Author: Agron Alibali
The Epirus, or Çameria, area in southern Albania and northern Greece has constituted the main focus of potential dispute between Athens and Tirana. The Greeks consider the southern extremity of Albania to be northern Epirus, while the Albanians consider the northwest corner of Greece to be southern Çameria. Although neither government has pressed for territorial revisions in recent memory, both regions are inhabited by minorities whose conditions and treatment have given rise to some concern and interstate discord. Claims over Çam numbers have ranged from 90,000 to over one million but are believed to be understated because Athens has not considered the local Albanians to be a separate ethnic group and has completely hellenized the majority of Orthodox Christian Albanians. They have not been entitled to any special minority rights and have been prevented from establishing any educational, cultural, or political associations inside Greece.
Since the democratic breakthrough in Albania in early 1991, the Albanian Çams organized as a pressure group within Albania on behalf of their co-ethnics in Greece. In March 1991, the first national conference of the Çameria Political Association (CPA) was held in Tirana with many of its activists drawn from the Albanian community who had been expelled from Greece after the war. The CPA intended to bring to international attention the neglected linguistic, cultural, and educational rights of Orthodox Albanian Çams who have been subjected to a Greek policy of assimilation. The group has also launched campaigns on behalf of Çam exiles in Albania. It has encouraged the expansion of contacts with compatriots in Greece, the return of exiles to their family areas, and the payment of compensation for property and land that was illegally taken from them during their expulsion.
Since 1991, Albanian activists across the political spectrum have become more outspoken on the Çameria issue vis-a-vis Greece. Historic grievances over Greek repression of Orthodox and Muslim Albanians earlier this century have been aired, and Athens has been criticized for its ongoing assimilationist pressures against Orthodox Albanians who still reside in the Çameria/Epirus region. Although the Greek authorities have denied that any Çam problem exists, Çam representatives have continued to urge the Albanian government to take up the issue with Athens at the highest bilateral levels. Excerpted from pages 185 and 186, Nations in Turmoil by Janusz Bugajski, Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave., Boulder, CO 80301-2877
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A small section of Çameria consisting of 7 villages and the town of Konispoli belongs to Albania while the rest of Çameria was awarded to Greece by the Conference of Ambassadors in London in 1913. The main Çam towns in Greece are Filati, Gumenica,Paramethia, Margellici, and Parga. In the 16th to 17th centuries, Çameria turned into an area of fierce revolts against Ottoman rule. In the 18th century, the process of forced islamization began — part of the Suli and Parga populations fled to Greek islands to escape conversion. During 1820-1850, the region again took part in uprisings against the Ottomans. In 1854 and 1877, the population successfully resisted attacks by Greek Andartes. During the Balkan Wars, Greek troops intervened in Çameria. Military troops were sent by the (provisional) government of Vlora (Albania) to assist the local population, but the decision of the Ambassadors Conference assigned Çameria to Greece.
After WWII, the Greek government expelled by force thousands of Muslim Albanians to Turkey on the pretext that they were Turks because of their religion. At the end of WWII, the terror exercised against the local population forced 25, 000 Çams of Muslim faith to leave their homeland and seek temporary asylum in Albania. Çam dances, especially men’s dances, are renowned. Some Çam dances, called Çamiko, are also used by the Greeks. Excerpted from pages 149-50, Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar, Akademia Shkencave e RPS te Shqiperise, Tirana, Albania, 1985
(Translated from Albanian into English by Agron Alibali)