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    Conflict Studies Research Centre Balkans Series 07/01 Defence Academy of the United Kingdom The Cham Issue – Where to Now? Miranda Vickers Key Points * The
    Message 1 of 2 , May 3, 2008
      Conflict Studies Research Centre
      Balkans Series 07/01
      Defence Academy of the United Kingdom
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      Miranda Vickers
      Key Points
      * The ethnic Albanian and predominantly Muslim Chams from north
      western Greece are escalating their campaign for the restitution of
      their property and citizenship rights in Greece. Recently there have
      been some significant political and cultural initiatives to raise
      awareness of the Cham issue. These include the formation of a new
      political party, the Party for Justice and Integration (PJI), and
      moves to internationalise the Cham case in the European Parliament in
      * The Greek government refuses to discuss the matter publicly,
      claiming that the Cham issue does not exist. The Albanian government,
      however, cannot ignore the problem due to growing pressure from Cham
      organisations and sympathisers within the main Albanian political
      parties. Following last summer's large demonstration on the Greek
      border, which received widespread publicity, the Chams are co-
      ordinating and intensifying their activities with increasing support
      from the large Cham diaspora. Such actions have caused tensions
      between Athens and Tirana.
      * The Chams will soon have exhausted all channels to find a peaceful
      solution to their demands. Dialogue between Tirana, Athens, Cham
      representatives and international mediators to resolve the issue is
      urgently needed in order to avoid further straining relations between
      Albania and Greece, and risking the issue being hijacked by radicals.
      Introduction 1
      Background 2
      Political Developments 3
      The Greek Response 9
      The War Law 10
      Conclusion 11

      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      Conflict Studies Research Centre
      ISBN 978-1-905962-01-3
      January 2007
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      Miranda Vickers
      The issue of the property rights of the predominantly Muslim ethnic
      Albanians (known as Chams), who were forcibly displaced from their
      homes in north-western Greece during World War II, has remained
      unresolved for over 60 years, and has the growing potential to become
      a major bone of contention between Albania and Greece – two otherwise
      friendly neighbours.1 Although the majority of Muslim Chams fled
      Greece during the Second World War, other displacements occurred
      during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, and during the dictatorship of
      General Metaxas in the 1930s when many Chams were violently driven
      from their homes.
      Today there are approximately 250,000 Chams in Albania and an
      estimated 400,000 in the wider diaspora, mostly in the USA and
      Turkey. Despite being granted Albanian citizenship in 1953, many
      Chams still regard themselves as refugees deprived of their Greek
      citizenship and the right to return to their property in Greece. The
      Chams are campaigning for the Greek government to acknowledge the
      violence perpetrated against them, and for the return of their
      confiscated properties together with compensation for their use since
      their expulsion. They also want their Greek citizenship restored.
      Cham-owned properties in Greece are assessed at around US$2.8billion
      and include vineyards, forestry and grazing land, domestic and
      commercial property.2
      In the spring of 2002 a report published by the Conflict Studies
      Research Centre discussed the historical background to the claims
      made by the Cham people regarding their property and citizenship
      rights in Greece.3 The report discussed the historical background to
      the Cham issue and attempts during the 1990s to internationalise the
      problem. Although this report initially generated a heated debate on
      the Cham issue amongst Albania's political class, little has been
      done since to address the matter. Over the past few years, the
      various Cham organisations and diaspora groups have gone to
      considerable lengths to get the Albanian and Greek governments to
      make a serious commitment to addressing their grievances, and to
      inform the international community of their wishes and objectives.
      Yet, although politicians from all Albania's main political parties
      have made numerous statements regarding the Cham issue, and have
      proposed several parliamentary resolutions, nothing tangible has
      resulted from these gestures and debates. Meanwhile, the Greek
      government consistently claims that the Cham issue does not exist and
      refuses to enter into a dialogue with Cham representatives. As a
      result, the Chams have taken their case to the European Parliament in
      The Cham issue is very much interlinked with that of the Greek
      minority in Albania and the large non-Cham Albanian population living
      in Greece. Although relations between Greece and Albania are good,
      they have been strained several times in recent years over the
      treatment of ethnic minorities and employment issues facing the
      several hundred thousand Albanian immigrants in Greece.
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      The last two years have witnessed a growing confidence and political
      sophistication amongst the Chams, which has recently expressed itself
      in the formation of a new cultural organisation, and a political
      party that wielded significant influence in the 2005 parliamentary
      elections. This paper outlines recent developments in the Cham issue,
      as efforts to internationalise the Chams' demands gathers momentum.4
      The Chams have a strong sense of tradition, identity and community
      which has united them over the past 62 years since their expulsion
      from Greece as suspected Nazi collaborators.5 This is in part due to
      the violence they suffered historically, but also to a collective
      prejudice against them on both sides of the border. Many Chams were
      persecuted by the Albanian Communist regime, which like the Greeks,
      believed that they had collaborated with the Italians and Germans
      during the Second World War Whereas in Albania and the diaspora Cham
      communities have managed to preserve their dialect, traditions and
      folk songs, in Greece itself those Orthodox Chams, now numbering
      around 40,000, who were allowed to remain in Greece, have suffered
      from assimilation and the public suppression of their Albanian
      heritage and language. As a result, Albanian is only spoken privately
      in the home.
      The mountain Chams were largely Orthodox Christians and the coastal
      and lowland Chams were mostly Muslim. By classifying the coastal
      Chams as "Turks" rather than Albanians, Greek historians have been
      able to justify the earlier confiscation of Cham-owned land, much of
      which was given to Greek refugees from Turkey during the population
      exchanges in 1923.6 Following their expulsion from Greece, most of
      the poorer Chams went to Albania, whilst the wealthier ones went to
      America and Turkey. Nevertheless, today the Chams are amongst the
      richest and most successful entrepreneurs in contemporary Albania.
