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ship of Albania; but they contented themselves with occupying the Albanian island of Sasseno and then—in December, 1914—militarily occupying Valona.
The Montenegrins, though ostensibly engaged in opposing Austria, poured their troops into defenseless Scutari and remained there. No protest was made by the Powers for this unprovoked violation of the decision made by them in 1913 when they unanimously declared Scutari to be Albanian territory.
The Serbs also entered Albania for a short time, but withdrew again. Then came the debacle of the Serbs and their flight across the Albanian mountains into Scutari. This was fatal for Albania. The Austrian and Bulgarian forces poured into Albania in pursuit of them. All members of the Entente departed, and Albania was left to her fate. The Bulgars withdrew, but three-quarters of Albanian territory have been militarily occupied by Austria until the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, Italy had advanced in the south and occupied Tepelen and Argyrokastro.
The Greek troops of King Constantine had poured into South Albania and were using Koritza as a center through which Austrian and German couriers could pass to or from Athens. They exported the foodstuffs, and the Albanian population was reduced to great straits. The French reached Koritza in December, 1916, evicting Greek troops; and at the request of the inhabitants of the whole district hoisted the Albanian flag at Koritza and proclaimed it an Albanian Republic.
The Italians extended their occupation, and on July 3, 1917, General Ferrero at Argyrokastro proclaimed the independence of the whole of Albania under the protection of Italy.
Such is Albania's history. The waves of successive Empires have passed over her, and her people have remained staunch. The rule of Rome and of Byzantium have passed. The Balkan medieval Empires were a mere ripple on the waters of time. The floodtide of the Turkish Empire has ebbed, and Albania remains as a granite crag above the troubled waters.
We must now consider the land itself and present circumstances.
What is this land we Albanians love so much and which foreigners covet so much? It is situated in a valuable and desirable spot. Its port of Valona is one of the keys of the Adriatic. Not only is it strategically desirable, but it also contains fertile plains, well-forested mountains, and good pasture for flocks. It has more than one harbor, and its mineral wealth is as yet unexploited.
Small wonder that many powers have struggled and intrigued to gain possession of it. No power, however, would like to see another possess it. And when thieves fall out, honest men come by their own. So may it be with Albania!
It is obviously undesirable to hand over Albania entire to any one power. But the partition of Albania between several powers without consideration of the will of the people and the rights of nations is equally certain to lead to fresh trouble. Continual and bloody fights would be certain to arise between Albania's new masters, which would be fostered and encouraged by the Albanians, who would seize the opportunities thus afforded and arise and strike out for their own independence. This is proved by the fact that the division of a large part of Albania among the Serbs, Greeks, and Montenegrins by the Conference of London has but exasperated the hatred already existing between Bulgar, Serb, and Greek. They fought each other, in fact, about Albanian territory—territory to which they have no right whatever.
In order that the peace of Europe may be maintained, it is in the highest degree undesirable that the Albanian coast should fall into the hands of any Great Power, who would make of the Adriatic a closed lake —and consequently a naval base—which would be a constant menace to the Mediterranean.
Let us now consider upon what foundations the claims of Albania's neighbors are based.
We have seen that toward the end of the seventeenth century the Serbs emigrated en masse from Kosovo vilayet and left it to its original inhabitants, the Albanians, who at once reoccupied it. Since that time a certain number of Serbs have filtered back into the region, but they have always formed a very small minority, as the reports of many travelers testify. Today—sad to relate—even this minority has almost disappeared under the occupation of Austria, who reckoned on keeping this district for herself. The claims of the Serbs are based only on ancient conquest. They were in truth rulers in Albania for only a part of the Middle Ages.
That the numerical superiority of the Albanians was and is an accepted fact, we may see from the following Report on the Population of North-East Albania made by Mr. Alvarez, of H. M. Consulate at Constantinople, August 27, 1880.
"The races which inhabit this district, which politically comprises the greater part of the vilayet of Kosovo and part of that of Monaslir and the whole of Old or Turkish Serbia, are the Albanian and the Serb. . . . Of the two, the Albanians are numerically far superior to the Serbians. . . . The Albanian element in the Kosovo vilayet has recently been further increased by the accession of many thousands of refugees from districts now, in virtue of the Treaty of Berlin, in Serbian possession, which, prior to the late war, were exclusively inhabited by the descendants of twelve Gheg tribes which at a remote period emigrated from upper Albania. . . . The natural hatred existing between the Arnaouts (Albanians) and the Serbians of the principality, fanned by the late war, has been intensified by the expulsion of Ghegs (North Albanians) in large numbers from the territory lately acquired by Serbia."
The Serbs themselves recognized that the Albanians formed the bulk of the population. The Serbian delegate, Colonel Jovanovitch, wrote a letter to the Commission delimiting the frontiers on November 4, 1878, requesting that the frontier should not be drawn along the left bank of the Truava, as it "would offer to the neighbor State a view of Vranje, which would continually be threatened by a surprise attack, an impossible defense and a sudden invasion of the Albanians." Vranje was on the ancient Serb frontier prior to the wars of 1912-1913.
Who were these Albanians from whom Colonel Jovanovitch feared sudden invasion? They were the Albanians of Kosovo vilayet, who then formed the overwhelming majority of the population and who today, if reports be true, form the entire population.
That the Serbian government recognized in 1913 that these lands were not Serbian is amply proved by the fact that, in order to subjugate a million Albanians and perhaps also a million Bulgars, they drew up a series of laws for the annexed districts which are almost unequaled for severity.
Le Rlglement sur la SScurite Publique, published on September 21, 1913, and signed by King Peter, proves only too clearly that Serbia was dealing with a completely foreign population, which was ready at any moment to revolt against the Serbian yoke.
Bulgaria's claims on Albania are yet more fragile. They are based only on the fact that the Bulgars invaded Albania in the tenth and thirteenth centuries and were forced to retire from it.
As for Greek claims, they are not even based on historical conquest, for the Greeks have never conquered any part of Albania in the old days. They were, on the contrary, conquered by Albania's ancestors, the Macedonians. When they demand Epirus, which is simply South Albania, they base their claim entirely upon religion and upon the schools which, as we have above described, the Turkish government permitted them to open in the district.
Great trouble has arisen in the Balkans from the fact that at the time of the Turkish conquest the Turks recognized the Greek Patriarch as Head of all their Orthodox subjects. Ever since that fatal day the Greeks have claimed all members of the Orthodox Church who were Turkish subjects, as "Greek." In former days, on these grounds, they claimed the whole of Macedonia, regardless of the nationality of the inhabitants. They displaced all the Bulgar and Serbian