12. The conquest/ liberation of Kosovo in 1918 and the Albanian armed uprisings of 1918-1924

By the end of 1918 the Serbs has reconqured Kosovo, which being geographically part of Serbia, was incorporated into the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The treatment of the Albanians by the new Kingdom’s authorities saw little improvement. They were not allowed to have their own Albanian schools nor to officially use the Albanian language, no Albanian media was permitted. Large numbers of families lost their land and property under the agricultural refom and colonization of Serbs in to Kosovo. Thousands migrated to Turkey. These developments were taking place against a background of continual fighting and atrocities.
The Albanian rebels, the kaçaks continued their armed opposition which was supported by the newly created National Defence Committee led by Hasan Prishtina. The Committee’s policy was to campaign for self-government and the institution of other minority rights. Its policy specifically banned local Serbs being harmed and churches and houses destroyed. Despite the armed action on the ground there was cooperation between the two communities. The kaçak movement finally came to an end in 1924 largely as a result of the policy of the Albanian Prime Minister Ahmet Zog who saw the Kosovo leaders as a threat to himself and was prepared to act against them in cooperation with Belgrade.

At the end of 1918, Kosovo and other Albanian lands were reconquered by Serbia who exercised terror and state genocide against the Albanians through their military and police regime, burning and destroying whole villages.

Thousands of Albanians were expelled to Albania and Turkey. Land was taken by many Albanians and given to Serbian and Montenegrin settlers. Albanians were banned from using the Albanian language and the Albanian flag. Albanians organized armed warfare against the Serb authorities and created free zones into which for a time the Serbian army was not able to enter. With the aim of liberation and national union the Albanians formed the ‘National Defence Committee’ with its headquarters in Shkodra and branches in the main centres of Kosovo. The National Defence Committee organized the national movement from 1918 to 1924, and collaborated with the Xhemijeti, the only political party that Albanians supported, and with the armed rebels in Kosovo. In 1924 the Serbian authorities killed rebel troop leaders, including Azem Bejta, and imprisoned the members of the Xhemijeti, sentencing Ferhat Draga, the leader of this party, to 100 years imprisonment.

[Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 5. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 80-81; Rexhepi, Fehmi. Historia 9. Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 62-71, 76-78; Bajraktari, Jusuf, Fehmi Rexhepi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 10. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2011, pages 101, 127-130; Rexhepi, Fehmi and Frashër Demaj. Historia 11. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 131-137; Bajraktari, Jusuf and Arbër Salihu. Historia 12. Prishtina: Libri Shkollor, 2013, pages 184-86.]

In November 1918 the Serbian army liberated the entire territory of Serbia (in the map Kosovo features as Serbian territory). There is no mention of the killings of Albanians by Serb forces which were mainly carried out at the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919. There is no mention at all of the armed Albanian uprising against Serb forces between 1918 and 1924.

[Đurić, Đorđe and Momčilo Pavlović. Istorija 8. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010, pages 74, 103; Đurić, Đorđe and Momčilo Pavlović. Istorija 3. Belgrade: Zavod za udžbenike, 2010, pages 95, 96, 124, 155.]

The activities of the Albanian kaçak rebel movement were obstructed after the destruction of the kaçak base in the village of Junik in the demilitarized zone between the borders of Albania and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The movement’s fate was further complicated at the end of 1923, when the Prime Minister of Albania – Ahmet Zog – sent the Albanian army to fight the kaçaks. Joint Albanian-Yugoslav units were established in the zone to prevent the return of the kaçaks there. Likewise, in Albania the head of the rebels, Azem Bejta, was put on trial and sentenced to death in absentia as was Hasan Prishtina who was one of the leaders of the Kosovo National Defence Committee. The latter had attempted to kill Zog,
Azem Bejta made an agreement with the local Serbian authorities allowing him to live there without being betrayed, on condition that he moved only within three villages. Bejta and other kaçak leaders held meetings with senior Serb officials where they demanded Kosovo’s right to self-government. A large number of Albanians worked with the authorities and were employed in local administration and, therefore, some of them were a target for attack by the rebels, just like the Slav settlers. Likewise, the formation of armed bands of local Serb to carry out anti- kaçak operations encouraged rebel attacks on some Serb villages, even though the rules of the rebel movement included, among other things, not harming local Serbs.

As well as the uprising, the Albanians used a parliamentary strategy, represented by the Society for the Right to Defend Islam (‘Islam Muhafaza-yi Hukuk Cemiyeti’) which was known as the Xhemijeti for short. This political association, which was considered an aristocratic party, demanded religious autonomy and sometimes also protested the living conditions in Kosovo. This political group collaborated with the two main Serbian political parties in Yugoslavia – the democrats and the radicals – and sometimes even shared electoral lists with them.

[Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo – A Short History. London: Pan Macmillan, 2002, pages 258-288; Schmitt, Oliver. Kosova: histori e shkurtër e një treve qendrore ballkanike. Prishtina: Koha, 2012, pages 143-160; Schmitt, Oliver. Shqiptarët – një histori midis Lindjes dhe Perëndimit. Tirana: K&B, 2012, pages 168-179; Bartl, Peter. Shqipëria – nga mesjeta deri sot. Prizren: Drita, 1999, pages 170-207. Judah, Tim. Kosova – Luftë dhe Hakmarrje. Prishtina: Koha, 2002, pages 41-42; Fischer, Bernd. Mbreti Zog dhe përpjekja për stabilitet në Shqipëri. Tirana: Çabej, 2000, pages 29-51; Schwartz, Stephen. Kosovo: Background to a War. London: Anthem Press, 2000, page 75.]