Sunday, March 27, 2011
Albanians Ready to Celebrate 100 years Since the 1911 Uprising in Malesia
The 1911 Insurrection of Malësia e Madhe (Great Mountains) is one of the most important events in the history of the Albanians, and particularly, the most distinguishing moment of the National Renaissance in the region of Shkodra. The causes of this insurrection lie on the drastic and unpredictable activity of the Young Turks in Albania, an activity that resulted in a general turmoil and a revolutionary movement in the country. Pan-Islamic inclinations and the anti-catholic propaganda of the Turkish invaders, as well as the insincere attitude of Shkodra Vilayet's authority to the 1910 Agreement urged highlanders to begin an insurrection of a national character and to enter a sort of alliance with Montenegro.
The insurrection broke out under the conditions of the successive violations of region's self-governing status by the government of the Young Turks. It was provoked by the laws passed by the new regime that claimed to loyally implement the old fiscal policy on the extremely impoverished population, impose new heavy taxes upon people, forcefully recruit Albanians for the Turkish army, continue the process of the entire population disarmament, extend its absolute power all over Albania, even over those regions that had always enjoyed certain privileges. Such an effort produced a dismal situation among the Albanian population of Malësia Madhe, especially on the level of political-cultural and socio-economic rights. Actually, that situation was a component part of the entire situation created in the Albanian Vilayet on the occasion of the levelling Islam policy undertaken by the new ottoman government. However, the situation was extremely tense in this region since violence and discrimination were being practised upon the existence of some pre-determined rights of economic, social, cultural-religious character won by the Upper-Shkodra highland population centuries before. The process of obligatory Ottoman convertibility meant a further deepening of the subdued national-cultural status of the Albanian highlander, whereas the extinction of the pre-determined rights directly brought about the extreme worsening of the social and economic situation of Shkodra mountainous region. Furthermore, weapon delivery for the Albanian, for the highlander in particular, had a special indication. Albanian highlander disarmament indicated declaration of their subordination to their century-old enemy. Keeping weapons without being submitted to government control or limitations was some very old privilege of the Albanian population in some Albanian mountainous regions. The resistance of the Albanians to weapon delivery was a testimony of the fact that the weapon represented something more than a simple defence instrument. Weapon collection by the authorities comprised an individual insult. The weapon symbolized a wide complex system of guarantees for the rights of the Albanian individual whom the actual laws of the empire did not protect, a system that defended and respected the honour of the Albanians threatened in different ways by the internal and external enemies. That was the reason why they were not willing to make concessions. However, weapon collection, exemption from tax-pay and the military service comprised secondary casual causes of this revolution. The main cause of the 1911 Albanian uprising should be sought in the core of all general, political, economic and social developments, in the moral crisis, formerly disguised but suddenly thrown into relief by the renovating political process that swept the Empire, in a sort of freedom of speech that unexpectedly accompanied this process, in the deep displacement of the economic interests due to the empowering of the Young Turks' party. After having perseveringly fought to revive the Constitution, Albanians could not tolerate the fact of having it used as a means of interpretation against the principle of nationality which it itself sanctioned. They could not accept the functioning of the constitution as a means of interpretation contrary to the declared rights of certain nationalities.
On the whole, the situation created in Albania aroused the desires and the will of the Albanian patriots to make the opportune preparation to face this last wave of the Asian invaders. Thus, in 1911, they gradually began the preparation for a general uprising, which in different way from the 1910 uprising, involved all regions. Our region of Malesia Madhe had been designed to be involved in this uprising because of the well-known fact of ever being an unyielding nucleus of the Albanian resistance and the preliminary precipitation of the basic contradictions in this region owing to the measures taken by the expedition of Shefqet Turgut Pasha, beginning from August 1910. It was clear that the success of the national movement could be secured through a resistant organisation on national scale, by jointly channelling all activities against the Turkish invaders on the basis of a political program. Was the organization of the Albanian nationalists so solid as to bring about an all-national organization for the 1911 uprising? We can competently say that this organization left much to be desired. The secret committees could not satisfactorily coordinate their activities. Besides, the national consciousness of the people in general suffered from the complex disease of incomplete maturity, low cultural-educational level, the variable conception of the national imperative and the estimation of the centennial invader. It is to be admitted that till then, the Albanian National Movement was mostly influenced by the particular local interests. This means that there was not till then a general known Albanian authority who could be able to coordinate actions and lead the settling of the national question. Besides, regions and different Albanian highland tribes kept acting independently, on their own free will, to defend their own particular interests. However, at the turn 1910, the idea of the organization of a general uprising together with its approximate date, spring 1911, was evidently mature among the most progressive national circles. For this reason, the secret committees revived their activities by coordinating their actions with those of the patriotic associations of the emigrants and the new uprising committees set up abroad, in different cities of Italy, Greece and Montenegro. In the mean time, the Albanian patriots waged a wide propaganda campaign to make the European public opinion knowledgeable about the character and the demands of the Albanian national movement. Albania had constantly been a knot for the European opposition, thus, to satisfy their own interests, the Great Powers and the neighbouring Balkan countries were of the same opinion concerning one and the same question: the prevention and liquidation of the Albanian movement because their prime interest was status-quo safe keeping. Moreover, the traditional policy of the Powers toward Albania did not take into the least consideration the fact that the national consciousness of the Albanian nation had been formed. Actually, they did their best to orient the national movement on the path of their policy.
