The League of Prizren (Albanian: Lidhja e Prizrenit) was an Albanian political organization founded on 10 June 1878 in Prizren, in the Kosovo province (vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire.
Sensing the weakened position of the Ottoman Empire, the League initatied a program of reform along 5 political grounds: the defense of the Albanian inhabited lands from the designs of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece; the creation of a single or supra province in the Empire that combined the vilayets of Kosovo, Monastir, Janina and Shkodër; military service confined to Albania in normal times; the establishment of national schools to develop national education in the Albanian language Latin script; and also some control over provincial finances.
Prominent figures included Sami Frasheri, Pashko Vasa, Abdyl Frasheri and some 80 other delegates which including tribal chiefs and religious clergymen. The league successfully lobbied against the annexation of Albanian lands by Serbia (who wanted Kosovo) and Montenegro (who claimed Shkodër).
Greece, for her part, wanted the rich and important vilayet of Janina, known today as Epirus. Although in the end the three aforementioned states did annex the Albanian lands after their successes in the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, the league did succeed in awakening the Albanian national conscious through the production of plays, such as Sami Frasheri’s, Besa Yahud Ahde Vefta which was played to Ottoman audiences in order to raise awareness of the contribution Albanians had made to the Ottoman Empire.
An encyclopedia by Sami Frasheri was also written in Turkish and dedicated to the general history of the world but with specific references to Albanians. The distribution of petitions to cities such as London, Paris and Berlin by the League also raised awareness around Europe that the Albanians of the Ottoman Empire were prepared to fight for their lands and were not going to take the annaxation of their land lying down. It was disestablished in 1881, and partially reorganized unsuccessfully.
On 10 June 1878, about eighty delegates, mostly Muslim religious leaders, clan chiefs, and other influential people from the four Ottoman vilayets, met in the city of Prizren, in Kosovo. The delegates set up a standing organization, the League of Prizren, under the direction of a central committee that had the power to impose taxes and raise an army.
At first the Ottoman authorities supported the League of Prizren, but the Sublime Porte pressed the delegates to declare themselves to be first and foremost Ottomans rather than Albanians. Some delegates supported this position and advocated emphasizing Muslim solidarity and the defense of Muslim lands, including present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Other representatives, under Frasheri’s leadership, focused on working toward Albanian autonomy and creating a sense of Albanian identity that would cut across religious and tribal lines.
Failing to win their claims on a diplomatic level, Albanians embarked on the route of military conflict with their Balkan neighbours. Possessing a huge advantage with donated Turkish arms, Albanian military efforts were successful in wresting control of northern Epirus, however some lands were still ceded to Greece by 1881.
The Prizren League had 16,000 armed members under its control, who launched a revolution against the Ottoman Empire after the debacle at the Congress of Berlin and the official dissolvement of the League ordered by the Ottomans who feared the League would seek total independence from the empire.
The Albanian fighters were able to kill Mehmed Ali Pasha, the Turkish emissary, in Đakovica in August 1878. The League took over control from the Turks in the Kosovo towns of Vučitrn, Peć, Kosovska Mitrovica, Prizren, and Đakovica. Guided by the autonomous movement, the League rejected Turkish authority and sought complete secession from Turkey. The Ottoman Empire sought to suppress the League and they dispatched an army led by Turkish commander Dervish Pasha, that by April 1881 had captured Prizren and crushed the resistance at Ulcinj.
The leaders of the league and their families were either killed or arrested and deported. In August 1878, the Congress of Berlin ordered a commission to trace a border between the Ottoman Empire and Montenegro. The congress also directed Greece and the Ottoman Empire to negotiate a solution to their border dispute. The Albanians’ successful resistance to the treaty forced the Great Powers to return Guci and Plav to the Ottoman Empire and grant Montenegro the mostly Albanian-populated coastal town of Ulcinj. But the Albanians there refused to surrender. Finally, the Great Powers blockaded Ulcinj by sea and pressured the Ottoman authorities to bring the Albanians under control. The Great Powers decided in 1881 to cede Greece Thessaly and the district of Arta.
End of the league
Faced with growing international pressure “to pacify” the refractory Albanians, the sultan dispatched a large army under Dervish Turgut Pasha to suppress the League of Prizren and deliver Ulcinj to Montenegro. Albanians loyal to the empire supported the Sublime Porte’s military intervention. In April 1881, Dervish Pasha’s 10,000 men captured Prizren and later crushed the resistance at Ulcinj. The League of Prizren’s leaders and their families were arrested and deported. Frasheri, who originally received a death sentence, was imprisoned until 1885 and exiled until his death seven years later. In the three years it survived, the League of Prizren effectively made the Great Powers aware of the Albanian people and their national interests. Montenegro and Greece received much less Albanian-populated territory than they would have won without the league’s resistance.