Expulsion of Cham Albanians
The expulsion of Cham Albanians from Greece was a forced emigration of thousands of Cham Albanians after the Second World War to Albania, by the Resistance National Republican Greek League (EDES) forces. The EDES and the Joint Allied Military Mission in the Axis-occupied Greece accused Chams for collaborating with the German Nazis and Italians during the war. A part of the Cham population had collaborated with the Axis troops, while some others enlisted in the resistance forces of the communist-controlled Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) and the Albanian Liberation Front. Various sources put the death toll between 200-300.
Cham Albanians have lived in the area known by Albanians as Chameria since at least the 12th century, when the first migrations are recorded. During the Middle Ages they created two states in the area. In 1912, the area of Chameria, as the whole Epirus came under Greek control. Cham Albanians were given no minority status and they were discriminated. Muslim Chams were counted as a religious minority, and some of them were transferred to Turkey, during the 1923 population exchange, although they were not officially part of it, while their property was alienated by the Greek government. Orthodox Albanian speaking communities were counted as Greeks, and their language and Albanian heritage were under pressure of assimilation. The Second World War marked the expulsion of Muslim Chams from Greece.
World War II
Chams as excuse for the invasion
Following the Italian invasion of Albania, the Albanian Kingdom became 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. As the possibility of an Italian attack on Greece drew nearer, he began arming Albanian irregular bands to use against Greece.
As the final excuse for the start of the Greco-Italian War, Jacomoni used the killing of a Cham Albanian leader Daut Hoxha, whose headless body was discovered near the village of Vrina in June 1940. It was alleged by the Italian-controlled government in Tirana that he had been murdered by Greek secret agents. Daut Hoxha was a notorious bandit killed in a fight over some sheep with two shepherds. According to some other specific works Hoxha was a military leader of the Cham struggle during the inter-war years, leading to him branded as a bandit by the Greek government.
From June of that same year up to the eve of the war, due to the instigation of Albanian and Italian propaganda, many Chams had secretly crossed the borders in order to compose armed groups, which were to side with the Italians. Their numbers are estimated of about 2,000 to 3,000 men. Adding to them in the following months the Italians urgently started organizing several thousand local Albanians volunteers to participate on the "liberation of Chamuria" creating an army equivalent to a full division of 9 battalions (4 blackshirt battalions -Tirana, Korçë, Vlorë, Shkodër-, 2 infantry battalions -Gramos and Dajti-, 2 volunteer battalions -Tomori and Barabosi-, one battery corps -Drin-). All of them eventually took part in the invasion to Greece at October 28, 1940 (see Greco-Italian War) under the XXV Italian Army Corps which after the incorporation of the Albanian units renamed to “Chamuria Army Corps” under General C. Rossi, although with poor performance .
The Greco-Italian War started with the Italian military forces launching an invasion of Greece from Albanian territory. The invasion force included several hundred native Albanian and Chams in blackshirt battalions attached to the Italian army. 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.
These two Albanian battalions, namely, battalion Tomorri and Gramshi, were formed in the Italian army only three months before the invasion, and during the Greco-Italian War, the majority of them crossed to the Greek Army. The leader of these two battalions, Spiro Moisiu, would become the general in chief of the Albanian Anti-Fascist Army, and eventually a head of the Albanian Army after the war.
In October 1940, the Greek authorities disarmed 1800 Cham conscripts and put them to work on local roads. In the following month they seized all Albanian males not called up and deported them to camps or to island exile. On the other hand the Axis forces adopted a pro-Albanian policy, promising that the region will become part of a Greater Albania when the war ends. Under these circumstances, as Italy managed to control most of Greece after the German invasion, Cham Albanians formed armed groups and provided active support to the occupation forces. These armed bands under the leadership of gendarmerie officers Nuri and Mazar Dino participated in the Axis operations (village burnings, murders, executions) and committed a number of crimes in both Greece and Albania. However, it seems that local beys (most of them were already part of the Albanian nationalistic and partly collaborationist group Balli Competar) and the mufti did not support such actions.
Although the Italians wanted to annex Chameria to Albania, the Germans vetoed the proposal. An Albanian High Commissioner, Xhemil Dino, was appointed, but his authority was limited, and for the duration of the Occupation, the area remained under direct control from the occupational military authorities.
More than a thousand Cham Albanians became part of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), as well as National Anti-Fascist Liberation Army of Albania. In the ELAS, Cham Albanians formed the IV Ali Demi battalion (Albanian: Batalioni Ali Demi), named after a Cham Albanian who was killed in Vlora fighting against the Germans. At the time of its creation in 1944, it comprised 460 Muslim Albanians, and 340 Greeks and some Orthodox Albanians, being the second largest battalion in Epirus region.
