wwi greece

March 24, 1917 - Greece Protests Italian Occupation of Epirus

Pictured - Italian soldiers in Greece, WWI.

Albania was a mess during the First World War. It had only recently become independent of Ottoman rule in 1912, but centuries of Turkish occupation had left it an ethnic and religious melting pot, with none of the groups eager to get along with the others. It was nominally a principality, but tribal chiefs squabbled and the central government controlled almost nothing. A Muslim peasant revolt forced the German prince invited to rule into exile within months. In the south of the country, the region known in antiquity as Epirus, Greek settlers declared independence in a move to integrate their country with Greece.

Greece occupied Epirus in 1914, but the situation was complicated because Italy did not hide its desire to annex parts of Albania. In 1915, the Treaty of London gave some coastal ports to Italy, while Serbia and Montenegro also occupied portions. It was all part of complicated balancing act by which Paris and London tried to appease both Greece and Italy to have them as allies.

Italy joined the Entente, but not Greece, and when Athens ceded border forts to Bulgaria in 1916, the Allies ceased favoring it over Italy. Italian soldiers marched into northern Epirus in 1916, where they did not hide their annexationist attitudes. They disarmed Greeks, removed Greek flags, and closed Greek-language schools. In June Italy declared that Albania was “independent” under the Italian king. Obviously, this greatly irked the Greeks, who were now divided in a civil war between a pro-Allied splinter government in Salonika, and the royalist, neutral government in Athens. Both sides protested to the Allies in March about Italy’s occupation of Epirus.

In the end, the war pleased nobody. The Allies confirmed Albanian independence after the conflict, which annoyed the Greeks who hoped to annex parts. The Italians celebrated the decision and kept troops in the hopes of making Albania a puppet state, but Albanian guerrillas chased them out in 1920. Italy’s failure to win much territory at the peace table drove anger at the Allies and eventually helped the rise of fascists in the 1920s who wanted to redraw the world order implemented by the Treaty of Versailles.