Çameria geographically is situated on the to-day north-west Greece. This beautiful region, has a rich Albanian heritage and it was only in the 1912 that it was annexed unfairly and unjustifiably from Greece. This was the aftermath of the decision of the great powers to give Çameria to Greece, just as the great powers had made similar decisions to give Kosova and other Albanian territories to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro.
The word Çam is an evolution of the word "t'chiam" which is the name of an ancient river passing right through Çameria (The word T'chamis appears on many ancient Roman and even Hellenic maps, indicating that the word Chameria is older than the word Epirus, and it's used only by Albanians). Another branch of this river remains to be known to this day as the "lumi i kalamait" (Kalamait River - Childrens Rivier). What's most important is that everything about Çameria is Albanian in every sense of the word. The word Çameria has more of a topological meaning, but Çams have a very strong Albanian ethnicity, tradition and customs. Çameria has a very well-defined ethno-geographical meaning, which is strongly Albanian.
A large number of Çam population is situated on the seaside and goes up to the Gulf of Preveza. Another considerable number of towns and villages are situated on both sides of the river of "kalamait". The rest of of the Çam villages and towns are situated in more remote places and often on hills and mountains.
The Greek government has been very hostile toward Çams and the main reason is the fact that Çams have a very strong Albanian identity. Another reason of the Greek hostilities is the fact that Greeks inherited a very hostile policy towards us. During the period of time, from 1854 till 1877 the Albanians of Çameria resisted successfully the attacks from Greek "Andartes". During the WWI and WWII the greek troops attacked Çameria again. The (provisional) government of Vlora (Albania) responded by sending Albanian military troops to assist the Albanian population of Çameria , but the decision of the Ambassadors Conference assigned Çameria to Greece. As a result of this decision by the great powers, Greeks forces led by the hateful figure of N. Zervas launched attackers that ended up with many innocent Albanian locals killed.
To this day, we Çams in greece are described as bad people from an increasing "suffocating" Greek propaganda based on the fact that we refuse to be assimilated as it is the case with some of "Arvanites" in south and central Greece.
The today exact number of Albanians of Çameria in Greece is approx. one million people, taking into the account some relativly newly formed Çam villages and towns elsewhere in Greece..if all the number of Albanians in Çameria is added to the number of Arvanites in other areas of Greece, then the total number of Albanians in Greece is around 3.000.000 people. However only Albanians in Çameria call themselves real Shqiptars (Albanians). Arvanites elsewhere in Greece are under greater assimilating pressure from the Greek government and Anti-Albanian Greek circles.
This section is dedicated to hundreds of thousands of Albanians from the region of Chameria expelled by force, from the Greek forces in 1944 and residing now in the Republic of Albania and in the memory of 850,000 Cham Albanians sent to Turkey during the period between 1913-44.
During the summer of 1944, the neo-nazi forces led by Zervas attacked many villages and towns of Chameria and as a result 9,000 Albanians (including children, women and old folks) were killed indiscriminately. A considerable number of Albanians were expelled and live now in the Republic of Albania. The official number of those Albanian refugees from Chameria is between 150,000 and 300,000.
Today they have formed their own Albanian patriotic and cultural association based in Tirana and which is active right across Albania. Among other they are asking from the Greek government in Athens-Greece, to be repatriated and their lands and other assets be returned to them as well as compensations for the usage of the lands for the past 50 years. Also they are rallying for the opening of Albanian schools to the Albanians living in Chameria.
The policy of expulsion of Cham Albanians from Chameria had started earlier than 1944. Greeks as well as Serbs followed the same pattern in politics with respect to Albanians. Often they had signed documents with the Turkish government for the exchange of Muslims with Christians. During all this not a single Cham Albanian was asked! As a result of such policy around 850,000 Cham Albanians from Chameria were sent to Turkey, where they are settled in the region of Asia minor in Turkey.
Prior to WWI and WWII, the population in Çameria was around 93% Albanian, the rest were other ethnic groups such as Greeks, Vlachs, gypsies, etc.. On the 19th century, 80% of the Albanian population in Çameria was of Muslim Religion (the process of conversion to Islam started in the 18th century) and a 20% Christian Orthodox, however the first world war, found the the Albanian community as made up of 50% muslim and 50% orthodox believers (this shift happened in a matter of 70 years). After the world wars a fraction of the Muslim Populations was expelled by the Greek special forces, leaving intact the mainly orthodox Albanian population (50%) and a small fraction of molsims(13%) who by now mostly converted to orthodoxy to survive. The conversion back and forth from one religion to the other, before the World War I, was common among families!
