In Memory of the Victims of Chameria

Mithat Gashi

Today we commemorate the last act of genocide against the ethnic Albanians of Chameria by Greece.
The Chams have a legal right to return back to their home. Why?
The London Conference of Ambassadors (1912-1913) divided Albania in half: Chameria, the southern part of Albania, was given to Greece and Kosova to Serbia. The population of Chameria has always been ethnically Albanian. According to the census held by the Turkish Administration in 1910, Chameria was populated by Albanians. The Ottoman Census of 1912 about Chameria illustrates the following: There are five major regions within Chameria. Gumenitza (with 10,126 Albanians) Filati (22,348 Albanians), Paramithia (13,780 Albanians), Margariti (15,732 Albanians), Parga (800 Albanians). The total number of people in these territories, the census states, was 71,983. Out of this population 62,786 were Albanians. The rest were Greeks and some Jews.

The Greek historian Herodotus in his book Historia recognizes that Albanians, not Greeks, lived in the territory we call today Chameria.

Since its occupation of Chameria in 1912-1913, the Greek government has utilized every effort to expel the Albanian population from Chameria. There were three phases of compulsory expulsions. The first was the period when the Ottoman Turks retreated from the Balkans in 1912. The second phase of expulsions took place after the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, in which Greece and Turkey agreed to the largest single compulsory exchange of populations known to that time. Under this agreement, Greece forced thousands of Albanian Muslims from Chameria to go to Turkey. Turkey accepted them as Muslims, not as Albanians.

When the Convention for the exchange of Greek and Turkish populations was signed at Lausanne on the 30th January, 1923, “the Greek delegate had declared that Greece had no intention to proceed with an exchange of Moslems of Albanian origin who inhabited a district well defined….” [1] The Greek leaders and diplomats reaffirmed this statement by a letter sent to the League of Nations on August 6, 1923. [2] But the reality was different. The Greek authorities used many methods of coercion to force the ethnic Albanians out of their homeland. Aside from various oppressions, the Greek authorities passed a law that all landed property would be expropriated. The land was the source of income for the Chams. [3]
Before the Council on the League of Nations, Mr. M. Blinishti, Chief of the Permanent Albanian Secretariat accredited to Geneva, said that the “property of Moslem Albanians was confiscated, their harvest was requisitioned, they were prohibited from sowing their corn or from selling or letting their property to forestall its expropriation, Greek refugees [from Turkey] were installed in their houses, and their right to vote was suppressed.” [4]

Furthermore, British historian J. Swire noted that Mr. Blinishti begged that the League should constitute a special Commission to investigate the case of the Moslem Albanians, but this proposal was opposed by the Greek representative, M. Caclamanos. The Greek representative contended that the League would act beyond its power in doing so. “No state,” wrote M. Blinishti, “has the right to drive out autochthonous inhabitants from its territory like a herd of cattle.” [5]

The third phase of expulsion took place at the end of the Second World War. Special military forces organized by the Greek government massacred thousands of Chams and forced them to go to Albania.

Seventy-three years ago, on June 27, 1944, Greek criminal bands resorted to the worst atrocities witnessed in this region. The Albanian parliament passed a law in 1994, designating June 27th as a date for commemorating the “Genocide of the Chams.” June 27th is described as the last act of genocide against the ethnic Albanians of Chameria. The cruelty included rapes, cutting different body parts, the nose, ear, etc. Even pregnant women and babies were massacred. On June 27, 1944, within 24 hours, more than 600 men, women, and children were massacred in a town called Paramithia. From June 1944 to March, 1945, 1286 people were killed in the town of Filat. 626 people were massacred in Margellic and Parga and 192 were killed in Gumenica. In total, 2900 men, 214 women, 96 children were killed. 745 women were raped. 32 children, who were less than 3 years of age, were massacred. 68 villages of Chameria were razed to the ground. 5800 houses and places of worship were burned down. Valuable property that belonged to the Chams was confiscated. [6]

Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr maintain that the most serious of all human rights abuses is genocide, an active state behavior that threatens the personal security of a target population. [7] Michael Stohl and George Lopez further advance the argument that governmental pattern of repressive actions, such as imprisonment, torture, or murder by governments, conducted either arbitrarily or for political purposes is a form of active state behavior that leads people to perceive a threat to their personal security. [8]

The Greek officials have not denied the fact that they have expelled tens of thousands of Chams to Albania as WWII was ending. The Greeks use as an argument an accusation -simply a fabricated invention- that the reason they expelled Chams from their homes is because according to the Greeks, the Chams collaborated with the Nazis and Italian occupiers. The Greek contention is false. For the argument’s sake, even if it were true that some Chams collaborated with the Italians and the Germans, should this reason be used as a justification of the actions that the Greek authorities undertook to expel tens of thousands of people? And should the same line of thinking be used in the 21st Century to prevent the Chams from returning to their home?

Today, there are over 200.000 Chams in Albania. The Cham refugees and their descendants wish to return to their ancestral homeland. The concept of the right to return home in article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration [9] is specific about those people who have been denationalized or expelled from their own homeland. It states that “everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. The most universal provision on the right to return is codified in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” [10]

Another organization, the Human Rights Watch, has continually supported the right of refugees to return to their own homes. Most of the Chams who initially fled the territory are dying of old age. Should their descendants claim the right to return? Human Rights Watch maintains that the “right [to return is] held not only by those who fled the territory, but also by their descendants, so long as they have maintained appropriate links with the relevant territory.” [11] In light of what we examined, we can state that the voluntary return or re-establishment is a reflection of relevant rules of customary international law.

The Orthodox Albanian population that remained in Chameria does not have the right to declare their nationality for fear of being imprisoned. The Greek authorities have continually denied the existence of ethnic minorities in Greece.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights article 13 reaffirms the right of every individual to leave and return to their homes and that the right of return is a human right;

It is troubling that various Greek government officials over the years have made it clear to Albanian politicians -that the compensation for the Cham’s seized property or the right of return are unacceptable and off any agenda of talks.

We call upon the International Community, the United States Government and the United Nations to intervene and put pressure on the Greek Officials to start negotiating the return of the Cham refugees and the compensation of their seized properties. It is in the interest of peace and stability in the region to engage in serious dialogue and negotiations. The Greek government should treat the Chams as Albania treats its Greek minority in the southern part of Albania. That is the right thing to do.

ENDNOTES

  1. Swire. Albania. The Rise of a Kingdom. New York: Arno Press, p. 415
  2. Swire. Albania. The Rise of a Kingdom. New York: Arno Press, 1971, p. 22.
  3. 416
  4. See Dokumente per Camerine. Drejtoria e Pergjithshme e Arkivave. Tirane, 1999, p. 222.
  5. Harff, Barbara and Ted Robert Gurr.1998. “Systematic Early Warning of Humaniarian Emergencies.”  Journal of Peace Research 35(5): 551-579.
  6. Stohl, Michael and Geroge Lopez, eds. The State as Terrorist: The Dynamics of Governmetn Violence and Repression. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 22.
  7. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13 (2).
  8. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 12(4).
  9. http://pantheon.hrw.org/legacy/campaigns/israel/return/

 

 

One Response to “In Memory of the Victims of Chameria”

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  1. Ermira Lami says:

    Excellent article. I am glad that the author does not only focus on commemorating the victims. He makes a legal case for the right of the Chams to return. Glad to see a Kosovar defend the Chams!

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