League of Nations:
The Sederholm Enquiry in Southern Albania
Jakob Johannes Sederholm (1863-1934), born in Helsinki, was a Finnish geologist and petrologist who specialized in the study of migmatite, a term which he coined. He studied in Helsinki, Stockholm and Heidelberg before returning to his country to work for the Geological Service of Finland (Geologian tutkimuskeskus). Sederholm was the author of over 250 scholarly works. He was also a member of the Finnish parliament which he represented at the League of Nations. In this capacity he headed a commission of inquiry into conditions in southern Albania that visited the country from 19 December 1922 to 1 February 1923. In this connection, Sederholm produced the following lucid report on the tense situation between Albanians and Greeks in southern Albania which, even today, makes interesting reading.
The Enquiry in Southern Albania
On December 23rd I left Tirana in order to begin the enquiry in Southern Albania, which had for various reasons been several times postponed.
I arrived at Santi Quaranta, in Southern Albania, on December 24th, and proceeded the following day to Delvino and Arghirocastro. On the next day I proceeded to Leskoviki, and arrived on December 27th at Koritza, where I remained till January 16th, making visits in the neighbourhood. I then returned to Arghirocastro, where I spent four days, leaving on January 20th for Delvino and Santi Quaranta. On the 24th I was back in Tirana. A visit to Chimarra could not be made in view of the unfavourable weather conditions and the necessity to return to Tirana to attend to important business.
I was accompanied by Mr. Petro Dhima, an American subject, born and resident in the region of Arghirocastro. He was of much assistance to me as an interpreter.
Arriving alone and travelling without any official preparation, I had a good opportunity of talking informally with people belonging to many different parties, who answered my enquiries very frankly.
In general I think that I have got, as far as it is possible during such a short visit, a fairly good insight of the present situation in Southern Albania, both as to the position of the minorities and as to the political opinions prevailing. In some cases, impressions obtained during the short visit of the Commission to the Koritza region last year have been modified; in other cases they have been corroborated.
The Relations between Albania and Greece at the Time of the Visit
At the time of my arrival at Koritza I received information which seemed to show that the Greek Government was persisting in its former attitude of not regarding the provinces of Koritza and Arghirocastro as belonging to Albania. People proceeding to Greece from these provinces had been deprived of their Albanian passports, which in some cases had been replaced by Greek passports. The Greek Government had also called to the colours young men from Southern Albania from 19 to 23 years of age who were resident in Greece. Many of these young men belonged to Hellenophile families in Koritza and Arghirocastro. Nevertheless, their parents held a meeting at Koritza and sent a deputation to me, asking me to forward their protest to the League of Nations; this I did in a telegram to the Secretary-General.
As I have subsequently learned, the Greek Government has only retained in military service such recruits as could not establish their Albanian nationality.
A deputation of Albanian land-owners in Macedonia also requested the intervention of the League, because, as they told me, they were forced by the Greek authorities to sell their landed properties at short notice at very low prices. Although this matter lay somewhat outside my mission, I communicated their request to the Secretariat for information.
The long delay which has occurred regarding the final decision concerning the delimitation of the boundaries between Greek Macedonia and the former Ottoman Kaza of Koritza attributed to Albania, has caused such uneasiness in the province of Koritza, especially in those portions of the former Kaza of Koritza which are still occupied by Greek troops to some extent in disregard all the decisions of the Conference of Ambassadors. It was not possible for me to enquire into the conditions within this area or to investigate the many complaints of people living there which were reported to me. On my arrival at the boundary of this area, the Greek authorities, although otherwise showing me perfect courtesy, refused to allow me to enter it. It seemed to me, however, obvious that very serious difficulties would continue to exist so long as the territory in question remained in an ambiguous situation. Its inhabitants had been recruited as soldiers in the Greek Army, although their future fate might not be connected with that of Greece, and recalcitrants were being severely punished. The inhabitants also had to pay heavy taxes in money and kind. Further, their main market was at Koritza and they found their existence very difficult so long as they were separated from that town, to whose inhabitants this separation also caused serious hardships. Moreover, there was a danger that the present unsettled state of affairs may lead to an increase in the tension between Greece and Albania. I therefore ventured to recommend, in a telegram to the Secretary-General, that the Council of the League should request the Conference of Ambassadors to hasten the final delimitation. It is only when that question is finally settled that a firm basis can be laid for a good understanding between these two neighbouring countries.
Albania and Greece have now exchanged diplomatic representatives, and thus a new era has begun in their relations.
The Question of the Formation of an Independent Orthodox Albanian Church
As stated already in my last report, the question of the formation of an independent Orthodox Albanian Church seems to be approaching a definite solution. It may be of interest to give a brief account of the beginning and development of the movement which has led to this result. It was among the Albanian emigrants to North America that the wish first originated to create Albanian religious communities independent of the Greek churches and using Albanian as the language of the divine service. The first of these communities was formed in Boston in the year 1919, with the Rev. Fan Noli as its head. He was ordained a priest by the Russian Metropolite in New York, the Greek higher clergy having refused to do so. The desire of the Albanians to get for the Rev. Fan Noli investiture as a bishop from the Russian Metropolite was not fulfilled, and the community, taking the matter into their own hands has declared the Rev. Fan Noli, bishop without the investiture of the Church.
View of Gjirokastra
(Photo: Robert Elsie, October 2012).
Subsequently the Rev. Fan Noli and other Albanian orthodox clergymen came over from America to Koritza, where they continued their efforts to create a national Albanian Orthodox Church. They were assisted by a number of nationalists, most of them also emigrants returned from America, and the Albanian authorities, who looked on their aspirations with favour, gave them support.
