Kavaja and, in an exchange of fire, the Kavaja man was shot and killed.
The killing of Colonel Thomson caused a great reaction in Durrës and had an almost decisive effect on the course of events.
The central Albanian uprising was, in fact, a plot organised by the foreign and domestic enemies of Albania to destabilise the Albanian administration created by the Great Powers at the Conference of London, with Prince Wied as the country’s monarch, and to create conditions more favourable to them, according to the objectives each of them had.
The domestic enemies were: (a) Essad Pasha Toptani and his followers whose aim was to expel Wied, overthrow the government, and take power himself; (b) the Turkophiles such as Musa Qazimi, the mufti of Tirana, and Qamil Haxhi Feza of Elbasan who wanted central Albania to be closely allied with Turkey and, if this should prove impossible, then at least to elect Burhanedin, the son of Sultan Hamid, as Albania’s monarch.
Essad Pasha initially allied himself with the Turkophiles to ensure their co-operation in overthrowing the government.
The foreign enemies were the Young Turks, France, Italy, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro. All of them gave effective support to Essad Pasha and the Turkophiles in order to partition Albania. Most of the rebels, radicalised by Essadist and Turkophile propaganda, wanted to expel Wied and return to the Sultan […].
The uprising against Wied began at a moment that was beneficial to the country’s enemies, i.e. when the people of southern Albania were in a live-and-death struggle with Greece to defend their country against invasion, against the autonomy of Northern Epirus and against its government headed by Giorgios Zographos of Qestorat. The prime minister of Serbia, Pašić, also played a role in these criminal dealings to set up a Zographos-type government in Dibra, headed by Arif Hiqmeti of Kumanovo.
In May 1914, Musa Qazimi and Qamil Haxhi Feza set up the Kruja Alliance (Besëlidhja e Krujës) where they resolved to fight Wied and unite Albania with Turkey under Sultan Burhanedin. In early June, the ehli kijam took Kruja and Kavaja. In the towns and villages where they had power, the rebels formed local councils to further and lead the uprising.
On 3 June, before taking all of central Albania, the councils held an assembly in Shijak at which a first General Council was elected with the following figures: president Mustafa Ndroqi (an Essadist), vice-president Xhenabi Adili (a Young Turk), a Turkish army major, and Qamil Haxhi Feza, a Turkophile from Elbasan as their general commander. This coalition shows that all sides were ready to compromise in order to reach their common objective, i.e. to expel Wied and overthrow the government. The uprising continued to spread. On 17 June, the government of Aziz Pasha Vrioni collapsed and Lushnja was occupied by the rebels, as had been Elbasan on 2 June. After the fall of Elbasan, Çermenika, Qukës and Mokra joined the rebel movement.
With the occupation of Elbasan, Korça was separated from Durrës and was on its own to defend the country on the Greek front. The prefecture of Korça sent a well-organised force of some 400 volunteers from Kolonja, under the command of Izet Zavalani, to open up the road and ensure communications with Durrës. Although they were advised by the patriots of Pogradec not to begin fighting in the Pleçisht hills near Mokra because the zone had joined the rebels, they attacked the fighters of Osman Çota, who were much more numerous. There was fierce fighting. Ibrahim Baçi of Mokra and Muharrem Udinishti took the side of the men of Kolonja who were, however, forced to withdraw, leaving about 50 men dead. Among them was the 75-year-old Zalo bey Prodani who fought a duel with Aziz Alla. Both were killed. Gani Butka was betrayed and died after he was shot and wounded by a bullet fired from a window in Pogradec. Et’hem bey Starova also opposed the volunteer force.
When the rebels entered Pogradec, they went as far as the Maliq Bridge, where they stopped because they regarded it as the border between Albania and Greece.
Faced with the increasing victories of the rebels, Wied and the members of his government were alarmed and began to knock on every door to find volunteers to quash the rebellion. They began with the high-ranking families who were Wied’s powerbase.
After the failure of the rebels to take Durrës on 15 June, the government began to take command of these volunteer forces as it still had sufficient funds. Accordingly, 1,200 Mirdita volunteers arrived in Durrës under the leadership of Marka Gjoni. Preng Pasha, leading an armed force from Shkodra and the highlands, took Ishëm. Ahmet Zogu and his men from Mat approached Kruja. Aziz Pasha Vrioni and his volunteers from Berat, Vlora and Mallakastra advanced on Lushnja to break the siege of Durrës by the ehli kijam. Bajram Curri sent his Kosovo highlanders to Durrës by sea.
The military authorities wanted to divide both the Mirdita volunteers and the other forces into detachments, with each one being accompanied by ten gendarmes. But Marka Gjoni refused and attacked Rrashbull without any advanced preparations. The rebels who had arrived near Rrashbull and were hiding in Shkozet opened fire on the men of Mirdita and caused great losses among them. I myself was witness to these events, from start to finish.
Preng Pasha had occupied Ishëm but when his vanguard proceeded towards Shijak, he withdrew them quickly to Lezha because he was fearful of them being encircled by rebel forces from Fushë Kruja.
Ahmet Zogu, waiting in Kruja to see how the attacks of Marka Gjoni and Preng Pasha were going, then withdrew to Mat when he heard of their losses.
On 11 June, when the rebels defeated the forces of Aziz Pasha Vrioni, they occupied Lushnja and advanced along the Devoll River.
The volunteer forces of Mallakastra and Vlora under the command of Major Besim Koka, assisted on the right by Hysni Toska and on the left by Bektash Cakrani at the Monastery of Ardenica prepared to attack Lushnja. In an attempt to reach a compromise with government forces, the head of the rebels, Arif Karbunara, a nationalist and patriot inspired by Sheh Ibrahim Karbunara, stated that he would withdraw and allow the other side to enter Lushnja.
Besim Koka was also the general commander of all the volunteer forces. Despite the gesture of Sheh Karbunara to allow him to enter the village of Karbunara without a fight, he shelled Lushnja and allowed his volunteers to plunder the town. As such, he did much to sabotage the war which he would otherwise have won. The rebels and population, furious at the bombardment, attacked government forces and forced them to withdraw under great losses. Seit Qemali was wounded here. The government forces in disarray were attacked by the oppressed peasants of Myzeqeja from their houses and gardens. They also showed their anger and fury at the large landowners and their representatives.
Bektash Cakrani stayed put and did not advance, whereas Hysni Toska fought courageously, killing many men, among whom were Riza and Godo Hekali, the sons of Rrapo Hekali.
On 12 July 1914, the rebels occupied Berat and Fier that had been shelled by Bektash Cakrani.
In Berat, the rebels executed three pro-government patriots: Captain Baki Gjebrea, Hajredin Fratari and Ismail Klosi. On 13 August, Berat was once again occupied by the men of Korça and Gjirokastra. It was in this fighting that Çerçiz Topulli took part, but on 19 August the town was retaken by the rebels who took the Vjosa and prepared to enter Vlora.
The Northern Epirus Uprising
The Conference of London charged a Dutch military mission headed by General De Weer and his deputy Colonel Thomson with setting up and organising the Albanian gendarmerie. The mission arrived in Albania and was composed of officers of various ranks. These officers, together with their Albanian counterparts, organised the gendarmerie in the free zones and foresaw for the regions still under Greek and Serbian occupation, that a battalion be set up for each prefecture. For Korça and Gjirokastra the said battalions were to be commanded by Major Mustafa Aranitasi and Major Ismail Haki Tatzati respectively. When the Greek government was forced to withdraw its occupation forces from Korça and Gjirokastra, compelled as it was by the Great Powers that had set forth Albania’s borders, the Albanian government sent in battalions with gendarmes, prefects and mayors for the various localities to take over the prefectures in question. The handover took place peacefully in Korça, Erseka, Tepelena, part of Dangëllia, Këlcyra and part of Kurvelesh.
From mid-March, the Albanian government sent 300 gendarmes under the command of Mustafa Spathara and two Dutch officers who marched from Opar to Voskopoja and Korça. The Greek army handed Korça over and departed for Bilisht and the border. But the Greeks of Korça instigated a previously planned revolt and on 2 April 1914 this uprising broke out in Korça under the Greek agent Jakovos, the despot of Durrës, and the board of the diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church. The plot was carried out by Grecophile volunteers in town and in the countryside under the command of a Captain Sulo and Greek soldiers who were in hiding in Korça and who took up strategic positions in the town.
A cry of resistance arose in all of the surrounding villages at once and Albanian patriots gathered to prepare for action. The forces of Kapo Kapedani took up position in the vineyards of Korça where the troops of Jorgji Busho, a one-time deputy for Serfije in the Ottoman parliament, were marching on the town. The villagers of Mborja in the Mborja Gorge put down the forces of Dr Harisiadi of Korça, consisting of 400 men. The town was thus liberated and the despot and the Orthodox Church administration were transferred to Elbasan.
Extremists in Korça, radicalised by the treachery of the Grecophiles there, wanted to burn the town down, but Abdyl Ypi intervened with calm resolve and saved the town from the fire.
Albanian forces penetrated Devoll, Arrëz, Nikolica and Dardha. Major Ismail Haki Tatzati set up his base in Hoçisht. Bilisht remained in the hands of the Greeks.
A stable administration was set up in Korça under the prefect Pandeli Vangjeli and his deputy Abdyl Ypi. The lawyer Kasneci of Himara became head of the court, Themistokli Gërmenji became chief of police and Hysen Nikolica was the police commissioner. The Greeks were continuing the handover peacefully but, on purpose, they did so very slowly. It was then that the plot for Northern Epirus autonomy arose. The Greek command suspended the handover of further localities on the pretext that, since the population of the villages in question had declared themselves autonomous, it had no right to impose unification and to force their submission to the Albanian government. The Greek army therefore pulled back from the borderline set forth by the Conference of London and left it to the Albanian government to deal with the autonomous Northern Epirus administration. This situation compelled the Albanian government to use force not only to liberate the remaining parts of the country but also to defend the regions that had already been handed over peacefully by the Greek army. This resulted in much bloodshed.
Once the Albanian gendarmerie had taken over Erseka, pursuant to the agreement with the Greek command for the successive handover of the areas it was occupying, the gendarmerie set off for Leskovik for the handover there. When it got close to the town, it was suddenly fired upon by the troops of the Northern Epirus government which had decided not to submit to the decision taken at the Conference of London for the reunification of the prefectures of Korça and Gjirokastra with Albania. This government demanded unification with Greece or at least some form of autonomy equal to unification with Greece. It based its claim, among other things, on the fact that the majority of the population of the two prefectures (Korça and Gjirokastra) was Christian. According to them, all Orthodox Christians were Greeks.
The Northern Epirus administration was set up, put into place and financed by the Greek government, and it was politically and militarily supported by it. The head of the Northern Epirus government was a former Greek prefect of Albanian origin from Qestorat, and the minister of the interior was a major in the Greek gendarmerie from Nivica-Bubar. He, too, was of Albanian origin.
The Albanian gendarmerie that was to take over Leskovik consisted of a company of about 120 men. Faced with the new situation and with far greater forces and arms on the other side, it was forced to withdraw with its volunteers after intense fighting, leaving 20 dead, including Qani bey Starja (also known as Qani bey Ypi, the brother of Xhafer Ypi), and numerous wounded. The volunteers had turned up as soon as they heard the rifle fire along the Gërmenj-Radom line in order to prevent the advance of Northern Epirus troops and to receive new orders pursuant to the new situation. The autonomist forces consisted of local volunteers (the Sacred Battalions) who had been recruited from the local Christian population, and who were armed and trained by the Greek government and officers of the regular Greek army. The Andartes were so-called volunteer brigades consisting of rebels from Epirus, Macedonia and Crete who had been in revolt at the time of the Ottoman Empire and were now being kept as reserve forces for any eventuality. In addition, there were units of regular Greek soldiers in the brigades of the Andartes [Greek paramilitary fighters]. They had been left in the region on purpose and were officially called deserters. They, too, were armed to the teeth.
The same thing happened with the gendarmerie of Gjirokastra. It set out from Tepelena to take over the said town and was stopped near the Han of Subashi. The gendarmerie forces destined for Përmet were also stopped outside of that town by Northern Epirus units. As such, the Albanian gendarmerie was obliged to withdraw and, once reinforced with volunteers, it took up position to defend the Han-Vjosa-Hormova-Shtepëz line.
This was the beginning of the armed conflict between the Albanians and the autonomous troops of Northern Epirus, a conflict that had tragic repercussions for the Albanian people. In the following period of fighting, the Albanians showed much self-sacrifice, courage and bravery under difficult conditions in order to unite their mutilated land and bring together the various religious communities in it.
