History of Chameria

Geography of Chameria

“Chameria is a mountainous region of the southwestern Balkan Peninsula that now straddles the Greek-Albanian border. Most of Chameria is in the Greek Province of Epirus, corresponding largely to the prefectures of Thesprotia and Preveza, but it also includes the southern-most part of Albania, the area around Konispol. It is approximately 10,000 square kilometers in size and has a current, mostly Greek-speaking population of about 150,000. As an historical region, Chameria, also spelled Chamuria, Chamouria or Tsiamouria, is sometimes confused with Epirus which is in fact a much larger area that includes more inland territory in northwestern Greece, for example, the town of Janina/loannina, and also much of southern Albania. Geographically speaking, Chameria begins to the north at the rivers Pavlle and Shalës in the southern part of Albania. It stretches southwards along the Ionian coastline in Greece down to Preveza and the Gulf of Arta, which in the nineteenth century formed the border between Albania and Greece. It does not include the island of Corfu or the region of Janina to the east. The core or central region of Chameria, known in Greek as Thesprotia, could be said to be the basins of the Kalamas and Acheron Rivers. It was the Kalamas River, known in ancient times as the ‘Thyamis, that gave Chameria its name.” [1]

History of Chameria

“During the beginning of the 20th Century, the northwestern part of the Greek region of Epirus was mostly populated by an Albanian-speaking population, known under the ethnonyme “Chams” [ÇamëÇam (singular) in Albanian, Τσ(ι)άμηδεςΤσ(ι)άμης in Greek]. The Chams are a distinct ethno-cultural group which consisted of two integral religious groups: Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims. This group lived in a geographically wide area, expanding to the north of what is today the Preveza prefecture, the western part of which is known as Fanari [Frar in Albanian], covering the western part of what is today the prefecture of Thesprotia, and including a relatively small part of the region which today constitutes Albanian territory. These Albanian speaking areas were known under the name Chamouria [Çamëri in Albanian, Τσ(ι)αμουριά or Τσ(ι)άμικο in Greek].”[2]

During the Ottoman rule, the region was under the Vilayet of Ioannina, and later under the Pashalik of Yanina. During this time, the region was known as Chameria (also spelled TsamouriaTzamouria) and became a district in the Vilayet of Yanina.[3]

In the 18th century, as the power of the Ottomans declined, the region came under the semi-independent state of Ali Pasha Tepelena, an Albanian brigand who became the provincial governor of Ioannina in 1788. After the fall of the Pashalik, the region remained under the control of the Ottoman Empire, while Greece and Albania declared that their goal was to include in their states the whole region of Epirus, including Thesprotia or Chameria.[4]

Following the Balkan Wars, Epirus was divided in 1913, in the London Peace Conference, and the region of Chameria came under the control of the Kingdom of Greece, with only a small portion being integrated into the newly formed State of Albania.[5]

Modern history of Chameria

After 1913, Muslim Chams in Greece were counted as a religious minority, and some of them were transferred to Turkey, during the 1923 population exchange, while their property was alienated by the Greek government, this being a term of the Turkish-Greek peace agreement. Orthodox Cham Albanians were counted as Greeks, and their language and Albanian heritage were under pressure of assimilation.[6] [7]

In the 1930s the population of Chameria was approximately 70,000, the Muslim Albanian speakers estimated around 18,000–20,000. All the population, independent of religion of ethnicity, were called Chams.[8]

The estimated number of Cham Albanians expelled from Epirus to Albania and Turkey varies: figures include 14,000, 19,000, 20,000 and 25,000. The exact number of Cham Albanians who were expelled mainly to Albania, and to a lesser extent Turkey, is unknown. Mark Mazower[12] and Victor Roudometof[13] state that they numbered about 18,000 in 1944 and 4,000–5,000 in 1945. Miranda Vickers[14] says that they were 25,000 that fled into Albania.

After the expulsion of the Cham community to Albania, Chams organized the Anti-Fascist Committee of Cham Immigrants, with the help of the newly established communist government of Albania. It was established, during the first wave of refugees, and it aimed to make Greece allow, the returning of Chams in their homes. They organized two congresses, adopted a memorandum and sent delegates to Greece and the European allies. After three years of activity, the organization did not manage, neither to re-allocate Chams in Chameria, nor to internationalize the Cham issue.[15] They were given new homes in parts of southern Albania by the Albanian government, thus diluting the local Greek element in Southern Albania.[16] In 1951, the Cham refugees were forcibly given the Albanian citizenship.[17]

Very little attention was given to the Cham issue until the early 1990’s. In 1991 the National Political Association Çamëria was established; a pressure group advocating the return of the Chams to Greece, receipt of compensation and greater freedom for the Orthodox Chams in Greece.[18] Various other political organisations advocating for the rights of the Chams have since been established as well.

