Cham Issue Undermines Albania Greece Strategic Deal

edi rama alexis tsipras
Prime Ministers Edi Rama and Alexis Tsipras during a recent meeting

Tirana, Albania – July 09 (Tirana Echo) – The crucial maritime border agreement between Albania and Greece which was expected to be signed in the first half of this year is reportedly being postponed, raising doubts about the feasibility of a larger controversial strategic partnership between the two southern European countries.

According to Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, the Greek Prime Minister’s Office is reportedly waiting for the name deal’s ratification in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece before it tackles the Albanian issues.

However, while officially Greece maintains it needs more time due to Macedonia name change, analysts point out to the sensitive Cham issue as being the real Achilles’ heel in bilateral negotiations, which the Greek side has categorically excluded from talks.

The historic strategic deal which would solve an unmarked maritime border between the two countries, it would lift Greece’s state-of-war law against Albania, it would reinforce rights of mutual ethnic communities in both countries and it would sanction the building of several Greek-Italian war cemeteries on Albanian territory.

While the agreement was expected to be signed within June by prime ministers Tsipras and Rama in Corfu, a diplomatic source who does not wish to be named, told Tirana Echo that internal pressure at home, has forced Albania’s PM Edi Rama to demand the Cham issue back on the negotiating table, a request which is completely refuted by Greece, which maintains there is no Cham issue.

Despite repeated Albanian requests to solve the old grudge over its 20,000 ethnic Albanian Greeks expelled from their homes in Greece who lived in the northern region of Chameria (now renamed by the Greeks to Thesprotia) – Greece maintains there’s nothing to discuss as those expelled were judged as Nazi collaborators during the second world war by Greek courts.

The Chams, who now account for over 300,000 Albanian citizens, are enraged that a new deal would drop historical names such as Chameria from official use and school text books. They have already had to accept the removal of their old birthplaces from Albanian passports while several members of their community are denied entry into Greece. Now, they fear their past may be wiped from Albanian historical text books.

Earlier this year, several thousand Albanian Chams, who now have their own political party in Albania, demanded that Athens issues an apology for what they called a genocide against their families after WW2.

Carrying placards reading “We will never forget the Genocide”, and “Freedom to Cameria”, the demonstrators demanded that Greece allows them to return to Epirus, northern Greece, from where they left.

Cham Party Protesters earlier in Feb 2018 protesting outside the Greek Embassy in Tirana
Cham Party Protesters earlier in Feb 2018 protesting outside the Greek Embassy in Tirana

Addressing the rally, Shpetim Idrizi, the leader of the Cham party PDIU said they wanted first “an apology for thousands of Chams killed at home.”

We Albanians of Chameria do not want a revenge, we do not want a change of borders, we want an apology so we can be able to forgive and the two peoples can live peacefully and we can return to live in our homes,” Idrizi said.

While the hot Cham issue continues to undermine relations between Athens and Tirana, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras will meet in London tomorrow during a special EU-Western Balkans Summit.

Diplomatic sources are hinting that although Tsipras and Rama agree on most things already negotiated, the Cham issue could blow up the entire deal between the two neighboring countries.

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