The Declaration of Albanian Independence
As with many events of Albanian history, the declaration of independence of 1912 was somewhat of an impromptu affair. The Ottoman Empire collapsed in the first Balkan War that began in October 1912 and the Albanians found themselves in an extremely awkward position. Their leaders were more concerned about the coalition of neighbouring Christian forces (Montenegro, Serbia and Greece) than they were about the weakened Ottoman military presence in their country. What they wanted was to preserve the territorial integrity of Albania. Within two months, Ottoman forces had all but capitulated, and it was only in Shkodra and Janina that Turkish garrisons were able to maintain position. The very existence of the country was threatened.
It was at this time that Ismail Kemal bey Vlora (1844-1919), also known in Albanian as Ismail Qemali, returned to Albania with Austro-Hungarian support and, at the head of a swiftly-convened national assembly, declared Albanian independence in the town of Vlora on 28 November 1912. The declaration was more theoretical than practical because Vlora was the only town in the whole country under the delegates’ control―yet it proved to be effective in the vacuum of power. Though Albanian independence was recognised de facto on 17 December 1912 at the London Conference of Ambassadors, it was not until 29 July 1913, after the second Balkan War and the solving of the delicate problem of Shkodra, that the international community agreed to recognise Albania as a neutral, sovereign and hereditary principality.
Given below is a report, published in the Vlora newspaper “Përlindj’ e Shqipniës,” describing the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence in Vlora, and then the short text of the Declaration itself.
The National Assembly, composed of delegates from all over Albania and convening here in Vlora, opened today at four in the afternoon at the house of Xhemil bey.
Ismail Kemal bey, as the prime initiator of the gathering, took the floor and explained to the delegates the purpose of the assembly, that is, that they all must strive to do what is necessary to save Albania from the great perils it is now facing.
According to rules and customs, they began by checking the documents of the delegates, whose names are as follows:
from Berat: Elias bey Vrioni, Hajredin bey Cakrani, Xhelal bey Skrapari, Dut Karbunara, Taq Tutulani and Sami bey Vironi (the latter still awaited),
from Dibra: Mufti Vehbi Efendi,
from Durrës: Abas Efendi, Mustafa Agai and Jahja Efendi (still awaited), Dom Nikollë Kaçorri from the Archbishop of Durrës for all Albanian Catholics under his administration,
from Elbasan: Shefqet bey Daiu, Lef Nosi, Qemal bey and Mid’hat bey Frashëri,
from Gjinokastra [Gjirokastra] by telegram: Azis Efendi, Veli Efendi, Elmas Efendi,
from Ipek [Peja]: Rexhep Bey, Bedri Bey, Salih Gjuka and Mid’hat bey Frashëri; these gentlemen are the delegates of Gjakova, Plava and Gucia,
from Kruja: Abdi bey Toptani and Mustafa Asim Efendi,
from Lushnja: Kemal Bey, Ferid bey Vokopola and Nebi Efendi Sefa,
from Ohrid and Struga: Zyhdi Bey, Dr. Myrtezai and Nuri Efendi Sojliu,
from Sh’Jak [Shijak]: Xhemal Bey, Ymer Beu and Ibrahim Efendi,
from Tirana: Abdi bey Toptani and Murad bey Toptani,
from Vlona [Vlora]: Ismail Kemal Bey, Zyhni Efendi, Aristidhi Ruci, Kjazim Kokoshi, Jan Minga and Ekrem Bey,
from the Albanian colony of Bucharest: Dhimitër Zografi, Dhimitër Mbroja, Dhimitër Beratti and Dhimitër Ilua [Ilo] (the latter still awaited).
After checking the documents, Salih Gjuka took the floor and stated that since Korça was currently surrounded by the army and could not send delegates, since its patriotic spirit was known and since in their midst there were gentlemen from Korça known, too, for their patriotism, these men, Pandeli Cali, Athanas Floqi and Spiro Ilua, should be recognised as representatives of Korça. The gathering gave its unanimous agreement to this and approved this decision.
Uncensored version of the Declaration
Mustafa Asim Efendi requested that Shkodra, for its part, that was in a worse state than Korça, be represented by Luigj Gurakuqi who had represented it in the other national gatherings and who was one of the initiators of that meeting. The assembly once again gave its unanimous approval and agreed to Luigj Gurakuqi representing Shkodra.
From Përmet came telegrams stating that if its delegate, Veli bey Klisura, did not get to Vlora, he should be represented by Syreja bey Vlora and Mid’hat bey Frashëri.
