Paris Peace Conf. 184.01802/15

Lieutenant Colonel Sherman Miles to the Secretary General of the Commission to Negotiate Peace (Grew)

Report No. 24

Subject: Serbian massacres of Albanians in Montenegro.

1. In compliance with your telegraphic instructions,5 I investigated, as far as was practicable, the Serbian massacres of Albanians in Montenegro. As these massacres had ceased and the district in question had been entirely cleared of Albanians two months before I went to Montenegro, I found that the only evidence obtainable was that of the Albanian refugees near Scutari and the statements of the Serbian and Montenegrin officials.

2. It may be well to recall that the southeastern district of Montenegro (Berane, Ipek and Djacova) was given to Montenegro by the Great Powers in 1878.6 But the Albanians were so strong at that [Page 741]time that they were able to prevent the entrance of the Montenegrins into the ceded territory. The Great Powers, not being willing to enforce their decision, persuaded Montenegro to accept the sea-coast district of Dulcigno in lieu of that of Berane-Ipek-Djacova. Even then a naval demonstration was necessary to insure the Montenegrin occupation of Dulcigno. Finally the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913 again gave the Berane-Ipek-Djacova district to the Montenegrins, as their share of the Turkish spoils. They occupied it, and even that year there was some trouble and Albanians were killed. In 1915 the Montenegrins and Serbs were driven south, through Albania. During the retreat the Albanians, in spite of their long standing feud with the Slavs, refrained from closing the mountain passes and permitted the Slavs to reach the sea unmolested.

3. On the 21st November, 1918, according to the Albanian accounts, Montenegrins in Ipek attempted to disarm an Albanian merchant. The Albanians resented this, and firing began. There was a small detachment of French Cavalry in the town, and several battalions of Yugo-Slav troops. The Albanians claim that, rather than fire on Allied troops, they withdrew.

4. Between the 15th and 25th of December 1918 the Albanians state that massacres took place in the district of Podgur, in which there were about 50 Albanian villages. Old men, women and children were massacred, 138 houses burned and about 400 houses pillaged. The Albanians who escaped fled to the mountains. The Albanians maintain that this affair was premeditated and brought about by the Serbians.

5. From the 25th of December to early in March, when the massacres appear to have ceased, the Albanian account is confused. Intermittent fighting and massacres occurred at Plava and Gusigne and in the Rugova, Pechter, Podgur and Rozai districts. The Albanians state that of the 15 villages in the district of Rugova not a soul is now left. Eight hundred people were massacred there, not counting the men killed while resisting. In the district around Rozai many villages were destroyed, and 700 Albanians were massacred without resistance. At Plava and Gusigne 333 women, children and old men were massacred.

6. In all these Albanian accounts, direct complicity of Serbian troops is charged, as well as barbarity in the form of the rape of girls and the burning alive of people. The Albanians state that there are none of their people left in the districts affected—that all have been massacred or have fled to the mountains or to Scutari. They place the number of Albanians killed since last November at 30,000.

7. The Serb-Montenegrin official account I got from a commission of two, who had been sent into the district in question to find out [Page 742]what had happened. They claimed to have spent three weeks in the district. They returned to Cettigne May 10th. I saw them the same day. There were a Montenegrin official from Antivari and a Serbian Colonel. According to their accounts, the Albanians resisted the properly constituted authorities of the district, and about 100 people were killed. Those casualties were about equally divided between the Serbo-Montenegrins and the Albanians. Except for one or two Albanian women accidentally killed during the fighting in the villages, they deny that any unarmed Albanians suffered. They also deny that there were any atrocities committed.

8. Since my return to Paris, M. Radovitch7 has given me his version of the affair, in which the entire blame is put on the Italians, who, he claims, instigated the trouble by bribery.

9. The fact of the matter is that the affair took place in a very mountainous and inaccessible region between the last of November 1918 and the first of March 1919. Except for a small detachment of French cavalry, which was present at the outbreak of the trouble but which appears to have been withdrawn very soon afterwards, no foreigners witnessed any part of it. Captain Brodie (British Army), while attempting to enter the district in February, was arrested by the Serbians and taken under guard to Belgrade. The details of the affair and even the responsibility for its beginning will probably never be determined impartially.

10. But it is an incontrovertible fact that there are now between 2000 and 2500 Albanian refugees from Montenegro who are now near Scutari, and undoubtedly many more in the mountains. Americans, British, French and Italians have seen these people come in, and agree that they refugeed out of their country taking with them little more than the clothes in which they stood. It is the grossest nonsense for the Serbo-Montenegrins to say that these Albanians, who had always lived in the district, abandoned their homes and property and fled in the depth of winter without being forced to do so. Nothing but force, accompanied by terrorism in the form of atrocities could have produced the results that were produced. Nor is it at all probable that the Montenegrins, unaided by the Serbians, could have forced the Albanians out. The latter are excellent fighters, and could only have been driven out by regularly organized Serbian or Yugo-Slav troops, probably (as the Albanians claim) equipped with mountain artillery.

11. Personally I believe, from what I could find out in Montenegro and Albania, that the Serbo-Montenegrins did massacre a large number of Albanians in southeastern Montenegro, and that this was [Page 743]done with the deliberate intention of clearing the Albanians out of the country they occupied. I do not believe that it is now possible to fix the responsibility for the actual outbreak of the trouble, nor determine impartially the details or the numbers killed. The figure given me by the British Mission in Scutari of between 18,000 and 25,000 Albanians killed is only an approximation, as is the Albanian estimate of 30,000 killed. But there can be no doubt that many hundreds, if not thousands of Albanians were killed and that most, if not all the rest were driven from their homes.

12. I believe that the Serbo-Montenegrins deliberately took advantage of the fact that the Great Powers were absorbed in bigger questions, and no one was watching them for the moment, to consolidate their hold on a territory given them by the Treaty of Bucharest, and to which they had no valid nationalistic claims. They should never have been allowed to do this; but they have done it, and I believe there is now but one way of partially repairing the wrong done—to disregard entirely the award to Montenegro of the Treaty of Bucharest, and to draw the new Albanian frontiers along nationalistic lines as they are known to have existed in 1913–14. Here and there geographic features will have to be taken into consideration, but neither side should be favored on the ground of what they are supposed to have done or left undone during the War. The Southern Slav and the Albanian are so essentially different, and even antagonistic in all characteristics that it is impossible to expect them to live in peace within the same political frontier for many generations to come.

13. I give herewith figures of the Albanian Committee in Scutari, organized for the relief of the refugees, on the population of the districts involved, as those populations stood before the war. I submit these figures for what they may be worth, without knowing whether or not they are accurate:

District of Rugova 7,000
Plava-Gusigne 23,000
Rozai 18,000
Pechter 20,000
Podgur 15,000
Totals in districts affected 83,000
In the above districts (with the exception of Rugova, which was all Albanian) the population was about 5% Serb and 95% Albanian. In Pristina there were 91,000 Albanians and 6,000 Serbs. In the old Turkish vilayet of Kossovo there were 850,000 Albanians and 90,000 Serbs.

Sherman Miles
  1. Quoted in note printed on p. 738.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1878, p. 866.
  3. Serbian delegate to the Peace Conference; former President of the Council of Ministers.