Cham Albanian collaboration with the Axis

Cham Albanian collaboration with the Axis

During the Axis occupation of Greece between 1941 and 1944, large parts of the Albanian minority in the Thesprotia prefecture in Epirus, northwestern Greece, known as Chams (Albanian: Çamë, Greek: Τσάμηδες, Tsamides) collaborated with the occupation forces.[1] Fascist Italian as well as Nazi German propaganda promised that the region would be awarded to Albania (then in personal union with Italy) after the end of the war. As a result of this pro-Albanian approach, many Muslim Chams actively supported the Axis operations and committed a number of crimes against the local population both in Greece and Albania. Apart from the formation of a local administration and armed security battalions, a terrorist organization named Këshilla and a resistance paramilitary group called Balli Kombetar Cam were operating in the region, manned by local Muslim Chams. The results were devastating: many Greek as well as Albanian citizens lost their lives and a great number of villages was burned and destroyed. With the retreat of the Axis forces in 1944, a part of the Cham population fled to Albania and revenge attacks against the remaining Chams were carried out by Greek guerrillas and villagers. When the war ended, special courts on collaboration sentenced 2,106 Chams to death in absentia.[2] However, the war crimes remained unpunished since the criminals had already fled abroad. According to German historian Norbert Frei, the Muslim Cham minority is regarded as the "fourth occupation force" in Greece due to the collaborationist and criminal activities that large parts of the minority committed.[3]



The region inhabited by the Chams, and known among Albanians as "Chameria", consisted chiefly of the Thesprotia prefecture in Greece, as well as a few villages in southwestern Albania. Before, 1945, the region had a mixed Greek and Albanian population dating to the migrations of the Albanian tribes into the area in the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of the Chams, originally Greek Orthodox Christians, were Islamicized in the 17th and 18th centuries,[4] opening a confessional and cultural rift with the remaining Christian population. Given the Ottoman social structure, Muslim Chams were the most privileged part of the society and possessed much of the most fertile land.[5] A degree of antagonism existed between the two communities and conflict occurred on certain occasions.[6]

Once Epirus passed to Greek hands in 1913 as a result of the Balkan Wars however, the Muslim beys lost their past political weight, while retaining their economic influence. During the Interwar period, the Greek state did not take any serious effort to encourage their assimilation, although a number of complaints by the Chams to the League of Nations bears witness to a sense of grievance among them.[7] However, there is little evidence of direct state persecution at this time.[8] In the late 1930s, especially after Albania became a protectorate of Fascist Italy, relations between the Cham community and the Greek state deteriorated considerably, as, with the encouragement of the Italian authorities in Albania, irredentist elements of this community became more vocal.[4] The Italian governor of Albania, Francesco Jacomoni, was an especially vocal proponent of Albanian claims in Greece and Kosovo, hoping to use them as a means of rallying Albanian support around the Fascist regime.[9] In the event, Albanian enthusiasm for the "liberation of Chameria" was muted,[9] but as Italian invasion became imminent in fall 1940, the Greek authorities disarmed the Cham conscripts in the Army, and later rounded up the male population and sent it to internal exile.[7]

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, 28 villages in the region were inhabited exclusively by Muslim Chams, and an additional 20 villages had mixed (Greek-Muslim Cham) populations.[6]

Italian occupation

When the Greek-Italian War broke out in October 1940, the Italian forces had the support of 3,500 Albanians, among them members of the Cham community in Greece. Their performance however was distinctly lackluster, as most Albanians, poorly motivated, either deserted or defected.[9] The Greek army managed to repel the attack and advance into Albania, but with the intervention of Germany, Greece soon capitulated. The entire country came under a triple occupation by German, Italian and Bulgarian troops.

