|Albanian Civil Unrest of 1997|
Evacuation of U.S. citizens during Operation Silver Wake
Government of Sali Berisha
|Commanders and leaders|
Sali Berisha (President)|
Bashkim Gazidede (SHIK)
|Casualties and losses|
|2,000–3,800, civilians and members of army, police and secret police|
|Part of the|
|Albanian Civil War|
|Gangs of 1997|
|Massacres in 1997|
|Tragedies of 1997|
The Albanian Civil Unrest of 1997, also known as the Albanian rebellion, Albanian unrest or the Pyramid crisis, was a period of civil disorder in Albania in 1997, sparked by pyramid scheme failures. The government was toppled and more than 2,000 people were killed. It is considered to be either a rebellion, a civil war, or a rebellion that escalated into a civil war.
By January 1997, Albanian citizens, who had lost a total of $1.2 billion (an average of $400 per person countrywide) took their protest to the streets. Beginning in February, thousands of citizens launched daily protests demanding reimbursement by the government, which they believed was profiting from the schemes. On 1 March, Prime Minister Aleksandër Meksi resigned and on 2 March, President Sali Berisha declared a state of emergency. On 11 March the Socialist Party of Albania won a major victory when its leader, Bashkim Fino, was appointed prime minister. However, the transfer of power did not halt the unrest, and protests spread to northern Albania. Although the government quelled revolts in the north, the ability of the government and military to maintain order began to collapse, especially in the southern half of Albania, which fell under the control of rebels and criminal gangs.
All major population centres were engulfed in demonstrations by 13 March and foreign countries began to evacuate their citizens. These evacuations included Operation Libelle, Operation Silver Wake and Operation Kosmas.. The United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1101, authorised a force of 7,000 troops on 28 March to direct relief efforts and restore order in Albania. The UN feared the unrest would spread beyond Albania's borders and send refugees throughout Europe. On 15 April Operation Alba was launched and helped restore rule of law in the country. After the unrest, looted weapons were made available to the Kosovo Liberation Army, many making their way to the Kosovo War (1998–99).
In 1992 the Democratic Party of Albania won the nation's first free elections and Sali Berisha became president. In the mid-1990s Albania was adopting a market economy, after decades of a Stalinist command economy under the People's Socialist Republic of Albania. The rudimentary financial system became dominated by Ponzi schemes, and government officials endorsed a series of pyramid investment funds. By January 1997 the schemes (many of which were fronts for laundering money and arms trafficking) could no longer make payments. The number of investors who had been lured by the promise of getting rich quick grew to include two-thirds of the population. It is estimated that close to $1.5 billion was invested in companies offering monthly interest rates ranging from 10%-25%, while the average monthly income was around $80. A significant number of Albanians sold their homes to invest, and immigrants working in Greece and Italy transferred additional resources to the schemes.
On 26 May 1996, general elections were held and the Democratic Party won by a large margin. The Socialists (PS) accused the government of fraud and rejected the results. PS left the counting process and boycotted the parliament. On 20 October local elections were held. The Democratic Party won again, but the Socialists also rejected this result.
The pyramid schemes started operations in 1991. Their activity was based on making payments to old investors using money contributed by new investors. The first scheme was that of Hajdin Sejdisë, who later fled to Switzerland with several million dollars. It was followed by "Sudja" of shoe factory worker Maksude Kadëna in 1993, then the "Populli" foundations run by an opposition politician, and "Xhaferri". By the end of 1996 the schemes peaked. The interest rates they offered were very tempting; Sudja offered 100% interest. The schemes were not criticised immediately because of a banking law adopted in 1994 which—on International Monetary Fund (IMF) advice—contained no provision that the National Bank of Albania act as a supervisor of commercial banks. The IMF changed that advice two years later, after the consequences had become visible. Despite IMF advice to close these schemes, the government continued to allow their activities, often participating in them. Between 8–16 January 1997 the schemes collapsed. On 22 January the government froze the Xhaferri and Populli firms. "Gjallica", another firm, was nearly bankrupt, while "Vefa", which had invested in Albanian hotels, fuel and factories, continued normal activity.
The first protest was on 16 January in the South. On 19 January in Tirana demonstrators protested the Sudja creditors. On 24 January the de facto rebellion began. Thousands of people in Lushnja marched on city hall in protest against the government's support of the schemes. The protest quickly descended into violence. Police forces were routed and the city hall and adjoining cinema were burned. One day later, on 25 January, Democratic Party chair Tritan Shehu was sent to Lushnje to resolve the situation. On his arrival he was held hostage for several hours at City Stadium and assaulted by the protesters. Albanian Special Forces units intervened to extract Shehu. By the morning every government institution in the city was looted and destroyed, except for the Interior Ministry building, which was protected by the Director of Communications, seven of his engineers and a guard who refused to abandon his post.
