Cham Albanians

Cham Albanians
Cham Albanians
Total population
170,000[1] - 440,000[2][3]
Regions with significant populations
Albania 120,000[4]-250,000 [3]
Greece 0[5] - 40,000[3][6]
Turkey 80,000–100,000 [7]
United States of America 50,000–70,000 [3][7]

also Greek, Turkish and English, depending on residing state


Islam, Orthodox Christianity

Cham Albanians, or Chams (Albanian: Çamë, Greek: Τσάμηδες Tsámidhes), are a sub-group of Albanians who originally resided in the coastal region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, an area known among Albanians as Chameria. The Chams have their own peculiar cultural identity, which is a mixture of Albanian and Greek influences as well as many specifically Cham elements. Chams played an important role in starting the renaissance of the Albanian culture in the 19th century. The Chams speak their own dialect of the Albanian language, which is considered one of the two most conservative dialects, the other being Arvanitika.

Following the Italian occupation of Albania in 1939, the Chams became a prominent propaganda tool for the Italians and irredentist elements among them became more vocal. As a result, on the eve of the Greco-Italian War, the adult male Cham population was deported by the Greek authorities to internment camps. After the occupation of Greece, large parts of the Muslim Cham population collaborated with Italian and German forces. This fueled resentment among the local Greek population and in the aftermath of World War II the entire Muslim Cham population had to flee to Albania. Most Chams settled in Albania, while others formed émigré communities in Turkey and the United States, and today their descendants continue to live in these countries. Since the fall of Communism in Albania, Chams have campaigned for right of return to Greece and restoration of confiscated properties.



Etymology and definition

The name "Cham", together with that of the region, "Chameria", is of uncertain origin. It may derive from the local Greek hydronym Thyamis (Θύαμις in Greek, Kallamas in Albanian), or simply from the fact that as the descendents of Muslim converts the Chams came to be referred to by Greek Orthodox Christians as 'those who attend mosques (Turkish sing. cami = Greek tzami )'. In its original ethnographic and dialectological sense, the term Cham comprises the entire Albanian-speaking population of the Thesprotia and Preveza prefectures of Greek Epirus, including both the Muslim and Christian populations.[8]

Chams account for the greatest part of the erstwhile substantial Albanian minority in the wider area of the periphery of Epirus; outside "Chameria" proper, there are only two Albanian-speaking villages further north-east (near Konitsa in Ioannina prefecture), whose inhabitants belong to a different Albanian subgroup, that of the Labs.[9] Today, in the Greek context the use of the term has become largely associated with the former Muslim minority.[9]

Ethnic appellations

Cham Albanians are known primarily by the Albanian form of the name Chams (Çam or Çamë) and the Greek name Tsamides (Τσάμηδες). It can be found in English sources also as a hybrid form of both names, Tsams.[10] Prior to 1944, Chams were often called by Greek sources Albanophones (Greek: Αλβανόφωνοι),[11][12] or simply Albanians of Epirus.[11]

In Greece, Muslim Chams were referred to by a number of names by different authors. They were called Albanochams (Αλβανοτσάμηδες, Alvanotsamides),[12] and Turkalbanians (Τουρκαλβανοί, Tourkalvanoi)[13] or Turkochams (Τουρκοτσάμηδες, Tourkotsamides).[14]

At the same time, the Albanian speaking population in Thesprotia, who is very rarely characterized as Christian Chams,[12] is often referred by Greeks as Arvanites (Αρβανίτες),[9] which primarily refers to the Albanophone Greeks of southern Greece but is commonly used as for all Albanian-speaking Greek citizens. The local Greek population also calls them Graeco-Chams (Ελληνοτσάμηδες, Elinotsamides),[12] while Muslim Albanians sometimes designate them as Kaur, which means "infidel" and refers to their religion.[12] This term was used by Muslim Albanians for the non-Muslims during the Ottoman Empire.[12] Orthodox Chams use the appellation "Albanians" (Shqiptar in Albanian) for themselves.[6] Chams in Turkey are known by the name Arnauts (Arnavutlar), which applies to all ethnic Albanians in Turkey.[15]


Cham communities now mostly exist in Albania, the United States and Turkey, as a result of their expulsion from their homeland, Chameria in Greece after World War II. A minority still lives in this region.[3]


Chameria, within Albania and Greece

Chameria is the name applied by the Albanians to the region formerly inhabited by the Chams, which extends from the Ionian coast to the Ioannina mountains in the east, and in the south almost as far as the Preveza gulf. This area corresponds to a few villages in the southern part of the Saranda district in Albania (the municipalities of Konispol, Xarrë and Markat)[16] and to the prefectures of Thesprotia and Preveza in Greece.[16] This area is part of the larger region of Epirus.

Much of the region is mountainous. Valley farmlands are located the central, southern and the western part of Thesprotia, while the terrain of the Preveza Prefecture is mostly hilly. There are two rivers in the region: the Thyamis and Acheron.

The main settlements in which Chams originally resided were: Paramythia,[17] Filiates,[17] Igoumenitsa,[3] Parapotamos,[18] Sybota,[19]Sagiada,[20] Perdika,[19] and Margariti.[12] Preveza and Ioannina also had significant Cham Albanian communities.[21] The Orthodox Chams originally resided in Fanari,[8] Louros[8] and Thesprotiko.[8]


After the expulsion of the Muslim Chams from Greece, they were spread throughout Albania. The majority of Muslim Chams settled in the outskirts of Vlorë, Durrës and Tirana. Several hundred Chams moved into properties along the Himara coast and to existing villages along the coast such as Borshi, or established entirely new villages, such as Vrina, near the Greek border.[3]


Some Chams live in Turkey and the United States. Their number is unknown, but according to some sources, they number 150,000.[3] The first wave of this diaspora left for Turkey during the Greco-Turkish population exchange of 1923. They have populated the areas of Erenköy and Kartal in Istanbul,[22] as well as a number of towns in the area of Bursa, especially Mudanya.[21] After the Second World War, others settled in Izmir, Gemlik and Aydin.[7] After 1944, another part migrated to the United States of America,[3] where they were mainly concentrated in Chicago, as well as Boston and New York.[23]


Timeline of Cham history
Chronology Events
1358 The Despotate of Arta is established by Peter Losha, an Albanian tribesman.
1380 Gjon Zenebishi, born in Vagenetia, forms the Principality of Gjirokastër, which incorporates the northern part of the Chameria region.
1414 The region falls under Ottoman and Venetian control.
16th century The process of Islamization begins among the Albanians, but initially makes little headway.
1622 A group of Albanian origin, the Souliotes, form a confederation in the mountains of Souli, resisting Ottoman troops.
18th and 19th centuries Widespread Islamization of the population occurs, and the majority of Albanians become Muslims by the late 19th century.
1792–1803 Ali Pasha, who had incorporated all of Epirus into his pashalik, declares war on the Souliotes. The Souliotes are able to resist for nine years, but are eventually defeated and evicted from Souli. The survivors of the population are evacuated to the Ionian islands.
1821–1829 The Greek War of Independence. Revolutionary General of the Greek Army, Markos Botsaris, was ordered by the provisional Greek government to convince the Muslim Chams to join the Greek cause but without success.[24]
1827 The former bishop of Paramythia, Grigorios, translates the New Testament into Albanian, as his flock could not understand the first century Greek of the New Testament well.
1878 The Albanian National Awakening begins. A separatist Albanian movement, the League of Prizren, is established, and names Abedin Dino and Osman Taka as leaders of the local branches in Chameria.
1879 Father Stathi Melani opens the first Albanian-language school of the region in Sagiada.
1912–1913 The Balkan Wars. Epirus is annexed by the Greece. Albania declares its independence from the Ottoman Empire, asking for sovereignty over the whole region of Epirus. Six Cham delegates from Chameria and Ioannina sign the declaration. The Treaty of London gives the majority of Chameria to the Kingdom of Greece, with only a few villages going to Albania.
1922 During the Greek-Turkish population exchange, a few thousands of Cham Albanians leave Chameria. 16,000 Greek refugees are settled in the region.[citation needed]
1926 Albanians are officially recognized as a minority, and are promised compensation for their land and Albanian-language schools.
1927 The new Greek government passes a law that deprives minorities, including Chams, from citizenship, rescinding the earlier concessions.
1928 More than 100 village names are changed to Greek in the prefectures of Thesprotia, Preveza and Ioannina.
1935 Albania and Greece sign an agreement that would allow the creation of Albanian-language schools for the Chams. This agreement too was nullified as a dictatorial regime took power in Greece.
1939 Following the Italian annexation of Albania in March, Albanian conscripts in the Greek Army are disarmed and put to construction work, while others are sent to internal exile in the Aegean Islands.
1940 Italy invades Greece, but is repelled. In April 1941, the German Army conquers Greece.
1941–1944 The Axis Occupation of Greece. Several hundred Muslim Chams actively collaborated with the occupation forces. Another part joined the Resistance in both Albania and in Greece (from May 1944).
1944–1945 Following the withdrawal of German forces, the majority of the Muslim Chams fled or were expelled into Albania by the forces of the right-wing National Republican Greek League.
1946 The Chams are organized as refugees in Albania, and petition unsuccessfully for return to their homeland.
1952 Greece confiscates Cham properties and nullifies their citizenship. The Communist government in Albania gives them compulsory Albanian citizenship.
1991 The National Political Association "Çamëria", a pressure group advocating the return of the Chams to Greece, is established.
1994 Albania passes a law declaring the June 27 The Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria.
1999 Albania and Greece agree to create a bilateral commission, focusing only about the property issue as a technical problem. It has not yet functioned.
2004 Chams create the Party for Justice and Integration to represent their interests in Albanian politics.
2011 Chams create the PDIU as 2 cham partys where merged.