In April 1914, the Albanian gendarmerie was reinforced with volunteer units from various parts of Albania, but in particular from the local population. They were full of enthusiasm but disorderly, undisciplined and, in particular, unequipped since they were lacking both in ammunition and in food supplies. What they lacked most, however, was a command to lead them and put them into proper order. Despite all these failings, they decided to undertake a general offensive. The aim of this offensive was to destroy the autonomy of Northern Epirus and liberate the territories still under its control.
The main goal was Gjirokastra, the seat of the Northern Epirus government, because they believed that if they took it, all open resistance would wane, and the autonomy structures would cease to exist.
The offensive began in several directions, mainly from Tepelena to Gjirokastra, but supported by a second prong from Labova to Libohova. Other prongs were Kuç-Himara, the Skërfica Pass-Delvina, Këlcyra-Përmet-Frashër-Leskovik, and Gërmenj-Leskovik. Of them all, only the Cepo Monastery-Gjirokastra and the Skërfica Pass-Delvina attained their objectives. The vanguard of the former reached the Viru [Veriga?] stream and the latter got to the Rusan neighbourhood of Delvina. Other prongs had some success, but were soon stopped in their tracks.
All in all, these initial military successes caused the autonomy forces to break up. The autonomy government began getting ready to flee. Part of the Greek-speaking population fled to Janina, Corfu and elsewhere. The Greek government was also worried by the success of the Albanians, a success that was jeopardising its project to separate Epirus from Albania. For this reason it decided to dispatch regular forces of the Janina Division to assist the autonomy government, declaring them to be deserters. These troops arrived quickly at the front and after several engagements were able to put the Albanian troops to flight. The latter, as mentioned above, consisted of a few gendarmes and a lot of bashibozuks who then took up the positions from which they had originally departed.
For some time, there was a lull in the fighting when the Albanian government embarked on negotiations with the autonomy leaders in Corfu to find a peaceful solution to the Epirus issue.
All the while, the Greeks were preparing for a new offensive to reoccupy the rest of Epirus that was in the hands of the Albanians and to reach a line stretching from Llogara to Salaria, the Kiçok Pass, Ostrovica and Maliq, if the Corfu talks were to prove a failure or if some other opportunity were to arise.
The opportunity they were waiting for soon came. The Essad uprising against Wied and against the Albanian government broke out in central Albania. It spread gradually so that rebel forces were able to occupy Berat, Elbasan, Pogradec etc., and threaten Vlora, which they occupied several days later.
The Albanian forces that were fighting the Greeks were now in dire straits. Not only were they no longer receiving support from the government, but there was a good possibility that they might be attacked from the rear by the rebels who supported Greek claims. The rebels called the nationalists infidels who had brought about the separation of Albania from the reign of the Sultan, and were fighting for reunification with Turkey.
In this new situation, the Greeks went on the offensive on all the fronts. Albanian forces, under pressure from the Greeks, and threatened and, in some places, attacked by the rebels, broke up and took flight to save their lives and those of their families. They fled in great panic to Vlora, Mallakastra and Berat.
The Greeks continued their advance, though they were slowed down here and there by Albanians who were trying to gain time to get their families out and to escape themselves, though with only the clothes on their backs. The advance was savage and was carried out with fire and sword. They burned all the property of the Muslim Albanians and slew everyone who could not get away in time, including women and children. However, it was not only the Muslims who were killed and burnt out. The Christians of Frashër and the surrounding villages, who had made common cause with their Muslim brethren, were also slain. All the farmhouses and villages that had been freed were now turned to ashes, and everything in them – farm animals and valuables – was carried off.
Of particular notoriety were the massacres in Panarit. The Muslim villagers there fled to Skrapar territory via Backa. Together with one of the agas of Panarit, who had got away with his sheep, was Stefan Panariti with his flock. Stefan later returned and the Greek authorities persuaded him to write to the aga and convince him to go back, saying that Greece now guaranteed them their lives and freedom. The aga believed him and returned, as did many people who were convinced that they had done nothing wrong. Neverthless, one night, the Greeks took all the men and slaughtered them near Grabocka and Melcka, and then they killed the women and children.
These massacres were carried out by a captain called Stratos.
An old patriot called Harri Panariti and another fellow from Treska wrote to people in America and told them about the tragedy of Panarit and a foreign committee consisting of two men subsequently came to investigate the matter.
Stefan Panariti had not written to the aga to betray him. Three Christian men of Panarit testified to this before the Greek authorities in Janina. Nonetheless, the authorities decided that the hero of the affair was, despite everything, Captain Stratos.
Because Harri Panariti had informed his friends in America, he was arrested, taken to Janina and held there for six months. He was only released after paying one thousand gold francs in cash.
Thus, the struggle to liberate the prefectures of Korça and Gjirokastra came to a temporary end. The Greeks attained their objective and took territory up to the line stretching from Llogara to Salaria, the Kiçok Pass, Ostrovica and Maliq.
The Young Turks, using their traditional principle of ‘divide and rule,’ incited Albanians of various faiths against one another in every way they could. The Orthodox were persuaded to make common cause with their co-religionists, the Greeks. The Muslims were offered jobs in public administration and, in this way, the Young Turks kept the region quiet for quite some time.
However, these initial conflicts between the Orthodox and the Muslims transformed themselves with time into violence and reciprocal hatred. A great cleft was created between them by their common enemy, but the Albanians did not realise this at the time, and it caused great damage to the nation. One repercussion was that hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Albanians lost their Albanian identity. This process is continuing today in Arbëria (i.e. among the Albanians of Greece).
The first generation of Albanian nationalists and their descendants had much work to do to overcome the divisions among them that had been created by foreign interests. The Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul and, later on, successive Greek governments were more active in creating division in Albania than the Turks. […]
The Military Adventures of Essad Pasha
On 18 August 1914, Essad Pasha Toptani left for Naples and Paris where he talked to the French government about the possibility of entering the war against the Central Powers. Later, he journeyed to Athens and from there, after talks with the Greek government, he carried on to Serbia. There he reached an agreement with Pšsić and Albania’s enemies, thus concluding the cycle of agreements he needed to ensure their support to carry out his plan to take power in Albania. From Serbia, he returned to Salonica where, with the help of the prefect of Dibra and correspondence, he reached an agreement with the leaders of Dibra. The part of Dibra on the western side of Drin River was under the rule of Jusuf bey Dohoçishti who had set up an autonomous government there. Having come to an accord with him and with the other leaders of Dibra, Essad Pasha entered the town of Dibra.
Jusuf bey had a force of some 3,000 volunteers under his command. Xhelal Zogu (Xhelal Zogolli) and Ceno bey Golja set out from Peshkopia to Dibra with 200 men to accompany Essad Pasha to Peshkopia. Near Maqellara on their way back, they were ambushed by a group of Albanian nationalists, but they managed to overcome them and continued on their journey.
Essad Pasha held a public meeting when he got to Peshkopia. Some of the local leaders were against him because he had come to Albania from Yugoslavia, with which they had always been at war. However, Essad paid to assemble a force of over 3,000 men, giving the leaders what they deserved, each in line with his status and position, and giving the volunteers two Napoleons each.
Essad then set off for Mat over the Murra Pass. Ahmet Zogu had refused to join him in his project, and for this reason he and 30-40 men from among the leaders of Mat rode up to the pass to stop his advance. They met on the pass and courteously embraced one another. Zogu then led Essad back to the village of Lis in Mat, to the manor of Kurt Aga Kadia. With Zogu were Shahin bey Dino and Stavro Stavri.
There they held talks and Essad sought Zogu’s support. Zogu replied as follows: “Uncle, you have started out on your journey and I raise my hand to you and wish you well. When I learn that you have achieved your objective, I shall say congratulations.”
Essad was infuriated at this reply and gave orders that a force be put together to continue his advance, but Zogu replied: “According to custom, since you are in our territory, you must drink coffee with us. For this, we need to go to Burgajet this evening.” Essad thus accompanied Zogu to Burgajet where the latter hosted him and all his men at his own expense.
Once again, Essad tried to persuade Zogu to join him, but Zogu refused categorically.
Xhelal Zogu, however, gathered 1,000 men of Mat and joined Essad, though none of the other leaders of Mat went with them. They went to see the Çelaj family at Patin and from there continued on to Pazari i Urës for lunch. There, Mersin and Shaqir Dema were lying in wait to kill them, but their uncle, Sheh Lula of Zerqan, discovered what was going on and dispersed them.
Essad then arrived at the village of Selita e Keqe in the Tirana Mountains and continued on towards Tirana the next day. Coming from Shkalla e Tujanit, he took the Priska Pass, Mount Dajti and Mount Shkalla. There was much shooting in all directions. Essad got on his horse and set off for Shkalla with 500 chosen men. Waiting at Gryka e Shkallës was Abdi Feza of Bastar near Tirana and about 500 to 600 men. Abdi Feza was terrified and, instead of opposing Essad, he welcomed him. As such, Essad Pasha took Tirana without so much as a fight.
The ehli kijam leaders fled and Essad spent the next three days in Tirana. He financed his men and all the volunteers with his own money, paying them their wages, and then left for Durrrës. His men were opposed by a rebel force under Man Picari stationed at the latter’s inn, but the rebel force was defeated. The second impediment was the town of Shijak where Sheh Hamdiu and the people of Shijak had made substantial preparations to defend the town. With his usual trickery, Essad sent an advance delegation and convinced Sheh Hamdiu to collaborate with him. He thus overcame resistance in Shijak without any problem. The last and greatest hurdle was Rrashbull where the men of Shijak and Kavaja fought heroically and the men of Dibra lost 86 of their fighters. At last, on 3 October 1914, he made his way into Durrës.
Aside from Hamdiu, Mustafa Ndroqi and Hoxha Leçini, the ehli kijam leaders all fled. In the Bumçi manor, Essad lost no time in setting up a senate from the men he wanted and, using his troops from Dibra as a threat, he forced this assembly to elect him as head of the new government of Central Albania and as commander-in-chief of the army.
Essad immediately declared war on Austria. His government consisted of the following figures: he himself was prime minister and commander-in-chief, Shahin Dino was made responsible for foreign affairs, Nehat Libohova for finance, Faik Kodra of Dibra for internal affairs, and Isuf bey Dibra became commander of the army. A political court was set up under Xhelal Zogu, with Ilia Llavda of Durrës as prosecutor and Hysen Mushqeta as chief investigator.
Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers on 3 November 1914 and it was on this occasion that Essad declared war, sentencing the members of the Ottoman military court to death for treason. As such, all those who favoured Turkey, and the Young Turks turned against Essad, but he arrested many of them to break their resistance. Among those arrested were Musa Qazimi and Haxhi Qamil Feza. However, seeing that these arrests were not having the desired effect, he released them and sought their support and collaboration. Musa Qazimi was actually in favour of supporting Essad but did not dare to express his support.
The Young Turks, as said, turned against Essad and dissolved the commission of Haxhi Aliu that had gone to Istanbul to call for Burhanedin to be made monarch of Albania.
Essad had the support of some of the beys, of his Dibra troops and of his foreign allies, the Greeks, the Serbs, the Montenegrins, Italy and France.
On 23 November 1914 Haxhi Qamili burned down the Essad Pasha’s manor on his property in Lapraka, and his house in Tirana. He then attacked Tirana and drove out Essad’s mercenary forces under the commander of Xhelal Zogu and Dino Hoxha. Haxhi Qamili then burned down the manors of other bey and agas, such as Murat Toptani, Refik Toptani, Fuat Toptani, and Isuf Elezi, most of whom were supporters of Albanian independence.
Both the supporters of Turkey and the Young Turks joined Haxhi Qamili and on 6 November 1914 they decided to fight Essad, who was then surrounded in Durrës. All of the settlements that had been under his rule automatically came under the rule of the ehli kijam.
In April 1915, Durrës was attacked and shelled severely, but it was nonetheless vigorously defended.
To overcome the siege he was under and to gain access to central Albania and Dibra, Essad, assisted by Salonica and Serbia, sent Faik Kodra to Dibra to recruit more men to come to Kruja and liberate Tirana and the other parts of central Albania with fighters from Kruja.
The captured Muslim rebel leader Haxhi Qamili (1876-1915) in June 1915 before he was hanged.
Ceno bey Golja was the prefect of Dibra at that time and, assembling a force of some 2,000 men, he sent them off to Kruja. The leaders of Kruja were Sul Haka, Abaz Kupi and Hysen Kuqi. In a meeting, they decided to call Essad to come and take part in the fighting himself. On 24 December 1914, Essad arrived in Shëllinza and on 26 December he set up his military headquarters in Tapiza and deployed most of his men to the village of Zeza near Kruja. The other side, under the leadership of Haxhi Qamili and Man Picari, sent a force of some 2,000 men, both villagers and city dwellers of Tirana, who attacked Essad’s men at Zeza and defeated them on 29 and 30 December.