On 26 and 27 January violence erupted in other southern towns, such as Vlora. On 30 January the Forum for Democracy was formed by opposition parties to lead the protests. Anger was also directed against Berisha and the government for allowing the schemes to continue despite IMF advice. As allegations grew that Berisha and others in government had personally profited from the schemes, many[who?] became convinced that the Democratic Party had to be removed by force. This was especially true in Vlora. On 4 February distribution of a portion of lost money began at the counters of the National Commercial Bank, owned by the state. Rather than quieting the protests, this action increased people's suspicion. A check for $550,000 paid by the "Gjallica" firm on 7 January to the Socialist Party accelerated the firm's collapse. On 5 February Gjallica declared bankruptcy and on 6 February violent protests resumed in Vlora. On 9 February state police were attacked in Vlora and a day later, also in the south, 50 Special Forces troops attacked and brutally dispersed protesters.
One of the main themes of Western media and analysts during the March riots was the north-south division. Various newspapers and TV stations claimed that the rebellion was not just a showdown between the two main political forces but a clash between the northerners (Ghegs) who supported Berisha and southerners (Tosks) who supported the Socialist Party.
Hunger strike at the University of Vlora
On 20 February 1997, about 50 students at the University of Vlora began a hunger strike on campus, they demanded the government's resignation and the full return of invested money. On 22 February the Forum for Democracy declared its support for the strike. Students from Gjirokastër and Elbasan also came to give their support. They were then driven by the FRESSH (Youth Wing of Socialist Party) activists of Vlorë to Tirana. In contrast, the students of University Luigj Gurakuqi in Shkodra did not take part, and its Students Union declared, "The students share the pain of the citizens of Vlora in losing money in pyramid schemes, but on the other hand, think that freedom and democracy, homeland and nation have a higher price".
On 26 February thousands of people surrounded the building of the university to defend it from a rumoured attack by SHIK (Shërbimi Informativ Kombëtar), the national intelligence service. The same day a group of strikers requested more medical help, raising doubts about the doctors near them. On 27 February in Vlora Shkodra, mayor Bahri Borici of the United Right declared his support for the hunger strike. The next day was a decisive moment in Albanian history—after strengthening their perimeter around the building of the university, the rebel forces, without warning, attacked the SHIK building. In fighting between the rebels and government forces, nine people—six officers and three civilians—were killed. This incident marked the start of a ten-day civil war and a year of violence in southern Albania.
Looting and opening of weapon depots
The Opening of the depots (Albanian: Hapja e depove) was the opening of weapons depots in the north, for protection against the violence of the south. The decision was taken by President Berisha. When southern Albanian bases were looted, it was estimated that, on average, every male from the age of ten upwards had at least one firearm and ample ammunition. To protect the civilians in north and central Albania, the government allowed civilians to arm themselves from government arms depots. During the rebellion 656,000 weapons of various types, and 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million hand grenades and one million land mines, were looted from army depots.
At Selitë in Burrel, an explosion occurred at an arms depot on 29 April after a group of villagers broke into the depot. 22 of the 200 village residents died, most of the victims coming from the same family.
- The Krrabë Event (Albanian: Ngjarja e Krrabës) was the theft of gold of the Albanian state treasury on April 24, 1997. The treasury, hidden in tunnels near Krrabë, consisted of 340 kilograms of gold, banknotes, and other items. The perpetrators, who received prison sentences, were: Arian Bishqemi (7 years), Blerim Haka (3 years), Pellumb Dalti (6 years), Enver Hyka (8 years) and Ahmet Hyken (4 years).
- The Robbery of the Northern State Treasury (Albanian: Grabitja e Thesarit të Veriut) was the theft of approximately US$6 million from the Albanian treasury in Shkodër in March 1997. The event was described as the one of the greatest robberies in the history of the Balkans. A group of six people attacked the fortified building of the State Treasury with an antitank weapon. The total amount of money that was inside the building was US$8 million, but the robbers only managed to acquire US$6 million. The few police still in the city soon arrived at the scene and took control of the remaining assets. Later, the thieves were seen by several witnesses meeting at the outskirts of Shkodër, where they divided the money between themselves. After the robbery, the police and investigators began investigations in Shkodër. In the spring of 1998, more than a year later, the investigators closed the file and it was given to the police for further investigation. The perpetrators of this crime are still unknown to this day.
On 28 March the United Nations adopted Resolution 1101 for humanitarian aid to Albania, and on 15 April Operation Alba forces began to arrive, finally withdrawing on 12 August. About 7,000 soldiers in the multinational Italian-led UN mission came to Albania to restore order and rule of law. The first forces were deployed in Durrës. Normality first returned to Tirana. An element of the Operation Alba forces stayed in place, retraining the military to modern standards; this unit was joined from mid-May by members of WEU's Multinational Albanian Police element, doing the same with the police after restructuring the legislative base which caused the problem.