      Anyone now visiting north western Greece will notice the ever
      encroaching wilderness that has enveloped many villages once occupied
      by Chams. Cham domestic and administrative buildings, mosques and
      cultural monuments are slowly disappearing under overgrown
      vegetation. Land once used by Chams to graze their huge flocks is now
      reverting to forest due to the cycle of depopulation that has
      historically characterised this corner of south-eastern Europe. Thus
      the geographical and architectural legacy of Cham occupation in north
      western Greece is gradually vanishing.7 For those Chams living close
      to the Greek border it is especially frustrating being technically so
      close but politically so far from their ancient homeland. There are
      roughly 14,000 Chams or their descendants living in the southern
      Albanian town of Saranda and the villages north of the Albanian-Greek
      border. Many originally came from the Epirot coastal town of Sivota
      and the surrounding region, and none has ever been allowed a visa to
      go back to see their properties or the graves of their families.
      Recently, however, a few intrepid Chams have managed to find their
      way back to their family's old homes, even trying to rebuild them.
      The Greek Foreign Office believes that some local Greek police are in
      the pay of Albanians and are thus turning a blind eye as a few Chams
      quietly re-establish themselves in long-abandoned property. At the
      same time, several hundred ethnic Greek minority families from
      Albania have settled in Epirot towns such as Filiates.8 This will
      have a long term political effect because it is gradually changing
      the demographic balance in the region, which could lead to social and
      economic tensions developing.9 2
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      In March 2004, the Institute of Cham Studies (ICS) was established
      with a board of 7 members. The Institute's primary aim is to attempt
      to "fill the huge gap in knowledge about the entire Cham issue".10
      One of the first actions taken by the board of the ICS was to hold
      the first ever Cham Conference in Tirana in May 2004. This event was
      attended by Cham and other scholars, politicians and writers from
      both Albania and abroad, and was widely publicised in the media.11
      Meanwhile the Tirana-based Chameria Association is attempting to
      collect and record personal testimonies and accounts from Chams who
      left Greece in 1944-45 and are now living in Albania – personal
      archives, documents and other data - in a bid to preserve the
      historical memories that the older generation carry with them.12
      Political Developments
      Following the heated debates amongst Albanian politicians generated
      by the Conflict Studies Research Centre's report on the Cham issue in
      April 2002, there was an assumption that the report's conclusions
      would be acted upon and moves would begin to resolve the issue.
      Things looked promising when in May 2003 the then Prime Minister
      Fatos Nano declared in Parliament that he had reached an agreement
      with his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis on the establishment of a
      bipartisan working group to study the legal issues that would lead
      towards a final solution of the Cham issue. However, by September
      nothing more had been heard on the subject. This prompted a group of
      deputies from the National Front and Legality parties to draft a
      resolution on the Cham issue which was signed by over 40 other
      opposition MPs and lawyers.
      The resolution expressed concern over the lack of commitment shown by
      both the Albanian and Greek governments in addressing the question of
      the property rights of the Cham people. It also stated that the
      government must ask for the abrogation of the War Law, the
      recognition of the properties of the Cham population, financial
      compensation for the loss of those properties, as well as freezing
      the law no 2664 (1998) regarding the registration of the Cham
      properties and their compensation. Initially, all political groups in
      the Albanian parliament declared that they would support the text and
      approve it on the basis of a consensus. However, after months of
      debate, with approval of the resolution being put off from one
      parliamentary session to another, the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs
      Committee finally achieved a consensus and approved the Cham
      resolution, only to have it postponed yet again by parliament during
      the plenary session on 1 April 2004.
      The resolution was sent back to the Foreign Affairs Committee to make
      corrections and improvements that were deemed necessary by the
      government. When informing shocked MPs of this decision, the Speaker
      of Parliament, Servet Pellumbi, said that it was necessary to alter
      some of the wording and phraseology of the text in order to assist
      Parliament in approving a more mature resolution. The opposition was
      furious at the government for not only continuously postponing
      approval of the resolution, but also drastically altering the text in
      order to appease the Greeks. Several fundamental points had been left
      out of the amended version, which included the abrogation of the War
      Law and the compensation that should be paid by the Greek authorities
      to the Cham people for the loss of their properties.
