The Restored Serbian State and the Albanians, part II


The Restored Serbian State and the Albanians 1804-1876, part II

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The major political events and developments determining relations between Serbia and the Albanians in the 19th century, (given the general situation in the Ottoman Empire, and particularly in the Albanian social setting – according to historical research), can be outlined as follows.

During the First Serbian Uprising, (which in the northern part of Serbia – from the Drina to the Timok rivers and from the Sava and Danube to Mts. Golija and Jastrebac – led to the expulsion of the Turks and the organization of a national administration of the Serbian people), there was almost constant fighting against Turkish armies to preserve what had been gained in the struggle for freedom. Concomitant with the Porte’s political authority to liquidate, institutions of the Turkish political and agrarian system, (the “timar” and “čitluk” estates), disappeared from the liberated part of Serbia.

The administration of national land was taken over by local people, while the insurgent army protected liberated territory from the restoration powers of Turkish authority. The Serbian peasant became the owner of land in the emerging Serbian state, and rose rapidly in the eyes of other subjugated Balkan peoples but particularly the peasantry under Turkish administration.  They had become increasingly burdened by new taxes, serfdom and the anarchic state of security prevailing in the Ottoman Empire. Many refugees, individually or with their families, fled to Serbia, with mercenaries (“bećari”) amongst their numbers. Historical documents and information of a narrative character have been preserved about this.

Among the mercenaries with the Serbian insurgents was a man named Konda Barijaktar. He was an Orthodox Albanian from the border between Toskeria and Epirus, who had first been with the outlaw Azur Beg Korcalija. Later, as a Christian, he joined Karadjordje’s army. He took part in the liberation of Belgrade in 1806 and was celebrated in a Serbian epic poem. It is known that several of his comrades (“emseri”) Albanians and Vlachs (“Tzintzars”) from the border regions fled to Serbia with Konda. Lazar Arsenijević Bata-Laka, a contemporary of these events and figures, mentioned a number of the former bandits in his work, “History of the Serbian Uprising”.  Of these Serbian mercenaries, from both Serbia and Belgrade, he stated some time after 1806 that he “knew many Christians among these {bandits}: Bulgarians, Greek-Albanians and Tzintzar-Albanians who remained with the Serbs when Gusanac left and hired under the name “bećari” which then followed the (Serbian) army”.

Nevertheless, cases in which Albanians abandoned the Turkish army and joined the Serbs were rare. In the example of the First Serbian Uprising, religion acted as an ideological determining factor among the Albanians. Konda, a Christian, and his comrades joined the uprising, as many historical sources explain, because they no longer wanted to serve the Turks. In contrast to this phenomenon, Vuk Karadzic wrote that many of the outlaws with Gusanac – he mentions them by name: Bećir-Djakova, Ali of Prizren and Commander Ganić – remained in the service of the Turks and were killed fighting the Serbs.

These instances of polarization and separation amongst the Albanians who served on the chief battlefields in Serbia were not due solely to religious-ideological differences. Of much greater importance was the socio-class distinction, which determined their attitude towards the Serbian struggle against the Turks in Serbia and participation on the side of the Turkish army, (or against it, as the case may be). Thus, in 1806, an Albanian unit led by Ibrahim Pasha Bushati, the Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish army, participated in several weeks of fighting at Deligrad. A dozen pashas and begs from Ghegeria and Kosovo are mentioned, and similar to the great battles of 1810 and 1811—at Varvarin and, on the Timok River, near Vidin. Ali Pasha of Janina, (as Commander-in-Chief), sent his sons Muktar Pasha and Veli (Veliedin) “beg” in his stead, as head of a great army and numerous “begs”, “pashas” and commanders from southern Albania.

The “pashas” of the Metohija and Kosovo “sanjaks” were constantly fighting the Serbian insurgents during this period. Notable among them were Numan Pasha of Peć and Malic Pasha of Prishtina. Apart from ideological reasons they were motivated by fear of a socio-political rebellion by the Christian “rayah” (subject peoples), as had already taken place in the northern part of Serbia. In 1813, in the final battles of the Ottoman Empire with the Serbian insurgents, the greatest part of the Turkish expeditionary force was comprised of Bosnian Muslims on the western Serbian front, of Albanians on the southern front near Niš, and Anadolian and Thracian troops on the eastern front near the Timok River. The numerous Albanian “pashas” and “begs” included those of Metohija and Kosovo – the Mahmud Pasha of Prizren and Malik (Malic) Pasha of Prishtina, as Turkish “sanjak, and “begs”. When Serbia was crushed that year, Mahmud Pasha Rotula of Prizren returned with booty, a dozen Serbia women slaves and, somewhat oddly, a bell plundered from the church in Smederevo (with the insignia of Karadjordje’s donorship). It was later installed on the clock tower in Prizren.

