Plav-Gusinje massacres (1912-13)

Plava dhe Gucia 1912

The Plav-Gusinje massacres of 1912-13 occurred between late 1912 and March 1913 in the areas of the modern Plav and Gusinje municipalities and adjacent areas. More than 1,800 locals, mostly Muslim Albanians, from these two regions were killed and 12,000 were forced to convert to Orthodoxy by the military administration put in charge of these regions by the Kingdom of Montenegro which had annexed them during the First Balkan War.

Much of the military administration of Plav-Gusinje was manned by the captaincy of the Vasojevići tribe. Brigadier Avro Cemović was the chief leader of the perpetrators of the massacres. The events of the massacres and the forced conversions were stopped with the intervention mainly of Austria-Hungary in April 1913 after the killing of Franciscan Albanian monk Luigj Palaj in a similar campaign of forced conversion in western Kosovo. The events caused a wave of refugees towards Albania and the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey). The descendants of the victims, Albanians and Bosniaks commemorate the events yearly and have erected memorials for their ancestors.

Plav in 1912


Plav and Gusinje are located in the Accursed Mountains range in the southern Dinaric Alps at an altitude of about 1,000m. They have a large Albanian and Muslim population. The regions were a target for expansion of Montenegro since its formation as the Principality of Montenegro. The area which then was part of the Ottoman Empire was to pass under Montenegro in 1879 but local resistance against the Montenegrin army by the Albanian League of Prizren in the Battle of Novšiće|battle of Nokshiq stopped its annexation. The area of the Vasojevići tribe is located to the north in Andrijevica and Berane. In the First Balkan War, the six battalions of Lower Vasojevići which formed a single brigade (”Gornjovаsojevićkа  brigаdа”) with a total force of 3,200 were tasked with capturing the Plav-Gusinje region. It was first under the command of Rаdomir Vešović and in the beginning of the war passed under the command of Avro Cemović, a clan leader (serdar) from Vasojevići who was promoted to brigadier-general by King Nicholas I of Montenegro.[1] The brigade was part of the eastern detachment under general Janko Vukotić. When the war began, the Ottoman army – still in the aftermath of the Albanian revolt of 1912- had deployed a very light regular force which was defeated and retreated very quickly when the Montenegrin attack began in the early hours between 8 and 9 October 1912. Effective resistance to the Montenegrin army was shown by local, volunteer sharpshooters. The Albanian households of Nokshiq, Arzhanica e Ultë and Pepaj, 127 in total, were burnt as the Montenegrin army advanced. [2],[3]



The defense of the region lasted for about 10 days and on 19 October the Montenegrin army entered Plav. A day later, on 20 October they entered Gusinje.[4] One of the first acts of the military was to imprison in Nikšić 323 important local figures of Plav and Gusinje. These included Osman Cekaj, Ismail Nikoçi, Medo (Radonciqi), Omer and Medo Jakup Ferri,members of the Rexhepagaj, the strongest family of Plav and many others.[5] In early November, the army moved out but one battalion remained to hold control. Vukotić in his correspondence with King Nicholas at that time reported that no new attacks had been carried out against the army and that the locals had began to return back to their homes.[6]

Civil administration in the region since the beginning of the annexation was organized as a military administration. It was divided into five captaincies: Gusinje, Vojno Selo, Vusanje, Plav and Brezojevica. A gendarmerie was founded for the enforcement of administrative measures and law. Niko Vucelić, a local Orthodox Slav from Brezojevica, a village north of Plav was put in charge of the military administration by Vešović.[3] On December 1912, the five captaincies were united into a single one for the whole region under that of Vasojevići.[4] After the rest of the Eastern Detachment left, under the military administration of the battalion of Vasojevići pillaging and robberies against the local population began. The military administration in some cases openly supported crimes against the locals and created a situation in which crimes against Muslims were not viewed as punishable acts and crimes.[4]