- Italian Armed Forces (Operation Alba)
- French Armed Forces (Operation Alba)
- Turkish Armed Forces (Operation Alba)
- Greek Armed Forces (Operation Alba, Operation Kosmas) led by Lt Col Dimitrios Tzimanis
- Romanian Armed Forces (Operation Alba)
- German Armed Forces (Operation Libelle) led by Col Henning Glawatz
- Austrian Armed Forces (Operation Alba)
- United States Armed Forces (Operation Silver Wake)
In the run-up to the 29 June snap election for Parliament, more than 60 people were killed. Socialist Party allies won the election, including in Tirana. Many members of the "Salvation Committees" stood for office, despite earlier promises to remain out of politics. The same election included a referendum on the form of governance. Republican government outpolled the monarchy by 65-35.
Taking advantage of the difficult situations, criminal groups armed themselves and took control of entire cities. Most had been imprisoned in Greece, but suddenly escaped and returned to Albania. The most famous case is that of Zani Caushi, who escaped from the high-security prison of Larissa in February 1997 and, with a group of friends, established the gang of Çole in Vlora.
In Vlora five gangs were created, but two ruled the city: the gang of Zani and the gang of Gaxhai. Movement in the city started at 10:00, when people gathered in Flag's Square to hear the Committee of Rescue, and ended at 13:00. After that hour the streets were deserted and the only people who moved were gang members. Gangs announced through speakers and flyers that other people were not to go out as there would be fighting. Each night brought attacks with explosives and shooting, leaving dozens dead. In Berat Altin Dardha's rule was even more severe. In Lushnje Aldo Bare's gang had control. The worst crime that this gang committed was to behead an opponent. Cities ruled by gangs were Vlora, Berat, Tepelena, Memaliaj, Ballshi, Saranda, Gjirokastra, Lushnja, Pogradec, Cerrik and Tropoja.
- Gang of Çole (Albanian: Banda e Çoles), in Vlora, led by Myrteza Çaushi, known as "Partizan" and "Zani". Named after Çole neighbourhood, in the eastern part of the city, which it controlled. Supported SP.
- Kakami, in Vlora, led by Fredi Nehbiu. Controlled western district of Babice.
- Gang of Gaxhai (Albanian: Banda e Gaxhait), in Vlora, led by Gazmend "Gaxhai" Braka. Named after leader. Members were from Cerkovinë, the city of Vlora and other southern cities, and was formed in March 1997 in Vlora. Their main rivals were the Çole. Supported DP.
- Gang of Muko, in Vlora.
- Gang of Altin Dardha, in Berat, led by Altin Dardha.
- Gang of Aldo Bare, in Lushnje, led by Aldo Bare.
Salvation Committees (also known as People's Committees or the Committee of Public Salvation [Albanian: Komiteti i Shpëtimit Publik]) were organizations created during the 1997 Albanian Civil War. They were established in many regions of the country in order to usurp the functions of the Albanian state. However, they were most influential in the south, where early in the crisis the local Salvation Committees merged to form the National Salvation Committee and demanded the removal of President Sali Berisha. Many committees were based on local organisations for the Socialist Party of Albania and saw themselves as protectors of democracy against authoritarian one-man rule, but the contemporary Albanian government viewed them as similar to Communist-era local party organisations and therefore a potential threat of returning to Communist rule.
- 8–16 January: Multiple pyramid schemes fail: "Kamberi", "Cenaj", "Silva", "Malvasia", "Kambo", "Grunjasi", "Dypero", "Bashkimi", "Beno", "Pogoni", "B&G", "Kobuzi", "Arkond", "Adelin", "A.Delon", "Agi", "M.Leka Company", "Global Limited Co.", "Çashku" and "Sudja". City of Vlora hit, as the main center of such schemes. Government froze the assets of "Vefa Holding" and "Gjallica".
- 15 January : Hundreds gathered at the palace where Maksude Kadëna, owner of "Sudes", lived. Among them were the leaders of the opposition. They confronted the police.
- 16 January: Maksude Kadëna, owner of "Sude", arrested. The Socialist newspaper "Voice of the People" wrote, "From Tirana to Vlora across the country in revolt", referring to about 6000 vlonjate protests held in the Flag Square.
- 18 January: An emergency meeting of the Democratic National Council created a parliamentary committee to investigate.
- 19 January: A protest against "Sudes" held in the Square. Opposition leaders attempted to lead the protest against the government.
- 20 January: 1500 people gather at bankrupt scheme "People-Xhaferri Democracy" to get their money.
- 22 January: Trial begins against "charitable donations" (in fact, pyramid schemes) "People's Democracy-Xhaferri" and "People" both directed by people with close ties to Communist State Security (Rrapush Xhaferri and Bashkim Driza). Kërxhaliu, administrator of "Gjallicës", was arrested.