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As occurred during the expeditions of 1806, the Turkish army conducted a “jihad”, (“spirit of a holy war”), between 1810 and 1811 with the motivation, means and aims it suggested. In this respect, there was nothing unusual about the fact that the material, economic and socio-class interests of the “begs” coincided with the religiouis-ideological aims of the expeditions of the “begs” against the Serbian infidels (“djaure”) and bandits (“murtate”). It was not only a ruling (“fetva”) handed down by the highest religious council—even the sultan’s edict clearly provided spiritual incentives and political instructions for the military spiritual and material subjugation of the Serbian rebels. This political and psychological approach to the Serbian insurrection and Serbian rebels, dictated and encouraged by the Porte and Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire, was of a general nature. It applied to all protagonists in the state administration and public authority, especially the “pashas”, “begs” and “janissary agas”, throughout the empire. It did not apply exclusively to Albanians, (who were at war against the Serbian insurgents), but also to the Turks of Rumelia and the Bosnian “begs” and Serbian-speaking captains of Slav extraction who, owing to religious, social, class, civilization and ideological ties, identified with the state interests of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, it is understandable why there should have been among the Serbs of the period, even among the leaders of the Serbian uprising, such a condemnation of the Albanian and Bosnian Muslims serving in the Turkish army. It not only surfaced in routine wartime activities but also later, in written historical accounts. The fight for nine long years against the insurgents in Serbia would not soon be forgotten.

These important circumstances of the Serbo-Turkish wars were constantly emphasized in the periodical negotiations between the Serbs and the Porte, and in Serbian appeals to the sultan, (and foreign courts) for regulation of the political and economic position of Serbs in the Ottoman Empire.

In order to gain a full picture of Serbo-Albanian relations during this period there is an important historical fact in it: the activity of the Albanians from the Malësorët tribes of Malesia in northern Albania. Owing to its social organization and religious orientation, Malesia viewed the events caused by the Serbian insurrection in a different light from the “begs”. The Malësorët were motivated by a different, one might even say political, concept of relations with the Ottoman Empire, which stemmed from different historical conditions with respect to socio-economic and cultural relations and social characteristics.

Thus, shortly before the Serbia uprising of 1804, the Malësorët tribes did not recognize the authority of the vizier of Skutari, Ibrahim Pasha Bushati and sought support from the Montenegrins. In mid-1805 the Kuchi, Piperi and Kelmendasit jointly rebelled against the vizier of Skadar but, at about the same time, discontent was expressed with the Turkish authorities in Drobnjaci. The defeat of the imperial armies in Serbia in both 1805 and 1806, and the great changes in the social and economic circumstances of the Serbian peasantry, suggested to the Albanian Malësorët the possibility of an Albanian repeat performance of the Serbian enterprises. The same enemy, the disorganized and extortionist administration of Ottoman officials—and so onerous to the Balkan peoples—opened the way to Serbo-Albanian collaboration. The aims of their struggle for freedom were the same, or at least similar.

It has been documented that Karadjordje’s victories in Serbia were celebrated by Malësorët folk singers, about which – according to several accounts –there was tradition that the Serbian leader originate from a neighboring Kuchi clan which had relatives in some of the Malësorët tribes. (It is known that Karadjordje celebrated St. Clement’s Day as his patron saint’s day). There is also information that Karadjordje and the Constituent Soviet, in negotiations with the Russians and also with Napoleon’s ministers (in 1810 and 1812), mentioned Albania as territory that would be included in military operations with the aim of crushing the authority of the Ottoman Empire in northwestern Rumelia and Bosnia. Russian tsar Alexander I, however, did not approve of this undertaking and, after the Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 between Russia and Turkey, the Serbian insurgents found themselves alone facing the Ottoman Empire. For their part, poorly armed, economically impoverished and exhausted with a strong Turkish garrison stationed in Skutari, the Malësorët were unable to cause any large-scale uprising against the Turkish authorities. Their rebellion against Turkey assumed the character primarily in defense of the rights of tribal self-government, tax dispensations and privileges whenever the “pasha” of Skutari tried to abolish them by order from Istanbul, or at his own autocratic pleasure. It would be two or three more decades before the chieftains of the Malësorët grasped the need for organizing a struggle against the Turks on a broader political basis, and to seek allies beyond the narrow limits of their tribal alliances. In the meantime, the changed circumstances of the Ottoman Empire, (especially after the Second Serbian Uprising of 1815, the great peasant revolts of the Heterists in Wallachia in 1821 and the Greek Revolution of 1821-1827), influenced developments in Albania and among the Albanians. Significant for Serbo-Albanian political relations, i.e., the policy pursued by the Principality of Serbia with respect to the Albanians, was the reign of Prince Miloš (1815-1839).

During the reign of Prince Miloš there were several attempts to establish political relations on the part of the Albanians with Serbia—that is, with the liberated part of Serbia which was becoming increasingly independent of the direct authority of the Ottoman Empire. Ali Pasha Tepelenli made the first attempt in about 1818 when he tried to draw the Serbian prince into his struggle with the Porte. Through special emissaries, the “pasha” of Janina offered Prince Miloš a kind of military-political alliance. His objective was to incite the Serbs in the Belgrade “pashaluk” into spearheading another revolt as they had done in 1815 against the authority of the Porte. Ali Pasha offered the Serbs aid in money and arms. His contacts with the Serbs apparently went by way of some Greeks from Epirus, who were at his service. The pasha’s opinion was that a weakened Turkish army, part of which would be directed against the Serbs, would reduce pressure in Epirus and Sofia and probably cause the Turkish defense to collapse. Serbia would thus be spared further attacks by the sultan’s army. As a reward, Prince Miloš would become independent of the Porte, as would Ali Pasha.

