The four Ottoman vilayets clearly divided (The Vilayet of İşkodra, Yannina, Monastir and Kosovo as proposed by the League of Prizren for full autonomy).
|Formation||10 June 1878|
|Founder||44 Albanian beys|
The League of Prizren (Albanian: Besëlidhja e Prizrenit), officially the League for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation (Albanian: Lidhja për mbrojtjen e të drejtave te kombit Shqiptar), was an Albanian political organization officially founded on June 10, 1878 in the old town of Prizren, in the Kosova Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire.
The treaties of San Stefano and Berlin, both assigned areas that were also inhabited by Albanians to other states. The inability of the Porte to protect the interests of a region that was 70 percent Muslim and largely loyal forced the Albanian leaders not only to organize their defense, but also to consider creation of an autonomous administration, like those Serbia and the other Danubian Principalities had enjoyed before their independence.
The league was established at the meeting of 47 Ottoman beys. An initial position of the league was presented in the document known as Kararname. With this document Albanian leaders emphasized their intention to preserve and maintain the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans by supporting the porte, and "to struggle in arms to defend the wholeness of the territories of Albania". Although it said nothing about the reforms, schools, autonomy or about the union of the Albanian population within one vilayet, under influence of Abdyl Frashëri, this initial position has changed radically and resulted in demands of autonomy of Albanians and open war against the Ottoman Empire.
The 1877–78 Russo-Turkish War dealt a decisive blow to Ottoman power in the Balkan Peninsula, leaving the empire with only a precarious hold on Albania and eastern Balkans. 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 3 March 1878, assigned areas claimed by the League of Prizren 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 overall situation influenced Albanians to organize themselves as the Local Counsels for National Salvation with aim to protect the Albanian populated lands. By the end of 1877 the issue of defending territorial integrity became difficult. On 13 December 1877, Serbs declared war on Ottoman Empire, as did Montenegro. Both were supported by the Russian Army and spread their attacks on the northern parts of Albania. Albanians were unable to defend several regions and cities in the northeast and northwest of Albania. Upon occupation of these lands, the Ottoman administrators (of mainly Albanian origin) fled the freed territories and/or were expelled. During the Russo-Turkish war, the incoming Serb army expelled most of the Muslim Albanian population from the Toplica and Niš regions into Kosovo triggering the emergence of what became the League of Prizren (1878–1881) as a response to the Great Eastern Crisis.
Influenced by these events the Local Councils for National Salvation merged into a single coordination body. Albanians, on December 12, 1877 established in Istanbul the Central Committee for the Defense of Rights of the Albanian Nation. The Treaty of San Stefano triggered profound anxiety among the Albanians and Bosniaks, and it spurred their leaders to organize a defense of the lands they inhabited. In the spring of 1877, 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 areas where Albanian communities existed during that time. The Committee's members were Ali Ibra, Zija Prishtina, Sami Frashëri, Jani Vreto, Pashko Vasa, Baca Kurti Gjokaj and Abdyl Frashëri.
Meeting in Prizren
|“||We wholeheartedly wish to live in peace with all our neighbours, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria... We do not want and do not ask anything of them, but we are all determined to protect that which is ours.||”|
|— Excerpt from the League of Prizren's platform, 1878, |
The League of Prizren was created by a group of Albanian intellectuals to resist partition among neighbouring Balkan states and to assert an Albanian national consciousness by uniting Albanians into a unitary linguistic and cultural nation. During the meeting in Prizren a kararname was signed by 47 beys in June 18, 1878. The document represented an initial position, mainly supported by landlords and individuals related to the Ottoman administration. 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 Porte and "to struggle in arms to defend the wholeness of the territories of Albania". Article 6 of the same document restated 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."
On the first meeting of the league the decision memorandum (kararname) said nothing about reforms, schools, autonomy or the union of the Albanian population within one vilayet. It was not an appeal for Albanian independence, or even autonomy within Ottoman Empire but, as proposed by Pashko Vasa, simply the unification of all claimed territory within one vilayet. The participants wanted to return to the status quo before the start of Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. The main aim was to defend from immediate dangers. Soon that position changed radically and resulted in demands of autonomy and open war against the Ottoman Empire as formulated by Abdyl Frashëri.
|“||Just as we are not and do not want to be Turks, so we shall oppose with all our might anyone who would like to turn us into Slavs or Austrians or Greeks, we want to be Albanians.||”|
|— Excerpt from the League of Prizren memorandum to the British delegation at the Berlin Congress, 1878, |
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 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 over those of the Albanians. The League of Prizren feared that Albanians would not win in their claims to Epirus over Greece, and organized an armed resistance in Gusinje, Shkodra, Prizren, and Yanina. 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 Albanians.
