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National Renaissance (Albanian: Rilindja Kombëtare) refers to the period of History of Albania between 1831 until the Declaration of Independence in 1912. It starts after the fall of semi-independent Albanian-ruled Pashaliks of Janina and Shkodra.


The rise of Albanian nationalism

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 Albanian nationalism. 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 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 secret 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 Albanian-populated 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. The League of Prizren worked to gain autonomy for the Albanians and to thwart implementation of the Treaty of San Stefano, but not to create an independent Albania.

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 Frashëri's leadership, focused on working toward Albanian autonomy and creating a sense of Albanian identity that would cut across religious and tribal lines. Because conservative Muslims constituted a majority of the representatives, the League of Prizren supported maintenance of Ottoman suzerainty.

In July 1878, the league sent a memorandum to the Great Powers at the Congress of Berlin, which was called to settle the unresolved problems of Turkish War, demanding that all Albanians be united in a single Ottoman province that would be governed from Bitola by a Turkish governor who would be advised by an Albanian committee elected by universal suffrage.

The Congress of Berlin ignored the league's memorandum, and Germany's Otto von Bismarck even proclaimed that an Albanian nation did not exist. 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 Gusi, Plavë, 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 Great Powers expected the Ottomans to ensure that the Albanians would respect the new borders, ignoring that the sultan's military forces were too weak to enforce any settlement and that the Ottomans could only benefit by the Albanians' resistance. The Sublime Porte, in fact, armed the Albanians and allowed them to levy taxes, and when the Ottoman army withdrew from areas awarded to Montenegro under the Treaty of Berlin, Roman Catholic Albanian tribesmen simply took control. The Albanians' successful resistance to the treaty forced the Great Powers to alter the border, returning Gusinje and Plav to the Ottoman Empire and granting Montenegro the mostly Muslim Albanian-populated coastal town of Ulqin. But the Albanians there refused to surrender as well. Finally, the Great Powers blockaded Ulqin by sea and pressured the Ottoman authorities to bring the Albanians under control. The Great Powers decided in 1881 to cede Greece only 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 Ulqin 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.

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 guerrillas were fighting Ottoman authorities and one another for control, Muslim Albanians suffered attacks, and Albanian guerrilla groups retaliated. In 1906 Albanian leaders meeting in Manastir established the secret Committee for the Liberation of Albania. A year later, Albanian patriots 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 mountain men. 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.

Literary revival

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 Frashëri founded a cultural and educational organization, the Society for the Printing of Albanian Writings, whose membership comprised Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox Albanians. Naim Frashëri, 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.

As was common to the various movements of Romantic nationalism throughout Europe, Albanian intellectuals were looking for a national myth of origin, preferably one establishing an national identity traced to a people of remote antiquity. At first, Albanian nationalist writers opted for the Pelasgians as the forefathers of the Albanians. But as the national movement matured, the Pelasgians were ousted by the Illyrian theory of Albanian origins, which could claim some support in scholarship. The Illyrian descent theory soon became one of the pillars of Albanian nationalism, especially because it could provide evidence of continuity of Albanian presence both in Kosovo and in southern Albania, i.e. areas that were subjected to ethnic conflicts between Albanians, Serbs and Greeks.[1] Albanians claimed that Alexander the great was [2] Pelasgian - Illyrian - Albanian and that Ancient Greek culture (and thus the result of the Hellenistic civilisation) had spread [2] by Albanians [2].Macedonians were considered forefathers [2] of the Albanians.Ancient Greek gods were seen as "Albanian" as well[3].

The literary revival of the Albanian language had an effect on the distribution of given names in Albania. Traditionally, Albanian given names had universally been Christian, i.e. loaned from Greek hagiography or from the Bible. It was only with the Rilindja that given names were taken from the native Albanian vocabulary. Examples are mostly female given names, such as Lule "flower". This tendency becomes extreme in Communist Albania after 1944, where it was the regime's declared doctrine to oust Christian or Islamic given names. Ideologically acceptable names were listed in the Fjalor me emra njerëzish (1982). These could be native Albanian words like Flutur "butterfly", ideologically communist ones like Proletare, or "Illyrian" ones compiled from epigraphy, e.g. from the necropolis at Dyrrhachion excavated in 1958-60.

