Massacres of Albanians in the Balkan Wars
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During the First Balkan War of 1912-13, Serbia and Montenegro - after expelling the Ottoman forces in present-day Albania and Kosovo - committed numerous war crimes against the Albanian population, which were reported by the European, American and Serbian opposition press. In order to investigate the crimes, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace formed a special commission, which was sent to the Balkans in 1913. Summing the situation in Albanian areas, Commission concludes:
Houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind — such were the means which were employed and are still being employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians.
The goal of the forced expulsions and massacres of ethnic Albanians was a statistic manipulation before the London Ambassadors Conference which was to decide on the new Balkan borders. The number of victims in the Vilayet of Kosovo under Serbian control in the first few months was estimated at about 25,000 people. Highest estimated number of total casualties during the occupation in all the Albanian areas under Serbian control was about 120,000 Albanians of both sexes and all ages.
Even one Serb Social Democrat who had served in the army previously commented on the disgust he had for the crimes his own people had committed against the Albanians, describing in great detail heaps of dead, headless Albanians in the centers of a string of burnt towns near Kumanovo and Skopje:
...the horrors actually began as soon as we crossed the old frontier. By five p.m. we were approaching Kumanovo. The sun had set, it was starting to get dark. But the darker the sky became, the more brightly the fearful illumination of the fires stood out against it. Burning was going on all around us. Entire Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of fire... In all its fiery monotony this picture was repeated the whole way to Skopje... For two days before my arrival in Skopje the inhabitants had woken up in the morning to the sight, under the principal bridge over the Vardar- that is, in the very centre of the town- of heaps of Albanian corpses with severed heads. Some said that these were local Albanians, killed by the komitadjis [cjetniks], others that the corpses were brought down to the bridge by the waters of the Vardar. What was clear was that these headless men had not been killed in battle.
Prior to the outbreak of the First Balkan War, the Albanian nation was fighting for a national state. At the end of 1912, the Porte recognised the autonomy of Albanian vilayet. These events for Albanian autonomy and Ottoman weakness were viewed at the time as directly threatening the Christian population of the region with extermination. The Balkan League (comprising:Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria) jointly attacked the Ottoman Empire and during the next few months partitioned all Ottoman territory inhabited by Albanians. The Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Greece occupied most of the land of what is today Albania and other lands inhabited by Albanians on the Adriatic coast. Montenegro occupied a part of today's northern Albania around Shkodër. For example, the entrance of the Serbian army in the region viewed its role as protecting local Orthodox Christian communities and avenging the medieval battle of Kosovo.
When villagers heard about the Serbian massacres of Albanians in the nearby villages, some houses took the desperate measure of raising white flag to protect themselves. In the cases the white flag was ignored during the attack of Serbian army on Prishtina in October 1912, the Albanians (led by Turkish officers) abused the white flag, and attacked Serbian soldiers. The Serbian army subsequently used this as an excuse for the brutal retaliation of the civilians. Reports said that immediately upon entering the city, the Serbian army began hunting the Albanians and created a bloodshed by decimating the Albanian population of Prishtina.
Ferizaj fell to Serbia, the local Albanian population gave a determined resistance. According to some reports, the fight for the city lasted three days. After the fall of the city to the Serbian Army, the Serbian commander ordered the population to go back home and to surrender the weapons. When the survivors returned, between 300-400 people were massacred. Then followed the destruction of Albanian-populated villages around Ferizaj.
Gjakova was mentioned among the cities that suffered at the hands of the Serbian-Montenegrin army. The New York Times reported that people on the gallows hanged on both sides of the road, and that the way to Yakova became a "gallows alley." In the region of Yakova, the Montenegrin police-military formation Kraljevski žandarmerijski kor, known as krilaši, committed many abuses and violence against the Albanian population.
In Gjakova, Serbian priests carried out a violent conversion of Albanian Catholics to Serbian Orthodoxy. Vienna Neue Freie Presse (20 March 1913) reported that Orthodox priests with the help of military force converted 300 Gjakova Catholics to the Orthodox faith, and that Franciscan Pater Angelus, who refused to renounce his faith, was tortured and then killed with bayonets. The History Institute in Pristina has claimed that Montenegro converted over 1,700 Albanian Catholics to the Serbian Orthodox faith in the area of Gjakova in March 1913.