Medieval era (up to 1434)

The first undisputed mention of Albanians as an ethnic group in historical records dates from the second half of the 11th century, where they are named as the inhabitants of Arbanon in central Albania.[25] The date of the first presence of Albanians in the region of Epirus is unknown, due to a lack of historical documentation. According to one source, it must predate the 12th century.[26] However, in 1258 when groups of Albanians around Dyrrachion (Durrës) were allied with the Despot of Epirus, Michael II Doukas, there is no evidence of Albanians in Epirus.[27]

Elements of the Albanian population began, in the late 13th and early 14th century, for various reasons, to emigrate to Epirus. In the first decade of the 14th century, some Albanian clans were reported in Epirus and Thessaly, mainly hired as mercenaries from the Byzantines.[27] A major migration occurred in the 1340s and 1350s[28] when Albanian tribesmen supported the successful Serbian campaign against Byzantine possessions the region.[29] During this migration period, two short-lived Albanian entities were formed in Epirus: the Despotate of Arta (1358–1416) and the Principality of Zenebishti (1386–1411), while the area of Vagenetia (medieval name of Chameria/Thesprotia) was mainly under the control of Italian rulers: either Venetians or the Despotes of Epirus based in Ioannina. This migration wave formed the basis of the Albanian populations in Greece: in Epirus, the evolution of a distinct dialect would eventually differentiate the Chams from their northern cousins,[30][dubious ] while those Albanians who settled in southern Greece would become the ancestors of the Arvanites.[29]

Ottoman rule (1434–1913)

Population movements, 14th century.

The region of Epirus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the early 15th century. From the establishment of Ottoman rule until 1864, the region of Chameria was included in the Eyalet of Rumelia. It was divided between the sanjaks of Delvina and Ioannina, which were second order administrative divisions.[31] After 1864, this territory was organized under the Vilayet of Yanya (Ioannina), which was further divided into the sanjaks of Ioannina, Preveza and Gjirokastra.[32] Between 1787 and 1822, Ali Pasha controlled the region, which was incorporated into his Pashalik of Yanina, a de facto independent state under only nominal Ottoman authority.[33]

Islamization (16th–19th century)

Under Ottoman rule, Islamization was widespread amongst Albanians. In central and southern Albania, by the end of the 17th century the urban centers had largely adopted Islam. The growth of an Albanian Muslim elite of Ottoman officials, like pashas and beys, such as the Köprülü family, who played an increasingly important role in Ottoman political and economic life, further strengthened this trend.[31] In northern Chameria the vast majority became Muslims, while south of Acheron and down to Preveza, Albanians remained Orthodox.[2] Muslim Chams were mostly followers of the Bektashi order,[22] especially after the 18th century,[34] when the Bektashis made considerable gains in influence in the rugged areas of southern Albania and northern Greece.[34]

The process of Islamization of the Chams started in the 16th century, but it reached major proportions only in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to the population census (defter) of 1538, the population of the region was almost entirely Orthodox, with only a minority, estimated less than 5 per cent, having converted to Islam. The main instigator for the beginning of mass conversions in the region were the draconian measures adopted by the Ottomans after the two failed revolts of the Greek monk Dionysius the Philosopher as well as a number of Muslim local farmers, against the Ottomans.[35] In their wake, the Ottoman pashas tripled the taxes owed by the non-Muslim population, as they regarded the Orthodox element a continuous threat of future revolts. Another reason for conversion was the absence of liturgical ceremonies in Chameria, especially in the northern part of the region.[35] According to the French historian Fernand Braudel, in the wider region of what today is Southern Albania and Northwestern Greece, "it lacked the church discipline; in the churches was not performed any religious ceremony, what meant that Christianity did not have deep roots there".[36] This combination resulted in the first wave of conversions in the beginning of the 18th century, by a number of poor farmers. At this time Muslims became the majority in a few villages like Kotsika, near Sagiada. During the entire 18th century, Muslims were still a minority among the Albanian population of the region, and became the majority only in the second half of 19th century. Estimates based on the defter of 1875 show that Muslim Chams had surpassed Orthodox Chams in numbers.[35]

In a number of cases however, only one person, usually the oldest male member of the family, converted into Islam, in order not to pay taxes, while all other members remained Christians. As a result, historians argue that the Cham Albanians were either Christian or Crypto-Christian as late as the first half of the 19th century. During the second half though the majority of Chams became fully islamized and Crypto-Christianity ceased to exist.[35] As a result of the social structure of the Ottoman Empire, the Muslims of the region, the vast majority of whom were Albanians, being favored by the Ottoman authorities, were feuding with their Orthodox neighbors.[2]

Albanian National Awakening (1870s–1912)

As Ottoman society was founded on the religion-based millet system and not on ethnic groups, schools in Chameria, as elsewhere where Albanians lived, were conducted only in Turkish and Greek. Christian Albanians could attend Greek schools, and Muslim Albanians Turkish schools, but Albanian language schools were highly discouraged.[37] The situation would change only during the National Renaissance of Albania, when a number of local Albanians would establish private, unrecognized Albanian-language schools. In 1870, the despot of Paramythia, Grygorios, translated the New Testament into Albanian, as his followers could not understand well the Greek language.[38] While, in 1879, the first Albanian school of the region was created in Sagiada by father Stathi Melani. At that time, the region was under the short-lived rule of the League of Prizren.[31]

Abedin Dino

Chams also played an important role in the National Renaissance of Albania (Rilindja Kombetare). Several Chams were heads of cultural clubs and patriotic organizations, which aimed at the establishment of an independent Albanian state.[2] Amongst them, the most distinguished personalities during the last years before independence were Abedin Dino, Osman Taka and Thoma Çami.[31]

Abedin Dino was one of the founders of the League of Prizren (1878) and one of the main contributors in the Albanian independence.[31] He was appointed as the chief representative of the League of Prizren for Chameria, and established a local League branch in Ioannina. When the League was disbanded in 1881, he continued fighting against Ottoman forces in Albania. He was killed by the Ottoman army while on his way to participate in the formation of the League of Peja.[31]

Another leader of the Prizren League active at the same time was Osman Taka. When the League of Prizren was formed he was named as the head of the local branch in Preveza. When the Ottoman forces managed to seize the Preveza League in 1886, Osman Taka too was arrested, accused of treason, and sentenced to death. He was executed in Konispol in 1897.[31]

Thoma Çami was one of the main contributors to the revival of Albanian culture during this period. He was a founder and the first chairman of the organization "Bashkimi", the best-known cultural club of the National Renaissance. He also wrote the first scholarly history book for Albanian schools, but died before the declaration of independence.[31]

A large number of Cham delegates took part in the Assembly of Preveza from 11 to 13 January 1879, aiming to halt the unification of Epirus with Greece, following the Congress of Berlin.[31] The Assembly was composed mainly from 200 Cham and Lab Albanian leaders, while in the last day of the meeting, it was completed with northern Albanian delegates reaching the town, making the total numbers of delegates 400.[31] The decisions of the Assembly were to create three committees (political; military and diplomatic), so as to prevent the Ottoman Empire from ceding Epirus to Greece. The final demarcation of the border would be done in Preveza by the delegates of Greece and the Ottoman Empire, on 6 February 1897, while the delegates and a part of the population demonstrated against any move of this demarcation inside Epirus. At the end, the two forces reached a conclusion to include in Greece, only Arta, leaving the rest of Epirus, under the Vilayet of Yanina of the Ottoman Empire.[31]

In 1909 outlaw activity by Albanian bands was increasing in the region. On one incident in Filiates 15 Greek villagers were ambushed near the town by the band of Muharem Reshet, where one of the captured was burned alive.[39] When the First Balkan War broke up the majority of Albanian intellectuals initially supported the Ottoman side.[40] However, when the Ottoman defeat was imminent and before the arrival of the Greek army in the region, Muslim Cham and Lab armed units burned a number of Greek villages: 3 in the vicinity of Preveza (Tsouka, Glyky, Potamia), 4 in Thesprotia (Alpohori, Manoliasa, Keramitsa, Fortopia) as well as a number of villages in the regions of Ioannina, Sarande and Delvina. From these actions, many villagers managed to escape to the nearby island of Corfu.[41]

