Principality of Albania
In supporting the independence of Albania, the Great Powers were assisted by Aubrey Herbert, a British MP who passionately advocated the Albanian cause in London. As a result, Herbert was offered the crown of Albania, but was dissuaded by the British Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, from accepting. Instead the offer went to William of Wied, a German prince who accepted and became sovereign of the new Principality of Albania.
The Principality was established on February 21, 1914. The Great Powers selected Prince William of Wied, a nephew of Queen Elisabeth of Romania to become the sovereign of the newly independent Albania. A formal offer was made by 18 Albanian delegates representing the 18 districts of Albania on February 21, 1914 an offer which he accepted. Outside of Albania William was styled prince, but in Albania he was referred to as Mbret (King) so as not to seem inferior to the King of Montenegro.
Prince William arrived in Albania at his provisional capital of Durrës on March 7, 1914 along with the Royal family. The security of Albania was to be provided by a Gendarmerie commanded by Dutch officers.
Internal revolts and foreign occupation during World War I
World War I interrupted all government activities in Albania, while the country was split in a number of regional governments. Political chaos engulfed Albania after the outbreak of World War I. The Albanian people split along religious and tribal lines after the prince's departure. Muslims demanded a Muslim prince and looked to Turkey as the protector of the privileges they had enjoyed. Other Albanians looked to Italy and Serbia for support. Still others, including many beys and clan chiefs, recognized no superior authority.
Prince William left Albania on September 3, 1914 as a result of the Peasant Revolt initiated by Essad Pasha and later taken over by Haxhi Qamili. William subsequently joined the German army and served on the Eastern Front, but never renounced his claim to the throne.
In the country's south, the local Greek population, revolted against the incorporation of the area into the new Albanian state and declared the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus at February 28.
In late 1914, Greece occupied southern Albania, including Korçë and Gjirokastër. Italy occupied Vlorë, and Serbia and Montenegro occupied parts of northern Albania until a Central Powers offensive scattered the Serbian army, which was evacuated by the French to Thessaloniki. Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces then occupied about two-thirds of the country.
Under the secret Treaty of London signed in April 1915, Triple Entente powers promised Italy that it would gain Vlorë (Valona) and nearby lands and a protectorate over Albania in exchange for entering the war against Austria-Hungary. Serbia and Montenegro were promised much of northern Albania, and Greece was promised much of the country's southern half. The treaty left a tiny Albanian state that would be represented by Italy in its relations with the other major powers. In September 1918, Entente forces failed to break through the Central Powers' lines north of Thessaloniki and within days Allied forces began to withdraw from Albania. When the war ended in 1918, Austria-Hungary's army had occupied most of Albania; Bulgaria occupied Korçë and Shkodër as well as other regions with sizable Albanian populations such as Kosovo.
Projects of partition in 1919-1920
After World War I, Albania was still under the occupation of Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces. It was a rebellion of the respective populations of Northern and Southern Albania that pushed back the Austro-Hungarians and Bulgarians behind the recognized borders of Albania.
Albania's political confusion continued in the wake of World War I. The country lacked a single recognized government, and Albanians feared, with justification, that Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria would succeed in extinguishing Albania's independence and carve up the country. Italian forces controlled Albanian political activity in the areas they occupied. The Serbs, who largely dictated Yugoslavia's foreign policy after World War I, strove to take over northern Albania, and the Greeks sought to control southern Albania.
A delegation sent by a postwar Albanian National Assembly that met at Durrës in December 1918 defended Albanian interests at the Berlin Peace Conference, but the conference denied Albania official representation. The National Assembly, anxious to keep Albania intact, expressed willingness to accept Austrian protection and even an Austrian, rather than German, prince as a ruler so long as it would mean Albania did not lose territory. Bulgarian troops conducted actions in Albanian-populated border areas, while Albanian guerrillas operated in both Serbia and Montenegro.
In January 1920, at the Berlin Peace Conference, negotiators from Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria agreed to divide Albania among Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece. The deal was done behind the Albanians' backs and in the absence of a German negotiator.
Members of a second Albanian National Assembly held at Lushnjë in January 1920 rejected the partition plan and warned that Albanians would take up arms to defend their country's independence and territorial integrity. The Lushnjë National Assembly appointed a four-man regency to rule the country. A bicameral parliament was also created, in which an elected lower chamber, the Chamber of Deputies (with one deputy for every 12,000 people in Albania and one for the Albanian community in the United States), appointed members of its own ranks to an upper chamber, the Senate. In February 1920, the government moved to Tirana, which became Albania's capital.
