Historical revisionism by the Greek Left, Western multi-culturalists, and Albanian Nationalists is rampant these days. The fate of the Albanian Chams is a case in point. The Chams were Muslim and Orthodox Christian Albanians that lived in the prefecture of Thesprotia, located in Northwestern Greece, in the province of Epirus. It is an area approximately 10,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 150,000. In 1913, this region was formally assigned to Greece. In 1923 the Chams were excluded from the 1923 Lausanne Treaty of Obligatory Exchange of population between Greece and Turkey, having been recognized as an ethnic Albanian minority. An international committee set out to redraw the boundaries of the new state of Albania. The committee's final decision left a portion of the Greek population within Albanian territory and, likewise, a portion of the Albanian population within Greek territory. The former region became known as Northern Epirus, while the latter region, home to approximately 20,000 Albanians, became henceforth known as Chameria (or Thesprotia in Greek).
The "minority question" was a concern for Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos, whose coup d'état took place on 1925. Pangalos considered himself a friend of Albania, spoke Albanian, and was proud of his half-Albanian origin. Under his regime, the two states moved decisively to normalize relations on a whole range of topics, from commercial relations to citizenship laws. Indeed, the two countries agreed on mutually accepted guidelines and regulations whose goal was to sort out who was Albanian and who was Greek. This was a vexing question because there was no clear-cut way of differentiating between the two. The two states established mutually accepted rules according to which people had to make a choice within a certain period with regard to their preferred citizenship.
Albanian-Greek relations took a negative turn in 1927, when the administration of the Greek Ministry of Agriculture realized the consequences of the original agreement regarding the compensation of land originally owned by Albanian landlords that had been expropriated by the Greek state. These Albanian land properties were estimated to be around one million stremmas (1 stremma = 0.10 hectares). The amount of money required for compensation was deemed exuberant and, consequently, the initial Greek-Albanian agreement was never ratified by the parliament. The resulting impasse led to a new round of Albanian complaints in 1928. The complaints raised two issues: the land question and the treatment of the Chams. With regard to the Chams, the Albanian government complained that the Greek government was persecuting the minority.
There was little evidence of direct state persecution, but the Albanians insisted that the Greek state open minority schools for the Chams, which the Greek side firmly opposed. Also, the Albanian government complained that the Chams' property was expropriated and given to Greek refugees from Anatolia. The Greek government replied that this was done in consultation with the local religious authorities of the Albanian community, and it concerned solely the necessity to find temporary accommodation for the refugees. Over time the list of complaints was extended to the Chams' effective denial of their right to get elected in local elections. The reports of a League of Nations committee and the reply by the Greek government reveal that part of the bone of contention concerned the change in the status of the local Albanian landlords. In Ottoman times, the overlords received revenues from neighboring villages. But the peasants refused to pay tribute after their land was occupied by the Greek state and in this case they "expropriated" what the Albanian overlords considered to be their property. In June 1928, the League of Nations turned down the Albanian petition against Greece. The compensation for land properties was not been paid until 1933; and when it was paid it fell short of Albanian expectations. As a result of these Greek-Albanian confrontations, the Chams were viewed with suspicion by the Greek state authorities and the Chams were disaffected.
During World War II, the Italians who occupied Albania in the post-1939 period encouraged the creation of a Greater Albania in an effort to attract Albanian support for their occupation. In fact, the Albanian government asked for the "unification" of Chameria, Kosovo, and western Macedonia into a single Albanian state. During the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers, the Italian government arranged to have Kosovo united with Albania. When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the Germans took over from the Italians and followed a similar policy of fostering Albanian independence and nationalism in Kosovo. They also armed close to 15,000 Kosovo Albanians and even recruited a Waffen SS Division known as the "Skanderberg Division." During the occupation of Greece by the Axis powers, the Albanian minority in Chameria campaigned for the annexation of the region into the Albanian state and enrolled in armed units sponsored by the Italians. Armed Chams joined the German forces in burning Greek villages.. These attacks are mentioned repeatedly in reporting by British and American Special Operations units operating behind enemy lines. For a background on the role of the Albanian fascists in Epirus (including Northern Epirus/ Southern Albania) during WWII, I recommend the personal account of Nikolaos A. Stavrou, Professor of International Affairs, Howard University, Washington D.C. According to Professor Stavrou: "On Easter week 1944, German forces and their fascist ally Balli Kombaetar (Albanian National Front), commanded by Gen. Hubert Lanz conducted a sweep of Epirus to clear the way for German army units to move north after the anticipated Allied invasion. This operation was commenced just weeks after the Nazis deported the ancient Jewish community of Ioannina, the capital of Epirus. In less than three days, Nazis and Ballists would wreak havoc in the pastoral life of my village." According to a report by Gerasimos Priftis, a founding member of ELAS (left-wing Greek Resistance group),dated February 20,1944: "The overwhelming majority of Chams in the area of Epirus have sided, in no uncertain terms, with the occupation forces; they have launched murderous attacks against Greek villages and have carried out looting and confiscation of properties. The high point of their collaboration with the fascists was their assault against Fanari in August,1943 where they burned down 30 villages, killed 500 Greeks and held another 500 as hostages." [From "Apokalypto (I Reveal)" by Retired General Nikolaos Gryllakis.]