      Albanian politicians were divided in their views on the reasons why
      the draft resolution needed to be so drastically amended. The
      opposition argued that the government was resisting approval of, and
      softening the demands of the resolution for fear that it would create
      tension in relations with Greece. The Socialists, on the
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      other hand, argued that their abstention that led to the rejection of
      the document was due to their fears about a new "broom" being used
      against Albanian emigrants in Greece, and subsequent fears for the
      economy should thousands of Albanians be sent back over the border if
      the Assembly were to approve the draft.13 Socialist Party deputy
      Spartak Braho said: "The main reason is that we cannot set the just
      demands of the Cham community against the primary interests of
      600,000 Albanians in Greece."14
      This argument might have carried some weight several years before. In
      the spring of 2004, however, the position of Albanians living in
      Greece could not have appeared more secure due to the demand for
      Albanian workers to complete an enormous number of construction
      projects for the Olympic Games, which were to be held in Athens that
      summer. In fact this was the precise moment that the Albanian
      government could have exerted its greatest pressure on Athens to get
      some form of commitment to resolve the Cham issue. As one cynical
      Socialist MP, Sabit Brokaj, noted: "The rope that the Greeks keep
      around the neck of some Albanian politicians in relation to Albanian
      emigrants in Greece, is only a game of pressure. Only those Albanian
      politicians who are connected with the Greek monopolies, are involved
      in the informal economy, or have illegal revenues, bow to this
      The very narrow defeat of the Cham motion in Parliament was almost
      certainly due to the pro-Greek wing in the Socialist Party, which
      backed away from the consensus achieved by the Parliamentary Foreign
      Affairs Committee due to pressure being exerted by Greek diplomatic
      circles. There had been pressure on MPs to vote against the
      resolution, such as the chairman of the Union for Human Rights Party,
      Vangjel Dule, who demanded that MPs did not approve the draft as it
      could be a detrimental move for Albanian foreign policy.16 According
      to Dule: "This resolution comes at a time when the Balkan region is
      witnessing intensive events and a period of fragile balances, and the
      approval of such a resolution would damage those balances that could
      result in a high political cost for Albania's foreign policy."17
      According to reports, the unexpected postponement of the draft
      resolution was seemingly the result of a confidential meeting between
      the then Greek Ambassador to Tirana, Pantelis Carcabassis, and
      officials from the Albanian Foreign Ministry. The Greek
      representative argued that "Greece considered approval of this
      resolution a non-friendly act by Albania."18 There were also many
      accusations of Greek efforts to make sure the Albanian government
      kept silent on the Cham issue, which as one observer noted: "they do
      on the quiet by sponsoring the Albanian media, by buying journalists
      through free trips and other privileges, and through publicity
      campaigns, or by bribing Albanian politicians through enabling them
      to spend their time in Greek taverns".19
      The rejection of the draft resolution was a bitter blow to the Chams,
      who again took to the streets to demonstrate against the decision. On
      15 March hundreds of Chams had waved placards baring the
      slogans "Chameria is ours" and "Return our properties" in front of
      the Parliament building demanding approval of the resolution.
      Although the resolution had failed to be approved, it did succeed in
      highlighting the emotive, politically divisive and damaging nature of
      the Cham issue. Given the media allegations of Greek interference and
      bribery of Socialist MPs, it was clear that some form of damage
      limitation was urgently needed. Thus it was announced that official
      discussions on the Cham issue were to be convened. At a meeting in
      May 2004, the then Prime Ministers of Albania and Greece, Fatos Nano
      and Costas Karamanlis, agreed to start bilateral negotiations to find
      a "legal and fair solution to the question of Cham properties in
      Greece, and Greek assets in Albania". Albania's President, Alfred
      Moisiu, was clearly concerned at the damaging publicity regarding 4
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      Greece's "sponsorship" of certain government officials. He was also
      genuinely interested in the plight of the Chams and the need for an
      urgent resolution to the issue. In an interview, he explained
      that: "Past problems between Greece and Albania relating to the
      Chams, their property rights, the War Law and the Greek minority, did
      not affect actual day to day relations between the two countries, but
      nevertheless, these problems need to be urgently solved." 20
      The fact that the Albanian parliament had even considered passing a
      resolution requiring action to be taken on the Cham issue, and the
      sight of hundreds of angry Cham demonstrators was enough to galvanise
      Greece into defensive mode. The country embarked upon a series of
      military and diplomatic initiatives, which suggested a fear of Pan-
      Albanian expansion towards north-western Greece. Serbian and
      Macedonian media reports were claiming that new Pan-Albanian
      organisations were planning to expand their operations into north-
      western Greece to include Chameria in their plans for the unification
      of "all Albanian territories."21 Meanwhile, international observers
      were concerned that Kosovo politicians might start speculating with
      the Cham issue.
      In September 2004 the Greek authorities announced the reinforcement
      of northern military areas near the borders with Albania and
      Macedonia. New infantry forces from eastern areas of the country were
      transferred close to the Greek border with Albania, and a unit of
      Patriot missiles was moved from Athens to a military air base near
      Thessaloniki, along with a new air force unit. These were permanent
      deployments that gave the distinct impression that Greece felt a
      possible threat from her northern borders, as opposed to the
      traditional threat from Turkey to the east. This fortress-like
      mentality was further enhanced by a giant ring of barbed wire
      reinforced with metal spikes, erected at the main southern border
      crossing at Kakavia.
      Despite the Cham-induced controversy, during a visit to Albania in
      mid-October 2004, Greek President Konstantinos Stephanopoulos stated
      at a news conference that the Cham issue did not exist for Greece and
      that claims for the restoration of property presented by both the
      Cham people and the Greek minority in Albania belonged to a past
      historical period which he considered closed. "I don't know if it is
      necessary to find a solution to the Cham issue, as in my opinion it
      does not need to be solved," he said. "There have been claims from
      both sides, but we should not return to these matters. The question
      of the Cham properties does not exist," he told reporters.22 When
      speaking of claims from both sides, Stephanopolous was referring to
      the Greek claims on Vorio Epirus (Northern Epirus), which include a
      considerable part of southern Albania. The key difference, however,
      is that unlike Albania's ethnic Greek minority, who are allowed to
      own their own properties and have Albanian citizenship, the Chams are
      forbidden to return to their homes and are denied Greek citizenship.
