The Albanian Uprising 1912

           After the initial preparations for the general revolt armed actions were increased. The next aim was to create armed groups which specifically functioned in Kosovo where some attacks against the Commission of Reforms were carried out. The lack of implementation of the 1911 agreements, new taxes and the worsened economic state in the country made the population even more disgruntled. Conditions grew worse because of the Young Turk authorities tried to manipulate the elections, to hamper the opening of new Albanian schools as well as imposing the Arabic alphabet in schools.

The rebels’ successes in Kosovo fuelled the national movement in central and southern Albania and strengthened people’s readiness to rise in an armed revolt.

Simultaneously, rebel forces in Kosovo began attacking and liberating towns. After they had taken Gjakova on 17 July, rebels led by Hasan Prishtina and Bajram Curri struck out to Prishtina. With a swift action also supported by local armed men and a part of the army, Prishtina citizens surrounded the telegraph office and forced the Ottoman commander to surrender. As a result, rebels entered without fighting and liberated Prishtina on 21 July.

Despite the lack of food, clothes and particularly military resources, nearly 30,000 rebels were marching through Kosovo, regardless of the fact they were facing around 70,000 Ottoman soldiers who were properly armed and supported by artillery and cavalry units. Wherever they arrived, the rebels were enthusiastically greeted by the locals. AS soon as they arrived in the tons, they released prisoners and expelled officials hated by the inhabitants.

Hasan Prishtina’s Fourteen Demands included the following broad national rights for Albania: to appoint in Albania-speaking officials who knew the country’s language and traditions;  military service only to be performed in Albania and Macedonia with the exception of  wartime; to implement mountain law in certain regions; to equip Albanians with modern weapons; to open normal and agricultural schools in whose programs the country’s language would be taught; to allow the opening of private schools in Albania; to open modern religious schools in harmony with country’s needs; to learn the country’s language in primary schools, town schools and secondary schools; to develop trade, agriculture, local dealings and to construct railways; to execute regions’ organization; to conserve country’s customs and traditions; to declare a general amnesty to all anti-government movement participators; to compensate burned and wrecked houses; to bring to court all members of Haki and Said Pasha’s cabinet.

Unlike the previous armed uprisings, that of 1912 spread to the entire Albania and it unified all Albanians regardless of the region, religion or social position. Within the wider context, the uprising took place in adverse conditions for Albanians. The Great Powers continued the same traditional policy of keeping the status quo in the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans.

Even though the rebellion achieved remarkable victories, disagreements amongst its leadership could not be avoided. Some of the Albanian leaders began leaning to more moderated demands which did not help solve the Albanian Question.

The uprising also displayed organizational weaknesses. The taking of towns albeit a considerable achievement, did not facilitate the liberation of the entire Albania and the establishment of a new Albanian administration.

The achievements of the Albanian uprising led the Ottoman Empire toward its end. It caused concern in the leading political circles of the Balkan and European states. The Great Powers were troubled that Albanian rebels’ demands had been realised and were worried that this could upset the status quo and equilibrium in the Balkans and Europe, and that it would catalyse the beginning of new world armed conflict. On the other hand, the Balkan states viewed the Ottoman Empire’s weakening as an opportunity to achieve their objectives they had already laid down formal agreements within the Balkan Alliance.

As the First Balkan War was directed against Turkey and its aim was the national unification of Balkan peoples, it should have objectively fulfilled a progressive function. However, it was orientated against chauvinistic circles in Balkan countries and it changed into a war of greed and conquest, particularly as regards Albania and Macedonia.

Wherever the Serbs went in Kosovo’s villages and towns and in the entire Albania, they carried out killings and destruction. In only the first two months of the war, October-November 1912, 25,000 Albanians were killed.

The killings of Albanians were officially programmed by Belgrade which had ordered “to not leave any single trace of Albanians in those lands.”

Akademia e Shkencave e Shqipërisë. Historia e Popullit Shqiptar II. (Tiranë, Toena, 2002), 476-496.

The liberation of Skopje 1912

Bajram Curri on arriving in Skopje with friends and comrades

Withdrawal of Albanian rebels from Skopje on 18th-19th August 1912

“Minneapolis Journal” on the situation of the Albanian territories in 1912

Vienna satirical magazine “Kikeriki” cartoon Funeral of Albania 1913.

The Austrian newspaper, “Das Interesante Blatt”, 12 December 1912, depicts the scene of the Vlora delegates coming out, in front of a crowd waiting for news of the declaration of independence.