Essad assembled his remaining men at the tekke in Kruja. There, in a speech, he promised their leaders that he would get back to Durrës and would bring them food and weapons. He then dismissed them from duty.
The men of Dibra returned home but were attacked by the men of Kruja on the Shtama Pass, who wanted to rob them. Thirty of the Dibra men were killed.
In order to raise pressure on Essad’s behalf and to force the rebels to keep as many men as possible at the various borders, Essad’s foreign allies made continuous advances – the Italians on Vlora, the Greeks with the Epirotic bands on Berat, and the Serbs on Pogradec.
When Turkey began fighting the Andartes, the Young Turks changed their policy and embarked upon a pro-Austrian course. They sent a series of delegations to Albania to advise the rebels to strive for an autonomous Albania and even to recognise Wied as their monarch. The first delegation was made up of the one-time Colonel Hajredin Pustina and Hajri bey Jegen, the second was headed by Fuat Pasha of Prishtina and the third by Shefqet Peja. The new policy of the Young Turks had the opposite effect on the rebels.
Haxhi Qamili, who was now an experienced commander and had great influence with the peasants, decided with his men to fight not only Essad Pasha, but also all the beys, as well as Austria and the Young Turks. This was the start of the second phase of the uprising.
In April 1915, Haxhi Qamili was made commander-in-chief. He had started out as a simple peasant who was resolved to support the oppressed peasantry. But he was a religious fanatic and was opposed to Albanian independence. He was for the unification of Albania with Turkey and was against the Albanian nationalists. A crazy fanatic.
Musa Qazimi and Haxhi Qamili, the former being head of the general council and the latter being general commander of their rebel forces, did not get along with one another because the former was an opportunist and promoted conservative interests. The latter was a supporter of the peasants and their interests, and was inclined to more radical acts.
Although Serbia had been defeated in the war, an earlier agreement with Essad allowed its troops to pass through central Albania. The Serbian colonel, Milutin Mišković, made his way incognito to Durrës accompanied by Ceno bey Golja, Qamil Biçaku and Kadri bey Peqini. With the mediation of the Serbian consul he held talks with Essad Pasha and they confirmed the agreement to allow the Serbian army to enter the country.
In order to ensure an escape route, the Serbian army attacked Struga and Dibra on 20 June 1915. Several Serbian divisions advanced through Golloborda into central Albania. Another wing of the Serbian army attempted to force its way up the Black Dibra valley from Kosovo, but Elez Isufi would not let them through and they were compelled to turn back. One division, however, attempted to get through by force, which resulted in bloody exchanges in the Veleshica Gorge, in Kalla, in Vlesha and on the Trojak Pass. The whole division of some 12,000 men was annihilated by Elez Isufi who had given orders that no prisoners be taken. About 2,000 men who had been wounded on the battlefield were taken to the Trojak Pass barracks, but since there was no medical aid or food available, they could not be moved elsewhere as it was the midst of winter. Elez Isufi then gave orders for their mass execution and they were buried in a common grave. However, unbeknownst to Elez Isufi, the guards had mercy on many of the prisoners and took them to Peshkopia unharmed. What Elez Isufi had said literally was: “Kill the Serp(ant)s because they will make more Serbs who will return to invade the country again and again.”
As an act of revenge that same evening, the Serbian commander of the town of Dibra seized and arrested anyone and everyone he could find in the bazaar, all innocent people. They were all taken to the barracks and slaughtered. The next morning, the Serbian army abandoned the town. The names of those killed were published by local historians in Dibra.
Haxhi Qamili hastened to the border to prevent the Serbian army from advancing from Struga. He was assisted by the villagers of Qukës and Pogradec and a battle was fought with the Serbs at Qukës. The villagers lost the fight and were forced to withdraw. As a result, the whole population of Elbasan took flight.
Against the position of Musa Qazimi, Haxhi Qamili chose to fight. Musa Qazimi, who was head of the council, then organised a plot against Haxhi Qamili to seize and take him alive. He thought that if he could hand Qamili over to the Serbs, they would spare his, i.e. Qazimi’s, life.
In the decisive moments of the fighting, Haxhi Qamili took over the gorge of Peqin, whereas Musa Qazimi and Hamdi Zhegu were responsible for defending the Krraba Pass. Fighting broke out on the pass on 10 June and after a bloody struggle, the rebels were obliged to withdraw, enabling Serbian forces to enter Tirana the next day. This, in turn, enabled Essad Pasha to take control of the whole region and to capture all of the leaders of the ehli kijam. Fifty-two of them were sentenced to death by a politically motivated court. Among them were Haxhi Qamili, Musa Qazimi, Abdullah Gjinali, Mehmet Gjinali, and the officer Ahmet Kavaja.
On this occasion, someone protested to Essad Pasha that it was a sin to execute all of these men. Essad replied: “By killing them, I am doing Albania a service because if I pardon them, Albania will find no peace for the next forty years.”
Essad Pasha was a clever man. He was realistic, courageous, cool-headed and knowledgeable about the population, but it was only with assistance from abroad that he was able to overcome his foes and former collaborators and to gain possession of central Albania that he had always dreamed of ruling.
Italy Takes Possession of Vlora on 24 December 1914
Sometime in the autumn of 1914 an Italian sanitary mission arrived in Vlora, said to have been seconded to assist the refugees who had gathered there and in part of Epirus. This mission consisted of officers, military physicians and members of naval units.
The full occupation of Vlora took place on 24 December 1914.
Italy hastened to occupy Vlora and thereby create a fait accompli when it heard of Austria’s initial victories over Serbia and suspected that the Austrians might get to Vlora first. The town was of great strategic interest to Italy for the defence of the Adriatic as both Austria and Italy had sizeable fleets in the region. There were also political reasons for the occupation, as it created a bridge for Italy’s further expansion into the Balkans.
Italy’s pretext for the occupation was the lawyer Jorgji Çako and gunshots from the naïve Zeman Mashkullora. It initially occupied the town as well as Kanina and the Koçiu Pass, and held them for several months. Thereafter it took over the whole prefecture of Vlora with the help of the Albanian gendarmerie.
When the Italian army landed, the rebels quickly abandoned Vlora and withdrew to the other side of the Vjosa River. The Italian command took control of the government offices, lowered the Turkish flag and replaced it with the Albanian and Italian flags. It also released the political prisoners.
By the beginning of 1915, the Italian army had occupied all of the prefecture of Vlora down to the border with Himara, Kurvelesh and Tepelena that were occupied by the Greek army.
With the end of the reign of King Constantine and the takeover by Venizelos, and in particular with the secret pact of London that was to divide Albania up in Italy’s favour, the Allies allowed the Italian army to occupy southern Albania. By the end of 1915, they had taken territory to the Vjosa River, and down to Përmet and Leskovik. Following the Osum River and dividing Skrapar in two, the line terminated in Kolonja, with the village of Qinam constituting the border with the French.
Essad Pasha Leaves Albania
With the Serbian withdrawal, Essad Pasha prepared to leave Albania and forced government employees, whether they wanted or not, to resign from their posts with him. In the end, he left with the Serbs who landed in Corfu.
Essad went to Paris and, with mediation from the French government, he reached agreements with the Greek and Serbian governments to form an interim Albanian government in Salonica. He remained in Paris himself, but left Faik Kodra to represent him in Salonica.
All the Albanian emigrants who supported him were paid wages.
He formed a battalion of soldiers under the command of Halit Lleshi. This battalion, together with French troops, took part in fighting on the Dry Mountain (Mali i Thatë) and in Mokra. Halit Lleshi also served as a major in the French army.
Essad left a small guard in Salonica. When he visited the town, he was ceremoniously received by General Serrail. Even King Alexander of Serbia attended the ceremony, with Essad being picked up in his automobile and taken to his palace. He spent some time in Salonica, and a company of soldiers made up of men from all the Allied countries paid honours to him.
During the Peace Conference, Essad Pasha was again in Paris. His government was in Salonica, and in Dibra he maintained a committee consisting of Ymer Efendi, his secretary, Hysen Kuqi, Hafiz Hasa of Mat and others. He also had a force of some 1,000 men under the command of Halit Lleshi, with Taf Kazina, Dine Hoxha, Osman Mema and Jusuf bey Çela as deputy commanders.
The Situation in Shkodra in 1914-1915
At the start of the First World War, international forces withdrew from Shkodra and handed the town over to a Commission of twelve men - six Catholics and six Muslims. Most of the Albanian nationalists gravitated towards Shkodra when Prince Wied left the country and took refuge there. The Commission headed the administration until 15 July 1915 when Montenegrin forces entered Shkodra for a second time.
The Commission was responsible for governing the town and its surroundings. It had no president. Under its resolutions was written simply: “The Shkodra Commission.” It was not a harmonious body and there was much anger and dissatisfaction that rose and boiled over, stemming from the time of the international administration. Its members did manage to reach agreement on some minor matters but, in reality, they were caught up in traditional jealousies and mentalities of a by-gone age. As such, the Commission proved itself to be incapable of governing the country. The gendarmerie and police were just as incompetent. Nikollë Marashi, a close collaborator of Alush Lohja, was murdered by Rrok Jakova, who was in turn killed by the police. Opinion spread that Preng Pasha and Bajram Curri were behind this politically motivated murder. Encouraged by some political forces, the peasants of Bregu i Bunës stopped allowing goods from being loaded in Buna for Shkodra, but, in this issue, the Commission managed to calm the hotheads and the matter was settled.
Alush Lohja later took his men to Tarabosh to prevent goods and people from crossing the Buna Bridge as a response to the blockade in Buna. The Commission solved this problem, too, having come to an agreement with Alush Lohja. All of these problems were created by members of the Commission who were constantly endeavouring to exert their influence over one another.
Complete anarchy was soon to follow. One day, shots were fired between the neighbourhoods of Tepe and Kiri, but this incident was pacified, too. A greater problem arose during the Bayram festival. When Muslims were leaving the mosque, they were shot at by persons unknown. Some men were injured and others were killed. Hafiz Karakashi was one of the injured. Fortunately, emergency measures were taken and a bloodbath was avoided. In all probability, the shooting stemmed from Pjetër Nushi and his cohorts who had acted of their own accord, without consulting anyone. The result, however, was that the town was divided into two camps that set up defensive barricades at night, although they continued to trade with one another in the daytime. As soon as it got dark, everyone had to be sure of being in his own enclave because he could otherwise end up dead. There was more gunfire at night, but no more casualties were reported.
Things got more complicated when the bajraktar of Shala, Mehmed Shpendi, came down to Shkodra with the chieftains of Dukagjin. He talked to both sides and expressed the opinion that the Catholics were the ones to blame. Mirdita maintained a more neutral position during this tense period.
Alush Lohja endeavoured to strengthen the influence of Essad Pasha in Shkodra, but he was constantly opposed by the Catholic clergy, by most of the Catholic population and, indeed, by the majority of the Muslims.
When Prince Wied left Albania, as noted earlier, Shkodra became the safest place in the country for all Albanian nationalists. Most of them gathered here, but later, many of them left for other parts of the country or went abroad. Some of them emigrated to America. At this time, however, most of Albania’s intellectuals were in Shkodra and their presence changed the town to some extent.
There were four newspapers being published in Shkodra at this time: (1) Besa shqiptare [The Albanian Pledge] by Dom Ndoc Nikaj, (2) Sadai milet [The Voice of the People], a Turkish-language Muslim newspaper that promoted a Muslim monarch and was run by a board of editors including Musa Juka and Ymer Luftia, (3) Tarabosh by Terenc Toçi, that promoted Prince Fuad who later became king of Egypt, and (4) Populli [The People] by Muço Qulli, a nationalist newspaper subsidized by Austria.
The revolutionary organisation, the National Wing [Krahu Kombëtar], that was formed in Durrës transferred its headquarters to Shkodra where it grew in size and attracted the best nationalist figures, both civilians and military men, of all classes. The older members vouched for the patriotism and honesty of any younger men who wished to join the organisation. These measures helped ensure that the organization was not infiltrated by devious elements.
Amidst the chaos that characterised the second decade of the twentieth century in Albania, this organisation, with its patriotic discipline and a spirit of sacrifice, was the first to promote the nationalist movement as a whole and played a decisive role in stabilizing the Albanian State. All the members who left Shkodra promised to recruit new members and, as such, the organisation grew, as did its political and revolutionary authority.
The civilians Riza Dani and Maliq Bushati and the officers Hamit Gjylbegu and Tajip Shkodra represented Shkodra in the organization.
The central committee of the National Wing charged Sotir Peci and me with recruiting Luigj Gurakuqi and later Hilë Mosi, but they refusing to join as they did not want to compromise the independence of their political activities.
