King Zog Tells his Story
Ahmed Zogu (1895-1961), who reigned from 1928 to 1939 as King Zog I of the Albanians, did not leave any writings as such. Educated in Istanbul, and fluent orally in several languages, he did not have a sufficient command of written Albanian. Chatin Sarachi refers to him as virtually illiterate [see Sarachi 1940]. The closest we have to writings by Zogu is this thirty-page document serving as his autobiography. It was taken down in English in 1933 by Herman Bernstein (1876-1935), the American ambassador in Tirana, who calls it “the life story of the Albanian ruler, told by himself in the third person.” The story is, as one would expect, flattering, and is not by any means a work of historical accuracy. Nonetheless, it provides insight into how King Zog viewed himself and his country’s history and development.
The story of Ahmed Zog I, King of the Albanians, as told by him to Herman Bernstein, former United States Minister to Albania, in response to a number of questions submitted by Mr Bernstein, is of special interest at the present time when Albania is figuring in the world news as a center of new unrest. Most of the news stories concerning Albania, emanating from neighboring countries, are based on propagandist exaggerations and distortions of the facts. This life story of the Albanian ruler, told by himself in the third person, reveals the remarkable rise and the unique record of the soldier, former revolutionary leader, Minister of the Interior, Prime Minister, President, and now King of Albania. It gives an unusually interesting picture of this country, one of the most sensitive danger zones in Europe because of its geographical position and because of the rivalry of other nations on the Adriatic
Chapter One – His Forefathers
It was in the latter part of the fifteenth century that the founder of the house of Zogu came to the north Albanian province of Mat. The proud mountain folk had had their taste of freedom under their hero, Skanderbeg, but after his death they could no longer withstand the powerful Turks. And at the time the first Zogu came to Mat, the northern homeland of Albania’s strongest tribe, the people were once gain subjects of the Sultan, only waiting for someone to lead them to rebellion.
Thus, when Zogu raise his standard against the Turkish governor, Gasi Bey, the mountain warriors eagerly rose with him. The governor was killed in the fighting that followed, and Zogu became ruler of the Mati. It was at this time that the family, heretofore Catholic, were converted to Mohametanism, and as compensation for this the Turks acknowledged them as hereditary rulers of the region.
Here, in the wild mountains and forests, where only sheep and fighting men could exist, the tribe prospered and was free. The prowess of its warriors was respected far and wide, and often they were called upon to help other tribes fight the common enemy – Turkey. Zogu the second, youngest son of the chieftain, was killed in one such battle. He had received a desperate call for help from the leaders of a tribe in South Albania, and had assembled his forces for war. After severe fighting in the mountains, the Turks were forced back; but during the retreat Zogu was mortally wounded, and he was buried in Tirana. The date of his death is one of mourning, in memory of his heroic struggle for the liberation of his country.
For five hundred years, the family governed the Mati, always striving to free themselves completely from Turkish domination. There was, for instance, Said Bey Zogu, who was imprisoned and exiled for life to Tripoli because of his patriotic sentiments and his opposition to the Sultan. But even in Tripoli he could not be silenced; he persuaded his guards to help him in an uprising, which was successful. Taking the government of the African province in his own hands, he dictated his terms to the defeated Turkish government. An agreement was made, his rights were recognized, and he returned in triumph to Albania.
And there was Xhelal Pasha Zogu, who was chief of the Mati during the middle part of the eighteenth century. After assuming the governorship, he traveled to Russia, where he was received by the Tsar after waiting seven months. Russia had at that time a great amount of influence over Turkish affairs, and the Tsar promised to use his power on Zogu’s behalf. He therefore returned to Constantinople, where a decree was signed appointing him governor of all Albania and Epirus. But on the day the decree was signed, Zogu was poisoned by the Turks.
His son, Xhemal Pasha Zogu, then became governor of the mountain tribe, until his death in 1908. It was during his reign, in 1878, that the Albanian League was formed, with the purpose of securing the independence of the country and of fighting any partition of it. Xhemal’s brother was one of the most important backers of the movement, and worked to prepare for national revolution. But Turkey crushed the rebellion with a large army, and put all its leaders to death. Once again Albanian freedom was nipped in the bud by the old enemy.
It was under these circumstances that Ahmet Zogu was born, high up in the castle of Burgajet, the North Albanian mountain stronghold of his forefathers, on October 8, 1895.
Chapter Two – His Boyhood
Ahmed spent the first eight years of his life in Burgajet. There, in the silence and grandeur of densely wooded hills and sharp V-like valleys, the boy lived in an atmosphere of that quiet dignity which seems to be natural to all mountains and mountaineers. He listened to the folksongs of his people, many of them describing the exploits of his own forefathers.
When he was eight years old, Ahmed’s father died. But, even before the period of mourning for his death had ended, Ahmed’s mother decided to send the boy to school in Constantinople. And, in 1903, he left for the capital of the Turkish Empire, accompanied by a single retainer.
Immediately upon his arrival in Constantinople Ahmed entered a Lyceum. His contact with his fellow students was extremely limited, for his tastes and interests differed from theirs. In fact, he was always finding excuses to leave the school and call on the various important Albanian and Turkish politicians, who permitted him – a mere child – to discuss the topics of the day with them.
Upon his graduation from the Lyceum, Ahmed entered the Turkish military school, intent upon following in the footsteps of his warlike ancestors.
During these school years, Turkey was passing through a difficult transition stage. In 1908, when Ahmed was thirteen, the Young Turks had proclaimed the Constitution of the Ottoman Empire, assuring the security of the rights of all Turkey’s subject nations. Enthusiasm and joy were unbounded. The Albanians, long subjugated, received this political change with acclamation; now, they hoped, the rights of which they had long been deprived would at last be recognized.