Can predictions always confirm with the actual events in a society? It goes without saying that predictions can be devaluated by reality, its exact misperception or the interference of unforeseen factors. Such a thing is closely linked with the "conditions of the activity of social laboratory". This occurs because such conditions imply in themselves the relativity that accompanies them in their progress.
Circumstances under which the 1910 Turkish expeditions ware sent to Albania, enabled Montenegro to interfere in the political developments in the Albanian region of Malësia Madhe . During 1910 and at the beginning of 1911, in the hope of finding shelter and allies, hundreds of highlanders passed the Montenegrin border in order that they could escape the terror practised by the Turkish authorities. The Montenegrin government supported the Albanian highlanders because it intended to use them as a vanguard in their war against Turkey and thus, clear the path for the invasion of the Northern Albania. Under the pressure of Cetinje authorities that aimed at divesting the planned insurrection of its national character by keeping it within the frames of its interests, the highlanders who had emigrated there were obliged to begin the uprising ahead of the schedule settled by committees. In this way, the 1911 anti-ottoman insurrection began ahead of schedule and did not succeed in sweeping the entire ethnic Albania. It comprises one of the most important efforts made by Albanians to win their independence.
The 1911 uprising of Malësia Madhe broke out at the beginning of the spring, i.e. ahead of the schedule determined by the nationalist leaders, in the conditions of the successive accumulation of the contradictions between the highlanders and the Turkish invaders, extreme worsening of the economic state of the highlanders (especially in the winter of 1910-1911), the deep despair of this population accumulated after months of successive violations, chasing, and emigrations to foreign lands. Archive data and the most reliable witnesses suggest that it was exactly at that time highlanders were promised assistance and special weapon provision by Montenegro (or certain political-military segments of this state). They were also promised assistance by the Italian general Ricciotti Garibaldi. What is more, they vainly hoped to have a sort of intervention by the Austro-Hungarian Empire should an implication of their military situation occur. Montenegro should have urged the outbreak of their insurrection probably some weeks ahead of the schedule determined by the Albanian leaders. Its aim was simply to reduce it into a regional uprising and to destabilize its closest region where it planned to expand its territory. Thus, out of the highland cause, Montenegro aimed at getting a casus belli for territory expansion. However, as evidenced by this study, the uprising had broken out and the attention of the European states had been drawn before Montenegro showed its readiness to really support such an uprising and exploit it for its own chauvinist purposes, an act that tactically disoriented the political-diplomatic activity of this state. This is a reality confirmed by the most reliable and impartial witness of the events, Edith Durham. Honest and fair Albanians who were completely ignorant of Montenegrin plans fought only to win their independence and never obeyed the orders and commands of Montenegrin officers who were sent to give them advice. Highlanders responded to Montenegrin chauvinist plans by raising the Albanian flag on top of Bratila, Deçiq. After the unexpected uprising outbreak, leaders of the Albanian National Movement did not remain indifferent. They took to Europe to secure support and emergent assistance in order that the uprising could conclude successfully and Europe could acknowledge Albania and its rights.
The uprising that broke out on March 24, 1911 in Malësia Madhe was not the result of Montenegrin intrigues, but the consequence of the precipitation of the main contradiction in Albania, the positioning of this precipitation in the north eastern hearth of Albania, where constantly practised violence and broken promises concerning the solution of highlanders' problems could not be tolerated. The fact that the subjective, all-Albania-organizing factor was not at the level of the demands of the time kept the uprising going in this region, but it was temporarily fought in the other parts of Albania. This factor, together with the existence of certain doses of fanaticism nourished by the invaders, inspired some individuals to dare fight against Albanian liberators. The uprising went on from March 24, 1911 to August 4, 1911. Within this stretch of time, based on the uprising intensity and the interference of external and internal factors, the uprising proceeding falls into three stages.