- 23 January: Police arrested 50 employees of "People" and "Xhaferri". The newspaper "Albania" wrote, "Surely that is the work by Hajdin Sejdia. He left with several million dollars in 1991 but returned unexpectedly in 1996 and began to distribute money to creditors. The truth is that he received $3 million from 'Xhaferri' and 'People' and this led to increased confidence of citizens in these schemes . . . a result of Sejdisë's arrival [was] an increase of some tens of millions of dollars in deposits of citizens to these schemes within 2–3 months. This avoided the premature failure of these schemes."
- 24 January: Lushnja City Hall and a cinema were burned by demonstrators angry about the arrest of Xhaferri.
- 25 January: Demonstrators came from villages surrounding Lushnja to burn and destroy any state institution in Lushnje. Tritan Shehu was held hostage for several hours at the City Stadium. City of Lushnje was burned by the crowd led by local SP leaders. Other clashes take place in Elbasan, Memaliaj, Laç, Kuçovë.
- 26 January: A demonstration of the Socialist Party in downtown Tirana degenerated into a violent clash between police and opposition supporters. Some socialist leaders were injured by police. The opposition destroyed the National History Museum, the Palace of Culture, Et'hem Bey Mosque and the Municipality of South Tiranës. An angry mob burned the city hall. Albpetrol was burned in Patos by terrorist groups.
- 27 January: An angry crowd burned the hall of Peshkopi and the police station. Four policemen were seriously injured.
- 29 January: Police arrested 140 people in Berat and 20 in Poliçan for involvement in violent demonstrations and illegal activities.
- 30 January: The Forum for Democracy was formed by opposition parties, led by Daut Gumeni, Fatos Lubonja from the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC was known for anti-Berisha positions) and Kurt Kola, president of the Association of the Politically Persecuted (also indebted to "the people"). Soon this "Forum" began organizing anti-government protests.
- 31 January: The newspaper Koha Jone asked the creditors of "Gjallicës" to go to the firm to get money on 6 February. The aim was to promote violent demonstrations at "Gjallica".
- 4 February: Partial returns of deposits began based on a government decision. The opposition criticised Democrats for delaying the start of the process. "Forum for Democracy" proposes the creation of a technical government to resolve the crisis.
- 5 February: The bankrupt firm Gjallica was taken over by the former State Security. The cities most affected by the bankruptcy of the firm are Flora ($145 million U.S.) and Kukes ($16 million U.S.). Protests begin in Vlora.
- 6 February: Thousands join violent protests in Vlora. Kukes formed a "Committee" with the firm's creditors and is seeking a legal solution to this issue. They seek to become shareholders of this firm. Similar committees established in Gjirokastra and Berat.
- 7 February: Protesters block road in Memaliaj.
- 8 February: Continued anti-government protests in Vlora.
- 9 February: Police station in Vlora attacked by armed crowd, casualties include one dead and one injured. Forum for Democracy declares that the only solution of the crisis is through protests against the government.
- 10 February: Violence continued in the South. DPA headquarters were burned by armed groups. President and government resigned. A group of about 50 Special Forces troops were viciously attacked by a mob of thousands. EuroNews broadcast footage of the police siege. The rebellion spread throughout southern Albania. A state of emergency was proposed in the South.
- 11 February: Artur Rustemi, the first victim of the rebellion, was buried in Vlora. His funeral turned into an anti-government demonstration that burned ADP headquarters in Vlora. Alarm spread over the lack of bread in the city. The "Forum for Democracy" called for dialogue with President Berisha kuzhtëzuar.
- 12–15 February: Multiple kidnappings occurred. Schools closed and shops were allowed to sell up to 9 o'clock.
- 13 February: Kurt Kola was accused as a traitor and collaborator with communist executioners.
- 14 February: Anti-government protests develop in Fier.
- 17 February: The Legality Movement condemned the violence and refused dialogue with the "Forum for Democracy." Ministers meet in Tirana.
- 18 February: President Berisha met with citizens of Lushnja. He promised to do everything to resolve the crisis. The National Front sought resignation of the government.
- 20 February: Hunger strike began at University Ismail Kamal of Vlora. Approximately 50 students joined the strike and demanded the resignation of the government. Forum for Democracy organised a violent demonstration in Tirana in which five policemen were seriously injured. A group of students met with President Berisha in Vlora and agreed to resolve the crisis peacefully.
- 22 February: Trial began of leaders of the Gjallicës. Forum for Democracy supported student hunger strike in Vlora.
- 24 February: Angry crowds attack state institutions in the south.
- 26 February: As part of the Presidential tour of areas affected by the crisis, Berisha met citizens of Gjirokaster and promised to make all efforts to resolve the crisis. Thousands surrounded University Ismail Kamal to protect against a rumored "attack" by state forces.
- 28 February: Forty-six students joined a University of Gjirokastra hunger strike. Their demands were similar to those of students in Vlora. Armed crowds attacked and burned a SHIK branch—three agents burned to death in the fire while three others were attacked and killed by the crowd. Three members of the crowd were also killed.
