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Profile: Ottoman Empire

a.k.a. Ottomans

Ottoman Empire was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Central Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nationality is created in the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, and demands the creation of a single, autonomous Albanian administrative unit. The Albanian population is currently split into four units. (Kola 2003, pp. 9)

At a congress in Berlin, the Western powers divide the Balkans in the aftermath of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russia that January. Under the Treaty of San Stefano, signed that March, Bulgaria received territory as far west as central Albania and Serbia took the northern part of Kosova. Western countries refuse to accept this settlement, and instead return Kosova and Macedonia to the Ottomans, Serbia gets only the area north of Nis, and Bulgaria’s territory also shrinks. Montenegro gets northern parts of the future Albania, including Peja, Ulqin, Pllava, Guci, Hot, Gruda, Tivar, Vermosh, Kelmend, Kraja, and Anamal, which had been part of Kosova under the Ottomans. This division angers Albanian leaders and sows hostility between Albanians and Serbs. According to Albanian scholar and diplomat Paulin Kola, Albanian anger comes from the way the congress exposes its powerlessness and divides the Balkans without concern for the ethnicity of its inhabitants. The settlement also sparks ethnic cleansing. According to Kola, up to 50,000 Albanians are expelled from Kosova, as government policy. Serbs are also expelled, but this is localized. Kola will come to believe fewer were expelled than the Serbian academic figure of 150,000, which is about the total Serb population of Kosova at this time. (Kola 2003, pp. 8-9)

A convention of the League of Prizren, meeting in Diber, votes to demand autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. The League formed on June 10, 1878, along with defense committees responding to the Berlin Congress, which had divided the Albanian population among different countries. The demands include the creation of an administrative unit encompassing all Albanian areas, with a centrally located capital, local administrators and Albanian as the language of government, the use of local taxes for local needs, the creation of schools, and the creation of an elected legislature. These demands will later be approved by an assembly in the city of Gjirokastra on July 23, 1880. (Kola 2003, pp. 9)

An Albanian government is declared under Omer Prizreni at Prizren. This comes about because the Ottomans refuse to grant Albanian autonomy, so the League of Prizren forms a parallel government and removes Ottoman officials. Earlier, the Ottomans had considered creating an Albanian unit, including Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, and Bulgarian areas, as a counterweight to Slavic demands. After the declaration, the Ottoman military restores control and the League’s leader Abdyl Frasheri is arrested in Elbasan and taken to Prizren in shackles. He will be sentenced to death, but, after three years of imprisonment there, he will be moved to Anatolia. However, he will also be elected to the Ottoman parliament. This mirrors the sentences given to other Albanian leaders. (Kola 2003, pp. 9-10)

A series of Albanian revolts between 1908 and 1912 ends when the Ottoman government accepts the Albanians’ 14 demands for autonomy. Albanian Ottoman legislator Hasan Prishtina leads the autonomy movement. The Albanian leadership, especially in northern Albania and Kosova, earlier supported the Young Turk movement, but this resulted in less autonomy, more taxes, and continuing military conscription, so Albanians revolted. Neighboring Slavic governments see the Ottoman concession as a sign of weakness, and subsequently invade the Ottoman Empire. (Kola 2003, pp. 10-11)

An alliance of the countries of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro, later to include Greece, demands that the Ottomans immediately grant autonomy to Christians. Serbia then invades Kosova and crosses northern Albania to the coast, Montenegro invades the same region, and Bulgaria invades Macedonia and part of eastern Albania. According to author Paulin Kola, the war is based on a policy called Nacertanije (meaning “draft”), created in the mid-1800s by Serbian foreign minister Ilija Garasanin. Nacertanije advocates annexing Kosova and northern Albania to Greater Serbia, connecting Serbia to the Adriatic. A Serb soldier describes a speech by his commander once they reached Kosova: “‘Brothers, my children, my sons!’ His voice breaks. ‘This place on which we stand is the graveyard of our glory. We bow to the shadows of fallen ancestors and pray God for the salvation of their souls.’ His voice gives out and tears steam down his cheeks and gray beard and fall to the ground. He actually shakes from some kind on inner pain and excitement.… We are the generation which will realize the centuries-old dream of the whole nation: that we with the sword will regain the freedom that was lost with the sword.” The war results in a heavy toll among Kosovar civilians. About 25,000 Albanians are killed, and only three survive the war in the town of Ferizaj. Subsequently, an international commission established by the Carnegie Endowment will say in 1914 that the civilian toll was an intentional policy. Before the war, Serbia denied that Albanians could be independent and dehumanized them, according to Kola. Former Prime Minister Vladan Djordjevic said Albanians were thin, short, and that their Roma and Phoenician traits made him think of primates who slept hanging in trees. After occupation, there are cases of Muslims being forced to convert to Orthodox Christianity, and in one case 500 Albanians are shot for their refusal. (Kola 2003, pp. 11-12)

In the city of Vlora, Albanian aristocrats led by Ismail Qemali, a member of the Ottoman legislature, declare Albania independent and establish a provisional government. (Kola 2003, pp. 13)

Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Ottomans sign a peace treaty to end the 1912 Balkan war, allowing the six major powers of Europe to decide Albania’s status. Proposals were discussed months earlier. In December 1912 a conference of ambassadors headed by UK Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey met in London. They decided to create an autonomous Albania still connected to the Ottomans, but then Macedonia was captured, cutting Albania off from the Ottoman Empire. (Kola 2003, pp. 13)


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