08 December 2009

Cham Albanians

Cham Albanians, or Chams (Albanian: Çamë, Greek: Τσάμηδες Tsámidhes), are a sub-group of Albanians who originally resided in the coastal region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, an area known among Albanians as Chameria.Chams played an important role in starting the renaissance of the Albanian culture in the 19th century. The Chams speak their own dialect of the Albanian language, which is considered one of the two most conservative dialects, the other being Arvanitika.On the eve of the Greco-Italian War, the adult male Cham population was deported by the Greek authorities to internment camps.After World War II the entire Muslim Cham population was deported to Albania,as a result of greek genocide and opression.Most Chams settled in Albania, while others formed émigré communities in Turkey and the United States. Today, their descendants continue to live in these countries.The name "Cham", together with that of the region, "Chameria", is of uncertain origin. It may derive from the local hydronym Thyamis (Θύαμις in Greek, Kallamas in Albanian or Lumi i Kalamasë). In its original ethnographic and dialectological sense, the term Cham comprises the entire Albanian-speaking population of the Thesprotia and Preveza prefectures of Greek Epirus, including both the Muslim and Christian populations.Historical Albanian population groups of the region such as the 18th and 19th-century Souliotes also spoke a sub-branch of the Cham Albanian dialect.Prior to 1944, Chams were often called by Greek sources Albanophones (Greek: Αλβανόφωνοι)or simply Albanians of Epirus.In Greece, Muslim Chams were referred to by a number of names by different authors. They were called Albanochams (Αλβανοτσάμηδες, Alvanotsamides),and by the misnomers Turkalbanians (Τουρκαλβανοί, Tourkalvanoi) or Turkochams (Τουρκοτσάμηδες, Tourkotsamides),which are regarded as derogatory by Cham Albanians.At the same time, Orthodox Chams are often referred by Greeks as Arvanites (Αρβανίτες),which primarily refers to the Albanophone Greeks of southern Greece but is commonly used as for all Albanian-speaking Greek citizens. The local Greek population also calls them Graeco-Chams (Ελληνοτσάμηδες, Elinotsamides),while Muslim Albanians sometimes designate them as Kaur, which means "infidel" and refers to their religion.This term was used by Muslim Albanians for the non-Muslims during the Ottoman Empire.Orthodox Chams use the appellation "Albanians" (Shqiptar in Albanian) for themselves.Chams in Turkey are known by the name Arnauts (Arnavutlar), which applies to all ethnic Albanians in Turkey.There are two rivers in the region: the Thyamis-Çami(Lumi i Kalamasë) and Acheron.The main settlements in which Chams originally resided were: Paramythia,Filiates,Igoumenitsa,Parapotamos, Sybota, Sagiada,Perdika,Parga,Margariti,Arta,Preveza and Ioannina. The Orthodox Chams originally resided in Fanari,Louros and Thesprotiko.Following the defeat of Ottoman forces in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, an international boundary commission awarded the southern part of Epirus-Chameria inhabited by albanians to the Kingdom of Greece.After the incorporation of Southern Epirus into Greece, Chams had the right to choose between Greek and Turkish nationality, under the 4th provision of the Athens peace treaty.The Albanian language was prohibited from public life and only Greek was taught in schools.In accordance with the Greek policy on minorities at the time, Orthodox Cham Albanians were counted together with Greeks, while the Muslim Chams were counted in the census as a religious minority.During this period, the Muslim Cham beys lost the political power they enjoyed during Ottoman rule, but retained their economic influence.At the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922), Greece and Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which included a population exchange between the two countries. The treaty used religion as the indicator of national affiliation, thus including all Muslims, and thus Muslim Cham