Chams had their own delegates in the Vlora Congress of 1912, when Albanian Independence was proclaimed. Four representatives from Chameria and two representatives of Ioannina took part in the congress, and the six of them were in favor of Independence. They were Jakup Veseli from Margariti, Kristo Meksi and Aristidh Ruci from Ioannina, Rexhep Demi from Filiates, Veli Gërra from Igoumenitsa, and Azis Tahir Ajdonati from Paramythia.[42]

Modern history

First years of Greek rule (1913–1923)

Following the defeat of Ottoman forces in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, an international boundary commission awarded the northern part of the region of Epirus to the Principality of Albania, and the southern part to the Kingdom of Greece, leaving Greek and Albanian minority areas on both sides of the border. Most of the areas inhabited by Chams, except for a few villages, were assigned to Greece.[43]

After the incorporation of southern Epirus into Greece, Chams had the right to choose between Greek and Turkish nationality, under the 4th provision of the Athens peace treaty.[44][45] It can be inferred that during the Interwar period the Muslim Cham community did not appear to have a clear-cut understanding of their national affiliation beyond their local religious affiliations.[1] Chams were in fact divided amongst themselves as to where their loyalties lay.[22] In the event, the Chams chose the Greek nationality instead of the Turkish. This convention gave special rights to religious minorities, but not to ethnic minorities, under the third provision.[46]

In accordance with the Greek policy on minorities at the time, Orthodox Cham Albanians were counted together with Greeks, while the Muslim Chams were counted in the census as a religious minority.[14] Although the Albanian government complained that Chams were discriminated against by the Greek authorities, there is little evidence of direct state persecution at this time.[1][21]

During this period, the Muslim Cham beys lost the political power they enjoyed during Ottoman rule, but retained their economic influence.[47] The Muslim portion of the population was under a sui generis rule of the Greek authorities and the local muftis, who were recognized in these areas.[48] In the region of Epirus there were the muftis of Ioannina, Paramythia, Filiates, Margariti, Igoumenitsa, Parga, Preveza, Sagiada and Thesprotiko.[49]

In the december 1915 legislative elections, which were boycotted by the party led by Eleftherios Venizelos, two of the three deputies of Epirus, were elected Muslim Chams: Ali Dino and Musli Emin Ramiz.[50]

Population exchange and appropriation of property (1923–1926)

Chams in Filiates in 1915, by Fred Boissonas

At the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), Greece and Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne, according to which the Muslims of Greece would be exchanged with the Orthodox Christians of Turkey, making a unique exception for the Muslims of western Thrace and the Orthodox Christian population of Istanbul. The treaty used religion as the indicator of national affiliation, thus including Muslim Cham Albanians in the population exchange.[51]

Greek officials had two options. The first was to exchange Muslim Chams with Greeks from Turkey, under the population exchange. The second option was to exchange them with a community of the Greek minority in Albania. They approached the Albanian government in 1923, but Albanian officials refused to consider the second scheme.[22]

Muslim Chams were thus to become part of the Greek-Turkish population exchange, but the Albanian state asked for an exemption.[1] The majority of the Muslim Cham community had no idea of their ethnic origin or preferences beyond that of their local religious affiliations and considered themselves simply Muslims.[1][22]

After pressure by Italian and Albanian delegates which made a strong case that the Chams primarily self-identified as Albanian nationals (a dubious claim), Greece accepted in 1925, two years after the exchange had officially begun, that Muslim Chams were not subject to the exchange.[22] The Greek minister in London, Kaklamanos, promised that "the compulsory exchange shall not be applicable to the Moslem [sic] subjects of Albanian origin".[14][21] But Muslim Chams had to prove their ethnic origin in order to remain in Greece.[52] According to the Greek decision, which was presented by Eleftherios Venizelos to the local administration in Epirus, only those who were born in Albania or whose fathers were born in Albania could stay in Greece, thus excluding the genuine Chams of the Chameria region.[14] On the other hand the Albanian state insisted that the Chams were forced to leave Greece because the Greek authorities were making life "unbearable" for them; but this was merely a ploy to distract world opinion and attention away from the harsh conditions endured by the Greek minority in Albania.[53]

In the meantime, the Greek authorities did send a number of Cham Albanians to Turkey. According to the contemproary Greek political historian Athanasios Pallis, only 1,700 were exempted and the League of Nations estimated that 2,993 Muslim Chams were forced to leave for Turkey, even after their compulsory exchange was prohibited, by declaring themselves as Turks rather than Albanians.[54][55][56] In Turkey, Cham Albanians were accommodated in Istanbul and Bursa. The majority of them were from Ioannina and outlying areas and Preveza.[21] About 16,000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor were settled in Epirus,[57] mainly in the same areas.[58]

During this period the Muslim Chams ranked among the biggest land-owners in Greece and there were no problems whatsoever in their relations with either the government or the Greek population.[59] However, they owned vast tracts of land without the accompanying title-deeds. Under the Treaty of Lausanne some of this land was appropriated, on financial terms agreed to with the owners, to meet the needs of the landless refugees from Anatolia and Thrace who were settled in Epirus. This measure was applied across the board and there were no exceptions: as well as the Chams, Greek landowners and monasteries were also required to give up some of their property. The Chams, however, sought compensation not as Greek citizens, but under the terms providing compensation for certain West European nationals whose property had been appropriated. Both Greece and the League of Nations rejected the demand.[53]

Four different laws were passed between 1923 and 1937 that expropriated the properties of Muslim Chams, while leaving those of the Orthodox Chams and the local Greeks intact.[14] Official Greek policy was that properties belonging to either Muslim citizens in Greece, who were exempt from the exchange of populations, or to foreign citizens, be preferentially expropriated.[60] Albanian reports to the League of Nations and the reply by the Greek government reveal that part of the bone of contention concerned the change in the status of the local Albanian landlords. In Ottoman times, the Albanian landlords received revenues from the neighboring villages. But the peasants refused to pay tribute after their land became part of the Greek state and in this case they expropriated from the Albanian overlords what they considered to be their property.[1]

The first law was passed on 15 February 1923, expropriating the lands and second homes of Muslim Chams, in order to give it to Greek refugees and to landless Greek farmers. Compensation was set at below 1914 market price, and not 1923 values. On the other hand, the compensation for the homes would be given by 1923 value. Nevertheless, some Chams were never compensated.[14] As a result of this policy, a number of petitions were addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture or to the officials of the Refugee Settlement Commission from Muslims of Albanian origin in Paramythia, Dragoumi, Filiates, and other parts of the region, but no answer was given.[60] This law was reported even to the League of Nations, but in June 1928 the Albanian petition against Greece was turned down.[1][14]

Pangalos regime (1926)

An unexpected turn in Chams' fate occurred when an Arvanite general, known for his pro-Albanian feelings, became prime minister of Greece. On June 24, 1925, a group of officers, fearing that the political instability was putting the country at risk, overthrew the government in a coup and their leader, Theodoros Pangalos became the head of the dictatorial government. His main priorities in foreign relations were to establish good relations with Albania and to protect the rights of both minorities, Chams in Greece, and Greeks in Albania. For this reason he officially decided that the Albanians of Chameria would not be sent to Turkey after 1926, putting an end to the population exchange. He also decided that refugees from Asia Minor would not settle in Chameria, but rather in Western Thrace, as was originally decided.[61]

Pangalos was an Albanian-speaker, and declared himself proud of his half-Albanian identity.[62] His priority in establishing good relations with Albania was soon materialized by four agreements between the two governments, among others addressing the confiscation of Cham properties before 1926, when Greek refugees from Asia Minor were settled in the region. This agreement stated that Chams would be compensated at least as much as foreign citizens or ethnic Greeks.[49] In a public statement he also recognized that Chams were an ethnic minority and promised that Albanian schools would be opened in the region.[61][63] But after a few months he was overthrown, and his pro-Cham policies were immediately abolished.[61]

Discrimination and normalization (1927–1936)

In August 1926, Theodoros Pangalos was deposed by a counter-coup, and Pavlos Kountouriotis was restored as President of Greece. Pangalos' actions had encouraged Albania to be more persistent in pursuing Cham claims.[35] Pangalos' overthrow also meant a backtracking of Greece's official stance on the issue: discrimination against the Chams continued,[12]

On the first elections on 1926, Cham Albanians created their own political party, called the Party of the Chameria founded by an eminent figure of that time, the famous Prevezan cartoonist Ali Dino. It managed to gain 1,539 votes from the Preveza and Ioannina prefectures.[64] In the subsequent elections, the party did not gain the support of the local Albanian population and Ali Dino ran under Farmer-Labor ticket, gaining only 67 votes in 1932.[64]