After the Serbian army achieved control over the city of Prizren, it imposed repressive measures against the Albanian civilian population. Serbian detachments broke into houses, plundered, committed acts of violence, and killed indiscriminately. Around 400 people were "eradicated" in the first days of the Serbian military administration. During those days bodies were lying everywhere on the streets. According to witnesses, during those days around Prizren lay about 1,500 corpses of Albanians. Foreign reporters were not allowed to go to Prizren. After the operations of the Serbian military and paramilitary units, Prizren became one of the most devastated cities of the Kosovo vilayet and people called it "the Kingdom of Death". Eventually, General Božidar Janković forced surviving Albanian leaders of Prizren to sign a statement of gratitude to the Serbian king Peter I Karađorđević for their liberation. It is estimated that 5,000 Albanians was massacred in the area of Prizren. British traveller Edith Durham and a British military attaché were supposed to visit Prizren in October 1912, however the trip was prevented by the authorities. Durham stated " I asked wounded Montengrins [Soldiers] why I was not allowed to go and they laughed and said 'We have not left a nose on an Albanian up there!' Not a pretty sight for a British officer." Eventually Durham visited a northern Albanian outpost in Kosovo where she met captured Ottoman soldiers whose upper lips and noses had been cut off.
The town of Prizren offered no resistance to Serb forces, but this did not avert a bloodbath there. After Prishtina, Prizren was the hardest hit of the Albanian towns. The local population called it the 'Kingdom of Death'. Serb forces forced their way into homes and beat up anyone and everyone in their way, irrespective of age or sex. Corpses lined the streets for days while the Serbian victors continued with brutality, and the native population which had survived did not dare to venture out of their homes. The attacks continued night after night throughout the town and region. Up to 400 people perished in the first few days of the Serbian occupation. When the Serbian troops were about to set off westwards, they could not find any horses to transport their equipment so they used 200 Albanians and forced them to carry the goods. Most of them collapsed during the journey and the Serbian commander expressed his satisfaction and approval of the action.
When General Janković saw that the Albanians of Luma would not allow Serbian forces to continue the advance to the Adriatic Sea, he ordered the troops to continue their brutality. The Serbian army massacred an entire population of men, women and children, not sparing anyone, and burned down 100-200houses and 27 villages in the area of Luma. Reports spoke of the atrocities by the Serbian army, including the burning of women and children bound to stacks of hay, within the sight of their fathers. Subsequently, about 400 men from Luma surrendered to Serbian authorities, but were taken to Prizren, where they were murdered. The Daily Telegraph wrote that "all the horrors of history have been outdone by the atrocious conduct of the troops of General Jankovic".
The second Luma massacre was committed the following year (1913). After the London Ambassador Conference decided that Luma should be within the Albanian state, the Serbian army initially refused to withdraw. Albanians raised a great rebellion in September 1913, after which Luma once again suffered harsh retaliation from the Serbian army. A report of the International Commission cited a letter of a Serbian soldier, who described the punitive expedition against the rebel Albanians:
"My dear Friend, I have no time to write to you at length, but I can tell you that appalling things are going on here. I am terrified by them, and constantly ask myself how men can be so barbarous as to commit such cruelties. It is horrible. I dare not tell you more, but I may say that Luma (an Albanian region along the river of the same name), no longer exists. There is nothing but corpses, dust and ashes. There are villages of 100, 150, 200 houses, where there is no longer a single man, literally not one. We collect them in bodies of forty to fifty, and then we pierce them with our bayonets to the last man. Pillage is going on everywhere. The officers told the soldiers to go to Prizren and sell the things they had stolen."
Italian daily newspaper Corriere delle Puglie wrote in December 1913 about official report that was sent to the Great Powers with details of the slaughter of Albanians in Luma and Debar, executed after the proclamation of the amnesty by Serbian authorities. The report listed the names of people killed by Serbian units in addition to the causes of death: by burning, slaughtering, bayonets, etc. The report also provided a detailed list of the burned and looted villages in the area of Luma and Has.
The official report submitted to the Great Powers:
In Shullan, general pillaging, torching. All the population had their throats slit, with the exception of three persons who, hearing the screaming and trepidation of the women and children, understood what was going on and took flight into the forest.
In Dodaj and Kiushtan, the houses were pillaged and torched. There were 13 victims.
In Tropojan, the houses were reduced to ashes and the population of over 500 souls was exterminated.
In Çerem, everything was pillaged. Over 350 animals were carried off. There were 23 victims, among whom were seven religious leaders.
In Krusheva, on the orders of Loglop, secretary of the Serb Government in Prizren, the family of Haxhi Ibrahimi, composed of eight members, among whom were three women and a one-year-old baby, two four-year-old girls and one six-year-old girl, were killed in cold blood by the soldateska.
