Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus: Wikis


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Αυτόνομος Δημοκρατία της Βορείου Ηπείρου
Aftónomos Dimokratía tis Voríou Ipíru
Autonomous[1] Republic of Northern Epirus
Independence under provisional, unrecognized status:
Febr. 28-May 17

Autonomy (unimplemented) under nominal Albanian sovereignty:
May 17-October 27



Flag Seal
Capital Argyrokastron
Language(s) Official: Greek,
Secondary: Albanian[2]
Religion Eastern Orthodox
Government Provisional
President Georgios Christakis-Zografos
 - Declaration of Independence February 28, 1914
 - Protocol of Corfu May 17, 1914
 - 2nd Greek Administration October 27, 1914
 - 1913 6,444 km2 (2,488 sq mi)
 - 1913 est. 228,000 
     Density 35.4 /km2  (91.6 /sq mi)

For a general view on history, geography, demographics and political issues concerning the region, see Northern Epirus.

The Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus (Greek: Αυτόνομος Δημοκρατία της Βορείου Ηπείρου, Aftónomos Dimokratía tis Voreíou Ipeírou) was a short-lived, self-governing entity founded in February 28, 1914, in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars, by the Greeks living in southern Albania (Northern Epirotes). The area, known as "Northern Epirus" to Greeks and with a substantial Greek population, had been occupied by the Greek Army during the First Balkan War (1912-1913). The Protocol of Florence however, had assigned it to the newly established Albanian state. This decision was rejected by the local Greeks, and as the Greek army withdrew to the new border, an autonomous[1] government was set up at Argyrokastro (Gjirokastër), with tacit support from Greece. In May the autonomy was confirmed by the Great Powers with the Protocol of Corfu. The agreement ensured that the region would have its own administration, recognized the rights of the local population and provided self government under nominal Albanian sovereignty. However, it was never implemented because in August the Albanian government collapsed. In the event, the Greek Army re-occupied the area after the outbreak of World War I (October 1914). Northern Epirus was slated to be ceded to Greece following the war, but the withdrawal of Italian support and Greece's defeat in the Asia Minor Campaign resulted in its final cession to Albania in 1921.



Ethnographic map of Northern Epirus in 1913, presented by Greece in Paris Peace Conference, 1919.

Northern Epirus and the Balkan Wars

See also: Epirus front (First Balkan War).

In March 1913, during the First Balkan War, the Greek Army, after breaching the Ottoman fortifications at Bizani, liberated Ioannina and soon afterwards advanced further north.[3] Himara was already under Greek control from 5 November 1912, after a local Himariote, Gendarmerie Major Spyros Spyromilios, made a successful landing in the region, without initially facing resistance. At the end of the war Greek armed forces controlled most of the historical region of Epirus, reaching a line from the Ceraunian mountains (above Himara) in the Ionian coast to the Prespa lake to the east[4].

At the same time, the Albanian independence movement gathered momentum. On 28 November 1912, in Vlore, Ismail Qemali declared the independence of Albania, and soon, a provisional government was formed, which however exercised its authority only in the immediate area around Vlore. Elsewehere, the Ottoman general Essad Pasha formed a "Central Albanian Senate" at Durazzo (Durrës), while conservative Albanian tribesmen still hoped for an Ottoman ruler.[5] Most of the area that would form the Albanian state was occupied by the Greeks in the south and the Serbs in the north.[6]

Delineation of the Greek-Albanian border

The concept of an independent Albanian state was supported by the Great European Powers, especially by Austro-Hungary and Italy.[7] Both these powers were seeking to control Albania, which, in the words of the Italian Foreign Minister, Tommaso Tittoni, would give either "incontestable supremacy in the Adriatic". The Serbian possession of Shkodër and the possibility of the Greek border running a few miles south of Vlore was therefore strongly resisted by these states.[6][8]

