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League of Prizren

League of Prizren
The four Ottoman vilayets clearly divided (vilayet of İşkodra, Yannina, Monastir and Kosovo as proposed by the League of Prizren for full autonomy)
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Founder 47 Ottoman beys
Extinction April 1881
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Formerly called
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The League for the Defense of the Rights of the Albanian Nation (Albanian: Lidhja për mbrojtjen e të drejtave te kombit Shqiptar) commonly known as the League of Prizren (Albanian: Besëlidhja e Prizrenit) was an Albanian political organization founded on January 5, 1877. (Officially on June 10, 1878) in the old town of Prizren, in the Kosova Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire.

The treaties of San Stefano and later Treaty of 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% 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.[1]

The league was established at the meeting of 47 Ottoman beys in Prizren in June 18, 1878. 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.


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Balkans ethnographic map of 1861

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 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.

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Abdyl bey Frasheri, The League movement's leading figure.

Overall situation influence Albanians to organize themselves in the Local Counsels for National Salvation with aim to protect the ethnic lands. By the end of 1877 the issue of defense of territorial integrity became very difficult. On 13 December 1877, Serbians declared war on Ottoman Empire, so the Montenegro did. They were supported by Russian Army and spread their attacks on the northern parts of Albania. Despite brave fights, Albanians were unable to defend several regions and cities in the northeast and northwest of Albania. Upon occupation of these lands, massacres and expulsions of autochthonic Albanians have begun. These events influenced the Local Councils for the National Salvation to merge in a single coordination body. Albanians, on December 12, 1877 established in Istanbul the Central Committee for the Defense of Rights of the Albanian Nation.[2] The Treaty of San Stefano triggered profound anxiety among the Albanians and Bosnians meanwhile, 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 that existed Albanian communities 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

Further information: Kararname (League of Prizren)

During the meeting in Prizren a kararname was signed by 47 beys in June 18, 1878. The document represents 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, Islamic Shariah law, and "to struggle in arms to defend the wholeness of the territories of Albania". Article 6 of the same document restates 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."[3]

On the first meeting of the league the decision memorandum (kararname) said nothing about the reforms, nothing about the schools, nothing about the autonomy or about the union of the Albanian population within one vilayet.[4] 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.[5] Soon that position changed radically and resulted in demands of autonomy and open war against the Ottoman Empire as formulated by Abdyl Frashëri[6]

The Berlin Congress

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 the 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, and over those of Albanians. The League of Prizren feared that Albanians would not win their claims to Epirus to Greece, and organized an armed resistance in Gusinje, Shkodra, Prizren, and Janina. 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 Albanian nationalists.

The Congress of Berlin ignored the league's memorandum, and Germany's Otto von Bismarck even proclaimed that an Albanian nation did not exist—later he declared he had made a mistake[citation needed] proclaiming Albania was 'just a geographic notion'. 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 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."[7]


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Group photo of some of the delegates.

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 Janina, met in the city of Prizren, (Kosova then Ottoman Empire). Around 300 Muslims participated on the assembly, including delegates from Bosnia and mutasarrif (administrator of sanjak) of Prizren as representative of the central authorities, and no delegates from Scutari Vilayet.[8] 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 Kirçova (Kicevo), Kalkandelen (Tetovo), Pristine (Pristina), Mitroviça (Kosovska Mitrovica), Viçitirin (Vucitrn), Üsküp (Skopje), Gilan (Gnjilane), Manastir (Bitola), Debar (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.[9]

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[10] 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).[11] 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.

Military resistance

Failing to win their claims on a diplomatic level, Albanians embarked on the route of military conflict with their Balkan neighbours.

The Prizren League had 30.000 armed members under its control, who launched a revolution against the Ottoman Empire after the débâcle at the Congress of Berlin and the official dissolvement 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 overview 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 Turks in the Kosovo towns of Vučitrn, Peć, Kosovska Mitrovica, Prizren, and Gjakova. Guided by the autonomous movement, the League rejected Turkish authority and sought complete secession from Turkey. The Ottoman Empire sought to suppress the League and they dispatched an army led by Turkish 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. But the Albanians there 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.


