75 years later, the memory of Chameria is alive and powerful

Nga Ruben Avxhiu

75 years ago, the World War II gave the chauvinist forces in Greece another chance to complete their ethnic cleansing of Chameria, a traditionally Albanian inhabited region.
A paramilitary operation led by a notorious Nazi collaborator, General Zervas forcibly removed from their homes dozens of thousands of Chameria Albanians, also known as Chams. In the process more than 4,700 people were killed or died, many of them women and children, all of them defenseless civilians.
Three quarters of a century later, Greece has still to confront its past and acknowledge the tragedy that befell on the people of Chameria. General Zervas is still hailed as a hero. The massacres of civilians is justified with allegations that Cham Albanians collaborated with the Nazis. And Chams and their descendants are still banned from visiting their ancient homeland and the houses of their forefathers.
The Chams of course did not collaborate with the Nazis. The list of those who joined the resistance is as long as that of their Greek neighbors. It’s ironic that the actual collaborator, the Greek general Zervas is treated as a hero while his victims as Nazi collaborators.
The fact that many of the victims were children less than 10 years old is lost among the Greek apologists of this crime against the humanity.
On June 29th, on the 75th anniversary of Chameria massacres, survivors and Albanian-American activists gathered for a protest rally in front of the Greek Consulate in Manhattan.
They demanded that Greece recognizes their tragedy and condemn the perpetrators. “We Want Justice, Not Revenge” was their main slogan.
Led by Marko Kepi, the President of the Albanian Roots organization and Sali Bollati a survivor of the ethnic cleansing and the massacres of Chameria, the Albanian-American crowd chanted slogans about justice, human rights and dignity, and called out the cowardly and shameless position of Greece, a member of the European Union, on this matter. Instead of leading by example, in our region, in the Balkans, Greece has glorified a criminal activity from the past.
The Greek consulate and the UN Mission of Greece in New York responded by organizing a fake counter rally, by a retired Greek immigrant and his family, on behalf of a practically non-existing association. With props that they afterwards took inside the consulate buildings they pretended to present alternative facts.
They also chanted “USA, USA”, maybe to give the impression that the Albanian-American rally was somehow anti-American. The Albanians of course dropped their slogans and began to chant “USA, USA” too. For a while the two groups continued to chant “USA! USA!” to each-other.
In the end the “Greek protesters” went inside the Consulate building together with their rally props. Protesting in front of foreign diplomatic representations is an old American tradition. Greece is no doubt a rare exception in which diplomats get involved in counter-protesting.
The intention of the rally however was not to make the case to the passerby public, but to remind Greece that their effort to sweep the memory of Chameria under the carpet has failed. The memory of tragedy is alive and a new generation of the descendant of survivors will keep the cause alive.
They want Greece to do the right thing and denounce Zervas, a war criminal and recognize the tragedy of Chams who were after all Greek citizens, despite of a different ethnicity. Until then, the shame of what happened will be not just on Zervas and his Nazi-collaborating thugs but on Greece, as a nation.
The Albanian Roots dedicated this year, their annual parade in New York City, to the issue of Chameria. Meanwhile thousands of people, in Albania, participated in the annual march towards the border, where in 1944-1945, the predecessors of today’s Golden Dawn violently expelled thousands of civilians because they happened to have the wrong ethnicity. We shall never forget!