By Sami Repishti/
Ridgefield, CT.- On November 4 and 5, the Honorable Karolos Papoulias, President of Greece, will be visiting Tirana, the capital of the Republic of Albania. The high Greek official is viewed as one the best Greek friends of the Albanians who helped the former Communist country come out of its self-imposed isolation., according to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini. Welcoming the initiative, the Greek newspaper wrote that “Mr. Papoulias enjoys great influence in the Albanian public opinion”.
I am confident that Mr. Papoulias will find a warm reception in Albania and a desire to advance the existing levels of public and private relations between the two countries, Albania and Greece. One wholeheartedly wishes that his visit will fulfill the expectations of both sides, by dispelling the clouds of harmful suspicions and the undesirable incredulity of the skeptics. However, the burning subject that generates these suspicions is, and remains, the unresolved “Chamerian problem”.
I leave “the political” aspect of “the problem” to the politicians, better prepared to solve it, (or mess it up!) and concentrate on “the moral aspect” which is at the root of the problem itself.
The difficulty presented in understanding the tragedy of the Chamerian people derives mainly from our inability to make people believe “the unbelievable”. The breadth and the intensity of Greek oppression, persecution and “final solution” methods are, indeed, “unbelievable”; they go beyond one’s ability to grasp their monstrosity. Therefore, they still remain unaccountable, not thoroughly explained, as they risk to be sidestepped by the unforgiveable march of time and a humanity fatigued of the tragic events of our era.
While there is never a justification per atrocities, there is an explanation for this unfortunate phenomenon: the years of WW2 and the ensuing destruction brought upon the victimized Greek population by the “Greek Civil War” that lasted until the Summer of 1949. It was a war caused by the Communist-inspired resistance movement. The final results were more blood and tears. The normal sensitivity of the local population was numbed by the view of atrocities occurring daily. It’s in the midst of these hellish days that Moslem Chamerians, Greek citizens of Albanian nationality, were wiped out or forcefully expelled to Albania in 1944 and 1945.
The surviving Chamerian victims never recovered; the Greek perpetrators never accepted the responsibility for it, nor attempted to apologize and compensate the victims…! That’s is immoral! Today, Greek governments claim that there is no “Chamerian problem”. There are, however, tens of thousands of “spared” Christian Chamerians still living in Greece. Having been denied all national minority rights, they are heading for a complete forced assimilation, due mainly to the pressure exercised by the Greek Orthodox Church. To fight this unfortunate and unforgiveable state of affairs, to dispel the clouds of neglect and forgetfulness is, and should remain for us, a first priority.
From a historian’s point of view it means that we should uncover and collect all evidence available piece by piece, every document possible related to the Chamerian tragedy, interview every witness, and make them public for everyone to see. Let there be light! For the simple reasons of clarity and justification, we should include them in the context of their days and years the tragic events took place. All this in an honest effort to bring about “the truth and only the truth”.
“Truth” brings light; light creates a new world from the existing darkness and chaos. And, in this new enlightened world good willed people, may see and judge. Even the governments oftentimes listen to the voices of reason, and engage in dialogue and conflict resolutions which eventually end up in reconciliation.
The spirit of reconciliation is what the victims of the Chamerian tragedy seek and hope to achieve! We must bring back friendship and cooperation!
From the human rights point of view, the Chamerian tragedy and its denial with impunity by the Greek perpetrators is what Professor Samantha Powers, formerly of Harvard University, and now the US Ambassador to the United Nations, would aptly calls “a problem from hell”. Speaking about the Bosnian tragedy (1991-95) the former US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, explained: “It’s really a tragic problem. The hatred between the (national and religious) groups is almost unbelievable. It’s almost terrifying, and it’s centuries old. That’s really a problem from hell”.
That’s the Chamerian problem, too! Policy makers knew about the crimes, who did them and why, and remained silent. We knew for a long time and remained silent, shameful by-standers while the atrocities were being denied. One main reason is that “our” Heads of State never saw the Chamerian tragedy as a priority problem in their political calculations; they never questioned, or accused the perpetrators, or tried to break that silence. We, too, all of us, are guilty by association…! And today, Albania still lacks a strong and effective civil society.
The Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who lost 41 members of his family during the Holocaust years, puts it: ”It’s a crime to kill a man, but it is not a crime for the oppressor to kill more than a million people. That’s inconsistent!” In Albania, such an attitude was reinforced by the fact that in that country it was never revealed the full scale of the Communist regime’s madness –even as of this day. In Albania, people became immune to suffering, almost insensitive to blood and tear after 45 long years of a Stalinist dictatorship of the worst kind. In addition, the Communist dictator Enver Hoxha removed Chamerian refugees from their refugee camps where they were assisted by the U.N.R.R.A., dispersed them all over Albania, summarily and arbitrarily removed their Greek citizenship in 1953, thus crippling their chances to return to their homes, and after 1959 initiated a relentless persecution of their leaders, killing many of them.
When the Convention on Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly, on December 11, 1946, the term “genocide” was defined as “…the denial to the right of existence of entire human groups…(which) shocks the conscience of humanity”. It was only two years after the catastrophe in Chameria. Almost nobody said a word, raised a finger, or brought the painful subject to the attention of various foreign governments, or to the United Nations. The Albanian Communist Government was shamefully involved in dispersing the Chamerian refugees all over Albania, too busy in exterminating “the enemies of the people” and obediently serving Yugoslavia’s Tito interests in the war -ravaged Greece, as well…!
Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide (June 12,1948) defines “genocide” as “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such:
(a) killing members of the group;
(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) deliberately afflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about, its physical destruction in whole and in part….”
These definitions apply to Chamerian tragedy that took place under extra-judicial conditions. It was the physical destruction of ALL Moslem Chamerians.
In Albania, we know the experience; we have lived it. Similar methods, but within “a simulated judicial framework” were applied by the Communist Government in Albania against some religious and opponent groups. The almost total destruction of the Albanian Catholic clergy is a blatant example of a Government’s intention to physically annihilate it. To a large extent, the nefarious phenomenon can also be applied to the frightful persecution of the nascent Albanian intellectual class educated in the Western countries, the first real hope for a democratic transformation of that country.
Chamerians were massacred by Greek Army regulars and irregular gangs of bandits, ordinary criminals, not for what they did, or had done, but because of what “they were”, “undesirable co-nationals” “Moslem Chamerians earmarked for extinction”. (To a large extent, the same holds also true for the Macedonians of Aegeus and the Jews of Greece).
The UN Convention holds responsible governments for attacking “internal” enemies, in “peacetime or wartime”. “Genocide can never be the exclusive internal concern of any country; wherever it occurs, it must be the concern of the entire civilized world”, wrote The Washington Post of November 9,1946. Speaking before the U.S. Senate, the Hon. U.S. Senator William Proxmire solemnly declared:” Our responsibility grows awesomely with the death of each innocent human life”, and warns us :” They are the most lethal pair of foes for the human rights everywhere in the world: ignorance and indifference”(S.Powers,84).
We, Albanians, with a long history of outside occupiers and domestic oppressors should never allow these “lethal pair of foes” grow among us! We should work, study, explain and finally demand justice “until Hell freezes over!” and we should make public the incredible acts of official terror in Chameria with a credible evidence! That demands commitment and hard work.
That endeavor requires a mechanism as well. As a recent experience in New York City taught me, the opening of a dialogue between good willed elements on both sides –politicians excluded- is a first step. Two narratives, Greek and Albanian, mainly unknown by non-professionals, will introduce the subject for discussion. The contradictions, and the ensuing confrontation are unavoidable. As a matter of fact, they are welcome. Passion brings energy! Many taboos from both sides will fall, but many irrefutable facts will be accepted, explained, understood, and used to advance the cause of reconciliation. It’s a practice used in 1993, in Oslo, Norway, by the Israelis and the Palestinians with an initial success. It’s now being used by Turks and Armenians, and in spite of the difficulties encountered, a new atmosphere, calm and contained conversation have prevailed. Traditional enemies are now the subjects of a civilized dialogue. Yet, it will be hard to penetrate governments circles, and we should be aware of it.
Recent events indicate that the “Chamerian problem” is beginning to emerge. In the June 2013 elections, the political party representing the Chamerians in Albania ( now over 200.000) won five seats, for the first time. Yet, it remains a problem which requires a solution before it poisons the relationship of the two ancient neighbors, Albania and Greece.
Even worse, it may poison the minds and the hearts of the new and young generations on both sides. Therefore, it’s imperative to encourage an open dialogue, away from the hands of the politicians, and of the sensationalized mass media of both countries.——————
* I prefer the use of the term “Chamerians”,found in American diplomatic documents., rather than Chams. SR
(Note: The author is a human rights activist.)