In June 2019, the Albanian people commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Albanians of Chameria by Greece. Chameria is an Albanian territory that was occupied by Greece in 1912. Today, there are over 200.000 Chams in Albania. The Cham refugees and their descendants wish to return to their ancestral homeland from which they were uprooted in 1944-1945.
Seventy-five years ago, in 1944, Greek authorities resorted to the worst atrocities witnessed in this region. On June 27, 1944 more than 600 men, women, and children were massacred in a town called Paramithia. From June 1944 to March, 1945, 1286 people were killed in the town of Filat. 626 people were massacred in Margellic and Parga and 192 were killed in Gumenica. In total, 2900 men, 214 women, 96 children were killed. 745 women were raped. 32 children, who were less than 3 years of age, were massacred. 68 villages of Chameria were razed to the ground. 5800 houses and places of worship were burned down. Valuable property that belonged to the Chams was confiscated.
Chameria (Thesprotia as it is called by the Greeks) was population by Albanians since time immemorial. The Greek historian Herodotus in his book “Historia” recognizes that Albanians lived in the territory we call today Chameria. Lord Byron and John Hobhouse, the nineteenth century British travelers to that part of the world have written about the Cham population they encountered during their expeditions. Sir Charles Eliot, a British diplomat, wrote in 1884, “The inhabitants of the country around Janina and Preveza are known as Chams….”
Albania was a part of the Ottoman Empire until it declared its independence in 1912. However, the London Conference of Ambassadors (1912-1913) divided Albania in half: Chameria, the southern part of Albania, was given to Greece and Kosova to Serbia. The 1912 Ottoman Census about Chameria illustrates the following: There are five major regions within Chameria:
(1) Gumenitza (with 10,126 Albanians)
(2) Filati (22,348 Albanians)
(3) Paramithia (13,780 Albanians)
(4) Margariti (15,732 Albanians)
(5) Parga (800 Albanians).
The total number of people in these territories, the census states, was 71,983. Out of this population 62,786 were Albanians. The rest were Greeks and some Jews.
Since its occupation in 1912, the Greek authorities have utilized every effort to expel the Albanian population from Chameria. The first phase of systematic ethnic cleansing occurred between 1912-1914, right after the Ottoman soldiers retreated from the Balkans. The second phase of expulsions took place after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, in which Greece and Turkey agreed to the largest single compulsory exchange of populations known to that time. Under this agreement, Greece forced thousands of Albanian Muslims from Chameria to go to Turkey; their homes and land were confiscated and given to Greek refugees from Turkey.
The third phase of expulsion took place at the end of the Second World War. Special military forces organized by the Greek government massacred thousands of Chams and forced them to go to Albania between 1944-1945.
Today, there are over 200.000 Chams in Albania. The Cham refugees and their descendants wish to return to their ancestral homeland. The concept of the right to return home in article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration is specific about those people who have been denationalized or expelled from their own homeland. It states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. The most universal provision on the right to return is codified in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 13 reaffirms the right of every individual to leave and return to their homes and that the right of return is a human right.
We call upon the United States Government, the European Union, and the United Nations to intervene and put pressure on the Greek Officials to start negotiating the return of the Cham refugees and the compensation of their seized properties. It is in the interest of peace and stability in the region to engage in serious dialogue and negotiations. The Greek government should treat the Chams as Albania treats its Greek minority in the southern part of Albania. That’s the right thing to do.
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