Prince Miloš did not accept Ali Pasha’s idea of openly opposing the sultan’s sovereignty. His fighting force was weak and insufficient. Ali Pasha did not inspire confidence either with regards as to his strength or his sincerity towards the Serbs, (against whom he had fought during the First Uprising between 1810 and 1813). In fact, as Prince Miloš viewed politics and political relations, Ali Pasha fought on the strength of his sword and the ideology of his faith – and would do so against any Christian infidel. The Serbian prince thought that Ali Pasha wanted to use him as an ally to achieve his aims of usurping rule over territory from which the Porte’s officials and military units had been expulsed. In any case, the Greek uprising in 1821 confirmed Prince Miloš’ suspicions. In a decisive battle against the sultan’s great army Ali Pasha was finally defeated and his life soon ended. Thus, his project, full of uncertainties and without visible guarantees, failed to draw the Serbian prince and the Serbs into another war with the Ottoman Empire.

The second attempt to initiate Serbo-Albanian collaboration against the Turkish authorities came from Mustafa, “pasha” of Skutari, Mustafa Pasha, and from the Albanian Bushati family. It had been an irritation to the Porte during the Russo-Turkish war of 1828/29. Seeing the defeat of the Turkish army, Mustafa Pasha wanted to take advantage of the great crisis in the Ottoman Empire and, through the mediation of Prince Miloš, proclaim himself “ruler of Albania”, if Russian diplomacy would assist him. However, Tsar Nicolas I did not envisage the break-up of the Turkish Empire. Prince Miloš’s mediation was not successful, and after the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, Mustafa Pasha returned to Skutari. He soon came into conflict with the Porte. During this period, like Ali Pasha Janina, he entered secret negotiations with the Porte’s armies. These negotiations were conducted through the emissaries, Antonio Jubani of Skutari and Miloš’s agent, Anastas Armas (of Bulgarian extraction). But in 1831 the Porte’s army routed Mustafa Pasha, took Skutari and seized, among other things, the “pasha’s” correspondence with Prince Miloš. The affairs were of great political significance, resulting in tension in Turco-Serbian relations.

Even after all this, Serbo-Albanian political collaboration in the form of political relations amongst Prince Miloš, Ali Pasha Janina and Mustafa Pasha yielded no practical results. There were many reasons for this. Of decisive significance was the Turkish military superiority which prevented and suppressed the opposition of the Albanian pashas of Janina and Skutari, i.e. southern Albanian (with Epirus) and northern Albania, Ghegeria. At the same time, even independent of Skadar “pasha”, the Malësorët established secret contacts with Montenegro.

After 1830 and the formation of the autonomous Principality of Serbia, the policy towards the liberation movements of the Balkan peoples included contacts of historical interest such as Prince Miloš meeting the chiefs of the Albanian Hotjanet tribe, brothers Mark and Djelosh Ruk-Deda. Because of the aid these chieftains gave to the Montenegrins in the struggle with the Turskish vizier of Skutari in 1831, the defeat of the Turkish army, in the Hote hills in 1832, they were forced to flee their native land. They intended to go to Serbia and thus began correspondence with Prince Miloš. The Serbian prince agreed to the Hotjanet request for refuge in Serbia. They were already on the way to Serbia via Rijeka when the Porte, apparently through diplomatic channels, persuaded the Austrians to halt further travel. These Hotjanet chiefs probably continued to maintain contact with Prince Miloš, which can be seen in later contacts with the Constitutionalists and new attempts at collaboration towards liberation from the Turkish authorities.

Furthermore, in the desire to seek as much protection as possible for the Serbs from pillaging and serfdom and from the repression and abuses of administrative organs, Prince Miloš maintained “friendly contacts” (“dostluk”) with the “pashas” of Prizren, Peć and Prishtina. His contacts with Mahmud Pasha Rotula of Prizren were friendly so as to protect the Dečani monastery, which at the time was exposed to attacks by bandits (“aramije”) and outlaws (“kachaci”). At the request of the abbot of Decani, and the Serbian parish of Prizren, Prince Miloš mediated between Mahmud Pasha Rotula and the Porte, which the former had irritated as a supporter of Mustafa Pasha of Skutari. On the contrary, Prince Miloš was not on very good terms with Jashar Pasha of Prishtina because of his eviction of Serbs on the territory of his “pashaluk”. Ami Boué noted, for example, that because of the great persecutions and suffering, (“etat de souffrance”), the Serbs of the Kosovo plains sought relief from Prince Miloš whom they regarded as their messiah!

Basically, the political views of Prince Miloš as ruler of Serbia towards the Albanians and their liberation from Turkish rule were more or less the same as his views of other Balkan peoples. They were, above all, aimed at overthrowing the rule of Ottoman Empire by all ways and means possible in the actual historical situation in the Balkans and contemporary international relations. Not given to historic romanticism, a realistic politician and advocate of negotiation between the Balkan peoples through representatives who supported the idea of liberation from the Turks, Prince Miloš in his concept of relations with the Porte was interested in the Albanians, namely those who expressed the true aspirations of the Albanian people for political, social, and economic liberation from Turkish rule and the Porte’s agrarian and fiscal institutions. The example of the Hotjanet chiefs of 1834 illustrates the type of Albanian social environment Prince Miloš thought he should pursue as a policy of Serbo-Albanian friendship so that this policy, in the mutual interests of a real struggle for liberation, would be more realistic and effective than had been the case with the Turkicized “pashas”: Ali Pasha Janina and Mustafa Pasha of Skutari.

