Σάββατο 17 Φεβρουαρίου 2024

Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus

Typical photo of the official declaration of Independence on March 1, 1914 in Argyrokastro. Source: National and Historical Museum, Athens.

The Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was created in 1914, following the initiative of the Provisional Government of the same name, which was formed by representatives of Northern Epirus on February 17, 1914 in Argyrokastro.
Flag

Emblem

Georgios Christakis-Zografos was appointed temporary president. Its main pursuit was the autonomy of the region and the protection of basic rights of the Greek population, even within the Albanian state, to which it was later awarded.
Georgios Christakis Zografos or Georgios Zografos took over as President of the Provisional Government of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus as well as twice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece. Through effective political manipulations, he won the internationally recognized status of autonomy for the Northern Epirus.

In order to understand the role of the Provisional Government, all the preceding events should be taken into account: the first entry of the Greek army into Northern Epirus during the Balkan Wars, the awarding of the area to Albania by the Great Powers, and the withdrawal of the Greek army.
The flag of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus, on a stamp issued by Northern Epirus authorities (1914).

As well as the events that followed: conflicts between Northern Epirus and Albanian armed forces, the signing of the Corfu Protocol, the First World War, the National Divide, the military adventures of Greece until 1922 as well as all the diplomatic background that finally awarded Albania the region (1924).
Ethnographic map of Northern Epirus in 1913, presented by Greece at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

Northern Epirus and Balkan wars
In March 1913, during the First Balkan War, the Greek army, after the victory in Byzantium, liberated Ioannina and then advanced north. Heimarra was already under Greek control since November 5, 1912, when Spyros Spiromelios of Heimarrios landed without meeting much resistance. At the end of the Balkan wars, the Greek armed forces controlled the area that was later called Northern Epirus, reaching the line of the Lightning Mountains in the west, as Lake Prespa in the east.

At the same time, on November 28, in Avlona, the independence of Albania was declared by the Albanians.
The declaration of independence
On February 13, 1914, the Panepirotic Assembly (a body made up of representatives of the region), decided that since union with Greece was not achieved, they would only accept local autonomy. In order to avoid the risk of the region being occupied by Albanian armed groups and to protect the population of the region, George Christakis-Zografos, (former foreign minister of Greece originally from Kestorati Argyrokastro) proclaimed the "Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus" in Argyrokastro, on February 28.

In declaring autonomy to the people of Northern Epirus he revealed that the Great Powers had denied them not only autonomy within the Albanian state, but also guarantees of their basic human rights.

Ἠπιρῶται,
the Constituent Assembly of the representatives meeting in Argyrokastra, which was unanimously expressed by the opinion of the People, ratified the establishment of the Autonomous State of Northern Epirus, made up of the Provinces which the Greek Army is forced to conquer... The North Piros proclaims its independence and invites its citizens to make every sacrifice to defend the integrity of the land and its liberties, from all insults.

— The Provisional Government, President Georgios Christakis-Zografos

The proclamation was also signed by the metropolitans of Dryinoupolis, Korytsa and Vela and Konitsa. Later, the competent ministers will be appointed by sector:
Foreign: Alexandros Karapanos
Military: Colonel Dimitrios Doulis
Finance: Ioannis Parmenidis
Education and Religious Affairs: Metropolitan Vasilios of Dryinoupolis.
The flag of autonomy raised in Agioi Saranda. Source: L'Illustration, April 1914.

Zografos notified the International Audit Committee of his appointment as president of the provisional government of the Autonomous Epirus and declared that the Northern Epirotians would defend themselves with arms in any attempt by the Albanian gendarmerie to cross their borders. In this autonomous state, apart from Argyrokastro, Kheimarra, Delvino, Premeti, Agioi Saranda, Erseka were included. The wider area of Kortsa, while, geographically, it was a part of northern Epirus, was not included in the autonomous state from the beginning.

The position of the Greek government
The rebellion in Northern Epirus did not come from nor was supported by the Greek government, they only emotionally supported the Northern Epirus. The position of the Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos was particularly difficult in the matter, as he had to abandon the Greek population to the dispositions of the Great Powers without ensuring any guarantee for their safety.