- 29 February: Socialists branded as "undesirable" the leadership of the Democratic Party in southern Albania. The newspaper "Koha Jone" writes that "Flora is enjoying the freedom for which he received the goods."
- 1 March: The city of Vlora had no functioning government. Vlora was controlled by gangs and traffickers, and mass exodus began. In Lushnje police were brutally beaten. News of massacre of SHIK officers shook the government. Rebels took control of the Albanian Navy Pasha Liman Base, a state symbol of resistance. The government reacted by declaring a state of emergency and sent more troops to areas around Vlora and the town of Tepelena. In response, rebels set up cannons at the entrance of the city and pointed them towards Tirana. A massive explosion destroyed an arms storage facility.[where?] Himarë was burning, including police buildings in Gjirokastra.
- 2 March: Alexander Meksi's government resigned after failing to resolve the crisis. The event was celebrated in Vlora and the south by thousands firing AK-47s into the air as a sign of victory. Parliament approved the chief of Gazideden Union to restore order. Immediately Gazidede ordered indefinite closure of schools throughout the country and imposed restrictions on the press and consumer goods. In Kavaja, bastion of PD, over 5000 people voluntarily armed to defend the city from an envisioned attack by armed gangs. Italian news agency ANSA commented: "The whole scenario is emerging as a politico-military strategy and not as a manifestation of spontaneous popular. To gather people in the Flag Square are available for days special machines."
- 3 March: President Berisha was re-elected with the votes of DP members of the parliament alone. This led to massive riots in southern and central Albania. The remaining warehouses exploded and remaining bands of the military formed committees. The city of Saranda was also captured by rebels, with fighters based out of Vlora arriving by boat and burning every government building in the city, including the library. In Vlora, a local detention facility was broken into and more than 400 guns were seized. Gunmen burned down the Vocational Training Centre in Vlora. Meanwhile, SHIK tried to contain the rebellion to Vlora, Saranda and Delvina to stop it from spreading to the rest of the country. Destruction and killings continued throughout southern Albania. The seven million dollar Vocational Training Centre in Vlora was burned, which had cost the Albanian government. A group of approximately 100-member "Adipetrol" was held responsible and their compound in Gjirokastra was raided. Masked raiders captured a warship and rebels attacked Saranda, where police and government buildings were burned. Criminals engineered a prison break, releasing hundreds of prisoners, seized 400 weapons and set fire to the town library. In Kuçovë, a bread shortage was announced. The army recovered control of Fier and began to disarm the population.
- 4 March: The Committee of Public Salvation was formed in Vlore, headed by Albert Shyti. This committee began to act as a parallel government. Snipers occupied every building in Vlore and every street put up barricades to prevent attacks by SHIK. The Mifoli Bridge over the River Vjosë was blocked and mined (this bridge—which separated the two parts of Albania—would become a symbol of the rebellion). As students ended their hunger strike, gunmen in Saranda used navy craft to plunder weapons caches. Gangs patrolled the sea using Albanian Navy ships. Outside Saranda one member of SHIK was burnt alive and another was taken hostage, while two others escaped. Fifty soldiers joined the rebels and two Albanian Air Force pilots defected and flew their planes to Italy. The pilots claimed they were ordered to attack civilians. Gazidede's plan to isolate the insurgency in Vlora failed, as it spread across the south. After fierce fighting in Delvina, the rebels forced the army to pull back. In Saranda, the rebels put up roadblocks. In the South, more depots exploded. Rebels placed snipers in mansions, locked the Mifolit bridge and raised barricades to prevent entry of the military and SHIK. In Shkodra, the army capitulated and the hunger strike ended. In Saranda, organised gangs raided an Albanian Navy base and captured thousands of weapons. The Public Salvation Committee of Vlore was formed. It began to act as a parallel government by conducting a "de facto" coup. Its leader was Albert Shyti. The main collaborator of the "Committee" was Myrteza Caushi, known as Zani "The strongman of Vlora". Under the example of Vlora, Shyti created "Salvation Committees" everywhere in Albania. Demonstrators would never have succeeded in overpowering the Vlora police if they had not been armed and organised by local organised crime bosses and former members of the Communist-era secret police (Sigurimi), who saw this as their chance to damage the new political system. Typical of the latter was Albert Shyti, who returned from Greece with a private arsenal and set himself up as the head of the Vlora "Salvation Committees"—a pattern replicated in other towns and cities in southern Albania.
- 5 March: Warehouses in Memaliaj and other places were blown up. Rebels burned police buildings in these cities. Greek TV "Mega" stated, "Today, armed groups in southern Albania raised the banner of Northern Epirus for the first time. They demand the separation of the southern part from the rest of the country, ranging from Tepelena, thus proclaiming the autonomy of southern Albania. Albania's longstanding problem has been that of North-South autonomy, which is divided along the Shkumbin river."