In 1994 the Albanian government declared the 27th of June as The Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria, but it did not receive any international recognition.[19]

The Chameria Democratic Association in June 2017 presented its objectives in a resolution as follows:

  1. The right of Chams and Arvanites to declare their ethnicity,
  2. The return of the Cham and Arvanite population to the territories inherited from where they were expelled under the Greco-Turkish agreement of 30 January 1923.
  3. The right to use the Albanian language as their official language
  4. The right to the property of Cham/Arvanites confiscated by the Greek Government based on the law of 1953-1954.
  5. The right to freely exercise one’s mother tongue and culture and religion, as well as religious objects of cults in the territory of Chameria.
  6. The right of the state and political organization of Cham and Arvanites in an independent state entity, under international guardianship.

[1] Elsie, Robert and Bejtullah D. Destani (2012). The Cham Albanians of Greece: A Documentary History. IB Tauris. ISBN 978-1-780760-00-1. p. XXIX.

[2] Baltsiotis, Lambros (2011). The Muslim Chams of Northwestern Greece: The grounds for the expulsion of a “non-existent” minority community. European Journal of Turkish Studies.

[3] Balkan Studies By Hetaireia Makedonikōn Spoudōn. Hidryma Meletōn Cheresonēsou tou Haimou. Published by Institute for Balkan Studies, Society for Macedonian Studies., 1976

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cham%C3%ABria

[5] Barbara Jelavich. History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge University Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0-521-27458-6

[6] Fabbe, Kristin. “Defining Minorities and Identities—Religious Categorization and State-Making Strategies in Greece and Turkey”. Presentation at: The Graduate Student Pre-Conference in Turkish and Turkic Studies, University of Washington, October 18, 2007.

[7] Dimitri Pentzopoulos, The Balkan Exchange of Minorities and Its Impact on Greece, C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1-85065-674-6ISBN 978-1-85065-674-6, p. 128

[8] Drandakis Pavlos (editor), Great Greek Encyclopedia, vol. 23, article Tsamouria. Editions “Pyrsos”, 1936–1934, in Greek language, p. 405

[9] Steven Béla Várdy, ed. (2003). Ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe. Boulder, Colo.: Social Science Monographs. p. 228. ISBN 9780880339957.

[10] Baltsiotis. The Muslim Chams of Northwestern Greece. 2011.

[11] Konidaris, Gerasimos (2005). “Examining policy responses to immigration in the light of interstate relations and foreign policy objectives: Greece and Albania“. In King, Russell, & Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers (eds). The new Albanian migration. Sussex Academic. p. 67.

[12] Mazower (1960), pp. 25-26.

[13] Victor Roudometof, Collective Memory, National Identity, and Ethnic Conflict. ISBN 0-275-97648-3. p. 158

[14] Vickers, Miranda. The Cham Issue – Albanian National & Property Claims in Greece. Paper prepared for the British MoD, Defence Academy, 2002. ISBN 1-903584-76-0

[15] Vickers, Miranda. The Cham Issue – Albanian National & Property Claims in Greece. Paper prepared for the British MoD, Defence Academy, 2002. ISBN 1-903584-76-0

[16] Shankland, David (2004). Archaeology, anthropology and heritage in the Balkans and Anatolia : the life and times of F.W. Hasluck, 1878-1920 (1st ed.). Istanbul: Isis Press. p. 198. ISBN 9789754282801.

[17] Vickers, Miranda. The Cham Issue – Albanian National & Property Claims in Greece. Paper prepared for the British MoD, Defence Academy, 2002. ISBN 1-903584-76-0

[18] Vickers, Miranda. The Cham Issue – Albanian National & Property Claims in Greece. Paper prepared for the British MoD, Defence Academy, 2002.

[19] Kouzas, Ioannis, Michail. “The Greek-Albanian Relations (1990-2010): The Bilateral Relations under the Influence of two Issues: The Greek Minority in Albania and the Issue of the Chams”Democritus University of Thrace. p. 134]. 

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