Most of the nationalist figures in Shkodra were extremely poor. An appeal was made to the rich to assist them, but the amount collected did not surpass 140 gold francs, which shows how little solidarity there was in our society.
In April 1915, extreme poverty forced Çerçiz Topulli and three other men to leave Shkodra and join Preng Pasha in Kallmet. They set off on foot and when they got 100 metres from the Barbullush mosque, they were stopped by a truck from Shkodra with six armed men in it, who fired shots over their heads and demanded their surrender. Çerçiz drew out his revolver and fired back, and he and his companions then took refuge in the mosque. The villagers came out immediately to see what was going on. Çerçiz told them: “Either you give us arms so that we can get back to Shkodra or you bring us your leader, Hasan bey Bushati.” The villagers called Hasan bey, who then provided them with safe conduct back to Shkodra. It turned out that the plot in question had been devised by Alush Lohja to stop Çerçiz Topulli from joining Preng Pasha.
Alush Lohja, however, achieved his objective because Çerçiz Topulli remained in Shkodra until 15 July 1915 when Montenegro seized the town. He and Muço Qulli were taken prisoner and shot by the Montenegrin General Vešović. According to Rasim Gjyrezi, a noted figure in Shkodra, Alush Lohja had tried to patch up his relations with Çerçiz in Shkodra, but the latter refused to have anything to do with him.
The Commission continued to govern Shkodra until the arrival of the Montenegrins. It consisted of the following figures: Preng Pasha, Shuk Serreqi, Shan Deda, Filip Kraja, Ndoc Çoba, Sulçe bey Bushati, Muharrem Kazazi, Alush Lohja, Jusuf effendi Golemi, Myrto Llazani and Haxhi Hafizi.
The Montenegrin army under General Vešović entered Shkodra on 15 July 1915 with few forces and without meeting any resistance. With very few exceptions, all the Albanian nationalists who had taken refuge in Shkodra were arrested. Among them were Preng Pasha, Aqif Pasha, Sotir Peci, Luigj Gurakuqi, Fejzi Alizoti, Eshref Frashëri and many officers. It was on this occasion that Çerçiz Topulli and Muço Qulli were arrested, too. They were separated from the others and held in the military barracks. Koço Kota, Kristo Floqi and several others managed to go into hiding and survived.
I was summoned by General Vešović and told to bring my diploma with me. After checking the document, he looked me in the eye, criminal that he was, and said: “Go home, I will call you when I need you.” The municipal authorities were apparently in need of veterinaries. At any rate, he let me go.
All of those arrested were sent to Cetinje. On 16 July, Hamit Gjylbegu and I went to the barracks to meet Lieutenant Halim from Peja, an officer in the Montenegrin army who told us: “Çerçiz and Muço Qulli are here in the barracks.” Halim was nervous and added: “We are waiting for Major Bajri Begolli, the adjutant of King Nikolla. If the major gets here this evening, the two prisoners will be saved.” Unfortunately Bahri Begolli arrived late, and that very night, 17 July, at the break of dawn, the legendary hero Çerçiz Topulli and Muço Qulli were shot and killed at Fushë Shtoit near the village of Golem by a Montenegrin lieutenant.
The details of their execution were only made known in January 1916 when the Austrian army entered Shkodra.
One day, Hamit and I went to Golem where we happened to meet a fellow called Mahmut Golemi. When we told him why he had come, he told us what had happened: “It was Friday night, Ramadan, just before dawn. I had gone out to gather hay in the fields, when I saw two men in the distance, accompanied by about 15 soldiers. When they caught sight of me, they ordered me to go away. I hid behind the oxcart. When they reached a certain spot, they stopped and the soldiers took up position to fire on the two men. The one dressed in a grey coat (Muço Qulli) screamed and shouted. The other one in a yellow jacket (that had been given to him because he did not have a jacket), a tall man, called out to his companion: “Don’t be afraid! This is the fate of patriots.” The soldiers opened fire and the fellow in the grey coat was killed. The other one cursed loudly, with the voice of a lion, and rushed at the soldiers, not giving them enough time to reload their rifles. He attacked and caught them by the throats to seize one of their weapons. The fighting continued for about a minute. In the scuffle, someone shot a second time and killed him. I went back to the site the next day and saw that they had buried the bodies in a shallow grave and covered them with thorn bushes. As a Muslim I felt it was my duty to rebury them in a deeper grave, and did so.”
When we checked the graves, we found a lot of objects belonging to Muço Qulli, but we didn’t touch the body of Çerçiz Topulli because it was buried deeper. General Vešović killed more than 2,000 Albanians from the mountains of Shkodra and Kosovo at that time.
Thus died the famous hero of Mashkullore without being able to take revenge on Albania’s enemies. It was said that Çerçiz Topulli was executed at the insistence of a Greek merchant in Shkodra called Tozli to avenge the death of the Greek bishop whom Çerçiz and Mihal Grameno had killed at Guri i Cjapit in 1907. This they had done to avenge the death of Spiro Kosturi, killed by the Greeks in Salonica. Muço Qulli was killed because he was pro-Austrian.
Austro-Hungarian Forces Occupy Shkodra
The Serbian and Montenegrin armies were defeated and began to withdraw their forces through Albania in various directions. All the Albanian nationalists who had been interned in Cetinje were released unharmed and got back to Shkodra, with the exception of Isa Boletini and his nephew who were killed in a shootout in Podgorica.
The Austrian army entered Shkodra on 17 January 1916. Serbian forces gathered in Durrës and departed by sea for Corfu, with Essad Pasha. The Austrian army advanced down to the Vjosa River and the mountains of Korça, taking two-thirds of Albania.
The military headquarters of the Austrians were in Shkodra, as was, of course, the central administration of the country. Lieutenant Colonel Jucha and Major Popler were responsible for the branch of the army command that dealt with the civilian administration of Albania. They were advised by August Kral, who was an expert in Albanian affairs. The regional command was the second level of the army command and supervised the activities of the Albanian deputy prefects. The gendarmerie was Austro-Hungarian. There was a punitive expedition under Captain Hesser that deal with anyone who killed a gendarme or interfered with law and order. Savage punitive operations were carried out in the mountains around Shkodra, in Lura and in Selita, and the highlanders remained quiet thereafter.
The Austrians set up a central administration for Albania, with departments of finance, education and judicial affairs. The heads of these departments were Fejzi Alizoti, Luigj Gurakuqi and Masar Asllani. After the death of the latter great patriot from cholera, he was replaced on 27 July 1916 by Avni Dabulla. The head of the finance department served as the chairman of the meetings. A literary commission was also set up with Luigj Gurakuqi, Sotir Peci, Dr Pekmezi and others as its members.
The official language of this administration was Albanian. Schools and courts were opened in various places. Religious communities were organised and a specialist was brought in from Bosnia to organise the vakufs.
When Austrian forces arrived, a conference was held in Elbasan to set up a government in the name of Prince Wied and thus create a fait accompli. This government appointed as deputy prefect Hajdar Blloshmi and others. Aqif Pasha and Ahmet Zogu also took part in this conference. Austria, however, banned the conference, stipulating that the country could only have a military administration during wartime. Claiming that the Albanian people were not ready for independence, the Austrians were of the view that Albania should be given the same rights they had given to Bosnia.
The Austrians had reached the Vjosa River and advanced as far as the mountains around Korça. The Vjosa was taken by Albanian volunteer forces from Mat, Lushnja and Myzeqeja, under the command of Ahmet Zogu. Other volunteer units under the command of Sali Butka advanced towards Korça. In Apolonia near Fier, Austrian officers wanted to remove several antiquities and take them back to Vienna, but Zogu and the officers commanding the volunteer units objected.
Three Albanian officers were sentenced to death and executed for abandoning the Vjosa front. These were Captain Kamber Bënja, Lieutenant Bexhet Manastiri and Lieutenant Abaz Elbasani.
The Austrians trained young Albanians to serve in the reserve corps. At the same time, they sent a number of them to the Military Academy in Vienna as cadets to serve as officers in the reserve corps. However, when the Italian army made a notable advance in Lushnja, many of the Albanians deserted, and the Austrians abandoned the idea of an Albanian reserve corps.
The Austrians paid great attention to agriculture and fruticulture and forced many of the peasants to work in this field. With expertise in administering other nations, the Austrians laid the foundations for an Albanian administration. They also meted out severe punishment with their punitive expeditions that forced the Albanians, in particular the highlanders, to acknowledge that there was a collective power and government authority above the individual, to which the individual had to submit, whether he wanted to or not.
Since the Austrians were well acquainted with the customs and mentality of the Albanians, the draconic measures they used brought about exemplary peace and quiet in the country and laid the foundations for the coming administration. These factors played a great role in stabilizing the Albanian State after 1920. […]
The Durrës Government (25 December 1918)
After the Austrian withdrawal and the occupation of Albania by the Italian army, Albanian nationalists met in Tirana and held detailed discussions about the need for an assembly to decide on national policies. But which town in Albania was to take the initiative? Delegates from all over central Albania (Elbasan, Peqin, Kavaja, Durrës, Shijak and Tirana) were called together to a preparatory conference in Tirana where they decided that Tirana was more suitable than all the other towns as a venue for deciding on national policies. The Italians were against this and brought their supporters from the north and south to Durrës, including Greek-speakers from Gjirokastra, who were brought in on a torpedo boat.
The nationalists held a meeting in Durrës and, despite Italian opposition, they were able to elect a government instead of the committee that the Italians had proposed.
Turhan Pasha Përmeti (1839-1927)
(Photo: Kel Marubi, 1918).As head of the government, they chose Turhan Pasha and as deputy head Preng Pasha. Italy regarded this government simply as a delegation to advise the Italian government and it was not accorded any funds without authorisation from the Italian consul Gobbi.
The government split into two camps: (1) the delegates who went abroad to attend the Paris Peace Conference – Turhan Pasha, Monsignor Bumçi, Mehmet Konitza, Dr Turtulli, Luigj Gurakuqi and, later on, Mehdi Frashëri. Father Gjergj Fishta also took part in this delegation as an expert; (2) the other delegates who remained in Durrës to deal with internal administration there.
Aside from the government delegation to the Peace Conference, Albanians abroad also sent their delegates to Paris. The Vatra Federation was represented by Dr Turtulli and Mehmet Konitza; the Albanian community in Istanbul by Halil Pasha Alizoti of Gjirokastra, Fuat Dibra, Father Bonati, Bernard Blinishti and Shan Tepelena; the Albanian community in Romania by Pandeli Evangjeli; and the Political Party of America by Miss Qiriazi, Nuredin Vlora, Mihal Grameno and Nikolla Ivanaj. Essad Pasha represented himself.
The Catholic-Muslim Commission formed in Shkodra continued to carry out its activities. After the formation of the pro-Italian government in Durrës, the Yugoslav government sent a high-ranking officer to Shkodra to suggest to Colonel Bardi de Fourtou that he should form a pro-Essad committee, made up of the leaders of Shkodra and the mountains, to send a delegation under Alush Lohja to the Peace Conference. With the help of the mayor, Musa Juka, and the support of Sulçe bey Bushati and Riza bey Kopliku, Colonel Bardi de Fourtou took steps to organize such a committee, but the Catholic-Muslim Commission and the other leaders refused to take part in it. The main figures behind the failure of the pro-Essad committee were Muharrem Gjylbegu, Xhemal Naipi, Muharrem Kazazi and Man Hoti.
During the Peace Conference, conflicts arose between the government delegation and the representatives of the Albanian diaspora as to the policies that would be in the best interests of the nation. Mehmet Konitza and Dr Turtulli, who were part of both the government delegation and the Vatra delegation, and other members of the diaspora delegations felt that more independent-minded policies ought to be adopted rather than simply following Italy’s lead.
This news reached the Kosovo Committee under Fuat Dibra in Shkodra with the help of the American Red Cross. In early 1919, Fuad Dibra sent a letter to Hasan effendi Bekteshi in which he made grave accusations against Luigj Gurakuqi as being responsible for the pro-Italian policies of the government at that time. In the letter, written in Turkish, he wrote: “God created that cursed fellow to destroy the country.”
The Durrës government was in the hands of the Italians who had managed to alienate the whole population. The delegates, Myfit Libohova, Fejzi Alizoti, Mehdi Frashëri, Sami Vrioni and Mustafa Kruja, accordingly supported Italian policies. The Durrës government set up a senate to supervise the workings of the government and to pass laws. In actual fact, this senate never met.
