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History of Kosovo

The history of Kosovo can be explained as the history of the Albanian people, the history of the Serbian people, or the history of the region itself. Most people living in Kosovo today are ethnic Albanians, but a significant minority were ethnically Serbian prior to the Kosovo War in 1999.

The Albanians are descendants of the ancient people from the region, the Illyrians, while the Serbs are Slavs who immigrated to the region in about the 600s or 700s. Over time each of these groups gained fairly distinct identities as the Serbs are Slavic, speak a Slavic language, and strongly identify with their religion, which is Serbian Orthodox. The ethnic Albanians however are descendants of the Illyrians, have a distinct language from ancient times, and under Ottoman rule primarily converted to Islam.

This alteration in very different histories (of the people) and in identities has led to a number of conflicts in the region of Kosovo. The region of Kosovo is, in many ways, just the history of its people, however, as both the History of Serbia and the History of Albania can be accessed on this website, here only the relatively short history of the region will be discussed.

Throughout this history it is important to understand that both groups, the Albanians and the Serbs have a claim on the land and each's argument can be determined to be valid or invalid depending on the reader's perspective and bias. The Albanian claim to the land is simply that their ancestors, the Illyrians up to today's Albanians have lived on this landmass prior to the Serbs arrival and therefore they claim it. The Serbian argument is a bit more complex.

The Serbian claim to the land is based on more recent history and political power over that region. It is also rooted in the region being an important historical Serb cultural center. To best understand their argument, it is best to understand the history of Kosovo.

Serbia first came to power as a political entity in the 1300s, at which time the region of Kosovo became an important cultural center for the people. After Serbia fell, the land remained in the hands of ethnic Serbs throughout the 1300s and 1400s until 1455 when the Ottomans conquered the territory and it remained under their rule until the 1900s.

It was under Ottoman rule that many of the ethnic Albanians converted to Islam. It was also during this time that many Serbs moved north to what is today Serbia, slowly altering the population until the ethnic Albanians formed a majority in what is today Kosovo.

When the Ottoman Empire was finally defeated in the early 1900s the territory fell under the rule of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia). Immediately after this political entity formed, hostilities began as the Yugoslavian government encouraged Serbs to re-settle in the region, but this was met with resistance by the Albanians, who at the time formed a majority.

During World War II (WWII) Kosovo was briefly united with Albania under Italian occupation, but at the war's conclusion the two were again separated as Kosovo was again incorporated into Yugoslavia. As industry was introduced in Yugoslavia though, many Serbs again left Kosovo and headed for industrial centers, in particular large cities as the ethnic balance again shifted heavily in favor of ethnic Albanians.

Tensions rose beyond repair under the Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who was an ethnic Serb and took power in Yugoslavia in 1989. Milosevic striped the region of Kosovo of many of its rights and closed schools taught in Albanian. The Albanians revolted with violence and shortly after Milosevic sent in the Yugoslav army to suppress the revolts. With no military presence, the Albanians attempted to form a non-violent independence movement.

This non-violence movement was not supported by all though and soon the Kosovo Liberation Army began attacks on the Serbian police, leading to guerilla warfare throughout the region as violence became widespread and refugees fled the country. This escalation in violence peaked in 1997 and 1998, but continued through 1999, in what is commonly known as the Kosovo War.

After Milosevic's refusal to end the violence, NATO bombed Serbia (at the time still called Yugoslavia, but only targets in modern day Serbia were attacked) and many ethnic Serbs came to Milosevic's support, leading to an Albanian "ethnic cleansing" campaign organized and ordered by Milosevic. NATO then continued the bombing until Milosevic finally capitulated and Serbian police and military in Kosovo were replaced by NATO officers as Kosovo became a United Nations-Administered region.

Despite declaring independence in 1990, Kosovo again declared independence in 2008. Despite Serbia's protests on the legality of this proclamation, international courts determined it to be legal and many countries recognized Kosovo's independence, although Serbia still contests this declaration.

This page was last updated: March, 2013