By Sali BOLLATI*/
The Albanian Region of Chameria comprises the Southern part of the Albanian ethnic territories, inhabited by Albanians since the ancient times (Pellasgo-Illyrian times) until today. Even the ancient historians Straboni and Plutarch wrote that the inhabitants of Epir-Chameria spoke a “barbarian” language, because their mother tongue wasn’t Greek. The Cham dialect is one of the oldest of the Albanian language. The Chams (both Muslim and Christian believers) are ethnic Albanians in the area of north-western of present-day Greece known to the Albanians as Chameria and to Greeks as Thesprotia. The name Cham comes from the antic Thamis-Chams river (now Kalama) that flows through central Chameria. Historically, the Chams had to struggle to save their unique Albanian ethnic identity. Fr the creation of the new state of Greece in 1821-1832, the majority of leaders and heroes of the Greek uprising were Albanians-Chams and Arvanites. In spite of the fact that the Congress of Berlin in 1878 revoked its earlier decision to give the Chameria region to Greece, the London Conference in 1913 decided for the partitioning the Albanian territories leaving outside of the new-born Albanian state more than half of Albanian lands and population; that included Kosova, Chameria, etc. Immediately, after the occupation of Chameria by the Greek Army in March 1913 (three months after the declaration of the Albanian independence), the Greek authorities started atrocities against Albanians., for example, in early March, 72 notables leaders of Chameria were executed by Greek Army on the banks of Selani river, near Paramithia. In this manner, applying a policy of genocide and assimilation, Greece did everything within her powers to wipe out the Albanian population of Chameria. It didn’t permit the opening of the schools in their mother tongue, destroyed their mosques and worship places. Athens pursued an unchanged policy towards Chameria, a policy that aimed at the ethnic cleansing of the Albanians from their own territory. The Albanian population of Chameria is comprised of both Christian and Moslem believers, who use Albanian language at home. In reality the Greek government denies the existence of this in particular for Christian Chams. The Greek historian Spiro Muselimi in his book ”A historic journey through Thesprotia”, edited in Ioannina in 1974, quoted as follows: “In the year of 1877, the Bishop of the Orthodox Church of Thesprotia had to translate the New Testament in Albanian language, because the Christian Chams did not understand what was predicated during masses in Greek language”. In the same book, it is also written that in 1910 all Orthodox and Moslem inhabitants of Chameria spoke only Albanian. Starting on 27 June 1944, ruthless gangs headed by Greek General Napoleon Zerva (himslef a Cham of orthodox faith, who collaborated with the German Army and fascist Mihajlloviç of Serbia) massacred and killed more than 2900 innocent Cham women, children and elderly and expelled to inner Albania more than 30000 Chams, of whom more than 2000 died from hunger. A document of the U.S Department of State Nr. 84/3, Tirana Mission, 1945-1946, reports that: “According to all information I have been able to gather on the Cham Issue, in 1944 and during the first months of 1945, the Greek authorities in north-western Greece perpetrated savage brutality by evicting 25000 Chams, residents of Chameria, from their homes, where they had been living for centuries, chasing them cross the border after having robbed them of their land and properties. Most of the young people were killed because the majority of the refugees were old folk and children”. The British official in the British Mission in Albania, Major Palmer, in his investigations tried to highlight the motives of those massacres by giving an interesting explanation which was closer to the truth. He reported to his superiors that “…the region of where Albanian minority lived was rich. And there were feelings of hatred and envy from Greeks toward Chams”. For those Chams of orthodox faith who remained in Greece after 1945, their Albanian identity was suppressed by a harsh repressive policy of assimilation and the Albanian language was not allowed to be spoken in public, nor taught at schools. Greece wanted the demographic structure of the region changed because it did not trust the rest of the Albanian population who remained there, even though they were of the orthodox faith. As an estimation, more than 60’000 Christian Orthodox Albanians live today in Chameria region. The atrocities that took place against the Moslem Albanian population and those orthodox Albanians who had the Albanian identity first are not mentioned in any official documents. Those are absent even from confidential documents exchanged between the administrative bodies themselves. This does not only demonstrate that the Cham issue is intentionally a closed case for the Greek state but it also suggests that the Greek state has tried to completely eradicate any evidence of what had happened during that period. Following their expulsion from Greece to Albania, chams first were organized under the direction of the Cham Anti-Fascist Committee. They protested and sent memorandums to Soviet, British, American and French Military Missions in Albania, to the Allied Foreign Ministers Conference in London (September 1945) and to UN Assembly in New York (October 1946), trying to exhibit the plight of Cham refuges through the following demands:
1. Trial and condemnation of all of those who were responsible for the crimes they had perpetrated. 2. Adoption of immediate measures to halt the settlement of aliens in their native land. 3. Repatriation of all the Chams. 4. Restitution of their property and remuneration of damage in liquid and fixed capital. 5. Assistance to rebuild their homes and resettlement. 6. Safeguards and guaranteed emanation from the international treaties and mandates, such as guaranteed civil, political, cultural rights and personal safety. Unfortunately, these demands were never answered, except that USA allocated 1.2 million dollars from UNRRA specifically towards Cham refugees. The Cham Issue laid dormant until 1990. After the collapse of communism in Albania in 1991, a series of events took place: In January 1991, it was founded in Tirana the Chameria National Political Association to express and defend the interests of the people of Chameria. In June 1994, the Albanian government passed the law Nr.7839 in Parliament, proclaiming the 27 June 1944 as “The Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against Albanians of Chameria”. The Fourth General Assembly of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in Hague 1995 passed the following Resolution: “Relating to the Right Solution to the Problems of the Cham Demands that the Greek Government must Recognize the Historical Realty of the Chams’ Problem and work seriously to give it a right and full solution”. In June 2002, at a meeting about the Greek terrorism, US Congressman Christopher H. Smith declared that “there exists in Greece Albanian and Macedonian Minorities”. In November 2010, the Albanian American Organization Chameria (AAOC) organized an International Conference on Human Rights for Chameria at New Jersey University. In July 2012, Columbia University with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington organized a conference in Tirana on “The Albanian Neighbourhood Initiative”, where AAOC presented its views. On 23 October 2012, AAOC together with the United Macedonian Diaspora organized in the Department of State in Washington DC a Debate on “The Rise of Extremism in Greece and its Impact on Minorities”. On 10 December 2012, a Petition entitled “Greece must Respect the Human Rights for Cham-Albanians” was delivered to Navy Pillay, the High Commissioner of the UN for Human Rights. Recently, AOC sent a Memorandum to different world institutions with concerns on Albanian-Greek relations today. Even today, the Chams issue is not mentioned on the statements of any Greek officials. On the other side, some Albanian politicians are some time supported by the Greek circles speak with low voice about Chameria legal rights. The Albanians in Chameria of the Christian orthodox faith are not recognized by “democratic” Greece and Chams born in Chameria and presently living in Albania are not allowed to enter Greece by Shengen visa. In December 2012, the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity (PDIU) presented the following Resolution for approval to the Albanian Parliament.