That this concept of the main problem in the history of the Balkan peoples – the termination of Turkish rule – was really Prince Miloš’s chief preoccupation is borne out by French diplomat Bois-Le-compte who in June 1834 recounted the ideas of the Serbian prince to his minister of foreign affairs: “It’s high time we finished with an empire that is crumbling and let all peoples whose nationality was suppressed in its interests enjoy the life that belongs to them. Let us free ourselves from the Turks who occupy our towns…Let the Serbs and Greeks, Albanians and Bulgarians govern themselves in the countries they live in…Why should one people be subjugated by another? All this is against the natural order of things, and nature in the final analysis always demands its rights. As for the idea of dividing Turkey among the Great Powers, this would not improve matters but worsen them and thus create new, endless intrigues in the future…”

Catholic Albanians (“Latini”), who came on business to Serbia from Skutari or Djakovica, were welcome and through them the Serbian prince, among other things, obtained gunpowder, flint and a popular type of rifle (“latinke”). Albanian traders in livestock, primarily cattle, were also seen at Serbian markets, and Serbian traders went to Skutari, Alessio and Ulcinj for oil, tobacco and gun powder. It is possible – and this requires further research –such business contacts with Albanian traders of Skutari, (mostly Catholic), were to later prompt Ilija Garašanin, (a central figure of the Constitutionalist regime in Serbia), to approach the Albanian problem more methodically and systematically to direct contact with Albanian representatives after 1844.

In this respect, establishing contact so as to consolidate political relations would have been normal if Prince Miloš had been able to work with the Turkicized Albanian “pashas”. But the idea was utopian because of the cruel way the Albanian “pashas” in the Turkish system of authority were treating the Serbian population. Prince Miloš could not establish good relations, except rarely, even though the population was the majority and reflected by the conduct of their people on “čitluk” estates. Pillaging of property of the Serbian peasants of Kosovo and Metohija continued, with Jashar Pasha of Prishtina. The socio-class factor in the material sphere and the religious-ideological factor in the political sphere of Serbo-Turkish relations, which governed the Albanian “pashas” and “begs” – and especially the “agas” on the “čitluk” estates –led not only to social and economic separation, but also caused hatred. Virtually the entire Turkish administrative and feudal system was in the hands of people of Albanian extraction.

In 1832, the autocratic conduct and abuses that the “pashas” inflicted upon the Serbian “rayah” in their administrative districts, (even contrary to “sheria” law which regulated relations between the Muslim authorities and subject peoples), grew in response to numerous complaints from Prince Miloš. They were eventually investigated by the grand vizier Reshid “Pasha”, especially regarding the illegal usurpation of Serbian property on the “čitluk” estates.

These conditions of anarchy in relations between the Turco-Albanians “beg” and Serbian peasants lasted until 1836 when the Porte, for reasons of state, arrested all the “pashas” of the Kosovo-Metohija “sanjaks” and abrogated their inherited titles (“dere-beji” and “uchtuglu”).

Because of this situation, and primarily with respect to the Turkish state administration and opposition of the Albanian “pashas” and “begs” in Kosovo, a centralized state administration was introduced in 1836.  On basis of the Law on Pashaluks (“ejalet”), the Porte introduced a system centralizing the state administration. The centralization of authority and Ottomanization of the public administration constituted the basis of the Porte’s new policy, with the advantage of introducing tax registration for the Porte’s Muslim subjects serving in the regular army (“nizam”).

The Edict (Hattisherif) of Gilhan in 1839 abolished military tenure (the “timar” and “spahiluk” estates) in Turkey and introduced the so-called Tanzimat (Hairije) reforms. It created new challenges in Kosovo, Metohija, and neighboring regions, vis-à-vis Albanian-Turkish relations which had already made their impact on the daily lives of the Serbian population. This new situation in Kosovo and Metohija was characterized by a decline in public security, the failure of Turkish policy of centralization and Ottomanization, unsettled agrarian-legal relations, the multiplication of Muslim bandits, and great hardships for the mostly rural Serbian population. The vast expanses of historic Old Serbia became “a lawless land”, and its’ difficult circumstances were factually described in literature by the well-known Serbian author and good friend of the Albanians, Marko Miljanov. During this period, a dozen or so years after Prince Miloš was removed, the Principality of Serbia had almost no official contacts with representatives of the Turkish administration in these regions, or with Albanian national leaders.

Serbo-Albanian political contacts, namely joint efforts towards the liberation of both peoples from the rule of Turkish governors, were for the most part individuals with great military dispensations, and maintained with the Mirëditët and Malësorët. For awhile, the Mirëditët constituted the main Albanian political force in cooperation with the Principality of Serbia, and the Serbs.

The reasons for political contacts between the Principality of Serbia and the Mirëditët, (the largest Albanian tribe), were explained by Ilija Garašanin. First, in its’ historical confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, Serbia had to seek allies on the basis of the motto: “the Balkans for the Balkan peoples”. That liberation could be achieved only through the joint efforts of the Balkan peoples, under the leadership of Serbia. The second practical reason was that the Albanians, particularly the Mirëditët, constituted a strong military force in fighting the Turks. As pointed out in the state of national-poliical program of the Principality of Serbia (Nacertanije), the aim of this collaboration was that “all non-Osmanli peoples of the Balkan peninsula should become independent”. In fact, during those years the Mirëditët were in latent conflict with the Porte because of its attempt to interfere in the succession of Mirëditët chief (“prenk”). Though it is not exactly known how the first contacts were made with the Serbian authorities because of the isolation in which they found themselves with respect to the Porte, (and also some of the nearby Albanian tribes, and over feuds with the Montenegrins), the Mirëditët accepted the invitation of the Serbian government for political cooperation. By 1846, there were already official contacts.

