Historical evidence demonstrates that genocide and ethnic cleansing were perpetrated upon the Serbian population of Kosovo and Metohija, first by Ottoman Turks, then by Albanian leaders and the populace and continued throughout the Communist period, during which the ethnic Serbian population was forced to emigrate.
The historical and political precedents for the creation of a greater Shqiperia or Greater Albania was set during World War II when the Kosovo and Metohija regions along with territory Southwest of lake Skutari from Montenegro and the western region of Southern Serbia, or Juzna Srbija (now part of Macedonia), were annexed to Albania by the Axis powers led by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, under a plan devised by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler to dismember and to destroy the Serbian Nation and people, which the Germans and Italians perceived as the main threat to the axis powers and to the Third Reich in the Balkan.
On April 7, 1939, Italian troops invaded and occupied Albania forcing the Albanian ruler King Zog I Ahmed Bey Zogu, to flee to Greece. Italy formally annexed Albania into the Kingdom of Italy under the Italian king Victor Immanuel and established a military government and viceroy. The Italian began a program to colonize the country when thousands of settlers emigrated to Albania. An Albanian Fascist Party was established with Albanian Black skirts based on Italian models. At that time the Albanian Army consisted of three infantry brigades of 12 000 men.
On October 28 1940, Italy invaded Greece from Albania with 10 Italian divisions and the Albanian Army but were driven back.
Germany sought to assist the Italian-Albanian offensive by Operation Alpine Violet, a plan to move a corps of three German mountain divisions to Albania by air and sea. Instead, the Germans built up a heavy concentration of the German Twelfth Army on the northwest Greek border with Bulgaria, from where the German invasion was launched.
On April 6, 1941, Nazi Germany and the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia (Operation Punishment) and Greece forcing the capitulation of Yugoslavia on the 17th, and Greece on the 23rd. Yugoslavia was subsequently occupied and dismembered. The Axis powers established a greater Albania or greater Shqiperia at the expense of Serbia and Montenegro. Territory from Montenegro was annexed to Greater Albania.
From Serbia, the Kosovo and Metohija were ceded to greater Albania, along with the western part of Southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija), now part of Macedonia, an area which was part of Stara Srbija (Ancient Old Serbia). This Kosovo-metohija region and the surrounding territory annexed to Greater Albania was called “New Albania”.
To create an ethnically pure Shqiptar Kosovo, which Albanian called “Kosova”, the Shqiptari (Albanians) launched a widescale campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Ethnic Serbs in the Kosovo-Metohija regions were massacred, their homes were burned, and survivors were brutally driven out and expelled in policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The Balli Kombetar (BK or National Union) was an Albanian nationalist group led by Midhat Fresheri and Ali Klissura whose political objective was to in incorporate Kosovo-Metohija into a Greater Albania and to ethnically cleanse the region of Orthodox Serbs.
The Albanian Committee of Kosovo organized massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian inhabitants of Kosovo-Metohija. A contemporary report described the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Serbs as follows:
“Armed with material supplied by the Italians, the Albanians hurled themselves against the helpless settlers in their homes and villages. According to the most reliable sources the Albanians burned many Serbian settlements, killing some of the people and driving out others who escaped to the mountains. At present other Serbian settlements are being attacked and the property of individuals and of communities is either being confiscated or destroyed. It is not possible to ascertain at the present the exact number of victims of those atrocities, but it may be estimated that at least between 30,000 and 50,000 perished.”
Bedri Pejani, the Muslim leader of the Albanian National Committee, called for the extermination of Orthodox Serbian Christians in Kosovo-Metohija and for a union of a Greater Albania with Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Rashka (Sandzak) region of Serbia into a Greater Islamic State. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, was presented the Pejani plan which he approved as being in the interest of Islam. The Germans, however, rejected the plan.
On September 3, 1943, Italy capitulated by signing an armistice with the Allies. The Germans were then forced to occupy Albania with the collapse of the Italian forces. The Germans sent he 100th Jaeger Division from Greece and the 297th Infantry Division from Serbia and the German 1st Mountain Division to occupy Albania. These troops were organized into the XXI Mountain Corps, which was under the command of General Paul Bader.
Additional security forces for the interior were needed, however, to free up German troops for defense of the coastline the decision was made to form an Albanian SS mountain division for this purpose. In April in 1944, recruitment for the Albanian SS division began under direction of the newly formed Albanian Nazi party, which has been formed through the efforts of Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Acting upon instructions of Reichsfuehrer SS Henrich Himmler, the SS main office ordered the formation of an Albanian volunteer mountain division on April 17, 1944. SS Brigadefuehrern and Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitzhum, who Headed the Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, oversaw the forming and training of the division.
The SS high Command planned to create a mountain division of 10.000 men. The Higher SS and Police Command in Albania, in conduction with the Albanian National Committee, listed 11.398 possible recruits for the Waffen SS mountain division.
Of the 11.398 recruits listed for the Division, 9.275 were ascertained to be suitable to draft in the Waffen SS. Of those suitable to be drafted, 6.491 Albanian were chosen and inducted into the Skanderbeg Division. To this Albanian core were added veteran German troops primarily Reichdeutsche from Austria and Volkdeutcshe officers, NCOs, and enlisted men, transferred from the 7th SS Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen” which was stationed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Kosovo Albanian 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” consisted in total of 8.500 – 9.000 men of all ranks.
The 6.491 Albanian recruits were assembled at depots in Kosovo where the formation and the training of the division began.
