Albania

The history of Albania traces back to around 2000 BCE, when the Balkan Peninsula is occupied by the ancient Illyrian people, the Indo-European forebears of modern-day Albanians.

Beginning in the 3rd Century BCE, the region comes under the influence of the Roman Empire, with full integration occurring early in the 1st Century CE. When the Roman Empire is split into western and eastern spheres in 395 CE, Albania is incorporated into the Eastern or Byzantine Empire.

As the Western Roman Empire begins to crumble, Albania becomes subject to rolling invasions and occupations by Germanic Goths, Asiatic Huns, Slavic Serbs and Croats, Bulgars, Normans and Venetians. The Western Roman Empire finally falls in 476.

The Eastern Byzantine Empire lasts another 1,000 years, but by the 14th Century it too is on its last legs.

At the end of the 14th Century, the Ottoman Empire invades. The reign of the Ottomans over Albania lasts about 500 years. During this time around two-thirds of the Albanian population convert from Christianity to Islam.

At the end of the 17th Century, Albanian converts to Islam occupy the Kosovo province of the Balkan Peninsula after it is abandoned by Orthodox Christian Serbs fearing reprisals for a failed Christian uprising. It is a migration with consequences that will reach into the 20th Century and beyond.

Ottoman rule of Albania is not all-pervasive. Isolated tribes in the country's mountainous regions are able to maintain their independence, governing themselves under a code of tribal law. Provincial Muslim rulers are also allowed a degree of autonomy by the empire.

A nationalist movement begins to emerge in Albania towards the end of the 19th Century. In 1878 Albanian leaders organise the League of Prizren and press for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire.

However, the movement towards independence is impeded by the lack of unifying cultural institutions. Albania at the end of the 19th Century has no political centre, no universally accepted national religion and no standard alphabet.

Uprisings against Ottoman rule break out in the early years of the 20th Century - in 1908, at the time of the Young Turk revolution, in 1910 against the new regime of the Young Turks, and in 1912.

On 28 November 1912, following the First Balkan War, Albanian leaders declare their country an independent state. Albania's borders are set by Europe's Great Powers (Britain, Germany, Russia, Austria, France, and Italy) in August 1913 when the Treaty of Bucharest establishes an independent Albania ruled by a constitutional monarchy. The provinces of Kosovo and Chameria, which contain a majority of ethnic Albanians, are excluded from the new Albanian state and granted to Serbia and Greece respectively.

The future of Albania becomes uncertain during the First World War, with the country being occupied by Greece, Italy, Serbia and Montenegro, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. However, following the intervention of United States President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference held after the war, Albania again emerges as an independent state with the 1913 borders intact.

The country faces a testing future. It is one of the least developed regions of Europe. Its economy is semi-feudal and, due to the tribal nature of much of the society, large parts of its territory are essentially ungovernable. Almost the entire population is illiterate. The country has Europe's highest birthrate and infant mortality rate. There is no banking system and little infrastructure or health care. Political instability is rife.

In 1922 Ahmed Zogu, a conservative Muslim clan chief, becomes Albania's prime minister. Zogu's government is briefly forced out of power in 1924. When Zogu returns, Albania is proclaimed a republic and given a new constitution. Zogu becomes president in 1925. In 1928 Albania is declared a kingdom. Zogu is made king. He takes the name Zog I, King of the Albanians.

Throughout his rule as prime minister, then president, then king, Zogu holds absolute power over the government and military. No opposition is permitted and the media is strictly censored. Albania's economic and political systems begin to stagnate. The country becomes easy prey for its more dynamic neighbours.

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