In 1927, the Greek government abolished four of the nine Vakoufs, the muftis of Parga, Preveza, Sagiada and Thesprotiko.[49] Furthermore, beginning in 1927 with the publication of the relevant Presidential Decree, the Greek government implemented a policy depriving Muslim Chams and other minorities of their Greek citizenship if they would leave Greece. According to the 1927 decree, Greek citizens of non-ethnic Greek origin ("allogeneis") could lose their citizenship if they left the country.[65] Such a practice is seen by scholars as a legal exclusion of Chams and other minorities from Greek society, since it made a distinction based on national affiliation, which was effectively set as a criterion above citizenship in Greek legal order.[65]

In 1929, the League of Nations asked Greece to open Albanian-language schools, since they had been officially recognized as an Albanian minority. The official position however of the then Greek prime minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, was that since the region had never had Albanian schools, even under the Ottoman Empire, this issue could not be compared with the rights demanded by the Greek minority in Albania.[63]

Nevertheless, following pressure from the League of Nations and as a result of the agreements signed during Pangalos' regime, Greece officially announced the establishment of four bilingual primary schools in Filiates, Igoumenitsa, Paramythia and Sagiada.[66] All these schools would be Greek, but Albanian would also be taught in the three first classes. An Albanian delegation led by the Albanian ambassador, Mid'hat Bey Frashëri, asked the Greek government for 15 schools, with full teaching in Albanian, in the main towns and villages of Chameria, a request that was immediately rejected by Greek officials.[67] After negotiations, the Albanian government accepted the Greek proposal and an agreement was signed in 1935 that would allow the Greeks of Albania to open new private schools in Himara and Korca, in exchange for the four bilingual schools in Chameria. But once again, the change of the Greek government with the coup d'état of Ioannis Metaxas made this agreement void.[66]

At this time, the Greek government tried to resolve another core issue pertaining to the Cham Albanians, the property dispute. In 1928, the Venizelos government had withdrawn from the Greco-Albanian agreement, signed by Pangalos that would compensate Chams equally with other Greek citizens. Muslim Chams tried to regain their properties under the Law of 1926, which gave them the opportunity to dispute the confiscation of their properties before the courts. Following these actions, Greece passed two laws, in 1930 and 1931, which gave bigger compensations to the Muslim community, but not as much as to other Greek citizens.[63] The first law doubled the promised compensation, and forced the state authorities to give 3/4 of the promised compensation, even if they appealed the decisions in the courts. The second law returned some of the lands that were not settled by Greeks to Cham Albanians. Both laws were implemented on a limited scale, because of the change of the Greek government and the establishment of the dictatorial Metaxas Regime.[14]

During this period, a number of villages were renamed in the region. More than 100 village names were changed in Thesprotia, Preveza and Ioannina.[32][68] Many other names had already been changed in 1913 when the region came under Greek sovereignty. Villages like Shëndiela in Preveza were translated into Greek Agia Kyriaki (Saint Kyriake), while other toponyms such as Ajdonati or Margëlliç had been immediately renamed with new Greek names (Paramythia and Margariti).[32] The majority of villages and towns of the region got new names, mainly Greek ones, in 1928 and 1929. Another period of Hellenization of toponyms occurred in the 1950s, when the remaining Albanian or Turkish names were finally renamed into Greek, with very few exceptions.[32] Today, only a small number of Albanian toponyms, like Semeriza (from Albanian Shemërizë, meaning Saint Mary), survive from Ottoman times.[8]

In September 1930, the proposal for exchange of the Cham minority with the Greek minority of Albania was renewed, this time by the Albanian government. King Zog of Albania attempted to reach an agreement with the Greek government on the resolution of all differences between the two countries. The Albanian government believed that a voluntary population exchange of the two minorities would resolve a number of internal problems for both sides and improve Greek-Albanian relations. However, this proposal was rejected by the Greek side, who feared that Albania would forcibly evict its Greek minority from the country, making the exchange involuntary.[69][70]

Crackdown under the Metaxas regime (1936–1940)

The harshest period of discrimination against Cham Albanians occurred during the dictatorial regime of Ioannis Metaxas, Prime Minister of Greece from 1936 to 1941.[47] The nationalistic character of his regime was imposed on all minorities in Greece. As with Slavic-speakers, Vlachs and Roma, Albanian-speaking minorities were prohibited from using their own language outside home.[71] Those who used Albanian words in school or in the army, were punished physically or humiliated.[71][72] Such attitudes have led many parents to discourage their children from learning their mother tongue, so as to avoid similar discrimination and suffering.[72] The Greek language was imposed in the schools and elders who had no knowledge of the language were forced to attend night-schools, in order to learn to read, write and even speak the Greek language.[71]

Second World War and expulsion

Greek-Italian War (1940–1941)

At the same time, a negative influence about the position of Cham Albanians came from Albania. Following the Italian invasion of Albania, the Albanian Kingdom had become a protectorate of the Kingdom of Italy. The Italians, especially governor Francesco Jacomoni, used the Cham issue as a means to rally Albanian support. Although in the event, Albanian enthusiasm for the "liberation of Chameria" was muted, Jacomoni sent repeated over-optimistic reports to Rome on Albanian support.[73]

On June 1940 a Muslim Cham by the name of Daut Hoxha was found headless in the village of Vrina in Southern Albania. Daut Hoxha was a notorious bandit killed in a fight over some sheep with two sheperds.[74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81][82] Hoxha's death was used as the final excuse from fascist Italy in order to attack Greece. Italian propaganda officially described him as “an Albanian from Chameria animated by great patriotic spirit” murdered by Greek spies inside Albania, declaring the imminent liberation of Chameria.[83] As the possibility of an Italian attack on Greece drew nearer, Jacomoni began arming Albanian irregular bands to use against Greece.[73]

On the eve of the Greco-Italian War, Greek authorities disarmed 1800 Cham conscripts and put them to work on local roads.[47] The Greco-Italian War started with the Italian military forces launching an invasion of Greece from Albanian territory. As Chams were used as a propaganda theme by Italians, the invasion force of Italy in Epirus was called "Ciamuria [sic] Army Corps".[84] The invasion force included native Albanians, estimated at 2,000-3,500 strong, (among them Chams and Kosovars), in three volunteer battalions attached to the Italian army.[84][85] Their performance however was distinctly lackluster, as most Albanians, poorly motivated, either deserted or defected. Indeed, the Italian commanders, including Mussolini, would later use the Albanians as scapegoats for the Italian failure.[73] During October 28-November 14 while the Italian army made a short advance and briefly took brief control of part of Thesprotia, bands of Cham Albanians raided several villages and burned a number of towns, including Paramythia and Filiates.[86]

In November, as the Greek counter-offensive managed to regain Thesprotia, the Greek authorities seized all Muslim Cham males not called up or with the Italians, and deported them to to island exile.[47][87] Until the invasion of Greece by the German army, the Muslim Cham population of the region of Chameria was composed of women, children and the elderly. The adult male Muslim Chams would be restored to their land only after fascist Italy gained control of the region. In 1941, Greece was occupied by German, Italian and Bulgarian armies, who divided the country in three distinct occupation zones.

Occupied Greece and collaboration with the Axis (1941–1944)

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-Cham populations.[88] Fascist Italian as well as Nazi German propaganda promised that the region would be part of Great Albania after the end of the war. As a result of this pro-Albanian approach, large parts of the Muslim Cham population actively supported the Axis operations and committed a number of atrocities against the local population in Greece and Albania.[89] Apart from the formation of a Nazi collaborationist local administration and armed battalions, a terrorist organization named Këshilla and a paramilitary group called Balli Kombetar Cam[12] were operating in the region, manned by local Muslim Chams.[90] The results were devastating: many Greek as well as Albanian citizens lost their lives and a great number of villages were burned and destroyed. From 29 July-31 August 1943, a combined German and Cham force launched an anti-partisan sweep operation codenamed Augustus. During the subsequent operations, 600 Greek and 50 Albanian citizens were killed and 70 villages were destroyed.[91] On September 27, combined Nazi-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".[92] In another incident, on 27 September, Cham militias arrested 53 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.[93] On September 30, the Swiss representative of the International Red Cross, Hans-Jakob Bickel, while visiting the area, concluded that Cham bands are completely out of control, terryfing and committing atrocities against the unarmed Greek population.[94]

Collaborationist Cham bands were also active in southern Albania. German General and local commander Hubert Lanz decided to initiate armed operations with the code name Horridoh in the region of Konispol, in Albania. 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.[95] However, according to British historian Mazower, it seems that, most of the local beys, the majority of whom were part of the nationalist resistance group Balli Kombëtar[3] (not to be confused with the collaborationist Balli Kombetar Çam)[12] and the mufti did not support such actions.[12][47]

Participation in resistance groups (1944-1945)