And, indeed, with the proclamation of the Turkish constitution in 1908, a new period of learning and culture and rebirth had begun in the country. Albanian newspapers were published; books were written in the native language for the first time; National Union clubs sprang up everywhere; schools were opened; and with this taste of freedom Albania began to long for complete liberation.
Ahmed Zogu watched this national revival from a distance, from his school in Constantinople. Every book, every newspaper, every magazine that came out in his language found its way to his desk.
And when, two years later, revolution did finally break out, spreading rapidly through the country, when fighting between Albanian and Turk began in the passes of Kachanik, the boy followed each incident with nervous interest, every day expecting to hear the good news of salvation. But the mighty Turkish army swept all before it, devastating the country, torturing the natives, tightening the yoke of subjugation, and Ahmed was disillusioned.
Then, in 1912, revolt was again in the air. Albanians troops captured Uskub [Skopje], and then marched on Monastir. Everywhere, in the mountains to the north, in the fertile southern plains, the nationalist movement had spread like wildfire.
Now Ahmed Zogu could no longer sit back and watch the movement from afar. Finally, in July, just after a force of 20,000 Albanians had entered Uskub in triumph, he left school and went to Mat to help his people fight for national liberty.
Chapter Three – With the Prince of Wied
The Albanian revolution was successful. Triumphantly, the leaders announced the autonomy of the ancient villayets of Kossovo, Scutari [Shkodra], Monastir and Janina.
This victory was one of the main causes of the first Balkan War. An alliance was formed with the view of dividing up the country and giving it to the various Balkan states. And on October 8, 1912, Montenegro declared war. Ahmed Zogu, now holding the rank of Colonel, was in Mat. He rapidly set about organizing a force to combat this new enemy. With 2,000 hard-fighting men rallying to his support, he left his native hills, and went north. At Alessio [Lezha] he came upon the enemy, well entrenched and greatly outnumbering his troops. The Montenegrins demanded an unconditional surrender. Colonel Zogu realized that it would be futile to attack. Here was no military problem, but a battle of wits. He announced that he was ready to surrender, but before doing so he must see the leaders of the opposing forces. As soon as they arrived, he placed them in front of his own men, and, thus escaping attack, disappeared into the mountains. Later he returned, and fought desperately with the combined Serbo-Montenegrin army, leaving hundreds of dead and wounded on every battlefield.
Hampered by a lack of ammunition, and even more by a scarceness in numbers, Colonel Zogu attempted to break through the enemy’s forces and enter the strategically situated city of Scutari. But he received distressing news of the advance of a fresh Serbian force from the east, directly upon him. This unforeseen event forced him to change his plans. He therefore withdrew his troops and returned to Mat, where he took measures to make the country safe from invaders. Reorganizing his forces, he captured all the frontier posts, and engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Serbs.
But this type of defence against the onrushes of the Serbs was found to be of little use. The opposing forces were too great to be fought by so small a country as Albania. It was necessary to use some other weapon of defence, a weapon far more effective and far less destructive – diplomacy.
Thus, while Zogu was occupied with the protection of his frontiers, an Albanian patriot, Ismail Kemal, invited all the important leaders to meet in a National Congress in Valona [Vlora]. Here would be decided a course of action for Albanians to follow. Zogu, too, was among the invited. Selecting twenty-five young men as an armed guard, he left for Valona. At that time he was seventeen years old.
The delegates met in November, 1912, and on the 28th a declaration of National Independence was proclaimed throughout the land. Foreign powers were notified, and the congress adjourned.
Zogu planned to leave at once for Mat. Since his departure, the Serbs had defeated his countrymen on all sides, killed various important leaders, and taken possession of practically all Albania. But Ismail Kemal desired him to stay in Valona and help him in regulating the affairs of the new government. Zogu, however, felt that his duty was to his own homeland and tribe, and decided to return there.
Slowly, he worked his way north, traveling by night and resting by day in woods and caves. Finally, after many hardships, he entered Mat, and once more was able to lead his brethren to arms against the foe.
When the Albanians declared their independence, the Great Powers took a hand in the situation. Candidates for the Albanian throne were numerous. The Albanians naturally felt that they deserved to be ruled by a countryman of theirs. Vienna and Rome refused to allow them so much freedom, and agreed to choose the Prince of Wied, a minor German nobleman, as King of Albania. Zogu announced his opposition, and informed the International Control Commission that the right of selection belonged to a Constituent Assembly elected by the Albanian people. It was quite possible, he felt sure, that they would greatly dislike this outsider arbitrarily placed at their head. But his objections were hardly noticed, and an Albanian delegation went to Neuwied to escort the Prince to Durazzo [Durrës]. Realizing the futility of opposing the Great Powers at that moment, Zogu presented his congratulations to the King and pledged to support him with all his power. In this way, he believed, the country would be given a chance to get on its feet once more.
But there were others who did not think as he did. In May, 1914, an uprising broke out and spread quickly through the central part of the country. The government, not yet organized, was hardly able to oppose the rebelling forces, and every night Durazzo, the provisional capital, was attacked. The King, protected only by a few soldiers from the north, rested his only hope on Zogu’s Mati troops. With a force of 4,000 men Zogu left his country once more and arrived in Kruja, where he subdued the rebels in that territory, and awaited munitions before marching for Tirana and Durazzo.
Meanwhile, another army under an allied leader was moving from the northwest to join with Zogu. But after having burned and looted several villages, it returned to Alessio without making a step forward. This unexpected retreat of the necessary reinforcements compelled Zogu to wait in Kruja longer than he had expected. And by the time he was ready to go forward, Prince Wied had completely lost control of the situation, giving him no instructions as to a plan of unified action. Disgusted, Zogu returned to Mat.
