He didn’t exactly have a regal name, didn’t come from a royal background and was displaced by a fascist occupying power, but King Ahmet Zog I still holds a special place in the hearts of many Albanians.
Zog, who became the first president of the Albanian Republic in 1925, made himself king in 1928. He ruled until 1939, when Mussolini’s thugs invaded and the royal family fled. Zog eventually settled in France, where he died in 1961. He was buried in Paris.
This past weekend, the king’s remains were reburied in the Albanian capital of Tirana with state honors. Around 3,000 Albanians turned out Saturday to pay their respects to the late monarch, according to Agence France-Presse.
Albanian television stations broadcast the burial ceremony live, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“King Zog is an illustrious figure who laid the foundations of the Albanian state,” said Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha as the coffin – draped with the Albanian flag – lay in state in the former royal palace.
The king was interred in a newly built mausoleum for the royal family.
Zog’s son Leka and other members of the royal family returned to Albania in 2002. Albania has been a parliamentary republic since the collapse of communism in 1990. However, the royal family has never relinquished its claim to the throne.
The repatriation and reburial was organized by Albania’s conservative government as part of ceremonies to celebrate Albania’s 100 years of independence from the Ottoman Empire, Agence France-Presse reported.
Zog was born into a landed family that had feudal control over a region that today is a district in central Albania.
In 1912, he signed the Albanian Declaration of Independence. He fought in World War I on the side of Austria-Hungary and spent several years outside Albania during the conflict.
Upon his return in 1919, he became more active in Albanian politics and had the backing of landowners, noble families and businessmen.
By the early ‘20s he had served as minister of the interior and chief of the Albanian military, and in 1923 he was shot and wounded in parliament. Exiled in June 1924, he return a few months later with the backing of Yugoslav forces and Yugoslavia-based White Russian troops and became prime minister, according to his Wikipedia entry.
The following year he was officially elected as the first president of Albania by the nation’s Constituent Assembly.
(Above: The body of King Ahmet Zog I, arrives at the Tirana International Airport in Albania last week.)