- 6 March: President Berisha held a meeting with representatives of political parties to sign a statement, condemning the massive plunder and destruction of military warehouses and calling for surrender of weapons. Six hours later, the SP and DAP leaders denied any responsibility and obligation towards the statement that they had earlier described as a "political success". Greek TV "Sky" News stated, "A few minutes have emerged from the meeting the leaders of armed groups of Saranda, who have decided to attack tonight at Gjirokastra. They will not leave and anxiously await today's popular trial will be done with three prisoners captured in the main square of Sarande, who allegedly attacked SHIK employees and northern ethnics that increases the balance of victims in Vlora."
- 7 March: The rebels from Saranda, in collaboration with local army forces, entered Gjirokastra and took some Albanian Special Forces troops hostage. The leaders of the revolt in Gjirokastra were members of PAD, Arben Imami (appointed Defence Minister later in 2009) and Ridvan Pëshkëpia. With the fall of Gjirokastra, the entire south of the country was out of government control. Weapons continued to spread across the country. Tirana's Rinas International Airport was attacked by villagers from the surrounding area, and the Agricultural University of Tirana was looted. Albanian Army soldiers defected to rebels in Gjirokastra. Military assets were taken by gangs and the city's military committee. With Gjirokastra in the hands of rebels, the entire south of the country was out of control. Weapons continued to spread. National Rinas Airport was attacked by villagers from the surrounding areas.
- 8 March: President Berisha organised a meeting with all parties concerned with the creation of the new government. Leaders of the Gjirokastra division were vetëdorëzuar and had taken the lead of rebellion in this city. Gangs kidnapped a number of auxiliary military forces of Tirana and had blocked several tanks and a helicopter. At midnight attack and spoiled milk processing factory in Libohova.
- 9 March: A Government of National Reconciliation Union was created in Tirana, headed by Gjirokastra mayor Bashkim Fino. The new government called on former army members to contribute to restoring peace and order. President Berisha appeared on VAT in a statement to the nation where he called for "reconciliation, faith, unity and calmness".
- 10 March: In Gramsh rebels attacked the police building, and took control of Fier's streets. Berat fell into the hands of gangs and became the main centre of rebellion after Vlora. Polican, Këlcyra and Skrapari fell. In Kuçovë rebels took control of 19 MiGs. "Vlora Rescue Committee" welcomed the agreement of 9 March. American Foundation for Eastern Europe directed a letter to the Albanian Embassy in America stating, "It's great naivety not understand that the Committee of Vlora and its leaders are inspired by communist mafia-type the KGB." Letters to the conclusion stated: "Mr. Berisha must decide by any means the rule of law, using military force may even". On the evening of 10 March, the U.S. Embassy welcomed the agreement. Unopposed on the battlefield, rebels in the south launched a wave of extraordinary destruction. In Gramsh they attacked a local police station; in Fier they took control of the streets. Berat fell into the hands of gangs and became one of the main centres of rebellion. Polican and Këlcyra were taken over by criminal gangs. In Kuçovë rebels took control of 19 Soviet-made MiG combat aircraft. The rebellion spread to the north.
- 11 March: Birth of the "Committee of the South" that rejected Berisha and the return of lost money. If the Committee proposed the formation of a new state separate from Tirana. Army depots in Kukës were looted and scores of armed looters damaged state institutions. The citizens of Kukes abandon the town for one day due to an announcement that the Serbian army had crossed the border. The revolt spread to the north, the army capitulated everywhere and a huge weapons depot was captured in Shkodra. Prominent organised-crime figures escaped from prison and put together gangs, effectively taking control of many areas. Gangs looted banks, took hostages and robbed businesses. The chaos was complete and the whole country (with the exception of the capital, Tirana) was completely paralysed.
- 12 March: President Berisha decreed a Government of National Reconciliation. Revolt broke out in the South.
- 13 March: President Berisha and Prime Minister Fino requested international military assistance. Tirana was on the verge of invasion by the rebels. Curfew was declared. Several hundred volunteers mainly from the North, protected the capital. Berisha experienced what he felt was the most dangerous night of his life. The last to emerge from prison are Fatos Nano and Ramiz Alia. More revolts in the South. In Lezha rebels burned a police building. Ismail Kadare appeared in a message the Albanians in the Voice of America. He stated, "The clock was turned back in Albania's civil war between the nationalists and communists in the years 1943–44". He criticised foreign media and political elite, and calling on his compatriots calm to overcome the crisis. The French news agency Air France Press claimed, "The riots in Albania were a military coup."
- 14 March: Franz Vranitski was appointed to solve the Albanian crisis. The US Ambassador appeared on VAT, stating that its diplomatic mission will not leave and that the American people supported the Albanian people. In Tirana, the population began to disarm. A tobacco plantation and a Coca-Cola factory were attacked. The SHIK chief resigned. Rebels occupied the port of Durrës.