Chapter Four – the Outbreak of the World War
Zogu’s return to Mat with his followers occurred during the most critical moments in Albania’s birth pangs. All of the southern districts had been burned and devastated by the invading Greeks. The east had also fallen into the hands of the Greeks, and the north was controlled by the rebels. The Prince of Wied’s government held only the city of Durazzo, and that precariously.
Since the situation was now so critical, a Council of Ambassadors, together with the Control Commission, met on August 2, 1914. Deciding that the Great Powers could no longer interfere, they advised the Prince of Wied to quit the country and place the government in the hands of the Commission.
That was on the second. On the fourth, the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary was assassinated in Sarajevo, and in the storm that followed, Albania was forgotten.
Forgotten, that is, by all but the Albanians themselves. Zogu was in Mat during the first days of the Great War, opposing the terrorisms of the rebel government. His stronghold became the sanctuary of all the nationalists who fled the persecuting tactics of the rebels.
In September, 1914, following the departure of the Prince of Wied, the Albanian revolt collapsed, and at once reaction set in. Led by the Mufti of Tirana, this new revolution was drowning the country in a sea of anarchy in which there seemed no port of safety. If anyone opposed the new revolutionaries, his home was burned, he himself was imprisoned or killed, his property confiscated. The Albanian flag was replaced by the Turkish, and the people were once more oppressed. Only in Mat, where Zogu still managed to keep peace, were the people able to live untroubled, without chaos or terror.
Zogu remained in Mat until the spring of 1915. Then, while the Serbian army, pursued by the Austrians, retreated through Albania and occupied Elbasan, he began assembling his troops to fight once more. For he had been informed that a certain Albanian leader, Essad Pasha, had conspired with the Serbs to attack and capture his district. Thus, when this new foe appeared, Zogu was ready to do battle in his own defence.
Essad Pasha had bound his fate with the Serbs, and was forced to declare war on Austria-Hungary when the latter occupied Serbia. But in a series of battles culminating in the engagement on the mountainous Lovchen and the occupation of Montenegro, the Austrians had advanced upon Scutari and entered the city in January, 1916.
Zogu decided to ally himself with Austria. Therefore, when Austrian troops arrived near Mat, he joined them with his own, and marched on Durazzo. Here Essad Pasha and an Italian army had been encamped, but they immediately sailed across the Adriatic, leaving a free entry to Zogu and his allies. The Albanian flag was once more hoisted, a local government was formed, and the march was continued southward.
Zogu had now become commander-in-chief of all the loyal forces, at the age of twenty-one. He still held the rank of colonel, wearing an Albanian uniform – not an Austrian.
He sent definite instructions to all the sub-prefectures to form local governments. He re-established the Wied Government with Akif Pasha as Minister of the Interior. Prefects and sub-prefects were appointed, a budget was drafted, and all the other functions of government were about to be carried out. Meanwhile, Zogu sent an ultimatum to the Italian command at Valona, informing them that they occupied a city which was an integral part of Albanian territory, and demanding immediate evacuation.
But all did not go along as successfully as he had hoped. Zogu had allied himself with the Austrians because he had placed his faith in the declaration of the Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Army to the effect that they were “coming as friends of Albania in order to oust the remains of the Serbian army.” He believed that no obstacle would be placed before the formation of a national government, and therefore took the initiative in convoking a Constituent Assembly in Elbasan in March, 1916. He invited delegates from all the communities in Albania, from the Albanian colonies in Bucharest, Sofia, Lausanne and elsewhere, “to discuss the affairs of Albania and to decide on its fate.”
Moreover, he presented the Austrian government with an accomplished fact, having restored the government of the Prince of Wied. The former cabinet ministers, he maintained, had not resigned their posts voluntarily, but were compelled to flee from violence. Now that this violence had disappeared, legality must triumph.
The Elbasan Congress, according to Zogu’s view, would be the continuation of the Valona Congress, since it was there that national independence had been proclaimed. And now, after the Greco-Serbian atrocities in Albania, after the downfall of the revolutionaries, after the Greco-Italian occupation, and after the violation of the independence guaranteed with so much fuss in London, the Elbasan Congress would decide on the fate of the Albanian fatherland. And all the while South Albania was being oppressed by the Greeks, Valona by the Italians, the east by the Bulgarians, and the rest of the country by the Austrians.
With this in view, Zogu wrote to August Kral, Austrian Civil Commissioner in Albania, as follows: “… we decided that a national congress be held here on March 18 for the purpose of securing unity and cooperation among the Albanian clans and of discussing what must be done in order that our country be put on the road to progress and that it might enjoy the freedom accorded it by the illustrious arms of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which we expect the extension of our frontiers according to the principles of nationality.”
But unfortunately the Austrian authorities blocked this move. At a certain bridge over which it was necessary to pass in order to enter the city of Elbasan, all the delegates were turned back with the information that cholera had broken out in the district. The Austrians justified their ridiculous actions by saying, “You must bear in mind that all assemblies of a political nature are forbidden.” Not only did they forbid the meeting, but they also imprisoned certain of the Albanian officers and finally shot them under trumped-up pretexts.
Besides this, the Austrian army disbanded the entire national administration that had been established at Elbasan, taking the city directly in its hands. The other prefectures, having no central office, were also forced to submit to Austrian rule.
All these actions, so openly contrary to the solemn promises made by the Austrian Commander-in-Chief, fully convinced Zogu that these promises were nothing but political expedients to soothe the minds of gullible Albanians. Zogu went at once to August Kral and to the Command and, after heated discussion, broke with them.