The Italian Fascist administration in Epirus (as well as the German one later) adopted a pro-Albanian approach, promising that the region would be awarded to the Albanian state when the war ended. Consequently, a number of Muslim Cham communities began collaborating with the Italians.[6] The occupation forces installed a local Cham administration in the town of Paramythia, with Xhemil Dino as local administrator of Thesprotia and as a representative of the Albanian government. At the time the town of Paramythia had a mixed Greek-Cham population of 6,000.[10] Apart from the local Cham administration (Këshilla) and militia, a paramilitary organization named 'Kosla' was operating from July 1942. According to post-war courts decisions and testimonies, during the Italian occupation these armed units were responsible for large scale criminal activity: murders, rapes, village burnings and looting.[10]

From 29 July-31 August 1943, while the region was typically under Italian occupation, a combined German and Cham force launched an anti-partisan sweep operation codenamed Augustus.[11] During the subsequent operations, 600 Greek villagers were killed and 70 villages in the region were destroyed. In exchange of their support, German Lieutenant Colonel Josef Remold offered the Chams weapons and equipment. As a token of appreciation, Nuri Dino, the leader of the Cham security battalions, promised to secure the region of the Acheron river, south of Paramythia, against Allied infiltration.[12]

German occupation

In September 1943, following Italian capitulation, the region officially came under German control. The German commander of Paramythia, in need of the support of the Cham population, repeated to the Albanian community the promise that the region would became part of Greater Albania after the war.[10]

By time Operation Augustus ended, a larger number of Muslim Chams was recruited for the armed support of the Axis side forming additional battalions of Cham volunteers. Their support was appreciated by the Germans: Lt Colonel Josef Remold remarked that "with their knowledge of the surrounding area, they have proved their value in the scouting missions". On several occasions these scouting missions engaged EDES units in combat.[13] On September 27, combined German and Cham forces launched large scale operation in burning and destroying villages north of Paramythia: Eleftherochori, Seliani, Semelika, Aghios Nikolaos, killing 50 Greek villagers in the process. In this operation the Cham contingent numbered 150 men, and, according to German Major Stöckert, "performed very well".[14]

Paramythia incident

On the night of 27 September, Cham militias arrested 53 prominent Greek citizens in Paramythia and executed 49 of them two days later. This action was orchestrated by the brothers Nuri and Mazar Dino (an officer of the Cham militia) in order to get rid of the town's Greek representatives and intellectuals. According to German reports, Cham militias were also part of the firing squad.[15]

During September 20–29, as a result of serial terrorist activities, at least 75 Greek citizens were killed in Paramythia and 19 municipalities were destroyed.[16] On September 30, the Swiss representative of the International Red Cross, Hans-Jakob Bickel, visited the area and concluded:[17]

20,000 Albanians, with Italian and now German support, spread terror to the rest of the population. Only in the region of Fanari 24 villages were destroyed. The entire harvest was taken by them. In my trip I realized that the Albanians kept the Greeks terrified inside their homes. Young Albanians, just finished from school, wandered heavily armed. The Greek population of Igoumenitsa had to find refuge in the mountains. The Albanians had stolen all the cattle and the fields remain uncultivated.

Nazi-Cham activities in southern Albania

Although operation Augustus took place mostly in Greek territory, such activities had also spread to southern Albania, with 50 Albanians being executed.[18][clarification needed] [19]

Due to increasing resistance activity at the end of 1943 in southern Albania, German General and local commander Hubert Lanz, decided to initiate armed operations with the code name Horridoh in this region. Albanian nationalist groups participated in these operations, among them a Cham battalion of ca. 1,000 men under the leadership of Nuri Dino. The death toll from these operations, which began on 1 January 1944 in the region of Konispol, was 500 Albanians.[20]

Cham participation in the resistance

As the end of World War II drew near, a small number of Muslim Chams became part of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS),[21] as well as the anti-fascist National Liberation Army of Albania.[22] In the ELAS, Chams formed the IV "Ali Demi" battalion, named after a Cham Albanian who was killed in Vlora fighting against the Germans. At the time of its creation in 1944, it had 460 men, both Cham Albanians and Greeks.[21]