The nationalist party seized some of the churches in Koritza and started the celebration of mass in the Albanian language, but as I have been told by many people, the majority of the orthodox population were hostile to these measures and protested by not frequenting these churches. Thus a dangerous schism was menacing. In order to avoid such a deplorable event, a congress of the orthodox communities in Albania was convened at Berat in August 1922, on the initiative of an official in Durazzo of orthodox faith.
The Greek communities of the province of Arghirocastro did not take part in the elections to this congress, fearing that they might thereby be at variance with the will of the Patriarchate in Constantinople.
The congress met at Berat and decided to create an Albanian autocephalous Church and to apply to the Patriarchate for approval of that decision. Contrary to what many people anticipated, the Patriarch gave a favourable reception to the demand and sent to Koritza a representative invested with full powers, the Exarch Ierotheos. The Exarch, himself of Albanian origin, preached in the church in Albanian, sanctified the Albanian independent Church and implored benediction over it; he issued a proclamation in which he declared that the Patriarchate, recognising the legal character of the congress of Berat, was favourable to the formation of an independent Albanian Church and would proceed to the measures necessary to confirm the ecclesiastical separation (tomos syndikos).
The congress of Berat expressed the following wishes: the metropolites should be Albanians; the language of the divine service, including that of the mass, should in future be Albanian, except in the churches frequented by the grecophone communities of the Arghirocastro region. As long, however, as there should be an insufficient number of priests knowing Albanian sufficiently well, it would only be obligatory to read in Albanian the prayers for the Government, the country and the independent Church, and if possible also the texts from the Gospel and the Lord’s Prayer. The first Albanian metropolites should receive their investiture from the Patriarch, thus being able to ordain the lower clergy.
It is to be hoped that not only the grecophone communities, but also the albanophone, may be allowed to decide themselves whether they prefer to have the mass celebrated in Greek or in Albanian, so that no strain may be laid on the conscience of the believers.
In future, most questions concerning the Orthodox Church of Albania will be internal questions within that Church, or, at first, between it and the Patriarchate.
When I met the representatives of the orthodox communities of the Arghirocastro region, they had no complaints to make concerning the present state of their church affairs. Earlier, however, complaints had been made about the severe treatment of the Rev. Athanasios, who was kept in prison for several weeks because he had not taken part in the elections for the congress in Berat. Although he received the majority of the votes of the orthodox population, he was not appointed vicar (deputy) of the Metropolite (Bishop) of Arghirocastro, but in his place the Rev. Pano was appointed, who seems to have had very few adherents among the orthodox population. His nomination is, however, only temporarily, and it seems likely that the desires of the communities will be taken into consideration in the nomination of the Metropolite.
In Koritza the prevalent opinion seemed to be that a satisfactory solution had been found for the church question.
The above is the situation of the church question as explained to me by the present chiefs of the Albanian Church in Koritza, one of whom spoke English, and also by the Exarch Ierotheos, through an interpreter. The former always spoke of the formation of an ‘autocephalous’ Church, and the word ‘autonomous’ was never mentioned; it was explicitly stated that the Exarch possessed full powers not only to enquire into, but also to promulgate, the formation of an autocephalous Church.
The representation of the situation which I got later from Serb-Croat-Slovene sources differs, however, in some important points from the information which I obtained in Koritza. According to the former information, which had been received from the Serb-Croat-Slovene representative in Constantinople, the Patriarch did not give his emissary full powers to take decisions but only to enquire upon the matters in question, and the decision was to be taken later by the Holy Synod in Constantinople. Further, it was said that the character of the independent Albanian Church to be formed would not be that of an autocephalous church, headed by a Patriarch, but of an autonomous church, which would remain subordinate to the Patriarch in Constantinople in some respects.
The difference in these two interpretations of the situation is perhaps mainly formal. In every case it seems clear that the formation of an independent Albanian Church is only a matter of time and that the danger of a schism will be avoided.
The School Questions in Southern Albania in their Relations to the Rights of Religious and Linguistic Minorities
The stipulations of the minority declaration, as far as they refer to the grecophone minorities, are quite clear: every community has the right to establish schools in its own language.
Many people in Southern Albania speak two languages, Albanian and Greek, but in their homes they usually speak only one, which must be regarded as their mother tongue. In almost all villages only one language is used as the home language.
The Greek-speaking people of the Arghirocastro region are much more numerous than has been generally admitted. The Albanian authorities have repeatedly given their number as being 16,000, but in the under-prefecture of Delvino alone there are reliably stated to be 15,150 grecophone persons, and, further, almost all the villages between Libochovo along the Greek frontier as far as Psilotera in the east, and all the western side of the Arghirocastro valley, south from that town, are grecophone, that is to say, Greek is their home language.
According to the estimate of the number of the population made in March 1921 for electoral purposes, there are in the whole prefecture of Arghirocastro 33,313 grecophone persons.
In the district of Chimarra, which was earlier reckoned as part of this province but is now an under-prefecture of Valona, the population is bilingual to a greater extent than elsewhere. Greek sources give the number of the grecophone population which inhabits the villages in the district as 3,865 persons, which is certainly a maximum.
In any case it seems certain that the grecophone population in Southern Albania is not less than 35,000 and does not exceed 40,000 persons.
The Turkish statistics quoted by Maccas in his propaganda pamphlet gives it as 61,110 persons, but about 15,000 grecophone inhabitants of that portion of the Kaza of Pogoni, which already belonged at that time to Greece, have been included. The grecophone population of the former under-prefecture of Leskoviki is given as 6,100 persons, which is also an exaggerated number. Making allowances for these errors, we get about the same number as above, namely 35,000 to 40,0000. According to the statistics of Zographos’s provisional government of 1914, there were 47,889 grecophones in ‘Northern Epirus’. As these statistics were made at a time when there was a premium an being Greek, this number is an absolute maximum and, as stated above, probably about 10,000 too high.