The deputy leader of the Durrës government, Preng Pasha, did not get along with the Italians, nor did they get along with him. In early 1919, Preng Pasha sent a letter to Captain Mark of Mirdita, saying: “The Italians are about to send a company of soldiers to Orosh to take control of Mirdita.” It was later found out that this letter had fallen into the hands of the Italians who either gave it to Captain Mark themselves because of the existing rivalry between the Mirdita leaders or it was lost by the mountain courier who was to deliver it. At any rate, this led to Italian anger towards Preng Pasha which culminated in a plot to kill him on 22 March 1919.
Hoxhë Kadriu (1878-1925) of Prishtina,
head of the Kosovo Committee.The Kosovo Committee continued to be active in Shkodra which, for various reasons, remains its headquarters. The Committee was headed by Hoxhë Kadriu and included Bedri Pejani, Sali Nivica, Bajram Fevziu and me. Bedri Pejani served as its secretary and Sali Nivica managed its newspaper Populli [The People]. Other figures who took part in the workings of the Kosovo Committee as advisors from time to time were Hamit Gjylbegu, Riza Dani, Hysni Curri (the nephew of Bajram Curri) and Qerim Begolli. The president, Hoxhë Kadriu, was one of the most influential members of the National Wing. He had graduated in law and was exceptionally talented and active, but also ambitious and conceited. Whenever he agreed to take part in an organization or government administration, he had to be elected as its leader. Otherwise he would do whatever he could to sabotage it until he reached his objective. However, as a hodja and as a Kosovo Albanian from Prishtina, he was irreplaceable in the situation as it was. He represented the Committee with great dignity in its contacts with foreign representatives and carried out its decisions with skill. All of the memoranda and the innumerable protests sent to the Peace Conference and foreign governments, via the American Red Cross and on occasion by the French colonel, in support of the national rights of irredentist Kosovo, were formulated by him and were translated into French by Bedri Pejani. With his skill and tact, Hoxhë Kadriu won the friendship of Colonel Bardi de Fourtou and in many instances, gained his support. Hoxhë Kadriu was a hodja and had done much in the service of the national question by uniting the Muslim community to this end and by presenting northern Albania as a unified block in political issues. The influence and authority of the Kosovo Committee grew by the day. The highlands, from Kosovo to Shkodra, turned to the Committee whenever they needed help, and he and the Committee did their best to fulfil their needs. The American Red Cross helped raise the Committee’s authority by distributing aid in the form of food, clothing and medicine through the Committee. It was the supreme authority in national politics at the time.
Under the sage leadership of Sali Nivica, the Kosovo Committee’s newspaper Populli, did much to enhance popular awareness for foreign designs and, in particular, for Italian political scheming. It used simple language to explain to the broad masses the dangers that were facing the nation and what course needed to be taken. The newspaper was read throughout Albania and was an inspiration to many people.
The Kosovo Committee played an active role in the Durrës government with a delegation headed by Hoxhë Kadriu, and with Riza Dani and Qerim Begolli as its leading members. They started out well with identical views but, with time, stubborn as they were, they began to dispute among themselves and returned separately to Shkodra. This is a good example of how personal character has a great impact on human endeavours.
The Murder of Preng Pasha
The Turkish army evacuated Shkodra during the Balkan War and, in the spring of 1913, the town was taken over by international troops. The deputy prefect of Lezha at that time was Gjeto Coku, who was one of the leading men of the Bregu i Matit area. At one point, a certain Preng Kol Brunga from Blinisht in Mirdita asked Preng Pasha to find him a suitable job. Preng Pasha sent him, with a letter of recommendation, to Gjeto Coku who appointed him as a gendarme in Shëngjin, but Preng Kol Brunga got out of control and, as a result, the commander of the gendarme station, Pjetër Lleshi, confiscated his rifle. Brunga was insulted and infuriated and, in order to take revenge, resolved to kill Gjeto Coku. He achieved his objective by murdering Gjeto Coku at the Lezha Bridge. The family of Gjeto Coku rightfully accused Preng Pasha of being behind the murder because he was the one who had sent Brunga to Coku with the letter of recommendation. The Pasha himself had no idea about the killing.
Preng Pasha had tenuous relations with the Italians. They considered him to be their opponent. In March 1919, Salih Vuçitërni, an inspector for the ministry of education in Mat and a good friend of Ahmet Zogu, arrived in Durrës and found Preng Pasha in a worried state. Preng Pasha suggested that they go back to Mirdita and work there together. Vuçitërni understood that they were to co-operate in some activity against the Italians.
On 22 March 1919, Preng Pasha, deputy head of the Durrës government, set out for Shëngjin, originally intending to take the trail along the coast. From Shëngjin, Preng Pasha was usually accompanied by the highlanders of Shkreli who lived in the vicinity. They were wont to accompany him until he crossed the Drin River. On that day, 22 March, the Italian commander in Lezha called Sadri Zeka of Shkreli, who lived in Shëngjin, to come by in the morning. When Zeka went to the command post, they told him to come back in the afternoon, thus preventing him from accompanying Preng Pasha. Zeka went to have a drink as he waited until it was time to return to the command office. At the cafe he met Preng Gjeta Coku, the son of the murdered Gjeta Coku, who said to him: “Sadri, are you waiting here to accompany the Pasha?” Zeka replied: “If I can’t accompany him, there are others who will.” Thereupon, the Italian commander turned up and informed him and Preng Gjeta Coku that the Pasha had landed.
Preng Gjeta Coku departed immediately to set up an ambush. Sadi Zeka informed the mayor Mana Begu right away, to telephone to Shkodra to get a vehicle so that he, Sadi Zeka, could accompany Preng Pasha, but by the time the vehicle arrived, the deed had been done.
Preng Pasha had left Durrës by land with the English Consul Morton Frederic Eden, who was working for the intelligence service on special duties in Albania. When they crossed the Mat River, their vehicle was fired upon. The Pasha rose to his feet and cried out: “Kill me if you want, but do not shoot the foreigner because that is against our customs.” The Pasha and several of his men were indeed killed and Consul Eden was wounded in the arm. It appears that Preng Pasha was killed by the Albanians at the insistence of the Italians.
An American Mission in Albania
The delegation of the United States of America at the Paris Peace Conference, headed by President Wilson, appointed the American consul in Turin, Joseph Haven, to find out what was going on in Albania. In February 1919, Haven arrived in Rome where he met the American missionary Charles Telford Erickson who had been the principal of the American school in Korça. Telford Erickson put Haven into contact with Mehmet Konitza who, together with the head of the Durrës government, Turhan Pasha, asked Tefik Mborja, secretary in the council of ministers, to accompany the consul to Albania.
While they were making their journey, Tefik Mbroja informed the consul about recent events in Albania. The consul knew very little about ethnic issues or about the political, economic and social situation in Albania, nor did he know anything about Greek, Yugoslav or Italian designs upon the country. The consuls listened with great attention to what Tefik Mborja had to tell him.
From Brindisi, they crossed the Adriatic on a torpedo boat to Vlora where they were welcomed by a colonel of the Italian chief of staff who informed the consul, among other things, that the Italian Command was putting a captain at his disposal and had prepared a house for him in which he could stay. He also informed him that he would be visited by General Piacentini, commander of Italian forces in southern Albania.
The consul spent several days in Vlora. Tefik Mborja secretly put him in contact with a number of Vlora nationalists, such as Qazim Kokoshi who offered him tea at the home of Ali Asllani. The women were also present in national costume. The consul was delighted to meet not only the men but also the women, and conversed with them in Italian. Both the men and women told the consul that they would defend Vlora with their lives and would never accept Italian domination. At the suggestion of Tefik Mborja, the heads and elders of Vlora wrote and signed a memorandum to this end for the consul. As such, Qazim Kokoshi paid great service to the nation and to Vlora. Of course, Tefik Mborja did what he could to convince the consul that the people of Vlora did not want Italian rule and that war would be unavoidable if the Italians did not withdraw. The Italian authorities had stipulated the following: “The Albanian people have the right to independence, but must remain under an Italian mandate for a certain period of time.” Tefik Mborja rejected the Italian view and convinced the consul that the people of Vlora were resolutely opposed to Italian rule.
Before they set off for Gjirokastra and Korça where they were headed, Tefik Mborja wrote confidential letters to all the nationalists he knew, telling them to come out and welcome the American consul with nationalist demonstrations and to present him with memoranda on the national question.
In Tepelena, although the depute prefecture was very small, the nationalists and the deputy prefect Qazim Koculi assembled all the villagers from around the town, dressed in national costume, to demonstrate for Albania and express their friendship with the United States.
In Gjirokastra, the mayor, Javer Hurshiti, and other nationalists of the region, welcomed the consul with demonstrations and gave proof of their friendly feelings for America. The consul was pleased at the reception he was given and received a local delegation that begged him to inform Mr Wilson that it was the wish of the Albanians to live independently as other countries did. In order to garner the consul’s support, they gave him gifts such as national costumes, which he accepted with great interest. Among those who played an important role here were Thoma Papapano and Jorgji Meksi. Soon thereafter, however, another group, composed of Lame Kareco, Efthim Çako, the lawyer Dhimas and others, asked to meet the consul. Kareco spoke on their behalf, saying: “It is the desire of the majority of the Orthodox here to live in Greece or to be under an Italian mandate because co-existence with the Muslims is impossible. Hostility between them went on for centuries under Turkish rule and the wounds are still too fresh.” They, too, submitted a memorandum, but the demonstrations of the people of Gjirokastra outweighed the pro-Greek side. Mborja was present at each meeting the consul held. The Italian captain was there simply to accompany the consul on his journey.
In Përmet there was a fine demonstration and no opposition to the nationalists. Even before the consul had reached Gjirokastra, Dhimitër Kacimbro and Koço Tasi had sent word that they desired American support at the Peace Conference to give Albania full self-government. They also gave the consul gifts at which he was very pleased.
The consul was warmly welcomed in Leskovik and Kolonja, too, where enthusiastic demonstrations were held with the same message as given in Tepelena, Përmet and Gjirokastra. Their journey through the Italian zone came to an end in Selenica near Kolonja, as did the Italian accompaniment.
The voyage from Vlora to Kolonja was thus a great success and the consul said to Mborja: “These Greek claims are nonsense.”
In Korça, Mborja suggested that the consul should stay at the home of the American missionary Kennedy who had done much for the Albanian question. The consul agreed and spent three days there.
In Korça, the French military authorities banned all demonstrations in favour of the Albanian question. Despite this, the people of Korça arrived in various delegations, all with the same goal, to call for the independence of Albania in its proper borders and to express their friendship for America. The consul was particularly pleased to meet many Albanians who had lived in America and who spoke English very well. All the scheming of the Greek despot Jakovos and of the secretary of the Orthodox diocese, Efremios of Elbasan, was in vain and failed to have any effect. The despot wrote to the consul, inviting him to come over to the diocese for a visit as he was himself unable to visit the consul because the latter was staying in the home of a Protestant missionary. The consul refused categorically to visit him.
The supporters of Greece in Korça, led by Efremios, asked for a meeting with the consul and insisted that Mborja not be present. The consul initially refused, but later acquiesced to their demand, at the agreement of Mborja. They spoke badly of Mborja, telling the consul that his father had been responsible for the burning of Voskopoja and that his family was extremely anti-Christian. The consul interrupted them, called them liars and threw them out. Both the consul and Kennedy told Mborja what had taken place.
The consul paid an official visit to the French army commander who did not speak badly of the Albanians.
Two days later, they continued on to Pogradec where the regional commander, Major Mortier, invited the consul to lunch. Mortier spoke highly of Albania and was critical of the Greeks, Serbs and Italians as well as of French policy that was supporting them. Mborja was delighted to hear this.
Leonidha Frashëri, the deputy prefect of Delvina, one of the finest nationalists of the area, was informed of the coming visit and arranged demonstrations for Albanian independence. It was only in Himara that some people demonstrated for an Italian protectorate. In Vuno, the majority of the population, led by the brother of Spiro Koleka, supported Albanian self-government.
From there, Joseph Haven continued on to Vlora where he wrote up the report of his visit to southern Albania, in which he confirmed the right of Albania to exist. He also dealt with the Vlora issue. Several days later, Mborja left for Rome to transmit the consul’s sealed report to the American Embassy, and he then returned to Vlora.
A few days later, the American consul and Mborja went to Durrës where they met the Italian commander of the northern sector, General Ferrero. This was the region of the government of Turhan Pasha. Among the ministers present were Sami Vrioni and Mehdi Frashëri who spoke in favour of an Italian protectorate, but they were opposed by the nationalists of Durrës.
In Tirana, the consul had contact with all the nationalist leaders under Sotir Peci who supported Albanian independence. It must be noted in passing that the American Red Cross, which had its headquarters in Tirana, was also active in the service of the Albanian question.