In this connection, Atanasije Nikolić, Garašanin’s assistant for liaison with representatives of the Balkan peoples, wrote: “As early as 1846 a “besa” (pledge) was concluded among the Mirëditët with the Catholic priest, Don Carlo Krasni. A conscientious man, he endeavored to promote sympathy for Serbia among the Roman Catholic Albanians. Through his efforts he recruited the Mirëditët chief Bib-Doda, who stated that he was ready to participate with the Mirëditët in the struggle for liberation so the Mirëditët would have autonomy and freedom of religion under the Serbian government. The correspondence with Krasni was conducted in Latin”.

As in other cases when the Serbian government assisted other Balkan peoples under Turkish rule, especially Bulgaria, it spared no expense to aid the financial, propaganda and organizational activities to its new allies. “The lands of the Mirëditët and other northern Albanian Catholic tribes, according to the Constitution of Political Propaganda of 1849, were located in the so-called southern zone and were the responsibility of author Matija Ban. Don Carlo Crasni was qualified as agent and for his activities among the Albanians received 4,000 groschen yearly, (about a hundred ducats). In the summer of 1849 so as to give a clearer picture of the desires of the Albanians of northern Albania, Krasni came to Belgrade and had talks with Garašanin. He presented the results of his work with the Mirëditët who were willing to place themselves at the disposal of the Serbian government in the fight against the Turkish Empire and in return requested aid in gunpowder and flint. Towards the end of December 1849 an alliance for defense and attack against the Turks was concluded by Njegos and Bib-Doda. Soon afterwards Serbo-Albanian contacts began to be made by the way of Montenegro”.

During 1847 and 1848 the Porte tried again to conscript Albanians into the regular army (“nizam”), by introducing obligatory military service. A rebellion broke out in the Mat (Maca) province during which the governor of the district Abdi Pasha was killed. Djul-Leka was one of the leaders of this Albanian revolt. More through conciliation and promises than real military action, the Porte managed to suppress the movement. The Serbian government, namely its agents, did not succeed in establishing contact with Djul-Leka, even though he was mentioned fairly often in official Serbian newspapers.

In addition to Don Carlo Krasni, Domazen, Catholic bishop of Skutari, also promoted Serbo-Albanian friendship among Albanian Catholics. Located in the city of Kalmeti, south of Skutari, was a Serbian propaganda agency responsible for this part of Albania. It appears to have had some success. In 1850 and 1851 a relative of the Mirëditët chieftain, Mark Prokljesh, was in Cetinje and Belgrade and promised the Serbs “he could send 2,000 soldiers to the prince and Serbian government at any time if necessary”. However, in 1853, the Crimean War broke out and that year Ilija Garašanin was removed from office. The war and the Serbian declaration of neutrality meant that all official contacts between the Serbian government and the Albanians were broken off. The Mirëditët were under pressure not only from the Porte but also military-intelligence emissaries from the British and French governments—and also the French consul in Skutari, H. Hecquard, to send contingents to the Danubian front against the Russian army. This was repeated with the Malësorët.  Catholic Albanians were increasingly under pressure from Austria, which succeeded in recruiting Bishop Domazen.

The Crimean War ended in 1856 with the defeat of Russia. France, the major power in the coalition, had greater influence over the Porte, and also in areas where there were Catholic Turkish subjects. This applied to the Malësorët and Mirëditët. The aim of the anti-Slav and anti-Orthodox propaganda of the Frence consul in Skutari was to ensure for France exclusive influence over all Albanians. H. Hecquard even tried, (first through the Turkish authorities), to compel Dečani monastery to accept Latin rites, and diplomatic, financial and economic influence over the Porte after 1856; the French were enjoying greater prestige among the Albanian Catholics (“Fande”). French agents appear to have encouraged them to emigrate to Metohija, and the neighboring districts of Kosovo, so as to serve as a counterweight to the indigenous Orthodox Serbian population. In this they had some success: among the outlaws who had begun plundering Serbian villages, especially in the district of Pec, mention is made of these “Fande”.

Conversely, there is an interesting comment by Vuk Karadžić in a letter written to Ilija Garašanin, on December 26, 1863, concerning a meeting with Gaspar Krasnik, a priest with the Mirëditët. “He speaks Serbian rather poorly, but we could understand each other: he told me all manner of things about the past and the future, but when in answer to his question I told him you were fine and in good health, he asked me to send his greetings. He was then on his way to Rome, but he said that in two months’ time he would be back with the Mirëditët.”

A few years after the Crimean War, political contacts between the Principality of Serbia and the Albanians were revived. These contacts, as in the preceding decades, met with varying degrees of success, and were established for the most part in northern Albania. Respectively, the second reign of Prince Mihajlo, (1860-1868), constituted a return to an active foreign and national policy on the part of Serbia. In 1861, the Prince returned Ilija Garašanin as prime minister and entrusted him with organizing a national policy. Negotiations were to be entered with the Bulgarians, Greeks and Albanians so as to achieve complete agreement on the formation of a federation of Balkan peoples. Since there were two other free states besides Montenegro in the Balkans, Serbia and Greece, an accord between them would serve as a basis for uniting other peoples: the Bulgarians and Albanians in particular.

ilija garasanin

Garašanin viewed the problem of Albania and the Albanians in terms of the following: “The ultimate aim for us (Serbs) can be only the formation of a modern Bulgarian-Serbian state under the Obrenović dynasty (…) In conclusion, it also shows that Greece and Albania will not constitute artificial territorial units of the new (Serbo-Bulgarian) state, but can exist very comfortably in this union”. In negotiations with Greece, Serbia supported the self-determination of the Albanians, or in Garašanin’s words: “…whether they organize in a separate state between the Viose and Drim rivers or join Serbia, or Greece”. The Greek negotiators, however, demanded a division along the banks of the Viose, to which the Serbian government did not agree.