      With the implementation of the property law adopted in 1992, Albania
      did not exclude the ethnic Greek minority from the right to own
      During Stephanopoulos's visit, the Chameria Association was refused
      permission by police to hold a protest demonstration. Members of the
      Association explained that the Chams wanted to protest peacefully to
      show that they would not keep silent about their properties, and
      would continue to demonstrate until their legal position was restored
      and they were given back their assets. "We will never keep silent
      about our property, many of us have the land patents that prove our
      claims. They are our lands whether the Greeks like it or not," they
      By the beginning of 2005, the Chams had become disillusioned with
      both major 5
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      political parties' hollow and superficial gestures towards addressing
      their cause. They therefore decided to create their own political
      party – the Party for Justice and Integration (PJI) – to represent
      the Chams in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The party
      declares in its statute that it belongs to the centre right, which is
      the political homeland for the vast majority of Chams marginalised by
      the Communist regime. Since the demise of the one-party state, the
      Chams have consistently put their faith in the centre right parties
      to pursue their rights with Greece. However, the Chams are fully
      aware that Tirana's politicians, whether Democrats or Socialists,
      only really focus on the Cham question during election time. Back in
      1995, with an eye on the following year's parliamentary elections,
      the then Democratic Party government created a day of official
      remembrance on the anniversary of the massacre of Cham civilians at
      Paramithia on 25/7 June 1944, and also erected a monument to the
      Chams in the southern town of Konispol. In the run up to the local
      elections in October 2003 a street in central Tirana was renamed
      Chameria Street. These symbolic gestures were never followed up with
      any political initiatives.
      During the June 2005 parliamentary elections, the Chams were scathing
      about Fatos Nano's attempts to woo them in Saranda. "He wanted to
      meet us because he wanted us to vote for him. He promised us jobs and
      good positions but he was not sincere about our problems," they
      said.25 During the elections the support of the Chams helped re-elect
      Sali Berisha and the Democratic Party to power.26 The largest
      demonstration during the election campaign was organised by the Vlora
      Chams, 90% of whom voted for the Democratic Party. There are 10,500
      Chams in Vlora, the majority originating from the coast of Epirus.
      They had a very difficult time under communism because Enver Hoxha
      believed they had collaborated with the occupying forces during World
      War II. Due to their geographical proximity to Italy and the
      sensitivity of the Vlora coastal region, there was more pressure on
      the Vlora Chams under Communism, and consequently the most radical
      Chams in Albania are from Vlora.
      There were now three centres of Cham activity: the political party –
      the PJI, the Cultural Institute of Chameria and the Chameria
      Association. Working closely together, these three groups were able
      to push forward the Cham agenda in the run up to the elections.
      Despite the PJI not being linked to a coalition of other parties, it
      succeeded in gaining tens of thousands of votes in the 2005
      parliamentary elections, and was able to send an MP to parliament.
      The month of November 2005 proved to be highly contentious as the
      deadline set by the Greek government for the Chams to officially
      register their property in Greece finally arrived. The law on
      property, which was passed and decreed by former Greek President
      Stefanopoulos, states that all unregistered Albanian-owned properties
      in Greece would be nationalised. The Act No 2664 "on Greek cadastral
      and other regulations", passed on 27 November 1998 by the Greek
      parliament, set 27 November 2005 as the final deadline for
      registering estate properties. Under the controversial War Law the
      property of the Chams is considered as property belonging to
      the "enemy" because of the Chams' alleged collaboration during the
      Second World War.
      Despite being granted Albanian citizenship in 1953, the Chams still
      regard themselves as Greek as well as Albanian citizens, and
      therefore the legal owners of their properties in Greece. A lot of
      Chams have their property documentation, but the majority have not.
      Although November was the cut off date for the registration, almost
      no Chams could go to register their property because they were not
      allowed visas to enter Greece. The Greek government was aware that
      the Chams could not register their property, as they would have to
      travel to Ioannina to get copies of their
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      missing documents, which they could not do without visas to enter
      As tensions rose with the approach of the registration deadline,
      Greek President Karolos Papoulias chose this inauspicious time to pay
      a visit to Albania. He was scheduled to meet for talks with Albania's
      President Alfred Moisiu in the southern town of Saranda. At the
      beginning of November, however, Papoulias suddenly cancelled his
      meeting with Moisiu because of a demonstration by a group of around
      200 Chams. Papoulias was in the nearby city of Gjirokaster when the
      decision was announced. A Greek Foreign Ministry statement said that
      the meeting was cancelled because "the Albanian authorities had not
      taken adequate measures to protect President Papoulias by deterring
      known extremist elements, who are trying to hinder the smooth
      development of Greek-Albanian relations and present unacceptable, non-
      existent issues at a time when Albania is taking steps towards
      fulfilling its European ambitions". This was followed by a strongly-
      worded note of protest to the Albanian authorities delivered by the
      Greek Embassy in Tirana.
      The annulment was an acute and humiliating snub to President Moisiu,
      who had initiated the visit. A spokesperson for the president
      said: "The President of the Republic expresses deep sorrow at this
      hurried and unexplainable decision by the Greek side which was based
      upon misinformation, regardless of the assurances from the Albanian
      side that this was a small, peaceful and well monitored
      demonstration."27 The cancellation of the proposed talks between the
      two presidents was an over-reaction by the Greek authorities, as well
      as implied blackmail by inferring that "Albania's European ambitions"
      would in some way be damaged by the country encouraging extremist
      activity. Ever since Albania began negotiations to join the European
      Union, Greece, as the only regional EU member, has played the EU card
      to instil a sense of insecurity into Albania's political class, many
      of whom believe that if they step out of line, Greece will hamper
      Albania's EU aspirations. This is despite the fact that the minority
      rights orientation of modern Greece is currently incompatible with
      European and international law – a fact that needs to be examined by
      the EU Parliament.
      The Greek decision was widely condemned by Chams and non-Cham
      Albanians alike, and unnecessarily damaged Greek-Albanian relations.