The first stage, 24 March - May 14,1911, was characterized by a completely successful development of uprising operations along all front lines. Uprising successes made Turks retreat from their field and mountainous positions and get locked in their enforced military positions. All Malësia Madhe tribes participated in the uprising, though, led by only a coordinating agreement among highland tribes since it did not exist a general commandment. The first culminating moment that determined the character of the uprising was the raising of the Albanian flag in Bratilë, Deçiq. The military actions of the Albanian fighters in this first stage drew the attention and aroused the interest of the Albanian nationalistic forces and international diplomacy in particular. The latter was then very interested in safe keeping the political status-quo of the Turkish Empire.
The spirit of 1911 uprising was Dedë Gjo' Luli, otherwise known as "The Hero of Traboini". He was a man full of energy, distinguished for his strong character. He never made concessions at the expense of the rights of the highlanders and Albanians in general, even when he was under serious threats. To mitigate his intransigence, he had been offered considerable sums of money by the Turks and other powers interested in the Albanian events, but he never gave in.
We are of the opinion that the resuming of the Turkish operations on a wide scale on May 14, on the occasion of the arrival of military reinforcements, marks the uprising second stage that lasts from that date until June 23,1911. Military confrontation took greater proportions because Turks engaged numerous new military forces, many times greater in number than those of the uprising. The confrontation of this stage was of decisive importance on the military, strategic plane because it determined to some extent the further run of events. The invulnerable insurgents kept resisting in the regions most unconquerable by the enemy, making enemy's complete victory impossible. However, the military situation affected the political-diplomatic state of the region because it seriously engaged the most interested Powers in undertaking more careful actions and succeeded in setting the Albanian question as one of the most important problems for the Ottoman Empire of that time.
The inclusion of the distinguished personalities of the most conscious Albanian nationalism, Luigj Gurakuqi, Hilë Mosi, Ismail Qemali, and Nikolla Ivanaj in Albanian insurgents' and Albanian refuges' main staffs, and the full support the reasonable Shkodra citizens in emigration (Risto Siliqi, Nush Koçi, Spiridon Kacarosi etc) gave the uprising led to insurgents' clear and original political attitude, crowned in Greçë Memorandum on June 23, 1911. The most distinguished Albanian personalities gathered in the very mountains where insurgents were unyieldingly fighting against the enemy, and gave the uprising what all popular movements after the Albanian League of Prizreni had never given: a unified political national program. The Assembly of the leaders of highland insurgents and the distinguished nationalists marked a turning point in the political-diplomatic treatment of the uprising. Finally, the anti-Turk, autonomous, programmed stand of the insurgents that had originally detached their political and military activity from the attitude of the state where they had been obliged to find shelter, was clear. From this moment on, the uprising entered into its third and final stage, that of diplomacy complete susceptibility of the Albanian national question and the conclusion of the accomplishment of their programmed demands. It can be said that from this moment on, the Albanian question had been treated as a specific case of the national right by the international diplomacy. Just as the 1910 insurrection, the 1911 insurrection did not succeed in creating a general, unified, national leadership. By the end of the insurrection, in June, an effort had been made, but it was too late and leadership remained in the political frame only. In Greçë Memorandum or "The Red Book", demands for the creation of an autonomous Albanian province, i.e. joining the four Vilayets into one, were approved. Greçë Memorandum was of special importance because it came out of the bosom of the uprising and was permeated by a national character. Though the demand for an autonomous Albanian province had been qualified as moderated, it seemed possible to be politically accepted since it enjoyed the preference of the Albanian autonomous state. It would also be politically sufficient to prevent a possible status-quo change and the division of the compact ethnic Albanian territories. Greçë Memorandum transformed the Albanian question from an appeasing highlander question into a wider one: that of undertaking reforms that were to be applied all over Albania. Scared by the national character of the movement, the Turkish government decided to reach agreements with the leaders of the uprising tribes of Hoti, Gruda, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Shkreli etc, in order that it could shun the beginning of the negotiations on the basis of Grece Memorandum. The Turkish government and the Great Powers were becoming aware of the gravity and the worsening of the situation. They decided to save their own interests in the Balkan Peninsula by doing all they could to extinguish the uprising as soon as possible. When Turkey agreed to modify the list of concessions, the Great Powers asked the Montenegrin government to advise the refugee highlanders in its territory to go back to their houses. In this way, they could satisfy multiple intentions: the territorial integrity of Turkey as the most important knot to status-quo preserving, could be safe kept, Great Powers could be involved in the direct problem solution and highland insurgent right assurance, the responsibility of Montenegro for the international political development could be guaranteed..
