The Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë (Albanian: Republika Autonome Shqipëtare e Korçës) was an autonomous state established in 1916, by the local French forces, after the city of Korçë fell under their control, during World War I and lasted till 1920.
Due to developments in the Macedonian Front of World War I the city of Korçë came under French control (1916–20). During this time 14 representatives of Korçë and French Colonel Descoins signed a protocol that proclaimed the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë under the military protection of the French army and with Themistokli Gërmenji as Prefect of Police.
The new authorities introduced Albanian and French as the official language and replaced Greek schools with Albanian ones, which were forbidden during the Greek administration of the city. There was also a French school in Korçë and one of its many students was Enver Hoxha, who was an apprentice (1927—1930) and then teacher (1937—1939) there. He would later become the First Secretary of the Albanian Party of Labour, serving from 1941 until his death in 1985.
The Republic of Korçë was established in 1916 during World War I. The Austro-Hungarian army invaded northern Albania in the spring of 1916, the Kingdom of Bulgaria's army occupied the eastern parts of Albania, including the city of Elbassan (which was later handed over to Austria-Hungary). The French army occupied Korçë and its surrounding areas on November 29, 1916. Italy occupied the port of Vlorë and the region of south Principality of Albania on December 1914 and in the autumn 1916.
Korçë belongs to the region regarded as Northern Epirus, a region with substantial Albanian, Aromanian and Greek populations. The Greek national view was to classify all Aromanians and Orthodox Albanians as part of the Greek minority. The Great Powers signed the Protocol of Florence and awarded the region to the newly founded Principality of Albania on December 17, 1913. Gradual withdrawal of the Greek army would enable the Albanian forces to take control of the region. Consequently, to avert this possibility, pro-Greek Epirotes decided to declare their own separate political identity and self-governance.
On February 28, 1914, the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was declared in Gjirokastër and the provisional Government was formed to support the state's objectives. The Protocol of Corfu was signed on May 17, 1914 and the Albanian Government officially recognized the area of Northern Epirus as an autonomous region within the Albanian state. Soon after the outbreak of World War I (July 1914), the situation in Albania became unstable and political chaos ensued. As the country split into a number of regional governments, Prince William departed the country in September 1914.
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On October 27, 1914, after approval from the Great Powers, the Greek army re-entered the area. During the Greek administration, and while the First World War continued, it had been agreed between Greece, Italy and the Great Powers that the final settlement of the Northern Epirote issue should be left to the future, after the war ended. After Venizelos' resignation in December however, the succeeding royalist governments were determined to exploit the situation and pre-determine the region's future by incorporating it formally within the Greek state. In the first months of 1916, Northern Epirus participated in the Greek elections and elected 16 representatives for the Greek Parliament. In March, the region's union with Greece was officially declared, and the area was divided into the prefectures of Argyrokastro and Korytsa.
After the beginning of Bulgaria's engagement in First World War on the side of the Central Powers in autumn 1915, many ethnic Albanians joined the Bulgarians who gave them weapons. The Kingdom of Bulgaria used its army to occupy the eastern part of Albania at the beginning of the occupation of Albania.
After the occupation of the eastern parts of Albania, inclusive of the city of Elbasan, on August 18, 1916 the Bulgarian army, probably attempting to join Austrian forces in Albania and in a combined attack on the Italian army, occupied Korçë and ejected the Greek garrison from the city. Bulgaria's objective was to persuade the Albanian leaders to elect Prince Kiril, second son of Ferdinand I of Bulgaria, as their king (Albanian: mbret). An additional reason for the Bulgarian occupation of Korçë was that Bulgarian positions in Bitolj would be seriously threatened if the Allies gained control of Korçë.
French troops entered Korçë on November 29, 1916 during a military operation that aimed to connect the Allied front in Thessaloníki in the Macedonian front to the region in south Albania, which was held by the Italian troops. French troops in Korçë were under General Maurice Sarrail, and under direct command of Colonel Descoins. There were two groups of rebels active in the region of Korçë, one was led by Themistokli Gërmenji and another by Sali Butka. In the meantime, Albanian irregular bands, headed by Butka and cooperating with the Austrian forces, completely ravaged Moscopole, and threatened that if Korçë would suffer the same fate if it did not raise the Albanian flag and surrender to Albanian authorities.
