Definitions

Albanian League

League of Prizren

The League of Prizren (Lidhja e Prizrenit) was an Albanian political organization founded on June 10, 1878 in Prizren, Vilayet of Kosovo, Ottoman Empire. It aimed at defending the Albanian-inhabited lands from being annexed by Slavic countries in the Balkans and sought autonomy for Albania under the Ottoman Empire.

Founding of the League

The history of the League of Prizren begins with the 19th century Treaty of San Stefano when Sultan Abdul Hamid pushed the Albanian and Bosnian Muslims to defend their borders from the possible Slavic invasion. It was originally Albanian organization, but was later turned into a pan-Albanian league by Albanian nationalists and supported the rights of the Albanians disregarding religious affiliation.

The rise of the League

The 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War dealt a decisive blow to Ottoman power in the Balkan Peninsula, leaving the empire with only a precarious hold on Macedonia and the Albanian-populated lands. The Albanians' fear that the lands they inhabited would be partitioned among Montenegro, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece fueled the rise of resistance. The first postwar treaty, the abortive Treaty of San Stefano signed on March 3, 1878, assigned Albanian-populated lands to Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. Austria-Hungary and the United Kingdom blocked the arrangement because it awarded Russia a predominant position in the Balkans and thereby upset the European balance of power. A peace conference to settle the dispute was held later in the year in Berlin.

The Treaty of San Stefano triggered profound anxiety among the Albanians and Bosnians meanwhile, and it spurred their leaders to organize a defense of the lands they inhabited. In the spring of 1878, influential Albanians in Constantinople--including Abdyl Frashëri, the Albanian national movement's leading figure during its early years--organized a committee to direct the Albanians' resistance. In May the group called for a general meeting of representatives from all the Albanian-populated lands. On June 10, 1878, about eighty delegates, mostly Muslim religious leaders, clan chiefs, and other influential people from the four Ottoman vilayets, met in the Kosovo city of Prizren. The delegates set up a standing organization, the League of Prizren, under the direction of a central committee that had the power to impose taxes and raise an army.

At first the Ottoman authorities supported the League of Prizren, but the Sublime Porte pressed the delegates to declare themselves to be first and foremost Ottomans rather than Albanians. Some delegates supported this position and advocated emphasizing Muslim solidarity and the defense of Muslim lands, including present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other representatives, under Frasheri's leadership, focused on working toward Albanian autonomy and creating a sense of Albanian identity that would cut across religious and tribal lines.

The Congress of Berlin ignored the league's memorandum, and Germany's Otto von Bismarck even proclaimed that an Albanian nation did not exist - later he declared he had made a mistake proclaiming Albania was 'just a geographic notion'. The congress ceded to Montenegro the cities of Bar and Podgorica and areas around the mountain villages of Gusinje and Plav, which Albanian leaders considered Albanian territory. Serbia also won Albanian-inhabited lands. The Albanians, the vast majority loyal to the empire, vehemently opposed the territorial losses. Albanians also feared the possible loss of Epirus to Greece. The League of Prizren organized armed resistance efforts in Gucia, Plava, Shkodër, Prizren, Prevesa, and Janina. A border tribesman at the time described the frontier as "floating on blood".

In August 1878, the Congress of Berlin ordered a commission to trace a border between the Ottoman Empire and Montenegro. The congress also directed Greece and the Ottoman Empire to negotiate a solution to their border dispute. The Albanians' successful resistance to the treaty forced the Great Powers to return Guci and Plav to the Ottoman Empire and grant Montenegro the mostly Albanian-populated coastal town of Ulcinj. But the Albanians there refused to surrender. Finally, the Great Powers blockaded Ulcinj by sea and pressured the Ottoman authorities to bring the Albanians under control. The Great Powers decided in 1881 to cede Greece Thessaly and the district of Arta.

Faced with growing international pressure "to pacify" the refractory Albanians, the sultan dispatched a large army under Dervish Turgut Pasha to suppress the League of Prizren and deliver Ulcinj to Montenegro. Albanians loyal to the empire supported the Sublime Porte's military intervention. In April 1881, Dervish Pasha's 10,000 men captured Prizren and later crushed the resistance at Ulcinj. The League of Prizren's leaders and their families were arrested and deported. Frasheri, who originally received a death sentence, was imprisoned until 1885 and exiled until his death seven years later. In the three years it survived, the League of Prizren effectively made the Great Powers aware of the Albanian people and their national interests. Montenegro and Greece received much less Albanian-populated territory than they would have won without the league's resistance.

Formidable barriers frustrated Albanian leaders' efforts to instill in their people an Albanian rather than an Ottoman identity. Divided into four vilayets, Albanians had no common geographical or political nerve center. The Albanians' religious differences forced nationalist leaders to give the national movement a purely secular character that alienated religious leaders. The most significant factor uniting the Albanians, their spoken language, lacked a standard literary form and even a standard alphabet. Each of the three available choices, the Latin, Cyrillic, and Arabic scripts, implied different political and religious orientations opposed by one or another element of the population. In 1878 there were no Albanian-language schools in the most developed of the Albanian-inhabited areas-- Gjirokastër, Berat, and Vlorë--where schools conducted classes either in Turkish or in Greek.