Out of the whole population of Southern Albania taken as comprising the prefectures of Koritza and Arghirocastro, with the exclusion of the under-prefecture of Pogradets (which has usually been considered as not belonging to Northern Epirus) but with Chimarra added, the grecophone population forms about 17%, or about one-sixth of the whole. All the rest speak Albanian in their homes. In the prefecture of Koritza there are, even according to Greek statistics, no grecophone people.
In order to learn what complaints or desires the grecophone population in the Arghirocastro region might wish to express, I summoned, with the aid of the Albanian authorities, all the Kryekatundari, or heads of the villages, to Arghirocastro, where I enquired both about the school question, the social conditions and also about the number of the inhabitants in each village, in order to be able to check the other evidences obtained. Most of these men spoke to me very frankly.
In most of the Greek villages which possess any importance, there exist primary schools paid for by the Government, in which the instruction is entirely in the Greek tongue. Complaints were, however, made about the following matters: although the number of schoolboys was often considerable, in some cases over 150, subdivided into three classes, in most schools there was only one teacher. There are almost no female teachers, and, in consequence, the girls do not receive any instruction at all in most villages. Secondary public schools with two or three classes had also previously existed, but were closed at the time of the Italian occupation and had not subsequently been reopened.
The communities themselves have offered to pay for additional teachers but have not been allowed to do so. The Government has told them that they have the same facilities as the Albanian communities and cannot have more.
According to the minorities declaration, however, the communities belonging to religious, racial or linguistic minorities have an indisputable right to have schools in their own language, and therefore I think that the Government has no right to cause to allow them to pay for an additional number of teachers. I have so informed the Prime Minister and the minister of education in Tirana and I am confident that the minorities declaration will be strictly adhered to in future.
In Delvino I also spoke with Kryekatundari from the neighbouring region and with a deputation from the town, who complained that the Government had taken over a Greek school and established in the building one Greek and one Albanian school. The Government thinks that it has the right to do so because the house now serves the needs of all the population. I do not think, however, that the Government has any indisputable right to use school-houses belonging to a minority for the needs of other parts of the population.
A very regrettable incident occurred the day after I had left Delvino, the members of the Greek deputation being, as I was reliably informed, arrested by the authorities for one day and asked what they had told me and why they had approached me without being authorised to do so by the Government. I protested vigorously to the Government in Tirana against these measures, which were an offense against the high authority which had sent to me, and, if repeated, would make all such enquiries useless.
According to the information received by the Government from officials in the prefecture of Arghirocastro, no such arrests had occurred, but I am confident that my information was correct.
In Chimarra there are, according to information received from the Government, three Greek schools, with eight teachers and 318 pupils. According to private information which I have not been able to check, three of the teachers in the Greek schools teach in Albanian.
The Albanian-speaking Kryekatundari of the Arghirocastro region did not make any complaints about their schools, and, in general, spoke very little. Only two or three spoke and declared that all were satisfied. The representative of a village near the Greek boundary declared that the villagers desired instruction in Greek, because they were in close contact with the grecophone population.
The school question in the Koritza region has a different aspect from that in the west. Here there are no linguistic minorities. As has already been remarked, all the population, even the most eager Hellenophiles, speak Albanian in their homes. But with one exception there have been no Albanian schools before the time of the French occupation, all schools for the Christian population being Greek, which was also the language of commerce, etc. The Mohammedan population used also Turkish as their school language. Thus Greek was the language of culture of the Christian population, and many Albanians from Koritza, having ended their school studies, completed their instruction at the Greek University in Athens.
But Koritza was not only an important centre of Greek culture; it was also a cradle of Albanian nationalism. It was there that the first girls’ school using the Albanian language was opened in 1891.
The Albanian schools which had been opened all over the country in 1908, at the time of the Turkish revolution, were all closed two years later, and the Albanian educational movement made no further progress for some years.
At the beginning of the French occupation of the province of Koritza, in 1916, when Albanian nationalism was encouraged, the Greek schools were closed and a French lycée and some primary Albanian schools were opened. After the armistice the Greek schools of Koritza were reopened, amongst them a gymnasium, which continued its work till 1922, when it was again closed. At the present time, teaching in all the primary schools, as well as in a number of kindergartens and the girls’ school, is conducted in Albanian, and the French lycée continues its work. I visited them all and talked with the teachers and with parents of the school-children.
Most schools are crowded to such an extent that the classrooms could not contain any more pupils. As to the quantity of educational work performed, no previous administration has been more successful.
The quality of the instruction, however, is rather unequal and many complaints were made by the parents and their friends. In the primary school there are not sufficient trained teachers, and, while some of the present ones are very good, others are rather ignorant. School-books in the Albanian language used not to exist and many of the most necessary were still missing at the time of my visit. This deficiency, however, will soon be reduced, as the Ministry of Education is now busy editing new school-books in Albanian, many of which had already been produced in 1922. It will thereby try to introduce the dialect of Elbassan, which is intermediate between Gegish and Toskish, as an official language.
In many cases verbal instruction is given to the children or they have to write down the lessons after the dictation of the teachers. It is obvious that the instruction in spite of the uncommon intelligence of the children and the enthusiasm of many of the teachers, must for a time be very much hampered by these difficulties.
The officials in charge of the public instruction and in some cases themselves less instructed than would be desired, having been educated in schools with only a few classes.
It should, however, be possible in a few years to create satisfactory primary schools. The Albanian schools in Northern Albania organised by the Jesuits and the Franciscan brotherhoods are already quite satisfactory, but as their language is Gegish, they use different text-books from those which have been printed for use in Southern Albania.