Before letting him slip through their hands, however, the Austrians decided to invite him to Spalato [Split], where he was given a magnificently regal reception. They showed him the great strength and man-power of the Austrian army. They showed him their great fleet of powerful warships. They showed him their air force. They tried to impress him with the futility of opposing so great a nation. But they soon realized that they were wasting their efforts on him, and decided instead to send him to Vienna to be interned for the duration of the war.
On September 30, 1918, Bulgaria unexpectedly signed an armistice with the Allies, and the Austrians were forced to evacuate Albania with speed. Thus, in October of that year, all of the Albanian territory formerly under Austrian occupation fell into the hands of the Italians, excepting Scutari, which was occupied by the French.
After this breakdown in the Austrian military defence, Zogu only awaited a general armistice before returning to Albania. He went directly to Mat, where he was to decide with his forces what could be done for the freedom of an Albania occupied entirely by foreign armies.
Chapter Five – Aftermath of the Great War
There was not the slightest vestige of self-government left in Albania at the end of the war. There was no centralized power, no real leader who could present a case for the country and demand its inherent rights.
Accordingly, the Italian Foreign Minister, Baron Sonino, convoked a Congress in Durazzo, which assembled on Christmas Day, 1918. The Italians, who intended to keep their control over Albania, did not relish the idea of a national government, but planned instead a form of National Council and Executive Committee to be thrown as a sop to the Albanian people.
Although the Congress had been convoked with this in view, it did not obey its orders, setting up instead a provisional government. But it lacked authority, and the Supreme Italian Command continued to administer the government through its military representatives.
Moreover, the Peace Conference in Paris could think of nothing better than to partition Albania, and present choice districts to those countries that had had the good sense to throw in their lot with the victorious Allies. A small Moslem principality around Durazzo was to be created, under Italian mandate; and Italy and Greece were to divide up what had not already been sliced off. Accordingly, in August 1919, two representatives of the Durazzo Government signed an agreement with Italy, recognizing the protectorate and accepting an Italian high commissioner.
It was precisely for these reasons that Zogu definitely opposed this new government, and fought it continually until its downfall.
The country was in a state of anarchy, from which the Italian occupation was hardly capable of extracting it. The French had left the southern regions to Greece, and Albanians everywhere were in despair. From all parts of the country emigrants attempted to make their way out. There seemed to be little hope for the future.
At this critical moment, the Albanian delegates to the Peace Conference secretly notified their countrymen that they could expect no help from outside. Salvation lay in themselves alone. Once more the desperate patriots decided to meet. Zogu was notified, and with his followers he left Mat for Lushnia, passing right through the midst of the Italian army.
Lushnia was the headquarters of the Italian troops, and forces were being concentrated on it in order to stop the proposed revolutionary meeting. But, recognising the fighting qualities of Zogu’s Mati warriors, the Italians decided it would be wiser to permit the Congress to go on with its business.
Satisfied, then, that Zogu’s troops, stationed strategically on the hillsides overlooking the town, would be sufficient to protect them, the delegates began to debate their next move.
A provisional government was formed, Zogu being elected Minister of the Interior by unanimous acclamation. He was authorized to return to Tirana and take the reins of government in his hands, in spite of the Italian opposition. He therefore left at once for the capital.
Chapter Six – the Tirana Government
The Durazzo Government, realizing that it would be unable to oppose the congress of Lushnia, locked itself in the city of Durazzo, guarded by an Italian army. Since the city is on the line of march from Lushnia to Tirana, it was necessary to break through. Zogu and his followers were confronted by Italian machine guns. The officer in charge ordered Zogu to stop the advance. Zogu informed him that he would not stop, and suggested that he order his soldiers to fire. The officer replied that his orders were to shoot at sight. Zogu advised him to execute his orders. But he did not, and the Albanians were able to continue on to Tirana. They arrived there on February, 11, 1920.
Realizing that this new government was far more representative of the people than their own, the members of the Durazzo regime gave up opposing it and one by one they returned to their homes. At last there was only one real representative left, who very wisely acknowledged the sovereignty of the new administration.
Zogu now felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, for the Albanians were pinning on him all their hopes of freedom. North, south, west, east, everywhere the land was under foreign rulership. And, as if this alone were not enough, seeds of suspicion and revolt were sprouting the country over. There was Mustafa Kruja inciting rebellion in his province, and Essad Pasha with all his agents and bravadoes, and Serbia with its agents provocateurs around Scutari, and the Greek antartes in the south. Trouble was sprouting in the spring of 1920, and little else.
This was the desperate position of Zogu and his Tirana government. Realizing the great danger that the country was in, he issued a message to the people, saying: “The enemy shall never walk in our land as in a house without a master; our bodies must be as fortresses in facing the rifles and the cannons of our foes.”
In March, 1920, Zogu decided to wrest Scutari from the hands of the French army occupying it. Accordingly, just before it could be turned over to the Yugoslavs, he entered the city by night, and took control. The populace received him with joy, for they feared the domination of the Serbs.
Thus, the Tirana Government had taken its first step towards making its power felt the country over. It had begun its unification of the land.
Now that the northern regions had been taken, it was possible to open the first Parliament of Albania, on March 27, 1920. This National Council, representing the will of all the Albanian people, acknowledged the Government of Tirana and showed its confidence by declaring that “The government, established by the will of the people, has, through its energetic and patriotic measures, made Albania free, independent and territorially integral.”
Since it was a principle of the Tirana Government not to recognize Italian authority over Albania, the whole administration was assumed, and appointments made of prefects, sub-prefects and other functionaries. The region over which it held control extended as far south as Skrapar, containing all of Central Albania, and extended over the northern province of Scutari.
