Today there exists an irrefutable body of documentation that proves the that the Greek crimes against Albanians of Chameria have not yet been addressed by the Greek society. From a legal view, there are distinguishing factors between the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”, and have concluded that generally ethnic cleansing, is a component of and a means to achieve genocide.
During World War II, the National Democratic Greek League (EDES) was one of the major resistance groups formed during the Axis occupation of Greece. Recently surfaced archival information from Greek, British and German sources relay that this group was closely working with both the British SOE and collaborating in secret with the Nazis.
Today, the Greek government continues to deny the genocide in Chameria and insinuate that the cleansing of Chameria was justified by fabricating history and rejecting the Cham claims, the Albanian community continues to insist upon its natural human rights. A lasting peace with Greece cannot be guaranteed without solving the issue of the Chams, who continue to seek a public apology and reparations as well as rights to live in their ancestral homes.
Most Greek publications about the crimes in Chameria are written from the official government viewpoint. What is a common characteristic almost is the undifferentiated identification of the overall Cham minority with the activities some of armed Chams. They characterize the Albanians more generally like, “semi-barbarian”, “inhumane” etc., which almost automatically justified the subsequent mass persecutions against the Chams – as well as the semi-formal motto “we should cut this dirty tumor at the roots”. (See Lagios in Fleischer, 1984)
Recent research has fortunately captured confessions through field interviews of EDES perpetrators of crimes against humanity toward the Albanian Chams of Epirus. They are captured in several journal articles and diaries by Spiros Tsoutsoumpis and Hagen Fleischer contributing to the body of research, but also shedding light on the crimes against humanity experienced by the Cham community in during 1941-1945. Today these war criminals are men living in Chameria whose ages range from 85 to 100 year-olds.
According to the interviews, some local EDES fighters admitted that they that followed Zervas and indicate that some disapproved of the brutal crimes against Chams. This is not a consolation for the Cham community after the fact, given that they managed to ethnically cleanse Chameria and never came forward to testify against these crimes. According to a publication by the Greek-American community in 1944:
“Zervas obtained British help….about one thousand Greeks rallied to Zervas, inspired by patriotism but certainly equally as much by gold. Zervas offered each trooper one pound sterIing in gold and an equal amount monthly for each soldier’s family. Zervas’ gold was a powerful lure, and his ranks swelled. His salary was sixteen gold pounds a month. By the fall of 1943, Zervas had approximately three thousand guerrillas, and the frustrated soldier-politician had an army dedicated in principle to the job of liberating Greece from the enemy, but equally determined to rid Greece of “Reds.”
Zervas’ Red-baiting propaganda campaign coincided with the Nazi line, and it was subsequently discovered that the members of EDES forces did cooperate with the Germans in attacks on the ELAS army. Immediately the civil war began in October 1943, the British stopped arms shipments to both ELAS and EDES. This didn’t stop the fighting. Zervas had the help of from 6,000 to 10,000 troops commanded by the Greek quisling, Rallis, armed by the Germans and known as “security battalions.” (Gervasi et al, 1944).
According to interviews given by EDES leaders to German historian Hagen Fleischer the clear hateful and subsequent cleansing of Chameria was premeditated. “Revenge was given in Paramithia. Green poison is coming out of the villagers mouths, green like their eyes, against the Chams. This time we will cleanse them if the EDES organization will not do so, we will expel them forever from our land.” In other diary notes the EDES leaders confirm that they intentionally used knives, “as we do not want to waste andartes bullets against Turks”.
