Northern Epirus is the historical region of what has become southern Albania where there is a Greek minority of around 300,000. The government of Greece claims that this territory is inhabited mostly by Greeks, whereas the government of Albania maintains that it is Albanian territory with Greek minorities. There are villages in the south of Albania where Greek is the predominant language. Lately, there have been many small incidents between the Greek minorities and Albanian authorities over issues such as alleged interference in local southern Albanian politics by the government of Greece, the raising of the Greek flag on Albanian territory, the language taught in school, etc.; however, the issues have for the most part been non-violent. The region is mostly Greek Orthodox in religion.
The entire territory of Epirus had been under Ottoman administration until the First Balkan War. During that war, Greek troops liberated all of historic Epirus including Korytsa, Argyrokastro, Agioi Saranta, Kleisoura and Tepeleni. Chimarra had been liberated earlier (November 5, 1912) by a force of some 2,000 volunteers under Spiros Spiromilios.
At the same time, the Albanians, under Ismail Kemal Vlore, requested that the Great Powers grant them a state. To this purpose, they held a national council at the port of Avlona (Vlore) and proclaimed their independence on November 28, 1912.
The Great Powers were in agreement that an Albanian state be brought into existance but that brought about a question: Just where should such a state be established for a people who had had no national conscience up to that point? The mostly Muslim Albanian nation had fought on the side of the Turks during the First Balkan War. Independence was not their aim. Albanian Orthodox Christians on the other hand, identified with the Greeks. The Souliotes, for example, were originally Albanians who had absorbed (or been absorbed by, if you prefer) Greeks and fought against Ali Pasha of Albania and later against the Turks.
Through November of 1913, an international commission was sent by the Great Powers to tour the disputed area. Italy and Austria-Hungary - motivated by their own interests - insisted that language should be the determining factor, ignoring the feelings and ethnic conscience of the people. Finally, their view prevailed, over the mild objections of the British and French, and the Florence Protocol was signed on December 17, 1913 awarding Northern Epirus to Albania.
On January 31, 1914, the Great Powers demanded that Greece withdraw her troops from Northern Epirus otherwise they would not recognise Lesbos, Chios and Samos (also liberated during the First Balkan War) as Greek.
The local population reacted immediately and on February 16 a government was formed with Georgios Christakis-Zografos as its head. The following day, independence was proclaimed in Argyrokastro. The Albanians reacted with violence committing atrocities against the Greeks in the towns that were surrendered to them by the Greek Army (Korytsa, Kolonia). A war ensued between the Northern Epirus government and Albania.
Autonomy - Chronology
- March 2: The Greek Army leaves the Chimara area. The Albanians attack the village Vounoi. They are repelled.
- March 7: The Northern Epirus forces defeat the Albanian Army at Kodra.
- March 15: Northern Epirus forces attack the Albanian Army forcing them out of Kleisoura.
- March 20: The local Greeks of Korytsa liberate their town from the Albanian occupiers.
- March 24: The Albanian Army recaptures Korytsa.
- April 9: Albanian troops are repelled at Piliouri.
- April 12: An Albanian unit is decimated by Cretan volunteers at Logara.
- April 18: The Albanian Army occupies fort Busi on the Chimara - Agioi Saranta road.
- April 25: The Northern Epirus Army, after a 3-day battle, routs the Albanian Army who flee leaving 500 dead on the battlefield. The government of Albania agrees to negotiate with the Northern Epirus government accepting all their interim demands.
- April 26: Negotiations start at Corfu.
- May 5: The Protocol of Corfu is signed. Greece, Albania and the Great Powers recognise Northern Epirus' Greek character and accept its autonomy. The religious, linguistic and educational rights of its population are established.
The Protocol of Corfu was never implemented. In the meantime, the First World War broke out. The allied powers, on October 14, 1914, asked Greece to once again occupy Northern Epirus. At this time, Northern Epirus was considered part of Greece and was represented in the Hellenic Parliament by 16 MPs.
To be continued