The revolt began in the spring of 1912 in parts of Western Kosovo, especially round Gjakova and Peja…

The reaction of the Ottoman authorities was cack-handed at first. Their arrest and internment of the wives of some of the rebel leaders was regarded by the Albanians, who had a strict code of honour where women were concerned, as a particularly despicable act. The revolt continued to grow, until by the end of July, the rebels had taken over Pristina, Mitrovica, Vucitern and Ferizaj, and the governor of Prizren had fled in disguise over the mountains to Tetovo…

Aubrey Herbert, who visited Kosovo during these last months of Ottoman rule, summarized the desires of the Albanians very simply: ‘Their real complaint, first and last, is that their honour and freedom are not sufficiently considered.’ The word ‘freedom’ here meant not political independence, but freedom to live by their own values ​​and traditions. Similarly, when he asked Isa Boletin if the ordinary Albanians wanted autonomy, he received a plain reply: “No,” he said, “they did not; what they wanted was not to be interfered with.” Interference, nevertheless, was what the Albanians of Kosovo would experience for a very long time to come.

Serbian plans for an anti-Ottomans war had begun to be formed in early 1912. In March Serbia made a ‘treaty of friendship’ with Bulgaria; a secret annex to that treaty set out the terms of possible joint military action against the Ottoman Empire and agreed that Serbia would have rights over all the territory to the north of the Sar Mountains. Bulgaria actng under Russian guidance, now became the center of a diplomatic network of alliances. Greece joined in May; Montenegro (whose relations with Serbia were quite frosty) joined the Bulgarian alliance in August, and finally made a secret military agreement with Serbia in September….  In early 1912, Serbian officials had offered arms to the Albanians under the struct condition that they must then act only under Serbia’s instructions…  Large quantities of weapons were delivered to Boletin in August and September 1912, and it was also rumoured that Serbia paid him a large monthly subsidy; but as events would show, his honour was not so easily bought….

On 13 October, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece presented an ultimatum to the Ottoman Empire, referring to article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin and demanding an immediate grant of autonomy to all its European Christian subjects; five days later they made their declaration of  war. But Montenegro had already declared war on its own account, and begun its invasion, as early as 8 October….

One journalist who covered the war, the Vienna correspondent of the Ukrainian newspaper Kievskaia Mysl, Lev Bronshtein (better known in history as Leon Trotsky), was shocked by the evidence he encountered of atrocities by Serbian and Bulgarian forces….

Altogether, the Archbishop (of Skopje Lazer Mjeda) estimated the total number of Albanians killed in Kosovo by this stage (24 January 1913) at 25,000. This was in agreement with other reorts in the European press, which had given an estimate of 20,000 in early December…

The Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) discussed the territorial changes at a conference in London which started in December 1912.

Noel Malcolm, Kosovo a Short History, 1998, pp 246-256.


1912 Aubrey Herbert: A Meeting with Isa Boletini

           I went into a fair-sized room, where I found Issa Boletin, a very tall, lithe, well-made Albanian, aquiline, with restless eyes and a handsome, fierce face, in the Gheg dress. One of his sons, the eldest of nine, he said, a very handsome boy, stayed in the room to interpret in Italian, which proved unnecessary. He turned the others out, except for one man, and we sat down on a low divan in the window…. He said the Albanians loved England and he hoped the English liked the Albanians. I asked, “Did the Albanians want autonomy?” “No,” he said, “they did not; what they wanted was not to be interfered with.” “Do you want union,” I said, “between the north and the south?” “Well,” he said, “we are one people” but he went on to say that the union would not be advantageous to the north, for the Tosks, the southerners, were more educated and clever than the northerners. Albania wished to be under the Sultan, but the Albanians must have arms to defend their country, and these arms had been taken from them by the foolish Turks. When the bessa (truce) ended at Bairam, he could not say what was going to happen. It was all incalculable. The Albanians would have liked to have fought the Italians. (There they joined with the Turks.) But they could not do this without a fleet. I said there were great difficulties in the way of ending the war, but its prolongation meant the danger of the disruption of Turkey and therefore great danger to Albania. Surely the best policy for the Albanians was to make an honourable peace as quickly as they could? He asked me what was our British interest in the Turkish-Italian War? I said our interest was that we were the greatest Moslem power and that we wanted to end a situation that was very painful to many of our Moslem fellow-subjects. Also, the disruption of Turkey would mean to us that coasts would be taken, forts and harbours made by other countries not as friendly to us as Turkey.