Another telegram arrived from Hamdi bey and Mustafa Barotçiu who announced that they, too, would be arriving as delegates for Ohrid and Struga.
Thereafter, Rexhep bey took the floor and stated that Ismail Kemal bey ought to be elected chairman of the assembly, Luigj Gurakuqi as first secretary and Shefqet bey Daiu as second secretary. The delegates agreed to this request and elected the proposed men, who were heartily applauded.
The issue of voting was then brought to the fore and, after much discussion, it was decided that each region (kaza) should have only one vote, irrespective of the number of delegates it had.
Mustafa Asim Efendi pleaded that the present Albanian question and the country’s situation ought to be made very clear to European public opinion.
The chairman, Ismail Kemal Bey, then took the floor and, in an ardent, fluid and reasonable speech, stated that although they had always been faithful to the Ottoman Empire, the Albanians had never forgotten their own language and nationality, the best proof of this being the endeavours and uprisings that had taken place from time to time, in particular over the last four years, to preserve their rights and customs. The Ottoman Government had never taken their interests into consideration and had never been willing to recompense the Albanians for the great services they had rendered. It had recently shown some interest in coming to an understanding with our people, but had not given proof of good faith and had not taken all the steps needed to appease and satisfy the Albanians. War had recently broken out with four countries in the Balkans that were seeking change and rights for their peoples, united by their ethnicity and religion.
Version as published in communist
Albania to hide the names of
Mid’hat Frashëri and Lef Nosi
Later, these countries put aside their initial objective and, as the war was going well for them, they agreed to divide the Empire up among themselves, including Albania. Realizing that the Turkish army had been defeated and that the Empire would not survive, the Albanians, who had played a greater role in the fighting than the soldiers, hastened to take requisite steps in their own interests as owners of the country. For this reason, Ismail Kemal bey departed for Istanbul and, having come to an understanding with the Albanians of Bucharest, too, set off for Vienna where he reached an agreement with the Great Powers that had vital interests in the Balkans. As there was no more hope of saving Albania by means of arms, the only road to salvation was to separate Albania from Turkey. Ismail Kemal bey promoted this idea and objective, that was well received by all the Great Powers, in particular by Austria and Italy. It was only Russia that remained somewhat hostile to the idea because of the Slavs, but it did not deny the existence of Albania and an Albanian people. To realise this objective, he invited all Albanians to gather in Vlora and was delighted today to see that his call had not been in vain, and that delegates had been sent from all parts of Albania to reflect together on ways to save the Fatherland. According to Ismail Kemal Bey, the most urgent measures that the Albanian nation must take today are these: that Albania be independent under a provisional government; that a council of elders be elected to assist and supervise the government; and that a commission be sent to Europe to defend Albanian interests among the Great Powers.
The delegates unanimously agreed with the words of Ismail Kemal bey and resolved that Albania, as of today, should be on her own, free and independent under a provisional government.
This decision was greeted by endless applause from all sides. The meeting was adjourned until the following day and the delegates went out and greeted the flag that was raised at five thirty in the afternoon.
Ismail Kemal bey was chosen as president of the Provisional Government and Dom Nikollë Kaçorri as its vice-president.
in Vlora, on the 15th/28th of November 1328/1912.
Following the speech made by the President, Ismail Kemal Bey, in which he spoke of the great perils facing Albania today, the delegates have all decided unanimously that Albania, as of today, should be on her own, free and independent.
/signatures of the following persons, here given in alphabetical order/
Elmaz efendi Boce
Hajredin bey Cakrani
Ymer bey Deliallisi
Vehbi efendi Dibra
Abaz efendi Dilaveri [Çelkupa]
Qemal bey Elbasani [Biçaku]
Thanas V. Floqi
Mid’hat bey Frashëri
Spiro T. Ilo
Dom Nikollë Kaçorri
Zihni Abaz efendi Kanina
Xhelal bey Koprencka
Mustafa Asim Kruja
Rexhep bey Mitrovica
Qemal bey Mullaj
Dr. H. Myrtezai
Zuhdi bey Ohriti
Bedri bey Pejani
Nebil efendi Sefa Lushnja
Nuri efendi Sojliu
Abdi bey Toptani
Murat bey Toptani
Dhimitraq N. Tutulani
Abdyl Aziz Vehbi
Ismail Kemal bey Vlora
Ferit bey Vokopola
Iljaz bey Vrioni
Xhemalyddin Bey [...]
[from: Lef Nosi: Dokumenta historike për t'i shërbye historiës tone kombëtare. Tirana: Instituti i Historisë 2007, p. 99, 176-179. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]