Republic of Nothern Epirus, We are Greek and we sure don’t want to be Albanian

Sometimes countries suddenly pop up, most don’t last. One thing that could be counted on for such places at the beginning of the twentieth century was a declaration would be accompanied by a postage stamp issue. Perhaps before the declaration, and maybe even continuing after the lights went out. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair.

Todays stamp looks to my American eyes Czar era Russian. The writing did not look correct and thankfully my childhood Mincus World Wide album had an identification page that indicated Epirus and was Greek related. So what I was perceiving has Russian was more likely the stylings of the Orthodox Christian church, that Greece and Russia share.

Todays stamp is issue A9, a 40 Lepta stamp issued by a Epirus General fighting Italians and Albanians in the area in September 1914. The stamps show the two headed eagle on the coat of arms of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus. The stamps of this issue, 15 of them in various denominations, are known as the Moschopolis issue, after the town captured by Epirus in June 1914 and turned over to the Greek army in November. After the turnover the stock of stamps of this issue were sent to Athens and eventually destroyed. Moschopolis is now the Albanian city of Voscopoj. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 80 cents mint. Though none of this issue is particularly valuable, cancelled versions are worth more. At the chaotic time of the stamp, there seemed to be more stamp printing than the actual mailing of letters.

Epirus was an ancient Greek state located in modern day northwest Greece and southern Albania. It was one of the last Greek states to fall to Rome in the years before Christ. The Roman campaigns there were the origin of term pyric victory. As the Ottoman empire fell back in the 19th century, Epirus found itself with a small majority of Orthodox Greeks and a large minority of Albanian Muslims.

The Great powers came to an arrangement that saw Epirus divided between Greece and Albania. Those of Greek decent in Albania rebelled and declared independence as the Autonomous State of Northern Epirus. As their leader they chose a Greek former foreign minister named Georgios Christakis-Zografos. He was able to convince many countries to recognize the new state. However the Albanians and their allies the Italians did not and started a war to reclaim the area. The Greek Army then intervened on the side of Northern Epirus and the state ended as Greece occupied the area. Georgios Christakis-Zografos returned to Greece and worked for a bank and again later as Greek Foreign Minister. The fortunes of war reversed in 1916 and the area fell to the Italians.

World War II saw the area again a hotly contested battleground with the Greeks facing off against the Italians and Albanians before losing to the Germans who bailed out the Italians in the area in 1941. From 1944-1949 Epirus was the site of much fighting between the Greek government and Albanian supported Greek communists. Arguments over where the border should be in the area meant a state of war technically existed between Greece and Albania until 1987 when Greece renounced claims to the area. Post World War II the Albanian government had attempted to make the area more Albanian and atheistic. This was not entirely successful as many of Greek decent fled to Greece at the end of the cold war. The Albanian communist regime had especially targeted people who shared the Christakis surname from the Epirus leader’s hometown as enemies of the state.

Well my drink is empty and I will commiserate with those who tackle the impossible task of drawing satisfactory borders in the Balkans. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

 

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