In Bushtrica and Bilush, pillaging and torching of everything. The population, irrespective of gender and age, was put to the sword or burned alive. The animals, caught while grazing, were carried off after the shepherds were slaughtered.
In Çaja and Matranxh, general plundering. About 600 animals were carried off.
In Vasiaj, Palush, Gjabrec and Draç, general plundering. All supplies and all objects having any value whatsoever were stolen. Over 800 animals were carried off.
In Gjinaj, Lusna, Kalis and Vila, in addition to looting, 71 houses were torched, 123 people killed – men, women and children – and 2121 animals were carried off.
In Ujmisht, plundering and torching of 21 houses. 15 victims, among whom a woman, a three-month-old baby, a little boy of four, one of five, and two of eight. 480 animals were carried off.
In Xhaferraj, Brekija, Nimça, Lojmja, Përbreg, all the houses were raised to the ground. The population encircled by the Serbs was ruthlessly massacred. Several were hanged from the branches of trees, most of them had their throats slit. Some were cast into the flames and other suffered even worse torture before perishing. In Brekije alone, a large village of over 150 houses, there were over 1300 victims – men, women and children. In Përbreg, the number of victims probably exceeds 400. Of the whole population of these five villages, only two inhabitants of Xhaferraj and five of Nimça managed to escape extermination.
Other scenes of savagery and carnage took place in Surroj where 130 houses were torched and 55 men and 2 women were slain.
In Bardhovca and Novoseja, these two villages were burnt to the ground. The population fled up into the mountains, except for the wife of Islam Hanxhi and her four small children and the family of Ramadan Jusufi, who were burnt alive. The 1620 animals caught while grazing, among which 320 large ones, were carried off.
On 20 September, the Serbian army carried off all the cattle of the Malësia of Dibra. The herdsmen were compelled to defend themselves, and to struggle, but they were all killed. The Serbians also killed two chieftains of the Luma clan, Mehmed Edem and Djafer Eleuz, and the began pillaging and burning all the villages on their way: Peshkopi, Blliçë, and Dohoshisht in lower Dibra; and another seven villages in upper Dibra. In all these villages the Serbians committed acts of horrible massacres and outrage on women, children and old people.
District of Lower Dibra
In Rabdisht, the village was looted and completely devastated. 38 houses and about thirty stables were torched. 65 men were massacred, as usual by bayonet. In addition to them was a six-year-old boy, the son of a local leader, who was throw alive into the flames. The Serbs also carried off 400 head of sheep, 150 goats, 60 cows and 22 horses. A search of the pockets of the inhabitants who were spared death produced the sum of 20 Turkish lira (about 450 francs) which the Serbs confiscated.
In Zimur, the Serbs pillaged and torched seven houses. They bayoneted: Ahmet Shabani, Mulajm Elmazi, Sulejman Zeqiri, Veisel Riza and Salih Shabani. The animals they carried off consisted of 245 head of sheep and 12 bulls.
In Staravec, the whole village was pillaged and 42 houses were reduced to ashes. The victims here were: Husejn Muça, Reshid Rrahmani and a woman called Zobejda. The Serbs caught and carried off 300 sheep and goats, 30 head of cattle and four horses.
In Bahutaj, the Serbs forced Ramadan Mehmeti and his companions to perform balancing acts and then cut their throats. They carried off 10 horses.
In Tomin, the village was pillaged and two houses, a dervish lodge and a mosque were torched. Mazllum Jusufi and a boy of ten were slain. All the animals found were carried off.
In Dohoshisht, after the sacking of the village, 55 houses were torched. Among the victims who were horribly massacred, one could recognize the bodies of: Malik Bajrami, Ramadan Ahmeti, Ymer Sadiku, Zejnullah Hasani, Halil Junuzi, Musa Bajrami, and Shaban Halili. The Serbs carried off 400 head of sheep and 200 horses.
In Zagrad, the soldiers torched eight houses and stole three horses.
In Bellova, the Serbs pillaged the whole village and carried off everything they could transport.
In Grazhdan, 22 houses were ransacked and torched. Aziz Shemsedini, Hasan Zekiria, Xhafer Jusufi, Emrullah Mahmuti, Mont, Beqir, Hasan Durmishi, Rrustem Hasani and his brother Zekiria, Bexhet Nuri and his wife, Ismail Xhelili and his son Elias, Elez Hasani, Emrullah Demiri, Sinan Xhaferi, Aziz Kurtishi, Maksut Numani and Ferhat were bayoneted in the presence of their families. The Serbs also carried off all the animals.