From Tirana, the consul set out for Shkodra on 13 April 1919 where he spent the night. The French authorities refused to allow any demonstrations. Nonetheless, the Kosovo Committee, the acting committee and other nationalists formed a delegation to call for Albanian independence and to express their opposition to Serbian, Greek and Italian demands. I myself was in Paris at that time.
After the death of Preng Pasha and the wounding of Consul Eden, travel in northern Albania was regarded as dangerous. The consul, however, got to Kruja with no problem and was well received there. He was met by a delegation headed by the baba of the Bektashi community that made the same demands in support of independence.
From Kruja he went back to Vlora where he ended his visit and compiled a final report. In it he stated that Albania was a country that could rule itself because it had all the prerequisites for self-government.
He gave the report to Mborja to take it to the American Embassy in Rome, asking him to be on his guard until he had handed it in. Mborja transmitted the report in early May and completed his duties.
Four or five months later, Athens complained to Washington that the consul had been bought by the Albanians and that the Greek government regarded everything he had written about Albania as a pack of lies. Washington rejected the Greek complaint.
The Mission in Paris in March and April 1919
The Kosovo Committee received news from Paris from time to time from Fuat Dibra via the American Red Cross such that it was able to keep abreast of the situation at the Peace Conference and of the conflict that was arising between the Albanian delegations - the official one and the one representing the Albanians abroad. The Kosovo Committee sent me to Paris to see what was going on. Travel right after the First World War was difficult and it was especially hard to get to Paris since Italy had imposed a blockade on Albania and prevented Albanian nationalists and anyone of anti-Italian sympathies from getting to France. They wanted to keep Albania uninformed about what was being said about it at the Peace Conference so as to prevent any negative Albanian reaction to Italian policies.
Nonetheless, with a laissez-passer issued by the French colonel in Shkodra I was able to get to Rijeka Crnojevića and Antivari [Bar] and took a Yugoslav steamer from there to Corfu where I met up with Iljaz Vrioni, Rexhep Mitrovica and others. In Corfu, I was able to get a visa from the Italian consul and travelled to Rome where I met many noted figures such as Ahmet Zogu, Hasan Prishtina, Syrja bey Vlora and Fazlli Frashëri. They had just arrived there themselves. From Rome, I carried on to Paris and, upon my arrival, endeavoured to meet Turhan Pasha at the Grand Hotel. I also met Mehdi Frashëri who had just received final instructions to go to Durrës and bring Myfit Libohova and Mehdi Frashëri back with him in order to increase the number of pro-protectorate figures. These had been in the minority during talks with anti-Italian delegations.
Turhan Pasha and Luigj Gurakuqi were not pleased with the situation in Albania and the situation of the Albanian people as I presented it to them since they realised that the aspirations of the Albanian people were in contradiction to their policies. I was unable to get answers out of them to my questions about the international position of Albania. The main issue at the time were the Italian claims to Vlora.
Relying on the rights over Vlora that the Allies had accorded to Italy in the secret pact of London in 1915 and without asking the Albanians, The Italians insisted that the said pact be implemented to the full. Turhan Pasha noted: “Vlora has become Italy’s mistress.” I asked Luigj Gurakuqi twice about the Vlora issue, and he replied, saying: “Vlora remaining in Italian hands would automatically lead to Albania losing the northern and southern parts of the country. Italy is therefore responsible for the destruction of Albania.” But Gurakuqi remained vague and avoided answering both times by saying he needed to go to the bathroom. When I asked Monsignor Bumçi the same question, he told me to ask Gurakuqi as the expert on the subject.
Albania’s foreign friends supported its independence and insisted that Italy withdraw from Vlora. This view was also promoted by the other Albanian delegation, represented by Mehmet Konitza, Dr Turtulli and all the delegates of the diaspora such as Halil Pasha Alizoti of Gjirokastra, Fuat Dibra and later Sulejman Delvina for the Albanian community in Istanbul, Pandeli Evangjeli for the Albanian community in Romania, and Miss Qiriazi, Mihal Grameno, Nuredin Vlora and Nikolla Ivanaj for the Political Party of America. Among them was Fuat Dibra who was the only wealthy landowner who had made a substantial financial sacrifice for the nation.
Turhan Pasha and his associates did not believe that Italy would give up its claims on Vlora, nor did they believe that the Albanian people were ripe for self-government. Since there was no other State interested in supporting Albania, they believed that the Albanians should be satisfied with what they had so as not to disappear entirely as a country. Both Albanian camps insisted on their views. In the end, it was to be the Albanian people who decided the question themselves.
Castoldi, the Italian delegate and expert in Albanian affairs at the Peace Conference, refused to give me a visa to return to Albania despite a recommendation from Gurakuqi and told me quite openly that I had come to Paris as an anti-Italian agent. Gurakuqi was furious at Castoldi and sent me back to him with Father Gjergj Fishta, the political expert of the official delegation of the Durrës government. Father Gjergj held a tête-à-tête with him and convinced him. I thus received a letter of recommendation for the Italian Embassy and was able to get a laissez-passer and reach Rome the next day.
It was on that same day that Myfit Libohova, Mehdi Frashëri and Mustafa Kruja arrived. I explained the situation in Paris to Myfit Libohova, although in a cautious manner. Ahmet Zogu proposed that he, Fazlli Frashëri and I should go and see Mehdi Frashëri at the Hotel Royal. There, after I gave a lengthy presentation on Albania’s situation in Paris, Ahmet Zogu spoke up and, being very cautious, said: “Mehdi bey, as one of the most distinguished representatives of the Albanian national movement and as a politician and diplomat of great standing and, as such, as an individual worthy of leading the movement, I would ask you, when you get to Paris, to work together with Fuat Dibra, Mehmet Konitza and their associates because it is in the interests of the nation.” Mehdi bey promised to do so, but did not keep his word. When he got to Paris, he took over the post of foreign minister of the Durrës government and continued to pursue pro-protectorate policies.
From 1917, Ahmet Zogu had been collaborating with the National Wing. He, Fazlli Frashëri and I agreed to begin urgent preparations for a national congress in Albania to decide on national policies to save the nation from the perils it faced. On 5 May 1919 we decided that Fazlli Frashëri should go to Korça, I should go back to Shkodra, and Zogu in the autumn should return to Mat.
Following the report that I presented to the Kosovo Committee on my trip to Paris, the Committee took the definitive decision to hold the proposed national congress. […]
The Congress of Lushnja
Initially, the National Congress was to be held in Elbasan, but since the authorities of that town were under the influence of Shefqet Vërlaci, who was a resolute supporter of the Italian protectorate, it was decided to hold the congress elsewhere. Vërlaci’s influence in Elbasan was such that his opponent, Aqif Pasha, took part in the congress not as a delegate of Elbasan but as a delegate of Peqin.
Members of the Congress of Lushnja forming the first real Albanian government, 1920.
Mustafa Kruja proposed that the Congress be held in Kruja because he considered that town the best venue for exerting his personal influence over it. This, of course, was rejected. The members of the National Wing discussed the issue with Ibrahim Karbunara and his men, who were also members of the organisation, and proposed that the Congress be held in Lushnja. However, to ensure the support of Berat before a final decision was taken, Captain Meleq Frashëri was sent to ask Iljaz Vrioni if he agreed. When Iljaz Vrioni gave his approval, the town hall of Lushnja sent out invitations to all the other towns of Albania, asking them to send delegates on a certain date. Throughout this time, the hostility between the congress-supporters and the protectorate-supporters grew worse and worse, and the latter had, indeed, taken to armed attacks.
The Durrës government was represented in Shkodra by Myfit Libohova, Fejzi Alizoti, Mustafa Kruja and Sami Vrioni. The first three decided to act in order to sabotage the Congress of Lushnja before it even got started: (1) Myfit Libohova was to use any means at his disposal to paralyse southern Albania; (2) Mustafa Kruja was to prevent Kruja and northern Albania from taking part in the Congress and thus prevent their representatives from speaking on behalf of the Albanian people; and (3) Fejzi Alizoti was to do what he could in Durrës to help the first two.
The Assassination of Abdyl Ypi
There was a secret committee set up in Durrës opposing Essad Pasha and his supporters. This committee was headed by Mustafa Kruja and included the teaching inspector Salih Xhuka, who was an old nationalist from Peja in Kosovo but also a born criminal. The committee decided to murder Abdyl Ypi while the delegates were gathering in Lushnja so as to intimidate them. The murder was to appear as if he had been killed for being a supporter of Essad Pasha. On the evening of 16 January 1920, they invited Abdyl Ypi to a meeting at a school building in Durrës. Unaware of the plot against him, Abdyl Ypi attended at the appointed time. Salih Xhuka pretended to have difficulty getting the school door open. Hiding behind it was Sul Mërlika, a first cousin of Mustafa Kruja and the son of Xhi Faja who had once killed the son of the Grand Vizier Refat Pasha on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul in order to avenge the death of Gani bey Toptani. Sul Mërlika thus shot and killed Abdyl Ypi. There was also a personal motive behind the killing. Abdyl Ypi had publicly denigrated the Durrës government and its members in a speech he held as prefect of Durrës, in the presence of Mustafa Kruja who was a member of that government. He had become a liability for the government in particular through his activities at other meetings held with the villagers of the region around Durrës, Tirana and Shijak.
This assassination caused a great reaction throughout Albania. In a telegram, Fejzi Alizoti called upon Rexhep Shala, the prefect of Shkodra in Lezha, to take measures to prevent delegates from the north from getting to Lushnja, noting that Abdyl Ypi had been killed in this connection.
The Kosovo Committee and all of its members remained in Shkodra in this period and were resolved to oppose any attempt to paralyse or sabotage the Congress or to prevent the northern Albanian delegates from attending it. As its delegates, the Committee sent Eshtref Frashëri to the Congress, and two other men, Hysni Curri and Xhemal bey Prishtina, were appointed to represent the prefecture of Kosovo and irredentist Kosovo. These two men were of very different characters.
The Drita Society that was made up of young nationalists from Tirana sent the lawyer Ali Begej as its delegate to the Congress. This society, headed by Osman Myderrizi, served the country well by opposing the protectorate in central Albania and by supporting the National Congress.
In Durrës, Mustafa Kruja convinced Hysni Curri, who was of a volatile character, to go to Kruja instead of attending the Congress in Lushnja. However, Curri got drunk the evening before he was to depart, fell down the stairs and broke his arm. Thus the comedy reached its conclusion without great damage.
Events in Kruja
Kruja chose its delegates to the Congress just as the other towns in the country had done. One of them was the mayor Hysni Berberi. Mustafa Kruja hastened to Kruja and ordered Berberi not to attend the Congress in Lushnja because, as he believed, Italy was the only power that could save Albania. Hysni Berberi disagreed and set off, but Mustafa Kruja stopped him on his way and prevented him by force of arms from continuing his journey. As such, Kruja, the proud home of Scanderbeg, was unable to attend the Congress which would decide on the fate of Albania.
The Doings of Myfit Libohova
Myfit Libohova went to Vlora and, pursuant to a secret agreement between the Durrës government and the Italian General Command in Albania, endeavoured to convince General Piacentini to use the military to break up the Congress of Lushnja. Piacentini refused to do so, but sent a battalion of some 1,200 men from the Gjirokastra gendarmerie. The Italian command gave the Albanian officers in this battalion no word of what was going on and deployed them swiftly in Kolonja, a village near Lushnja. The outside world was to be told that the Congress had been broken up by Albanian and not by Italian forces. Most of these gendarmerie officers were Catholics from Shkodra and when they got to Kolonja and realised what was happening, they contacted the Congress and gave it their assurance not only that they would not oppose it, but that they would place themselves under its orders. They recommended, however, that the Congress act quickly as they were afraid that they would be replaced by another force. This gendarmerie battalion remained in Lushnja until the end of the Congress.
Myfit bey Libohova (1876-1927).Myfit Libohova asked Leonidha Frashëri, the deputy prefect of Delvina who was trusted by both sides, to go to Lushnja and find out if the Congress was in the interest of the nation or if it was simply political interference. If he discovered that the Congress was indeed in the national interest, Libohova promised he would do no more to oppose it. Leonidha Frashëri got near to Lushnja and met Eshref and Meleq Frashëri who convinced him of the real objectives of the Congress, and he returned to inform Libohova of the reality of the situation.
Delegates from all over Albania met in Lushnja, with the exception of those from Kruja who had been prevented by force of arms and those from Shkodra who arrived too late for various reasons. It was indeed a National Congress because the whole Albanian people were represented in it, with no regard to social classes.
Captain Meleq Frashëri took over command of the gendarmerie in Lushjna. Lieutenant Prenk Jaku and volunteer forces from Dumreja and elsewhere – about 500 men in all – took over the responsibility of providing security for it. The Italian consul in Vlora, Salvatore Meloni, who was charged by his government with looking into the events, reported that the Congress was of purely national interest. Consul Eden, who was present, was initially frightened by the presence of so many armed Albanian militiamen until he realised that they had come to protect the Congress. All eyes in the country were turned towards Lushnja and everyone was waiting anxiously to see what would happen.