      The inability of the Chams to register their properties in Greece,
      and the manner in which Papoulias' visit was cancelled, infuriated
      the Chams. Representatives of the Chameria Association said the small
      protest was aimed at increasing awareness of the Cham issue. "It is
      better we demonstrate peacefully in a democratic manner, than take up
      arms to publicise our demands."28
      The beginning of 2006 saw the Chams with a heightened sense of
      frustration, and a renewed determination to internationalise their
      plight. On 8 February the Greek General Prosecution announced its
      decision to sell all unregistered property and land in Epirus,
      including Cham-owned land that was sequestrated in 1945. According to
      the court the owners have not registered any interest in the land for
      over 20 years. The Chams considered the Greek decision as "open
      provocation" and called for an immediate response from the Albanian
      government and international institutions. No response was
      In June around ten thousand Chams marched to the Greek border at Qafa
      e Bota to mark the anniversary of the massacre of Cham civilians
      which occurred on 27 June 1944 in the Epiriot town of Paramithia. The
      event gained wide publicity within Albania and even the Greek media
      ventured up to the wilderness of this remote border crossing.
      Although the Chams commemorate this event every year, this protest
      was by far the biggest political action taken by the Chams in the 62
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      since they were driven from Greece. It was the first time in as many
      years that so many Cham people, of all ages and social classes, came
      together from every district of Albania. These were not "extremists"
      but ordinary people, taxi drivers, lawyers, shopkeepers, who regard
      themselves as Greek (and Albanian) citizens and wished to let the
      world know their desire for "a peaceful return to their homeland and
      to the graves of their forefathers".29
      The demonstration was well coordinated, which represented a new level
      of cooperation amongst the various Cham regional groups. However, the
      protest was noticeably ignored in Albania by the ruling Democratic
      Party and the Socialist-led opposition. According to one observer,
      the demonstration actually contributed to the Albanian government's
      negotiating power with Greece because in the light of recent events
      it could legitimately claim that it was obliged to raise the Cham
      question because of such strong pressure from the Cham community. The
      June protest also strengthened the position of the Albanian
      government because it provided additional arguments in the
      controversy over the graves of Greek soldiers on Albanian territory,
      with the Greek side asking to build several cemeteries for its
      soldiers killed in Albania, yet not allowing the Chams to pay homage
      at the graves of their forefathers in Greece.30
      Other initiatives followed, including sending letters outlining the
      Cham case to every major diplomatic mission in Tirana, and in May the
      PJI sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Sali Berisha and former Greek
      foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos, calling for their support for
      the rights of the Cham population.31 To date there has been no
      response from any foreign mission or from Dr. Berisha himself. With
      increasing frustration, the Cham leadership decided to take their
      case directly to Europe.
      At the end of October, several members of the PJI went to the
      European Parliament in Strasbourg - the first direct presentation of
      their case to European parliamentarians. The PJI delegates stressed
      that they were visiting independently from the Permanent Albanian
      Delegation in Strasbourg. They had a successful meeting with Mrs
      Doris Pack, Chairperson of the European Parliamentary Delegation for
      South-Eastern Europe, who was presented with a dossier about the
      historical and political dimensions of the Cham issue, as well as
      proposals for non-violent and democratic solutions to the problem.
      Mrs Pack had an in-depth discussion with PJI Chairman Tahir Muhedini,
      during which she promised to investigate the possibility for the
      Chams to visit their homeland and their family graves in Greece. Mrs
      Pack also promised that the Cham issue would be discussed at the 13th
      round of the parliamentary session on Albania's Association and
      Stabilisation Agreement with the European Parliament, and in
      particular she would discuss the matter with Greek Euro Deputies in
      the Parliament. The PJI delegates also met representatives of various
      European political parties, who promised to look at the possibility
      of proposing a Parliamentary Resolution which would seek to open a
      dialogue between Athens and Tirana, together with the participation
      of representatives of the Cham population in the presence of
      international mediators. It remains to be seen what comes from the
      visit to Strasbourg, but whatever the outcome this marked the first
      stage in the internationalisation of the Cham issue.
      In a provocative move on 7 November 2006, the Greek government
      announced that it intended to grant dual citizenship to the ethnic
      Greek minority in Albania. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis
      said the move was in response to long standing demands by members of
      the minority. She also pointed out that the Albanian constitution now
      guarantees its citizens the right to hold dual nationality as part of
      steps taken to harmonise its legal framework within European
      requirements and to fulfil EU criteria.32 Yet again the Greek
      authorities were playing the EU card. The 8
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      following day, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha indicated that
      Albania would accept Greece's decision. Some 20,000 members of
      Albania's ethnic Greek minority are expected to be issued with Greek
      passports. The Chams responded to this announcement with a
      declaration of support for the notion, but also a call for Athens to
      return Greek citizenship to the Cham people. Tahir Muhedini called
      upon the Albanian and Greek governments to support the Chams' claims
      for Greek citizenship. He said that it would have been better if
      Greece had begun by giving passports to the Chams, and added
      that "Tirana and Athens still had time to react positively towards
      the Cham question".33 An ominous warning perhaps that time was
      running out in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Cham issue.
      The Greek Response
      The Greek authorities appear extremely reluctant to engage in any
      dialogue on the Cham issue. Aside from a minority of Greek academics,
      diplomats and human rights activists, most of the Greek population
      supports the authorities' view that such a topic does not exist.34
      This is clearly a case of missed opportunities. With the collapse of
      the Berisha government in 1997, Greece was in a unique position in
      its relations with the new Socialist-led government in Tirana, which
      started off on such a high note after the Socialist Party's victory
      in the 1997 elections. By constantly refusing to address the subject,
      the Greek authorities cannot find a unified response to the Cham
      issue, and remain divided as to how best to respond to what they
      consider the growing threat from their northern border. There are
      strong divisions in Greece between the Foreign Ministry, which knows
      it has to deal eventually with the issue, and the Ministry of
      Defence, which will not agree even to discuss the matter. Given the
      continued official pronouncements that "there is no Cham issue"; the
      Greek authorities appear to be burying their heads in the sand. As
      the June march to the border and the PJI visit to Strasbourg
      indicate, the Chams are becoming ever more unified and persistent in
      their quest.
