Although, the geographic location of Albania would not normally lend itself to inclusion in a site dedicated to the Royal and ruling houses of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, her close cultural, religious and historic links to the Eastern Mediterranean are sufficient to warrant inclusion here.
The modern history of Albania has been a rather turbulent one, largely due to its position in straddling the Muslim and Christian worlds. Her history is an ancient one, though largely controlled and shaped by her larger neighbours. The Romans, Goths, Byzantine Greeks, Serbs, Normans and Turks have, in turn, held sway over her for much of her history. A heroic attempt to establish independence from the Ottoman turks under Scanderbeg (George Castriota, Bey of Ditra), ended with his death in 1467. Thereafter, Albania sunk into oblivion, a backwater province of the Ottomans. From time to time, providing distinguished generals and statesmen who served the Sultan in the far corners of his Empire. Amongst this small band were several Grand Vezirs and the illustrious Muhammad 'Ali Pasha, founder of a dynasty that ruled Egypt for 150 years.
The end of the Balkan Wars in 1912 left Albania as one of the few territories in Europe still under Turkish rule. Nevertheless, Ismail Bey Qemali, rose in revolt and declared his country independent on 28th November 1912. However, the internal squabbles between competing clan chieftains and between Muslims and Christians, as well as the intrigues of neighbouring Balkan states, meant that no stable government was able to establish any credible authority. Although her independence was recognised by the Great Powers in the Treaty of London in May 1913, a further seven months past before they agreed on recognising a central government.
Austria-Hugary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Russia, unanimously agreed on a single candidate for prince in the person of Prince Wilherlm of Weid on 23rd November 1913, announced their decision to the Albanian National Assembly, who immediately voted their approval. Prince Wilhelm reluctantly accepted the position on 6th February 1914. He did so only after they had agreed to provide him with a sizeable subsidy, the establishment of a gendarmerie with European officers and to provide him with qualified advisers. A month later he landed at Durazzo and took charge of his principality on 7th March 1914.
Within days of Wilhelm's arrival, he found himself in the midst of intrigue between the traditional antagonists. Chief amongst the plotters the powerful Essad Pasha. A former officer in the Turkish army, Essad headed the rich and powerful Toptani family, magnates in and the around the town of Tirana, in the centre of the country. He had governed Albania pending the Prince's arrival but had always harboured ambitions of becoming King himself. Wilhelm was only able to restore order by arresting Essad with the help of a joint Austrian and Italian naval force. However, within a few months the Great War had broken out and he lost the subsidies promised to him by the Allies. Unable to govern without adequate funds, Wilhelm was forced to withdraw on 5th September 1914. He did so without ever having abdicating his rights or relinquishing his throne. He would never subsequently return to the country again.
The Great War encouraged various factions within Albania to side with different parties in the conflict. The Toptani clan from Tirana threw in their lot with Serbia and the Allies. The Zogu clan from Mati supported Austria-Hungary. Others supported Italy or Turkey. At various times, the Austrians, Serbs and Italians held military control and attempted to govern the country, without much success. Italy proclaimed a protectorate on 3rd Jun1 1917. Essad's support for the Allies ensured that he emerged as the most powerful single, though not universally popular force within the country. He secured recognition of the independence of his country from the allies on 20th January 1920. While in France to represent his country at the Versailles Peace Conference, a hastily convened Albanian National Assembly composed mostly of his own supporters, proclaimed him as their King. He was assassinated by Averni Rustam in front of the Hotel Continental on 13th June 1920, while preparing to return to Albania for his inauguration.
The death of Essad plunged the country into yet another round of factionalism and civil war. This continued for the next five years, utterly forgotten by the outside world. Things only began to change with the rise to prominence of Ahmad Bey Zogu, a nephew of Essad Pasha.
Zogu was able to increase his power partly due to his strong clan connections, his Austrian military training, energy and superior educational background. After several false starts and setbacks, he succeeded in being elected as Prime Minister in 1922. Ousted in 1924 he fled to Serbia where he received arms and financial support, allowing him to return later that same year. This time, he was able to engineer greater support and succeeded in having himself elected as President early in 1925. He immediately set about consolidating his position and then instituting a wide-ranging programme of investment and reform. Schools and hospitals were founded throughout the country, the army expanded, a currency stabilised, a Constitution introduced, female emancipation encouraged, the old Ottoman laws reformed and codified and a professional judiciary established. In 1928 he was ready to crown his success by assuming the crown, an event he had anticipated many years previously.
Proclaimed Zog I Skënderbeg III in September 1928, the new King set about establishing his kingdom in classic Ruritarian fashion. He made his brother and sisters princes and princesses and designed fantastic uniforms for them, his military and police officers, diplomats and civil servants. His enthusiasm knew few bounds and his programme of reforms seemed unstoppable. He continued his improvements in education, opened banks, established an internal air service, formulated a national language, banned polygamy and introduced freedom of religion. He even hired a large number of foreign officers in his army, gendarmerie and as civil advisers.
Unfortunately for King Zog, the only power willing to take the risk of lending him any funds and supporting him through subsidies was Fascist Italy. In return, Mussolini obtained a military alliance and received favourable commercial concessions. By 1934 the Italians seemed to be enjoying an uncomfortably large influence on Albanian affairs, leaving the King restive and uneasy. Zog expelled his Italian advisers and attempted to regain control, but was forced into a humiliating climb-down when an Italian Fleet entered Durazzo. The allies refused to intervene, merely advising him to grant the Italians concessions and to come to an accommodation with the Duce. Within five years Mussolini tired of his unofficial protectorate and launched an invasion to annex the country outright.
Unable to withstand the overwhelming superior force of the Italians, King Zog was persuaded by the National Assembly to leave the country and fight for her independence from outside. He left for Greece on 8th April 1939 together with his two-day old Crown Prince, his Queen and his sisters. Within four days a Constituent Assembly was set up by the Italians and confirmed the transfer of the crown to King Vittorio Emanuele III and the House of Savoy.
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