The final text of the agreement of August 14, 1867 contained a formulation that left the Albanians the possibility of not joining either Greece or Serbia, and that Albania should become “an independent member of the Balkan confederation”. For Serbia, however, the problem lay in the religious, social and tribal division of the Albanian people. Contacts with the Catholic Albanians had already been established. But it was much more difficult with the Muslim Albanians, (as with the Serbian-speaking Muslim Slavs in the Bosnia “pashaluk”). “Consequently Garašanin felt that the Muslims of this region could be won over by means of some person who had achieved prominence through his activity and who also had a dislike for the Porte…”
This was, as it turned out, Dzelal Pasha from the large Zogu clan who had been interned in Istanbul because of conflicts with the Porte, and had come to the attention of people in the Russian legation and Serbian agents.

In April of 1866, Jovan Ristić, Serbian diplomatic representative in Istanbul, (“kapuchehaja”), sent a report to Garašanin reading: “The chief malcontent is a certain Dželal Pasha from Mat in Albania, a descendant of Skender Beg on the distaff side…). He is Muslim from the Albanian Ghegs and with enough clout, according to acquaintances, to raise fifteen thousand men (…). First he asked for protection from some great power, and afterwards was persuaded that he should associate himself with peoples who have the same aspirations; that every tribe has an identity, and hence his on. He has agreed. I offered to send someone to Belgrade for further negotiations (…) Instead he gave a written statement that he intended to mount a rebellion (…) in Albania…” In Serbia, Prince Mihailo and Garašanin agreed after cautious investigation to collaborate with Džemal “Pasha”. Furthermore, Prince Mihailo wanted to recognize Dželal “Pasha” as ruler of Albanian after the war and defeat of the Turkish army in the general uprising of the Balkan peoples. Dželal Pasha, however, insisted on an insurrection as soon as possible, fearing the Turks would discover him. But Prince Mihailo was not ready until he had concluded an accord with Greece and reached a final agreement with the Bulgarians and the government of Rumania, (since an accord with Montenegro had already been signed). As for Albania, it was a missed opportunity: Dželal Pasha did not dare launch an uprising against the Turks on his own. In early 1867, he took advantage of the Porte’s amnesty and joined the Turkish state service, waiting – as he told Serbian and Russian agents – for Serbia to complete its military and political preparations.

Franc Mauri, a Franciscan and Slovenian by birth, whom the Roman Curia had sent to Albania, served for a brief period as an agent of the idea of the liberation working among the Albanians. An advocate of the idea of the liberation of the Balkan peoples from Turkish rule, he came to Albania as priest to promote the ideas of freedom. In this he was aided by Albanian dissatisfaction with the Turkish administration of the “vali” of Skutari, Ismail Pasha, Hotjanet and Kelemendasit chiefs, Mirashi-Asi and Prek Staku. For his efforts, he spent time in heavy chains in the prison of Skadar. But upon release, and following the tradition of contacts between their tribal chiefs and Serbia, they accepted Mauri’s idea about collaboration with the Serbia government. Also, the Kastratasit, Trijeshjanet, Traboinasit and Grudasit chieftains awaited Serbian and Montenegrin action and would rise, with good chances of success, against the Turkish administration. They accepted the viewpoint of the Serbian government transmitted by agents, and would cooperate provided that the Catholic faith, customs and national self-government were recognized. The settlement of earlier disputes between the Malësorët and the Montenegrins and other Serbian hill tribes helped promote friendly collaboration between the northern Albanians and the states of Serbia and Montenegro. Marko Miljanov, a Kuc leader, was right when, operating very much like a Serbian agent among the Malësorët, he noted that “…everything was in turmoil, in Old Serbia and Albania (…) to join the princes (of Serbia and Montenegro) whenever needed…”

Several unexpected events delivered a great blow to the promotion of cooperation between the Albanian Malësorët and Mirëditët and Serbia. In late 1866, the Porte arrested Father Krasni: the Serbian government suspected that Franc Mauri was an Austrian citizen and had been recruited by the Austrian secret police. Domazen had ceased activity, fearing Turkish arrest. An agent recruited by the Serbian government to work with the Mirëditët, Antun Glazer, returned to Austria after a brief stay in Albania, unable to adapt to conditions there. The arrest of Mirëditët chief Prenk Bib Doda, who had agreed to collaborate with Serbia, broke an Albanian uprising against the Turks. Just when it appeared that Serbia had managed to win over a large percentage of the Albanians – on territory extending from Skadar and Malesia, via Miredite, to Mat, Debarska Malesia – losses blocked or slowed down preparations. The diplomatic-political intercession of the Great Powers in Serbia concerning the liberation of the towns in the spring of 1867 diverted the attention of the Serbian government to this aspect of its relations with the Ottoman Empire. Austro-Hungary, increasingly supportive of Turkey, also exerted great pressure on Serbia, thus strangling the liberation movement not only of the Serbian people but other peoples on the Balkan peninsula.