Albanians, in the population exchange. Under this treaty Muslims of Greece would have been exchanged with Christians of Turkey, with a sole exception for the Muslims of western Thrace and the Orthodox Christian population of Istanbul.After pressure by Italian and Albanian delegates which made a strong case that the Chams primarily self-identified as Albanian nationals,Greece in 1925, two years after the exchange had officially began, accepted that Muslim Chams were not subject to the exchange. The Greek minister in London, Kaklamanos, promised that "the compulsory exchange shall not be applicable to the Moslem subjects of Albanian origin".But Muslim Chams had to prove their ethnic origin in order to remain in Greece.Under the Greek decision, which was presented by Eleftherios Venizelos to the local administration in Epirus, only those who were born in Albania or whose fathers were born in Albania could stay in Greece, thus excluding the genuine Chams of the Chameria region. On the other hand the Albanian state presented evidences that the Chams are being forced to leave Greece because the Greek authorities were making life unbearable for them.In the meantime Greek authorities forcibly sent a number of Cham Albanians to Turkey. Reports compiled by League of Nations representatives charged that local Greek authorities were intentionally making life unbearable for the Cham Muslims in order to force them out of Greece.[21] The exact number is unknown, since no official statistical data have been presented and because during 1923-1925, the number of exchanged Chams was not counted.[20] According to the contemproary Greek political historian Athanasios Pallis, only 1,700 were exempted and the League of Nations estimated that 2,993 Muslim Chams were forced to leave for Turkey, even after their compulsory exchange was prohibited.In Turkey, Cham Albanians were accommodated in Istanbul and Bursa. The majority of them were from Ioannina and outlying areas and Preveza.About 16,000 Greek refugees from Asia Minor were settled in Epirus,mainly in the same areas.During this period the Muslim Chams ranked among the biggest land-owners in Greece and there were no problems whatsoever in their relations with either the government or the Greek population.Under the Treaty of Lausanne some of this land was appropriated, on financial terms agreed to with the owners, to meet the needs of the landless refugees from Anatolia and Thrace who were to settle in Epirus. Four different laws were passed between 1923 and 1937 that expropriated the properties of Muslim Chams, while leaving those of the Orthodox Chams and the local Greeks intact.Official Greek policy was that properties belonging to either Muslim citizens in Greece, who were exempt from the exchange of populations, or to foreign citizens, be preferentially expropriated.Albanian reports to the League of Nations and the reply by the Greek government reveal that part of the bone of contention concerned the change in the status of the local Albanian landlords. In Ottoman times, the overlords received revenues from the neighboring villages. But the peasants refused to pay tribute after their land became part of the Greek state and in this case they 'expropriated' what the Albanian overlords formerly owned to be their property.The first relevant law was passed on 15 February 1923, expropriating the lands and second homes of Muslim Chams, in order to give it to Greek refugees and to landless Greek farmers. Compensation was set at below 1914 market price, and not 1923 values. On the other hand, the compensation for the homes would be given by 1923 value. Nevertheless, some Chams were never compensated. As a result of this policy, a number of petitions were addressed to the Ministry of Agriculture or to the officials of the Refugee Settlement Commission from Muslims of Albanian origin in Paramythia, Dragoumi, Filiates, and other parts of the region, but no answer was given.[60] This law was reported even to the League of Nations, but in June 1928 the Albanian petition against Greece was turned down.