The Congress opened on 21 January 1920 and decided as follows: (1) it declared the Durrës government overthrown; (2) it rejected the Secret Pact of London of 1915; (3) it called for the recognition of the borders set forth by the Ambassadors’ Conference of London; (4) and it formed a Supreme Council, a government and appointed a Senate. The Congress of Lushnja laid the foundations for a political system at a national level. With the fall of the Durrës government, an age of disintegration was replaced by the foundations of a new State, and the Albanians for the first time truly became a nation.
The Great Powers were obliged to recognize the Albanian State as created in 1913. As such, the Congress was a success.
Ahmet Zogu, the minister of the interior, and a few others set out for Tirana. Since the Weir Bridge [Ura e Dajlanit] was in the hands of the Italian army, they took a different route, through Shijak, where they were, however, once again confronted with Italian forces. Passing through Shijak, they spent two or three nights at the manor of Hamit Toptani until they were all assembled and could proceed to Tirana as a government.
The New Government in Tirana and the Doings of Essad Pasha
The Supreme Council, the government and the Senate began functioning in Tirana. The Shkodra delegates finally arrived in Tirana where they read and signed the minutes of the Congress.
The first act of the new government was to get rid of the remnants of the Durrës government. The Tirana government sent Sotir Peci, minister of education, to Rome to fire Myfit Libohova who had been acting as political commissar of the Durrës administration, and replaced him with Tefik Mborja as a student inspector.
The second act of the new government was to declare three representatives of the old Durrës administration traitors. These were Myfit Libohova, Fejzi Alizoti and Mustafa Kruja. The first two withdrew from politics, but the third, Mustafa Kruja, who was the most active and consequent in his political beliefs, joined the camp of Essad Pasha to overthrow the new government and replace it with a pro-Italian one. Essad Pasha was himself keen on overthrowing the new Tirana government and on replacing it with one of his own liking, with himself at its head.
Both the supporters of Italian policies and those of Essad Pasha did what they could to overthrow the new Tirana government before it had time to consolidate its institutions. Italy did what it could, both politically and militarily, to paralyse the government which had no military forces or other means of defending itself. The nationalist block at the Congress of Lushnja, for its part, soon began to show signs of antagonism and rivalry among its leaders. Most of its leaders were unaware of the dangers of a coup d’état by Essad Pasha or the pro-Italians.
The rivalry among the leading figures of the National Wing worsened day by day.
A – Aqif Pasha, member of the Supreme Council, interfered in the work of Ahmet Zogu as minister of the interior and made it impossible for him to carry out his duties. Aqif Pasha then withdrew from the National Wing because it had given its support to Zogu. The situation was made all the more complicated by an endless series of plots and intrigues.
B – The same thing happened with Hoxhë Kadriu, one of the most active and influential members of the National Wing. He was appointed, on behalf of the Kosovo Committee, as minister of justice at the Congress of Lushnja. He was not satisfied with this post because he had hoped to be made head of the new government. He became even more frustrated when he realised that the organisation was increasingly behind Ahmet Zogu in view of the success that the latter had had as minister of the interior. As such, Hoxhë Kadriu, who had done so much as head of the Kosovo Committee, gradually withdrew and joined the other side, which he had formerly opposed so vehemently.
C – Sulejman Delvina was not a member of the National Wing but was proposed as prime minister by a member of the organisation, Fazlli Frashëri. He was selected to head the government because he was a patriot, was honest, moderate and devoid of personal ambitions, and because he had not been involved in the rivalries among other leaders. On the other hand, Sulejman Delvina did not know the country and the currents of thought in it well, and was thus unable to serve as a good arbitrator at that time.
D – The Kosovars. Aside from young intellectuals such as Rexhep Mitrovica, Beqir Vokshi, Halim Gostivari, Bedri Pejani, Captain Hadush Kastrati, Ibrahim Jakova and Osman Tetova, the Kosovar leaders, including those who had been active in the Rilindja movement such as Bajram Curri, Qerim Begolli, Xhemal Prishtina, Hasan Prishtina and many of the other Kosovars in exile, were convinced that Kosovo could best be saved from enslavement in Yugoslavia if they threw their support behind Italy. This hope caused them to join the pro-Italian camp and, as such, they went over to the opposition at that critical moment.
E – The spirit of liberalism and democracy that held sway in the south disturbed ecclesiastical circles and the wealthy landowners because of the school and agrarian reforms its supporters envisaged. This conservative opposition did what it could to sabotage the reforms and thus weakened the new government and its supporters.
F – The bajraktars, i.e. the tribal leaders of the north, who had always served as intermediaries between the government and the people, did not like the idea of the government being in direct contact with the population.
G – A number of ambitious intellectuals who wanted power for themselves, and others who did not understand the situation and put themselves at their service, made the internal situation in the country all the more complicated and devastating.
All of these various and sundry negative forces united to form a mighty coalition against the liberal, democratic government that was trying stabilise the country. […]
In view of the chaos that ensued, the National Wing decided to pursue a policy of compromise, and to work with any of the country’s leaders who proved capable, influential and strong enough to deal with the situation.
The strongest leaders of the nation at that time were Aqif Pasha Biçaku, Abdi bey Toptani, Ahmet Zogu and Bajram Curri, of whom Aqif Pasha and Ahmet Zogu were founders of the organisation and the other two followers.
Aqif Pasha Biçaku was an honest patriot, but he was stubborn and very much inclined to wrath. His raging often led to him doing the opposite of what was in the country’s interests. He was terrible with his rivals, among whom in Elbasan were Shefqet Vërlaci and Dervish Biçaku, the former his in-law and the latter his cousin. Vërlaci was the wealthiest man in Albania and had more influence in Elbasan than the Pasha. The Pasha enjoyed the support of many nationalists, including Lef Nosi and Ahmet Dakli, and the approbation of the Bektashi community, since he was himself a Bektashi. For family reasons, he broke off relations with Ahmet Zogu and their ties proved particularly tenuous when Zogu got engaged to Vërlaci’s daughter. As an influential member of the regency, he interfered in the work of the minister of the interior and damaged the latter’s reputation. The Pasha was a strong character but was not particularly intelligent or educated.
Abdi bey Toptani was honest, moderate and reserved, but was also weak and cowardly – a great drawback at that time when statesmen needed energy, courage and force. He enjoyed the confidence of all classes of society in and around Tirana. He was an opponent of Essad Pasha Toptani and did much to promote the Congress of Lushnja.
Bajram Curri was a veteran patriot, an honest and resolute fellow, and a strong supporter of the deprived classes. He and Nexhip Draga were the two keystones of the Kosovar uprising against Turkey. Draga organised the uprising and Curri carried it out. Bajram Curri had little education and a very limited intellectual horizon. He certainly believed what he said when he stated: “If I had 4,000 chosen Kosovars with me, I could chase Serbia back to Belgrade.” He was an extreme irredentist and loved Kosovo so much that he was unwilling to make any compromise at all in irredentist politics. This was his weakness because he was won over by the pro-Italian camp which convinced him that Italy was the only power that could liberate Kosovo from the Slav yoke. His other weakness was that he spent a lot of money. Nexhip Draga said the following to me in Istanbul one day in 1911: “Bajram Curri is the only real patriot among the leading Kosovars but he has one great defect. He spends so much that the treasury of Great Britain would not suffice to keep up with him.”
Ahmet Zogu worked with the nationalists from the time of the First World War and the Austro-Hungarian occupation, and in 1919 he was a member of the National Wing organisation. He was a clever fellow, courageous and active, and he understood what the people wanted. He was very ambitious in reaching his personal objectives and was willing to use every possible means to attain them. He was vain and would not accept anyone else having the same status as he had. However, if needs be, he was able to show flexibility and adapt himself to change. Most of the Mat region was under his influence. He also had supporters in Dibra such as Izet bey Maqellara, the Demaj family and Maliq Kërçishti, all of whom were known in Dibra as patriots and opponents of Essad Pasha Toptani.
Among these four leading characters of northern Albania, the National Wing organisation decided to throw its weight behind Ahmet Zogu as he was the best man for the job. Individual power politics did not play a great role among the southern Albanians.
This decision caused a furious reaction against the National Wing among many leaders and led to hostility towards Zogu.
In the chaotic situation in the spring of 1920, when the government was powerless and had no funds, and was being directly threatened by Essad Pasha’s people, joined recently by Mustafa Kruja, Ahmet Zogu made this surprising proposal to me:
“Since we are not able to create stability and a modern State, I have been considering a more practical and radical alternative. We should invite all the Albanian leaders to a conference to discuss and decide on what measures will be needed to stabilise and strengthen the country. I am resolved to plant two bombs in the house where the conference will be held. Before we set them off, we will ourselves find some pretext for leaving the building. Once they are all done away with, the situation will stabilise of its own accord.”
I was shocked at this radical proposal and replied: “As a small and weak country, we cannot deal with all of our domestic and foreign enemies if we do not have moderate and sage policies. This is the only way we can gain the trust and support of the civilised world. Such a crazy act would cause great indignity towards us. We would be considered a group of criminals that needed to be eliminated.”
“Sejfi,” continued Zogu, “Albania is not a quiet place like Përmet. All the politicians of Albania, and in particular the ones from the north, want to be head of state, prime minister or minister. Where can we possibly find enough posts to satisfy them all? If they do not get what they want, they will very likely do anything they can to overthrow the government. Foreign newspapers may agitate against us for a week or two, but will then calm down and will approve of our direct, practical and, if you will, humane method since our objective is to save the country.”
His arguments did not convince me since such a deed would be carried out by the very group of men who would seize power, which would be incompatible with standards of civilisation.
Nonetheless, it must be said that Zogu’s realistic approach in such terrible times was much more practical and favourable for the people than our idealistic approach which would subsequently have such negative repercussions on the population.
I did not tell anyone else about the discussion I had with Zogu, at his initiative. I first mentioned it in 1924 when we had emigrated to Brindisi. The others criticised me fiercely for not having told them.
My Mission in Belgrade
The government’s inability to deal with the chaotic situation and in particular the lack of arms and ammunition that it and the people of Vlora needed to throw out the Italians meant that it was forced to knock on the door of Belgrade. It was convinced that the expulsion of Italian forces from Vlora would be in Yugoslavia’s interests. In April, a special commission arrived in Tirana from Vlora to request assistance, arms and ammunition to begin the fight with the Italians.
The government sent me as head of a mission. I initially refused to take the job because I had no talent for diplomatic discussions. I was also far too candid by nature which I thought would lead me to make mistakes. However, Ahmet Zogu insisted that I go and so I accepted, hoping that I would meet up with Nexhip Draga in Skopje or Belgrade first and would be able to ask him for advice.
Bearing a letter from Aqif Pasha, a member of the Regency Council, I set off from Tirana, taking care not to be caught by the Italians since pretty well all of Albania, with the exception of the kaza of Korça, was under their control. I passed through the French zone and got over the border into Yugoslavia at Struga. When the Kosovars in Tirana found out that I was on my way to Belgrade, there was great uproar since they regarded their salvation as depending on Italy. “Sejfi has gone to Belgrade to sell Kosovo to Yugoslavia!” and other such nonsense was bandied about.
I met Nexhip Draga in Belgrade who was pessimistic about my mission since he was certain that Yugoslavia would not give up its alliance with Essad Pasha to join the Albanian nationalists.
In the talks I held with a counsellor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I presented the issue as follows: “The Albanian nationalists held a congress under Italian occupation, out of which has arisen the new national government which is, however, in great difficulty at the moment. We are at war with a great power that is holding on to Vlora which is essential to our survival. We need arms and ammunition to expel the enemy from our soil. We have many opponents, including most of the irredentist Kosovars, among whom are individuals who enjoy great prestige in Albania and could paralyse the government all the more. If Yugoslav policies were a bit more realistic, your country could gain the eternal friendship of the Albanian people. To do this, you would simply need to give up a couple of purely Albanian towns on the Albanian-Yugoslav border and enable us to create a State that would be economically viable and would be able to resist all Italian encroachments, for us and for you. We are confident that the Belgrade government will not deny us the assistance we need for an objective that is also in Yugoslavia’s interests.”
In their reply, they promised to give us arms and ammunition that would be made ready at two or three locations on the border so that it could be taken over into Albania. But their words were vain promises and things turned out just as Nexhip Draga had predicted. This was either because they did not want to empower the Albanian nationalists to the detriment of Essad Pasha, or because they felt some responsibility towards Italy, or because my suggestions had been badly expressed and had given rise to a reaction among Serbian chauvinists.