On March 9, the Greek fleet blockaded the port of Agioi Saranda and in the following days prohibited a demonstration in Athens in favor of the northern continental issue. These actions were intended to convince the Great Powers that Greece maintains a strict attitude and does not participate in any case in the separatist movement in Northern Epirus.

Armed conflicts
On March 1, 1914, Colonel Kontoulis, following an order, surrenders Koritsa, Moschopoli and a few days later Leskoviki, to the newly established Albanian gendarmerie. Serious riots and armed clashes followed, between Albanian and Northern Continental forces, which spread to many areas. The Northern Epirotians, who had organized local armed groups, called "Holy Groups", occupied Erseka and by May of the same year advanced to Frasari and Koritsa.

For a while, clashes broke out in the area of Kortsa and for a few days the city fell into the hands of the separatists, but after reinforcements from the Albanian side, the rebellion was suppressed. Imprisonments and exiles of many Korytsaians followed, such as the local metropolitan Germanos.

The Corfu Protocol
Main article: Protocol of Corfu
With the mediation of Albanians and Zografou, on May 4, the Corfu Protocol was signed. The Northern Continent was officially gaining its autonomy, under the auspices of Prince Vid of Albania, who, however, had no substantial powers. The Albanian government would have the right to appoint and dismiss governors and senior officials. Other terms of the agreement provided for the recruitment of natives into the gendarmerie, the prohibition of military units composed of non-natives to remain in the area. The teaching of the Greek language in schools was also foreseen, although in the first three grades Albanian would be taught alongside Greek. Religious instruction, however, would only take place in Greek.

The Great Powers would guarantee the maintenance and execution of the above measures.
Award of Greece for the Northern Continental Race.

Armed conflicts after the signing of the protocol are significantly reduced, but without directly stopping. According to an article of the protocol, the area of Korça which was then under the control of the Albanian gendarmerie, which was commanded by Dutch and Austrian officers, was to be awarded to the provisional government of the Autonomous Continent. Finally, on July 8, Kortsa is under North Continental administration, after a raid. In the same month, Tepeleni also came under the control of the provisional government.

Epilogue
On 17 May 1914, a revolution took place in central Albania, instigated by the Young Turks, which jeopardized the validity of the Protocol. The activities of these revolutionaries worried E. Venizelos, fearing extensive looting and massacres of civilians on their part.

On September 14, the northern continental forces temporarily occupied Beratio, but without the approval of the Provisional Government.

Northern Epirus under Greek administration (Oct. 1914-Sep. 1916)
Finally, at the end of October of the same year, and while the First World War had broken out, after the consent of the Great Powers, the Greek army entered the area for the second time, as a factor of stabilization and protection of the population. Thus the provisional government formally ceased to exist and Northern Epirus was once again under the protection of the Greek state. Venizelos even declared to the Greek parliament that only colossal mistakes would deprive Greece of Northern Epirus. After the resignation of Venizelos, subsequent pro-Royal governments took actions that distanced Greece from the Entente powers, particularly because of its stance of insisting on neutrality and not entering the First World War on its side. At the beginning of 1916, the region of Northern Epirus participated in the parliamentary elections, electing 16 representatives to the parliament. In March, a royal decree proclaimed the union of the region, which administratively consisted of the prefectures of Argyrokastro and Kortsa.

Italian, French rule and final award in Albania
The political circumstances that followed and the unfavorable situation that Greece found itself in the following years, with the National Division, led to the division of the country into two separate states (Thessalonica and Athens). Also, the diplomatic machinations of the Great Powers initially led to the entry of Italian (Argyrokastro) and French (Koritsa) troops.

After the end of the war, in 1921 it was decided to finally award the area to Albania. The integration in Albania, however, was accompanied by much more limited rights for the population of the region and without the recognition of an autonomous state, in accordance with the terms of the Corfu Protocol and the guarantees given by Albania to the League of Nations.