In the meantime, in the spring of 1867, Prince Mihailo recalled Garašanin, and in May 1868 he was killed in Topčider.  The government of Serbia was assumed as a regency—but it dropped Serbia’s so-called “policy of action”, (namely, continuing a revolutionary policy towards Turkey). Nevertheless, contacts between the new Serbian government and representatives of the liberation movements of the Balkan peoples were not interrupted. As regards Albania, they became even more intensive, inasmuch as new incentives came mostly from people in various parts of central and northern Albania.

Certain documents have survived mentioning “contacts with Albanians in Albania”. In 1869, contacts between northern Albanian Catholics and the Serbian authorities were established through a merchant from Podgorica, Prem Leka. They consisted of requests that the Serbian government, in its plans for the liberation of the Balkan peoples from Turkish rule, should not forget them, the Albanians. Furthermore, it is known that four Albanian representatives from Mat came to Belgrade where they received aid in money and instructions for activity among other Albanians. Also among them were Albanians from Debarska Malesia, mentioned by name: Ahmet Chetan, Zir-Sufa, Asan-Beg and others. In early 1869, Dželal Pasha, himself, was secretly in Belgrade. He was the guest of the first Regent, minister of the army Milivoj Blaznavac. Their political talks concerned the situation following the Cretan uprising and the great discontent reigning among Albanians in the southern parts of Albania.

In February 1869, Dželal Pasha agreed to launch an uprising in Albania in the summer providing the Serbian government began action and gave assistance in food. He promised 3,000-5,000 fighters as a start. Dželal Pasha personally “gave his word (besa) that he would work for the liberation of Christians and Albanians (Muslims) from the Osmanlis.” However, fearing that the Turks would discover his stay in Serbia, Dželal Pasha soon left for Zurich via Vienna and,together with some Albanian political emigrants, continued political activity primarily for the French government. The Serbian government provided him with a monthly assistance of 120 kreuzers and a secretary, Djordje Dimitrijević, for correspondence with the Serbian authorities. In Albania, Riza-bej carried on the “pasha’s” activity, as his son. The new insurrection was planned for May-June of that year, and the correspondence of the Serbian government with Riza-bej and Dželal Pasha was supposed to continue via Stojan Vezenkovic, Dzelal’s earlier contact with Jovan Ristić in Istanbul and the Serbian government in Belgrade. However, his compatriot Naum Sido, an Orthodox Albanian, Tosk, also played an important role in recruiting Dzelal Pasha for cooperation with Serbia. Jovan Ristić described Sido as “a fairly educated, serious and sensitive man, a merchant of moderate means”, and that he could be considered a person completely royal to Serbia, continued to work on popularizing the idea of Albanian collaboration with Serbia, even when Dželal Pasha abandoned it – allegedly because of the Serbian government’s delay in entering a war with Turkey. After returning to Turkey as a high-ranking officer, he was soon killed on the battlefield in an Asian part of the Empire!

Concerned with problems of internal policy, and in a dilemma about whether to seek foreign political support from Austro-Hungary or Russia, the Regency (1868-72) considerably modified the basic tenets of its national policy. This was in part due to a serious conflict with the United Serbian Youth, having been criticized rigorously by the socialist movement of Svetozar Markovic. In contrast to Prince Mihailo and Ilija Garašanin, (while not abandoning the idea of collaboration between the Balkan peoples in principle), it narrowed the scope of the national policy in practical terms to a limited program of liberating the Serbs in Turkey—and more through diplomatic persuasion of the Porte to transfer its’ authority to Serbian organs of administration, (for example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the territory of the old sanjak of Nis). The Regency did not reject cooperation with the Bulgarians or Albanians but, unlike Prince Mihailo, directed its’ activity primarily through its relations with Austro-Hungary and Russia and their Balkan policies. After the French defeat in the war with Prussia (1870/71), these two powers had the most influence on conditions in Turkey.

Hopes were still placed in many Serbian regions in northern and central Albania where the political policy of Ottomanization was very harsh, and the Porte used military force to strengthen state authority. It violated former tribal and feudal rights of the Albanian clans (“fis”) and abolished the inherited titles of “pasha” and “beg”. For the Turks, who lived in southern Albania, the aim was to transfer Turkish authority to Albanians, while respecting the sovereignty of the sultan and conserving the integrity of Turkish state. The Ghegs, however, particularly the Mirëditët and Malësorët, wanted to organize Turco-Albanian relations so as to ensure respect of self-governing rights and earlier dispensations that the Tanzimat legislation, (after 1839), had abolished, or in some spheres of taxation and delegation of authority that had already annulled. Although the Porte did not yield to it, (but in fact tried to effect a centralization of authority and administration), the moderately autonomist opposition of authority and administration of the Albanians increasingly assumed a separatist opposition of the Albanians. The international situation and influence of foreign states over conditions in Turkey strengthened these anti-Porte movements in Albania. After the 1860s, among the Tosks, there was also greater agitation from Greece. Only among the Malësorët was the strong influence of Serbia, and Montenegro, maintained, though contacts with the Mirëditët still persisted. In contrast, Albanian-Serbian antagonism in the old “vilayet” of Prishtina continued to mount, mostly because of the autocratic, lawless actions of numerous Turco-Albanian representatives of authority towards the Serbs of Metohija and Kosovo. Manifest, too, was religion-based polarization: Christian Albanians sought support from European states, (the great Christian powers or neighboring independent Balkan states), while Muslim Albanians looked to the Turkish Empire—particularly in the Albanian-Serbian regions of historic Old Serbia.