In Muhurr, they looted all the homes and set 14 of them on fire. When they passed through the first time, they took 200 head of sheep, 100 lambs, 30 cows and 15 horses, as well as over 300 Turkish lira (about 7000 francs) they discovered in the pockets of the inhabitants. The second time they passed through the village, Serb troops stole 10 sheep, 10 lambs and one horse. They also bayoneted eleven village leaders.
In Luznia, all private homes were looted. The Serbs then torched five of the main homes. They carried off all the animals they could find in the stables, over 1500 sheep and goats, and 200 head of cattle. The human casualties, all bayoneted to death, amounted to 45 persons, whose names were carefully verified and recorded.
In Çetush, four houses were torched and the following persons: Asma Hasani, Zejnel Shabani and Osman Numani were massacred. Three horses were stolen.
In Brezhdan, the Serbs pillaged and torched 17 houses. They massacred the following persons: Abedin Osmani, Shahin Mehmeti and Salih Kadri. They also carried off 25 horses.
In Ushtelenca, the whole village was ransacked and thirteen houses were reduced to ashes. The following persons, Numan Rrustemi, Muslim Zeki and Mehmet Gota were massacred. The animal carried off amounted to 17 horses and six bulls.
In Deshat, the Serbs torched 15 houses and threw a ten-year-old boy, a seven-year-old boy and two women alive into the flames. They stole 50 head of cattle and 500 head of sheep.
In Sohodoll, they set three houses on fire and massacred four men: Abdullah Abedini, Tusun Dalipi, Sulejman Bahtiari and Dalip Ismajli, as well as a woman called Belure and her six-year-old son called Mazllum. They also stole 200 sheep and 30 horses.
In Borovjan, the Serbs torched two houses and slit the throat of Rrustem Muharremi in the presence of his family. They also carried off 27 head of cattle, 119 sheep and 5 horses.
In Rashnopoja, they pillaged all of the houses thoroughly, but were not able to burn any of them down. They bayoneted six leading villagers: Bajram Mehmeti, Malik Rakipi, Selman Rakipi, Behxhet Behluli, Osman Azani, Hajredin Maliku, and stole 20 bulls.
In Cerjan, the Serbs torched the houses and killed three men: Fazli Sulejmani, Jashar Hejbati and Bektash Arsllani, and one woman Zobejda. They carried off 14 horses and 60 head of sheep.
In Pilaf, all the houses were looted and five of them were torched. The Serbs bayoneted Dalip Ramadani in the presence of his elderly mother.
In Pilaf-Mahalla, they ransacked all the houses and torched eight of them. They murdered Hasan Fetahu, Salih Jusufi and his six-year-old daughter Fatime. In addition the Serb soldateska hurled a five-year-old boy called Shukri and a four-year-old called Hasan, into the flames. 100 head of cattle, 200 head of sheep and eight horses were carried off.
In Pollozhan, the village was completely ransacked and three houses were torched. There were eleven victims: Hajredin Vehta and his brother Aziz, Jusuf Uka, Hajredin Shkurti, Husejn Zejneli, Hajredin Halili, Said Pasha, Emin Shahini, Elez Numani and his brother Osman and the latter’s son. As to the animals, they carried off 50 head of sheep, 12 bulls and four horses.
In Gliçes (Blliçja?), all the houses were pillaged and five of them were torched. The Serbs cut the throats of three men (Xhafer Rrustemi, Destan Hasani and Xhemal Salihu) and of one woman (Ajshe). They carried off 250 head of sheep and 30 horses.
In Limjan, the whole village was ransacked. Among the inhabitants who were slain by bayonets were Hasan Shahini, Sejfullah Ibrahimi, Abdurrahman Fetahu, Qerim Sadiku and Bajram Xhelili. Also carried off were 200 head of sheep, 20 cows and 10 horses.
In Peshkopia, after all the houses in the village were pillaged, 57 of them, among which the most important houses, were torched. Massacred were: Xhelaledin Abazi, Ali Ymeri, Xhelman Selmani, Hasan Arsllani, Hajredin Shabani and Murat Demiri. 180 head of cattle, 450 sheep and goats, 15 mules and 20 horses were carried off.
In Trepça, the village was looted and Zejnullah Ahmeti has his throat slit savagely in the presence of his family. Two horses and 57 head of sheep were carried off.
In Çidhna, thirty houses were reduced to ashes. Three men were among the victims: Kitan Keloshi, Hasani Hani and Arsllan Sadiku. 500 sheep and goats, 200 head of cattle, 13 horses and 3 donkeys were carried off.
In Renz, the Serbs torched five houses, slit the throat of Zejnel Ahmeti on his doorstep, and carried off 100 sheep and goats, 12 cows and 5 beasts of burden.
