Isa Boletini

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Isa Boletini
Isa Boletini Small.jpg
Nickname(s) Luani Kosovës
Albanian for "The Lion of Kosovo"
Born (1864-01-15)15 January 1864
Boletin, Kosovo Vilayet, Ottoman Empire (now Kosovo)
Died 23 January 1916(1916-01-23) (aged 52)
Podgorica, Kingdom of Montenegro (now Montenegro)
Years of service 1881–1916
Rank Commander
Battles/wars Albanian Revolt of 1910
Albanian Revolt of 1912
Albania during the Balkan Wars
Ohrid–Debar Uprising
Peasant Revolt in Albania
Albania during World War I
Awards Hero of Albania (after 1945)[when?]
Hero of Kosovo (2004)

Isa Boletini[a] (15 January 1864 – 23 January 1916) was an Albanian nationalist figure and guerrilla fighter, born in the village of Boletin near Mitroviça (Mitrovica), Ottoman Empire. He was one of the leaders of the Albanian Revolt of 1910 in Kosovo Vilayet and became a major figure of Albanian struggle against the Ottomans, Serbia and Montenegro.[1]


Early life[edit]

Isa's family had migrated to Boletin from the village of Istinić near Deçan, due to a blood feud (gjakmarrja) though it ultimately hailed from Shala, in northern Albania. They adopted the surname Boletini ("of Boletin"). Isa was an analphabet.[2] Branislav Nušić recorded that Shala was the poorest tribe of Albania with a small exception of around 400 families who lived in Istinić.[3] The Shala tribe was in conflict with Gashi tribe until they made peace in August 1879, based on sultan's order.[4]

During the late 19th century, Boletini was member of Albanian movements which sought the unification of four Ottoman vilayets (Kosova, Shkodra, Manastir and Ioannina) into an independent Albanian state. After the rise of the League of Prizren (1878), he took part as a young man in the Battle of Slivova against Turkish forces on 22 April 1881.[1] Isa built a power base in his hometown and illegally seized property from fellow Muslims.[5] By 1898-99, he received money for protecting the Serbian Orthodox community in the Mitrovica region, and was rewarded with a medal and supply of weapons by the Kingdom of Serbia.[5] However, in the summer of 1901, he was present while organised atrocities on Serbs in Ibarski Kolašin were carried out,[6] including massacres, rape, blackmail, looting and eviction of local ethnic Serbs.[7] When Russia opened a consulate in Mitroviça (Mitrovica) on May 7, 1902, and appointed Grigorij Stcherbin as consul, Boletini threatened that all Serb houses would be set upon fire if they worked with the consulate – the consul could not enter Mitrovica until the Porte sent for Boletini to Istanbul.[8] Sultan Abdul Hamid II, instead of crushing him, brought him to Istanbul and appointed him head of the palace guards (tüfenkciler) in 1902.[5] He served for four years, then returned to Kosovo with an imperial land grant and officer rank in the local Ottoman militia in March 1906.[5][5] He resumed his acting as a local "protector".[5] He was deputy of Kosovo in the Ottoman Assembly between 1908 and 1912. He was loyal to the sultan, though in 1908 he had given his initial support to the Young Turks.[1]

On 15 May 1909, the Young Turks, continuing their former policy of denying the Albanians national rights, sent a military expedition to the Kosovo Vilayet to stop the growth of hostile attitudes to the government and break resistance of the peasants, who refused to pay taxes which Istanbul had introduced.[9] Cavid Pasha, the new commander of the division at Mitroviça, was ordered to carry out a succession of military operations against the Albanian mountaineers. On account of the attempts of the authorities to collect taxes which hitherto had been paid almost entirely by the Christians, serious disturbances broke out among the war-like Muslim tribes of northern Albania.[9] Isa Boletini, a prominent leader often honoured by the Sultan, and other chiefs of İpek (Peć) and Yakova (Gjakova), attacked the Turkish army of 7,000 men.[9] Boletini and his men put up fierce resistance and numerous collisions occasioning much bloodshed took place with the troops, who bombarded several villages. After their escape, Turkish troops burned his house down in revenge.[9]

Uprising and independence[edit]

Kullë Isa Boletini

During the popular uprising against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, which engulfed all Albanian populated lands, Albanian patriots decided to establish an independent state.

On 18 August 1912, The Turkish government in Istanbul announced its reply to the leaders of the Albanian rebellion that it had considered and accepted their demands. The Albanians were to receive a series of economic, political, administrative and cultural rights, but no formal autonomy. A meeting of the leaders of the uprising took place that night in Uskub,[9] at which they were informed of the Turkish reply and were persuaded by the moderates among them to accept it. An agreement with Istanbul was signed; Isa Boletini was pacified and returned to his own district, the village of Boletin in Kosovo, abandoning further national claims.[9] In the same month, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijević (called Apis, "the Bee"), the head of the Serbian Black Hand organisation, sent a letter requesting Boletini and his men to assist the Serbs in fighting the Ottomans.[10]

