A survivor of Chameria’s tragedy lives to tell his story
Unfortunately, after 67 years, thanks to our American citizenship, I returned to my homeland. My wife Bule and my cousin Tahsin were both were infants their fathers were killed, also entered first time there. We saw that the mass grave of hundreds of innocent people of 1944 was transformed into a concrete sport stadium! This means only one thing: ethnic cleansing and genocide was not accidental, it was prepared decades ago by Greek chauvinism.
Testimony about the genocide in Paramithia: The ethnic cleansing of Chameria was not accidental, it was prepared decades ago by Greek chauvinism
I was 7 years old on June 27, 1944, but I can never get off my mind what happened on those terrible days to my family and to all Albanian families in our city, Paramithia. It was early in the morning when our mother woke us up; her lovely voice that day was different, it was a hoarse voice: “Please get up and dress yourselves soon, we have to go”, she said hurryingly. She dressed our little sister Makbule and packed some clothes for her. Without eating anything we got out of our home. Our home is located on the hilltop of the city close to Bollati’s Tower which is more than 400 years old. As we got out, we heard many gunshots. With hurried footsteps we managed to arrive to our uncle, Muhamed Bako’s house, close to the city wall clock, in the center of Paramithia.
Aunty Nasibe despite being afraid of being robbed, opened the door and embraced each one of us with love. Knowing that we were hungry, she prepared food for us. As we were sitting around the table, my mother’s first cousin, uncle Qazim entered the room addressing my father with a worried look: “Braho, please what you are doing here, you don’t know that Zervas’ soldiers started killings, dress yourself and let’s leave quickly”. But my lovely father replied to him that is impossible to leave all his family behind, by saying we had never done anything wrong to the Greeks there, on the contrary, we always helped them. After that, uncle Qazim left our family scene, he escaped and died in Tirana in 1983..
400 year old Bollati Tower overseeing Paramythia, today a confiscated building by the Greek Government – Kulla e Bollatateve
Less than half an hour had passed and we heard knocks at the main door. My father went to answer the door, but the armed men grabbed him as he was barefoot. We started crying, terrified about never seeing our lovely and attentive father again. I will never forget his terrible kidnapping and the precious advices he gave me as a child. I later found out they had killed him at the school yard, and together with others he had been buried in a mass grave. After grabbing us, our mother took us to return to our house. As we were walking, my older brother Ferhat, who was 13 years old went to meet Avni, our cousin of the same age, – however Zervas gangs killed him as he was hidden in a bramble-bush. Several days later someone had told us that Ferhat – our pride – who was the best student in the Albanian school that was opened in the years preceding 1944 in our city, was also found dead. Entering our courtyard, terrified, my sight was dimmed, when I found our grandfather’s blood-stained body, lying on the ground, lifeless. Zervas soldiers had dragged him tumbling down the stony steps, and killed him. He was 82 years old, a retired imam.
Greek writer Janis Sharras in his book “Istoria tis Periohis Igumenitsas”, published in Athens in 1985, confirms the crimes by writing: “Muharrem Bollati’s family, massacred in a brutal manner was completely innocent”. After that terrible scene, our lovely mother sheltered us on the religious building in our neighborhood. There we found a lot of other frightened families. Less than one hour had passed and an armed person ordered us to get out of the rooms. A machine-gunner stood under the big stone portal awaiting orders to kill us. Our poor mother tucked us with a gentle voice and started to pray to God for Mercy. Some minutes later, another zervist came ordering the machine-gunner to pick up the gun and go to another place. For the moment we supposed that we, thank God, had been saved. But no! A zervist official came and picked my very lovely mother. Terrified she pulled out from her chest the only photo of my just-murdered father, and with her last wish asking to keep the photo as something sacred. Less than an hour later, we were crying as we heard the terrible news that our lovely mother, Betula 36 years old, was found killed inside the Bollati’s Mosque.
What remained were four orphan siblings Qerime 10, I, 7, Faruk 5, and Makbule 2 years old. Together with more than 200 terrified people gathered on the Muhedini’s big home transformed to a jail or concentration camp, where 10-15 people slept together on the floor. We started to take care of our lovely aunty, Zybide; her husband Nelo, 27 years old was killed leaving her with a baby – Tahsin who was 3 months old. Here it has to be emphasized that some neighbors, friendly women, came with a cradle for Tahsin, and brought clothes and household items from our homes. It was a great help for us, in the sorry plight that zervists put us. The neighbors were in a desperate position with our situation, they knew our innocence, but it wasn’t in their hands to free us. The lack of food and absence of minimal living conditions were the cause of the diseases and untimely deaths. So, every day usually 2-3 people died. My grandmother Rukije 72 years and my 2 year old sister Makbule, both passed away in the same day. Several months later, the British soldiers arrived and brought us food and medications so life in the concentration camp started to be better. At the end of November they started to ask us, if we want to be transported to Turkey, Egypt or to England. But we all in one voice told them that as Albanians, we want to go only to our motherland, not to any other country.
A few days passed and two uncovered trucks were brought. As we were being loaded on the truck, the friendly women neighbors appeared again. They had brought for us some winter clothes. When the trucks started to move, they stood by looking at us with despaired faces. It is very important to remind you that these friendly women were Christians. Some Greek liars claim that this genocide was done against the Muslim Albanians. But it wasn’t right, they also killed attorney Spiro Calluka, a Christian, because he always felt Albanian. Throughout all of our history, Albanians in Chameria, Muslim or Christian, respected and loved each other, we even married each other. The Christian Chams, even today do not consider themselves Greeks but Romeis. Albanians descend from the Illyrians who during the Roman Empire had embraced Christianity the same as Arbëresh in Southern Italy today.
Trucks arrived in Gumenica and unloaded us in the seaport storage house. During the night zervists tried to enter in the storage house to abduct the girls; but we all started to cry loudly, so the British soldiers saved us again. It was the last terrible night with zervists. The next morning we embarked on the four small boats and in the afternoon we arrived in the port city of Saranda (in administrative Albania). There, our uncle Muhamed joined us, who in June hid himself in his sister’s house in Parga. After passed a night in Saranda’s Mosque, we were transported to Himara. In Himara he rented two horses, he and I had to walk.
Walking during all day long the night we found ourselves near a small river bridge. After collecting some sticks made the fire to pass the night under the bridge. In reality it was December so it was very cold. Especially my weakened brother with a bad cold, high temperature felt very hungry. Even today it remains in my mind, his begging for bread. Crying he asked our aunty: “Please, please my dear aunty, I am so hungry, give me a piece of bread, I love you so much, please! But unfortunately even a crumb of bread was impossible to find. It was daylight when started to walk. After three hours we arrived at the village of Dukat. There for first time, we were surprised by the unexpected warm welcome from its residents. (Last year Cham people erected a Monument of Appreciation to the residents of Dukat). Partisans gave us a lift on their car taking us to Vlora. As we arrived there, my aunty took my very sick brother to the hospital. The next day he passed away!
So from the nine family members, only two of us remained my 10 year old sister and I. She grew up in our uncle’s house, and I grew up in Tirana’s orphanage and in Shkodra’s boarding school. This is only a part of the genocide what the Greek chauvinist armed gangs perpetrated starting in Paramithia and finishing in Filat on March 1945. During these times more than 2,900 innocent Albanian people were killed and more than 2,000 others passed away while walking toward Albania. The majority of them were children and elderly people.
One of the documents by the U.S. Department of State No. 84/3, Tirana Mission 1945-1946 states: “According to all information I have been able to gather on the Cham Issue, in 1944 and during the first months of 1945, the authorities in northern Greece perpetrated savage brutality by evicting more than 35,000 Chams, residents of Chameria, from their homes, where they had been living for centuries on end, chasing them across the border after having robbed them of their land and property. Most of the young people were killed because the majority of the refugees were old folk and children”
The real intentions of this Genocide were seen on the letter of the Greek general, Zervas the bloodthirsty person who lead those massacres. In a letter directed to his collaborator in those crimes, K. Danis in 1953, he confirms: “We have to feel proud for what did, to clean Chameria from the Albanians that for more than 500 years ride on the Hellenes shoulders, by giving the possibility to highlanders get down to the fields”.
The High British official in British Mission in Albania, Major Palmer, in his investigations tried to shed light on the motives of those massacres by giving an interesting explanation which is closer to the truth. He reported to his superiors that “the region of where Albanian minority lived was rich. And there were feelings of hatred and envy from Greeks toward Chams”. At the same time, Palmer noted that the absurd Greek demand for the annexation of South Albania from Greece, which the Greek state had highly cultivated for many decades, had created “a strong hatred directed not only towards Chams, but Albanians in general”. In this way, Palmer doubted the claim that the ethnic cleansing of Chameria was executed for the reason of collaboration of that population with Germans, but it was part of the Greek nationalist strategy against Albanians.