THE CHAM RESOLUTION
Pursuant to the Constitution of the Republic of Albania; Taking into consideration the purposes and principles of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, of the principle against collective punishment, as well as other relevant international acts; Referring to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, particularly articles 1.2.6, 9,13 and 15; General Assembly Resolution of the United Nations no. 4780 on “Ethnic Cleansing” and racial hatred; Article 1 of the supplemented Protocol no. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms; Pursuant to law nr. 7839, date 30.06.1994 “On the annunciation of the date 27th of June on the national calendar as a commemoration of the genocide made by the Greek chauvinist against the Albanians of Chameria”, enacted with the decree of the President of the Republic of Albania no. 885, date 12.7.1994. Under the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, Good Neighborliness and Security between Republic of Albania and the Republic of Greece (hereinafter referred as “The Treaty of Friendship”); According to article 15 and the whole text of the Treaty of Friendship, between the two countries, the spirit of international acts mentioned above, imposes the removal of barriers to the restoration of the rights of Albanians in the Republic of Greece through an appropriate legal framework for the whole prejudiced community rather than individual trial processes, 1. Recognizes and supports the restoration need of all the rights of Albanians of Chameria, former Greek nationals, according to the new circumstances, pursuant to the international legal principles on genocide, ethnic cleansing, and due process, non discrimination based on ethnicity, other relevant principles, and the spirit of the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries. 2. Claims the reinstatement of the fundamental rights of Albanian citizens, former Greek citizens, including the return of their property, acknowledgment of their repatriation rights, the right of regaining the citizenship, and other rights of national minorities. 3. Asks for the abrogation of the Greek Law of War nr. 2636 and 2637/1940, enacted through royal decree on 1940, still into force, especially the part of the law that provides for seizure of Albanian property. 4. Asks for the effects of the Greek law nr. 1540/1985 “On refugees” to extend to all Greek citizens that departed as a consequence of the civil conflict, without discrimination based on ethnic origins. A law that contradicts many international acts against discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion etc. 5. Asks the Government of the Republic of Albania that in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Greece, to reactivate the Bipartisan Special Commissions provided on the Treaty of Friendship, to examine the issue, to recognize its dimensions, and to work on the necessary solutions on the matter. 6. Charges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to safeguard the rights of Albanians, not deported from their original land, and to demand the recognition of ethnic minority status for them. 7. Demands the construction of two monuments in Paramithia and Filates to commemorate women, the elderly and children, innocent victims of crimes perpetrated by the Greek militia. 8. Demands the option to construct or maintain cemeteries of Chams, former Greek citizens, killed during the Greek genocide. 9. Charges the Ministry of Education and Science to reflect in an adequate and proportional manner the history of this part of the Albanian population in school textbooks. 10. Charges the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and Sports to, according to the mutual agreement with the counterpart Ministry of the Republic of Greece, promote their cultural values and objects located outside of the territory of the Republic of Albania. Also demands the Ministry of Education and Science to request its counterpart Greek Ministry to prompt removal of Greek texts of offensive and discriminatory nature against the Cham population. 11. Charges the Government of the Republic of Albania, in compliance with this Resolution, to express to the Greek authorities, through its diplomatic channels, the position of the Republic of Albania regarding this matter. 12. Charges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make known this Resolution to governments and parliaments of the member countries of the European Union and NATO, and to those international bodies of which Albania is a member. 13. Reserves the right that in case of a refusal from the Greek authorities to consider this matter under the light of international acts on discrimination, free movement, and fundamental human rights in general, to represent this matter to the relevant international agencies. We as a part of Cham Albanians living in the USA are organized under the Albanian American Organization Chameria (AAOC). Its purpose is to achieve an optimal and effective solution to the Cham Albanian human rights issues and strengthening the friendship ties between Americans and Cham Albanians. We ask for justice via the American democratic standards of citizenship for they return and resettlement into Chameria. AAOC is determined to promote social justice, tolerance and achieve resolution for the Cham Issue. The only hope for us as Chams is the American citizenship. We are very proud to live here and we were free to march on the Fifth Ave in Manhattan unfolding the truth: CHAMERIA IS ALBANIAN.
*Sali Bollati New York, April 2013 Survivor of the Genocide in 1944 Human Rights activist Secretary General of AAOC