Pangalos regime (1926) and Expulsion (1944–1945)
An unexpected turn in Chams' fate occurred when an Arvanite general, known for his pro-Albanian feelings, became prime minister of Greece. On June 24, 1925, a group of officers, fearing that the political instability was putting the country at risk, overthrew the government in a coup and their leader, Theodoros Pangalos became the head of the dictatorial government. His main priorities in foreign relations were to establish good relations with Albania and to protect the rights of both minorities, Chams in Greece, and Greeks in Albania. For this reason he officially decided that the Albanians of Chameria would not be sent to Turkey after 1926, putting an end to the population exchange. He also decided that refugees from Asia Minor would not settle in Chameria, but rather in Western Thrace, as was originally decided.
Pangalos was an Albanian-speaker, and declared himself proud of his Albanian identity.His priority in establishing good relations with Albania was soon materialized by four agreements between the two governments, among others addressing the confiscation of Cham properties before 1926, when Greek refugees from Asia Minor were settled in the region. This agreement stated that Chams would be compensated at least as much as foreign citizens or ethnic Greeks.In a public statement he also recognized that Chams were an ethnic minority and promised that Albanian schools would be opened in the region.But after a few months he was overthrown, and his pro-Cham policies were immediately abolished.During this period, a number of villages were renamed in the region. More than 100 village names were changed in Thesprotia, Preveza and Ioannina.Many other names had already been changed in 1913 when the region came under Greek sovereignty. Villages like Shëndiela in Preveza were translated into Greek Agia Kyriaki (Saint Kyriake), while other toponyms such as Ajdonati or Margëlliç had been immediately renamed with new Greek names (Paramythia and Margariti).The majority of villages and towns of the region got new names, mainly Greek ones, in 1928 and 1929. Another period of Hellenization of toponyms occurred in the 1950s, when the remaining Albanian names were finally renamed into Greek, with very few exceptions.Today, only a small number of Albanian toponyms, like Semeriza (from Albanian Shemërizë, meaning Saint Mary), survive from Ottoman times.The harshest period of discrimination against Cham Albanians occurred during the dictatorial regime of Ioannis Metaxas, Prime Minister of Greece from 1936 to 1941.Albanian-speaking minorities were prohibited from using their own language outside home.Those who used Albanian words in school or in the army, were punished physically or humiliated.Such attitudes have led many parents to discourage their children from learning their mother tongue, so as to avoid similar discrimination and suffering.The Greek language was imposed in the schools and elders who had no knowledge of the language were forced to attend night-schools, in order to learn to read, write and even speak the Greek language.On the eve of the Greco-Italian War, Greek authorities disarmed 1800 Cham conscripts and put them to work on local roads.During October 28-November 14 while the Italian army made a short advance and briefly took brief control of part of Thesprotia, bands of Cham Albanians raided several villages and burned a number of towns (like Paramythia, Filiates).In November, as the Greek counter-offensive managed to regain Thesprotia, the Greek authorities seized all Muslim Cham males not called up and deported them to concentration camps or to island exile.Until the invasion of Greece by the German army, the Muslim Cham population of the region of Chameria was composed of women, children and the elderly. The adult male Muslim Chams would be restored to their land only after fascist Italy gained control of the region. In 1941, Greece was occupied by German, Italian and Bulgarian armies, who divided the country in three distinct occupation zones.On 18 June 1944, EDES forces with Allied support launched an attack on Paramythia. After short-term against a German garrison, the town was finally liberated. Soon after, violent reprisals were carried out against the town's Muslim community.Consequently, EDES forced the remaining Chams to leave their homes.Beyond the expulsion, as a result of the atrocities that accompanied it, more than 2,000 of them were killed, while others died during their exodus to Albania.Two attacks took place in July and August, with the participation of EDES' 10th Division and local Greek peasants. Many of the Cham villages were burned and the remaining inhabitants fled across the border into Albania.In the context of the emerging Greek Civil War, this operation was also meant to enlarge the coastal area north of Parga under EDES, and hence British, control. British historian Mark Mazower describes it as ethnic cleansing, which was accompanied by much destruction and plundering.British officers described it as "a most disgraceful affair" involving "an orgy of revenge" with the local guerrillas '"looting and wantonly destroying everything". The British Foreign Office reported that "The bishop of Paramythia joined in the searching of houses for booty and came out of one house to find his already heavily laden mule had been meanwhile stripped by some andartes".In the worst massacre, in the town of Filiates on 13 March, some sixty to seventy Chams were killed. Overall, some 300 Muslim Chams were murdered. The property of all Muslim Chams property, was confiscated in order to permit Greeks to settle in the area.During this time 28,000 Chams were evicted, 2,771 killed and 5,800 houses were looted and burned.After the war, only 117 Muslim Chams were left in Greece.For those Chams of the Orthodox faith who remained in Greece after 1945, their Albanian identity was suppressed as a deeply repressive policy of assimilation ensued and, as before World War II, the Albanian language was not allowed to be spoken in public, nor taught in the schools. The demographic structure of northwestern Greece was meanwhile altered by the introduction of settlers, especially Vlachs, from other parts of Greece.On the other hand, the Greek authorities, out of mistrust towards the remaining Albanians, despite their Orthodox denomination, have furthered a demographic shift in the region, by introducing settlers, chiefly Vlachs.Today, the majority of these Orthodox Chams are called Arvanites by others, but self-identify as Shqiptar, which means Albanians. In contrast with Arvanites, they have retained, not only a distinct ethnic identity, but also the Albanian national identity..In 1953, the Albanian government gave all Chams the Albanian citizenship and forced them to integrate into Albanian society. Despite this, many Chams still regard themselves as refugees deprived of their Greek citizenship and claim the right to return to their property in Greece.