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),[12] as well as the anti-fascist National Liberation Army of Albania.[96] In the ELAS, a mixed Cham Albanian-Greek battlian named IV "Ali Demi" battalion was formed, named after a Cham Albanian who was killed in Vlora fighting against the Germans. At the time of its creation in 1944, it comprised a total of 460 men.[12] However, the majority of the elites of the Cham community had become corrupted by the occupying forces and the atmosphere against the local Greeks who had suffered under Germans, Italians and Chams, led to an explosive polarization which would have constrained any motivation for joint Greek-Cham resistance.[12]

First expulsion

During the summer of 1944, the head of the local resistance organization, Napoleon Zervas, asked the Cham Albanians to join EDES in its fight against the Nazi occupational forces, but their response was negative.[47] After that and in accordance to orders given specifically to EDES by the Allied forces to push them out of the area, fierce fighting occurred between the two sides.[47] According to British reports, the Cham collaborationist bands managed to flee to Albania with all of their equipment, together with half million stolen cattle as well as 3,000 horses, leaving only the elderly members of the community behind.[97] On 18 June 1944, EDES forces with Allied support launched an attack on Paramythia. After short-term conflict against a combined Cham-German garrison, the town was finally under Allied command. Soon after, violent reprisals were carried out against the town's Muslim community,[2] which was considered responsible for the massacre of September 1943.[97]

Moreover, two attacks took place in July and August with the participation of EDES Tenth Division and the local Greek peasants, eager to gain revenge for the burning of their own homes.[47] According to Cham claims, which are not confirmed by British reports,[97] the most infamous massacre of Albanian Muslims by Greek irregulars occurred on 27 June 1944 in the district of Paramithia, when this forces captured the town, killing approximately 600 Muslim Chams, men women and children, many having been raped and tortured before death.[2] British officers described it as "a most disgraceful affair involving an orgy of revenge with the local guerrillas looting and wantonly destroying everything". 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".[47] This day, was announced in Albania in 1994 as The Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria.[98]

On the other hand Chris Woodhouse, the head of the Allied Military Mission in Greece during the Axis occupation, who was present in the area at the time, officially accepted the full responsibility of the decision for the expulsion of the Chams although he criticized the vendetta way in which this was carried out; including in his "Note on the Chams" military report of 16 October 1945 a brief description of the situation that led to the Paramythia events: "Chams are racially part Turk, part Albanian, part Greek. In 1941-3 they collaborated with Italians, making the organization of guerilla resistance in that area difficult. I never heard of any of them taking part in any resistance against enemy. Zervas encouraged by the Allied Mission under myself, chased them out of their homes in 1944 in order to facilitate operations against the enemy. They mostly took refuge in Albania, where they were not popular either. Their eviction from Greece was bloodily carried out, owing to the usual vendetta spirit, which was fed by many brutalities committed by the Chams in league with the Italians. Zervas' work was completed by an inexcusable massacre of Chams in Philliates in March, 1945, carried out by remnants of Zervas' dissolved forces under Zotos. The Chams deserved what they got, but Zervas' methods were pretty bad - or rather, his subordinate officers got out of hand. The result has been in effect a shift of populations, removing an unwanted minority from Greek soil. Perhaps it would be best to leave things at that."(PRO/FO,371/48094)[2]

Involvement in the Greek Civil War, repatriation by ELAS and final expulsion

Towards the end of the Greek occupation, the communist-controlled ELAS, having limited people's support in the Epirus region due to the right-wing EDES dominance in the area and in preparation of taking up the country's control after the German withdrawal from Greece, turned to the Chams for conscription. Seeing the omens several hundred Muslim Chams enlisted in its ranks. With the German withdrawal and the start of the Greek civil war, local ELAS forces with the participation of those Chams volunteers, aided with ELAS forces from the central Greece, attacked EDES in Epirus and succeeded to take the control in the Thesprotia region in late 1944 forcing EDES to leave in Corfu.[47]

As a result of the ELAS victory, in January - February 1945, about four to five thousand Albanians returned to their homes from Albania, mainly in the border areas of Filiates and Sagiada. But after the final defeat of ELAS during the battle of Athens and its capitulation (see Varkiza Agreement), EDES quickly regained control of the region, eager to take revenge for the Cham's participation in the attack against its forces.[47] Led by a former Zerva's officer, Col. Zotos, a loose paramilitary grouping of former EDES guerrillas and local men went on a rampage. In this second massacre, committed at the town of Filiates, on 13 March, some sixty to seventy Chams were killed. Many of the Cham villages were burned and the remaining inhabitants fled across the border into Albania.

The exact number of Cham Albanians that were expelled in Albania and Turkey, is unknown. Mark Mazower and Victor Roudometof, state that they were about 18,000 in 1944 and 4 to 5 thousands in 1945.[47][99] while Miranda Vickers says that they were 25,000 that fled into Albania.[2] Chameria Association claims that Cham Albanians that left were 35,000, from whom, 28,000 left to Albania and the rest to Turkey.[100] After the war, only 117 Muslim Cham Albanians were left in Greece.[2]

Postwar situation (1945–1990)

Muslim Chams who fled to Albania were given refugee status by the communist-led Albanian government and were organized under the aegis of the Anti-Fascist Committee of Cham Immigrants (CAFC). The Albanian state gave them homes in specific areas in the south of the country, so as to dilute the local Greek element in the region (known as Northern Epirus to Greeks).[10] In 1946, they formed a congress, where they adopted a memorandum accusing Greece for their persecution, and asked the international community to react in order to return to their homeland and to receive reparations. The CAFC claimed that 28,000 Chams were evicted, 2,771 killed and 5,800 houses were looted and burned.[2][101] During the Greek Civil War (1946–1949), Albanian authorities recruited a number of the recently expelled Chams in order to support the communist side during the armed conflicts in Greece.[102] It is claimed that the communist regime in Albania initially took a very distrustful view of the Cham community, regarding them as Italian Fascist sympathizers. Many of them were transferred further north, to Fieri and Vlora.[53]

The new post-war Communist government of Albania took the Cham issue to the Paris Peace Conference, demanding the repatriation of the Chams and the return of their property. The following month a delegation of the CAFC was sent to Athens to lodge a protest with the government of George Papandreou. These demands were never answered. The United Nations Assembly in New York did however acknowledge the humanitarian crisis facing the refugees, and gave US$ 1.2 million via the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), specifically for refugees from northern Greece.[2] Meanwhile, in 1945–1946, a Greek Special Court on Collaborators found 2,109 Chams guilty of treason in absentia and sentenced them to death, while their immovable property was confiscated by the Greek state.[14] No war criminal of Cham origin has ever been brought to trial, however, as these had all managed to flee Greece in the aftermath World War II.[2]

For those Chams of the Orthodox faith who remained in Greece after 1945, their Albanian identity was discouraged as part of a policy of assimilation. The demographic structure of northwestern Greece was meanwhile altered by the introduction of settlers, especially Vlachs, from other parts of Greece.[2]

In 1953, the Albanian government gave all Chams the Albanian citizenship and forced them to integrate into Albanian society. Despite this, many older Chams still regard themselves as refugees deprived of their Greek citizenship and claim the right to return to their property in Greece.[3]

Current situation

Cham politics in post-communist Albania

Following the fall of the Communist regime, the Chameria Political Association was formed in Tirana in 1991. Since its creation, its goal is the collection and recording of personal testimonies and accounts from Chams who left Greece in 1944-45 and are now living in Albania – personal archives, documents and other data - in a bid to preserve the historical memories that the older generation carry with them.[3]

Annual Cham Protest on June 27, 2008 in Konispol, Albania

In 1994, Albania passed a law that declared the 27th of June, the anniversary of the Paramythia massacre of 1944, as the Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria and built a memorial at the town of Konispol.[103] Albanians pay tribute to the victims every 27 June in Saranda and Konispol. This event is called the "Cham march" (Marshimi çam). In 2006, the biggest Cham March, with around 10,000 people participating, occurred at the Albanian-Greek border. The participants designated themselves as Greek citizens of Albanian ethnicity and expressed the desire for "a peaceful return to their homeland and to the graves of their forefathers" [3]

In March 2004, the Institute of Cham Studies (ICS) was established with a board of 7 members. According to Miranda Vickers, the Institute’s primary aim is to attempt to “fill the huge gap in knowledge about the entire Cham issue”. In the same year, the Chams also created their own political party, the Party for Justice and Integration (PJI), in order to campaign in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.[3]

In 2005, a diplomatic incident occurred when the President of Greece, Karolos Papoulias canceled his planned meeting with Albanian counterpart, Alfred Moisiu, in Saranda, because 200 Chams were demonstrating about the Cham issue. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Albanian authorities did not take adequate measures in order to protect the Greek President "by deterring known extremist elements, who are trying to hinder the smooth development of Greek-Albanian relations". The Albanian president`s office stated that President Moisiu expressed "deep sorrow at this unexplainable decision, which was based upon misinformation, of the small, peaceful and well monitored demonstration".[3]