1911 Highlanders Uprising

The rise of Albanian nationalism first sparked with the Battle of Deçiq on April 6, 1911, which was located in the town of Tuzi, Malësi e Madhe. The battle was fought between the Catholic Malësor Albanians led by Ded Gjo Luli, against the forces of the Ottoman Empire led by Turgut Pasha. The long and bloody battle was victorious toward the Albanians. During the battle, the Albanian Flag was raised for the first time since Gjergj Kastrioti in 1443. As a result to the victory of this battle, the Albanians found a sense of confidence and nationalism that led to other events toward Independence, which eventually came about on November 28, 1912. Today, many songs and stories of the Albanians are passed in honor of the important battle that led to the Independence of Albania.

The Balkan Wars and creation of independent Albania

The First Balkan War, however, erupted before a final settlement could be worked out. Most Albanians remained neutral during the war, during which the Balkan allies—the Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks—quickly drove the Turks to the walls of Constantinople. The Montenegrins surrounded Shkodër with the help of northern Albanian tribes anxious to fight the Ottoman Turks.

An assembly of eighty-three Muslim and Christian leaders meeting in Vlorë in November 1912 declared Albania an independent country and set up a provisional government, but an ambassadorial conference that opened in London in December decided the major questions concerning the Albanians after the First Balkan War in its concluding Treaty of London of May 1913. The Albanian delegation in London was assisted by Aubrey Herbert, MP, a passionate advocate of their cause.

One of Serbia's primary war aims was to gain an Adriatic port, preferably Durrës. Austria-Hungary and Italy opposed giving Serbia an outlet to the Adriatic, which they feared would become a Russian port. They instead supported the creation of an autonomous Albania. Russia backed Serbia's and Montenegro's claims to Albanian-inhabited lands. Britain and Germany remained neutral. Chaired by Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, the ambassadors' conference initially decided to create an autonomous Albania under continued Ottoman rule, but with the protection of the Great Powers. This solution, as detailed in the Treaty of London, was abandoned in the summer of 1913 when it became obvious that the Ottoman Empire would, in the Second Balkan War, lose Macedonia and hence its overland connection with the Albanian-inhabited lands.

In July 1913, the Great Powers opted to recognize an independent, neutral Albanian state ruled by a constitutional monarchy and under the protection of the Great Powers. The August 1913 Treaty of Bucharest established that independent Albania was a country with borders that gave the new state about 28,000 square kilometers of territory and a population of 800,000. Montenegro had to surrender Shkodër (or as they called it Skadar) after having lost 10,000 men in the process of taking the town. Serbia reluctantly succumbed to an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy to withdraw from northern Albania. The treaty, however, left large areas with majority Albanian populations, notably Kosovo and western Macedonia, outside the new state and failed to solve the region's nationality problems.

Territorial disputes have divided the Albanians and Serbs since the Middle Ages, but none more so than the clash over the Kosovo region. Serbs consider Kosovo their Holy Land. They argue that their ancestors settled in the region during the 7th century, that medieval Serbian kings were crowned there, and that the Serbs' greatest medieval ruler, Stefan Dusan, established the seat of his empire for a time near Prizren in the mid-fourteenth century. More important, numerous Serbian Orthodox shrines, including the patriarchate of the Serbian Orthodox Church, are located in Kosovo. The key event in the Serbs' national history, the battle against the Ottoman Turks, took place at Kosovo Polje in 1389. The Albanians, on their part, point to the Illyrian theory of Albanian origins discussed above, as well as to the fact that Prizren was the seat of their first nationalist organization, the League of Prizren, and call the region the cradle of their national awakening. Finally, Albanians claim Kosovo based on their claim that their kinsmen have constituted the vast majority of Kosovo's population since at least the eighteenth century.[4]

When the Great Powers recognized an independent Albania, they also established the International Control Commission, which endeavored to expand its authority and elbow out the Vlorë provisional government and the rival government of Essad Pasha Toptani, who enjoyed the support of large landowners in central Albania and boasted a formidable militia. The control commission drafted a constitution that provided for a National Assembly of elected local representatives, the heads of the Albanians' major religious groups, ten persons nominated by the prince, and other noteworthy persons.