The population of the region of Chameria was mainly Albanian , with smaller greek minorities. There was a dispute regarding the size of the Albanian population of the region, while in 20th century the term 'Chams' applies only to Muslims.According to 1913 Greek census, in Chameria region were living 25,000 Muslims who had as mother tongue Albanian, in a total population of about 60,000, while in 1923 there were 20,319 Muslim Chams. In Greek census of 1928, there were 17,008 Muslims who had as mother tongue the Albanian language.The only census that counted Orthodox communities of Albanian ethnicity, was an Italian, conducted during World War II (1941). This census found that in the region lived 54,000 Albanians, of whom 26,000 Orthodox and 28,000 Muslim and 20,000 Greeks.After the war, according to Greek censuses where ethno-linguistic groups were counted, Muslim Chams were 113 in 1947 and 127 in 1951.

Current demographics
Since the Greek government does not include ethnic and linguistic categories in any official census. In 2002, according the author Miranda Vickers, in Chameria, the Orthodox Albanian population was estimated at 40,000. However the term Cham in 20th century applies only to Muslims while both the Albanian (Arvanitika) speaking and bilingual (Greek-Albanian) Orthodox communities of the region are part of the Greek nation.In the region today resides a small number post-1991 Albanian immigrants.In 1985, the Albanian population of Epirus, including Chameria and two villages in Konitsa was estimated 30,000.While the total population of Thesprotia, Preveza and Ioannina prefectures is 275,086.Albanian is still spoken by a minority of inhabitants in Igoumenitsa.According to Ethnologue, Albanian language is spoken by about 10,000 Albanians in Epirus and the village of Lechovo, in Florina.
Estimations conclude that Muslim Chams today number at 400,000, the majority of whom live in Albania,where they numbered ca. 250,000 in 2007,while in Turkey they are 80,000 to 100,000,and the rest live in the United States.The only exact number of Chams in Albania comes from 1991, when Chameria Association held a census, in which were registered about 205,000 Chams.

Cham Albanian dialect
Cham Albanians speak the Cham dialect (Çamërisht), which is a subbranch of the Tosk Albanian dialect.The Cham dialect is the second southernmost dialect of the Albanian language, the other being the Arvanitic dialect of southern Greece, which is also a form of Tosk Albanian. As such, Arvanitika and Cham dialect retain a number of common features.Albanian linguists say that this dialect is of great interest for the dialectological study and the ethno-linguistic analysis of the Albanian language. Like Arvanitika and the Arbëresh varieties of Italy, the dialect retains some old features of the Albanian, such as the old consonant clusters /kl/, /gl/, which in standard Albanian are q and gj, and /l/ instead of /j/.
Linguists say that these features give the Cham dialect a conservative character, which is due to the close proximity and its continuous contacts with the Greek language. They argue that this conservative character, which is reflected in a number of peculiar features of the dialect, is endangered, as are the Albanian toponyms of the region, which are no longer in use, and which have provided valuable material for research into the historical evolution of Albanian.

Cham Albanians have their own features, which differ from other groups of Albanian music. Cham Albanian folk music is divided in three main categories: the iso-polyphonic music, the polyphonic music and the folk ballads of the region. The characteristics of the last two types are common among the Greeks and Vlachs of the wider region.According to German scholar Doris Stockman, Cham music "may give an impact to further explain the inner Albanian relationships, among the vocal practices of the various folk groups in South Balkan, more than it had been done that far, as well as to offer new material to comparative studies concerning the complex of problems of the folk polyphony in Europe".Iso-polyphony is a form of traditional Albanian polyphonic music. This specific type of Albanian folk music is proclaimed by UNESCO as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity". Chams sing a different type, called the cham iso-polyphony. Although they border with Lab Albanians, their iso-polyphony is influenced more by the Tosk type.