Recently, a few Chams have managed to find their way back to their families' old homes, and have tried to rebuild them. At the same time, several hundred ethnic Greek minority families from Albania have settled in towns such as Filiates.[3]

Chams in Greece

Orthodox Cham Albanians still live in the region in three prefectures.[citation needed] According to a study by the Euromosaic project of the European Union, Albanian speaking communities live along the border with Albania in Thesprotia prefecture, the northern part of the Preveza prefecture in the region called Thesprotiko, and a few villages in Ioannina prefecture.[9] Albanian is still spoken in the region and some of the older inhabitants are Albanian monolinguals.[104] The language is spoken even by young people, because when the local working-age population migrate seeking a job in Athens, or abroad, the children are left with their grandparents, thus creating a continuity of speakers.[104]

Today, the majority of these Orthodox Chams refer to themselves as Arvanites in Greek (a Greek-identifying group of Albanian origin, living in southern Greece), but self-identify as Shqiptar in their own language, as do the Albanians of Albania. In contrast with Arvanites, some have retained, not only a distinct ethnic and linguistic identity, but also the Albanian national identity.[6]

Chams in Turkey

Muslim Chams in Turkey form the second largest community of Chams, after Albania.[3] This community was established after the two World Wars. After the First World War, Chams were forced to leave for Turkey during the population exchange,[1][22][56] and another migration wave followed after the Second World War, when a minority of the Chams expelled from Greece chose Turkey over Albania because of their anti-communist sentiments.[7]

The exact number of Muslim Chams in Turkey is unknown, but various estimates conclude that they number between 80,000 to 100,000,[7] from a total population of 500,000 to 1.3 million Albanians that live in Turkey.[105] The Chameria Human Rights Association declares that most of them have been linguistically assimilated, although they maintain Albanian consciousness and regional Cham traditions.[23] A considerable number of Chams in Turkey have changed their surnames to Cam or Cami, which in Turkish means pine, in order to preserve their origin.[7] They are organized within the "Albanian-Turkish Brotherhood Association" (Albanian: Shoqëria e Vllazërisë Shqiptaro-Turke, Turkish: Türk-Arnavut Kardeşliği Derneği), which fights for the rights of Albanians.[7]

Chams in the United States

Chams in the United States are the forth most numerous population of Chams, after Albania, Turkey and Greece.[3] The majority of this community migrated to the United States shortly after their expulsion from Greece, because the Communist government in Albania discriminated and persecuted them.[3] They managed to retain their traditions and language,[3] and created the Cham League in 1973, Chameria Human Rights Association (see below), which later merged and became Albanian American Organization Chameria which aimed to protect their rights.[106][107]

Cham Issue

Political positions

Albania demands the repatriation of the Muslim Chams who were expelled at the end of World War II, and the granting of minority rights. The Chams also demand the restoration of their properties, and reject a financial compensation.[2] Greece on the other hand states that the expulsion of the Chams is a closed chapter in the relations between the two countries. However, Greece agreed to the creation of a bilateral commission, focused solely on the property issue as a technical problem. The commission was formally set up in 1999, but has not yet functioned.[2]

During the 1990s, Albanian diplomacy used the Cham Issue as counter-issue against the one related with the Greek minority in Albania.[1] Chams complain that Albania has not raised the Cham issue as much as it should.[3] It was raised officially only during a visit to Athens of former Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta at the end of 1999, during his meeting with his Greek counterpart, Kostas Simitis, but it received a negative response.[2] After 2000, there was a growing feeling in Albania, since the Kosovo problem has been to an extend addressed, that the Albanian government should turn its attention to the Cham Issue.[1] On the other hand, the fact that Greece is a member of the European Union and NATO, which Albania wishes to join, is one of the main factors why the Albanian government is reticent about the issue.[3]

The Greek government on the other hand considers the Cham issue as a closed chapter. According to the Greek official position, the Chams would not be allowed to return to Greece because they have collaborated with the Italian-German invaders during the Second World War, and as such they are war criminals and are punished according to Greek laws.[2] In an attempt to give a solution, in 1992 Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis proposed a trade-off in relation to their properties, only for the cases where their owners had certifiably not been convicted or participated in crimes against their fellow Greek citizens. Mitsotakis also proposed that the Albanian government likewise compensate ethnic Greeks who had lost properties due to alleged persecution during the communist regime in Albania.[56] This proposal however was rejected by the Albanian side.

The "Cham Issue" is not been in the agenda of international organizations.[3] Since 1991, delegates of the Cham community have begun an attempt to internationalize the "Cham Issue", but the only official support for this issue has come from Turkey.[2] Meanwhile, in 2006, Members of the Party of Justice and Integration met European MEPs, including the chairwoman of Southwest Europe Committee on the European Parliament, Doris Pack and introduced their concerns about the Cham Issue. Although this group of MEPs drafted a resolution about this issue, it was never put to a vote.[3]

Citizenship issue

Following their expulsion in 1944, initially only the 2,000 or so Chams who were sentenced to death as collaborators were deprived of their Greek citizenship. The remainder, who represented the vast majority, lost theirs under a special law of 1947.[14] Orthodox Chams remained in Greece and retained the Greek citizenship, but without any minority rights.[3] In 1953 the Albanian government forcefully granted the Albanian citizenship to the Chams, while in Turkey and the United States, the Chams have acquired the respective citizenships.[2]

The Chams demand the restoration of the Greek citizenship as a first step towards solving the Cham issue. The restoration of the citizenship, rather that the regaining of the confiscated properties, is reported to be considered as the primary issue.[3] They argue that the removal of their citizenship was a collective punishment, when even the Greek courts have charged only a minority of Chams for alleged crimes.[108] They have demanded dual citizenship,[3] a policy followed by Greece in the case of the Greek minority in Albania.[108]

Property issue

After World War II, the properties of Cham Albanians were put under escrow by the Greek state. In 1953, the Greek parliament passed a law, that considered as "abandoned" the rural immovable properties, whose owner had left Greece without permission or passport.[14] After three years the properties were nationalized. Homes were nationalized in 1959, when a law passed by the Greek parliament considered them abandoned and allowed their conquest by other inhabitants of the region. These two laws nationalized Chams properties, and allowed others to settle in their homes, but the owner was the Greek state.[14] In the 1960s and 1970s an ad hoc commission for the property alienation in Thesprotia gave by draw the rural properties to farmers with and without land, while homes and urban properties in Igoumenitsa, Paramithia, Margariti, Filiates, Perdika and Sybota were given to homeless people.[14]

Minority issue

Another problem in the Cham issue is the minority status. Chams not only demand their repatriation and minority rights, but they have asked minority rights even for Orthodox Chams residing in Greece.[2] This position is supported even by politicians in Albania. In January 2000, the current Prime Minister of Albania, Sali Berisha, then head of the opposition demanded more rights for the Cham minority in Greece, which includes cultural rights for Albanians living in Greece, such as the opening of an Albanian-language school in the town of Filiates.[2]


The Cham issue has become a dispute in both countries, and several diplomatic incidents have occurred. It had been also used by the Albanian organizations of liberation armies (Kosovo and National Liberation Army), in order to fuel the irredentist dreams of the descendants of the Chams.[1] Moreover, there is a reported paramilitary formation in the northern Greek region of Epirus, called the Liberation Army of Chameria[3][109] As of 2001, the Greek police reported that the group consisted of approximately 30-40 Albanians. It does not have the official support of the Albanian government.[3]


Chameria Association

Chams have created a number of organizations, such as political parties, non-governmental associations and the Chameria Institute.

Chameria Association in Albania

The National Political Association "Çamëria" (in Albanian: Shoqëria Politike Atdhetare "Çamëria"), a pressure group advocating the return of the Chams to Greece, receipt of compensation and greater freedom for the Orthodox Chams in Greece, was founded on January 10, 1991.[3] This associations holds a number of activities every year, with the help of the Party for Justice and Integration, as well as other organizations. Annually on June 27, the Cham March is organized in Konispol. This march is held to remember the expulsion of the Chams.[110] One particularly disingenuous endeavor by the organization leaders has been to create unhistorical links in the public mind by presenting the ancient Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus (4th-3rd cent. B.C.) as an Albanian hero, thus revealing the extreme and irredentist aims of the association.[53]

Chameria Association in the US

Logo of Chameria Human Rights Organization

Chameria Human Rights Association (Shoqëria për të drejtat e Njeriut, Çamëria) is a Non Governmental Organization, based in Washington, DC, USA, which protects and lobbies for the rights of Chams.