The 1911 uprising did not take proper proportions, it remained confined within the borders of Malësia Madhe. Reasons should be sought in the absence of the organization of a compact leadership, aware of the national cause on national scale. This basic deficit helps to trace back the causes of the precocious beginning of the uprising, improper orientation of certain segments of the Albanian cause along its development, and the reasons why Young Turks' propaganda found room, though temporary limited, on the Albanian territory. The 1911 uprising concluded with the acknowledgment of some concessions for the Albanian highlanders. Young Turks did all they could to avoid reaching a single agreement with Albanians. The government succeeded in making a local agreement with insurgents. Theoretically, the Turkish authorities acknowledged almost all demands of the highlanders: the general amnesty, keeping weapons, tax discharge, street building, opening of schools, acknowledgement of the Albanian language in the administration, important privileges with respect to military service etc. However, Albanians knew well that they could not lay much hope in the words of the Turks. Young Turks did not differ much from the old ones since deception and betrayal lied on the basis of their life and political activity. As expected, promises remained on paper, punitive expeditions continued and situation became tenser. Schools in Albanian were not opened, roads were not built, and local officials were not nominated in northern Albania. After peace was made, the Turkish government began clearing its activity from Albanians, undertook a severe campaign against weapon contraband and Albanian newspapers, political opponents were imprisoned and expelled from the Empire and the Albanian question was not allowed to be made mention of. Thus, concessions made by the Turkish government did not realize the objective of the creation of an autonomous Albanian province.
Despite the above mentioned facts, the 1911 uprising had its own importance. For the first time, it obliged the government of the Young Turks to negotiate with Albanians and sign an agreement among equals. This agreement comprised the first juridical basis for the future autonomous demands of the Albanian patriots. Another important victory of the insurrection was the creation of the political consciousness of the wide masses of population. In this way, insurrection achievements laid an important foundation for another future insurrection. The patriotic circles began to seriously think about a future insurrection organization.
What attitude did Montenegro keep? Its stand was not clearly defined. On the one hand, the external policy of this state was basically characterized by the intention of playing an active role in the region and the extension of its territory that would enable the creation of equilibrium of its strategic position in the Balkans. On the other hand, there existed a practical impossibility to undertake an independent military action against the Turkish Empire at the right time. This was primarily due to a general weakness of the state and the absence of support by the external international factor. We have to keep well in view the fact that at the period under discussion, the relation between Serbia and Montenegro were cold because of the existence of the dynastic contradictions and the clash of their strategic plans of expanding their new kingdoms with Albanian territories. Thus, because of an almost absolute impossibility to individually act to realize its own strategic objectives, before the possible expansion prevention by Serbia, Montenegro kept, at least officially (as evidenced by the documentation), a favouring attitude to the cause of the Albanian highlanders. Indirectly, Montenegro took upon itself the defence of the highlanders and internationalised the question. This made Turkey start negotiation. It does not mean that at that time, Montenegro did not have proper forces and certain circles that did not try to make use of the movement for the benefit of the state. However, it seems that they were under the very strict control of King Nikolla's official policy that could not permit them act beyond the limitations the international factor determined. In this context, it is of special importance to clearly know who the primary enemy of Albania was for the moment and whether it were reasonable and natural to enter a temporary tactical alliance with Montenegro. It is utterly fair to determine that it was not the alliance with the century-old Asian violator, but the liberation from him, the stand the 1911 progressive Albanian should keep. Besides, the traditional experience of the national anti-Turkish revolutions in the Balkans, i.e. the reasonable and safe way of the mutual support of inter-Balkan alliances, should be taken into consideration. On account of the documentation and the reliable testimonies of that time, the Albanian highlanders were aware of this main knot in their stand and decided to place the interests of enslaved Albania first. The 1911 uprising failed to be transformed into a general insurrection that could secure Albania's autonomy. In spite of the lack of maturity mentioned above, the pressure of military forces and the terror practised by Turkey exerted their influence on the confinement and crushing of the uprising. Turkey had been careful to avoid the outbreak of the uprising in the other regions of the country by giving up the application of some administrative measures it had previously undertaken. It must be emphasised that Turkey did not show the proper skill to manoeuvre into the uprising of Malësia Madhe. The Albanian national propaganda that accompanied the uprising from the beginning to the end became insurrection strong support. The realization of the desires and national aspirations of people in this small part of the country aroused the desires and strengthened the efforts of the other part of the nation to force Young Turks make more concessions for all Albanians. Gate opposed the effort to modify the conditions of the agreement in favour of the other Albanians. It is exactly here, where the roots for the outbreak of the 1912 uprising lie. In this way, the 1911 uprising of Malesi opened the way to 1912 Albania-Turkey final confrontation. In this context, real winners of the crisis were the Albanian highlanders, i.e. Albanians in general, the ones who culturally, felt themselves Albanians.
Posted by Conference Organizer at 12:02 AM