You might wonder why I am writing about Bashibazouks in Albania as reported in a newspaper published in Cape Town in 1911. The answer is easy. During my researches into the life of my great-grandfather the late Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) who migrated from Prussia to the Cape Colony in 1880, I needed to leaf through the pages of South African newspapers that are stored in London’s British Library. So it was that I happened by chance to spot a small item about the struggle between the Ottoman Turks and the Albanian independence fighters in a 1911 edition of the Cape Times Weekly.
The Bashibazouks[i] (the Turkish word başıbozuk, literally means ‘damaged head’) were Turkish irregular soldiers, who often lived off loot. Some of them were not Turkish. They included Circassians, Kurds, Arabs, and also Albanians. Incidentally, the word ‘bashibazouk’ appears often (as a term of abuse used by Captain Haddock) in the English language versions of the adventures of Tintin by the Belgian cartoonist George Hergé (1907-1983).
‘Tusi’ is a spelling of the town of Tuzi (‘Tuz’ in Albanian), which is now in the Republic of Montenegro and is close to the border of modern Albania. The news item that I found in the Cape Times Weekly refers to an incident during the events, which led eventually to the First Balkan War (1912-1913). In the last days of March 1911, the (Roman Catholic) mountain people residing in northern Albania were called to arms by one of their leaders Ded Gjo Luli (1840–1915), and revolted against the Turks[ii]. During this uprising, the flag of Albania bearing Skanderbeg’s two-headed eagle was raised on the summit of Mount Dečić (Deçiq). This is said to be the first time that the flag had been flown on Albanian soil since the death of George Castrioti Skanderbeg. This revolt was considered premature by various committees of Albanians which were planning a larger scale, coordinated effort against the Turks. It was considered to have damaged the plans of the other groups. Edith Durham wrote[iii] that in March 1911:
“I left Egypt for Constantinople in March, and found on arriving that the revolt had broken out prematurely amongst the Maltsors of Maltsia e madhe only, and they were carrying all before them – had chased away the scanty Turkish garrison and taken Tuzi. This sudden commencement before due preparation was a fatal error, engineered possibly by folk who meant the revolt to fail.”
Maltsors in Tuzi (from Durham's book)
The ‘folk’ who might have ‘engineered’ this could well have been the Montenegrins, whose King Nikola might well have supplied the rebels with weapons[iv]. That Tuzi was not held for too long by the Albanian rebels is evident in the small article that I found in the South African newspaper.
Although Tuzi had been recaptured by the Turks, it was not free of trouble. In about July, after a rising in Djakova during which the Turkish Kaimmakan (an Ottoman official, a sort of ‘sub-Governor’) was killed, Albanian rebels:
“… made a successful raid, and cut off the water-supply of Tuzi.[v]”
Soon after this, according to Durham, the Turkish Government offered the rebels terms, which included that an Albanian-speaking Kaimmakan be appointed at Tuzi, and that he should be a Christian. Mihilaki Effendi was appointed[vi].
Tuzi figures in Durham’s book again, but after the events described above. She wrote that eleven political prisoners who had been involved in the Bomb Affair in 1907 had burrowed their way to freedom under the walls of the prison at Podgoritza, and:
“…taken refuge with Mihilaki Effendi, the Kaimmakam, who brought them at once by steamer to Scutari.[vii]”
The ‘Bomb Affair’ was an attempt by pro-Serb radicals to assassinate the Montenegrin Prince Nikola in his capital Cetinje[viii].
Tuzi, which was on territory granted to Montenegro by the Treaty of Berlin (1878), was retaken by the Montenegrins from the Turks in October 1911. Their soldiers captured the nearby Fort of Shipchanik, and occupied the town. Edith Durham wrote[ix] soon after this:
“The woe of the conquered land had already begun. The newly appointed Montenegrin Governor of Tuzi - Gjurashkovich – proceeded to “rub it in” by hanging a portrait of King Nikola in the hospital, and joyfully informing the Turkish staff that the Montenegrins had occupied Plava and Gusinje, and, of 2000 Moslems who had endeavoured to take Berani, (they) had slaughtered all but 250.”
Montenegrins near the Fort at Shipchanik after taking it from the Turks
(from Durham's book)
Edith Durham visited this hospital again in 1912. According to one of her biographers Marcus Tanner:
“In a filthy hospital in Tuzi, a recently captured village on the Ottoman side of the border, Durham was horrified to discover why the bandaged faces of eight captives were curiously flat. Removing the bandages she found that their noses had been cut off.[x]”
She tended to these unfortunates and many other similarly mutilated victims as part of the humanitarian work for which she is so well known in the Balkans.
So much for Tuzi, a place which I had not heard of until I chanced upon it in an old South African newspaper. The little article was written during a revolt of the Albanians, which had been encouraged not only by the Montenegrins but also by an Italian of Albanian ancestry, an Arbëresh man from the region of Cosenza in the South of Italy. Terenzio Tocci (1880-1945), who was eventually executed by Enver Hoxha, travelled to the Balkans in April 1911 to participate in the Albanian uprising. According to Robert Elsie:
“On 26 April 1911, he gathered the chieftains of Mirdita near Orosh and proclaimed the independence of Albania, hoisting the Albanian flag for the first time since the death of Scanderbeg, and formed a provisional government, which had the support of much of northern Albania.[xi]”
Tocci returned to Italy before becoming involved with the administration of first Zog’s, then later Mussolini’s, Albania. His collaboration with the Italian Fascists led to his death in Albania in the hands of the young Communist regime led by Enver Hoxha. When I visited the Arbëresh town of Piana degli Albanesi in Sicily in 2014, I was told that even when being led to be shot Tocci maintained his dignity, and was most concerned that his polished shoes would not be soiled[xii].
My ‘discovery’ of an item of long out-of-date news whilst researching a quite different topic, namely the biography of a Jewish immigrant in South Africa, led to the exploration of an aspect of Balkan history that is new to me. It is serendipitous revelations such as this that adds much enjoyment to researching historical topics and almost anything else.
Adam Yamey has written two books about Albania:
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[ii] See: The History of Albania by S Pollo and A Puto, publ. by Routledge & Kegan Paul, London: 1981
[iii] See DURHAM: The Struggle for Scutari, by ME Durham, publ. by Edward Arnold, London: 1914
[iv] See: The Albanians, by M Vickers, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 1997
[v] See: DURHAM
[vi] See: DURHAM
[vii] See: DURHAM
[viii] See: Montenegro: A Modern History, by K Morrison, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 2009
[ix] See: DURHAM
[x] See: Albania’s Mountain Queen, by M Tanner, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 2014
[xi] See: Historical Dictionary of Albania (2nd. Ed.), by R Elsie, publ. by The Scarecrow Press, Plymouth (UK): 2010
[xii] See: From Albania to Sicily, by A Yamey, publ. by Adam Yamey, London: 2014