Moreover, the interviews shed more light on the attitudes of EDES who had a general disregard for human life, and rising levels of violence whose foremost victims were civilians and prisoners. The men were either in their early twenties and displayed their masculinity by committing atrocities against innocent civilians, including men, women and children. To paint a more human picture of the war criminals an example is provided about EDES fighter Giannis Beratis, a veteran of the Italo-Grek war in his mid-30s, described some guerilla groups citing that ‘were very young, almost kids…thick beards…filled their young faces’ and they had a ‘rough behavior that they to emphasize the emancipation of men from often rigid patriarchal homes.” Vasilis Dokopoulos joined EDES in 1943. Before enlisting, he was a shepherd for his father’s flock and lived with his extended family in the village of Dovla. Dokopoulos described himself as ‘a bit crazy’. He had a taste for adventure and used to provide for a group of local outlaws.” The horrific confessions continue. “Some men even picked up trophies such as ears, noses or heads, which were often exhibited publicly” (Tsoutsoumpis, 2016).
Although confessed in the third person or as general statements, these narratives of the EDES fighters modus-operandi illustrate that the men had indiscriminately committed crimes and went on to live their lives as perpetrators of these horrendous crimes, undisturbed by the Greek government.
Moreover, they confess that the killing of prisoners was very common. Often they would be murdered by men who wanted to avenge the death of a comrade. “EDES fighter Spiros Karabinas, after learning of his brother’s death, burst into a guerrilla field hospital and shot a number of wounded Italians who were being treated there.” In Chameria, the EDES guerrillas admitted that they “mutilated the bodies of Italian soldiers and Albanians, stripping the corpses naked, mutilating them and cutting off their genitals.”
According witness testimonies of the survivors of Chameria this narrative is consistent with the above.
Statement by Fatime Pronjo in Delvina on February 26, 1947
“Zervist soldiers entered Paramithia on June 27, 1944 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Zervist soldier Kotsos Komas from Paramithia took my husband Veli, 68, and stabbed him and slaughtered him. On Thursday, the Zervist soldiers came to take my daughter Shuqurana, but I rescued her by giving them all the money I had, nearly thirty million drachmas, a two half gold sovereigns, and a pair of gold earrings, as well as other precious items. Zervist Dhimo Pasko and his son Sotir Pasko from Paramithia took my son Abedin, 19, and killed him inside our house. I still keep a bundle of his hair with the scalp in my pocket as a memory. Zervist soldiers beat my little son Pronjo to death and as I wanted to protect him I was barbarically beaten as well. I request that the UN commission go to the site to investigate these horrific events.”
Several of the EDES war criminals names that are included in similar documents include:
- Myridakis, Mihalis
- Pyromaglou, Komninos
- Houtas, Stylianos
- Nikolopoulos, Giannis·
- Agoros, Georgios
- Anastasopoulos Panagiotis
- Baloumis, Vasilios
- Bolossis Mihalis
- Colonel Aristidis Kranias
- Colonel Vasilis Kamaras
- Diamantis, Haris
- Dimitriou, Giorgos
- Dinos Barbas
- Dokopoulos Vasilis
- Dokos, Antonis
- Fotos Rafits
- Giannis, Kitsos
- Haliasos Evangelos
- Haliatsos Giannis
- Hristou Vasilis
- Karakitsos Thomas
- Kassaris, Dimos
- Katsos, Hristos
- Koma, Kotsio
- Kotsios Markos
- Kotsios Mpazakos
- Kotsios Nikolas,
- Koutoupis Andreas
- Koutoupis, Tsilis
- Mavroudis, Hristos
- Naskas Ioannis
- Nassios, Ilias
- Paschos, Dimos
- Paschos, Gakis
- Paschos, Sotirios
- Popovo, Tsilis
- Poulos, Gakis,
- Strougaris, Elefterios
- Vasiliou Ioannis
- Vitos, Theodoris
What makes the crimes of the Greek government premeditated, and British funded, with EDES militias ethnic cleansing, are the systematic exterminations, violence, pressures, policies and legal measures by the Greek State against Cham Albanians since the annexation of Chameria in 1913. Between 1913 and 1945, the Greek State positioned the Cham Albanians of both religions in a bind, where they had to take sides in the conflict.