On September 1913, an International Commission of the European Powers convened, that would determine the boundary between Greece and Albania. Under Italian and Austro-Hungarian pressure it was determined that the region of Northern Epirus should be ceded to Albania.[9] The delegates of the commission were aligning themselves into two camps: those of Italy and Austro-Hungary insisted that the districts were Albanian, while those of the Triple Entente (United Kingdom, France, Russia) took the view that, although the older generations in some villages spoke Albanian, the entire younger generation was Greek in its intellectual outlook, sentiment, and aspirations.[10]

Protocol of Florence

With the delineation of the exact boundaries of the new state, the region of Northern Epirus was awarded to Albania, under terms of the Protocol of Florence, signed on 17 December 1913. Thus, on 21 February 1914, the ambassadors of the Great Powers delivered a note to the Greek government asking for the evacuation of the area by the Greek army. The Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, acceded to this in hopes of a favorable solution to Greece's other outstanding problem, the recognition of Greek sovereignty over the islands of the North Eastern Aegean.[11][12]


The last Ottoman census conducted in 1908 counted 128,050 Greek Orthodox and 95,661 Muslims in the region. From the Orthodox population an estimated 30,000 to 47,000 spoke Greek exclusively. The rest of the Orthodox community were bilinguals, speaking an Albanian patois at home and being literate in Greek only, which they also used in their cultural, trading and economic activities. Moreover, they expressed a strong pro-Greek feeling and were the first that supported the following breakaway autonomist movement.[13][14] Considering these conditions, loyalty in Northern Epirus to an Albanian government, headed by a competing variety of exclusively Muslim leaders, could not be guarantied.[15]

Declaration of Independence

Picture of the official declaration of Independence (1 March 1914). The President Georgios Christakis and members of the Government, local clergy, military personnel and civilians are seen in the front.

This turn of events was highly unpopular among the pro-Greek party in the area. The pro-Greek Epirotes felt betrayed by the Greek government, because it did nothing to support them with firearms. At the same time, the gradual withdrawal of the Greek army would enable the Albanian forces to take control of the region. Consequently, to avert this possibility, they decided to declare their own separate political identity and self-governance.[16][17] Georgios Christakis-Zografos, a distinguished Epirote statesman from Lunxhëri and former Greek foreign minister, took the initiative and discussed the situation with local representatives in a "Panepirotic Council". Consequently, on 28 February 1914, the Autonomous[1] Republic of Northern Epirus was declared in Gjirokastër and a provisional Government was formed to support the state's objectives.[18] [16] Christakis-Zografos himself became president of the provisional government. In his speech, on 2 March,[19] he explained that the aspirations of the Northern Epirotes were totally ignored and the Great Powers not only rejected the possibility to become autonomous inside the Albanian state, but also refused to give even guarantees about their fundamental human rights[16]. Zografos concluded that they will not accept the destiny which the Powers had imposed upon them:[20]

Because of this inalienable right of each people, the Great Powers' desire to create for Albania a valid and respected title of dominion over our land and to subjugate us is powerless before the fundamendals of divine and human justice. Neither does Greece have the right to continue in occupation of our territory merely to betray it against our will to a foreign tyrant.
Free of all ties, unable to live united under these conditions with Albania, Northern Epirus proclaims its independence and calls upon its citizens to undergo every sacrifice to defend the integrity of the territory and its liberties from any attack whatsoever.

The flag of the new state was a variant of the Greek national flag, consisting of a white cross centered upon the blue background and surmounted by the imperial Byzantine eagle in black.[21]

In the following days, Alexandros Karapanos, Zografos' nephew and a MP for Arta,[22] was installed as foreign minister. Colonel Dimitrios Doulis, a local from Nivice, resigned from his post in the Greek army and joined the provisional government as minister of military affairs. From the first days he managed to mobilize an army consisting of more than 5,000 volunteer troops.[23] Moreover, the local bishop, Vasileios of Dryinoupolis, took office as minister of Religion and Justice. A number of officers of Epirote origin (not exceeding 30), as well as ordinary soldiers, deserted their positions in the Greek Army and joined the revolutionaries. Soon, armed groups, such as the "Sacred Band" or Spyromilios' men around Himarra, were formed,[22] in order to repel any incursion into the territory claimed by the autonomous government. The first districts that joined the autonomist movement outside of Gjirokastër were Himara, Saranda and Permet.[24]

Greece’s reaction and evacuation

The N. Epirote flag as depicted by the French magazine L'Illustration (April 1914) in the Saranda headquarters. Saranda was one of the first cities that joined the autonomists' movement.

The Greek government was reluctant to take any overt initiatives in support of the uprising. Military and political officials continued with carrying out a slow evacuation process, which began in March and ended on 28 April.[22] Officially, any form of resistance was discouraged, and assurances were given that the Great Powers and the International Control Commission (an organization founded by the Great Powers, in order to secure peace and stability in the area) would guarantee for their rights. Following the declaration in Gjirokastër, Zografos sent an communication message to local representatives in Korca to join the movement too; however, the Greek military commander of the city, Colonel Kontoulis, was very strict in following his official orders and declared martial law, threatening to shoot any citizen, who would raise the Northern Epirote flag. When, in the town of Erseka, the local bishop Spyridon proclaimed the Autonomy, Kontoulis had him immediately arrested.[25]

On March 1, Kontoulis ceded the region to the newly formed Albanian gendarmerie, consisting mainly of former deserters of the Ottoman army and under the command of Dutch and Austrian officers.[24] On March 9, the Greek navy blockaded the port of Sarande, one of the first cities that had joined the autonomist movement[26] There were also sporadic conflicts between Greek army and Epirote units with a few casualties on both sides.[27].

Negotiations and armed conflicts

As the Greek army withdrew, armed conflicts broke out between Albanian and Northern Epirote forces. In the regions of Himare, Sarande, Gjirokastër and Delvina, the revolt was in full motion from the first days of the declaration, and the autonomist forces managed to successfully engage the Albanian gendarmerie as well as Albanian irregular units.[25] On the other hand, Zografos, seeing that the Great Powers would not approve the annexation of Northern Epirus to Greece, suggested three possible diplomatic solutions:[24]

  • Full autonomy under the nominal sovereignty of the Albanian prince.
  • An administrative and cantonal system autonomy.
  • Direct control and administration by the European Powers.
Armed group of Epirote women. August 1914, Gjirokastër region.

On March 7 Prince William of Wied arrived in Albania and in an attempt to take control over Northern Epirus intense fighting occurred north of Gjirokastër, in the region of Cepo, where Albanian gendarmerie units unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate south, facing resistance from the Epirote side.[22]. The following days a provisional settlement brokered by the Dutch Colonel Thomson in Corfu (March 11). The Albanian side was ready to accept a limited Northern Epirote government, but Karapanos insisted on a complete autonomous status, solution that was rejected by the Albanian delegates and negotiations reached a deadlock[22][25]. Meanwhile, Epirote bands entered Erseka and continued to Frashër and Korce.[28]

At this point, with the exception of Korce, the entire region claimed by the provisional government was under its complete control. On March 22, a Sacred Band unit from Bilisht reached the outskirts of Korce, joined the local guerillas and fierce street fighting took place. For a few days the Northern Epirote units had the city under control, but when Albanian reinforcements arrived on March 27, Korce was brought again under the control of the Albanian gendarmerie.[25]

In the meantime, the International Control Commission, in order to avoid a major escalation of the armed conflicts with disastrous results, decided to intervene. On May 6, Zografos received a communication to initiate negotiations on a new basis. Zografos accepted the proposal and an armistice was ordered the next day. The time the cease-fire order was received, the Epirote forces had secured the Morava heights near Korce, making the city's Albanian garrison's surrender imminent.[29]

Recognition of autonomy and outbreak of World War I

Protocol of Corfu

Georgios Christakis Zografos, with effective political moves, managed to give Northern Epirus an internationally recognized autonomous status.