It has been even more difficult to organise the higher instruction in the Albanian language. The school-books for these schools are lacking to a still greater extent, and the low state of development of the Albanian language forms a great obstacle. Its grammar and syntax are not yet very much developed and no complete dictionary exists. As till a few years ago, not even a religious literature existed in the Toskish (Southern Albanian) language; many of the most common cultural words are of very recent date, the corresponding Turkish and Greek words having formerly been used. So, for example, the Albanian word for ‘nation’ which we always heard in speeches to the representatives of the Ligje e Kombevet, the League of Nations, is a creation of these last years. Earlier, it was called in Southern Albania either milet (Turkish) or ethno (Greek).
The Albanians have now to build up the necessary stock of cultural words to which the Albanian language will easily adapt itself, being flexible and convenient to use for expressing all sorts of thoughts; they will also have to print school-books for the higher instruction. Meanwhile, it is necessary to use some foreign language in the higher schools. In Koritza, French has been used for this purpose since the closing of the Greek schools in Koritza.
The classes of the present French lycée are crowded, some of them having more than 40 pupils. These pupils are of very different ages and received their earlier instruction in different languages, some having studied in Albanian, others in Greek, Austrian or Italian schools. French being an entirely foreign language, it has been difficult to teach them, in the lower classes, enough of the language to enable them to follow with success the instruction in the higher classes. The director of the lycée, who devotes himself with much enthusiasm to his task, hopes that this difficulty will soon be overcome.
It would certainly have been preferable, from the educational point of view, to have maintained the Greek language at least till the time when the Albanian language was more apt to take over the heritage, and to introduce the latter gradually year by year, when textbooks were ready. On the other hand, however, it is easy to understand that the Albanian Government did not wish to maintain Greek schools at a time when Greece was claiming the region in question, asserting that it was a Greek country.
As to the question whether the Albanian Government has carried out the declaration concerning the minorities or not, it is to be remembered that this declaration speaks only of the right of the minorities to establish schools in their own language. And if that stipulation is taken, as has generally been done in other countries, to refer only to the mother-tongue of the persons belonging to the minorities, this, as far as the Koritza district and the greatest part of the Arghirocastro district are concerned, is Albanian.
It may be objected that the language conditions in Southern Albania are very different from those in most other countries, the Christian population of this region having used Albanian mainly as the language of common intercourse; while Greek has long continued to be the language of religion, of literature and of commerce, and might thus be regarded as a kind of second mother-tongue for the Christian Tosks of the south.
The conditions are in some respects, although not very closely, analogous to those which prevailed in my own country, Finland, less than a century ago, when the Finns, although forming the great majority of the population, received all their higher instruction in the grammar schools and at the university in the Swedish language, which was also the prevalent language of legislation and administration. Finnish was mainly used for the most elementary instruction and in religious and economic books for the people. Swedish, however, was never considered as being the mother-tongue or the ‘own language’ of such educated Finns as continued to speak Finnish in their homes. Later, when nationalism awoke, the Finns built up in less than half a century a complete literature of their own, giving thus to the Albanians an encouraging example to follow and an indication of the rapidity with which such a work can be done.
In the case of Finland, however, there existed at least one radical difference as compared with the conditions in Albania, inasmuch as the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland were fervent patriots, whereas many of the Hellenophiles in Southern Albania, as well as their Greek supporters, are hostile to the Albanian State. It is not to be expected that the Albanian Government would ever allow Greek schools for the Albanian-speaking population as long as they are used for the purpose of pan-Hellenic propaganda. The Albanians will prefer to use one of the western languages for the instruction in the higher schools till the time when their own literature has been sufficiently developed to be used for that purpose.
The brewery of Korça
(Photo: Giuseppe Massini, 1940).
The great success of the Vocational School of the American Red Cross in Tirana, founded by Americans who possess so much experience of the methods of teaching English to children to whom it is a foreign tongue, is a proof of the possibility of using, for instance, English as a medium of instructing the Albanians, and no doubt a French school with similar methods would have an equal success.
If the collaboration of the population is called for, it will not be a very difficult task for the educational expert whom the Albanian Government has decided to obtain from abroad to organise such schools in Southern Albania as will entirely satisfy the needs of the population. But it will be necessary, as much as possible, to eliminate politics from these schools and think mainly of the educational needs.
At the present time no foreign language has a decided preponderance in Albania. French is, as usual in the Orient, known to almost all the higher classes. Turkish is spoken by many people all over the country, while a knowledge of Greek is common in Southern Albania and will continue to retain importance, especially for commercial purposes. English is known by the emigrants returned from America; Italian is general in the coast towns of the Adriatic; German was spread during the war; and some knowledge of Serbian is not uncommon in the north and the west. As a result of her history, Albania is as divided culturally as it is geographically and economically, and it is only when her own language shall have been developed so as to serve all the needs of an indigenous culture that this division will cease to exist.
What has been said above about Koritza applies also to the towns in the Arghirocastro region, from which at present children from both Christian and Mohammedan families are sent to Corfu owing to the lack of good Albanian higher schools.
An international problem which ought to be solved in the near future is that concerning the disposal of the funds which have been bequeathed by citizens of Koritza to the ‘Greek’ community of that town for educational purposes but which are now placed in banks in Greece. It should be easy to solve that question by means of friendly discussions between all parties concerned. If necessary, the question should be referred to some kind of arbitration.
No difficulties should be made as to private instruction given in the homes. At present it is not allowed to give such instruction in Greek to children of school age, but I venture strongly to recommend that everybody be free to act as he pleases in his own house, which ought to be, according to the old saying, also his castle.
