Historical Dialogue on Cham Issues: Greek and Albanian Perspectives

Remarks by:
Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Tirana, Albania
27 June 2014

The Conference occurs at a historic moment. Not only is it the 70th anniversary of events in Paramythia, the European Union General Affairs Council recently granted Albania candidate status in the European Union. This milestone is the culmination of combined efforts over many years. All Albanians are celebrating this occasion. Congratulations to everyone.
Candidacy is a big step on the path to EU membership, which is based on various criteria — technical, political and economic. Membership is fundamentally about European values and good neighborly relations. Albanian-Greek relations are pivotal to Albania’s future, and the future of the region. While looking forward, Albanians also recall their past.
This meeting is a critical opportunity to explore strategies for highlighting Cham issues. Discussion about Cham issues was silenced for many years, even in Albania. Not today. The forum demonstrates Albania’s open society, which is engaged in dialogue about the experience of Cham Albanians during the 20th Century.
Historical dialogue requires multiple interlocutors. It takes two to talk. In addition to Albanians addressing other Albanians, Albanians must also engage Greeks and the broader international community. This is the only way to raise awareness about Cham issues, to promote mutual understanding, and lay the groundwork for justice and reconciliation.
Columbia University launched “The Historical Dialogue on Cham Issues” on October 19, 2013. The initial meeting was attended by approximately 30 scholars of Albanian and Greek origin, as well as other scholars, including academics affiliated with Columbia University.

Given sensitivities of the topic and the unprecedented nature of the meeting, we established protocols for the dialogue:
– The dialogue involved scholars and civil society representatives, who joined in their private capacity.
– No government officials or members of parliament from Greece, Albania or the United States attended.
– The meeting was off-the-record, but not secret. Discretion was encouraged.

Participants discussed a theoretical and practical framework for historical dialogue, noting that:
– Historical dialogue can be a tool for peace-building, creating a “memory for the future.”
– A multi-disciplinary approach includes strategies for conflict resolution.
– Transitional justice encompasses acknowledgement, apologies, compensation or reparations.
– Historical dialogue involving crimes or conflict rooted in identity risks renewing antagonism. Memories can become fodder for nationalist politicians.
– Advocacy can motivate policy-makers or governments to take an interest in historical events.

We discussed the Balkans Wars (1912-13) and the 1913 Treaty of London to the Metaxas dictatorship and internal colonization that changed the ethnographic character of Chameria. We discussed internment beginning in 1940, mass killings in 1944 in Paramythia and Dragamija, expulsions in 1945, and the denial of political and cultural rights that culminated in the 1948 Citizenship Law. Participants also discussed the historical context of events, including the question of collaboration. Some participants pointed out that discussing Cham issues is “very sensitive in Greece.” A lot of propaganda has been sponsored by the state. Nobody wants to discuss Cham issues. “The case is closed.”
A second meeting, co-sponsored by the Harriman Institute, was held on February 28, 2014. It included scholars from Albania and as well as scholars and civil society members from both communities. To follow-up, Professor Pellumb Xhufi (Professor of History, Albania Institute of History) and Professor Lambros Baltsiotis (Adjunct Lecturer, Research Centre for Minority Groups, Panteion University in Athens) to prepare scholarly papers on the following statement:

“Cham-Albanians suffered internment beginning in 1940, killings in 1944-45, and expulsion in 1945. Thousands of Cham-Albanians were killed in 1944 and 1945. These events occurred in a context and cycle of violence. It is alleged that Cham-Albanians were collaborators with the fascist and Nazi governments of Italy and Germany during World War II.”

Professor Xhufi will present his paper. But due to a scheduling difficulty, Professor Baltsiotis could not be in Tirana today. Therefore, I will summarize his paper (Attachment A). (By summarizing his work, I do not endorse any of his findings).

The papers of Professors Xhufi and Baltsiotis identify a surprising degree of common ground. They also reveal different views about the context and scale of events.

Historical dialogue as the basis for reconciliation is a process not an event. It can be a long and painful process. Both sides will want to quit, and leave the process. However, reconciliation is a lot like riding a bicycle. Stop pedaling and you fall off.

More than process, historical dialogue needs to focus on products and outcomes. Joint activities can include:
– Archival and other research, including diplomatic cables and other eye-witness accounts, seeking to clarify “the facts.”
– Publication of individual, shared narratives or parallel narratives.
– Analysis of school text books.
– “Memory-works” such as exhibits or museums.
– Media products ranging from oral histories to film or web-based platforms.
– Legal analysis regarding reparations or other claims.
– Analysis of historical, reconciliation or truth-seeking bodies established by a group or groups with comparable concerns/interests.

Columbia University is ready to assist historical dialogue and cooperation between Albanians and Greeks. We propose a forum in the region where the Xhufi and Baltsiotis papers can be discussed by Albanian and Greek scholars from Albania and Greece.