      Some Chams believe the Greek government is prolonging the delay in
      officially addressing the Cham issue in the hope that more of the
      original eyewitnesses to the atrocities that occurred in Chameria
      would die, and thus weaken the Chams' case. For example, one alleged
      such massacre of Cham people by the Greek government in the summer of
      1953, which included the killing of women and children buried in a
      mass grave in Filiates/Filat, was witnessed by several Chams.35
      There is, nevertheless, a rational face to Greece, which acknowledges
      the massacres and large-scale displacement of the Muslim Chams, but
      argues that "in the chaos of war it wasn't really our fault".36
      "In the event of the Cham controversy developing internationally,
      there is likely to be some discussion of the British role in the
      events, as it is generally believed that the EDES royalist militia
      leader Col. Napoleon Zervas was acting on the orders of a member of
      the British mission (C. M. Woodhouse) in moving against the Chams in
      1943-44. Woodhouse has defended his decisions by claiming that the
      interethnic conflict in Epirus, and also fighting between different
      wings of the Greek anti-Axis movement, meant that two divisions of
      the communist-controlled ELAS popular army were tied up in Epirus and
      this helped save the British force under General Scobie from defeat
      in the Battle of Athens in 1944."37
      To be fair to ordinary Greek people, it is quite understandable why
      they have little sympathy or any accurate knowledge of the Cham
      issue. They have been taught a 9
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      very simplistic historiography of the Epirus region – "those
      Albanians who left the coast and lowland areas of Epirus were really
      Turks, whereas those that remained in the hills were Christian, i.e.
      good, Albanians who were allowed to stay, and as the Muslim
      landowning `Turks' left the Greeks were only getting their land
      back".38 There is also a genuine, if wholly irrational, fear amongst
      many older Greeks that to bring back the Muslim Chams is tantamount
      to asking the Turks to return. However understandable is this lack of
      accurate historical knowledge and fear of the returning Turk, there
      is also unfortunately a strongly nationalist element within Greece,
      spearheaded by the Greek Orthodox Church, which claims to own huge
      tracts of land within Albania. The Greek hard right and many people
      within the Orthodox world in Greece still harbour territorial designs
      on the `minority' areas around Saranda, the coast north to Vlora and
      inland to Gjirokaster and Korca. For their part Albanians have never
      been taught about the terrible suffering of the Greek people during
      World War II, and the subsequent bloody Greek Civil War (1944-1949).
      It is clear that old prejudices need to be dispelled, and regional
      histories need to be re-evaluated and in most cases re-written.
      The War Law
      A significant problem that continues to hinder efforts to find an
      acceptable solution to the Cham question is that technically a state
      of war still exists between Greece and Albania. The so-called Law of
      War was adopted in 1940 by Greece when the country was invaded by
      Italian troops through Albania. Although this law was repealed by the
      Greek government in 1987, the decision has never been ratified by
      Greece's parliament. Nevertheless, Greece argues that a state of war
      cannot be said to exist because it was lifted automatically in
      accordance with international law in 1987. The Chams argue that since
      their property was seized as a part of this controversial law, it is
      not enough for the Greek authorities to declare the law invalid - it
      should be abolished by Parliament.
      The Law of War between Albania and Greece remains an obstacle to
      relations between the two Balkan countries, and is inextricably
      linked to resolving the Cham issue.39 For a number of years now the
      Albanians have been pressing Athens to address this matter but to no
      avail. On 1 April 2003, the Albanian Democratic Party (DP), then in
      opposition, urged the Greek parliament to abrogate the War Law.
      Speaking at a news conference the DP secretary for foreign affairs,
      Besnik Mustafaj, said the Greek parliament had the power to abrogate
      the War Law with Albania. The following day, however, Greek Premier,
      Costas Simitis, told Prime Minister Fatos Nano that the War Law did
      not exist. That is as far as Greece appears prepared to publicly
      discuss the matter.
      Despite containing numerous references to the Greek minority in
      Albania, the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation between Greece and
      Albania, signed on 21 March 1996 by the then Albanian Foreign
      Minister, Alfred Serreqi, and his Greek counterpart, Theodoros
      Pangalos, contains nothing about the State of War or the Cham issue.
      Clause 20 states that the Agreement shall remain valid for a period
      of 20 years. Therefore there are still 10 years to go before the
      Agreement needs to be reassessed, unless the issue is forced by
      either government. The Greek parliament has neither agreed to examine
      nor to abrogate the War Law, arguing that the existence of the
      Friendship Treaty between the two countries automatically abolishes
      it. A document dated 19 March 2004 on the official website of the
      Greek Foreign Ministry stated that the law that put the two countries
      at a "state of war" had been abrogated. "The Hellenic Republic, by a
      governmental decision of 28 August 1987, decided to abrogate
      the `state of war' with Albania. The signing of the
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security by the foreign
      ministers of the two countries on 21 March, 1996 in Tirana, is
      considered an important basis upon which Albania and Greece have
      strengthened their bilateral relations and have turned the pages of
      the past." According to the document, the treaty has been ratified by
      the two parliaments.