It describes as its mission: the Right of Return of Chams "to their homes in Greece and live there in peace and prosperity with their Greek brothers"; the Property Rights; Other Legal Rights "ensuring to the Cham people all other legal and minority rights deriving from the Greek Constitution and Laws, the Treaties and laws of the European Union, and other rights originating from international treaties and conventions to which Greece is a party"; and the conservation and propagation of the rich history, culture, language, and other cultural aspects of the Cham people.[106]

Democratic Foundation of Chameria

Democratic Foundation of Chameria

Another organization of Cham Albanians is based in The Hague, Netherlands. The Democratic Foundation of Chameria (Fondacioni Demokratik Çamëria) was founded in 2006 and aims to resolve the Cham issue, internationalizing the question in peaceful ways. Every year it organizes protests outside the International Court of Justice, where it intends to bring the Cham issue, if the governments of both countries will not find a solution.[111]

The organization aims to resolve the Cham issue in three directions: "lawfully and peacefully drawing attention to the legal position, the living and working conditions of the inhabitants and former inhabitants of Chameria; entering into negotiations with all types of organisations, both governmental and non-governmental; safeguarding the legal interest of inhabitants and former inhabitants of Chameria by means of legal proceedings, when necessary."[111]

Party for Justice and Unity

Party for Justice and Unity logo

The Party for Justice and Unity is a parlamentarian party in Albania which aims to protect and uphold the rights of ethnic minorities inside and outside Albania, especially concerning with the Cham issue. The party was created after the 2009 parliamentary elections, in September from two deputies of the new Albanian parliament: the sole representative of Party for Justice and Integration, Dashamir Tahiri and Shpëtim Idrizi, a Cham MP of the Socialist Party.[112] Currently it has 2 MPs in the Albanian parliament, which makes it the forth biggest party in Albania.

Party for Justice and Integration

Party for Justice and Integration logo

The Party for Justice and Integration (Partia për Drejtësi dhe Integrim), which represents the Chams in politics was formed in Albania in 2004. The party declares in its statute that it belongs to the center right, which is the political homeland for the vast majority of Chams marginalized by the Communist regime. Since the demise of the one-party state, the Chams have consistently put their faith in the center right parties to pursue their rights with Greece. However, the Chams are fully aware that Tirana’s politicians, whether Democrats or Socialists, only really focus on the Cham question during election time.[3]

The party won the plurality of seats in the municipality of Saranda, Delvina, Konispol, Markat, Xarrë and was one of the main parties in big municipalities like Vlora, Fier, etc, on the last municipal elections in 2007.[113]

Chameria Institute

Logo of Chameria Institute

In March 2004, the Institute of Cham Studies (Instituti i Studimeve Çame), also known as Chameria Institute or Institute of Studies on the Cham issue was established with a board of 7 members. The Institute’s primary aim is to attempt to “fill the huge gap in knowledge about the entire Cham issue”. One of the first actions taken by the board of the ICS was to hold the first ever Cham Conference in Tirana in May 2004.[3]

Its declares as its mission, "to make researches [sic] in the history and culture fields of the cham community as an inherent and important part of the Albanian nation." Also it seeks "to evolve and stimulate public scientific debate and to accomplish studies", "to organize scientific activities and publishes their outputs." Institute of Cham Studies seeks "to create a wide contacts network with analog research centers in Albania and abroad (Balkan, Europe and Northern America) and participating in mutual activities."[114]

Cultural Association "Bilal Xhaferri"

In 1993, a group of journalists and writers of Cham origin, founded in Tirana the Cultural Association “Bilal Xhaferri” (Shoqata Kulturore "Bilal Xhaferri"), nicknamed also as "the Cultural Community of Chameria" (Komuniteti Kulturor i Çamërisë). The association is an non-profit organization which aims to keep and promote the values of Cham Albanian culture and tradition. The association has established a publishing house, which publishes books especially about Chams and Chameria. It is named after the well-known dissident writer, Bilal Xhaferri and since its creation has published in Albania, Kosovo and the Republic of Macedonia, his hand-written memoirs and stories which were incomplete due to Xhaferri's premature death.[115][116]


According to Cham organizations, the Chams are thought to number 440,000.[2][3] According to non-Cham sources, however, they are not though to exceed 170,000.[1] The majority of them live in Albania, while other communities live in Greece, Turkey and the USA. Their religion is Islam and Orthodoxy.

Historical demographics

The population of the region of Chameria was mainly Albanian and Greek, with smaller minorities. There was a dispute regarding the size of the Albanian population of the region, while in 20th century the term 'Chams' applies only to Muslims.[5] According to 1913 Greek census, in Chameria region were living 25,000 Muslims[57] who had as mother tongue Albanian, in a total population of about 60,000, while in 1923 there were 20,319 Muslim Chams. In Greek census of 1928, there were 17,008 Muslims who had as mother tongue the Albanian language.[14]

The only census that counted Orthodox communities of Albanian ethnicity, was a highly unreliable fascist Italian, conducted during World War II (1941). This census found that in the region lived 54,000 Albanians, of whom 26,000 Orthodox and 28,000 Muslim and 20,000 Greeks.[14] After the war, according to Greek censuses where ethno-linguistic groups were counted, Muslim Chams were 113 in 1947 and 127 in 1951.

Chams in Greece (1913–1951)
Year Muslim
1913 25,000 Unknown Greek census[57]
1923 20,319 Unknown Greek census[14]
1925 25,000 22,000 47,000 Albanian government[14][31]
1928 17,008 Unknown Greek census[14]
1938 17,311 Unknown Greek government[14]
1940 21,000-22,000 Unknown Estimation on Greek census[14]
1947 113 Unknown Greek census[14]
1951 127 Unknown Greek census[14]

Current demographics

In 1985, the Albanian population of Epirus, including Chameria and two villages in Konitsa was estimated 30,000.[117] In 2002, according the pro-Albanian[118][119] author Miranda Vickers, in Chameria, the Orthodox Albanian population was estimated at 40,000. However the term Cham in 20th century applies only to Muslims while both the Albanian (Arvanitika) speaking and bilingual (Greek-Albanian) Orthodox communities of the region are part of the Greek nation.[5] In the region today resides a small number post-1991 Albanian immigrants.[2]

Albanian is still spoken by a minority of inhabitants in Igoumenitsa.[120] According to Ethnologue, Albanian language is spoken by about 10,000 Albanians in Epirus and the village of Lechovo, in Florina.[121]

The only exact number of Chams in Albania comes from 1991, when Chameria Association held a census, in which were registered about 205,000 Chams.[2]


Chams living today in Albania are overwhelmingly Muslim, but it is difficult to estimate their current religious affiliation: the former Communist regime had proclaimed the country "the only atheistic state in the world", and even after its fall, the majority of the population self-declared agnostic, or irreligious. Current estimates conclude that this applies to a majority of Albanians, with 65-70 percent of the population not adhering to any religion.[122][123][124] Conversely, in Greece and Turkey almost all of Chams adhere to their country's respective prevailing religion.[7][49]


Classification of Cham dialect

Cham Albanians speak the Cham dialect (Çamërisht), which is a subbranch of the Tosk Albanian dialect.[125] The Cham dialect is the second southernmost dialect of the Albanian language, the other being the Arvanitic dialect of southern Greece, which is also a form of Tosk Albanian. As such, Arvanitika and Cham dialect retain a number of common features.[9]

Albanian linguists say that this dialect is of great interest for the dialectological study and the ethno-linguistic analysis of the Albanian language. Like Arvanitika and the Arbëresh varieties of Italy, the dialect retains some old features of the Albanian, such as the old consonant clusters /kl/, /gl/, which in standard Albanian are q and gj, and /l/ instead of /j/.[126]

Cham Albanian Standard Albanian Tosk Albanian Arvanitika English
Kljumësht Qumësht Qumësht Kljumsht Milk
Gluhë Gjuhë Gjuhë Gljuhë Language
Gola Goja Goja Gljoja Mouth

Linguists say that these features give the Cham dialect a conservative character, which is due to the close proximity and its continuous contacts with the Greek language. They argue that this conservative character, which is reflected in a number of peculiar features of the dialect, is endangered, as are the Albanian toponyms of the region, which are no longer in use, and which have provided valuable material for research into the historical evolution of Albanian.[126]

Literature and Media


Page from the dictionary of Markos Botsaris

The first Albanian-language book written in the region of Chameria was the Greek-Albanian dictionary by Markos Botsaris, a Souliote captain and prominent figure of the Greek War of Independence. This dictionary was the biggest Cham Albanian dictionary of its time, with 1,484 lexemes.[127] According to albanologist Robert Elsie, it is not of any particular literary significance, but is important for our knowledge of the now extinct Suliot-Albanian dialect,[128] a subbranch of the Cham dialect.[127] The dictionary is preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.[128]

During the 19th century, Chams started creating bejtes, which were a new kind of poems, mainly in Southern Albania. The most well-known bejtexhi was Muhamet Kyçyku (Çami), born in Konispol. He is the only poet in Albania that has written in the Cham dialect and was apparently also the first Albanian author to have written longer poetry. The work for which he is best remembered is a romantic tale in verse form known as Erveheja (Ervehe), originally entitled Ravda ("Garden"), written about 1820. Kyçyku is the first poet of the Albanian National Renaissance.[129]

In the modern period, the best-known Albanian writer is Bilal Xhaferri, who is considered as the most influential dissident under the Communist regime. He was born in Ninat, but was forced to migrate in the United States at an early age because of his anticommunism. He lived and died in Chicago, at 51 years of age, but he contributed to Albanian literature with more than 12 books of novels and poems. Canadian albanologist Robert Elsie considers him "the best Cham Albanian writer and poet."[129]


"Krahu i Shqiponjës", interview with Tahir Muhedini.