The province of Gjinokaster [Gjirokastra], according to the Rome Agreement, was still under Italo-Albanian rule, and this compelled Zogu to send a force there in order to take over the entire region. And in April, 1920, all of the south joined the Tirana Government. The announcement was made amidst songs and martial music, and the Italian army became so frightened by these manifestations that it began to evacuate the country and concentrate on the fortified city of Valona.
Meanwhile, the not-properly-suppressed Essadist movement had again begun to show signs of life in the Prefecture of Durazzo; the rebels cut telephone and telegraph lines, robbed the mails, and in certain places destroyed the roads.
Essad himself was in Paris, and the government decided to send a special commission there to treat with him. Nothing could be agreed upon, since Essad demanded the partition of Albania and his own leadership of what was left. During these negotiations, the Government at home had exterminated the Essadist movement. And on June 13, Essad was assassinated by an Albanian in Paris. Thus the movement was wiped out, savagely, perhaps, but completely.
Valona was still occupied by the Italians. Since the delegates to the Congress of Lushnia had declared that Albania would be freed of foreign domination, Zogu decided it was high time to carry out this promise. Diplomacy, he knew, could accomplish nothing now, and the only means left was force.
Accordingly, when a demand for the evacuation of Valona was ignored, the Albanians took to their arms and marched on the city. Zogu led a force of 2,500 men from Central Albania, and together with the other troops commenced the siege of the town. The outlying villages were seized, and on July 22, 1920, in a decisive battle on the outskirts of Valona, the Italians were defeated and forced to retire. Within ten days the invaders sailed home to Italy.
Albania was at last being elevated to the position it had held five hundred years ago.
Chapter Seven – Pacification of the Country
Within a short time, however, Zogu handed in his resignation as Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Ilias Vrioni, because he disagreed with certain of the policies of that Government.
Meanwhile, a revolt had broken out in Mirdite, instigated by the Yugoslavs, who desired to annex Northern Albania. A Mirdite delegation was sent to the League of Nations, being employed as a tool by the Yugoslavs.
The Government forces sent against the Mirdite rebels were unable to suppress the revolution. They fought and burned and devastated villages, but still order was not established. At last, the government called on Zogu to take command of the operating troops.
The armed bands that had been making all this trouble were paid by Yugoslavia, but the Yugoslav representatives denied this at the time. He insisted that all of Albania was not under the authority of the Tirana Government, and declared that there was another government functioning at the time in Mirdite. He therefore requested that a commission be appointed to find out just how many governments there were in the country.
The danger, then, was twofold. Within the country there was revolt and disorder, and without, a rival power attempting to procure Albanian territory. Although Zogu was suffering at the time from malaria and had a temperature of 105 degrees, he left at once for Mirdite. In a short time, with little bloodshed, the revolution was ended, and peace and order restored to the countryside. He remained in the region so that the Yugoslav army could not attack, until the Conference of Ambassadors in Paris on November 18, 1921, ordered the invaders to evacuate Albania completely.
While Zogu was pacifying Mirdite, a coup d’etat had taken place in Tirana, forcing the members of Parliament and the cabinet to flee to Elbasan. Once more a reign of terror was about to begin.
As soon as he received news of this unexpected event, Zogu assembled his forces and marched back to Tirana. Order was soon re-established, and the deputies at Elbasan were notified that they could return to their duties. They did so, Parliament resumed its sessions, and Zogu was again elected Minister of the Interior.
Those who had taken part in the ill-fated coup d’etat took refuge in the mountain districts and began to reassemble their forces. Finally, in March, 1922, they advanced upon Tirana, killing the Commander General of the Gendarmerie and dispersing his forces with a surprise attack. By nightfall they came to Tirana and began shooting in the air, creating a panic among the people.
The next day the cabinet and all the deputies again fled to Elbasan, leaving Zogu alone with his troops to face the rebels. He began to prepare for the defence of the city by digging trenches in the streets and by placing all his munitions and machine guns in the Parliament building. The rebels attacked. Guns cracked, and the fight had begun. The streets were filled with mutilated and dying men. For fourteen hours the battle raged. At last, the British Minister intervened, and asked the revolting forces to disperse and return to their homes.
While this fighting was still going on, another force of rebels had been marching on Tirana from the south. Zogu received news of this, and before the battle in Tirana was ended he had already left to deal with the new situation. In another fight at Kashar he defeated the rebel reinforcements and brought the whole countryside back to peace. After having been thus defeated on all sides, the leaders of the revolution fled into Yugoslav territory.
It was at this time that Zogu was made Prime Minister. In appearing before Parliament for a vote of confidence, he promised to hold elections at once for a Constituent Assembly which would fix definitively the form of government for the state.
In December 27, 1923, after a severe campaign, the elections took place. The returned showed an almost complete triumph for the Zogu government, his partisans in the Assembly numbering 102 in contrast to the few seats carried by the opposition. On January 21, 1924, the anniversary of the Congress of Lushnia, the Constituent Assembly met in Tirana and began its work.
Ahmet Zogu and deputies
of the Albanian People’s Party,
Chapter Eight – the Fan Noli Revolution
The opposition minority, however, had become desperate because of the complete victory at the polls of the Zogu faction. All sorts of plots were woven in an endeavor to secure control of the country, for it was realized that they would be beaten again in an election. The best means to carry out their ambitions, then, would be to exterminate the leader, to assassinate Zogu.
A half-witted youth, Beqir Walter of Mat, was persuaded to carry out this plan. He was told that he would be considered a great national hero, that his name would go down in history as the savior of his country. On February 23, 1924, while Zogu was entering the Assembly Hall, Beqir Walter rushed up and fired twice. Zogu, hit in the hand and in the hip, walked on into the Hall. The alarmed Assemblymen watched, wide-eyed, while he calmly sat down in a chair at the Secretary’s table. The Speaker, frightened, had already left the tribune, and all were on the verge of becoming panicky. Zogu’s body was bathed in blood, but he rose and began speaking. “Such things,” he told them, “happen often – we cannot tell when or where – and therefore let us take the matter calmly.”