The Cham’s Cleansing Vindicated by the Interior Ministry
A few years after the mass expulsion of Chams, Nikolaos Bakopoulos, the Interior Minister of Greece praises Major Lagios on the foreword of a book published by the latter which attempted to justify the official Greek internal policies and stances against Albanians and their “propaganda”.
In his nationalistic diatribe, Lagios attempts to paint Albanian people as sub-human and not deserving to be alive in Greece. “It is not sure if their physical structure and voice were human…It is not excluded that they may have had four legs and their nature still is wild and beastly”. The author unleashes his hate in this book by writing “One thing is for sure: that the Albanians and the word thief are synonymous”. (Lagios, 1951)
The same thought is emulated by the Orthodox Bishop Dorotheos of Paramithia who participated in the crimes in Chameria. On a facsimile of a local circular to the clergy, he refers to the Albanians of Chameria in similar less than endearing terms. Dorotheos calls them as “looters”, he justifies this claim by stating that the word “loot” pliatsiko in Greek has entered in the Greek vocabulary from the Albanian word for loot “plaçkë”. (Miserable Epirus, 1945)
Why was this hate being spread by the Greek Church? We come to find that documents by the British Foreign Office paint that Dorotheos found himself literally as the looter.
According to a report of British Major David J. Wallace, the lynchpin of the looting was lead by the local Majesty himself:
“The local andartes of the 28th Regiment of the 10 Division indulged in an orgy of revenge, looting and deliberate destruction of everything…The bishop of Paramythia joined in the searching of houses for booty and came out of one house to find his already heavily-laden mule had been meanwhile stripped by some andartes”.
In any event, the Greek Orthodox Church and several other bishops like Dorotheos are accountable for inciting hatred of this degree. To the Cham community, Dorotheos is accountable, not only for his full participation in the Chamerian genocide, but also for his utter silence in the heinous crime of the atrocious slaughter of his civilian townspeople.
The Greek presidents’ official narrative has always been that only the Chams of Muslim faith can be considered as deserving of their treatment by the EDES general, Napoleon Zervas as a closed issue. The reality on the ground is that Chams of both religious confessions, both found themselves as victims of “nation-building” policies or programs as some modern scholars prefer to call them.
In a later article we will see how both EDES and the Greek Orthodox Church were complicit in committing massacres against Cham Orthodox civilians during WWII. They have been meddling in the affairs of Albania even before 1944, and is still continuing to do so to this day.
Some open questions remain:
- Does this new material show a form of repentance on the EDES soldiers’ part?
- When will the Greek government accept these crimes publicly apologize?
- Other than a public apology, what will signify a true closure on the Cham community’s wounds?
Back in Southeastern Europe, we see that the EU project is vanishing the aspirations of Albania, failing to calm Balkan nationalist fervors, and it has had an unintended effect of actually increasing right wing and anti-immigrant sentiments and more hard-line nationalist stances.
The Cham Albanian community position has always been that they want retribution and full condemnation of the crimes that occurred in this period. To this end, the community of scholars and civil society can meaningfully contribute in this process.
Tsoutsoumpis, Spiros. (2012) Irregular warfare in occupied Greece 1941-1944: masculinity and morale in the British Special Operations Executive and the Greek Resistance.
Tsoutsoumpis, Spiros. (2016) A history of the Greek resistance in the Second World War.
Gervasi, Frank, Morfopoulos, Panos, Steel, Johannes, Sergio, Lisa, Stowe, Leland. (1944) Greek Liberation
Lagios, Vasilios. (1951) Albanians and Albanian propaganda (1939-1944): from the viewpoint of the Greek Gendarmerie.
Stevens, John Melior, Woodhouse, Christopher Montague, Wallace, David John (1982). British Reports on Greece 1943-1944 (p.158)
Papamanolis, Thomas. (1945) Μiserable Epirus: 1941-1944.
Identified Victims of the Chameria Genocide: