Chameria, 70 years later – we shall never forget!

By Ruben Avxhiu

On this day, 70 years ago, General Napoleon Zervas, a former ally of the Nazis during the German occupation of Greece, entered the province of northern Greece, known as to Albanians as Chameria. A complete religious and ethnic cleansing ensued.

The troops the National Republican Greek League started with the town of Paramithia where they killed 600 people or practically everyone that they met, including women and children. The purpose was to instill sheer terror among the local Albanian ethnic population.

When the campaign ended thousands of civilians had lost their lives and the entire Albanian Muslim population was pushed beyond the Albanian border. They all had Greek citizenship, from 1913, when the Great Powers had decided to leave Chameria inside the Greek territory despite the fact that Albanians were the majority population in the area. However their rights were ignored and their properties were confiscated illegally.

“The Chameria Association in Tirana estimates that a total of 2,771 Albanian civilians were killed during the 1944-1945 attacks on Cham villages”, writes Robert Elsie, a scholar of Albanian history and literature.
Many women and girls of very young age were horrifyingly raped as their families watched. The sick and the old died of hunger, beatings and exhaustion.

The main responsibility for the crimes weigh on Zervas, the notorious general, who led the ethnic cleansing campaign, a Ratko Mladic of his time, however, by refusing to ever recognize and condemn the tragedy, Greece has owned and justified it.

It seems unbelievable that even today, 70 years later, the entire political spectrum of Greece refuses to recognize that a terrible injustice took place and that the victims and their descendants are owed an apology and a compensation.

The usual official justification for the ethnic cleansing in Chameria is that the Chams were collaborators of the Nazi occupation. While there were several Chams who saw the German occupation as chance to end the pervasive ethnic discrimination in the monarchic Greece, there were on the other side numerous Chams who joined the partisans and fought heroically against the Nazis.

It is preposterous of the Greek officials, scholars and even human right activists to sell the ethnic cleansing as some justified reaction to Nazi collaboration, when the very campaign of ethnic cleansing was designed and implemented by a Greek Nazi collaborator like Zervas.

There was not a country that was occupied by Nazi Germany that didn’t have collaborators, including Greeks and Albanians, just like they had partisans and other nationalist forces of the resistance.
Furthermore, politics cannot justify the mass rapes, the looting, the murder of the children, the illegal confiscation of private properties, some of which from the very Greek thugs who committed the crimes.
It is interesting how Greece continues to confront Germany about the crimes of the World War II and despite the fact that it has received billions in reparations it continues to press for more now that the country is facing a financial crisis. However, Greek history hides a few dirty secrets of its own.

Some of the children who saw the horrors, but survived the ordeal, are still alive today to testify. Enough documents, pictures and films are saved as proof of the massacres and the forced exile. A country that is a member of NATO and the European Union, of the most democratic and civilized part of the human race should have one standard in dealing with the past.

Those innocent children who faced abuse and were left homeless and orphans deserve to be addressed humanly. The arrogant dismissal of their personal painful memories with the usual pseudo-historic mantra does no honors to Greece and blemishes its image as a liberal and European democracy.
The new fascist party of Greece, Golden Dawn, is not an accident. The Greek society will continue to have the seeds of such evil until it faces and comes to terms with the darkest chapters of its modern history. Chameria would be a great start. It is a tragedy that will not go away with its last survivors. It will remain alive in our memories as we fight for justice and it will weigh in the consciousness of the Greek nation, until justice is done.