In this way, he soothed the Assemblymen. Then he was taken to his home, where the bullets were removed and he received medical attention. Soon he was on his feet again, none the worse for the attempt on his life.
The attack, however, emboldened the members of the opposition, who demanded the chairs of the Ministers. In order to avoid the obvious danger to the interests of his country during his convalescence, Zogu resigned as Prime Minister. The ministerial crisis which followed lasted for six weeks, the formation of a government finally being charged to Shefket Verlaci.
The Verlaci cabinet was somewhat of a makeshift affair, and did not please the opposition at all. “Black hand” and “red hand” organizations were being formed, and anarchy once more began to threaten the country.
It is exactly during such periods as these that men revenge themselves upon those whom they consider their enemies. On April 20, 1924, Avni Rustem, a widely popular politician, was assassinated by the revolutionaries.
This act of violence was employed by the opposition as a means of showing their false strength to the people. Following the funeral ceremonies, the body was sent to Valona, where the rebels were able to deceive the army and use it as a tool for their aims.
The military movement in Scutari, Permet and Kosovo had already started and was gaining strength. The Tirana government had a force, legally conscripted, which was quite large enough to bring the country back to the peace it had known before, but it was retained in Tirana. Zogu had notified the government that it was quite possible to restore order in the country in ten days without shedding a drop of blood; he would have marched on Scutari and Kosovo, and after disarming those regions, returned to Tirana with the whole rebellion at an end. But the Verlaci government wanted to adopt a conciliatory attitude toward the rebels, and gave the command of the army to another.
Soon the Verlaci cabinet fell, and that of Vrioni succeeded it. He too did nothing but send commissions to the rebels. These commissions were sent without any fixed instructions, and lost so much time consulting that when the government finally decided to send soldiers against the rebels, they discovered that everywhere the opposing forces had occupied the strategic positions. In the south, especially, they held every city and town, and on June 10, 1924, they entered Tirana under their leader, Fan Noli.
On that day, Zogu left the capital for the Yugoslav border.
Chapter Nine – Zogu Returns
The triumph of the revolutionaries had drowned the country in a sea of unparalleled anarchy. Nowhere was the authority of government felt. It was fast becoming a general belief that the Fan Noli government could not last much longer. This belief was strengthened by the fact that Fan Noli did not convoke the Constituent Assembly or hold any elections at all.
The situation had now become really critical. Albania had become known not only as a land of anarchy and unrest, but also as a center of bolshevism. From across the frontier, Zogu watched the sad condition of his country, and decided to try once more to save it from chaos. Gathering his troops, he marched through Dibra, Kosovo and Scutari, and after a battle at Peshkopi, in December 1924, he triumphantly entered Tirana. Fan Noli and his government fled without further resistance to Valona and thence across the sea.
Upon Zogu’s arrival in Tirana, all the cities of Albania, tired of the disorders of revolution, telegraphically expressed complete obedience and recognition of his government. No troubles occurred, no battles or skirmishes, and the forces assembled by the revolutionary government returned peacefully to their homes.
Zogu then ordered the various officials to “take speedy measures for the real security of order, and be guided by the law,” and it was so done.
Until the Assembly was again able to meet in Tirana, Zogu kept peace and order in the country by forming a provisional government. On January 15, 1925, following a forced recess of seven months, the Assembly again opened its sessions, and as representative of the people’s will, it decided upon the fate of the country.
And on the very first day the sessions began, the Zogu cabinet was given a unanimous vote of confidence. A week later, the Assembly accepted the republican regime as a definite form of government.
A Committee was appointed to prepare a draft constitution which was taken up by the Assembly on January 31, 1925. After the articles pertaining to the Presidency of the Republic had been voted upon, the Assembly, with full liberty and with but two dissenting votes, elected Zogu president for a period of seven years. He thanked them for the great honor, saying, “I assure you that no ambition can stop me from serving the general interest…”
Foreign nations were notified of this election, and all the countries that had not recognized the revolutionary regime of Fan Noli at once recognized the new parliamentary government. One after another, the diplomatic representatives appeared and handed Zogu the letters of credence from their governments. Albania was at last being recognized as a member of the family of civilized nations.
Six months later, when all the various departments of the government were running smoothly, Zogu invited to Tirana the leaders of the mountain tribes. From them he obtained the Albanian besa, a pledge of loyalty and obedience to the laws of the country, a pledge of peace and order.
Beside the besa, he ordered the immediate disarming of the people, who were still in the habit of carrying arms. After the south was thus pacified, disarming was begun among the warlike mountain tribes of the north. This was concluded successfully because the people were tired of being ever suspicious and on guard, and they realized that in peaceful, civilized nations the bearing of arms was no longer necessary. They therefore gave over their weapons with pleasure.
A process of modernization of the country was also begun. Construction of a network of roads was started, connecting hitherto inaccessible regions with the larger cities. The laws, too, were modernized. Codes – civil, penal and commercial – were prepared. A gendarmerie was organized, and a small but mobile army. Thus the foundation stones of a strong, happy, independent Albanian nation were laid.
Chapter Ten – the Break with Yugoslavia
High up in the hills near Pogradec, overlooking Lake Ochrida, there is a historic Orthodox monastery called Saint Naum.
The International Court at The Hague had acknowledged Albania’s rights over the territory on which it stood. The Conference of Ambassadors in Paris approved it. But the Yugoslav government had occupied the place, and refused to budge. The Ambassadors’ Conference decided that the question was one to be decided between the two governments, and announced that if they could not reach an accord, the Frontier Commission would come to delimitate the Albano-Yugoslav frontier. Parliament therefore decided to exchange this territory for some other piece of land.