      In May 1999, however, an Albanian lawyer, Mr Agim Tartari, wrote to a
      Greek colleague in a Thessaloniki law firm, Mr Constantine
      Hadjiyannakis, requesting information on the state of the Law of War
      between Greece and Albania. Having consulted the Ministry of External
      Affairs in Athens, the Greek lawyers confirmed that law no.2636/1940
      and law no.4506/1966 is still in force. "The most recent
      International Treaties and the Treaty of Friendship, Collaboration
      and Security signed between the Republic of Albania and the Greek
      Republic in March 1996 have not affected the situation."40
      In an interview in March 2004, former Foreign Minister Arta Dade
      confirmed that the Albanian government had asked the Greek government
      to fully abrogate the War Law as the primary step towards a solution
      to the Cham problem. According to Ms Dade, "frequent discussions took
      place on the War Law, but when the Albanian side demanded the Law's
      abrogation at the time when I was Foreign Minister, the Greek
      government said that the interpretation made to the law in question
      was irrelevant".41 This is obviously a very complex and ambiguous
      subject that needs to be conclusively settled, not only to assist in
      solving the Cham issue, but also in the interests of Albanian-Greek
      relations and Albania's future EU membership.
      The Cham issue has three main aspects: firstly there is the
      recognition of the problem by the Greek government, secondly there is
      the property issue, and then there is the question of citizenship.
      When discussing the Cham problem with Albanian politicians, they
      usually argue that it should not be seen as a political confrontation
      with the Greek government, because it is an economic issue and there
      is no point transforming it into a political issue.42 However this is
      too simplistic and also incorrect, because the Chams see financial
      compensation as just one factor in their demands.
      The top priorities for the Cham people remain: the right to return to
      their properties in Greece and to regain legal title to their
      properties; the right to obtain Greek citizenship, whilst retaining
      the citizenship of the country in which they currently reside; and
      the right to live, work and travel freely in Greece without having to
      obtain visas. It is probable, however, that many upland Chams would
      settle for visas and passports but the lowland Chams would also
      expect their valuable land back, as well as compensation for its use
      since their expulsion. They would then be able to decide themselves
      whether to sell their property or not. They also want dual
      citizenship – Albanian and Greek, and want to be recognised as Greek
      citizens of Albanian nationality. According to most Chams, money is
      not as important as citizenship. "We have been refugees for a long
      time. We want our identity back," they claim.43
      The Chams, despite constant setbacks and broken promises, are still
      unanimous in their insistence that the matter be solved through
      dialogue and not violence. Their wishes should be respected and their
      efforts to find a peaceful solution should be encouraged. In the
      light of recent developments, it is no longer possible for Greece to
      continue to claim that there is no Cham issue, and that the 1996
      Treaty of 11
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      Friendship somehow abolished the need for the Greek parliament to
      ratify the abolition of the War Law. With their Party for Justice and
      Integration, the Chams have put themselves firmly on the political
      map. Committed activists are working hard to build the party in every
      city with a Cham community, and the party could take tens of
      thousands votes away from the ruling Democratic Party in forthcoming
      This is an historical legacy that requires new political initiatives
      to resolve. The Albanian government needs to be very clear and
      specific in its discussions regarding the Chams' demands. The War Law
      must certainly be included in any talks and resolutions because it
      constitutes a real obstacle to achieving a lasting solution to the
      Chams' property claims. Future relations between Greece and Albania
      will most certainly be held hostage by the Cham issue, therefore
      talks should be held as soon as possible and they should be held
      under international auspices. The human rights issues of the Chams
      cannot be resolved solely between Albania, Greece and institutions
      representing the Cham population. A fair and lasting solution should
      be achieved with international mediation and support from EU
      institutions and the United States.
      In the coming years, it is going to become increasingly difficult for
      the Albanian and Greek governments, and indeed the EU institutions,
      to continue to ignore the Cham issue, which risks being hijacked by
      radical elements in Albania and elsewhere. There is already a split
      between moderate and radical Chams, with the former still by far the
      majority, but soon the Chams will have exhausted all reasonable
      democratic channels in which to call attention to their case.
      Both sides should try to understand each other's perspective on this
      complex issue. The Greeks must accept the historical truth about the
      confiscation of Cham-owned land, and the intimidation and persecution
      the Chams suffered under the dictatorship of General Metaxas during
      the late 1930s. For their part, the Chams must understand the truly
      dreadful horrors suffered by the Greek people at the hands of the
      Nazis in World War II, and their subsequent intolerance towards those
      believed to have collaborated with the occupying forces.
      There is some recent speculation that Greece may now be considering
      doing a deal with the Chams, which could see some receiving
      compensation in exchange for the renewal of the leases on Greek-owned
      property in Albania. If true, this is a useful step that could become
      the cornerstone of positive dialogue aimed at finding a lasting
      solution to the Cham issue. This would encourage a marked improvement
      in Greek-Albanian relations, and remove one of the more
      straightforward, yet most emotive cornerstones of the Albanian
      national question, and contribute to the development of peace and
      stability in the Southern Balkans.
      1 Chameria is an area in north-western Greece, centred on the Tsamis
      River, stretching from the Pindus Mountains in the northeast down to
      Preveza at the Gulf of Arta. It is the southern part of the ancient
      region of Epirus, and is sometimes referred to as Southern Epirus.
      2 For an authoritative account of the settlement, geography,
      demography and economy of Chameria see: Selman Sheme, Cameria –
      vendi, popullsia dhe jeta ekonomike, Tirane, 2005
      3 The Cham Issue: Albanian National and Property Claims in Greece,
      Miranda Vickers, Conflict Studies Research Centre, April 2002.
      4 For a scholarly account of the background to the Cham issue see:
      Beqir Meta, Tensioni Greko-Shqiptar (1939-1949), GEER, Tirana, 2002.
