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Opening Cham House of Peace

On 14 July 2018, the Cham House of Peace was officially opened in the town of Vërvë, overlooking Chameria. It will serve as a meeting point and peace institute for the Balkan region.

On a hilltop looking out over Chameria stand several historical buildings that have witnessed many of the sufferings of the Cham people. These buildings are in the quiet town of Vërvë which is now mostly abandoned, having less than one hundred citizens. The town hasn’t always been so peaceful. During the great exodus of the Cham people in 1944, when they were on the run from Greek militias trying to destroy everything Cham-Albanian, the town of Vërvë was the main channel through which the Cham escaped certain death. The vast majority of Cham quickly moved further north into the cities of southern Albania, while few remained in the town. One reminder of the masses of people going through the town is the Cham House of Peace, consisting of several buildings on the hilltop looking out over Chameria on one side and Albania on the other. This House of Peace served as a meeting place for Cham-Albanian interests and aided the various Cham leaders to remain committed to the dream of a free Chameria and a peaceful Cham community. However, the Cham House of Peace was soon abandoned and under Albanian communist rule any activity to support the Cham was oppressed. The town of Vërvë declined, most people moved away and many buildings were abandoned and the infrastructure neglected.

Decades later, the president of the Republic of Chameria, Festim Lato, is committed to take up the struggle of the Cham people for historical justice. He has started many activities over the years and in 2018 decided to re-open the Cham House of Peace and reconstruct the dilapidated infrastructure of the town. The property was bought by the government of the Republic of Chameria and initial assesments of the needs of the town were done. The town of Vërvë is situated at the border and overlooks large swaths of Chameria. The only route to the town leads through a small and difficult to traverse path through the mountains. Usually the road is used by people who herd their goats who only need to beware of the occasional car from one of the few remaining citizens of the town. However, this all changed in July 2018. Twenty people from the Republic of Chameria moved into the town in the first week of July to prepare for the coming celebrations intended to mark the start of the reconstruction of Vërvë and Chameria.  This move did not go unnoticed by the public and the authorities of Albania and Greece. Several television crews visited the site to film and interview the workers from the Republic of Chameria. Most of the accounts were fairly positive, however on 13 July 2018 nine Cham were arrested by the Albanian authorities when they were travelling from Sarande to Vërvë. The Albanian and Greek authorities became restless and suspect unlawful provocations from the side of the Cham. However, the nine Cham activisits were quickly released, since no crime was committed and the actions of the Republic of Chameria in Vërvë and elsewehere are completely legitimate and aimed at getting historical justice for the Cham people.

On 14 July 2018, a large number of people travelled to the town of Vërvë to witness the historic opening of the Cham House of Peace. The Cham House of Peace is one of the most outer lying buildings of the town and directly faces Chameria. The various buildings composing the Cham House of Peace were decorated with many flags of supporting nations, like the USA, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The national flag of Chameria also waved proudly in the mountain winds. Furthermore, several meters-long photo’s of political leaders decorated the front part of the main building. American president Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the Dutch King and Queen and Dutch Prime-Minister Mark Rutte look out over the participants of the opening ceremony, and over Chameria. These nations have, in one way or the other, supported the Cham people in their struggle.

The opening ceremony of the Cham House of Peace was attended by many Cham and their supporters. The Republic of Chameria Prime-Minister Ali Aliu was present as well as Mr. Jeroen Zandberg who in his capacity as European diplomat and assistent to the president represented President Festim Lato who was unable to attend due to security reasons. Ms. Petra Keppler from the Berta von Sutner Institute in The Hague, the Netherlands was also present as well as many others who have dedicated their professional life to getting justice for the Cham people. The opening ceremony was broadcast live by several television stations and through various socialmedia channels, including Facebook and Twitter, people could witness first-hand a historic moment in the struggle of the Cham people to return to their lands. On behalf of president Festim Lato, diplomat  Jeroen Zandberg, cut the ribbon thereby officially opening the Cham House of Peace.  The ceremony was accompanied by the sounds of music from Chameria as well as the national hymn. After the official opening there was traditional Chamerian food and drink, while several participants enjoyed a traditional dance in the afternoon sun.

The Cham House of Peace will soon be restored to its former glory. In September 2018, the most urgent renovations will have been finalised and the first major international conference will be held in the town. Furthermore, the Cham House of Peace will house a permanent photo exhibition that documents the attrocities committed aginst the Cham people between the period of 1913 and 1944. The exhibition will also be duplicated as a travelling photo exhibition that will

The Cham House of Peace intends to become a major hub for the promotion of peace and peoples’rights in the Balkan. It will serve as a meeting place and official institution of the Republic of Chameria and will be permanently staffed. Due to its historic legacy and its strategic location looking out over Chameria, the Cham House of Peace will soon regain its prominent position as a major springboard for Cham activities to get historical justice for the Cham people.

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