On 4 September 1912, The Turkish government notified its acceptance of the Albanian conditions, with the exception of that for regional military service. After four years of sporadic fighting the Albanians had administered a heavy blow to the Turks, who agreed to create a virtually autonomous Albanian State. However none of the other Balkan States wished to see an independent Albania, but rather envisaged the partition of Albania between them. They thus hastened to precipitate war with Turkey, the purpose of which was the annexation of Albanian-inhabited territories that were under Turkish rule.[9]

The Black Hand stimulated and encouraged the Albanians of Kosovo in their revolt, promising them help.[9] Colonel Apis visited northern Albania several times in order to get in touch with the leaders of the Albanian uprising, especially Isa Boletini.[9] Dimitrijević and his men, disguised as Albanians, were known to have committed political murders.[9][when?] For some time Isa Boletini and other Albanian leaders hesitated to come to an arrangement with the Serbs, having no reason to suspect them of setting a trap. Eventually, however, Dimitrijević succeeded in allying Isa Boletini's suspicions by causing him to have doubt about being satisfied with the concessions already wrung from the Turks. Dimitrijević declared that the Serbs desired only to liberate the Albanians from subjection to Turkey, and that Serbs and Albanians together should benefit in common by freeing the country from Turks. Isa Boletini believed him and was deceived.[9]

Far from fulfilling their promise to help the Albanians to liberty, the Serbian and Montenegrin armies fell upon them. The Albanians were trapped and unable to obtain ammunition from either side; Serbs and Montenegrins killed many Albanians.[9]

Isa Boletini in the city of Vlorë (1912)

On 28 November 1912 in Vlora (the 469th anniversary of Kruja's liberation by Skanderbeg, who raised the Albanian flag) the Albanian National Assembly created the independent state of Albania. Ismail Qemali refused to wait for Isa Boletini and other Albanians from Kosovo vilayet and hastily made the Albanian declaration of independence.[11] The southern elite wanted to prevent Boletini's plans to assert himself as a key political figure and used him to suite their military needs.[11]

Isa Boletini contributed in the protection of Vlora government, while later was part of the Albanian delegation to the London Conference (1913) together with Ismail Qemali, Albanian head of state.[1] The Albanian delegation wanted a Kosovo within the borders of the newly founded state of Albania, however the Great Powers conceded them only about a third of the demanded land.

Balkan War[edit]

On 13 August 1913, an outbreak of hostilities took place on the Serbo-Albanian frontier. A tenacious Albanian band of fighters under the command of Isa Boletini, now Minister for War in the Provisional Government, made a successful attack on the frontier town of Debar and captured it from the small Serbian garrison, which had to retire after suffering severe losses.

On 23 September 1913, the dissatisfaction of the Albanian population at finding themselves under Serbian rule led to an uprising in Macedonia of Albanian patriots who refused to accept the decision of the Ambassadors Conference on the Albanian borders. The Albanian government organised armed resistance to recover the lost areas and 6,000 Albanians under the command of Isa Boletini, the Minister of War, crossed the frontier. After an engagement with the Serbians the forces retook Debar and then marched, together with a Bulgarian band led by Petar Chaoulev, in the direction of Ohrid, but another band was checked with loss at Mavrovo. Within a few days they captured the towns of Gostivar, Struga and Ohrid, expelling the Serbian troops. At Ohrid they set up a local government and held the hills towards Resen for four days.[9]

When the spring comes, we will manure the plains of Kosovo with the bones of Serbs, for we Albanians have suffered too much to forget.

— Boletini, 1913[12]

Peasant revolt[edit]

William of Wied, Isa Boletini, Duncan Heaton-Armstrong and Colonel Thomson, Durrës, Albania - 1914

During the revolt, Isa Boletini and his troops defended Prince Wilhelm zu Wied.[1] When Peasant Revolt in Albania deteriorated in June 1914, Isa Boletini and his men, mostly from Kosovo, joined the International Dutch Gendarmerie in their fight against the rebels.[13]

World War I[edit]

During World War I, Boletini was involved in the Kachak guerrilla movement against Serbia.

On 24 January 1916, it was reported that, during the Albanian negotiations with the Montenegrins, Isa Boletini was murdered[1] while he was a virtually a prisoner of the Montenegrins at Podgorica, where he had gone with his family, induced to involve himself in intrigue. The Montenegrins provoked a dispute which led to fighting the town. Isa killed eight men before he died on 23 January 1916.[9]


Boletini's revolver, at the National Museum of Albania.

Isa Boletini was tall, well-built, and strong with a great reputation whose deeds of bravery and escapes from Turks and Serbs had become legends in Albania.[9] He was noted for always wearing the traditional Albanian white cap (qeleshe) and national dress. He is considered one of Albania's greatest patriots and heroes. His ideas influenced the likes of Midhat Frashëri and prominent Albanian nationalists.

In 2004, Ibrahim Rugova, the president of the self-declared Republic of Kosova, awarded him the highest order, "Hero of Kosovo", along with Adem Jashari, Hasan Prishtina, and Bajram Curri.

