Montenegrin-Albanian Conflicts

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The Montenegrin-Albanian conflicts were a series of clashes and battles between the Kingdom of Montenegro and Albanian highlanders and Ottoman irregulars, mostly from the Vilayet of Kosovo, and the League of Prizren. The conflicts stretched from the 1850s to 1945. The Montenegrins, with support from Russia, had intentions of expanding the kingdom into Ottoman territories with at the time consisted of Albanians after the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878. Although conflicts between Albanians and Montenegrins had begun much earlier, already in 1862, when King Nicholas Petrovich decided to attack northern Albania, primary the regions of Vraninja, Grude and Hoti. (Back then Ottoman Empire).[1] The highlanders countered the attacks, with advantages given to them due to the mountainous terrain. The Russian Pan-Slavic goal to unify the South Slavic states into one also dragged Montenegro and the northern Albanians into further conflicts. The fighting continued well into the Balkan Wars when Montenegro occupied Shkodra and continued into World War 2 with the Balli Kombetar fighters who clashed with the Montenegrin communist forces, later joined by Enver Hoxha. Today the relations between Montenegro and Albania are positive-neutral and a close cooperation exists between the two states.[2]


The first traces of the Montenegrin-Albanian conflict began in the mid 1800s, when European powers were interested in weakening the Ottoman Empire, such as Russia. The Albanians were under the Ottomans with some kind of autonomy in some parts of the Malesia. Although Russia was mostly interested of opening a hatch through the Balkans to get a coastal port, Montenegro used the Russian desire to enforce and finance their state, which alarmed the Albanians in Malesia and also the Ottomans. Even before the proper establishment of the Ottoman Empire, the Rugova and Kelmendi Albanians were Catholic which caused tensions between Albanians and Montenegrins. King Nicolas Petrovic preferred the Albanians to convert to the Orthodox faith but the Albanians refused.[3] Albanian-Ottoman irregulars often fought Montenegrin forces around the border and for the coming decades fighting would not stop.[4]

Further conflicts

Although sworn enemies of the Albanians, the Montenegrins often made peace with the highlanders. Conflicts often resulted in treaties between the sides as a mean to resist a common enemy, the Ottomans. Highlanders who defied the Ottomans used the Montenegrins as support and sometimes even sided with them against the Ottomans. Muslim highlanders sided with the Ottomans for arms and support, and many Albanian beys received support from the Ottomans, although they were often deceived and sometimes killed. Catholic highlanders refused to pay Ottoman taxes and, although sometimes sided with the Montenegrins, rarely trusted them as the Montenegrins often occupied Albanian territories Many Albanian and Montenegrin tribes also sub-merged and assimilated into one-another resulting in different opinions among Albanians. For example, the Kuci tribe was divided into an Albanian tribe and a Montenegrin one. Although the Ottoman pashas supplied the lowland Albanians with arms, many highlanders refused to be persuaded by the Ottomans through lowered taxes as a mean to stand against potential Montenegrin invasions. In 1862 Montenegrins tried to occupy regions around Hoti and Grude but were defeated by the highlanders.[5] Ottomans had previously in 1842 occupied the island of Vranina which was staunchly defended by Oso Kuka who refused to surrender it to the Montenegrins, resulting in him blowing it up. In 1878, after the Stefano treaty, the Kingdom of Montenegro desired Ottoman territory, but the Albanians were in the way and as Albanian nationalism was on the rise, King Nicolas Petrovic was troubled. During the end of the 19th century a numerous clashes and battles took place between Montenegrin forces and Albanian highlanders from Kosovo, mostly from Rugova who blocked a potential invasion. Sali Jaha, a Binbash (commander), fought in 1817 in the Battle of Bukovik (modern day Montenegro) against several invasions led by Marko Miljanov, the right-hand of King Nicholas Petrovich. In 1875 the Montenegrins tried to expand further into Berane (modern day Montenegro) and they succeeded, resulting in many Albanian villages being burned down and the inhabitants expelled.[6] The League of Prizren organized fierce resistance against King Nichola Petrovics expansional desires which gained much attention in Europe, specially in the Austro-Hungarian empire who sought to ”limit” the Pan-Slavic influences. In the 1880s further clashes took place with villages with civilians being massacred as retaliation by the Montenegrin forces. Regions like Rzanica and Pepaj became fierce battlefields between Albanians and Montenegrins. During the Balkan Wars the Kingdom of Montenegro tried to occupy Shkodra but was forced to leave by the Great Powers who feared that it would become a Russian port. Many atrocities were carried out by the Montenegrin forces in order to change the ethnic character of the newly occupied regions.[7] Many Albanians were assimilated into the Montenegrin-Slavic identity, while Montenegrin tribes who fled wars established in Albanian territories and became Albanized.[8]

Already in 1871, seven years before the League of Prizren, the Montenegrins had united different clans and organisations with Serbia in order to occupy territories where Albanians were a majority. Several members of these organizations, such as Mašo Vrbica (1833–1898) from Hercegovina, participated in massacres against Albanian civilians in newly occupied regions. Other anti-Albanian commanders were Marko Miljanov (1833–1901) who ordered his Serbo-Montenegrin forces against the Albanians several times during 1875-1880 in the Battle of Novsice.[9] According to Montenegrin historians such as Predrag Gjurovic, Osman Gervgurevic, Mirella Gjurovic and Alexandar Petrovich in their ”Gjeografia”, published in 2007, they claim Montenegro always occupied, assimilated and used Albanians highlanders for their own interests. During the end of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Montenegro occupied Podgorica, Plav, Gusinje, Berane and Rozaja. (modern day Montenegro). Many Albanian highlanders fought and halted the invasions and civilians were either assimilated, expelled or massacred.[10][11]