For ceding the Monastery of Saint Naum, then, the Albanian government received the village of Peshkopi, the Chorava valley, the Holy Water Church, and Saint Naum’s strategic hills Nos. 961, 965, 807, 862, together with the Yugoslav frontier patrol houses. The territory thus gained had an area of about twenty-two square kilometers. Besides this, the Libovice grazing valley was secured, two houses of the village of Grence, the Lumbraja road together with the Turkish patrol house, the small hill and lake, the back of Velopoja and all the mountain tops, and the frontier was extended a further twenty-five kilometers.
The Monastery of Saint Naum
of Lake Ohrid
(Photo: Robert Elsie, June 2007)
This exchange of territory was not to the liking of the Yugoslav government, which still believed that Zogu’s regime was, like that of Essad Pasha, impotent and servile to the Yugoslavs.
This mistaken belief reached the breaking-point when the Yugoslav government summarily demanded the handing-over of Bulgarian and Yugoslav political refugees who, according to international law, were not necessarily extraditable. The Albanians refused categorically, and Yugoslavia was greatly displeased. In order to show how easily Zogu’s regime could be overthrown, civilian forces were mobilized at the frontier and entered Albanian territory, provoking the Dukagjin uprising. Led by certain refugee officers and their followers, this rebellion broke out in the far northern part of the country in November, 1926, and extended almost to Scutari. It was easily suppressed, however, but it was the principal cause of Zogu’s definite break with Yugoslavia.
The lesson of the Dukagjin uprising had taught him that Albania was not yet strong enough to stand alone in the midst of a circle of greedy and grasping foreign nations. Therefore, although the revolt had been put down this time, it was necessary to make sure that there would be no further unrest instigated by foreign powers. For this reason, Zogu deemed it expedient to conclude a treaty of friendship with another state, thus ending a dangerous policy of isolation. He entered in negotiations with the Italian government, and on November 27, 1926, a Treaty of Friendship was concluded in Tirana, to last for a five-year period.
Besides this, he considered it necessary to conclude a defensive alliance with Italy, guarding at the same time the right of national sovereignty and guaranteeing once more the independence and territorial integrity of Albania.
On these fundamental bases and with bilateral rights and obligations, on November 22, 1927, there was signed in Tirana the Treaty of Defensive Alliance between Albania and Italy. This treaty soon became a principal factor in the political stabilization of Albania and gave time to the Albanian people to show the world that they are capable of organizing a modern state. On the day the treaty was signed, a new stage in Albanian life was reached. It was a stage to be featured by great forward strides in economic, financial, administrative and cultural fields.
Meanwhile, the chief internal worry was the need for funds to finance this program of modernization. Albania was much behind other countries in the matter of economic development, and there was need for the construction of all sorts of public works. Therefore the Minister of Finance, Mufid Libohova, entered into negotiations with a group of Italian financiers represented by Mario Alberti. An agreement was made for the opening of a National Bank and for a loan of 50,000,000 gold francs (approximately 10,000,000 gold dollars). According to the convention, approved with modifications by Parliament in June 1925, the representative of the Italian group would, within thirty days, form the National Bank of Albania, with a nominal capital of 12,500,000 gold francs, divided into 495 ordinary shares valued at 25 gold francs each and 100,000 founder’s shared valued at 1.25 gold francs each. The Bank’s main office would be in Tirana, and it could open branch offices anywhere. The convention was to extend over a period of fifty years, but this period could be extended by mutual accord. The Bank also undertook to form the Society for the Economic Development of Albania (SVEA).
According to the agreement, the SVEA loan would never be repaid, because most of the funds were used on joint works such as the construction of the Durazzo harbor and many roads and bridges of a purely strategic character, for which the Italian government had more need than the Albanians themselves.
Ever since 1923 both the American Standard Oil Company and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company had requested the oil concession for Albania from the Government. The strong antagonism and competition between the two companies made it necessary for the Government to withhold its decision for some time, until the terms presented had been carefully studied.
Finally, after the ousting of the Fan Noli Government in 1925, Parliament approved the Anglo-Persian contract for the exploitation of the petroliferous zones at Patos. Later similar concessions were granted to the Standard Oil Company, the Ferrovia dello Stato and various other companies. At the present time, the Anglo-Persian in the Patos region has drilled many wells and has found an ample supply of oil, as has likewise the Ferrovia dello Stato in the Valona zone.
Chapter Eleven – Proclamation of the Kingdom
To the Albanians, the proclamation of the Albanian Republic in 1925 did not seem the utmost goal in Government. Their traditions, their very mentality was such as did not permit full understanding of the ideals of a republican state. For them, patriotism and love of country could mean nothing unless there were some living man to personify it to them. The true Albanian is at heart a monarchist. To the people, too, an Albanian throne means real autonomy and independence, for they remember the history of their country when Skanderbeg was King. It was for these reasons that in 1924 the Constituent Assembly was divided into two strong camps: the Monarchists and the Republicans.
In the end the Monarchists prevailed, and the Constituent Assembly, representing the people’s will, quickly acquiesced. On Saturday, September 1, 1928, Albania was proclaimed a Kingdom, amid unparalleled acclamation and joy. Zogu was then enthroned as King of the Albanians, under the name of Zog I, and said the following words to the Assembly: “Today, at the moment when I am entrusted by the will of the people, as expressed through you and through your conscience, with the difficult and high duty of guiding the state, I promise that I shall ever remember my moral responsibility to the Albanian people, which sooner or later will rise with unlimited energy to the exaltation of a nation among nations.”