Negotiations were carried out in the island of Corfu, where, on 17 May 1914, Albanian and Epirote representatives signed an agreement known as the Protocol of Corfu. According to its terms, the two provinces of Korytsa and Argyrokastro that constituted Northern Epirus would acquire complete autonomous existence (as a coprus separatum) under the nominal Albanian sovereignty of Prince Wied.[22][29] The Albanian government had the right to appoint and dismiss governors and upper-rank officials, taking into account as much as possible the opinion of the local population. Other terms included the proportional recruitment of natives into the local gendarmerie and the prohibition of military levies from people non-indigenous to the region.[22] In Orthodox schools, the Greek language would be the sole medium of instruction, except for the three first classes. Greek were also made equal to Albanian in all public affairs. The Ottoman-era privileges of Himara were renewed, and a foreigner was to be appointed as its "captain" for 10 years.[30]

The execution and adherence to the Protocol was entrusted to the International Control Commission, as was also the organization of public administration and the departments of justice and finance in the region.[31] The creation and training of the local gendarmerie was to be conducted by Dutch officers.[32]

Territory: All the provisions in question shall apply to the populations of the territories previously occupied by Greece and annexed to Albania.
Armed Forces: Except in case of war or revolution, non native military units shall not be transfered to or employed in these provinces.
Occupation: The International Control Commision (I.C.C.) will take possession in the territory in question, in the name of the Albanian Government, by proceeding to the place. The officers of the Dutch mission will at once begin the organization of the local gendarmerie...Before the arrival of the Dutch officers, the necessary steps will be taken by the Provisional Government of Argyrokastro for the removal of the country of all armed foreign elements. These provisions will not only be applied in that part of the provinces of Korytsa now occupied militarily by Albania, but in any other southern regions.
Liberty of language: The permission to use both Albanian and Greek shall be assured, before all authorities, including the Courts, as well as the elective councils.
Guarantee: The Powers who, by the Conference of London, have guaranteed the institution of Albania and established the I.C.C. guarantee the execution and maintenance of the foregoing provisions.
From the Protocol of Corfu, May 17, 1914[33]

The agreement of the Protocol was ratified by the representatives of the Great Powers at Athens on 18 June, and by the Albanian government on 23 June.[34] The Epirote representatives on an assembly in Delvina gave the final approval to the terms of the Protocol, although the delegates from Himara protested claiming that only Union with Greece could be a viable solution.[35] During early July the cities of Tepelene and Korce (July 8) came under the control of the provisional government of Northern Epirus.[22]

Instability and disestablishment

Soon after the outbreak of World War I, the situation in Albania was unstable and political chaos emerged. While the country was split into a number of regional governments. As a consequence of the anarchy in central and north Albania, peace was not completely restored despite the Protocol signed in Corfu, and sporadic armed conflicts continued to occur.[36] Prince Wilhelm departed the country in September 3. In the following days an Epirote unit without approval from the provisional government launched an attack on the Albanian garrison in Berat and managed to capture for a few days its citadel, while Albanian troops loyal to Essad Pasha initiated small scale armed operations[37].

Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos was worried by these events, especially with the possibility that this unstable situation would spill over outside Albania and trigger a wider conflict. On 27 October, after receiving the approval of the Great Powers,[38] the Greek army entered the area for a second time. The provisional government formally ceased to exist, declaring that it had accomplished its objectives.


Greek administration (October 1914-September 1916)

During the Greek administration, and while the First World War continued, it had been agreed between Greece, Italy and the Great Powers that the final settlement of the Northern Epirote issue should be left to the future, after the war ended. In August 1915, Eleftherios Venizelos stated in the Greek parliament that "only colossal faults" could separate the region from Greece. After Venizelos' resignation in December however, the succeeding royalist governments were determined to exploit the situation and pre-determine the region's future by incoroporating it formally within the Greek state. In the first months of 1916, Northern Epirus participated in the Greek elections and elected 16 representatives for the Greek Parliament. In March the region's union with Greece was officially declared, and the area was divided into the prefectures of Argyrokastro and Korytsa.[39]

Italian-French occupation and Interwar period

Postage stamp issued by the Northern Epirote postal authorities with the state's flag.