Axis retreat

During the summer of 1944, when the German withdrawal was imminent, the right-wing head of the National Republican Greek League (EDES), Napoleon Zervas, asked the Cham Albanians to fight against his rivals, the Communist-controlled EAM-ELAS. After their negative response, and in pursuit of orders given by the Allied forces to EDES to push them out of Greece and into Albania, fierce fighting occurred between both sides.[23] According to British reports, the Cham bands managed to flee to Albania with their full equipment, together with half million stolen cattle as well as 3,000 horses, leaving only the elderly members of the community behind.[24]

On 18 June 1944, EDES forces with Allied support launched an attack on Paramythia. After short-term against a combined Cham-German garrison, the town was finally liberated. Soon after, violent reprisals were carried out against the town's Muslim community, which was considered responsible for the massacre of September 1943.[24]

The number of the Cham victims during this operation is unknown, although it is certain that the remaining Chams who had not already fled to Albania were forced to move. British officers described it as "a most disgraceful affair" involving "an orgy of revenge" with the local guerrillas "looting and wantonly destroying everything". The British Foreign Office reported that "The bishop of Paramythia joined in the searching of houses for booty and came out of one house to find his already heavily laden mule had been meanwhile stripped by some andartes".[25]

Aftermath and war crimes trials

In the post-war years a number of trials concerning the war crimes committed during the Axis occupation occurred, however not a single defendant was arrested or imprisoned, as these had already fled the country. During 1945, a Special Court on Collaborators in Ioannina condemned, in absentia, 1,930 Cham collaborators to death (decision no. 344/1945).[26] The next year the same court condemned an additional 179.[2] At the Nuremberg trials, General Hubert Lanz reported that the executions and the reprisal missions were part of "war regulations", however he admitted utter ignorance about the executions in Paramythia.[27] In 1948 the Greek National Bureau on War Crimes ordered juridical research on the crimes committed by Italians, Albanians and Germans during the Axis occupation. Two days later, the immediate arrest of the defendants was ordered. Because all the defendants were abroad it is unknown if the Greek Foreign Ministry initiated the needed diplomatic procedure.[28] In the Hostages Trial in Nuremberg (1948) the American judges called the executions in Paramythia "plain murder".


  1. ^ Meyer 2008: 705 "The Albanian minority of the Chams collaborated in large parts with the Italians and the Germans".
  2. ^ a b Ktistakis 2006: 16
  3. ^ Frei 2006: 483
  4. ^ a b King 2005: 87
  5. ^ Roudometof 2002: 157
  6. ^ a b c Meyer 2008: 152
  7. ^ a b Mazower 2000: 25
  8. ^ Roudometof 2002
  9. ^ a b c Fischer 1999: 75-76
  10. ^ a b c Meyer 2008: 464
  11. ^ Meyer 2008: 204
  12. ^ Meyer 2008: 204, 464
  13. ^ Meyer 2008: 464, 467, 476
  14. ^ Meyer 2008: 469
  15. ^ Meyer 2008: 469-471
  16. ^ Meyer 2008: 476
  17. ^ Meyer 2008: 498
  18. ^ Meyer 2008: 218
  19. ^ Meyer 2008: 537
  20. ^ Meyer 2008: 539
  21. ^ a b The Secret Past of the Greek-Albanian Borderlands. Cham Muslim Albanians: Perspectives on a Conflict over Historical Accountability and Current Rights. Georgia Kretsi.
  22. ^ Eriksonas, Linas; Leos Müller (2005). Statehood before and beyond ethnicity: minor states in Northern and Eastern Europe, 1600-2000 (vol 33 ed.). P.I.E.-Peter Lang. pp. 308. ISBN 9780820466460. 
  23. ^ King 2005: 218
  24. ^ a b Meyer 2008: 620
  25. ^ Mazower 2000:
  26. ^ King 2005: 67
  27. ^ Meyer 2008: 472
  28. ^ Meyer 2008: 473


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