The campaign of forced conversions was put forward by Serb Orthodox Patriarch Gavrilo Dožić. Minister of Church Affairs, Mirko Mijušković made it a law of the Montenegrin state on December 21, 1912. The law directed the Orthodox priesthood to mass convert Muslims and Catholics to Serbian Orthodoxy.[2] The conversion campaign was implemented since January and intensified in March under when Brigadier Avro Cemović became head of the military administration of Plav-Gusinje. On March 23, Cemović in a report noted that until then about 3,000 Muslims had been converted. The total number of the forced conversions by the end of the campaign may have reached more than 10,000 people without including figures from villages north of Plav and those of refugees.[5] Mulla Šaban Musić (Shaban Musiqi/Musaj) in order to help the locals to convert without renouncing their true beliefs, issued a fatwa which absolved those who converted from any sins.[6]

Avro Cemović established the extraordinary military court of the region. A prominent collaborator and judge of the court of was Hajro Basić/Bashiqi who was a local Muslim hodja. Basić collaborated with Cemović and converted to Orthodoxy for a payment of 100 perpers and various privileges.[7] He took the name Balša Balšić and was promoted to the rank of major in the Montenegrin army. One of this first actions in the court was to condemn to death some of his cousins who refused to convert.[8]


The killings by the Mon­tene­grin army in Plav-Gus­inje had began after the army en­tered in the re­gion in late Oc­to­ber. Ramë Isuf Kukaj was one of the first to be ex­e­cuted. He is con­sid­ered to be the first per­son from Gus­inje who was ex­e­cuted. A mon­u­ment was erected in his mem­ory in 2012.[9] The mas­sacres in­ten­si­fied in March with the es­tab­lish­ment of the mil­i­tary court. The pass of Previ (Qafa e Pre­visë/Pre­vija) near An­dri­je­vica was a main lo­ca­tion in which ex­e­cu­tions took place. The total num­ber of Al­ba­ni­ans ex­e­cuted in Previ reached up to 700, many from the vil­lages of Vuthaj and Martinaj.[10][11] The first death sen­tence by the ex­tra­or­di­nary mil­i­tary court was car­ried out on March 5 in Racina, Plav. On that same day, 108 forced con­ver­sions were also car­ried out in Plav – 95 Mus­lims and 14 Catholics were forced to be­come Or­tho­dox. The chief ex­e­cu­tioner was Vukota Pan­tović, the com­man­der of the bat­tal­ion which was sta­tioned in Plav.[7] Two of them be­longed to the Omer­a­gaj/Omer­agić broth­er­hood of Gus­inje, while three of those ex­e­cuted on March 5 were mem­bers of the Ferri fam­ily – Shaqo Ferri and Jakup Ferri’s sons, Agan and Emin.[7]

Mass ex­e­cu­tions in Gus­inje began on 9 March. 28 peo­ple were ex­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial records, but tes­ti­monies from lo­cals in­di­cate that those ex­e­cuted were more than 28.[7] On that same day, 29 peo­ple were sen­tenced to death in Plav. Tri­als which ended in mass death sen­tences oc­curred every day in Plav-Gus­inje through­out March and early April. forced by in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to stop the cam­paign The event which caused in­ter­na­tional up­roar against the Mon­tene­grin cam­paign was the mur­der of Fran­cis­can Al­ban­ian monk Luigj Palaj (al­ter­na­tively, Luigi Palić) in a sim­i­lar cam­paign of the Mon­tene­grin state in the parts of west­ern Kosovo it had ac­quired in the First Balkan War. This event proved to be piv­otal in trig­ger­ing in­ter­na­tional re­sponse. He was ar­rested by the Mon­tene­grin army and ex­e­cuted in Gjakova. Aus­tria-Hun­gary launched a strong protest and called for free­dom of re­li­gion to be re­spected for all. The Mon­tene­grin gov­ern­ment replied that he was ex­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to the Mon­tene­grin mil­i­tary code after being ar­rested for re­bel­lion along with about 55 other people.[10] Aus­tria-Hun­gary in­creased pres­sure and with British com­pli­ance, Nicholas I was forced to close the mil­i­tary courts in the re­gion and re­call Cemović.[12]