      See also Sali Bollati, Gjurme Came, Shkupi Tirana, 2004, and for
      historical perspectives from a generally more pro-Greek
      The Cham Issue – Where to Now?
      viewpoint see: T.J. Winnifrith, Badlands-Borderlands – A History of
      Southern Albania/Northern Epirus, London, 2002, and William Bowden,
      Epirus Vetus, London, 2003.
      5 This paper does not discuss Cham history, a summarised account of
      which can be found in: The Cham Issue: Albanian National and Property
      Claims in Greece, Miranda Vickers, Conflict Studies Research Centre,
      April 2002. http://www.defac.ac.uk/csrc
      6 For a useful recent historical study of the Cham issue see: Hasan
      Minga, Cameria – veshtrim historic, Tirane, 2006
      7 See the Challenge to Preserve the Cham Heritage, by James Pettifer
      and Miranda Vickers, Shekulli, Tirana, 22 November, 2004
      8 For an historical account of Cham social development see: Dr. Ramiz
      Zekaj, The Development of Islamic Culture amongst Albanians during
      the 20th Century, Tirane, 2002.
      9 Prior to 1939, ownership of land in Epirus was very uncertain. Post-
      war, the main beneficiary of the Cham expulsions was the Greek
      Orthodox Church, which gained much land due to the Church's strong
      links to the victory of the Right in the Greek Civil War.
      10 Interview with an ICS founder member, Gazmend Haxhiu, Tirana,
      April 2004.
      11 The ICS has published a book – in Albanian and English -
      containing all the papers presented at the conference entitled:
      Ceshtja Cam dhe Integrimi Evropean, Arberia, 2005.
      12 See: Eleftheria Manda, The Muslim Chams of Epirus (1923-2000).
      Thessaloniki, 2004, p342. Oi Mousoulmanoi Tsamthes tis Iperou. The
      Chameria Association was formed on 10 January 1991, just prior to
      Albania's first multiparty elections.
      13 There were many Socialist MPs who supported the draft resolution,
      but there were enough within the government itself to cause it to be
      14 Korrieri, 10 April 2004
      15 Ibid.
      16 The Union of Human Rights Party largely represents the interests
      of Albania's ethnic Greek minority.
      17 Albania Daily News, 2 April 2004
      18 Shekulli 2 April 2004
      19 Mentor Nazarko, Shekulli, 26 June 2006
      20 Author's interview with President Alfred Moisiu, Tirana, September
      21 See http://news.serbianunity.net/bydate/2002/October_31/3.html
      22 Albanian Telegraphic Agency, 19 October 2004
      23 For an analysis of President Berisha's 1992-93 land privatisation
      programme, and its effect upon the ethnic Greek minority see: Miranda
      Vickers and James Pettifer, Albania – From Anarchy to a Balkan
      Identity, London, 1999, pp195-196
      24 Discussion with members of the Chameria Association, Tirana,
      October, 2004
      25 Interview with Chams in Saranda, April 2006
      26 See James Pettifer, Chameria – Time For action? Illyria, 28
      November – 4 December 2006
      27 Albania Telegraphic Agency, 2 November, 2005
      28 Discussion with Cham leaders, Tirana, November 2005.
      29 Interview with participants who had been on the march to the
      border, Tirana, October 2006
      30 Mentor Nazarko, Shekulli, 26 June, 2006
      31 Berisha and Pangalos were the protagonists of the historic Treaty
      of Friendship between the two countries signed in 1996.
      32 Albanian Telegraphic Agency, 8 November 2006
      33 PJI Press release, 11 November 2006
      34 The Greek Ministry of Defence has an extensive budget which is
      sometimes called upon by Northern (Vorio) Epirus extremist groups to
      influence important leaders of opinion in Albania, and has even
      targeted prominent individual activists and community leaders in the
      Albanian community in the United States. The US Greek lobby is very
      active, and often dominated by the Greek Orthodox Church centred in
      the city of Chicago, which is the headquarters of most Northern
      Epirus lobby groups in the US.
      35 Discussion with Cham representatives, Saranda, April 2006
      36 Discussion with Greek academics in Thessaloniki, April 2004
      37 James Pettifer, The Greek Minority in Albania in the Aftermath of
      Communism, CSRC, July 2001, G97, note 39.
      38 For a (typically distorted) account of a previously Cham-occupied
      coastal town, see the current tourist guide to the Epirot coastal
      town of Sivota.
      07/01 Miranda Vickers
      39 There are several ongoing studies of the State of War between
      Greece and Albania. See for example the forthcoming doctoral thesis
      by Mentor Nazarko entitled: La Questione del Sequestro dei Beni
      Private Albanesi in Territorio Greco Durante la Seconda Guerra
      40 Reply by Mr Constantine Hadjiyannakis to letter dated 18 May 1999
      from Mr Agim Tartari to the Thessaloniki Law Firm, Nomos, 27 May 1999.
      41 Interview with Arta Dade, Panorama, 26 March 2004
      42 Interviews with various Albanian politicians, Tirana, 2002-2006
      43 Discussions with Cham leaders in Vlora, April 2005.
      Want to Know More …?
      Miranda Vickers, "The Cham Issue - Albanian National & Property
      Claims in Greece", Conflict Studies Research Centre, Eastern Europe
      Series, G109, April 2002.
      Eleftheria Manda, The Muslim Chams of Epirus (1923-2000).
      Thessaloniki, 2004
      The views expressed in this paper are entirely and solely those of
      the author and do not necessarily reflect official thinking and
      policy either of Her Majesty's Government or of the Ministry of
      ISBN 978-1-905962-01-3

      Published By:
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      United Kingdom
      Conflict Studies Research Centre
      Defence Academy of the UK
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      SN6 8TS Email: csrc@...
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      ISBN 978-1-905962-01-3
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