As regards educational matters, it seems desirable, from the point of view of Albania’s own interests, that she be even more liberal than other countries. She can then the more forcibly demand that the neighbouring countries follow her example and give to their numerous Albanian-speaking populations the same rights which she has given to her minorities and which these minorities have the right to demand according to international law.
The General Political Problem of Southern Albania
The school problem is only a part of the general cultural and administrative problems of Southern Albania in which her minorities are interested. They are all closely connected with each other and also with the general question of how the basis shall be laid for a lasting friendship between Albania and Greece. We could therefore not decline, either at the earlier enquiry nor at that which I made alone, to discuss the greater political problems and, in general, to receive all the information which could be obtained. However, it was often offered to us under an erroneous assumption. Several of the persons or corporations with which the Commission has come in contact have, either orally or by letters or telegrams, acted on the erroneous assumption that the Commission had the mandate to give recommendations concerning the future political status of ‘Northern Epirus’. It had not yet become clear to these persons that this status had been definitely and irrevocably determined by the decisions of the Conference of Ambassadors, and that the League of Nations, or the Commission sent out by its Council, could not take into consideration any memorials which aimed at a change of that status.
It is, however, very necessary to gather all obtainable information concerning the political conditions in Southern Albania, because so many absolutely incorrect statements have been made concerning them, and because different observers have arrived at contradictory statements concerning the situation and the political sentiments of the population. Especially as regards the province of Koritza are these discrepancies very great. Where some observers have found an entirely Greek population, others state that the country is entirely Albanian in language, origin and sentiment.
Only to a limited extent can these differences be explained by the bias of the observers. Some of them have certainly been influenced by war psychology - which has, moreover, been almost the normal state in the Balkans for centuries - but most of them have no doubt acted and written in good faith. The differences of opinion are mainly caused by the fact that the conditions are really very complicated and difficult to understand, especially during a short visit.
A foreign visitor arriving in Albania, whether he be the representative of some great power or the correspondent of some influential newspaper, has often been given a welcome like a prince, with triumphal arches, waving flags, speeches, deputations and music, and such a reception is apt to deceive many observers as to the real feelings of the population, especially when they see the apparent enthusiasm of the crowds. But it is, of course, easy to cause school-children, or the population of a small town living under the sway of a gendarme, to make a parade of sentiments which they do not really share.
For instance, during the Greek occupation of Arghirocastro, the Mohammedan children demonstrated in favour of Greece by wearing the Greek cross on their clothes; it is not very probable that this demonstration gave a true expression of their feelings. Conversely we have heard affirmations of affection for Albania which were evidently not sincere. I have done my best to eliminate all causes of error which I could detect and to be fair in my judgment, in the firm conviction that the truth will be of best service to all parties.
It cannot be denied that there is at present a strong discontent among the Christian population in Southern Albania. While we noted it last year, mainly among the people who had been educated in Greece, it must now be stated that this discontent has spread also to the nationalists in the Koritza region. The causes of this discontent are manifold. First of all, the population in Southern Albania, like the people almost everywhere in the world, suffers very much from the present economic depression.
Koritza has, like Arghirocastro, paid a considerable proportion of the taxes collected by the Albanian Government, while the possibilities of earning money have been very much reduced. The merchants of Koritza made their main income from commerce with Salonika, with which communications have at times been interrupted, while the traffic with Monastir has also presented difficulties; their best customers have in the past been emigrants returning from America. The latter source of income has now lost much of its importance.
The high prices of all necessities weigh heavily on the population, which compares these prices with the much lower ones prevailing in the adjacent Greek territory where the low exchange causes an artificial cheapness. All the difficulties which may result from this low state of the exchange and the liabilities which are a consequence of the present economic and political conditions of Greece are at present left out of consideration.
The taxes and customs laid on the necessities of life such as flour, salt, and sugar are very high, and the Christians complain that they are heavier on articles used by the Christians than on those used by the Mohammedans; for instance, the duty is ten times higher on a felt hat than on a fez made out of the same material but not possessing a brim.
The moratorium which has existed for several years in this particular region, but not elsewhere in Albania, is said to be an advantage to the land-owning Mohammedans who are mainly debtors, and a serious drawback to the Christian merchants who are their creditors.
The provinces of Koritza and Arghirocastro have paid the greatest part of the revenue of the State Budget of Albania, but only a small portion of it has been used directly for the needs of Southern Albania. The greatest part has been used for paying the central administration in Tirana, the army and expenses connected with the suppression of the insurrectional movements, etc.
Moreover, also a certain political disillusion is discernible. The nationalists of Koritza hoped that, as the result of the foundation of an independent Albania, a new State would be created which, from the beginning, would be something very unlike the Turkish province which Albania had previously been. But, as usual, the difficulties have been much greater than was anticipated, and the optimists therefore feel deceived in their hopes.
The inhabitants of Southern Albania expected that they would get influence in the public affairs of the country, which would in some measure be proportionate to their culture and to the economic importance of their provinces. The former Turkish officials from Arghirocastro, mainly Mohammedans, have been employed in Tirana and elsewhere in Albania in considerable numbers, but the Christians of the south have proportionally less to say than the Mohammedans and Catholics in State affairs. This is to some extent voluntary on the part of the orthodox of the south. The Hellenophiles, who may still retain a hope that the political status of their province may be changed in the future, have naturally been excluded from all participation in Albanian politics, but Albanian nationalists of orthodox faith have also kept aloof from the public life in a larger measure than would be desirable. The American ‘re-immigrants’ who gather around the political union ‘Vatra’ alone have taken a more active part in political life. Only very few Christians in Koritza took part in the elections for the present parliament. In the town of Koritza, out of 7,000 to 8,000 Christian voters, only 220 took part in the elections. Although some Christian representatives were elected, this does not mean that they really represent the Christian population of Koritza. The reason of this partial strike of the voters was that interference by the Government was anticipated. The method of protesting was, however, not a practical one. The Government has already given assurances that it will not attempt to influence the free vote of the people in the next elections, and it seems certain that the Christians will take a more active part in them.