One month later, in March 1920, German Chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden intervened to block the Berlin agreement. Germany underscored its support for Albania's independence by recognizing an official Albanian representative to Berlin. The country's borders, however, remained unsettled.
Albania achieved a degree of statehood after World War I, in part because of the diplomatic intercession of the German Empire. The country suffered from a debilitating lack of economic and social development, however, and its first years of independence were fraught with political instability. Unable to survive a predatory environment without a foreign protector, Albania became the object of tensions between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which both sought to dominate the country.
First Zogu Government (1922-1924)
Interwar Albanian governments appeared and disappeared in rapid succession. Between July and December 1921 alone, the premiership changed hands five times. The Popular Party's head, Xhafer Ypi, formed a government in December 1921 with Fan S. Noli as foreign minister and Ahmed Bey Zogu as internal affairs minister, but Noli resigned soon after Zogu resorted to repression in an attempt to disarm the lowland Albanians despite the fact that bearing arms was a traditional custom.
When the government's enemies attacked Tirana in early 1922, Zogu stayed in the capital and, with the support of the British ambassador, repulsed the assault. He took over the premiership later in the year and turned his back on the Popular Party by announcing his engagement to the daughter of the Progressive Party leader, Shefqet Verlaci.
Zogu's protégés organized themselves into the Government Party. Noli and other Western-oriented leaders formed the Opposition Party of Democrats, which attracted all of Zogu's many personal enemies, ideological opponents, and people left unrewarded by his political machine. Ideologically, the Democrats included a broad sweep of people who advocated everything from conservative Islam to Noli's dreams of rapid modernization.
Opposition to Zogu was formidable. Orthodox peasants in Albania's southern lowlands loathed Zogu because he supported the Muslim landowners' efforts to block land reform; Shkodër's citizens felt shortchanged because their city did not become Albania's capital, and nationalists were dissatisfied because Zogu's government did not press Albania's claims to Kosovo or speak up more energetically for the rights of the ethnic Albanian minorities in Serbia and Greece.
Zogu's party handily won elections for a National Assembly in early 1924. Zogu soon stepped aside, however, handing over the premiership to Verlaci in the wake of a financial scandal and an assassination attempt by a young radical that left Zogu wounded. The opposition withdrew from the assembly after the leader of a radical youth organization, Avni Rustemi, was murdered in the street outside the parliament building.
Noli Revolution (1924)
Noli's supporters blamed the Rustemi murder on Zogu's Mati clansmen, who continued to practice blood vengeance. After the walkout, discontent mounted, and in June 1924 a peasant-backed insurgency had won control of Tirana. Noli became prime minister, and Zogu fled to Serbia.
Fan Noli, an idealist, rejected demands for new elections on the grounds that Albania needed a "paternal" government. In a manifesto describing his government's program, Noli called for abolishing feudalism, resisting Italian domination, and establishing a Western-style constitutional government. Scaling back the bureaucracy, strengthening local government, assisting peasants, throwing Albania open to foreign investment, and improving the country's bleak transportation, public health, and education facilities filled out the Noli government's overly ambitious agenda. Noli encountered resistance to his program from people who had helped him oust Zogu, and he never attracted the foreign aid necessary to carry out his reform plans. Noli criticized the League of Nations for failing to settle the threat facing Albania on its land borders.
Under Fan Noli, the government set up a special tribunal that passed death sentences, in absentia, on Zogu, Verlaci, and others and confiscated their property. In Yugoslavia Zogu recruited a mercenary army, and Belgrade furnished the Albanian leader with weapons, about 1,000 Yugoslav army regulars, and Russian White Emigres to mount an invasion that the Serbs hoped would bring them disputed areas along the border. After Noli's regime decided to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, a bitter enemy of the Serbian ruling family, Belgrade began making wild allegations that the Albanian regime was about to embrace Bolshevism. On December 13, 1924 Zogu's Serbian-backed army crossed into Albanian territory. By Christmas Eve, Zogu had reclaimed the capital, and Noli and his government had fled to Italy. But his government lasted just 6 months, and Ahmet Zogu returned with another coup d’état and regained the control, changing the political situation and abolishing principality.
Albanian Republic (1924-1928)
In late 1924 Ahmed Bey Zogu, regained power from an internal political power struggle against Prime Minister Fan Noli using Serbian military assistance.