Communism to Democracy

In Communist Albania, an Illyrian national identity (without denying Pelasgian roots[5] which has been revitalized today[6]) also began to play a significant role in Albanian nationalism,[7] resulting in a revival of given names suppposedly of "Illyrian" origin, at the expense of given names associated with Christianity. At first, Albanian nationalist writers opted for the Pelasgians as the forefathers of the Albanians, but as this form of nationalism flourished in communist Albania under Enver Hoxha, the Pelasgians became a secondary element[8] to the Illyrian theory of Albanian origins, which could claim some support in scholarship.[9] The Illyrian descent theory soon became one of the pillars of Albanian nationalism, especially because it could provide some evidence of continuity of an Albanian presence both in Kosovo and in southern Albania, i.e., areas that were subject to ethnic conflicts between Albanians, Serbs and Greeks.[10]. Under the regime of Enver Hoxha, an autocthonous ethnogenesis[11 ] was promoted and physical anthropologists[11 ] tried to demonstrate that Albanians were different from any other Indo-European populations, a theory now disproved.[12] Communist-era Albanian archaeologists claimed[11 ] that ancient Greek poleis, gods, ideas, culture and prominent personalities were wholly Illyrian (example Pyrrhus of Epirus[13] and the region of Epirus[14].).They claimed that the Illyrians were the most ancient people[11 ][15] in the Balkans and greatly extended the age of the Illyrian language.[11 ][16] This is continued in post-communist Albania[11 ] and has spread to Kosovo.[11 ][17] Nationalist theories developed during communism have survived largely intact into the present day.[11 ]


  1. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 9780253341891, p. 118.
  2. ^ a b c d Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press,2002,ISBN 9780253341891,page 77
  3. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press,2002,ISBN 9780253341891,page 77-78
  4. ^ See the ethnic composition maps of the Balkans in the Treaty of San Stefano article, and Di Lellio, Anna (2006) The case for Kosova: passage to independence Anthem Press, London, page 19, ISBN 1-84331-245-X; See also Kosovo population data-points
  5. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 9780253341891, page 96, "but when Enver Hoxha declared that their origin was Illyrian (without denying their Pelasgian roots), no one dared participate in further discussion of the question".
  6. ^ Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, 2009, Gilles de Rapper, "The Pelasgians are nonetheless coming back today. Lots of publications by professional or amateur historians and linguists are revitalising the Pelasgic theory. They are widely read and commented, not only among scholars and specialists. The re-using of the old theories is a complex phenomenon, linking in various ways Pelasgians, Illyrians, Etruscans, Greeks and Albanians, according to various motivations and using various kinds of evidence".
  7. ^ ISBN 960-210-279-9 Miranda Vickers, The Albanians Chapter 9. "Albania Isolates itself" page 196, "From time to time the state gave out lists with pagan, supposed Illyrian or newly constructed names that would be proper for the new generation of revolutionaries."
  8. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 9780253341891, page 96, "but when Enver Hoxha declared that their origin was Illyrian (without denying their Pelasgian roots) no one dared participate in further discussion of the question."
  9. ^ Madrugearu A, Gordon M. The wars of the Balkan peninsula. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. p.146.
  10. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 9780253341891, p. 118.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h The practice of Archaeology under dictatorship, Michael L. Galary & Charles Watkinson, Chapter 1, page 8-17,2. ALBANIAN ARCHAEOLOGY AND ENVER HOXHA.......difficult legacies of totalitarianism.
  12. ^ Belledi et al. (2000) Maternal and paternal lineages in Albania and the genetic structure of Indo-European populations
  13. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Bernd Jürgen Fischer, Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press, 2002, ISBN 9780253341891, page 92.
  14. ^ Epirus Vetus: The Archaeology of a Late Antique Province (Duckworth Archaeology) by William Bowden,2003,ISBN 0715631160,page 32
  15. ^ The Balkans - a post-communist history by Robert Bideleux & Ian Jeffries, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0415229626, page 23, "they thus claim to the be oldest indigenous people of the western Balkans".
  16. ^ The Balkans - a post-communist history by Robert Bideleux & Ian Jeffries, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0415229626, page 26.
  17. ^ The Balkans - a post-communist history by Robert Bideleux & Ian Jeffries, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0415229626, page 513, "Ethnic Albanians not only comprise the vast majority of the population in Kosova. They have also been brought up to believe that their nation is the oldest in the Balkans, directly descended from the ancient Dardanians (Dardanae), a branch of the so-called 'Illyrian peoples' who had allegedly inhabited most of the western Balkanas including Kosova) for many centuries before the arrival of the Slavic 'interlopers'...".


  • Library of Congress Country Study of Albania
  • Mazower, Mark (2000). The Balkans: A Short History. Modern Library Chronicles. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-64087-8.  
  • Schwandner-Sievers and Fischer (eds.), Albanian Identities: Myth and History, Indiana University Press (2002), ISBN 0253215706.

See also


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