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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter III. “National projects” and their regional framework

Memorandum sent to Lord Edward Grey

Ismail Qemali
Traduction de Rigels Halili

Texte intégral

1Title: Memorandum presented to Lord Edward Grey, British Minister of Foreign Affairs and President-in-Chief of the Conference of Ambassadors of the Great Powers in London

2Originally published: Originally written in 1913 as a private memorandum

3Language: French
The text used is from Ismail Qemali, Përmbledhje dokumentesh, ed. by T. Hoxha, (Tirana: Sh.B “8 Nentori,” 1982), pp. 232–235.

About the author

4Ismail Qemali bej Vlora (also known as Ismail Kemal Pasha) [1844, Vlora, (It Valona, present-day west Albania) – 1919, Rome]: politician and publicist. He was born into a noble family and received his primary education in his native town of Vlora. Like many other Albanians, after graduating from the ‘Zosimea Schoo’ in Janina (Gr. Ioannina, Tur. Yanya) in 1859, he moved to Istanbul, where he began his career in the Ottoman administration. He served as a counselor to Midhat Pasha during the preparation of the Ottoman constitution of 1876. Soon he became one of the main activists of Albanian nationalism in Istanbul. He joined the ‘Albanian Committee of Istanbul’ and published several articles demanding the implementation of decentralizing reforms, which was for him the only way to save the Ottoman Empire from its final demise. By the end of the 1890s, he became one of the leaders of the Albanian movement. On 28 April 1900, fearing persecution due to his political activity, he escaped from Istanbul with his family, fleeing first to Athens, and then to Rome, London, and finally Brussels. It was during this period that he formulated his program, the main postulate of which was the preservation of the status quo in the Balkans. According to Ismail Qemali, this would allow Albanians to fully implement highly needed educational and economic reforms. Simultaneously, he published several articles in the European and Albanian press. Following the changes implemented as a result of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908, he was elected deputy of the region of Berat and became one of the leaders of the liberal opposition in the new Ottoman Parliament (see Prince Sabahaddin, A second account on Individual Initiative and Decentralization). Ismail Qemali was one of the leaders of the Albanian uprisings of 1910–1912. He directed the proceedings of the assembly gathered in Vlora, which resulted in the proclamation of Albanian independence on 28 November 1912. He was elected Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first Albanian Government (4 December 1912–1 January 1914). After the fall of his government, he spent several years in Europe, mostly in Italy, where he died in 1919.

5Main works: Kujtime [Memories] (1917).


6The aggravation of the situation in the Balkans and the outbreak of the first Balkan War in 1912 entirely changed the political priorities of the Albanian movement. The defeat of the Ottoman army, the advance of the Serbian army into Kosovo, and inside Albania to Elbasan, the occupation of Shkodra (It. Scutari, Srb. Skadar) by the Montenegrin army, and finally the Greek army’s occupation of territories in the Epirus and Macedonia were seen by Albanian activists as an effort to divide what they perceived as Albanian lands—a turn of events that was reminiscent of the Eastern Crisis of 1878–1881. Hence, on 28 November 1912, the assembly of the Albanian delegates gathered in Vlora decided to declare the full independence of the new Albanian state. A week later, a new government was founded with Ismail Qemali as its Prime Minister.

7For a long time, Ottoman and European circles treated Ismail Qemali as a moderate politician. His political program was not as radical as Sami Frasheri’s as it hardly ever mentioned full independence. Ismail Qemali rather concentrated on issues of cultural and economic autonomy. Even during the general uprising in northern Albania and Kosovo against the rule of the Young Turks, his request was for the establishment of Albania as an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire. This request frequently appeared in different documents of the time, the most complete and most important being the Memorandumi i Gërges (Gërçe memorandum), written jointly by Ismail Qemali and Luigj Gurakuqi. Ismail Qemali, as Abdyl Frasheri before him, was conscious of the necessity of an external ally for the Albanian movement. He first tried to strike an alliance with Greece in their common struggle against the ‘Slavic and Turkish threat.’ But Athens had rather different aspirations for the future of the Albanian lands, especially those in the south, envisioning their incorporation to the Greek state. Qemali turned then his attention to Italy, but with the outbreak of the first Balkan War, there was no time for undertaking any concrete steps. After the proclamation of independence, moreover, the priorities of the Albanian national movement changed radically.

8From the very beginning, the activity of Qemali’s government focused mostly on foreign affairs. The main concern was the international recognition of the new state and its territorial integrity. The government in Vlora followed the line of earlier political programs which demanded the geographical composition of an independent Albania to be that of the four former Ottoman provinces inhabited mainly by Albanians. This postulate was firmly opposed by Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, which in accordance with their national and political programs aimed for the expansion of their respective territories. The participants at the Conference of Great Powers Ambassadors, held in London from November 1912 to August 1913 focused mainly on the issue of the future Albanian frontiers. As had happened earlier during the Congress of Berlin, Albanian national organizations within the country and Albanian communities of the diaspora sent letters, memoranda and other documents to the London conference in support of Albanian demands.

9The memorandum presented to Lord Edward Grey, who presided over the London Conference of Ambassadors, was one of the most important attempts undertaken by the Vlora government to present the Albanian view concerning the final arrangement of territorial disputes. The text included the widely known postulates regarding the historical circumstances and the future organization of the Albanian state. The authors of the memorandum put an emphasis on the geographical shape of this state. The claimed that the ‘natural’ Albanian territories comprised the following areas: north, to the town of Pejë (Srb. Peć, Tur. İpek), Prishtina (Srb. Priština); east, to Shkup (Tur. Üsküb, Mac. Skopje); south-east, to Manastir (Gr. Monastiri, Mac. Bitola); south, to Janina and down to the southernmost point of Preveza (Tur. Preveze). The comparison with the earlier demands to unify the four former provinces (vilayets) of Shkodra, Janina, Kosovo and Manastir into one Albanian vilayet reveals clearly that there were several important changes, since the district (sancak) of Novi Pazar and other lands to the east of Skopje and south of Preveza were left out of the visualized state territory. It should also be noted that the rhetoric and nature of argumentation had changed. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the legitimacy for such territorial claims in the diverse Albanian political programs was sought in the historical past. In support of the Albanian claims, the memorandum argued that any alternative territorial arrangement different from the one proposed would jeopardize the economic, social and political existence of the new Albanian state. Therefore, from a rather romantic, past-oriented attitude, the Albanian national movement shifted gradually towards a more state-oriented, modernist one.

10The decision of the London Conference did not fulfill the Albanian demands. A compromise was achieved between the French-Russian proposals on the one hand, and, on the other, ideas supported by Austria-Hungary and Italy. Albania was recognized within its present borders (although some slight corrections did take place in 1924–25) and as such the borders of the Albanian state were confirmed by the Protocol of Florence, signed on 17 December 1913. In nationalist Albanian historiography, this symbolizes the partition of the nation into three parts; Kosovo was annexed by Serbia, çameria (Gr. Tsamouria) was annexed by Greece, and the remaining part became the state of Albania, frequently called by nationalists ‘Londonese-Albania.’ It was at this point that a new phase of the so-called Albanian Question emerged, namely the quest for the unification of ethnic Albanian populations into one state. This issue strongly influenced the relations with neighboring countries during the entire twentieth century.

11During the communist era the division of Albanian lands was interpreted as a direct result of the imperialistic policies of the Great Powers (although it was Austria-Hungary who de jure had made possible the existence of the new Albania) and neighboring countries. Both in the historiography of Albania and Kosovo such statements still remain unchallenged. However, the resolution of the Kosovo issue will possibly initiate a rather critical approach towards modern Albanian history. As for the text of the memorandum, it has been referred to by Albanian historians as one of the most important diplomatic efforts undertaken by Ismail Qemali’s government in order to influence the decisions of the Conference of Ambassadors and to achieve a satisfactory solution in establishing the territorial boundaries of the newly founded Albanian state.


Memorandum presented to Lord Edward Grey, British Minister of Foreign Affairs and President-in-Chief of the Conference of Ambassadors of the Great Powers in London

13We, the signatories of this document and representatives of the Temporary Government of Albania, have the honor to present to the Conference of Ambassadors of the Great Powers in London the Albanian perspective on the recognition of Albanian legal claims.

14It is already a historically accepted fact that the Albanian nation forms the most compact, homogenous and important ethnic group in the entire Balkan Peninsula. Its race and language, its customs and its character set it apart from other neighboring nations and give it the kind of individuality that helps Albanians oppose the efforts for their assimilation.

15Albania could not follow Western nations in their admirable progress and civilization; the reasons for this backwardness should be sought among the unfavorable conditions of its development. But the energy with which Albanians tried to preserve their national character, as well as their obstinate patience in working towards their independence are sufficient proofs of their good will and ability to enjoy the path of civilization and enrichment together with other small nations.

16The history of the Albanian nation is full of bloody battles in defense of its integrity. Throughout its existence, Albania has never entirely relinquished its independence. At different moments in its history Albania became part of several foreign states, but always the ideal of freedom remained untouchable and the occupation was only superficial. Therefore now, when important events are taking place in Balkan Peninsula, and the Balkan issue is raised once again, Albania feels entitled to claim here before other European states that besides the right to exist, it should also enjoy the right to progress in order and peace.

17Of course it would be a bad expression of the Albanian national sentiment if we did not immediately share our deep gratefulness toward the Great Powers for supporting Albania’s full independence.

18The Albanian nation has suffered greatly under foreign occupation. We believe that it deserves to follow the Western nations, hoping that they will assist our country which seeks nothing but improvement.

19Albania is resolute in its decision to become a factor for bringing balance and peace to the Balkan Peninsula. This, however, would be impossible without the full homogeneity of the Albanian nation (which has been jealously preserved for such a long time) within a political organism that is just, stable and enduring. This organism could only be sustained by full and absolute independence as this is the sole factor that can guarantee the elimination of any future obstacle that could ensue from the relics of foreign occupations.

20We are convinced the Balkan Allies would not deny that their joined efforts in some aspects follow in the steps of the Albanian uprising and that their successes are also a result of the Albanian quest for freedom, a quest performed with courage and valor through continuous uprisings. If there is a need to show sacrifices, suffering and poverty as a condition for every mature nation to achieve the legitimate right to govern itself, Albanians could mention the barbarous treatment they have had to endure until recently.

21Today, when the final solution for the Balkan question is widely presented, the Albanian nation will not support an empire that has partially sacrificed its rights and is building its future on uncertain ground. At the same time, the idea to “give the Balkans to the Balkan people” could be not conceived without just and humanitarian rules. It is therefore impossible to build full peace on the peninsula unless each political entity enjoys independence within its geographical and ethnographical borders. The seeds of discord and disorder will always be present when land inhabited primarily by an Albanian population is subjugated by a foreign state.

22By expressing the point of view of the Albanian nation, which is represented almost entirely by our Temporary Government, we are not offering the Great Powers any ready solution. Knowing our rights yet honestly striving to help the European governments to find a fair and stable solution, acknowledging the discordances, yet inspired by the desire to maintain positive policies towards our Balkan neighbors, we declare that peace and calm will be implemented only when the Albanian nation enjoys a homogenous political configuration. For this reason the Albanian nation demands an Albanian state to be built within its natural boundaries; and we are convinced that the European Great Powers will show their understanding and will rigorously respect these general principles.

23The frontiers that we demand are these: following a demarcation line starting from the present frontier with the Kingdom of Montenegro and including all hinterlands, the towns of Peja, Mitrovica, Shkup until Metchova, plus the territory inside today’s frontier as far south as Preveza. Demanding the demarcation of frontiers following this line, the Albanian nation expresses its wish to keep good and stable relations with its neighbors. Besides the ethnic, geographical and historical arguments supporting this rational solution of the frontiers issue, we feel obliged to add that any contingent truncation of the natural borders of Albania will only make its normal functioning impossible as the country will be unable to profit from its natural resources on the path of its development.

24And finally, the abovementioned regions are mainly inhabited by Albanian population.

25The delimitation of the frontiers will be entrusted to a special mixed commission. This commission will act disinterestedly, and thus will calm the neighbors of the future Albanian state.

26The Albanian nation has already proven its merits and its ability to make free judgment in political issues. It has always valued its national interests higher than the religious considerations that have been the source for so many problems and disputes among neighboring nations. The best proof is the traditionally respectful attitude to the Vlach people, which is rewarded today by the agreement with the Vlachs to live and work within the new Albanian state.

27The Albanian nation is convinced that in resolving today's conflict, the Great Powers will take into consideration the demands presented in this memorandum and will not turn a blind eye to the pertinent claims of a nation that is small but worthy of a better future, a nation that has suffered in the past, but has always kept its faith in the future.

28It is for this future that Albania wants the guaranties of the Great Powers, so that it can become a partner in cooperation and development and maintain a place among the civilized nations.

29London, 2 January 1913.

30Presented by the delegates of the Albanian Temporary Government

31Rasih Dino

32Mehmet Konica

33Filip Noga


Rigels Halili (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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