The politically unstable situation that followed in Greece during the next months, with the National Schism between royalists and Venizelos’ supporters, divided Greece into two states. This situation led the Italian (in Gjirokastër) and French forces (in Korce), according also to the development of the Balkan Front, to enter the area in September 1916, after approval of the Triple Entente. When the war ended (1918) the tendency to reestablish the autonomy of the region continued.[40]

Under the terms of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 (Venizelos-Tittoni agreement) Northern Epirus was to be awarded to Greece, but political developments such as the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and strong Italian opposition in favor of Albania ceded the area finally to Albania in 1921.[41]

In February 1922 the Albanian Parliament approved the Declaration of Minority Rights. However, the Declaration, contrary to the Protocol of Corfu, recognized minority rights only in a limited area (parts of Gjirokastër, Sarande district and 3 villages in Himara), without implementing any form of local autonomy. As one immediate consequence, all Greek schools in the excluded area were forced to close until 1935.[42]

The Northern Epirote issue and the autonomy question

See also: The Northern Epirote issue at present.

From the Albanian perspective, adopted also by Italian and Austrian sources of that time, the Northern Epirote movement was directly supported by the Greek state with the help of a minority of inhabitants in the region, resulting in chaos and political instability in all of Albania.[43] In Albanian historiography, the Protocol of Corfu is either scarcely mentioned, or its interpretation grounded on different positions:[44] it is seen as an attempt to divide the Albanian state and as a proof of the Great Powers' disregard for Albania's national integrity.[45]

With the ratification of the Protocol of Corfu the term "Northern Epirus", which was the state’s common name -and subsequently "Northern Epirotes" its citizens- acquired official status. However, after 1921, when the region was finally ceded to Albania, these terms were considered to be associated with Greek irredentism action and did not acquire any legal status by the Albanian authorities[46] On the other hand, anyone that made use of them was persecuted as an 'enemy of the state'[47].

The autonomy question remains on the diplomatic agenda in Albanian-Greek relations as part of the Northern Epirote issue.[48] In the 1960s, the Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev asked his Albanian counterpart about giving autonomy to the Greek minority, but this initiative was without any results.[49][50] In 1991, after the collapse of the communist regime in Albania, the chairman of the Greek minority's organization Omonoia called for autonomy for Northern Epirus on the basis that the rights provided for under the Albanian constitution were highly precarious. This proposal was rejected, thus spurring the minority's radical wing to call for union with Greece.[51] Two years later, when Omonoia’s chairman explained in public that the Greek minority’s goal was the creation of an autonomous region inside the Albanian borders based on the provisions of the Protocol of Corfu, he was immediately arrested by the Albanian police.[48] In more recent times (1997), some Albanian analysts have claimed that the possibility of a Greek minority-inspired breakaway Republic is very much alive.[52]