- 15 March: Rinas airport was recovered by the government. Parliament approved the "Government of National Reconciliation." A "Committee for the Protection of Durres" was formed.
- 16 March: A massive rally in Tirana called for peace and cooperation. A day of national mourning in honor of victims of the rebellion was decreed. In Fier radioactive material was looted. President Berisha decreed amnesty for 51 prisoners.
- 17 March: A Presidential decree released Fatos Nano, opposition leader jailed since 1993 on charges of corruption. The President left the country in a U.S. military helicopter. Fatos Nano held a press conference stating his support for the new government.
- 18 March: A Committee for the Rescue of North and Middle Albania threatened the new government if it recognised the committees of the South. As a result, the government did not recognise any committees.
- 20 March: The Assembly of Public Salvation Committee demanded the removal of Berisha and proposed the creation of Federation of South. Rinas Airport reopened.
- 21 March: Greece sought to enter Albanian territory on the pretext of protecting minorities. Berisha requests Turkish military aid. The Turkish government states that if Greek troops entered Albania, then Turkey would immediately invade Greece and capture Athens. The Turkish government demanded that the mistakes made in Bosnia not be repeated in Albania. The head of Gazidede Union, at a hearing in the Albanian Parliament accused anti-Albanian Greek circles, Albanian Socialists, military and criminals. He stated, "The integrity of Albania no longer exists" and "the rebellion was directed towards the destruction of any historic and cultural facility, with long-term goal to eradicate any historical evidence autoktonitetit the Albanians".
- 22 March: Armed gangs rule Saranda and Gjirokastra under a regime of violence and terror. Dozens of people were killed.
- 23 March: Control of the Port of Durrës was reestablished. Berat was ruled by gangs. Numerous attacks were attempted attacks with explosives.
- 25 March: 3 policemen were killed in Vlore.
- 26 March: Called back to parliament, former chief of Gazidede Union points to a Greek government plan called "Lotos", which had the goal of "Liberation Vorio-Epirus by the Albanian side rule of an armed rebellion". He accused Greece and the U.S. as well as Nicholas Gage (accused of financing the massacre of Pëshkëpisë) as sponsoring this plan. He also accused Kico Mustaqin, former commander of the army and Gramoz Ruci of giving secret information to ASFALISË (the Greek Secret Service) concerning the organisation of the Albanian Army.
- 27 March: The Democratic Party claimed that relations between Greek and Albanian peoples had always been excellent and the Greek extremist groups did not represent all Greek people.
- 28 March: Otranto tragedy. In the Otranto channel an Albanian ship run by a Vlora gang was rammed and sunk by an Italian naval vessel by mistake. 82 refugees died. A "National Assembly of Committees of the South" was held. Opposition political figures participated. They demanded the President's resignation. They rejected the "Government of National Reconciliation." The leaders of these committees were former exponents of the Enver Hoxha regime. In the village of Levan, the biggest massacre of the affair occurred. 24 people were killed by clashes between roma and a gang. A total of over 110 died. United Nations adopted resolution no. 1101 for humanitarian aid.
- 29 March: 5 were killed in South and Berat.
- 30 March: President Berisha and Prime Minister Fino sent condolences to the families of Otranto victims. Albania requested an international investigation of Otranto.
- 31 March: Proclamation of national mourning in honour of the Otranto victims. Ismail Kadare stated in Italian media, "it is shocked by this tragedy and that the authority of government and the President need to Resume in place."
- 1 April: Leaders of the Democratic Party debated the resignation of Berisha and Shehu. Fino urged the Socialist Party to withdraw from the 28 March agreement with the Committee of the South.
- 3 April: Police made gains in restoring order in Tirana. Special Forces take control of Berat.
- 4 April: U.S. Embassy states that it would not meet with any Salvation Committee and that the only legitimate institutions are the government and president.
- 5 April: Armed gangs rule Pogradec.
- 7 April: Dozens of people in Fier had been wounded and 5 killed, including two children. The Haklaj family led the riots. 3 were killed in Durrës.
- 8 April: In Gramsh clashes broke out between local gangs and another from Laçi. The city had become a center of arms sales.
- 12 April: Leka Zog arrived in Tirana, along with the royal court. Dozens of mentally ill escape from Elbasan.
- 13 April: Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi visited Vlore with Albanian Zani Çaushi as his bodyguard.
- 15 April: "Alba Mission", an international army of 7000 troops under the direction of Italy began to arrive in Albania. The first forces deployed in Durrës. Normality returned to Tirana. Held a successful operation to apprehend criminals Gramsh and collecting looted weapons.
- 17 April: Political parties agreed to hold elections on 29 June.
- 18 April: A bomb exploded in the courtyard of the University of Elbasan.
- 19 April: A repository rocket explodes in Gjirokastra. Fino met with Leka Zog.
