Area 5: Albania/Balkans 1878-1913

  1. Map of the Balkans. (Source: Beekman & Schuiling, School Atlas of the Whole World, ± 1900 Steegh/Teunissen (S/T) Collection, Leiden)
  2. League of Prizren, painting (via Albanian Embassy in the Netherlands)
  3. List of Decisions of the Congress of Monastir (via the Albanian Embassy)
  4. Armed Mirdites, Northern Albania (S/T Collection, Leiden)
  5. The rulers of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece threaten Turkey in Europe (S/T Collection, Leiden)
  6. Muslim refugees in Macedonia (A. Kahn Museum, Paris)
  7. Muslim refugees in Macedonia (A. Kahn Museum, Paris)

In 1878, the Turco-Russian War threatened the existence of European Turkey. In March of that year, the Treaty of San Stefano saw the creation of Greater Bulgaria, including Thrace and Macedonia. Serbia was given the district of Pristina and Montenegro was given the territory as far as Djakova in Kosovo. In the meantime, Greece had invaded the Ottoman province of Janina (Epirus Region). In order to limit Russian influence in the Balkans, and under pressure from the United Kingdom and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a new treaty was concluded in Berlin under the leadership of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The Treaty of Berlin returned Kosovo, Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace to the Ottoman Empire and divided the remainder of Bulgaria into two parts (A). Several days before the Congress of Berlin, approximately 300 Albanian nationalists gathered in the Kosovar city of Prizren. The League of Prizren that resulted stated: “Just as we are not Turks, nor do we wish to be, so also shall we resist with all our strength anyone who would make of us Slavs, Austrians or Greeks; we wish to be Albanians” (B).

The League’s programme inspired Albanian magazines and schools. When the revolt in 1908 brought the Young Turks to power in Istanbul, their programme of centralisation and Turkification conflicted with the Albanian desire for autonomy. The struggle concentrated on the alphabet. The Young Turks insisted on the use of the traditional Arabic script, but, in 1909, Albanian nationalists elected to use to the Latin alphabet (C). That would allow Christians and Muslims to develop a common heritage and distinguish them from the Slavic and Greek writing style of their neighbouring countries. The Ottoman government reacted by closing Albanian newspapers, national clubs and the few Albanian schools that there were. In 1910, it led to a revolt around Priština (Kosovo) which was bloodily suppressed. A year later, the Roman Catholic Mirdit tribe took up arms against Turkish domination (D).

When the rulers of Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece made secret alliances in 1912 to bring the remaining Turkish rule in the Balkans to an end (E), the First Balkan War broke out in October of that year. The Ottoman armies in Macedonia were overrun. With the Treaty of London, the Sultan lost virtually all of his territory in Europe except for a strip of land near the capital of Istanbul. The victors did everything possible to erase all traces of the ‘Ottoman yoke’. Muslim Albanians were the primary victims of executions and expulsions, but ‘ethnic cleansing’ took place elsewhere as well (F). The demand from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy that there should be an independent Albania reinforced the differences concerning the division of the conquered territories. That led to the Second Balkan War of 1913, in which everyone turned against Bulgaria.