Korçë is a city and municipality in southeastern Albania, and the seat of Korçë County. It was formed at the 2015 local government reform by the merger of the former municipalities Drenovë, Korçë, Lekas, Mollaj, Qendër Bulgarec, Vithkuq, Voskop and Voskopojë, that became municipal units. The seat of the municipality is the city Korçë. The total population is 75,994 (2011 census),in a total area of 806.67 km2 (311.46 sq mi). The population of the former municipality at the 2011 census was 51,152. It is the sixth largest city in Albania. It stands on a plateau some 850 m (2,789 ft) above sea level, surrounded by the Morava Mountains.
Ottoman rule over Korçë lasted until 1912; although the city and its surroundings were supposed to become part of the Principality of Bulgaria according to the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, the Treaty of Berlin of the same year returned the area to Ottoman rule. In 1910 the “Church Alliance” of local Orthodox Albanians led to the proclamation of an Albanian church by Mihal Grameno, but this effort was too isolated to affect the population. Korçë’s proximity to Greece, which claimed the entire Orthodox population as Greek, led to its being fiercely contested in the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. Greek forces captured Korçë from the Ottomans on 6 December 1912 and afterwards proceeded to imprison the Albanian nationalists of the town. Its incorporation into Albania in 1913 was disputed by Greece, who claimed it as part of a region called ‘Northern Epirus’, and resulted in a rebellion by the Greek population residing in the region of Korçë, who asked the intervention of the Greek army. This rebellion was initially suppressed by the Dutch commanders of the Albanian gendarmerie, that consisted of 100 Albanians led by the Orthodox Albanian nationalist Themistokli Gërmenji, and as a result the local Greek-Orthodox bishop Germanos and other members of the town council were arrested and expelled by the Dutch.
However, under the terms of the Protocol of Corfu (May 1914), the city became part of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus inside the borders of the principality of Albania, while on 10 July 1914 the Greek Northern Epirote forces took over the city. Under Greek occupation, for the purpose of convincing the Congress of London of Greek expansionist claims, the Greek authorities took a census, which counted 15,453 inhabitants in the city, of which 11,453 were Greeks and the rest 4,000 Albanians; however the census did not inquire about ethnicity, but rather instead explicitly had all Christians renamed “Greeks” and all Muslims changed to “Albanians”, by religious criteria alone.
World War I
In October 1914 the city came again under Greek administration. During the period of the National Schism (1916) in Greece, a local revolt broke out, and with military and local support Korçë came under the control of Eleftherios Venizelos’ Movement of National Defense, overthrowing the royalist forces. However, due to developments in the Macedonian Front of World War I the city came soon under French control (1916–1920).
The French initially awarded control of Korçë and the surrounding area to Greek allies, but Albanian çeta guerilla bands led by Themistokli Gërmenji and Sali Butka fought against Venizelist forces for Albanian self-administration. On December 8, 1916, French General Sarrail cabled that French military policy should change to support the Albanian nationalist uprising; by converting the Albanian uprising to the Allied cause, Sarrail hoped to protect his left flank and enable it to join up with the Italians in Vlorë and discourage the Austrians from trying to advance through Albania. Furthermore, a peaceful and stable allied Korçë under French influence would reduce the number of troops the French army needed to commit to hold the area. On the 10th of December 1916, fourteen Albanian delegates, including seven Muslims and seven Christians, proclaimed the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë. The French agreed to these demands and the fourteen representatives of Korçë and Colonel Descoins signed a protocol that proclaimed the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë under the military protection of the French army and with Themistokli Gërmenji as president. The French pursued policies which strengthened expressions of Albanian nationalism. Greek schools were closed down, Greek clergy and pro-Greek notables expelled while allowing Albanian education and promoting Albanian self-government through the autonomous Korçë republic, although Greek schools were reopened after a year and two months of February 1918. Another factor that reinforced Albanian sentiments among the population was the return of 20-30,000 Orthodox Albanian emigrants mainly to Korçë and the surrounding region who had attained Albanian nationalist sentiments abroad. The change in French policy to support the Albanians did create some tensions between France and Italy; the French assured the Italians that they did not have any territorial claims on either Korçë; General Sarrail’s reports insisted that the local Albanians had proclaimed the republic, then asked for it to be put under French protection, and that Descoins had merely complied with the wishes of the local population.
On February 16, 1918, Sarrail’s successor officially abrogated the proclamation, and following the re-entry of Greece into the war, made concessions to Greek interests including the reopening of Greek schools, but the Albanians were assured that this did not threaten their independence. The Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë remained a reality on the ground, continuing to rule its territory and fly its flag, while inter-religious cooperation was also maintained with both Muslims and Christians being grateful to the French for allowing them to continue their self-governance without much interference.
The Autonomous Republic of Korçë was greatly important for the Albanian nationalist movement, as it demonstrated to the world a resurgence in power for Albanian nationalism in one of the areas where it had been the strongest before the war, and it also demonstrated the successful cooperation of Albanian Christians and Muslims in governance. The government is considered to have been a successful experiment in Albanian self-administration, as the French allowed the entity to “act as if it were an independent state”, minting its own coinage, introducing its own flag, and printing its own stamps. According to Stickney, the republic gave Albanians the opportunity for self-government under the light tutelage of the French, and they were able to build a state in the absence of the great power rivalry that had beset King Wilhelm’s earlier government.
The Conference of ambassadors considering Albania’s claims to the area commissioned a League of Nations report consisting of three on the ground commissioners in December 1921. One commissioner, Finnish professor J. Sederholm, possibly based on biased pro-Albanian reports, noted in 1922 that Korçë’s population was “entirely Albanian; the numbers of Greeks being insignificant and continued that “there are, however, amongst the population two parties, — one nationalist and the other Grecophile It ultimately remained part of Albania, as determined by the International Boundary Commission, which affirmed the country’s 1913 borders. Although assurances were given in the Paris Peace Conference by Albanian officials for the recognition of the Greek minority, during the 1920s Greek speech was prohibited in local education, religious life and in private within Korçë. At November 1921 the Albanian authorities expelled the Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop Jakob. This event triggered demonstrations by the Orthodox community of the city. Immigration quotas during 1922-4 restricted former migrants returning to the United States and Korçë residents instead migrated to Australia to Moora, Western Australia and Shepperton, Victoria working in farming and agriculture related employment.