Nexhip Draga remained in Belgrade to liquidate his assets in the form of a wood and construction material factory he owned and, six months later, at my insistence, on behalf of all the nationalists, he promised that he would come to Tirana. Alas, to our great despair, he caught throat cancer soon thereafter. The Yugoslav government consciously delayed issuing him a passport for Vienna and, as such, the illness got so bad that by the time he reached Vienna in the autumn of 1920 he died. Together with Ahmet Zogu, Nexhip Draga would have been the best person to get us out of the chaos we were in and to create positive conditions to stabilise the country as all true patriots would wish to have seen it.
The Doings of Essad Pasha after the Congress of Lushnja
After the government was set up in Tirana, the sole aim of Essad Pasha was to overthrow it and form a new government in its place that would hold elections for an assembly and elect him as head of state. All of his followers were instructed to work to this end.
Osman Bali turned up at Kodra e Tiranës with armed troops, not far from the capital, and threatened to overthrow the government. Both the government and the Senate were in a state of alarm and sent a delegation composed of Xhemal Naipi, Xhemal Bushati, Ali Efendi Dërhemi and Lim Petrela to meet with Osman Bali. Secondly, they sent Lieutenant Sami Koka to Tepelena to appeal to Major Ismail Haki Tatzati to hasten to Tirana with the Gjirokastra militia. The government delegation reached an agreement with Osman Bali to send someone to Paris to consul Essad Pasha. This was a tactic on the government’s part to gain time. At the same time, Osman Mema, one of Essad Pasha’s commanders, closed in on Priska with 200 men and accused Osman Bali of having negotiated an agreement with the government without consulting anyone else and of having acted against the orders of Essad Pasha. Osman Bali understood the mistake he had made, but it was too late.
Mustafa Kruja Begins Collaborating with Essad Pasha
In April 1920, Mustafa Kruja went to the border at Dibra to hold talks with Ymer Efendi, the head of the Essadist committee in Dibra in order to prepare a common strategy to overthrow the Tirana government. When he returned from Dibra, he and his cohorts sent the Senate an ultimatum demanding the resignation of the government within 48 hours or they would attack Tirana. The Senate refused and so they attacked, and occupied Preza. The Senate then hastened to put together a commission consisting of one senator for each prefecture to discuss the situation and possible changes in the government. It had been proposed by Qazim Koculi that Ahmet Zogu be replaced as minister of the interior by someone else from the north who had power and influence, but the government categorically rejected any change in its composition. The Senate also set up another commission, consisting of Xhemal Naipi, Qazim Koculi and Hysen Vrioni. It went to see Osman Bali and accused him of not having kept his word. He had promised not to do anything until the commission returned from Paris. This commission was represented on the government side by Monsignor Koleci, the bishop of Zadrima, and Bajram Fejziu, and on Essad Pasha’s side by Fuat Toptani and Ymer Deliallisi. During their talks, Osman Bali replied that he had not been aware of the military action in Preza and gave his word that he would stop any fighting. For its part, the government then gathered its forces under the command of Bajram Curri and put the Essadists to flight. […]
The Allies Leave Shkodra – May 1920
Although the French intentionally left the date of their departure from Shkodra unclear, people one day observed the withdrawal of a small force towards Obot. The Shkodra Committee therefore sent people to Tirana to inform the government so that measures could be taken to prevent the Montenegrins from invading the town. When it saw the French withdrawing their troops from Obot, the Committee secretly despatched Hamit Gjylbegu to Tirana to appeal to the government to take Shkodra under its control. Ahmet Zogu set out in March 1920 with Hoxhë Kadriu, minister of justice, from Tirana to Bushat where they were received by members of the Committee and from there they proceeded to Bahçallëk. The French did not want to hand Shkodra over to the Albanians. However, after leaving forces behind in Bahçallëk, Zogu and his men entered the town and made their occupation of Shkodra a fait accompli. The men of Shkodra were thus armed and ready at dawn in strategic positions to prevent any Montenegrin attack. The French departed and Shkodra was taken over. A local administration was set up with two prefects, Sulçe Bushati and Shuk Serreçi, with Bajram Fejziu as a counsellor and with an administrative council made up of six men. […]
An Italo-Albanian Incident concerning the Theft of a Cannon
Since the Albanian armed forces had no artillery at that time, Captains Meleq Frashëri, Xhavit Leskoviku and Preng Jaku came up with the idea of stealing a cannon from the Italian army. The Italian authorities protested vehemently with the Albanian government and, as a counter-measure, reoccupied Durrës. The officers in question were frightened off and threw the cannon into a well, but the government forced them to hand it over. It was then returned to the Italians and the latter evacuated Durrës.
On 8 May, I went to Shkodra with Spiro Koleka and Xhemal Bushati, we being senators of Korça, Vlora and Shkodra respectively. On 13 May we returned to Tirana on a steamer via Durrës. With us were Bajram Curri and Ferhat Draga. In reoccupied Durrës was Colonel Castoldi, the Italian delegate at the Peace Conference and an expert in Albanian affairs. When he heard that I was passing through Durrës, he ordered the Italian police to arrest me. I hid in the shop of Emin Gjakova, but they found me nonetheless and took me into custody. Castoldi was taking revenge for the discovery I had made about Italian policies and the Durrës government in Paris in 1919 and for my trip to Belgrade to get arms and ammunition to be used against the Italians in Vlora. I was thus arrested and indicted as an enemy and anti-Italian agent. My colleagues were alarmed and Bajram Curri hastened to see Castoldi:
“If you do not release our friend, arrest us too, for we cannot carry on to Tirana without him.” Castoldi, who needed to maintain good relations with Curri, released me.
On that occasion, a meeting was held between the minister of justice Hoxhë Kadriu and the Italian high commissioner in Albania, Baron Aliotti, and a tentative agreement was reached for Italy to evacuate Vlora, but to keep a naval base and the island of Sazan. In connection with the agreement, Italy would give Albania 1-2 million lira. Hoxhë Kadriu submitted the issue to the Council of Ministers which, in view of its importance, set up a special commission consisting of one senator from each prefecture. Hoxhë Kadriu explained to the commission what had been agreed upon with Baron Aliotti. When he was asked whether Italy had promised under the agreement to take steps to recognise Albania, he was forced to reply in the negative. The commission, with the exception of Kadriu, therefore refused to sign the agreement, and from that moment on, Hoxhë Kadriu’s career took a downturn.
Increasing Rivalry among the Leaders.
Conflict between Ahmet Zogu and Bajram Curri.
Events in the Senate
The pro-Italian Kosovars, headed by Bajram Curri and Hasan Prishtina, now embarked upon an all-out struggle with Ahmet Zogu, both out of conviction and out of personal interests. They were assisted by other figures mentioned above. At that time, Zogu was the backbone of the government. The Kosovars considered him to be an agent of Yugoslavia because he was the brother-in-law of Ceno bey Kryeziu and pursued ambitions in favour of Yugoslavia. According to the pro-Italians, the members in the National Wing, most of whom were from the south, were not good patriots since they were not interested in the liberation of Kosovo. They scanned absurd slogans such as “The Tosks do not like Kosovo!” and alleged that the National Wing had put Albania’s destiny into the hands of the Italians, and most of the Kosovars believed that this was indeed its policy. Influenced by such slogans and living under difficult conditions as refugees, they rose in revolt. At that time, Ferhat Draga, the brother of Nexhip Draga, was in Tirana and his presence gave them even more impetus. It was their intention to overthrow the government and replace it with a pro-Italian regime to save Kosovo from the Serbs.
In May 1920 something else occurred that involved Bajram Curri as a victim of circumstances. Lieutenant Preng Jaku and Second Lieutenant Luigj Shantoja beat up a gendarmerie officer, Second Lieutenant Sabri Allajbeja, in some conflict regarding their duties. In order to avoid prosecution, the former two took refuge in the home of Bajram Curri who gave them his besa [promise of protection]. The government insisted that the two men be handed over, but Curri refused to do so because he had given them his besa. Government forces then surrounded his house and put Curri in a serious dilemma – either to hand over his ‘guests’ or to fire on government forces.
Since the government was obliged to act to preserve its prestige, Fazlli Frashëri and I went to the home of Bajram Curri to try and convince him that handing over the two men would not infringe upon his honour and that the government would do nothing to them other than to hand them over to the courts. Bajram Curri took our advice, with the hefty intervention of the government, and handed the perpetrators over. Worse was thus avoided.
The rivalries and conflicts that existed at that time converged into two main currents. One of them was headed by Aqif Pasha. It was made up of conservatives and trouble-makers and had no programme other than to take over power and suppress its opponents. Among the representatives of this current were the irredentist Kosovars and remaining elements of the old Durrës government. The other current, the majority, was made up of members of the National Wing and other nationalists, headed by Ahmet Zogu who was the only man with all the qualities needed to deal with the extremely complicated situation and to implement the nationalist platform.
These two currents caused the Senate to divide into two camps. The senators from Korça, Tirana and Dibra and half of those from Shkodra were resolute supporters of Zogu and viewed events from a more realistic perspective. The senators from Vlora, Berat and Gjirokastra, influenced by their cronies and family ties and suffering from a lack of knowledge of the country as a whole, made up the other current. Beqir Rusi, senator from Gjirokastra, was the son-in-law of Aqif Pasha, and Irfan Ohri, senator from Kavaja, was his nephew. Most of the senators from the south, except Korça, were influenced by Qazim Koculi who hoped to overthrow the government, get rid of Zogu and replace him with himself as minister of the interior. The Senate was thus divided into two camps, neither of which had the majority. As such, government functions were paralysed.
At that difficult time, the Senate agreed to appoint three senators as minister without portfolio to stabilise the government, since things were going nowhere. These were Spiro Koleka, senator from Vlora, Hysen Vrioni, senator from Berat, and me, senator from Korça. I immediately resigned in order to avoid conflict and asked the Senate to appoint Bajram Curri, senator from the prefecture of Kosovo, in my place. This was done, but instead improving things, the situation only got worse, in particular since Bajram Curri also lacked tact.
Essad Pasha’s Last Attempt to Seize Power. Osman Mema
Et’hem Efendi Tivari, a major in the service of Essad Pasha Toptani, journeyed from Salonica to Dibra and Shëngjergj to take a letter to Osman Bala. In it, Essad Pasha criticised Bali harshly for his shortcomings and degraded him to the rank of a captain. Et’hem Efendi Tivari then returned to Dibra where he assembled a force consisting mostly of men from Dibra, but including the group of Elez Isufi. The 600 men that made up this force were to march to Shëngjergj under the command of Murat Kaloshi to join the forces of Osman Mema, one of Essad Pasha’s commanders. From there, they were to continue to Çermenika and Elbasan to join the men of Shefqet Vërlaci. In Rrogozhina they were then to be joined by the men of Alush Aga Rogozhina, and in Kavaja and Shijak by other forces, before they attacked Tirana.
Essad Pasha Toptani (1863-1920) forming a new Albanian government in Salonica in 1916.
This was the final scheme of Essad Pasha Toptani and it threw the country into great confusion. Essad Pasha waited impatiently in Paris for the scheme to be carried out. But one day before the men were to leave Dibra, they received a telegram informing them of the death of Essad Pasha in Paris. He had been shot and killed on 13 June 1920 in front of the Hotel Continental by Avni Rustemi. The bullet that was fired, together with the Congress of Lushnja and the struggle to liberate Vlora, determined the fate of Albania and proved to be its salvation.
The Assassination of Essad Pasha
Avni Rustemi was studying in Rome. One day he went to the house of Tefik Mborja, the Albanian student inspector in Italy and told him that he had decided to assassinate Essad Pasha to save Albania but he needed money to cover his expenses. At that same time, a mixed government-Essadist delegation had arrived in Rome from Tirana from where it intended to continue on to Paris to meet Essad. Tefik Mborja met Bajram Fevziu, a member of the delegation and told him of Avni Rustemi’s intention. Fevziu promised him that he would contact Xhavit Leskoviku in Tirana to find the funds that Rustemi needed. Avni Rustemi arrived in Durrës on 5 May 1920 with the letter from Bajram Fevziu for Xhavit Leskoviku and another letter from Tefik Mborja for Qazim Kokoshi. Having received the funds he needed and accompanied by Tefik Mborja, Avni Rustemi set out for Paris and fulfilled his mission several days later. It was a decisive act because it took place at the very moment Essad Pasha was planning to overthrow the government and seize power.
[Extracts from: Sejfi Vllamasi, Ballafaqime politike në Shqipëri (1897-1942) [Political Confrontation in Albania (1897-1942)], Tirana: Vllamasi, 2012, pp. 68-211. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]