Saturday, July 10, 2010


It has been an interesting time for the Greeks of Northern Epirus. On 24 June 2010, the leader of the Party for Justice and Unity, Dashamir Tahiri, requested that the Albanian parliament observe a minute’s silence in memory of those supposedly killed during the so-called ‘Chamerian genocide.’ The Albanian parliament has declared the 27th of June as the “Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria.”
This refers to the expulsion of the Albanian population of western Epirus after World War II. Large parts of the Muslim Cham population, who enjoyed autonomy and overlordship over the Orthodox of Epirus, actively supported Axis operations and committed a number of atrocities against the local population in Greece and Albania. Apart from the formation of a Nazi collaborationist local administration and armed battalions, a terrorist organization named Keshilla and a paramilitary group called Balli Kombetar Cam were operating in the region, manned by local Muslim Chams. The results were devastating: many Greek as well as Albanian citizens lost their lives and a great number of villages was burned and destroyed. From 29 July-31 August 1943, a combined German and Cham force launched an anti-partisan sweep operation codenamed Augustus. During the subsequent operations, 600 Greek and 50 Albanian citizens were killed and 70 villages were destroyed. On September 27, combined Nazi-Cham forces launched large scale operation in burning and destroying villages north of Paramythia: Eleftherochori, Seliani, Semelika, Aghios Nikolaos, killing 50 Greek villagers in the process. In this operation the Cham contingent numbered 150 men, and, according to German Major Stöckert, "performed very well". In another incident, in 27 September, Cham militias arrested 53 Greek citizens in Paramythia and executed 49 of them two days later. This action was orchestrated by the brothers Nuri and Mazar Dino (an officer of the Cham militia) in order to get rid of the town's Greek representatives and intellectuals. On September 30, the Swiss representative of the International Rted Cross, Hans-Jakob Bickel, while visiting the area, concluded that Cham bands were completely out of control, terryfing and committing many more atrocities against the unarmed Greek population.
During the summer of 1944, the head of the local resistance organization, Napoleon Zervas asked the Cham Albanians to join EDES in its fight against the Nazi occupational forces, but their response was negative. After that and in accordance to orders given specifically to EDES by the Allied forces to push them out of the area, fierce fighting occurred between the two sides. According to British reports, the Cham collaborationist bands managed to flee to Albania with all of their equipment, together with half million stolen cattle as well as 3,000 horses, leaving only the elderly members of the community behind. However, on 27 June 1944 in the district of Paramythia, a massacre of Chams took place by the Greek forces which British officers described as "a most disgraceful affair involving an orgy of revenge with the local guerrillas looting and wantonly destroying everything".
Chris Woodhouse, the head of the Allied Military Mission in Greece during the Axis occupation, who was present in the area at the time, officially accepted the full responsibility of the decision for the expulsion of the Chams: “Zervas encouraged by the Allied Mission under myself, chased them out of their homes in 1944 in order to facilitate operations against the enemy. They mostly took refuge in Albania, where they were not popular either. Their eviction from Greece was bloodily carried out, owing to the usual vendetta spirit, which was fed by many brutalities committed by the Chams in league with the Italians. Zervas' work was completed by an inexcusable massacre of Chams in Philliates in March, 1945, carried out by remnants of Zervas' dissolved forces under Zotos. The Chams deserved what they got… Perhaps it would be best to leave things at that.”
Chams were settled in Northern Epirus, in order to dilute the predominately Greek demographic of the area. They demand Greek citizenship and the return of confiscated property. However, as yet, they have not apologised for the atrocities they committed against their co-citizens or indeed, for their betrayal of the nation whose citizenship they covet.
Bearing the compelxities of the issues in mind, the fact that no genocide ever took place and that the Cham “issue” has been shamelessly used by the Albanian government as a counterweight to demands for respect of the rights of Greeks in Northern Epirus, the leader of the Union of Human Rights Party, Vangelis Doules, refused to observe the minute’s silence. Almost at once, he was set upon by his fellow parliamentarians, in particular Tahiri, who stated in parliament: “Doules, you are nothing but a dog of Zervas. I will show you how one minutes’ silence is kept.” Needless to say, no security was called, nor did the Speaker of Parliament consider that threats of this nature breached any regulations of parliamentary proceedings.
Doule’s response, that his refusal to stand during the one minutes’ silence was one of pronciple and conscience should be juxtaposed against the cowardly conduct of other Greek members of the Albanian parliament like Spiros Xeras, who cravenly stood up to recognise an event that never took place.
Interestingly enough, one of the Cham publications that propagates the myth of a genocide of Chams has published, under the title: “Foto nga masakrat e kryera nga ushtria greke.” (Photograph of the massacres perpetrated by the Greek army,) a photograph of some corpses. When one observes the photograph however, one perceives in the lower corner the following inscription: «Φωτ. Αμερ. Ερ. Σταυρού (…) από το δράμα της Σμύρνης (…) γέρους, παιδιά! (…)», while the title “The Genocide of the Greeks” appears in rather large English letters. Do we now hold a minute’s silence to the memory of sophisticated propaganda? For obviously this photograph is of the massacre at Smyrna in 1922.
It is heinous that documentary evidence of a genocide should be so unconscionably exploited in order to establish a myth for political purposes that are rather futile. Millions of Germans were caused to leave eastern Europe in the aftermath of the war. Thousands of innocents were raped and killed in reprisal for the brutality of the Axis armies. Nonetheless, this has not stood in the way of Germany building a cohesive, peaceful, democratic society where the irredentism that has blighted its past is well and truly forgotten.
If Albania is to lurch into the twenty first century and Europe, it needs to abandon its infantile defense mechanism to its own social and demographic problems. At a time when Greece has welcomed an estimated million Albanian migrants into its country, the continued mistreatment and denial of basic human rights to the Greeks of Northern Epirus is in bad faith. In worse faith still, are irredentist claims and the manufacture of fake genocides. Perhaps it would be more beneficial if, in assessing its progress as a democratic nation, the Albanian government asked itself why members of parliament are being threatened with physical violence because of their beliefs within parliament itself. Possibly a superimposed photograph of the Greek parliament where real democracy is at work, may assist them to pull the wool over their own eyes.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 10 July 2010