The Chams' culture and politics are represented by three local media in Albania and the United States. Due to the harsh Communist regime in Albania, Chams did not manage to publish any media in the 1945–1990 period.[115] On the other hand, Cham emigrants in the United States established a newspaper and a magazine, both edited by Bilal Xhaferri, and headquartered in Chicago. The first Cham Albanian newspaper was published in 1966, named "Chameria - motherland". (Çamëria - Vatra amtare), and is still being published in Chicago,[23] while the magazine "Eagle's wing" (Krahu i shqiponjës) started publishing in 1974.[115]

The newspaper "Chameria - motherland" is mainly political, and tries to internationalize the Cham issue. In 1991 it became the official newspaper of the National Political Association "Çamëria", and since 2004 it is also the official newspaper of Party for Justice and Integration. The newspaper is published in Albania by a joint editorial board of the organization and the party, while in the United States it is published by Chameria Human Rights Association.[110]

On the other hand, the magazine "Eagle's wind" is primarily a cultural magazine and is no longer published in the US since 1982. The Cultural Organization "Bilal Xhaferri" republished the magazine in Tirana, and since 1994 it is self-described as a monthly "cultural Cham magazine".[115][116]



Cham Albanians' music has its own features, which makes it differ from that of other Albanian music. Cham Albanian folk music can be divided into three main categories: the iso-polyphonic, the polyphonic and the folk ballads. The characteristics of the last two types are also common among the Greeks and Vlachs of the wider region.[130]

According to German scholar Doris Stockman, Cham music "may give an impact to further explain the inner Albanian relationships, among the vocal practices of the various folk groups in South Balkan, more than it had been done that far, as well as to offer new material to comparative studies concerning the complex of problems of the folk polyphony in Europe".[131]

Iso-polyphony is a form of traditional Albanian polyphonic music. This specific type of Albanian folk music is proclaimed by UNESCO as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". Chams sing a different type, called the cham iso-polyphony. Although they border with Lab Albanians, their iso-polyphony is influenced more by the Tosk type.[131][132][133][134] The song of Çelo Mezani, a polyphonic folk song narrating and lamenting the death of Cham Albanian revolutionary Çelo Mezani is considered to be the best-known Cham Albanian song.[135]


Cham Albanian dances are well-known in Albania. The best-known is the Dance of Osman Taka. This Dance is linked with Osman Taka, a Cham Albanian leader who fought against Ottoman forces, and who managed to escape from death by amazing Ottoman forces with this dance. It is an old Cham dance, but under this name its known only since the 19th century.[136]

The Dance of Zalongo (called in Albanian as Vallja or Vaji i Zallongut) refers to an event in Albanian and Greek history involving a mass suicide of women from Souli and their children. The name also refers to a popular dance song commemorating the event in both countries.[137] It is inspired by an historical event of December 1803, when a small group of Souliot women and their children were trapped by Ottoman troops in the mountains of Zalongo in Epirus.[138] In order to avoid capture and enslavement, the women threw first their children and then themselves off a steep cliff, committing suicide.[139] The song of the dance goes as follows in Albanian:[140]


In 1889, the Danish ethnographer Holgert Pedersen collected Cham folk tales and published them in Copenhagen nine years later, in the book "On Albanian folklore" (Zur albanesischen Volkskunde).[141] More than 30 Cham folk tales were collected, the majority of whom about bravery and honour.[142] The Chams of the southern Chameria region believe that they are descended from the legendary "jelims", giants from southern Albanian mythology, whose name derives from the Slavic transmission of the Greek word Έλλην (ellin) which means "Greek".[143]



The folk outfits of the region are colorful. The most common men's outfit for Muslims and orthodox was the kilt known as fustanella, embroidered with silver thread, the doublet, short shirt with wide sleeves, the fez, the leather clogs with red topknots and white knee socks. Other parts of the outfit were the silver chest ornamental and the holster embroidered with silver thread used to carry a gun or a pistol.[144]

This kind of dress was common for all Albanians, but there was difference in the length in the south where men, including the Chams, wore shorter ones, up to the knee. The kilt of high society men was made of many folds (about 250 - 300) and later was substituted by slacks and the former one was only used on special occasions.[144]

Women`s dress

The common outfit for the women became a kind of oriental silk or cotton baggy pants. They wear the cotton pants daily, whereas the silk ones only on special occasions. Other parts of this outfit were: the silk shirt weaved in their home looms and the vest embroidered with gold or silver thread, which sometimes was completed with a velvet waistcoat on it.[144]

During 1880–1890 the town women mostly wore long skirts or dresses. They were dark red or violet and embroidered with gold thread. Other parts of this outfit were the sleeveless waistcoats, silk shirts with wide sleeves embroidered with such a rare finesse. On special occasions they also put on a half-length coat matching the color of the dress. It was embroidered with various flowery motives.[144] Another beautiful part of the outfit is the silver belt, the silk head kerchief and a great number of jewelry such as earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces etc.[144]


The main architectural monuments in the region of Chameria that belonged to Chams were mosques, homes and Muslim cemeteries, as well as old Albanian towers, known in Albanian as Kullas, which have survived, only because they are in the middle of forests scrub land, in old military zones near the Albanian border. The majority of them have been disappeared.[145]

But, there are very few surviving mosques, which were transformed into museums, following the model of the Yugoslav communists, despite the existence of some Muslims in many localities. Muslim cemeteries are frequently desecrated by modern building works, particularly road building.[145]

At the same time, Cham domestic and administrative buildings, mosques and cultural monuments are slowly covered by vegetation. Pasture lands once used by Chams for their cattle is now converged into forests, because of the depopulation of the region. Thus the geographical and architectural legacy of Cham presence in north western Greece is gradually vanishing.[3]


Cham Albanians cuisine is seen as a mixture of Albanian and Greek cuisine, and maintains the main characteristics of the Mediterranean and the Ottoman cuisine. Their cuisine includes many kinds of cheese. Lamb is mostly baked with yogurt, differently from other cuisines. This dish has become one of the most popular in Albania.[144]

As with the majority of Mediterranean cuisines, Chams use a lot vegetables and olive oil. The most common appetizers are Trahana and Tarator, while soups with seafood are part of their cuisine. Chams are well-known in Albania for the different ways of making bread and traditional Turkish pies, the börek (called byrek in Albanian).[144]

Notable individuals

  • Abedin Dino, founder of the League of Prizren, one of the main contributors in the Albanian independence.[31]
  • Ahmed Dino, military leader and politician.
  • Ali Dino (1890–1938), famous Albanian cartoonist and member of the Hellenic Parliament.
  • Rasih Dino (1865–1928), diplomat and signatory of Albania to the Treaty of London.
  • Shahin Dino, deputy of the sanjak of Preveza in the Ottoman Parliament and later Minister of Interior of Albania.
  • Ali Demi, World War II hero of Albania born in Filiates, Greece in 1918, and died during a battle with Axis forces in Vlora, Albania in 1943. After him was created the first Cham battalion in ELAS army, the battalion "Ali Demi".[12]
  • Azis Tahir Ajdonati, from Paramythia, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.[42]
  • Bilal Xhaferri, writer, born in Konispol, Albania.[146]
  • Gjon Zenebishi, medieval Albanian lord, and prince of Gjirokastër, born in Vagenetia (i.e. Thesprotia/Chameria)[31]
  • Hasan Tahsini, also known as Hoca Tahsin, Hodja Tahsin, Tahsin Efendi, Ahmet Nebil mathematician, philosopher and psychologist.[147]
  • Jakup Veseli, from Margariti, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.[42]
  • Muhamet Kyçyku (Çami), considered as the first poet of the National Renaissance, one of the best-known bejtexhinjs of Albania.[129]
  • Osman Taka, one of the main contributors to the National Renaissance of Albania and a well-known dancer of his time.[31]
  • Musa Demi, revolutionary and important figure of the Albanian National Awakening.
  • Niazi Demi, minister of trade of Albania.
  • Rexhep Demi, from Filiates, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.[42]
  • Aziz Çami, officer of the Albanian army and Balli Kombëtar commander.
  • Qamil Çami, teacher and poet of era of the Albanian National Awakening.
  • Thoma Çami, (1852–1909), from Paramythia, founder and chairman of organisation "Bashkimi", the best-known cultural club, of Rilindja Kombetare.[31]
  • Veli Gërra, from Igoumenitsa, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.[42]
  • Teme Sejko, rear-admiral and commander of the Albanian navy.

See also


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