A vivid account of the devastation inflicted by German, Albanian and local Albanian Cam forces is spelled out in the March 13, 1944 issue of the Albanian newspaper Bashkimit Kombit (the official publication of the then pro-German Tirana regime). The publication proudly announced the success of the February, 1944 campaign and documented the degree of destruction: 25,000 homes were set ablaze and 100,000 Greeks were left homeless. With the withdrawal of the German forces in 1944, the Greek right-wing guerrilla forces of the National Republican Greek League (EDES), commanded by Napoleon Zervas, made an offer to the Chams to join them against the communist guerrilla forces of ELAS. When the Chams turned down this offer, Zervas ordered a general attack against the Chams, an action supported by the peasants whose villages had been burned down by the Chams and who were all too eager to extract revenge. Many of the Chams' villages were burned and most of the Chams (around 20,000) fled to Albania. The Orthodox Cham Albanians were not expelled, but were placed under tight restrictions. Speaking Albanian in public was prohibited, and as a result, was reduced to a home language spoken only in private. Zervas of course was directed by C.M. Woodhouse, the officer in charge of the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) to push the Muslim Chams out of the area because they had overwhelmingly supported German attacks on Slavs, Greeks, and Jews and anti-Nazi guerrilla units in the region. Reading the accounts of the various British officers working in Greece at the time provides ample documentary proof of the horrific destruction and mass murder by the Cham groups, as well as the British strategy of pushing them over the border.
During World War II, three military guerrilla movements developed in Albania. The first was organized by the pro-royalist forces of Abas Kupi, a Army officer under the reign of King Zog. Its power base was in the northern part of the country. The second movement was the Balli Kombetar (National Front), under the leadership of distinguished writer, diplomat, and scholar, Midhat Frasheri. This was a republican movement and it supported a program of social, political, and agrarian reforms. The organization's program included the unification of all Albanian areas; this coincided with the Italian-sponsored Greater Albania. The third movement was the communist guerrilla movement that developed in close association with the Yugoslav Communist Party. Eventually, civil war broke out, and in the course of the 1943-44 period, the communists were successful in eradicating all resistance by the other two movements.
The Chams eventually withdrew to the Albanian side of the border when the German army fled. Returning to Greece after the war ended would have exposed many of them to serious charges of war crimes. Most stayed in Albania and were made Albanian citizens by Hoxha in the early 1950's. Lately, they have become vocal in internal Albanian politics. Cited below are excerpts from the commentary by Prof. N.A. Stavrou titled "KFOR: Repeating history?" that was published in The Washington Times on August 11, 1999: "Albanians of all ideological persuasions joined Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in their Balkan adventures. For a short four years, matters looked promising and Albanian enthusiasm for fascism was unabashed. Hitler's U-Boats and Mussolini's air force were routinely referred to by Albanian leaders as "our forces", and banner headlines in the press heralded their victories. For example, the Albanian fascist newspaper, Tomori, in April 1942, joyfully announced "our navy destroyed an American armada in the Atlantic"; Bashkimi i Kombit headlined the "Successes of our air force in Malta and the Corinth Canal" with the subheading "Greece cut in two." Sixty-two thousand Albanians eagerly marched into Greece with Mussolini's blue shirts. In their enthusiasm, the commanders of the Albanian brigades, Drini and Dajti, requested the "honor" of crossing the Greek borders first. Many prominent communists, among them Ramiz Alia,(secretary general of the Communist Party) started their careers as fascists. Omer Nishani, first president of communist Albania, had fashioned himself as the theoretician of fascism. But when his fascist past surfaced at the Paris Peace Conference, even V.M. Molotov blushed."
During the Greek Civil War that raged after the defeat of the Axis Powers, Greek communists themselves were indeed most eager to accept, in their "Democratic Army", Albanian Cham conscripts, many of whom had previously committed atrocities against the Greek civilian population in Epirus under the tutelage of the Wehrmacht and the SS. The Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha received a request in writing during the visit of of General Markos Vafiadis, the Greek communist leader of ELAS/EAM, during which he requested the dispatch of Albanian Cham reinforcements to Mount Grammos in support of the Greek communist forces during the offensive undertaken by the Greek National Army supported by the US government of President Harry Truman. Vafiadis had expressed optimism regarding the potential "success against the American intervention" speculating that a large part of the Greek state will soon become "liberated" and that the size of the "Democratic Army" will reach 50,000 troops. he was also more than willing to cede parts of Greek territory to the overall goal of joining the ranks of International Communism.
The Cham controversy is only the latest in a number of current challenges in Greek-Albanian relations. If they are entitled to reparations and citizenship for themselves and their descendent's as some human rights and Albanian nationalist groups assert, then about 22 million persons in various post Ottoman countries, as well as several million in the US, Canada and Australia also have claims. Minorities with no "home nation", especially those who a) remained, and b) engaged in no sedition or treason, deserve the same rights as other citizens. Persons who left and engaged in organized sedition should not be considered for repatriation or reparations. If the ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Serbs from Croatia during the 1990s hardly registers on the radar of world public opinion, then the expulsion of 25,000 Chams from their homes in 1946, is hardly worth a second thought, given the historical record. Considering the recent developments in Kosovo and Macedonia I can understand Greece's sensitivity on the issue. Who wants to be seen as ready to give any concessions with such precedents around?