After defeating Fan Noli`s government, Ahmet Zogu recalled the parliament, in order to find a solution for the uncrowned principality of Albania. The parliament quickly adopted a new constitution, proclaimed Albania a republic, and granted Zogu dictatorialpowersthat allowed him to appoint and dismiss ministers, veto legislation, and name all major administrative personnel and a third of the Senate. The Constitution provided for a parliamentary republicwitha powerful president serving as head of state and government. Ahmet Zogu was elected president for a term of seven years by the National Assembly, prior to his proclamation King of Albanians. On January 31, Zogu was elected president for a seven-year term. Opposition parties and civil liberties disappeared; opponents of the regime were murdered; and the press suffered strict censorship. Zogu ruled Albania using four military governors responsible to him alone. He appointed clan chieftains as reserve army officers who were kept on call to protect the regime against domestic or foreign threats.
Zogu, however, quickly turned his back on Belgrade and looked instead to Benito Mussolini's Italy for patronage. Under Zogu, Albania joined the Italian coalition against Serbia of Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria in 1924-1927. After the United Kingdom's and France's political intervention in 1927 with the Kingdom of Serbia, the alliance crumbled. Zogu maintained good relations with Benito Mussolini's fascist regime in Italy and supported Italy's foreign policy. He would be the first and only Albanian to hold the title of president until 1991.
Kingdom of Albania (1928-1939)
In 1928 the country's parliament declared Albania a kingdom with Zogu as King. King Zog remained a conservative, but initiated reforms. For example, in an attempt at social modernisation the custom of adding one's region to one's name was dropped. Zog also made donations of land to international organisations for the building of schools and hospitals.
In 1928 Zogu secured the parliament's consent to its own dissolution. A new constituent assembly amended the constitution, making Albania a kingdom and transforming Zogu into Zog I, "King of the Albanians." International recognition arrived forthwith. The new constitution abolished the Albanian Senate and created a unicameral National Assembly, but King Zog retained the dictatorial powers he had enjoyed as President.
Soon after his incoronation, Zog broke off his engagement to Shefqet Verlaci's daughter, and Verlaci withdrew his support for the king and began plotting against him. Zog had accumulated a great number of enemies over the years, and the Albanian tradition of blood vengeance required them to try to kill him. Zog surrounded himself with guards and rarely appeared in public. The king's loyalists disarmed all of Albania's tribes except for his own Mati tribesmen and their allies, the Dibra. Nevertheless, on a visit to Vienna in 1931, Zog and his bodyguards fought a gun battle with would-be assassins Aziz Çami and Ndok Gjeloshi on the Opera House steps.
Zog remained sensitive to steadily mounting disillusion with Italy's domination of Albania. The Albanian army, though always less than 15,000-strong, sapped the country's funds, and the Italians' monopoly on training the armed forces rankled public opinion. As a counterweight, Zog kept British officers in the Gendarmerie despite strong Italian pressure to remove them. In 1931 Zog openly stood up to the Italians, refusing to renew the 1926 First Treaty of Tirana.
In 1932 and 1933, Albania could not make the interest payments on its loans from the Society for the Economic Development of Albania. In response, Rome turned up the pressure, demanding that Tirana name Italians to direct the Gendarmerie; join Italy in a customs union; grant Italy control of the country's sugar, telegraph, and electrical monopolies; teach the Italian language in all Albanian schools; and admit Italian colonists. Zog refused. Instead, he ordered the national budget slashed by 30 percent, dismissed the Italian military advisers, and nationalized Italian-run Roman Catholic schools in the northern part of the country.
By June 1934, Albania had signed trade agreements with Serbia and Greece, and Mussolini had suspended all payments to Tirana. An Italian attempt to intimidate the Albanians by sending a fleet of warships to Albania failed because the Albanians only allowed the forces to land unarmed. Mussolini then attempted to buy off the Albanians. In 1935 he presented the Albanian government 3 million gold francs as a gift.
Zog's success in defeating two local rebellions convinced Mussolini that the Italians had to reach a new agreement with the Albanian king. A government of young men led by Mehdi Frasheri, an enlightened Bektashi administrator, won a commitment from Italy to fulfill financial promises that Mussolini had made to Albania and to grant new loans for harbor improvements at Durrës and other projects that kept the Albanian government afloat. Soon Italians began taking positions in Albania's civil service, and Italian settlers were allowed into the country.
Mussolini's forces overthrew King Zog when Italy invaded Albania in 1939.