Of course, the dialogue on Cham issues occurs in a broader context of contemporary Greek-Albanian bilateral relations. Albania is pursuing a “zero problems with neighbors” policy. It wants to focus on a range of bilateral issues with Greece, with the goal of enhancing commercial and diplomatic cooperation.

Columbia University stands ready to convene Albanians and Greeks, including officials, for constructive dialogue about their shared history, as well as their common future. On the path to Europe, Albanian’s prospects are beckoningly bright.

(Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a senior adviser and foreign affairs experts to the U.S. State Department during the administrations of President Clinton, Bush and Obama).

Attachment A

Summary of the paper prepared by:


(Adjunct Lecturer, Research Centre for Minority Groups,
Panteion University, Athens)

Muslim Chams in the western lowlands of Epirus, now called Thesprotia, suffered discrimination. Administrative harassment and acts of violence forced them to participate in the Greco-Turkish exchange of populations. During the second half of 1920’s, illegal land expropriations carried out by the state affected both large landowners, as well as mid and small land owners who constituted the majority of the Chameria community. These events gradually transformed Muslim Chams into a minority group.

A rift between Muslims and Christians started in the mid 1920’s, intensifying during the Second World War. When Italy invaded Greece, some armed Muslim Chams committed crimes against the Christian population, which included looting and killing. As the Italian army withdrew in November 1941, Muslim Chams were targeted. Local authorities supported crimes by Christians.

In February 1942, Muslim Cham paramilitaries committed a number of atrocities, including murders. The situation worsened in 1943 when Greek guerillas prevailed in the highlands of Thesprotia. Muslim Chams controlled the roads and lowlands of Thesprotia, exacerbating inter-religious tensions.

Some Muslim Cham leaders encouraged collaboration with Italians, and some Muslims joined the region’s fascist party. Overall, Muslims favored the Axis Powers. Collaboration was not unique to Chams. Collaboration with the Axis was widespread during the Second World War. Many nations, ethnic groups and minorities from all over Europe collaborated with Axis. Albanian nationalists were largely linked to the left wing EAM and its military branch ELAS during the interwar period.

Germans took control of the area in the summer of 1943, a couple of months before the Italian surrendered in September. During this period, significant mass atrocities were carried out against the Christian population, mostly in the Fanari (Frar) region that was inhabited by Christian Chams. Joint German-Cham looting was aimed at assuring food supplies, resulting in widespread violence against Christians. More than 300 Christian civilians were murdered by the Muslim Cham militia in 1943.

Several months later, the right wing guerillas of EDES took control of the Thesprotia plains, killing Muslim civilians. Atrocities were not spontaneous. Extermination was initiated during the summer of 1944. The worst massacre occurred in Paramythia town where more than 400 civilians were massacred by EDES forces and Christian armed groups in June 1944.1 The brutality of this massacre was so great, many babies were murdered.2 Most U.S. and British liaison officers initially turned a blind eye to the atrocities,3 indirectly supported them, or openly encouraged them.4 The number of deaths is debated. According to the list of fatalities, less than 1,200 civilians were killed in 1944-1945.5 During our field work, we were able to cross-check and confirm the numbers for a dozen villages.

Some Albanian scholars try to minimize the significance of the collaboration of a majority of the Muslim population,6 noting their participation in ELAS. Leftist Greeks also minimize the events. The 4th battalion of the 15th regiment of ELAS, called “Turco-Albanian partisans”7 was involved. Many members of this battalion were Christians.8 Some Muslims were not from Greece but from the Muslim Cham villages in Albania.9 Moreover, this battalion was only active for a very limited time and participated in only a few skirmishes.10

Clashes were not based on ethnic differences, but local differences and political rivalries.11 The expulsion of Muslim Chams did not occur as a result of their collaboration with the Axis occupation forces. It was an outcome of state policy, grounded in the prevailing nationalistic ideology of the interwar period. The Greek state welcomed the actions of EDES and the local population. It distorted historical accounts of the events to deny the very existence of Muslim Chams as a minority group.