The Montenegrin prince Danilo the 1st, also known as the first of the Petrović-Njegoš dynasty dynasty, who were sworn anti-Albanians, traveled in 1715 to St. Petersburg to the Russian Tsar to discuss Balkan politics. Albanians, which at the time consisted mostly of modern-day south Montenegro, were a problem to the Russian Pan-Slavic plans.[12] The Albanians were mainly Catholic and Muslim which both attracted interests from the Ottomans and the Roman Catholic Church, who preferred coastal cities like Shkodra and Durrës to maintain ”independently” Albanian. Russia and Montenegro both wanted Shkodra to become a Montenegrin port. According to Albanian historians most of what is roughly half of Montenegro used to be inhabited by a Montenegrin-Albanian population. According to European traveler Jakob Spon, from Lyon, (1675), all of Budva was ”like a border between Albanians and Venetians. Sultan Sulejman the second (1688) wrote in a letter describing the ”Kuci tribe” from the Palabardhi as ”Albanians”. Evie Celebiu, an Ottoman traveler, (1600–1662) described Plava, Gusinje and Berane as the most ”lively” regions of Albania.[13][14][15]

After the Montenegrin victory of the Battle of Ostrogut in 1853 and the Battle of Grahova in 1858 the Kingdom of Montenegro had become a stabile state which now waited for the opportunity to further declare war on the Ottoman Empire. The Petrovic-Njegusase dynasty, from King Nikola, occupied many Ottoman regions with Albanians as a majority such as Kuci, Vasojevic, Kolas, Mojkovac, Zabljak, Pljevlja, Bijelo Polje, etc.[16] King Nicolas Petrovic of Montenegro ordered many massacres on Albanians that to this day are considered as ”crimes against humanity” and ”genocide”, the same methods used by Milosevics forces in Kosovo in 1999-1998. The father of King Nicholas, Vojvoda Mirko, had early committed massacres on Albanians. In 1858 he personally had 17 Albanians from the Kuci tribe executed and murdered 230 children in cradles and also stabbed pregnant women tossing the embryos. He also massacred many Albanians from the Palabardha-tribe. Marko Miljanov described the massacres of the Kuci tribe:[17][18]

”the Kuci Albanians were all murdered by Mirko and his forces. The soldiers shot anyone they could find, regardless of gender or age, and they also used their bayonets. Children in cradles were not spared, nor were handicapped, deaf, the elderly and the sick. Their heads were cut off and were hidden so that the rest would never find them.”[19][20][21]

The father-in-law of King Nichola Petrovic, Vojvoda Peter Vukotic, was also an Anti-Albanian who fought them in the 1850s. King Nicolas Petrovic, together with Vukotic, vowed to forever fight the Albanians. the King began, before the unification of the Balkan Powers, to attack the Albanian highlands and to invade Prizren and make it the capital of Montenegro.[22] At the Battle of Novsice (1879–1880) King Nicholas traveled with the Russian flag and surrendered it to Ali Pasha of Gusinje together with Smajl Uk Brucaj. Afterwards he traveled to Istanbul to discuss with Sultan Abdulhamding the second about the Albanian question. He received a ”free hand” to handle with the Albanians as he wished.[23]

Balkan War

The Kingdom of Montenegro tried to occupy Shkodra but failed. Instead they managed to occupy Plav and Gusinje and many regions around, increasing the kingdom but decreasing the Albanian state which was yet to be declared in 1912. Increasing hostilities continued when Montenegrin forces committed many massacres against Albanian civilians in the occupied regions.[24] In 1918 Serbo-Montenegrin forces killed many Albanians in Ferizaj, Prizren, Peja, etc.[25]

World War 2

Montenegrin-Albanian conflicts continued well into World War 1 and World War 2 with Albanians joining the Axis powers and the Montenegrins with the Yugoslav and Communist forces. Albanians regained much of what was once occupied by Montenegro but instead new conflicts took place with Albanian patriots,[26] such as Bali Bajram Nokshiqi and Sak Faslia fighting off Montenegrin communists. Gusinje and Plav became the main headquarters for the Albanian Balli Kombetar and the Rugova highlanders who defended the regions. After the end of World War 2, Montenegrin soldiers mass-executed many Albanians in the regions of Plav and Gusinje and former Balli Kombetar soldiers were imprisoned or killed.[27]

Modern times

Today Montenegro and Albania have a rather neutral or positive relation. Many Albanian highlanders (malisores) fled to Montenegro during Enver Hoxhas regime as a protest against the communist state who were sworn enemies. Others fled to other European countries and America for a better living. A large number of Albanians, around 100,000, live in south Montenegro in regions like Plav, Gusinje and Ulcinj (Ulqin) and speak mainly Albanian. Albanian nationalism has risen lately with Albanian activists calling for ”Ethnic Albania”, a nationalist concept with the goal to unite ”Albanian lands that were once unjustifiably occupied”. (Referring to the Montenegrin invasions during 1862-1912). Due to Montenegros coastal, strategical position, the Western powers have shown an interest in making Montenegro a ”pro-western” state which somewhat faces a risking a confrontation with Russia who sees Montenegro as ”an old friend”. NATO-ships have lately been positioning outside of Montenegros coast a symbol of a closer Western collaboration. Albania is in NATO, while Montenegro is yet to join. Recently Montenegro was granted thousands of hectares of land around the border-line which angered many Kosovar-Albanians and Albanians, referring to the conflicts as a sacrifice. The criticism was however mostly directed towards the government of Kosovo.[28]


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