‘Cham’ Issue causes uproar between Greece and Albania, days ahead of Albanian Speaker visit to Athens

Tirana – As Athens prepares to receive a high-level parliamentary delegation chaired by Albanian Speaker Ilir Meta, an alledged exhange of ‘non-papers’ between the two countries’ Foreign Ministries recognising the so called ‘cham issue’ up for bilateral discussion has caused tensions between Greece and Albania.

Revelations were made by Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati that Greece and Albania had exchanged non-papers on the issue of ‘Chameria’ or ‘Tsamouria’ in Greek, a region south of the border from Albania today covering all western coastal part of Greece across Corfu island.

Chameria albania greece
The Region of Chameria in Greece where Chams lived before they were expelled by Greek authorities in the 2nd World War.

 

The 20,000-30,000 cham population was expelled from Greece after the 2nd World War arguing that the muslim chams had collaborated with the Natzis. Albania and its tenfold cham population now living in its territory says that they deserve their property rights back and that Greece needs to treat this as a human-rights issue and for this reason the issue should be on the bilateral agenda.

Greece maintains that the issue is not up for discussion. Athens indirectly acknowledged the existence of the exchange of non-papers, adding that the any talks on the matter simply reinforced Greece’s stance that the matter was non existent.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said that the only reference to the ‘Tsamouria’ matter in the exchange of non-papers was made in the context of completely ruling it out as a pending issue.

The hot topic has resurfaced after EU Commissionar Johannes Hahn acknowledged the two countries are communicating on the matter as a bilateral issue, causing Athens to immediately rebuke his comments as  impartial and with a clear bias towards Albania

The EU is pushing for resolution of any pending matters which include the delimitation of their sea border and an agreement on Greek cemeteries on Albanian soil, between the two countries in its effort to speed up Albania’s accession procedures, thus placing more pressure on Greece.

Shpetim Idrizi who chairs the PDIU ‘cham’ Party counting 6 seats in the Albanian Parliament has since said that chams’ requests do not threaten the territorial integrity of Greece, but demand instead the right of return and their seized properties back.

The fresh tensions across the media have emerged a few days before Albanian Speaker of Parliament and former Prime Minister Ilir Meta visits Athens officially in the hope to give a new impetus to bilateral relations. Meta, generally well respected across Greek circles, is widely recognized as the first Prime Minister of Albania of publicly raise the ‘cham issue’ in Athens more than 14 years ago.

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