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League of Prizren building in Prizren from inside the courtyard

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. 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 region, 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 Bitola established the secret Committee for the Liberation of Albania. A year later, Albanian guerrillas assassinated Korçë's Greek Orthodox metropolitan. 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.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Jelavich, Barbara (1999). History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge University: Cambridge University Press. p. 361. ISBN 0-521-25249-0. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Elsie, Robert. "1878 The Resolutions of the League of Prizren". Archived from the original on February 20, 2011. Retrieved February 20, 2011. we will not allow any foreign troops to enter our territory. We will not recognize Bulgaria and do not even wish to hear its name mentioned. If Serbia does not agree to give up the regions it has occupied illegally, we will deploy volunteer corps (akindjiler) against it and do our utmost to bring about the return of these regions. We will do the same with Montenegro. 
  4. ^ Gawrych, George Walter (2006), The crescent and the eagle: Ottoman rule, Islam and the Albanians, 1874-1913, London: I.B. Tauris, pp. 46–47, ISBN 1-84511-287-3, a 16 point "decision memorandum" (kararname) said nothing about reforms, schools, autonomy, nothing even about the unification of the Albanian lands in one vilayet 
  5. ^ Elsie, Robert (2005), Albanian literature: a short history, London: I.B. Tauris in association with the Centre for Albanian Studies, p. 82, ISBN 1-84511-031-5, retrieved January 18, 2011, Far from an appeal for Albania independence, or even autonomy within empire, Pashko Vasa proposed simply the unification of Albanian speaking territory within one vilayet, and a certain degree of local government 
  6. ^ Kopeček, Michal (2006), Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945) 2, Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, ISBN 963-7326-60-X, retrieved January 18, 2011, Soon after this first meeting,....mainly under the influence of ... Abdyl Frashëri ... new agenda included ... the fonding of an autonomous Albanian Vilayet 
  7. ^ Raymond Zickel, Walter R. Iwaskiw, ed. (1992), Albania: A Country Study, Washington, DC: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, retrieved 2014-06-10 
  8. ^ Kopecek, Michal; Ersoy, Ahmed; Gorni, Maciej; Kechriotis, Vangelis; Manchev, Boyan; Turda, Marius (2006), "Program of the Albanian League of Prizren", Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945) 1, Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, p. 347, ISBN 963-7326-52-9, retrieved January 18, 2011, there were no delegates from Shkodra villayet and a few Bosnian delegates also participated. Present was also mutasarrif (administrator of sandjak) of Prizren as representative of the central authorities  |first6= missing |last6= in Authors list (help)
  9. ^ Skendi, Stavro. "Beginnings of Albanian Nationalist and Autonomous Trends: The Albanian League, 1878-1881Author". American Slavic and East European Review (American Slavic and East European Review) 12: 4. JSTOR 2491677. The southern branch of the League was formed at Gjinokastër (Argyrokastro), where;Albanian leaders held a meeting at which the districts of Janina, Gjinokastër, Delvina, Përmet, Berat, Vlora (Valona), Filat, Margariti, Ajdonat, Parga, Preveza, Arta, Tepelena, Kolonja, and Korca were represented. 
  10. ^ Nuray Bozbora, The Policy of Abdulhamid II Regarding The Prizren League
  11. ^ Kopecek, Michal; Ersoy, Ahmed; Gorni first4=Vangelis, Maciej; Kechriotis; Manchev, Boyan; Turda, Marius (2006), Discourses of collective identity in Central and Southeast Europe (1770-1945) 1, Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press, p. 348, ISBN 963-7326-52-9, retrieved January 18, 2011, The position of the League in the beginning was based on religious solidarity. It was even called Komiteti i Myslimanëve të Vërtetë (The Committee of the Real Muslims)... decisions are taken and supported mostly by landlords and people closely connected with Ottoman administration and religious authorities..  |first6= missing |last6= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ Jelavich, Barbara (1999). History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge University: Cambridge University Press. p. 366. ISBN 0-521-25249-0. 

External links

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