The tale of the massacres carries on and as does the horrifying list revealing the martyrdom of the young Albanian people. Details have also been furnished of the atrocities committed in other parts of the District of Lower Dibra in northern Albania, such as:
In Dipjaka, general pillage, murder of a man called Beqir Sulejmani and a ransom of 45 Turkish lira paid by the inhabitants to the Serb commander to stop the massacre. All the animals were carried off.
In Venisht, pillage and torching. The throats of Beqir Asimi and Idriz Tahiri were slit, and the animals carried off.
In Sllatina, 30 houses were torched. Bahtial Idrizi was burnt alive and 1365 head of cattle were carried off.
In Trojak and Velesha, 41 houses were reduced to ashes. The following men: Zaim Idrizi, Abas Huseini and Salih Kadri were murdered. 660 animals were carried off.
In Kalla, 30 houses were torched. A woman called Daveshe was cast alive into the flames. Bajram Rrustemi had his throat slit on the doorstep of his home. 576 animals were carried off.
In Sllova, there were no victims since the population, not trusting the Serb amnesty, fled into the mountains. The village was completely ransacked, 32 houses were reduced to ashes and 319 animals, caught while grazing, were carried off.
In Dardha, general pillaging. Two victims: Nuredin Sulejmani and Ramadan Sinani. 380 animals were carried off.
In Reç, general pillaging and the carrying off of 600 animals.
Leon Trotsky's article
Leon Trotsky, one of the leading figures of the Russian revolution, was sent as a journalist to cover Balkan Wars in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. In his report sent to Kiev newspaper Kievskaya Misl he writes about many "atrocities committed against the Albanians of Macedonia and Kosovo in the wake of the Serb invasion of October 1912". Among other instances he tells a shocking case of drunken Serbian soldiers torturing two young Albanians. "Four soldiers held their bayonets in readiness and in their midst stood two young Albanians with their white felt caps on their heads. A drunken sergeant – a komitadji – was holding a kama (a Macedonian dagger) in one hand and a bottle of cognac in the other. The sergeant ordered: ‘On your knees!’ (The petrified Albanians fell to their knees. ‘To your feet!’ They stood up. This was repeated several times. Then the sergeant, threatening and cursing, put the dagger to the necks and chests of his victims and forced them to drink some cognac, and then… he kissed them... Drunk with power, cognac and blood, he was having fun, playing with them as a cat would with mice. The same gestures and the same psychology behind them. The other three soldiers, who were not drunk, stood by and took care that the Albanians did not escape or try to resist, so that the sergeant could enjoy his moment of rapture. ‘They’re Albanians,’ said one of the soldiers to me dispassionately. ‘Hell soon put them out of their misery.", shows an excerpt from the report.
Mark Mazower, who has written extensively on Balkan history, in his work The Balkans, From the End of Byzantium to the Present Day (for which he won the Wolfson History Prize which "promotes and encourages standards of excellence in the writing of history for the general public") claims:
In the former Ottoman districts of Kosovo and Monastir, in particular, the conquering Serb army killed perhaps thousands of civilians. Despite some Serb officer's careless talk of “exterminating” the Albanian population, this was killing prompted more by revenge than genocide.— Mark Mazower
Henrik August Angel, a Norwegian military officer and writer who personally followed the trail of the Ottoman army and army of Kingdom of Serbia, in his work described demonization of Serbs in texts published in newspapers on English, and especially on German in newspapers from Germany and Austria-Hungary, as "shameful injustice".
We have carried out the attempted premeditated murder of an entire nation. We were caught in that criminal act and have been obstructed. Now we have to suffer the punishment.... In the Balkan Wars, Serbia not only doubled its territory, but also its external enemies.
As a result of the Treaty of London in 1913 which designated the former Ottoman lands to Serbia, Montenegro and Greece (namely, the large part of the Vilayet of Kosovo being awarded to Serbia), an independent Albania was recognised. As such, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro agreed to withdraw from the territory of the new Principality of Albania. The principality however included only about half of the territory populated by ethnic Albanians and a large number of Albanians remained in neighboring countries.
These events have greatly contributed to the growth of the Serbian-Albanian conflict.
- International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Division of Intercourse and Education (1 January 1914). "Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan War". Washington, D.C. : The Endowment. Retrieved 6 September 2016 – via Internet Archive.
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Igrom slučaja.... prejahao poprište i sopstvenim nogama išao tragom turske i srpske vojske... Srbima naneta sramotna nepravda... sanjao dopisnik iz Budimpešte
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