Colonel Descoins made arrangements with the leading Albanian nationalists from Korçë. French officers had a meeting with Themistokli Gërmenji on November 24, 1916. Themistokli Gërmenji came to Korçë from Pogradec, which was occupied by the armies of Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The French officers appointed a commission led by Gërmenji. The commission had fourteen members, seven Christians and seven Muslims. The members of this commission were: Rafail Adhami, Kostandin Nocka, Nikolla Vangjeli, Vasil Singjeli, Vasil Kondi, Llambro Mborja, Thimi Cale, Shaqir Shabani, Tefik Rushiti, Hysen Dishnica, Emin Rakipi, Qani Dishnica, Sali Babani and Haki Shemshedini.
The commission held a meeting on December 10 at 9 am in the Saint George's School and Gërmenji held a speech to the gathered men and after the meeting led the commission to the prefecture. In the prefecture they met with Colonel Descoins and with the other French officers. Haki Shemshedini approached to Colonel Descoins on behalf of the commission. Colonel Descoins informed the commission that they should sign a protocol. On December 10, 1916 Colonel Descoins and the commission signed a protocol, according to which an autonomous province would be established on the territories of Korçë, Bilishti, Kolonja, Opar and Gora. It was also agreed that the 14 members of the commission would make up the administrative council, responsible for maintaining order.
On September 27, 1917 General Maurice Sarrail proclaimed a new statute which repealed constitutional protocol. The Administration was entrusted to the commander of the army group Malik. The Administrative Council was replaced with an Advisory Council which was reduced to 12 members (still half Muslims and half Christians). Territory under French administration was divided on two parts, north (Pogradec) and south (Republic of Korçë) of Devolli.
On December 10, 1916, Henry Descoins, the commander of the French garrison of Korçë, with the approval of Maurice Sarrail, declared the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë, and appointed Themistokli Gërmenji as prefect. In the following period the Greeks of the city were persecuted by the Albanian nationalist elements that aimed at acquiring control over Korçë. As a result, the local Greeks asked the French authorities to prolong their occupation until the end of World War I.
In the period of March 1917 – February 1918, Qani Dishnica was appointed as the Chairman of the Albanian Administrative Council. On the French side, the delegated governors of the Republic of Korçë were Henri Descoins (December 10, 1916 – May 11, 1917), Salle (1917—1919) and Reynard Lespinasse (June 1919 – May 26, 1920).
The French delegated governors appointed an officer to be their delegate to the Council. The first officer appointed was reserve Lieutenant Bargeton, who was replaced in the middle of January 1917 by a Lieutenant Siegfried.
France intended to help in establishing 200 elementary schools on Albanian language, as part of the strategy of Albanian national affirmation. On the other hand, all the Greek schools were forced to close down, while the Greek element of the city was persecuted. The Albanian National Lyceum (French: Le lycée de Korça, Albanian: Liceu Kombëtar i Korçës) high school in Korçë was established in 1917. French authorities claim that they banned opening of the high school because they did not want to offend their Greek allies led by Eleftherios Venizelos' Movement of National Defence, who claimed rights over the area. Some sources find this claim inappropriate, considering that the French Lycée in Thessaloníki sent professor Vital Gerson to lead a small team of three Albanian professors to join a French officer, who gave some notions of French culture, on the opening ceremony of the school. The French National Lyceum was the first Albanian high school that was open to the students of all faiths.
The frange (Albanian) or franc (French) was the currency of the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë (also written "Koritza" on the currency) between 1917 and 1921. It was subdivided into 100 centimes. The currency was introduced during the period of French occupation. It was only issued in paper money form, with notes issued in denominations of 50 centimes, 1 and 5 frange. Both paper money and post stamps were engraved by the soldier Davier (a student of Louis-Oscar Roty).
In September 1917, General Maurice Sarrail undertook an action against the armies of Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria in Albania, and on September 9 French troops captured Pogradec. Together with the armies of Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary, there were Albanians, led by Hysejn Nikolica, fighting against the French troops. Themistokli Gërmenji was awarded the Croix de guerre in November 1917, for his participation in the French capture of Pogradec with the battalion from Korçë. Although the French government considered appointing Essad Pasha Toptani to govern the Pogradec region it remained under French administration.
In November 1917, General Salle reported that the attempt at cooperation between Christians and Muslims had resulted in frequent difficulties. At the end of 1917 Gërmenji was accused of collaboration with the Central Powers and executed in Thessaloniki after being sentenced to death by the French military court.
General Salle removed the already limited autonomy of the Council on February 16, 1918. After the armistices and capitulations at the end of First World War, it was agreed that France and Italy should continue to govern the territories they occupied, and that France, Italy and the British Empire together should govern Shkodër. As a result, the French army moved from Korçë on June 15, 1920. After the French army left Korçë, the fate of the territory that it administered was decided by the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
On December 12, 1916, Italy demanded explanations from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through its ambassador, stating that the establishment of the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë violated the Treaty of London. Austria-Hungary used the French precedent in Korçë to justify the proclamation of the independence of Albania under its protectorate on January 3, 1917 in Shkodër. The Kingdom of Italy followed suit when proclaiming the independence of Albania under its protectorate on June 23, 1917 in Gjirokastra.
Because General Maurice Sarrail had demonstrated a tendency to interfere in politics, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau relieved him of his command in December 1917. There was a strong French influence in Korçë even after the Autonomous Republic ceased to exist. The Albanian National Lyceum remained active until 1939; a French Military Cemetery was built and can still be seen in the city.
Themistokli Gërmenji was the head of executive power with the title of Prefect of Police.
Albanian became the official language and Albanian schools replaced Greek ones
Its most famous student, and later French teacher, was Enver Hoxha
Nxënës (1927–1930) dhe mësues (1937–1939) i këtij liceu ka qenë edhe Enver Hoxha. / Apprentice (1927–1930) and teacher (1937–1939) of the Lyceum was the Enver Hoxha.
In the national Greek view, ... Religion, as a criterion of classification, automatically places all the Albanian Aromanians, and also those people who call themselves Albanian Orthodox, into the „Greek minority.“
The beginning of the German – Austro-Hungarian offensive against Serbia in autumn, 1915, Bulgaria's engagement in war on the side of the Central Powers and its attack on Serbia, ... Masses of ethnic Albanians recruited into the Serbian army became deserters, and many joined the Bulgarians who gave them arms...Essad Pasha ... fought ... against Albanian companies that joined Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian troops.
while South Albania was being oppressed by the Greeks, Valona by the Italians, the east by the Bulgarians, and the rest of the country by the Austrians.
Bulgarians were pushing into Albania from the East.
In their invasion of August 18 the Bulgarians had pushed west as far as Koritsa (S.W. of Lake Prespa), whence they ejected the Greek garrison.
About this time they seem to have been coquetting with the idea of persuading certain of the Albanian leaders to elect Prince Cyril, second son of Tsar Ferdinand, Mbret of Albania.
This growing threat to the Bulgarians from the west was an important and essential preliminary to the abandonment of Monastir.
During the next three weeks ... October 25 ...., about the same time, the French occupied Koritsa.
by order of the French General Sarrail, ... Colonel Descoins
On 24 November Germenji went to Korcha to confer with the French
in October 1916 he went to Pogradec, the territory occupied by Austrians and Bulgarians
Në këtë komision, që mori përsipër barrën e kujdesjes për vendin dhe u paraqit përpara kolonelit, bënin pjesë: Rafail Adhami, Kostandin Nocka, Nikolla Vangjeli, Vasil Singjeli, Vasil Kondi, Llambro Mborja, Thimi Cale, Shaqir Shabani, Tefik Rushiti, Hysen Dishnica, Emin Rakipi, Qani Dishnica, Sali Babani dhe Haki Shemshedini.