The Congress of Berlin ignored the memorandum from the league with German chancellor Otto von Bismarck even proclaiming that an Albanian nation did not exist and that Albania was 'just a geographic notion'. Bismarck showed his disdain for excessive involvement in Balkan affairs, saying "The whole Balkan is not worth the healthy bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.". The congress ceded to Montenegro the cities of Bar and Podgorica and areas around the mountain towns of Gusinje and Plav, which Albanian leaders considered Albanian territory. Serbia also gained some territory which included also ethnic Albanians. The latter, the vast majority of them 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 Gusinje, Plav, Shkodra, Prizren, Preveza, and Janina. A border tribesman at the time described the frontier as "floating on blood."
On 10 June 1878, about eighty delegates, mostly Muslim religious leaders, clan chiefs, and other influential people from the Ottoman vilayets of Kosovo, Monastir and Yanina, met in the city of Prizren, (Kosova then Ottoman Empire). Around 300 Muslims participated on the assembly, including delegates from Bosnia and the mutasarrif (administrator of sanjak) of Prizren as representative of the central authorities, and no delegates from Scutari Vilayet. 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. The league of Prizren consisted of two branches: the Prizren and the southern branch. The Prizren branch was led by Iljas Dibra and it had representatives from the areas of Kırçova (Kicevo), Kalkandelen (Tetovo), Priştine (Pristina), Mitroviça (Kosovska Mitrovica), Vıçıt��rın (Vucitrn), Üsküp (Skopje), Gilan (Gnjilane), Manastır (Bitola), Debre (Debar) and Gostivar. The southern branch, led by Abdyl Frashëri consisted of sixteen representatives from the areas of Kolonjë, Korçë, Arta, Berat, Parga, Gjirokastër, Përmet, Paramythia, Filiates, Margariti, Vlorë, Tepelenë and Delvinë. In these regions the movement was primarily Muslim, due to the fact that most of the Orthodox population was under Greek influence. On the other hand, in the northern regions both Muslim and Catholic populations supported the objectives of the League of Prizren.
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 led by Sheikh Mustafa Ruhi Efendi of Kalkandelen, supported this position and advocated emphasizing Muslim solidarity and the defense of Muslim lands, including present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. This initial position of the league, based on the religious solidarity of the landlords and the people connected with the Ottoman administration and the religious authorities, was reason for naming the league The Committee of the Real Muslims (Albanian: Komiteti i Myslimanëve të Vërtetë). Other representatives, under Frashëri's leadership, focused on working toward Albanian autonomy and creating a sense of Albanian identity that would cut across religious and tribal lines. The Ottoman state briefly supported the league's claims viewing Albanian nationalism as possibly preventing further territorial losses to newly independent Balkan states.
The Prizren League had 30,000 armed members under its control, who launched a revolution against the Ottoman Empire after the debacle at the Congress of Berlin and the official dissolution of the League ordered by the Ottomans who feared the League would seek total independence from the empire. The first military operation of the league was the attack against Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Ottoman marshal who would oversee the transfer of Plav-Gucia area to Montenegro. On 4 December 1879 members of the league participated in the Battle of Novšiće and defeated Montenegrin forces who tried to take control over Plav and Gusinje. After the breakout of open war the League took over control from the Ottomans in the Kosovo towns of Vučitrn, Peć, Kosovska Mitrovica, Prizren, and Gjakova. Guided by the autonomous movement, the League rejected Ottoman authority and sought complete secession from the Porte. The Ottoman Empire sought to suppress the League and they dispatched an army led by Ottoman 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.
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 Gusinje and Plav to the Ottoman Empire and grant Montenegro the mostly Albanian-populated coastal town of Ulcinj. There the Albanians refused to surrender. Finally, the Great Powers blockaded Ulcinj by sea and pressured the Ottoman authorities to bring the Albanians under control. Albanian diplomatic and military efforts were successful in wresting control of Epirus, however some lands were still ceded to Greece by 1881. The Great Powers decided in 1881 to cede Greece Thessaly and the district of Arta.
End of the league
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 who were 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. Frashëri, who originally received a death sentence, was imprisoned until 1885 and exiled until his death seven years later.
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 areas claimed by the League, Gjirokastër, Berat, and Vlorë—where schools conducted classes either in Turkish or in Greek.
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. 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, Gjakova, Gusinje, Luma, and from Debar and Tetovo met in Vardar 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 Ottoman Empire continued to crumble after the Congress of Berlin and Sultan Abdül Hamid II 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 region, especially Kosovo, to near anarchy. During the twenty five years that followed the abolition of the League the various uprisings were local in character and occurred mostly in the northern regions and especially in the Vilayet of Kosovo. The imperial authorities disbanded a successor organisation Besa-Besë (League of Peja) founded in 1897, executed its president Haxhi Zeka in 1902, and banned Albanian-language books and correspondence. In Macedonia, where Bulgarian-, Greek-, and Serbian-backed guerrillas were fighting Ottoman authorities and one another for control, Muslim Albanians suffered attacks, and Albanian guerrilla groups retaliated. In 1905 Albanian leaders meeting in Bitola established the secret Committee for the Liberation of Albania.
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.
Despite the final failure, the League of Prizren had accomplished a great deal. Both Montenegro and Greece had received less Albanian claimed territory than what they would have otherwise received without the organized protest. This was the first step toward a national organization.
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