Over 35,000 men, women, and children were expelled from Chameria and nearly 5,000 innocent civilian Albanians were massively murdered by Greek Nazi general Napoleon Zervas in 1944-1945. At the meetings in Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945) and Potsdam (1945), the three major wartime powers, the United Kingdom, United States, and the Soviet Union, agreed on the format of punishment for those responsible for war crimes during World War II. The legal basis for the Nuremberg trials was established by the London Charter, which was agreed upon by the four so-called Great Powers on 8 August 1945, and which restricted the trial to “punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries”. The Nuremberg trials initiated a movement for the prompt establishment of a permanent international criminal court, eventually leading over fifty years later to the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. This movement was brought about because during the trials, there were conflicting court methods between the German court system and the U.S. court system.Some 200 German war crimes defendants were tried at Nuremberg, and 1,600 others were tried under the traditional channels of military justice. The legal basis for the jurisdiction of the court was that defined by the Instrument of Surrender of Germany. The court was limited to violations of the laws of war, it did not have jurisdiction over crimes that took place before the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939.
CHAMERIA: ALBANIA’S GOLGOTHA
Greek politicians still claim today that these individuals were collaborators of the Nazi regime and deserved to be massacred and expelled. Greek government today denies Chams ever existed and its citizens were thus silenced by the totalitarian and longstanding theocratic regimes. After the Marshall Plan, the United States policies and programs implied and supposed that Greece would be an important ally and a stable democracy in the Mediterranean basin. With the Schengen visa liberalization program put in place a few years ago, many Chams optimistically believed they would have the opportunity to visit their ancestral lands and resettle in their properties. Many of them were stopped and abused at the border checkpoints and their passports are often torn by Greek customs agents. The Greek Consulate in Tirana has consistently denied issuing entry visas to Albanians born in Greece, so the latter are denied the right to put a bouquet of flowers on top of their ancestors who are buried there, in their thousand-year old lands. Unfortunately, Greece does not allow the latter to freely speak in their mother language, Albanian, in public. They have no right to register as Albanians and are not recognized as a minority. Evidently, these acts are fundamental human rights abuses based on the principles of freedom of movement and those of property rights.
AAOC Letter to Greek authorities for International Human Rights Day
We are representatives of the Albanian American Organization Chameria (AAOC) – a NGO established in the United States conform all applicable laws of the land. Chameria is a name inherited centuries ago by our ancestors and the birthplace of thousands of our members. The current Greek administration calls Chameria Thesprotia, a region in northwestern Greece. We have undertaken a duty as citizens of the United States of America, a place of true democracy, to promote human rights and preserve our Albanian language and traditions. On the occasion of the World Human Rights Day, we resort to the country where democracy was born, the cradle of democracy, ancient Greece, for the redress of certain abuses committed by the Greek administration against Albanians in Greece.
As you may know, in 1940 hundreds of innocent male Chams from the ages of 15 to 70 were interned on the islands of the Aegean Sea. Also Joseph Jacobs, director of the US mission in Albania (1945-1946) states: “Starting in June 27, 1944 in Paramithia and March 1945, units of Zervas’s dissolved forces carried out a massacre of Chams in the Filiates area, and practically cleared the district of the Albanian minority. The authorities in north-western Greece perpetrated savage brutality by evicting some 25,000 Chams – residents of Chameria – from their homes, where they had been living for centuries on end. They were chased across the border after having been robbed of their land and property. Most of the young people were killed, because the majority of the refugees were old folk and children.”
Today Greece does not recognize the Albanian minority living in Greece and denies the fact that the Chameria genocide ever took place. We believe that the denial of genocide is a form of aggression and it prolongs the process of genocide. According to genocide scholar Israel Charny, editor of the Encyclopedia of Genocide, “the denial of genocide strives to reshape history in order to rehabilitate the perpetrators and demonize the victims. It prevents healing of the wounds inflicted by genocide. Denying genocide is the final stage of genocide—it murders the dignity of the survivors and destroys the remembrance of the crime.” We will not let the dignity of our survivors be murdered; we collectively remember this genocide every year on June 27th.
The latest report by the UNHRC Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms. Gay MacDougall cites that Greece is a state party to the major international human rights instruments of particular relevance to the rights of minorities including the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. Also, article 28.1 of the Greek Constitution provides that international treaties ratified by Greece have supra-statutory force and take precedence over other Greek laws.
Furthermore, State Department Human Rights reports on Greece indicate that Greece has an Albanian population who are called Arvanites. In an OSCE hearing for the US Congress about Greek terrorism on June 2, 2002, Congressman Christopher Smith stated that in Greece exist Albanian, Macedonian, Aromanian, and Turkish minorities, and Greek Helsinki Committee president Mr. Panagiotes Dimitras confirmed this fact by adding that the Albanian government brings up this matter occasionally. Similarly, in October 11, 2006, US Ambassador to the OSCE, Clifford Bond in a Human Dimension Implementation meeting in Warsaw stated that “the treatment of persons belonging to ethnic Albanian, Macedonian and Turkish minority groups in Greece remains a matter of concern”.
In 1995, the Organization of States Unrepresented Nations in the Hague condemned the genocide committed against the Albanian population in Chameria by demanding that the Greek government recognize the historical reality of the Chameria problem and work seriously to give it a rightful solution in a democratic way, including:
1. The repatriation of Cham people to their own homeland;
2. The right of the Cham people to regain their properties;
3. Respect all international rights which are derived from international charters and conventions.
Today, we as American citizens demand the Greek government to recognize the genocide of the years 1944-45, against an innocent population. Also, since Greece decided this year to grant Greek citizenship to Jews expelled from Greece before 1945, we suggest it should also restore Greek citizenship rights to many of our organization’s members born in Greece before 1945.
We are confident that the Greek government and Greek Parliament will remedy an undeniable right of American citizens born in Greece in accordance with all applicable international legislation.
Albanian American Organization Chameria