Isa Boletini statue in the centre of Mitrovica inaugurated during the 100th Anniversary of the Independence of Albania.

A statue of him was uncovered in Southern Mitrovica on the 100th anniversary of the Independence of Albania and Flag Day (24 November 2012).[14]

During the abandoned Serbia v Albania (UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying) match, on 14 October 2014, while the game was suspended, a small remote-controlled quadcopter drone with a flag suspended from it hovered over the stadium. The flag showed the faces of Ismail Qemali and Isa Boletini and a map of a Greater Albania.[15]

Boletini was killed in a fight in Montenegro in 1916 and buried in the capital Podgorica. In 1998, his remains were exhumed and brought to Mitrovica, where they were kept in the town’s mosque. They were removed in 2011, largely for security reasons in Kosovo’s troubled north, and sent to the department of forensics in Pristina, where they were kept until 2015. A decision to rebury Boletini in Vlore, made by Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Hashim Thaci and Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama, sparked negative reactions among Kosovo Albanians. The Boletini family agreed first to rebury him in Vlore but then reversed their decision. On 10 June 2015, isa Boletini was reburied at a ceremony in the village of Boletin, in the northern part of the divided town of Mitrovica. Hundreds of people attended the reburial which followed a public tribute at Mitrovica’s football stadium.[16] The honouring of Boletini was condemned by Serb minority MPs in Kosovo, who boycotted parliamentary session, calling it a provocation.[17]

The Isa Boletini Monument is a heroic statue of Isa Boletini in Shkodër, in northwestern Albania.[18] It is 4.8 metres (16 ft) high and was erected in 1986.


  • "I am well when Albania is well"
  • When Sir Edward Grey met Isa Boletini in London at the British Foreign Office after having his pistol belt's ammunition removed, he uttered: "General, the newspapers might record tomorrow that Isa Boletini, whom even Mahmut Shefqet Pasha could not disarm, was just disarmed in London.", upon which Isa replied "No, no, not in London either.", he then withdrew a second pistol from his pocket.[1]


  1. ^ His common name in Albanian is Isa Boletini. His family adopted "Boletini" from their village. Another common spelling is Isa Boletin. His name is also written as Turkish: İsa Bolatin; Serbian: Isa Boljetinac/Иса Бољетинац.
a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has been recognised as an independent state by 109 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Robert Elsie (19 March 2010). Historical dictionary of Albania. ISBN 9780810873803. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Hötzendorf, Graf Franz Conrad von (1922). Aus meiner Dienstzeit, 1906-1918. p. 340. 
  3. ^ Branislav Đ Nušić (1966). Sabrana dela. NIP "Jež,". p. 242. Retrieved 4 June 2013. Шаљани су најсиротније племе у целој Арбанији, од којих у богатству једва чине неки мали изузетак четири стотине кућа Шаљана који насеља- вају село Истиниће код Дечана. 
  4. ^ Đorđe Mikić (1988). Društvene i ekonomske prilike kosovskih srba u XIX i početkom XX veka. Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti. p. 40. Retrieved 4 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Gawrych 2006, p. 134
  6. ^ Mihailović, Kosta (March 16–18, 2006). Kosovo and Metohija: Past, present, future. Belgrade: Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. p. 35. 
  7. ^ Kosovsko-Metohijski zbornik. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. 2005. p. 191. 
  8. ^ Срђан СЛОВИЋ. "Косово и Метохија од 1900. године до почетка Првог светског рата" (PDF) (in Serbian). scindeks: 281. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Owen Pearson (2004). Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume I: Albania and King Zog. ISBN 9781845110130. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  10. ^ MacKenzie, David (1989). Apis, the Congenial Conspirator: The Life of Colonel Dragutin T. Dimitrijević. p. 87. ISBN 9780880331623. 
  11. ^ a b Blumi, Isa (2003). Rethinking the late Ottoman Empire: a comparative social and political history of Albania and Yemen, 1878-1918. Istanbul: The Isis Press, 2003. p. 182. ISBN 975-428-242-0. Retrieved March 9, 2011. Ismail Kemal Bey hastily made the famous declaration of independence in late November of 1912, refusing to wait for Boletini and "the Kosovars" to reach Vlora. [...] While Boletini had plans to assert himself as a key political figure in this Albanian state building project, the Southern elite made certain that he would be reigned in to suite their military needs and not hijack a political process over which they wanted full control. 
  12. ^ Paulin Kola (2003). The search for Greater Albania. London: Hurst. p. 1. ISBN 1-85065-664-9. 
  13. ^ Elsie, Robert. "Albania under prince Wied". Archived from the original on January 25, 2011. Retrieved January 25, 2011. ... mostly volunteers from Kosova under their leader Isa Boletini 
  14. ^ . M-magazine  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Fox Staff (15 October 2014). "Drone flyover starts soccer brawl". Fox. Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  16. ^ . Balkaninsight  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ . Balkaninsight  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Dominique Auzias, Jean-Paul Labourdette (2009). Albanie 2009 Le Petit futé (in French). Petit Futé. p. 69. ISBN 2-7469-2533-8. 

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