Cham AlbaniansThough today divided between Greece and Albania, the Epirus region of the Balkan peninsula has been ethnically Albanian since the ancient times. During the Conference of Ambassadors in London in 1913, the southern part of the region was cut off from the motherland and annexed to the Greek state despite the fact that people of the southern Epirus were Albanians of Orthodox and the Muslim faith. While the orthodox Albanians were targets of hellenization, the muslim Albanians were either exterminated or expelled from their ancestral lands by the Greek government.
The muslim Albanians or Chams who lived in Southern Epirus (Chameria or Thesprotia as it is called by the Greeks) were the victims of the first ethnic cleansing in Europe at the end of the Second World War. The Cham tragedy is one of the most painful tragedies of the European continent. Statistical yearbook of the Greek government in 1936 showed that 26.000 Chams lived in Chameria region in Greece at that time. As a result of the 1944-1945 ethnic cleansing and genocide, 30.000 Albanian Muslims were violently expelled from the Chameria region, and sought refuge in the Republic of Albania, where they still live. Today, there are 150.000 members of this population in Albania, a figure that has grown because of the high birth rate of the population. On the other hand, current number of Cham Albanians living in Greece is estimated at around 100.000. Yet these people are deprived of every sort of minority rights like other minorities living in Greece. To cite but one example, they can speak Albanian only in their homes.
The population of Chameria has always been ethnically Albanian :
- A lot of voyagers and foreign historians wrote that Chameria had been populated by Albanians. Even the Greek historian Herodotus underscored this fact in his book “Historia” and called Albanians of the Chameria “barbarians”, a term used by the ancient Greeks to distinguish non-greek people.
- The census held by the Turkish Administration in 1910 established that there were 83.000 orthodox and muslim Albanians in the region. The demographic map of the British military mission sent to the British government in London indicates that on the eve of the second World War, %75 of Chameria's population was Albanian.
- The pro-Greek historian Spiro Muselimi, in his book “Historical Sight Through Thesprotia”, edited in Joannina on 1974, wrote that “The bishop of Thesprotia in the year 1870 translated some parts of Bible into Albanian, as the people of orthodox faith of the region did not understand any word in Greek”.
The Greek authorities, sticking to the concept of absolute denial of the existence of ethnic groups on Greek territory, have followed a well-established chauvinistic policy and, as history recorded, they committed genocide against the Albanians of muslim faith.
The racial assault on Chameria’s muslim Albanians began to be first applied at the end of the Second World War, in 1944-1945, when criminal bands of the notorious General Napoleon Zervas perpetrated ethnic cleansing against them.
On June 27, 1944, Greek criminal bands resorted to the worst atrocities witnessed in this region. The terror committed against this population was beyond description. It included killings, rapes, inhuman treatment, massacre of women, babies and pregnant women. More than 1400 men, women and children were killed within 24 hours in the town of Paramithy, on Tuesday, June 27, 1944, which happened to be the date of St.Bartholomeus day for the whole Chameria.
During the June 1944-March 1945 period, 1286 persons were killed in Filat, 192 people were killed in Gumenica, 626 persons were killed in Margellic and Parga. There were hundreds of other missing persons. In the same period, as a result of Greek massacres, acts of robbery and rapes against the Albanian population of Chameria; 2900 young and old men, 214 women, 96 children were massacred, 745 women were raped, 76 women abducted, 32 children, younger than 3 years were massacred, 68 villages were razed to the ground, 5800 houses and places of worship were burned down or destroyed. Furthermore, 30.000 Albanian Muslims were violently expelled from the Chameria region who took refuge in the Republic of Albania.
The Albanian government, after the war, took the Cham issue to the Peace Conference in Paris. The conference of Foreign Ministers of the Allied Powers not only recognized the very difficult circumstances the Chams were subjected to, but also demanded repatriation and recovery of their property.
The International Investigation Commission of the United Nations, appointed for the verification of the tragedy on both sides of the border, concluded its report in 1946-1947, replete with facts and evidence about the massacre and painful tragedy of the Cham people.
Realities of the recent history of Chameria require the attention of the international community. Greece cannot avoid but recognize the genocide of the "Cham Albanians." The civil and legal rights of those currently living in Greece, estimated around 100.000 today, must be respected by Greece.
According to the official Greek stand, the muslim population of Chameria, which numbers around 150.000 and still refugees in Albania will never be allowed to return to Greece because they allegedly collaborated with the German occupiers during the Second World War. “They are considered as war criminals according to the Greek laws” (K.Mitsotakis, Tirana, May 1992).
This “hypothesis” is untrue and fabricated. To consider a whole community as “criminals”, many members of which died in Greece’s liberation struggle in the Second World War, is a political and historical crime against Cham Albanians.
In 1994, the Parliament of the Albanian Republic proclaimed 27 June 1944 as the commemoration day for the massacred Albanians of Chameria, and a monument was built up in Konispol in memory of the victims of Chameria.
After 1945, with a view to changing the demographic structure of Chameria, its colonization with Greeks, Aromens and Gypsies was begun. Greece wanted the demographic structure of the province changed because it did not trust the rest of the Albanian population who remained there, even though they were of the Orthodox confession. Greece violently put an end to every attempt to preserve the identity of the Albanian population of the Orthodox belief and Albanian was prohibited to be spoken in public. Thereby, the assimilation of orthodox Albanians gained momentum. The fate of the orthodox Albanians was not much different than that of their Muslim brothers when it came to maintaining their ethnic identity.