Albanian intellectuals in the late nineteenth century began devising a single, standard Albanian literary language and making demands that it be used in schools. In Constantinople in 1879, Sami Frasheri founded a cultural and educational organization, the Society for the Printing of Albanian Writings, whose membership comprised Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox Albanians. Naim Frasheri, the most-renowned Albanian poet, joined the society and wrote and edited textbooks. Albanian émigrés in Bulgaria, Egypt, Italy, Romania, and the United States supported the society's work. The Greeks, who dominated the education of Orthodox Albanians, joined the Turks in suppressing the Albanians' culture, especially Albanian-language education. In 1886 the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople threatened to excommunicate anyone found reading or writing Albanian, and priests taught that God would not understand prayers uttered in Albanian.

The Ottoman Empire continued to crumble after the Congress of Berlin. The empire's financial troubles prevented Sultan Abdül Hamid II from reforming his military, and he resorted to repression to maintain order. The authorities strove without success to control the political situation in the empire's Albanian-populated lands, arresting suspected nationalist activists. When the sultan refused Albanian demands for unification of the four Albanian-populated vilayets, Albanian leaders reorganized the League of Prizren and incited uprisings that brought the Albanian-populated lands, especially Kosovo, to near anarchy. The imperial authorities again disbanded the League of Prizren in 1897, executed its president in 1902, and banned Albanian-language books and correspondence. In Macedonia, where Bulgarian-, Greek-, and Serbian-backed terrorists were fighting Ottoman authorities and one another for control, Muslim Albanians suffered attacks, and Albanian guerrilla groups retaliated. In 1906 Albanian leaders meeting in Bitola established the secret Committee for the Liberation of Albania. A year later, Albanian guerrillas assassinated Korçë's Greek Orthodox metropolitan.

In 1906 opposition groups in the Ottoman Empire emerged, one of which evolved into the Committee of Union and Progress, more commonly known as the Young Turks, which proposed restoring constitutional government in Constantinople, by revolution if necessary. In July 1908, a month after a Young Turk rebellion in Macedonia supported by an Albanian uprising in Kosovo and Macedonia escalated into widespread insurrection and mutiny within the imperial army, Sultan Abdül Hamid II agreed to demands by the Young Turks to restore constitutional rule. Many Albanians participated in the Young Turks uprising, hoping that it would gain their people autonomy within the empire. The Young Turks lifted the Ottoman ban on Albanian-language schools and on writing the Albanian language. As a consequence, Albanian intellectuals meeting in Bitola in 1908 chose the Latin alphabet as a standard script. The Young Turks, however, were set on maintaining the empire and not interested in making concessions to the myriad nationalist groups within its borders. After securing the abdication of Abdül Hamid II in April 1909, the new authorities levied taxes, outlawed guerrilla groups and nationalist societies, and attempted to extend Constantinople's control over the northern Albanian mountainmen. In addition, the Young Turks legalized the bastinado, or beating with a stick, even for misdemeanors, banned carrying rifles, and denied the existence of an Albanian nationality. The new government also appealed for Islamic solidarity to break the Albanians' unity and used the Muslim clergy to try to impose the Arabic alphabet.

The Albanians refused to submit to the Young Turks' campaign to "Ottomanize" them by force. New Albanian uprisings began in Kosovo and the northern mountains in early April 1910. Ottoman forces quashed these rebellions after three months, outlawed Albanian organizations, disarmed entire regions, and closed down schools and publications. Montenegro, preparing to grab Albanian-populated lands for itself, supported a 1911 uprising by the mountain tribes against the Young Turks regime that grew into a widespread revolt. Unable to control the Albanians by force, the Ottoman government granted concessions on schools, military recruitment, and taxation and sanctioned the use of the Latin script for the Albanian language. The government refused, however, to unite the four Albanian-inhabited vilayets.

Historical timeline relating to the League of Prizren

The following is a snippet of a timeline of Albanian history to 1993:

1877-78

Treaty of San Stefano, signed after Russo-Turkish War, assigned Albanian-populated lands to Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia; but Austria-Hungary and Britain block the treaty's implementation. Albanian leaders meet in Prizren, Kosovo, to form the League of Prizren. The League initially advocated autonomy for Albania. At the Congress of Berlin, the Great Powers overturn the Treaty of San Stefano and divide Albanian lands among several states. The League of Prizren begins to organize resistance to the Treaty of Berlin's provisions that affect Albanians.

1881

Ottoman forces crush Albanian resistance fighters at Prizren. The League's leaders and families are arrested and deported.

1897

Ottoman authorities disband a reactivated League of Prizren, execute its leader and ban Albanian language books.