However both Albanian religious communities were extremely close to each-other before the war and to this day, the Greek government has not managed to assimilate the Albanians of Çameria. The Albanian language is spoken indoors and outdoors as much as on everyday working places, but the Greek government with very little pressure from outside refuses to recognize Albanian minority in Greece and refuses to open schools on Albanian language.
The region is officially known as Epirus by the Greek government, but on the further north western corner of Greece, every single people knows the place as Çameria. Anyone from this region stating that he or she is a Çam, makes a political statement saying that he or she is an Albanian. That's why the Greek government doesn't know officially the region as Çameria. The heartland of Çameria is also called Thesprotia.My own opinion is that this region has still an Albanian majority (since many people of other ethnic groups have emigrated away, which has compensated somehow for the displacement of some Albanians during WWI and WWII!) and all the Çams expelled unjustifiably from Greece are very welcomed by all the Albanian people here, there is a UN resolution which asks the Greek government to repatriate our brothers and sisters back to their homes, where they belong among the rest of us.
ÇAMERIA: An Albanian Region Divided Between Greece and Albania
The Epirus, or Çameria, area in southern Albania and northern Greece has constituted the main focus of potential dispute between Athens and Tirana. The Greeks consider the southern extremity of Albania to be northern Epirus, while the Albanians consider the northwest corner of Greece to be southern Çameria. Although neither government has pressed for territorial revisions in recent memory, both regions are inhabited by minorities whose conditions and treatment have given rise to some concern and interstate discord. Claims over Çam numbers have ranged from 90,000 to over one million but are believed to be understated because Athens has not considered the local Albanians to be a separate ethnic group and has completely hellenized the majority of Orthodox Christian Albanians. They have not been entitled to any special minority rights and have been prevented from establishing any educational, cultural, or political associations inside Greece.
Since the democratic breakthrough in Albania in early 1991, the Albanian Çams organized as a pressure group within Albania on behalf of their co-ethnics in Greece. In March 1991, the first national conference of the Çameria Political Association (CPA) was held in Tirana with many of its activists drawn from the Albanian community who had been expelled from Greece after the war. The CPA intended to bring to international attention the neglected linguistic, cultural, and educational rights of Orthodox Albanian Çams who have been subjected to a Greek policy of assimilation. The group has also launched campaigns on behalf of Çam exiles in Albania. It has encouraged the expansion of contacts with compatriots in Greece, the return of exiles to their family areas, and the payment of compensation for property and land that was illegally taken from them during their expulsion.
Since 1991, Albanian activists across the political spectrum have become more outspoken on the Çameria issue vis-a-vis Greece. Historic grievances over Greek repression of Orthodox and Muslim Albanians earlier this century have been aired, and Athens has been criticized for its ongoing assimilationist pressures against Orthodox Albanians who still reside in the Çameria/Epirus region. Although the Greek authorities have denied that any Çam problem exists, Çam representatives have continued to urge the Albanian government to take up the issue with Athens at the highest bilateral levels. Excerpted from pages 185 and 186, Nations in Turmoil by Janusz Bugajski, Westview Press, 5500 Central Ave., Boulder, CO 80301-2877
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A small section of Çameria consisting of 7 villages and the town of Konispoli belongs to Albania while the rest of Çameria was awarded to Greece by the Conference of Ambassadors in London in 1913. The main Çam towns in Greece are Filati, Gumenica,Paramethia, Margellici, and Parga. In the 16th to 17th centuries, Çameria turned into an area of fierce revolts against Ottoman rule. In the 18th century, the process of forced islamization began -- part of the Suli and Parga populations fled to Greek islands to escape conversion. During 1820-1850, the region again took part in uprisings against the Ottomans. In 1854 and 1877, the population successfully resisted attacks by Greek Andartes. During the Balkan Wars, Greek troops intervened in Çameria. Military troops were sent by the (provisional) government of Vlora (Albania) to assist the local population, but the decision of the Ambassadors Conference assigned Çameria to Greece.
After WWII, the Greek government expelled by force thousands of Muslim Albanians to Turkey on the pretext that they were Turks because of their religion. At the end of WWII, the terror exercised against the local population forced 25, 000 Çams of Muslim faith to leave their homeland and seek temporary asylum in Albania. Çam dances, especially men's dances, are renowned. Some Çam dances, called Çamiko, are also used by the Greeks. Excerpted from pages 149-50, Fjalori Enciklopedik Shqiptar, Akademia Shkencave e RPS te Shqiperise, Tirana, Albania, 1985
(Translated from Albanian into English by Agron Alibali)