A complaint by the Christian minorities which I think is justified is that the present subdivision of electoral districts is very unfavourable to them. The suffrage is indirect and by majority. For example, the 6,000 Christians of the Chimarra region (which formerly belonged to the province of Arghirocastro) are included in the prefecture of Valona, where there are 28,000 Mohammedans, against only 13,000 Christians; in the province of Koritza, which comprises also Pogradets, almost entirely Mohammedan in population, there is a great Mussulman majority (72,000 against 48,000 Christians). If the majority of the Christians could be united in separate electoral districts or some system of proportional representation be established they would then be able to elect their own representatives, while at present they are at the mercy of the Mohammedan majorities.
Whenever there arises a question about the treatment of the minorities, the Albanian Government always refers to the fact that a more than fair proportion between the number of Christian and Mohammedan officials exists. The objection which I always heard in the south was that Christian officials nominated by the Government were, in the main, those who possess the confidence of the Mohammedans, but not to the same extent that of their co religionists. They also quote cases where the Christian officials have gradually been replaced by Mohammedans. For instance, the physicians of the city hospital in Koritza who have studied in Athens, Paris, etc., were replaced by Mohammedan doctors who had studied at Turkish universities. This state of affairs seems rather unnatural in a town where the great majority are Christians who have been accustomed to European methods of treatment. It must also be stated that the greater part of the officials of the former Turkish regime, especially the judges, gendarmes, etc., still retain their places, and as so far the laws have remained unchanged, the impression prevails amongst the Christian population that the new order of things is only a continuation of the old one.
I have enquired in a number of cases into complaints concerning the unjust treatment of Christians. Not being a jurist, nor having an opportunity of examining the cases in detail, I can, of course, only give the impression which has been conveyed to me by people whom I regard as trustworthy.
I have tried whenever possible to check this information by evidence from other sources. Even if allowance be made for errors caused by the bias of the narrators, so much remains that I retain a firm personal conviction that the present state of affairs is far from satisfactory. Some of the highest officials seem to have been very high-handed and arbitrary in their dealings with the Christian population, imprisoning them on the slightest suspicion of being Hellenophile, even including ladies among those who have been arrested. The explanations concerning these arrests which were given by the authorities in Tirana were not always found to be correct. In some cases the arrests seem even to have been caused by personal motives. Officials in important posts have become rich during their service. Gendarmes at the Greek boundary are said to have treated the peasants in some cases very harshly and arbitrarily.
A common complaint is that justice is not alike for Christian and Mussulman. Christian officials told me that Mohammedans sometimes resist the commands of the law in the belief that they stand above it, and that high officials, in some cases, have hindered the course of the law if the result seemed likely to prove disadvantageous to some of their friends. It would even appear that in isolated cases Christian officials who had proceeded too firmly against Mussulmans with powerful friends had been forced to resign. A pitiable story was told to me by people whom I regard as trustworthy. The murder of a child during some kind of family feud could not be prosecuted in the courts because the alleged murderess was the daughter of a high official and the witnesses dared not to speak.
Especially in questions concerning the ownership and renting of land, justice is said to be often lacking. The land-owners are Mohammedan beys, while the tenants on their tchifliks (leased properties), who pay in most cases a third of the harvest as rent, are in many cases Christian. As the result of the underdeveloped character of the legislation, the legal ownership of property is often not dear, and it may happen that the beys try to extend theirs over land which the peasants have long regarded as their own, or make contracts with shepherds allowing them to graze their sheep on their lands, and in all such cases the Christian peasants complain that it is difficult for them to get justice. Lately, many landowners have begun to claim the proprietorship of the land where the villages, are built, which has caused much uneasiness amongst the peasant farmers.
Recent tradition among the working population recounts many cases where the beys have acquired the right to their lands by oppressive measures. The opinion used to be prevalent amongst ruling Mussulmans that Christians had no legal right to possess land and that their purchases were contrary to Moslem law. This principle has even been quoted at a comparatively recent date.
These are some of the difficult questions which the Albanian legislators will have to solve, aided by the juridical expert whom the Albanian Government has decided to obtain from abroad.
The question of agrarian reforms has already been discussed in the Albanian Parliament and by the Government and does not seem to meet with any insuperable difficulties, as most tchifliks are not very large and the peasants already possess a part of the land which they cultivate. Moreover, the price of land is not yet very high and it seems possible when expropriating it to grant to the former owner the same income he has previously enjoyed.
Moreover, the Government disposes of a great many tchifliks which formerly belonged to the Turkish crown and which can be used to satiate the land hunger where it exists, and the reclamation of the great areas of fertile but marshy land may also be utilised for the same purpose.
In any case it seems obvious that agrarian reforms are necessary if the different parts of the population, in many cases separated by religious belief, shall not become more and more estranged from each other by opposing interests.
Although I have enumerated all the different kinds of complaints which I have heard, and also feel convinced that they are in many cases justified, I will not pretend that the state of justice is so much worse than it has been in many other parts of the Balkans, especially during and immediately after the recent turbulent epoch of wars and revolutions. In several cases the peasants, including the Greeks, have declared to me, apparently quite sincerely, that they considered public security as satisfactory. Judging from what I have learned about the earlier state of things, I should think that public security has really made immense strides forward in Albania during the last two years as compared to what it was under the Turkish regime.
So abhorred, however, was that regime by the Christian population that every injustice awakens the unpleasant recollections of that past and the fear that it may recur. The distrust of the Mohammedans in the minds of the Christians, which has been deeply rooted during centuries of oppression, will not disappear before the whole system is entirely changed.