Haki Mborja i drejtohet komandantit francez e i tregon qëllimin e ardhjes së tyre. Komandanti i priti me buzëqeshje, duke thënë, se duhet bërë protokoll. U bë protokolli. Sipas protokollit të 10 dhjetorit , qyteti i Korcës, Bilishti, Kolonja, Opari dhe Gora, formonin një krahinë “autonome”, që do të administrohej nga shqiptarët, nën mbrojtjen e autoriteteve franceze. Krahina do të administrohej nga një këshill administrativ, i përbërë prej katërmbëdhjetë vetash, i cili do të kishte edhe xhandarmëri për të mbajtur rregullin.
... seting up the police force and gendarmerie... a post office system and issued stamps and paper money
... Sarrail avait doté la région d'un nouveau statut qui abrogea le protocole...Son administration est confiée au commandant du Groupement de Malik... est remplacé par un Conseil consultatif, réduit à 12 membres.... La zone d'occupation française sera divisée en deux, au nord et au sud de Devolli : la zone Sud (la République de Kortcha) et la zone Nord (le territoire de Pogradetz)
On 10 December 1916, Colonel Henry Decoin, the commander of French garrison, proclaimed with the consent of Serrail – the "Albanian Republic of Korytsa"
Shpallje e prefektit të policisë, Themistokli Gërmenjit
Chairman of the Albanian Administrative Council... Mar 1917 – Feb 1918 ...Qani Dishnica
Governors-delegate of the Territory of Korça 10 Dec 1916 – 11 May 1917 Henri Descoins; 1917? – 1919? Salle; Jun 1919 – 26 May 1920 .....Reynard Lespinasse
Ce fut le lieutenant de réserve Bargeton... Après son rappel au ministère des Affaires étrangères, vers le milieu du janvier 1917, il sera remplacé par le lieutenant Siegfried
Créé en 1917, durant la Première Guerre mondiale,...il s’inscrit dans une stratégie d’“affirmation nationale” des Albanais par l’établissement de structures proprement albanaises et laïques. Dans ce cadre, les Français contribuent à créer 200 écoles élémentaires albanaises, mais aident surtout à faire naître le premier lycée entièrement albanais ouvert à toutes les confessions.
il affirme que Paris interdit l'ouverture d'un lycée français pour ne pas heurter ses alliés grecs vénizélistes qui revendiquent des droits sur la région.
écrit qu'un professeur de Salonique, Vital Gerson, vint prendre sa direction et celle d'une petite équipe de trois professeurs albanais, à laquelle se joignit un officier français pour donner quelques notions de culture française.
...mais aident surtout à faire naître le premier lycée entièrement albanais ouvert à toutes les confessions.
« La coopération des chrétiens et des musulmans a donné lieu, comme il fallait s'y attendre, à de fréquentes difficultés. Elle a montré, une fois de plus qu'en Albanie, le sentiment religieux était nettement plus fort que le sentiment de patrie »
Germenji, dont nous avons vu le rôle et les ambitions est envoyé à Salonique, jugé par un tribunal militaire et exécuté.
Le 16 février 1918, le général Salle, commandant du groupe Malik, supprime l'autonomie déjà réduite de la République albanaise.
Après l'armistice il fut convenu que Français et Italiens administreraient chacun les territoires qu'ils occupaient, tandis qu'une administration franco-italo-anglaise était organisée à Scutari
15 juin 1920 : Retrait des Français
La signature de ce Protocole contrevient aux stipulations du traité de Londres ...Par conséquent, l'Italie demanda des explications au quai d'Orsay, par l'intermédiaire de son ambassadeur, le 12 décembre 1916.
On 23 June 1917, Italy proclaimed the independence of Albania under her protectorate, justifying this with the French precedent in Korçë. Austria-Hungary had done it before on 3 January 1917.
Indulging in political intrigue throughout, Sarrail's tenure as commander was brought to an abrupt – and surprisingly a politically inconsequential – end by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau in December 1917.
the French influence remained strong in Korçë and the French Secondary School, founded in 1917, remained active until the Second World War... There is also a French war cemetery in Korçë.