Among the Malësorët, the Hotjanet tribe still favored collaboration with Serbia. In 1873 Hotjanet chief Chun Mulj, and leader Mirash Asnikin, sent a signed and sealed letter to the Serbian minister of foreign affairs by way of Lek-Ivan, which was characteristic of current and future cooperation with Serbia. It read: “Since the fall of Kosovo we haven’t had an opportunity to send even a letter, or delegate, nor could the chiefs of Scutarene Albania present their greetings; the reason is that until now our roads have been closed by the Turks. And the distance between us is great. Therefore, we are sending you in secret someone to greet in person His Highness (Prince) and minister. We, the undersigned, hereby wish to inform our dear brothers in the name of all the Hotjanet and others of Malesia we shall be united as we were before. It is our special hope (…) that in future we, too, shall be able to come and see each other in person (…) We send a loyal man of the tribe named Lek-Ivan! Who shall present all our wishes, present and future, in a brotherly fashion on behalf of us all. Therefore if we receive a brotherly reply, we shall endeavor to be prepared to obey every command.”

Characteristic of the relations of the Serbian government with the Mirëditët was an official document dated 1876 which said that young Prenk Bib Doda, the son of Bib Doda, “had refused Turkish and Austrian offers of titles, honors and material aid and desired to work on promoting friendship with Serbia on the basis of tradition and the earlier experiences of his father (…) with Garašanin and Prince Mihailo. His uncle Djon Mark Doda also advocated political cooperation with Montenegro, and especially with Serbia. On the eve of the Serbo-Turkish wars of 1876 two prominent Albanians were prepared to come to Belgrade via Montenegro, which they did (…) in April of the same year. The Albanian leaders were escorted on their journey to Serbia by two Montenegrin officers”. Also, there are documents showing that the Serbian government was agreeable, before the war with the Turks of 1876, that Prince Nikola should enter negotiations with the chiefs of Debar and Dukagjin, whose delegates traveled to Cetinje. And, the Prince Nikola’s envoy should go to Orosi for negotiations with Prenk Doda. The Porte’s intelligence service learned about these negotiations, arrested young Prenk Bib Doda, and interned him in Istanbul just before the war between Montenegro and Serbia with Turkey, in 1876.

In Metohija and Kosovo, however, the Turkish Albanian administration was still in effect. Its’ policies were exceptionally harsh legal-political, religious with respect to the disenfranchised Serbian population. The legal position of the Serbs in Kosovo was particularly difficult, because the Turkish authorities did not protect the Serbian “rayah” who suffered greatly from the autocratic actions of the local organs of administration and plundering bands of outlaws. The Serbs, both person and property, were unprotected—as were the Serbian monasteries which became frequent targets of attack, pillaging and extortion. Agrarian-legal relations were especially intolerable, and the social status of the Serbian peasants was ruinous, but especially in Metohija where the power of the “beg” and “pasha” households of Peć and Djakovica had remained unchanged. The central Turkish authority was virtually without power or influence, except in towns.

Another development, between 1856 and 1876, was characteristic of the legal position of Serbs in Kosovo: the kidnapping of women and systematic extortion known as “rabosh”. Consequently, thousands of Serbian peasants, and also townspeople took refuge, often in great haste, from these perils and fled across the border into the Principality of Serbia. All the efforts of the Serbian government to induce the Porte, (the central government), to protect the Serbian population in Kosovo were to no avail. The Porte, for all practical purposes, was powerless before the autocratic conduct of local tyrants who enjoyed the protection of the old “beg” and “pasha” dynasties, particularly in Vučitrn and Djakovica. The situation continued until the mid-1870s and the First Serbo-Turkish war, in 1876.

Bitka_za_moravac

This war, and its aftermath, wiped out virtually thirty years’ efforts towards building a Serbo-Albanian friendship and political alliance which was struggling to be free from the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of the outcome, contacts and cooperation, the years especially between 1846 and 1877/78, constituted – historically speaking – a positive balance in general Serbo-Albanian relations. They reveal two important historical facts: first, a policy pursued by Serbia in the mid-19th century that did not disregard Albanians, nor did it reject the formation of an Albanian state on their own national-ethnic territory. And second that, though undeveloped from an economic and cultural standpoint, the majority of Albanians were already in favor during the first half of the 19th century of the policy, “the Balkans for the Balkan peoples”. It was on the basis of equality of rights and mutual cooperation. These two circumstances did not alter the fact that a good portion of the Albanians, owing primarily to the influence of religious (Muslim) exclusiveness, and the strong imprint of the feudal class of “pashas” and “begs” on the social and political development of the Albanian popular masses, had unconsciously become an instrument in the hands of the anachronistic Turkish Empire. And that, as such, it served as a policy of political, economic and social pressure on the surrounding rayah, above all Slavs, (in Macedonia, Kosovo, the basin of the South Morava, Sandžak), but also non-Muslim Albanians (for example, in Malesia).

To these two facts one could add a third: in seeking a solution to their own difficult position, (with support and aid from the free Serbia state), several initiatives which came from the Albanians included those of prominent, politically aware and popular representatives.

The developments of 1876, owing to wartime events, brought in a new period in Serbo-Albanian relations. Historically, it was a very important one.

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