These feelings are not directed against the Mohammedan religion as such. It is only because religion under the Turkish regime determined the rights between rulers and ruled that these feelings exist.
There seems, fortunately, to be very little fanaticism among the Mohammedans of the south. These are mainly Bektashi, a sect which is enlightened, somewhat sceptical and very tolerant towards other religions. If the Mohammedans of the south have any feelings against the Christians, it is more to be described as a feeling of class superiority than as religious fanaticism.
In some cases even the fanaticism has been greater on the Christian side. The ruins of hundreds of burned villages, mainly Mohammedan, which were destroyed at the time of the Zographos government in 1914 are sad signs of the revenge which the Christians have taken for earlier wrongs.
Although the army of Zographos was led by Greek officers, and had a cadre of soldiers which had deserted from the Greek Army, it contained many Christians from Northern Epirus who either willingly or under compulsion took part in the campaign and also in these atrocities.
Passions are still so strong that these things might be repeated at any time if the risk of new conflicts be not prevented. A reconciliation of the Christians and the Mohammedans, who form about equal parts of the population of Southern Albania, is an absolute necessity for the well-being of this region.
As it is of great interest to possess reliable numerical data concerning the relative numbers of the Christians and Mussulmans in Southern Albania, I have collected all available statistical data and have subjected them to a critical scrutiny. The data quoted by the propaganda pamphlets, which are written with evident bias, are often very inaccurate, as shown by the great discrepancies between the numbers quoted from the different sides.
Part of the differences arise from the fact that the extent of ‘Northern Epirus’, as Southern Albania has been called by some authors, has been differently computed. One author makes it comprise the whole territory of the present prefectures of Koritza and Arghirocastro, together with the sub-prefecture of Chimarra, which is now included in the prefecture of Valona; another excludes the under-prefecture of Pogradets, now part of the prefecture of Koritza; a third excludes Pogradets and the northernmost parts of the former Kazas of Premeti and Tepeleni, where the majority of the population is Mussulman. The numbers which I shall give here concern the whole area in question, with the exclusion of Pogradets, which has only been included in the administrative areas of the southern provinces since the creation of an independent Albania. Pogradets in any case is principally a Mohammedan area with some 20,000 inhabitants, of whom only about 3,000 are Christian. It has never been included in the Greek claims.
The number most commonly quoted for the Christians in ‘Northern Epirus’, or Greeks, as they are termed in the Greek propaganda pamphlets, is 128,050. This number, quoted by Maccas, is repeated in a Serbian propaganda pamphlet of 1922. But in this number are included also 20,996 Greeks of Pogoni, of which the greater part had even then been incorporated in Greece. If we take, instead of that number, the number of the inhabitants in the Albanian part of Pogoni given by the statistics of the Zographos Government, which is 5,185, we get a total of 112,239 Christians. This is almost exactly the same number as I have obtained from the latest Albanian statistics, which give as a maximum 112,868 Christian inhabitants. The statistics of the provisional government of Zographos gave 119,884, or 7,000 more, but a census made under such turbulent conditions can hardly be trusted.
According to the latest Albanian statistics, the number of the Mohammedans of the same region is 113,845 persons. The older statistics quoted by the Greek propagandists gave 95,561, and those of the Zographos government 102,415, but in the former computation the population of the northernmost parts of Premeti and Tepeleni was excluded. If this population had been taken into consideration, the total of the Mussulmans would have been even greater than according to the Albanian statistics.
There seems to be no doubt therefore that, as already stated, the Christians and Mussulmans are almost equal in number in the region in question. If Pogradets were included we should even get 130,805, against only 115,078 Christians, while if we exclude all these parts of the prefecture of Arghirocastro which M. Venizelos, when claiming the annexation of Northern Epirus, proposed to leave to Albania, we should get a preponderant number of Christians. On the other hand, it would be easy to find another delimitation by cutting away some area mainly populated by Greeks, which would give a great preponderance of Mussulmans.
As to the different provinces, we find that in the prefecture of Koritza (Pogradets excluded) the Mohammedans are 54,900 and the Christians 45,250. The former are therefore in a decided majority (55% against 45%). In the prefecture of Arghirocastro, again, the Christians are 60,881 and the Mohammedans 58,598. Chimarra has a large Christian majority, the Mohammedans being only 1,480 against 6,032 Christians.
As regards language, I have already given the number of grecophones who inhabit almost exclusively the western part of the region in question. In Koritza there are practically no grecophone people, and if M. Georges Clemenceau (quoted by Maccas) could say in 1913 that in Koritza more than half of the population was Greek, that verdict, which is not warranted by facts, was caused by that confusion of religion and ethnology which has been so common when discussing the affairs of the Balkans, where the orthodox religion was thought to be identical with Greek nationality.
It results from the foregoing that the Hellenophile sentiments of the majority of the orthodox population of Southern Albania are not to be described as Greek nationalism. Among the most eager Hellenophiles, even among those who have settled in Greece and have fought for her, there often remains a strong feeling in favour of Albania, although they prefer to call it Northern Epirus and not Southern Albania, and they take pride in belonging to the race of the Shkipetars.
As to the race of the inhabitants of Southern Albania, it seems impossible to draw any certain conclusions in the present state of our knowledge. We know from history that both Albania and Greece have been repeatedly overflowed by foreign invasions, and many of these intruders may have remained till they have been absorbed by the older population. It is well known that the present Greek nation is a mixed race. Nevertheless, people with quite classical Hellenic features may sometimes be seen in the regions of Delvino and Arghirocastro. The Albanian-speaking population of the regions in question is often obviously racially different, but in some parts of Southern Albania a mixture of Illyrian and Slav or Teuton blond has occurred, as witnessed by the occurrence of light hair and blue eyes. The local names are also to a great extent of Slav origin.