See also


  1. ^ a b c in Greek the term autonomos has a dual meaning, it can mean either independent or autonomous.
  2. ^ limited use in education, equal in justice and public administration (under the terms of Corfu Protocol).
  3. ^ Gregory C. Ference, ed. Chronology of 20th Century Eastern European History. 1994.
  4. ^ Schurman 1916: "During the first war the Greeks had occupied Epirus or southern Albania as far north as a line drawn from a point a little above Khimara on the coast due east toward Lake Presba, so that the cities of Tepeleni and Koritza were included in the Greek area."
  5. ^ Winnifrith 2002: 130
  6. ^ a b Miller 1966: 518
  7. ^ Schurman 1916: 'This new kingdom was called into being by the voice of the European concert at the demand of Austria-Hungary supported by Italy.'
  8. ^ Chase 2007: 37-38
  9. ^ Stickney 1924: 32-33 "In view of the opposition of the part of the Dual monarchy...showed his irrecontiliation."
  10. ^ Stickney 1924: 38
  11. ^ Kitromilides 2008: 150-151
  12. ^ Greek ministry of Foreign Affairs. Note of the Great Powers to Greece. It concerned the decision of the Powers to cede irrevocably to Greece all the Aegean islands already occupied by the latter (with the exception of Imbros, Tenedos and Castellorizo) on the date on which Greek troops would evacuate the parts of Northern Epirus awarded to Albania by the Florence Protocol.
  13. ^ Ruches 1965: 1-2
  14. ^ Newman, Bernard (2007). Balkan Background. READ BOOKS. pp. 262-263. ISBN 9781406753745.  
  15. ^ Winnifrith 2002: 130 " Northern Epirus loyalty to an Albania with a variety of Muslim leaders competing in anarchy cannot have been strong".
  16. ^ a b c Kondis 1976: 124
  17. ^ Schurman 1916: "It is little wonder that the Greeks of Epirus feel outraged by the destiny which the European Powers have imposed upon them... Nor is it surprising that since Hellenic armies have evacuated northern Epirus in conformity with the decree of the Great Powers, the inhabitants of the district, all the way from Santi Quaranta to Koritza, are declaring their independence and fighting the Albanians who attempt to bring them under the yoke."
  18. ^ Stickney 1924: 42
  19. ^ Boeckh 1996: 114
  20. ^ Pyrrhus Ruches. Albanian historical folksongs, 1716-1943: a survey of oral epic poetry from southern Albania, with original texts. Argonaut, 1967 p.106
  21. ^ Ruches 1965: 83
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h Miller 1966: 519
  23. ^ Boeckh 1996: 115
  24. ^ a b c Heuberger, Suppan, Vyslonzil 1996: 68-69
  25. ^ a b c d Ruches 1965: 88-89
  26. ^ Stickney 1924: 43
  27. ^ Ruches 1965: 84-85
  28. ^ Sakellariou, M. V. (1997), Epirus, 4000 years of Greek history and civilization, Ekdotike Athenon, pp. 480, ISBN 9789602133712,  
  29. ^ a b Ruches 1965: 91
  30. ^ Miller 1966: 520
  31. ^ Stickney 1924: 49
  32. ^ Boeckh 1996: 116
  33. ^ Ruches 1965: 92-93.
  34. ^ Stickney 1924: 50
  35. ^ Kondis: 132-133
  36. ^ Ruches 1965: 94
  37. ^ Balkan studies. Institute for Balkan Studies, Society for Macedonian Studies. 1970, p. 74-75
  38. ^ Guy 2007: Greek troops crossed the southern Albanian border at the end of October 1914, officially reoccupying all of southern Albania, exclusive of Vlora, and establishing a military administration by 27 October 1914.
  39. ^ Stickney 1924: 57- 63
  40. ^ Winnifrith 2002: 132
  41. ^ Kitromilides 2008: 162-163
  42. ^ Basil Kondis & Eleftheria Manda. The Greek Minority in Albania - A documentary record (1921-1993). Thessaloniki. Institute of Balkan Studies. 1994.
  43. ^ Ruches 1965: 87
  44. ^ Nataša Gregorič Contested Spaces and Negotiated Identities in Dhermi/Drimades of Himare/Himara area, Southern Albania. University of Nova Gorica 2008, p. 144.
  45. ^ Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer. Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1997, ISBN 1850652902, p 2.
  46. ^ Russell King, Nicola Mai, Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers (Ed.) (2005). The New Albanian Migration. Sussex Academic Press. pp. 66. ISBN 9781903900789.  
  47. ^ Two friendly peoples: excerpts from the political diary and other documents on Albanian-Greek relations, 1941-1984. Enver Hoxha, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin Institute. 1985.  
  48. ^ a b Heuberger, Suppan, Vyslonzil 1996: 73
  49. ^ Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer. Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1997, ISBN 1850652902, p. 188-189.
  50. ^ Albania and the Sino-Soviet rift William E. Griffith. M. I. T. Press, 1963
  51. ^ Working Paper. Albanian Series. Gender Ethnicity and Landed Property in Albania. Sussana Lastaria-Cornhiel, Rachel Wheeler. September 1998. Land Tenure Center. University of Wisconsin, p.38
  52. ^ Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Greeks in Albania, 2004. Online. UNHCR Refworld accessed 17 March 2009. "Zef Preci, of the Albanian Center for Economic Research says the danger of a Greek minority-inspired breakaway republic is very much alive"



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