- 21 April: Multinational forces deployed in Vlora. Criminal gangs attacked and spoiled the city of Gramsh and terrorized citizens in Çorovodë.
- 22 April: A bomb exploded near ex local "Flora" in Tirana.
- 23 April: International forces choose not to work with any "committee of the South."
- 24 April: Police Station Attacked in Elbasan. Leka Zog visited Vlore.
- 26 April: Council of Europe demanded the disarmament of "illegal" Salvation Committees. 4 children injured by a bomb in Gjirokastra. In Shpërthehen 35 meters of train tracks were demolished.
- 28 April: In Lushnje, a crowd of roughly 4,000 gathered to protest. The protest was initiated by the Committee of Public Salvation. Demands included Berisha's resignation, reform of the electoral process, emergency parliamentary elections then scheduled for 2001, and reimbursement of 100% of all financial losses. Leaders of the Committee joined the rally.
- 29 April: Schools reopened in the North. Vlora continued under the power of the gangs.
- 30 April: 27 people left dead by the explosion of a weapons depot in Burrel. Three warehouses exploded in Berat.
- 4 May: Dozens were killed in Shkodra, Berat, Tirana and Durrës.
- 10 May: Special Forces struggled with armed gangs in Gramsh. Gramsh Rescue Committee prevented distribution of newspapers in the city.
- 14 May: Kakavisë attacked the border. Remains blocked the Berat-Lushnje road. A military post was attacked in Berat.
- 15 May: A warehouse in Gjirokastra exploded, injuring 14 people and killing 4 others. An entire family was killed in Pogradec.
- 19 May: Violence continued in the south. Killings continued in Vlora. In Memaliaj police and Rescue Committee joined forces against one of the gangs.
- 21 May: Continued attacks against bridges in Gjirokastra. Violence continued in Saranda, Vlora, Shkodra and Durrës.
- 23 May: In Cërrik city gangs attacked a Special Forces armored vehicle. 6 effective Special Forces of the Garda e Republikës were killed by grenade attacks. 3 others captured hostage.
- 17 June: Massacre of Ura Vajgurore.
- ? June: The Democrat leadership was unable to operate a normal campaign in southern Albania. Their campaign was accompanied by riots in those cities, leaving behind more than 60 people killed.
- 29 June: Parliamentary elections were held. Socialist Party allies won while the Democrats suffered the biggest loss in their history. Many of the members of the "Salvation Committees" came out for leftist candidates though they promised they would not get a government position without resolving the crisis. On election day a referendum was held over the form of governance. The Republic prevailed over monarchy with 65% of the votes.
- 3 July: Leka Zogu I organised a demonstration accusing CEC of rigging the result. Five people were killed in a clash between demonstrators and police.
- July: Gangs continue to rule cities with fear and terror. Murders, robberies and trafficking of weapons, people and drugs increased.
- 24 July: Berisha resigned. He had promised that if the Socialists won he would leave because they could not endure "institutional cohabitation" with them. Rexhep Meidani was elected President. Massive gunfire in Tirana celebrated Berisha's resignation. The insurgency ended.
- 11 August: Operation Alba's military forces left the country.
According to Christopher Jarvis, there were 2,000 killed. According to Fred C. Abrahams, between March and May 1997 some 1,600 people were killed, most in shootouts between rival gangs. An UNIDIR document claimed more than 2,000 killed in March alone.
Damage from the rebellion was estimated at US$200 million dollars and some 3700 to 5000 wounded. Lawsuits were filed against the bosses of the rogue firms. Various members of the government, including Safet Zhulali and Agim Shehu, were sentenced in absentia.
In elections in June and July 1997, Berisha and his party were voted out of power, and the leftist coalition headed by the Socialist Party won. The Socialist party elected Rexhep Meidani as President of the Albanian Republic. All UN forces left Albania by 11 August.
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Following the February/March 1997 looting of Albanian Army barracks and depots, weapons became even more readily available. The current price for a Kalashnikov is barely US$300, and the most conservative estimates of Albanians' stocks now start at 25,000 hidden AK assault rifles. Also available are anti-tank weapons, rifle and hand grenades and even small-calibre mortars and anti-aircraft guns.
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These riots, and the state of anarchy which they caused, are known as the Albanian civil war of 1997
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trapped by Albania's civil war
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In early 1997 Albanian society was at the brink of collapse and only narrowly escaped civil war when pyramid investment schemes collapsed, taking with them the savings of a majority of the already poor Albanian population
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No progress was made in structural reforms. In early 1997, Albania plunged into deep economic crisis. Rioting triggered by the collapse of the pyramid schemes intensified to near civil war, with the government losing control over large parts of the country.
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An example of a situation which features aspects of anarchy rather than civil war is the case of Albania after the outbreak of chaos in 1997.
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...first half of 1997 was not a civil war, its impact on production and trade might well have been similar.
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- Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :22 Janar
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- Agjencia Telegrafike Shqiptare :25 Janar
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