There is vari­a­tion in the es­ti­mates about the total num­ber of those killed in the mas­sacres and those who un­der­went forced re­con­ver­sion. Most of those who were killed were Al­ba­ni­ans and most were Mus­lims, al­though some of those forced to con­vert were Catholics too. Today, the de­scen­dants of the vic­tims in­clude Al­ba­ni­ans and Bosni­aks. A con­tem­po­rary re­port by Djordje Šeku­larac, head Or­tho­dox priest of the mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion noted 12,000 conversions.[13] Bosniak or­ga­ni­za­tions main­tain that more than 1,800 were killed in the course of the mas­sacres and 12,000 were forced to convert.[14] Mark Kras­niqi of the Acad­emy of Sci­ences of Kosovo has placed the total num­ber of Al­ba­ni­ans killed dur­ing the mas­sacres at 8,000.[15]

The in­ter­na­tional up­roar against the events in Plav-Gus­inje forced the Mon­tene­grin gov­ern­ment to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion about them. The com­mis­sion which in­ves­ti­gated crimes in Plav, Gus­inje and parts of the Sandzak was headed by Mato Ka­turić and An­drija Rađenović. On June 1913, the com­mis­sion pub­lished its re­port which con­cluded that Mus­lims in the re­gion were vi­o­lently converted.[16] Some top-level of­fi­cers – in­clud­ing Hajro Basić – were in­dicted with the ex­cep­tion of Avro Ce­mović. Those con­victed only re­mained in prison for a very brief pe­riod. He was re­moved from his po­si­tion on April and re­placed by brigadier Mašan Božović.[5]

Božović in his re­port to gen­eral Janko Vukotić noted that the peo­ple of Plav and Gus­inje only con­verted under the threat of a vi­o­lent cam­paign of ex­e­cu­tions and ha­rass­ment. After free­dom of re­li­gion was pro­claimed again on May 5, all the newly con­verted, re­turned to their pre­vi­ous re­li­gion with the ex­cep­tion of only two to three fam­i­lies in Plav.[5] Many peo­ple fled from the area be­fore, dur­ing and in the af­ter­math of the events. Those who re­turned in the area often found their prop­erty to have been con­fis­cated and re­set­tled by Mon­tene­grin colonists. William Warfield, di­rec­tor of the Red Cross Unit in Al­ba­nia in the Balkan Wars re­ported about 2,000 Al­ban­ian refugees from Gus­inje and Plav in Shko­dra.[17] 128 fam­i­lies from Plav-Gus­inje fled to Turkey. Many of these fam­i­lies set­tled in Izmir and Ada­pazarı.[18]

In historiography
In Mon­tene­grin his­to­ri­og­ra­phy the events of the Plav-Gus­inje mas­sacres have been gen­er­ally been om­mit­ted. In par­tic­u­lar, in mono­graphs about the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Va­so­jevići in the Balkan Wars the role of the tribe in the Plav-Gus­inje events has never been discussed.[1]

In the 100th an­niver­sary of the events on March 2013, Al­ba­ni­ans and Bosni­aks prayed to­gether in Plav to mark it as a day of re­mem­brance. The de­scen­dants of the vic­tims in the two mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have de­scribed the events as geno­cide.[14] 2013 was also the year in which then Pres­i­dent of Mon­tene­gro Filip Vu­janović made one of the first di­rect ac­knowl­edg­ments of the events in Mon­tene­grin pol­i­tics in a cer­e­mony in Be­rane where he de­clared that the crimes per­formed in Plav and Gus­inje are the dark side of the Mon­tene­grin history.[19]







  1. [1] Premović, Marijan (2013). “VАSOJEVIĆI PREMА PLАVU I GUSINJU [Vasojevići against Plav and Gusinje]”371
  2. [2] Premović, Marijan (2013). “VАSOJEVIĆI PREMА PLАVU I GUSINJU [Vasojevići against Plav and Gusinje]”101
  3. [3] Dedushaj, Rexhep (1993). Krahina e Plavë-Gucisë nëpër shekuj [The region of Plav-Gusinje throughout the centuries]. New York p=101  
  4. [4] Dedushaj, Rexhep (1993). Krahina e Plavë-Gucisë nëpër shekuj [The region of Plav-Gusinje throughout the centuries]. New York 371
  5. [5] Dedushaj, Rexhep (1993). Krahina e Plavë-Gucisë nëpër shekuj [The region of Plav-Gusinje throughout the centuries]. New York 101
  6. [6] Premović, Marijan (2013). “VАSOJEVIĆI PREMА PLАVU I GUSINJU [Vasojevići against Plav and Gusinje]”371