1908

Albanian intellectuals meet in Manastir (Bitolja, Macedonia), at the Congress of Manastir to standardize the Albanian alphabet using the Latin script. Up to now, Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic script had been used.

1912

May. Albanians rise against the Ottoman authorities and seize Shkup (Skopje, Macedonia). October. Serbia and Montenegro invade Albanian territories an start massacring their inhabitants. The First Balkan War has begun, and Albanian leaders affirm Albania as an independent state. November. Albanian delegates at Vlora declare the independence of Albania and establish a provisional government. December. Ambassadorial conference opens in London and discusses Albania's fate.

1913

May. Treaty of London ends First Balkan War, the Second Balkan War begins. November. Treaty of Bucharest ends Second Balkan War. Great Powers recognize an independent Albanian state. Demographics are ignored, however, and half of the territories inhabited by Albanians (such as Kosovo and Chameria) are divided among Montenegro, Serbia and Greece. Also was divide a Toplica region in the northern side of today's Kosovo, and today Jabanica district in Serbia including Medvegja municipality Bujanovac municipality and Preseva municipality.

The League of Prizren was among the most obvious Albanian reactions to the dramatic withdrawal of the Albanians' imperial patrons, the Ottoman Empire, after almost four centuries of dominance in the Balkans. In contrast with their predominantly Orthodox Christian neighbours, Serbs, Greeks, and Bulgars, the Albanian population pursued a policy of collaboration with the Ottoman Empire. The aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war of 1878 produced the Treaty of San Stefano, which recognised the independence and/or territorial claims of Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878. Albanian leaders from Peć, Đakovica, Gusinje, Luma, and from Debar and Tetovo met in present-day Republic of Macedonia to discuss the development of what would only later be regarded as a national platform. The group of proto-nationalists received all manner of material and financial support from the Ottoman Empire, which was faced with the realities of having to withdraw yet again from its occupied territories in the Balkans. The League of Prizren received funding, the highest quality weaponry, and diplomatic support from the Porte, which established the Central Committee for Defending Albanian Rights in Constantinople in 1877. The Committee's members were Ali Ibra, Zija Prishtina, Sami Frasheri, Jani Vreto, Pashko Vaso, and Abdyl Frashëri, and its manifesto is contained within the Kanararname, or 'Book of Decisions, the statue of the League. In Article 1 of this document, these Albanian leaders restated their intention to preserve and maintain the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans by supporting the Turkish Sultan, Islamic Shariah law, and "to struggle in arms to defend the wholeness of the territories".

Article 6 of the same document restates the hostility of Albanians, as Ottoman loyalists, to the independence of both Bulgaria and Serbia. "We should not allow foreign armies to tread on our land. We should not recognize Bulgaria's name. If Serbia does not leave peacefully the illegally occupied countries, we should send bashibazouks (akindjias) and strive until the end to liberate these regions, including Montenegro." From the four Ottoman vilayets of Kosovo, Scutari, Janjevo, and Bitola or Bitolj, they requested the formation of a united Albanian vilayet.

The San Stefano treaty was later superseded by the Treaty of Berlin at the insistence of Austria-Hungary and Britain. This latter Treaty, however, recognized the rival claims of other nations in the region over those of the Greater Albania nationalists.

In July 1878, the 60 member board of the League of Prizren, led by Abdyl Bey Frashëri, sent a letter to the Great Powers at the Congress of Berlin, asking for the settling of the Albanian issues resulting from the Turkish War. The memorandum was ignored by the congress, which recognised the competing claims of Serbia and Bulgaria to territories surrendered by the Ottoman Empire, and over those of Albanians. The League of Prizren feared that Albanians would not win their claims to Epirus to Greece, and organized an armed resistance in Guci (Gusinje), Shkodër, Prizren, and Janina.

Failing to win their claims on a diplomatic level, Albanians embarked on the route of military conflict with their Balkan neighbours. Possessing a huge advantage with donated Turkish arms, Albanian military efforts were successful in wresting control of northern Epirus, however some lands were still ceded to Greece by 1881.

The Prizren League had 16,000 armed members under its control, who launched a revolution against the Ottoman Empire after the debacle at the Congress of Berlin and the official dissolvement of the League ordered by the Ottomans who feared the League would seek total independence from the empire. The Albanian fighters were able to kill Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Turkish emissary, in Đakovica in August, 1878. The League took over control from the Turks in the Kosovo towns of Vučitrn, Peć, Kosovska Mitrovica, Prizren, and Đakovica. Guided by the autonomous movement, the League rejected Turkish authority and sought complete secession from Turkey. The Ottoman Empire sought to suppress the League and they dispatched an army led by Turkish commander Dervish Pasha, that by April 1881 had captured Prizren and crushed the resistance at Ulcinj. The leaders of the league and their families were either killed or arrested and deported.

While it was active, the league managed to bring Albanian national interests before the Great Powers and paved the way for the League of Peja, which had greater foreign support from both Italy and the Austria-Hungarian Empire, and the Second League of Prizren.

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References

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