Extract from Aubrey Herbert: Ben Kendim, a Record of Eastern Travel (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1924), p. 198-213.p

Zekeria Cana. Montenegrin Genocide on the Albanian People 1912-1913 (documents)

           Hasan Prishtina, as the representative of the Movement in the Vilayet of Kosovo, proposed in Skopje to the Macedonian-Bulgarian Movement … to rebel together against Turkey and create an autonomous Albanian-Macedonian state. However, no agreement was reached for this Macedonian organization was under Sofia’s and Belgrade’s influence and the latter had other plans in conflict with Hasan Prishtina’s. After not being able to reach agreement with the neighbours, Hasan Prishtina attempted to find support in European states to realise plans of the National Movement.

Shukri Rahimi. Vilajeti i Kosovës. (Prishtinë, Enti i Teksteve dhe Mjeteve Mësimore të Krahinës Socialiste Autonome të Kosovës, 1969), 167.

Documentary History of Kosovo, Part 4

Serbian summary on 1912 Uprising

           The Albanian Uprising of 1912 took place from January to August 1912 and resulted in the the Ottoman Empire accepting most (12 out of 14) demands of the Albanian rebels. The most important demands of the insurgents were to unite the four vilayets (Kosovo, Skadar, Bitola and Janina) on whose territory Albanians lived in one vilayet called Albanian vilayet (although Albanians did not make up the majority of the population in the territory of all four vilayets) and to give Albanians greater political rights than to non-Albanian Christian population. The reintroduction of the position of second-class citizenship to the Christian population of the Balkan vilayets of the Ottoman Empire served as one of the reasons for the beginning of The First Balkan War, due to which the demands of the Albanian insurgents were never realized.

Main article: Albanian National Revival

Isa Boletini, one of the leaders of the Uprising.

The Albanian Uprising of 1912 was the largest in a series of uprisings of Albanians between 1905 and 1912. Almost all the uprisings began on the territory of the Kosovo Vilayet (in July 1908 in Prizren, in June 1909 in Djakovica, in the spring of 1910 in much of the territory of the Kosovo Vilayet) and then, sometimes, they also spread to parts of the Bitola Vilayet and sometimes to the northern parts of the Skadar Vilayet, too. After the reforms of the Ottoman Empire that the Young Turks started to implement, Albanians in Europe and Arabs in Asia lost the privileged position they had held, especially during the reign of the Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Uprisings began throughout the entire Ottoman Empire in the mountain ranges inhabited by nomadic tribes, far from the reach of the central government. The largest uprisings erupted in Syria, the Arabian Peninsula and the Balkans. In the Balkans, Albanians launched two large-scale uprisings because of lost privileges. The first one was launched in 1910 in part of the territory of the Kosovo Vilayet, and the second one in January 1912. Albanians were particularly dissatisfied with the following changes:

1. tax increases

2. compulsory military service

3. disarmament of civilian population

The first uprising, which broke out in the spring of 1910, was put down by a punitive expedition of the new Young Turk government, led by Shevket Turgut Pasha. Montenegro and Bulgaria helped this first uprising, although they did not participate in its initiation.

The second, larger uprising broke out in January 1912 and was aided by weapons and money from Serbia and Montenegro. The procurement of weapons went through Montenegro.  Serbia also assisted the rebels with weapons and money, as it had an interest in destabilizing the Ottoman Empire. Before launching the Uprising of 1912, Albanian representatives had previously met with representatives of the Ottoman authorities, but these authorities rejected their requests. Italy was the only one of the great powers then at war with the Ottoman Empire which was ready to assist the insurgents with weapons in southern Albania.

The Uprising was led by the General Uprising Committee in the area of the Kosovo Vilayet (Drenica, Pec, Djakovica) and present-day northern Albania. The leaders of the rebels were Isa Boletini, Hasan Prishtina, Bajram Curri, Nexhip Draga, Riza Bey Kryeziu and others. The rebels first captured Djakovica, expelling Turkish officials. In mid-March 1912, an Albanian emigre newspaper printed in Bulgaria published the first demands of the insurgents: appointment of Albanians as officials in the Vilayet, opening of Albanian schools and military service for the Albanians only within the borders of the Vilayet. The rebels then proceeded to Pec. The Pec garrison resisted and repelled the rebel attack, which was followed by a meeting of about 250 Albanian leaders in Junik.

At the assembly of the rebel champions in Junik, requests were put forward for the establishment of the borders of Albania, the withdrawal of Turkish officials and the introduction of Albanian as an official language. One of the main ideologues of the Albanian Uprising was Hasan Prishtina, who politically directed the course of the Uprising against the Turkish authorities. The rebels’ demands were the following:

– to establish the borders of Albania

– to display the Albanian flag in Albania

– to appoint a Governor General in Albania, elected from among old and famous families

– to withdraw Turkish officials and appoint Albanians in their place

– to make Albanian an official language in Albania

– that the implementation of these requests be guaranteed by the great powers

After the Junik assembly in Junik, the rebels occupied Mitrovica, Vucitrn and Pristina without any fight.  Albanians, who made up the majority of the Ottoman Empire troops in garrisons in these cities, deserted en masse and crossed to the rebels’side, because the officers who were opposed to the Young Turks did not actively oppose the rebels. Albanians from the Kosovo Vilayet were soon joined by the Mirditi, Merturi and Nikay.  A joint committee of Muslims and Catholics was formed in Skadar to help the Uprising. The fighting also extended to the Skadar Vilayet (Tirana and Kroja). The rebels initially also had the support of Turkish officers from the ‘Homeland Saviours Group’, who wanted to overthrow the Young Turk regime.

Due to the success of the Albanian insurgency, the Young Turk government resigned.  Shortly afterwards, in July, a new government sent a delegation for talks to Pristina. The Sultan’s delegation decided that the Albanian demands were leading towards secession from the Empire and rejected them. Although the rebels then reformulated and mitigated their demands, representatives of the Ottoman Empire rejected the demands for autonomy and the use of the Albanian language in schools and administration.

After this, the rebels moved to Skopje which they took without a fight. By mid-August 1912, the rebels had succeeded in taking over the entire Kosovo Vilayet, holding Pristina, Novi Pazar, Sjenica, Skopje and other cities. In central and southern Albania the rebels held Permet, Leskovik, Konic, Elbasan, and Debar in Macedonia. Intensive negotiations with Serbia were ongoing at this stage of the Uprising and Bajram Curri also envisaged the possibility of Serbia assisting the Uprising with a regular army. Initially, contacts with Serbia were made by Hasan Prishtina, but as their mutual interests around Kosovo diverged, he soon became its bitter opponent. After Skopje, the rebels moved south to occupy the towns en route to Thessaloniki. When the Albanian Uprising reached Thessaloniki, the Sultan was forced to accept all their requests. After agreement was reached with the Ottoman authorities, this mass uprising subsided. The following rebel demands were accepted:

  • introduction of Albanian-language in elementary and secondary schools in the Skadar, Janina, Bitola and Kosovo vilayets;
  • appointment of the Governor-General for four vilayets, elected every four years by the population, etc.
  • appointment of officials who were familiar with the language and customs of Albanians;
  • the use of Albanian in courts;
  • military service in the European part of Turkey;
  • tax cuts;
  • free carrying of weapons;
  • an amnesty for the rebels and Turkish officials who had joined them.

(Footnotes :Ovim odlukama su praktično udareni pravni temelji Albanskog vilajeta koji bi obuhvatao sva četiri vilajeta, iz programa Prizrenske lige. ( Intervju DrSlavenka Terzića. Архивирано из оригинала на датум 25. 01. 2010. Приступљено 25. 03. 2010; Vladimir Ćorović, Istorija Srpskog naroda, (1885-1941), Balkanski ratovi;  Arabs and Young Turks – Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918, Hasan Kayalı, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, Berkeley · Los Angeles · London, © 1997 The Regents of the University of California„The Highland Uprising of 1911 – Romeo Gurakuqi, University of Shkodra “Luigj Gurakuqi” – Department of History, Phoenix Shkodra 2002”. Архивирано из оригинала на датум 25. 07. 2011. Приступљено 26. 03. 2010;  СРБИЈА, ЦРНА ГОРА И КОСОВО – ПРЕГЛЕД 1878-1914Dimitrije Bogdanović, Knjiga o KosovuReport of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars (str. 47); Vojna enciklopedija, Beograd, 1972., knjiga četvrta, strana 656; Petrit Imami, Srbi i Albanci kroz vekove, Belgrade, 2016.Burimet:)  (Downloaded 26 October 2019)