Chapter Twelve – Vienna and the Attempt on the King’s Life
From the ruins of an ancient people began to rise the new Albania. The work of organizing and consolidating the state was enormous. During the first months of 1930 the King worked eighteen hours a day regularly. Finally, this unceasing labor began to strain and weaken him, so that he was advised by his family and friends to go abroad for a short time for treatment.
Zog therefore left the Government in the hands of the Council of State in February, 1931, and left for Vienna, crossing the Adriatic on the Italian warship “Quarto.”
In Vienna there lived a large number of those men who had provoked the attempt on him in 1924. After their revolution had failed, they fled the country, and were now living an adventurous and luxurious life in the Austrian capital, supported by various foreign powers.
These, his former opponents, instigated by the country which was paying them, decided to end King Zog’s life. To this end, on February 20, 1931, the former gendarmerie officers Nok Gjeloshi and Aziz Cari, were charged to make the attempt. Accordingly, when the King was leaving the Vienna Opera with his aides, they fired at him many times. Miraculously he escaped. But his adjutant, Major Llesh Topollaj, loyal and true to the end, was killed, and the Minister of the Court, Ekrem Libohova, was wounded in a heroic attempt to protect the King.
In November, 1931, the Treaty of Friendship concluded with Italy in November, 1926, expired. The Italian Government requested a renewal, but the King felt that this was not necessary because:
a) Since the Treaty of Alliance was in effect with its bilateral rights and obligations, a special treaty of friendship would simply be an unneeded repetition;
b) The Treaty of Friendship here and abroad had been criticized so much and had proved so detrimental to the reputation of Albania that, in view of this evil propaganda and in order to overcome the bad impression, it would be wiser not to renew it;
c) The Treaty of Friendship, in its first article concerning the “political and juridical status quo,” had been understood by the Albanian people as intended to keep the regime on its feet, and not the sovereign state. By not renewing it, therefore, it would be understood that all treaties concluded during Zog’s reign have for their substance the state, and not the actual regime and person;
d) In any case, the renewal of the treaty would be meaningless, because of the sincere and straightforward policy of the two Governments.
For these reasons, the King refused to renew the Treaty of Friendship with Italy.
Chapter Thirteen – the Ten Italian Loans
The country’s economic development had not shown sufficient progress by 1931 as to permit Albania the continued growth necessary for her vital interests. In view of the heavy expenditures for the military administration, the King requested of the Italian Government, through its Minister in Tirana, Antonio Meli Lupi di Soragna, a loan of such a character as to facilitate the constructive and progressive program of his Government.
The Italian Government, as a friend, ally, neighbor and Adriatic State, agreed to grant this loan. It was to be for a maximum sum of 10,000,000 gold francs, beginning with the fiscal year of 1931-1932, and to be repeated for nine consecutive years. These loans were to be without interest, and their repayment was to be left to the initiative of the Albanian Government, which could make repayment whenever it judged this to be possible without injury to the economic and financial situation of the country. But at any rate, no repayment was to be made before the budgetary revenues of the Albanian state should have reached the annual sum of 50,000,000 gold francs.
These annual loans were to be reduced proportionately with the increase of revenues or the reduction of expenditures of the Albanian Treasury. Lastly, the loans were to be used principally for the development of public works, national economy and national education.
On this basis a special law was passed on June 30, 1931, approving and ratifying the loans contracted between the Albanian and Italian Governments. Special regulations, decreed by King Zog, outlined the duties and powers of a commission for the use and distribution of the loans. The commission was to consist of two Albanians and two Italians appointed by Royal decree.
On the strength of these annual loans, the Albanian Government prepared a list of the various works to be executed and of the allotment of appropriations for public works, national economy and national education. The Loan Commission continued its work for some time, but later the still unresolved disagreement between the Albanian and Italian Governments suspended its operations. The loans so far have not been fully accorded. This compelled King Zog to reduce the state’s expenditures from 30,000,000 gold francs to 18,500,000, in order to meet the situation thus created, and to assure for his kingdom a realistic budget conforming with its financial strength.
Chapter Fourteen – Zog’s Work for Peace in the Balkans
Since 1924, Zog had opposed Yugoslav interventions and intrigues and had made that country understand that Albania desired to live free and independent on the Balkan peninsula. He made known the same attitude to Italy when it endeavored – directly or indirectly – to expand its influence to the detriment of Albanian sovereignty.
Zog has staunchly defended the freedom and independence of his country. Were it not for him, peace and order would not have reigned in Albania, and anarchy beyond count would have provoked complications throughout the Balkans, because Italy is avowedly covetous of Albania’s Adriatic coast and particularly of Valona and its hinterland. Similar aspirations are nurtured by Yugoslavia over Scutari and the region extending to the Mat River basin, and by Greece over North Epirus, Korcha, Gjinokaster and their hinterlands.
Were it not for Zog, the avowed desires of these neighboring countries would have conflicted. Balkan peace would always have been in danger, consequently threatening the peace of Europe.
With his free and independent Kingdom and with his cautious foreign policy, uninfluenced by neighboring countries, Zog has been able not only to consolidate and reform the Albanian nation but also to secure peace throughout the Balkans. Albania maintains the equilibrium among countries aspiring to hegemony and eventual domination over the others.
He has not been influenced by the various political currents of the neighboring states seeking to make of Albania a free field for their imperialistic ambitions and aspirations.
Zog’s breaks with Yugoslavia in 1927 and his recent conflict with the Italians are two eloquent testimonies to the fact that his work is only for the happiness of his people and the peace of the Balkans.
[King Zog Tells his Story to Herman Bernstein, former United States Minister to Albania. Typescript in the: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York. Record Group 713, Folder 760, 30 pp.]