1. Most of them were originating from the town. In a 1974 manuscript of an ex-EDES officer which was published in 2009, the author makes the reference of 247 murders during the first day, apart from the (official) executions (V. Pavlidis, Albanian Chams of Paramythia region and the Occupation period [Αλβανοτσάμηδες της περιοχής παραμυθιάς και η Κατοχή], [Ilion, 2009], p. 140), indicating in our point of view a recording that might had taken place.
2. According to N. Ziangos,…, op.cit., vol. 1, p. 259, in one house 30 kids under the age of three were massacred.
3. See the letter to the Chams militia they co-sign in 28th of July 1944 as sited by I. Archimandritis,…, op.cit, pp. 128-129. We didn’t check further for the authenticity of the ultimatum.
4. Colonel Chris Woodhouse, head of the British Military Mission in Greece reported that: “Encouraged by the Allied Mission I headed, Zervas drove the Chams out of their homes in 1944” (cited by M. Vickers, The Cham issue. Albanian national and property claims in Greece, CSRC (G109), 2002, p. 6. Then same officer wrote back in 1945 in an official note that “The Chams deserved what they got but Zervas’ methods were pretty bad” (PRP/FO, 371/48094).
5. I. Hoxha,…, op.cit., pp. 462-497. Actually the list gives us c. 1100 victims. Unfortunately a book published in 2009 with material from the Albanian Archives is not helpful as it includes all the usual malfunctions of non- academic work plus those misrepresentations which very often are observed to occur by certain Albanian academics. The presentation of the archival material, the citations, etc., are sometimes misleading and confusing (see K. Dervishi (ed. and comp.), Masakra në Çamëri, “55”, Tirana, 2009). According to the writer there are documents counting the killings of 1944-1945 to 804, 1620, 506, 2100, 208 (in Paramythia region) persons (ibid, pp. 36-37, 74-75, 217, 222, 232). The heavy losses caused by the expulsion and the conditions of living in Albania are also presented in the book.
6. For different attitudes adopted by Muslim Chams see the works of Sarras, Ziangos and Georgia Kretsi, “The “Secret” past of the Greek-Albanian Borderlands. Cham Muslims Albanians: Perspectives on a Conflict over Historical Accountability and Current Rights”, Ethnologia Balkanica, vol. 6, 2002, pp. 171-195
7. Meaning “Muslim Albanian partisans” («Τουρκαλβανοί παρτιζάνοι»). In most of EAM and ELAS brochures though, published at that period for the purpose of defending the rights of minorities in Greece,, the term used is simply “Arvanites”.
8. See G. Margaritis,…, op. cit., p. 166-167.
9. Usually no more of a dozen names are cited, i.e. B. Meta, Tragjedia came, Idrizi, Tirana, 2010, p. 63-65. H. Minga,…, op.cit.,p. 155, cites 15 names, all of them having the characteristic form of the Filiati region. These names are approximately repeated in the late 40s communist organization of the Chams in Albania (B. Meta, Tensioni Greko-Shqiptar 1939-1949, Globus R., Tirana, 2007, p. 149). Quite common is the confusion of this unit with other units of the left wing of Albanian resistance army units, such as the “Çamëria”. It seems though that the high numbers of Muslim Chams that fought in the ranks of ELAS, as high as 700 persons, are reproduced by a single report of the British “Colonel Palmer” (April 1945) (B. Meta,…, op. cit., p. 90). In fact the report of Lieutenant Colonel C.A.S. Palmer refers to the following: “The Albanian Chamorians claim to have had a battalion of 400 to 700 fighting with ELAS. This was probably so but their efforts are likely to have been directed more against EDES than against Germans” (PRO/FO, 371/48094). Muharrem Demi, a quasi-military unit leader, avoids providing any numbers (H. Minga,…, op. cit., pp. 166-168). The number of 700 persons, in combination with the 2000 soldiers of the Cham armed collaborators in Palmer’s report (B. Meta, Tensioni…, op. cit., pp. 13-138) is widely used. [Once again the reports are as follows: “Force 399 estimated the number at 2,000 to 3,000”]. E. Manda counts 20 Muslims in the first period, plus 40 more enlisted in the battalion later, according to the Greek Army Archives (E. Manda,…, op. cit., pp. 158, 189). The battalion, according to a local writer consisted of, in total, 300 men [this is the usual number for an ELAS battalions], “most of them Muslim Chams from the Filiati and Gropa [=a region at the south west]” (V. Krapsitis, Muslim Chams of Thesprotia [Οι Μουσουλμάνοι Τσάμηδες της Θεσπρωτίας], Athens, 1986, p. 75). An ex-EDES officer gives the numbers of 200 or “more than 100” Muslim Cham fighters in the battalion, most of them originating from Filiati region (V. Pavlidis,…, op. cit., pp. 122, 137, 177). During our own field work together with others colleagues from Panteion University, we found that the elderly ELAS fighters of the area even doubt the number of one hundred fighters. We underline that no dead Muslims ELAS fighters have been recorded (N. Ziangos,…, op. cit., vol. 4, pp. 339-342).
10. G. Margaritis,…, op. cit., pp. 198-203. .
11. See D. Druckman, “Social-Psychological aspects of nationalism”, J. Comaroff and P. Stern (eds.) Perspectives on Nationalism and War, Gordon & Breach, Amsterdam 1995, pp. 47-98, A. Cohen, Customs and politics in Urban Africa, University of California Press, Berkley, 1969.