The official designation for the division was 21 Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Skanderbeg” (Albanische Nr 1). The SS Main Office designed a distinctive arm patch for the division, consisting of a black double-headed eagle on a red background, the national symbol of Albania. The word “Skanderbeg”, embroidered in white, appeared above the eagle and was warn on the left sleeve. The right collar patch consisted of a helmet with a goat’s head on top, the helmet supposedly worn by George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, after whom the division was named. The Shqiptare recruits in the division wore a white skullcap, the national attire of the Shqiptar Ghegs. The SS main office also issued gray skullcaps with the Totenkopf (death’s head) insignia sewn on the front below the Hoheitszeichen (the national symbol of Nazi Germany, consisting of a white eagle over a Nazi swastika).
Most of the Shqiptar collaborators with the Nazi forces were the so-called Kosovars, ethnic Shqiptars from the Kosmet of Serbia. The Nazi German-sponsored Albanian gendarmes, special police and para-military units were made up by Kosovars. The Kosovars were under the direct control of the Albanian Interior Minister Xhafer Deva.
The 21st Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Skanderbeg (1st Albanian) never reached divisional strength, being at most a brigade-sized formation of between 6,000 and 6,500 troops. The Division was stationed and operated in Kosovo and other Serbian regions almost exclusively.
In May 1944, members of the division arrested 281 Jews in Pristina and handed them over to the Germans, who transported them to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where many were killed. The division itself was better known for this action and for murdering, raping, and looting in predominantly Serb areas than for participating in combat operations on behalf of the German war effort.
The Skanderbeg Division played a role in the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews, by rounding up scores of Kosovo Jews in a group of roughly 500 persons deemed enemies of the Third Reich, when the division occupied Prizren in Kosovo Metohija. The division sought to create ethnically pure Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of Orthodox Serbs, Jews and Gypsies the untermenschen (subhuman), who were targeted for extermination.
Its only significant military actions took place during a German anti-Partisan offensive in the German occupied territory of Montenegro in June and July 1944.
Garrisons of Skanderbeg division were established in Kosovo towns of Pec, Jakova, Prizren, and Pristina. Further training of the division continued in August as new recruits were inducted in the division. An artillery battalion of the division, consisting of two batteries, was located in Gnjilane. The Skanderbeg division was ordered into the areas surrounding the towns Skopje, Kumanovo, Presevo and Bujanovac. Skanderbeg operated in the towns of Pec, Gnjilane,Djakovica, Tetovo, Gostivar, and Kosovska Mitrovica, then part of Kosovo Metohija and Southern Serbia.
In November, 1944, when the German armies in the Balkan were retreating from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, the Skanderbeg division remnants were reorganized into Regimentegruppe 21 SS Gebirgs “Skanderbeg” and was transferred to Skopje, according to one account of the movements of the Battle group. This SS Kampfgrupe “Skanderbeg”, along with the prinz Eugen Division, defended the Vardar valley. The battle group “Skanderbeg” and Prinz Eugen held the Vardar area because it was the sole corridor of escape for the retreating German armies in Alexander Loehr’s Army Group E, which was retreating from Greece and Aegean Islands.
Following those operations, the unit was deployed as a guard force at the chromium mines in Kosovo, where it was quickly overrun by the Partisans, leading to widespread desertion. Reinforced by German Kriegsmarine personnel and with fewer than 500 Albanians remaining in its ranks, it was disbanded on 1 November 1944.
Parts of the Skanderbeg Battle Group along with the Prinz Eugen Division retreated to the to the Brcko region of Bosnia-Herzegovina by mid-january 1945. At this time the remaining Skanderbeg personnel were incorporated into the 14th SS Volunteer Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 7th SS division Prinz Eugen. The remnants of the Skanderbeg Division fought in this formation until the end of the war, retreating to Austria in May, 1945.
The Albanians in the Skanderbeg Division were mostly Muslims, of the Bektashi and Sunni sects of Islam. The division contained several hundred Albanian Catholics, followers of Jon Marko Joni.
The first commander of the Skanderbeg division was SS Brigadefuehrer Generalmajor of the Waffen SS Josef Fitshum, who commanded the division from April to June 1944. After the July 20, assassination plot against Hitler, Fitzhum was appointed supreme commander in Albania. In June, SS Stardentenfuehrer August Schmidhuber was appointed division commander, a post he would hold until August 1944. On June 21, 1944, Schmidhuber was promoted to SS Oberfuehrer and later in the war, he would be promoted to SS Brigadefuhrer. SS Oberstrumbannfuhrer Alfred Graf commanded the reorganized remnants of the Skanderbeg Division from August 1944.
The Skanderbeg division engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Serbian Orthodox Christian populations of the regions under occupation by the division in Kosovo Metohija, Montenegro, and southern Serbia. Balkan Historian Robert Lee Wolff, in the “Balkans in Our time”, described the genocide committed against Kosovo Serbs by the Shqiptar 21st Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS Skanderbeg as follows:
“In the regions annexed by the Albanians, their so-called Skanderbeg division, made up of members of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia, massacred Serbs with impunity.”
Historian L.H. Stavrianos, in “The Balkans Since 1453”, described the genocide committed against Orthodox Serbs by the Shqiptar Skanderbeg Division in these terms: “Yugoslav Albanians, organized in their fascist Skanderbeg Division, conducted an indiscriminate massacre of Serbians.”
The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal declared the Shutzstaffel or SS criminal organization and every individual member of SS was found to Be a war criminal guilty of “planning and carrying out crimes against humanity”.
The Shqiptar Kosovars committed war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbian population of Kosovo, planned and carried out crimes against humanity in Kosovo. This genocide would contribute in the Shqiptar goal and policy to create an ethnically pure, Shqiptar Kosovo, in an attempt to create a greater Shqiperia or greater Albania.
Following World war II, the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship allowed the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Orthodox Serbs to continue, and indeed, gave greater impetus and legitimacy to the policy.