At the same time, the National Anti-Fascist Liberation Army of Albania formed the Chameria battalion (Albanian: Batalioni Çamëria), in 15 June 1943, during the meeting of the Regional Committee of the National Anti-fascist Liberation Army in Konispol. The decision was adopted on June 30, 1943, when three resistance groups were united. These groups were Hasan Tahsini group, Father Stathi Melani group and Alush Taka group, from which the first was based in Konispol, the second in Filiates and the third in Paramithia. Each group numbered about 170-180 members, from which only 75 were not Cham Albanians, of whom 35 were from Delvinë and 40 were members of the Greek minority in Albania. In total about five hundred Cham Albanians were conscripted, more than half of whom were from the Greek part of Chameria, while the rest came from Konispol and Markat, as well as from the Greek minority in Albania from the Delvinë District.
This battalion was the first big partisan organization in the Gjirokastër County (which at that time included Gjirokastër, Sarandë and Delvinë districts) and were led by Haki Rushit Shehu from Konispol and with group leaders, Taho Mehmet Sejko from Filiates, Lefter Miço Talo from Ampelia (Albanian: Hajdëraga), Ali Demi from Filiates and for political commissar, Qazim Kondi from Polyneri (Albanian: Kuçi).
On October 10, 1943, the battalion was renamed IV "Chameria" Group , which had more than 2,000 troops, about half of them were Cham Albanians, and the rest Albanians and Greeks from southern Albania. Cham Albanians claim that more than 1,500 Chams were part of the Resistance forces, of whom 300 were killed by Nazis or EDES forces. However, during the World War II occupation 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.
First expulsion by EDES
During the summer of 1944, the right-wing head of the National Republican Greek League (EDES), Napoleon Zervas, asked the Cham Albanians to join EDES, but their response was negative. 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. 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. 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, which was considered responsible for the massacre of September 1943.
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. According to Cham claims, which are not confirmed by British reports, the most infamous massacre of Albanian Muslims by Greek irregulars occurred on 27 June 1944 in the district of Paramithia, when this forces entered the town, and killed approximately 600 Muslim Chams, men women and children, many having been raped and tortured before death. This day, was announced in Albania in 1994 as The Day of Greek Chauvinist Genocide Against the Albanians of Chameria.
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".
But Colonel Chris Woodhouse, head of the Allied Military Mission in Greece during the Axis occupation, who was present in the area at the time, in his "Note on the Chams" official military report of 16 October 1945, clearly accepting the full responsibility for the expulsion of the Chams although criticized the vendetta way in which that was carried out, including a brief description of the situation led to the 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 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)
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.
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.
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 the worst massacre, 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 incident came under an investigation of the Greek army four years later during the second circle of the Greek civil war, in which time, the by-then communist Albania was actively helping the communist DSE army in its second armed confrontation to win the country's control, concluding that no crimes took place. At this time, Col. Zotos himself was part of the Epiros High Command of the Army, something that apparently played role to the resulted decision. The active involvement of Albania in the internal affairs in Greece in that period (see Greek civil war) and the anomalous political situation also played a role in the disguise of the case.
After the Albanian communist regime gave compulsory Albanian citizenship to the Chams, the Greek government confiscated their properties (both of those who collaborated with the Nazis and those who did not) and permitted Greeks to settle in the area. After the war, only 117 Muslim Cham Albanians were left in Greece.
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. while Miranda Vickers says that they were 25,000 that fled into Albania. Chameria Association claims that Cham Albanians that left were 35,000, from whom, 28,000 left to Albania and the rest to Turkey. Today, most Chams live in Turkey, and some 150,000 live in Albania. Those of the Orthodox faith are considered Greeks by the Greek government.
After their expulsion to Albania, Chams organized the Anti-Fascist Committee of Cham Immigrants, with the help of the newly established communist government of Albania. It was established, during the first wave of refugees, and it aimed to make Greece allow, the returning of Chams in their homes. They organized two congresses, adopted a memorandum and sent delegates in Greece and in European allies. After three years activity, the organization did not manage, neither to re-allocate Chams in Chameria, nor to internationalize the Cham issue. Greece did not acknowledge that EDES had expelled Chams, saying that they fled and that they could return, although this was impossible. The international community did not respond to Chams plea, but they acknowledged the humanitarion disaster. Since 1947, the Committee was charged with the normalization of living situations of Cham refugees in Albania. In 1951, Chams were forcibely given the Albanian citizenship and the Committee was disbanded.
The Cham issue would regain momentum only in 1991, when the communist regime collapsed, and the National Political Association "Çamëria" was established. 20 years after, on December 10, 2012, the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity asked from Greece reparations in the amount of 10 Billion Euros for the Expulsion of Cham Albanians.
- Axis-Cham Albanian collaboration
- Expulsion of Germans after World War II
- Muhajir (Albania)
- Population transfer
- World War II-era population transfers
- Population transfer in the Soviet Union
- Expulsion of Poles by Germany
- Ethnic cleansing
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