There are no racial feelings between Greeks and Albanians, and neither regards the other as an inferior race. It would be difficult for the Greeks to do so, as such a great proportion of the population of Greece is of Albanian origin and so many of the best citizens of Greece have sprung from Shkipetars.
We may leave, however, all these complicated racial problems to the attention of the anthropologists. At the present moment it seems impossible to raise the racial argument either in favour of the Greek or the Albanian point of view.
If it is true that mainly historical and social causes have created the strong anti-Moslem feelings, which no doubt still exist with a great portion of the Christian population of Southern Albania, they are mainly to be described as feelings against very real or supposed remnant of the old Turkish regime of oppression. The direction which the sympathy of the population will take depends therefore entirely an what political system prevails in the future. I think that the opinion of a great many Christian inhabitants of Koritza may be characterised by the unsophisticated utterance of a man in that town. He spoke Albanian in his home like the rest of the inhabitants but had at the time of the Greek occupation demonstrated in favour of Greece. He now said, not directly to me, but to a friend in whom he had full confidence: ‘Most of us want an Albania, but we want a good Albania; if we cannot get a good one, we prefer Greece.’
It is only by creating an enlightened Albania with institutions and an administration in no way inferior to those of the neighbouring States that it will be possible to win the hearts of the Christians of the southern provinces to a full allegiance to Albania. Repressive measures will only alienate them. For instance, at present the people are not allowed to emigrate to America or elsewhere, but such a restriction can hardly be upheld, nor is it compatible with the principle of full freedom for the minorities.
It is difficult to believe that the Mohammedan population of the south, more educated and tolerant than elsewhere, will make any opposition to such an era of reforms.
It would no doubt be an advantage if the inhabitants of the southern provinces were granted a certain measure of control of their local affairs. It would certainly be possible to find in Southern Albania the political forces necessary for the exercise of such a local administration, and every measure which would make the inhabitants of the southern provinces more satisfied would also draw them nearer to the rest of the country. It would also be of great importance to unite the southern provinces with the rest of the country through the creation of better communications. There is at present no good road connecting Tirana and Durazzo with Valona, and the road which leads eastward from Valona is a military road, built by the Italian Government, and not suitable for traffic with motor lorries. Between Koritza and Central Albania there are no direct communications fit for the transport of heavy goods.
The programme to build a network of good roads throughout all Albania will for a long time remain more or less a project, as there is no money available for such expensive construction, and it would not be possible to pay interest on the sums expended, by levying tolls or by any similar measures. In particular the road planned to go through the Devoll valley would be technically very difficult and extremely expensive to build. It seems as if the only project which has any hope of being realised in the near future would be to construct a Decauville railroad from Durazzo to Elbassan and further along the Shkumbi valley to Lin and Lake Ochrida, and thence to Koritza. Great portions of this railroad already exist, and its completion would only cost a fraction of that of a broad road for heavy traffic.
By the means of such a Decauville railroad it would be possible to transport goods from Durazzo to Koritza, and the commerce of Koritza would probably be directed partly to the Adriatic and Italy.
Koritza, with its resources in coal, faience clay, and other minerals, and with its laborious and enterprising population, could easily become an industrial centre. There is plenty of water-power in its neighbourhood, and fish in Lake Ochrida, and the possibility of drying up Lake Malik would give food to an increased population. The business men of Koritza would have plenty of opportunities in a really progressive Albania.
The administrative reforms in question are partly already on the programme of the present Government. But it is extremely important that they be carried out speedily. Everything which can contribute to the unity of Albania is of vital importance. The contribution in money, in blood and in enthusiasm of the people in the south has played a great part in the creation of modern Albania, and the future of the country depends on the carrying out of a policy uniting all the different sections of the people.
The two elements of the population seem to hold each other in balance as to religion; the Albanian language, however, is the mother-tongue of more than 80% of the population, a circumstance which adds much to the force of the claim of Albanian nationalism. Everything, however, which would give a strong political preponderance to one or the other element of the population is to be strongly deprecated.
It seems to me certain that no revolutionary movement is now being prepared within Southern Albania. The Christian population is pacific, and its feelings for Greece are not those of an irredenta, but only those for a country which has been the source of their culture and the enemy of the hated Turkish regime. The discontent existing is in great part due to economic causes.
If insurrectional movements should begin, they could only be started from the other side of the frontier, where certainly organisations of ‘pan-Epirotes’ exist, who have openly declared their intention to conquer ‘Northern Epirus’ for Greece. It must be assumed that the Greek Government would hinder all such intentions by forbidding their organisations and by preventing their procuring arms. This is, of course, the duty, under the recognised principles of international law, of any Government in similar circumstances.
The deduction to be made from the statistics which I have given, and which I believe to be roughly accurate, is that the decision taken by the Powers in fixing the southern frontiers of Albania was on the whole a just and wise one. It reinforces the conviction that the existence of an independent Albania is a necessity to the peace of that part of Europe and that an independent Albania is only possible if the Southern provinces are included.
In order that this situation may remain permanent, the reforms indicated in this report are of primary importance, and it is comforting to be able to conclude this report by stating that they form part of the programme of the present government of Albania.
The sooner and the more completely they are carried out the sooner will the anxieties of friends of Albania be put to rest.
J. J. Sederholm
[League of Nations. Report of the Commission of Enquiry in Albania on its Activities from December 19th, 1922, to February 1st, 1923. The Enquiry in Southern Albania. April 6th, 1923. in: League of Nations, Official Journal, Geneva, May 1923, p. 491-502.]