Dances-Tsamiko, Dance of Zalongo, and Dance of Osman Taka
Cham Albanian dances are well-known in Albania and Greece and are considered today as traditional dances in both countries. The best-known is Tsamiko(Çamiko), the Dance of Zalongo and the Dance of Osman Taka.Traditionally, Tsamiko is danced only by men, but in modern times, both men and women take part. It is a national dance of Albania and one of the two national dances of Greece.The dance follows a strict and slow tempo with emphasis put not on the steps, but in the "attitude, style and grace" of the dancer.The Dance of Zalongo refers to an event during the war between the Souliotes and Ali Pasha, when the villages of Souli were being evacuated by the defeated population. A group of 22 Souliot women and their children were trapped by Muslim troops in the mountains of Zalongo in Epirus, on 16 December 1803. In order to avoid capture and enslavement, they threw first their children and then themselves off a steep cliff, committing suicide. According to tradition they did this while dancing and singing, jumping down one after the other. This event created this popular dance song about the event, which is danced throughout the two countries today.The Dance of Osman Taka is linked with Osman Taka, a Cham Albanian leader who fought against Ottoman forces, and who managed to escape from death by amazing Ottoman forces with this dance. It is an old Cham dance, but under this name its known only since the 19th century.These dances are one of the main elements of Cham Albanian identity, although they are equally popular among other Albanians as well as Greeks.

Folklore-Bridge of Arta
The majority of the traditional Cham songs pay tribute to medieval lords and the wars against Ali Pasha. They often have common subjects with regional Greek folklore, like the the bridge of Arta, and the wife of Ali Pasha, Eufrosini.In 1889, the Danish ethnographer Holgert Pedersen collected Cham folk tales and published them in Copenhagen nine years later, in the book "On Albanian folklore" (Zur albanesischen Volkskunde).More than 30 Cham folk tales were collected, the majority of whom about bravery and honour.Other folktales have been published in English in 1928, in the book "Tricks of Women & Other Albanian Tales".The Chams of the southern Chameria region believe that they are descended from the legendary "jelims", giants from southern Albanian mythology, whose name derives from the Slavic transmission of the Greek word Έλλην (ellin) which means "Greek".A peculiar characteristic of Albanian mythology is the "cult of the snake", which was particularly widespread amongst Chams. The snakes are thought as protector of the house and as a benefaction.

The folk outfits of the region are colorful. The most common men's outfit for Muslims and orthodox was the kilt known as fustanella, embroidered with silver thread, the doublet, short shirt with wide sleeves, the fez, the leather clogs with red topknots and white knee socks. Other parts of the outfit were the silver chest ornamental and the holster embroidered with silver thread used to carry a gun or a pistol.This kind of dress was common for all Albanians, but there was difference in the length in the south where men, including the Chams, wore shorter ones, up to the knee. The kilt of high society men was made of many folds (about 250 - 300) and later was substituted by slacks and the former one was only used on special occasions.

Women`s dress
The common outfit for the women became a kind of oriental silk or cotton baggy pants. They wear the cotton pants daily, whereas the silk ones only on special occasions. Other parts of this outfit were: the silk shirt weaved in their home looms and the vest embroidered with gold or silver thread, which sometimes was completed with a velvet waistcoat on it.During 1880–1890 the town women mostly wore long skirts or dresses. They were dark red or violet and embroidered with gold thread. Other parts of this outfit were the sleeveless waistcoats, silk shirts with wide sleeves embroidered with such a rare finesse. On special occasions they also put on a half-length coat matching the color of the dress. It was embroidered with various flowery motives.Another beautiful part of the outfit is the silver belt, the silk head kerchief and a great number of jewelry such as earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces etc.

The main architectural monuments in the region of Chameria that belonged to Chams were mosques, homes and Muslim cemeteries, as well as old Albanian towers, known in Albanian as Kullas, which have survived, only because they are in the middle of forests scrub land, in old military zones near the Albanian border. The majority of them have been disappeared.But, there are very few surviving mosques, which were transformed into museums, following the model of the Yugoslav communists, despite the existence of some Muslims in many localities. Muslim cemeteries are frequently desecrated by modern building works, particularly road building.At the same time, Cham domestic and administrative buildings, mosques and cultural monuments are slowly covered by vegetation. Pasture lands once used by Chams for their cattle is now converged into forests, because of the depopulation of the region. Thus the geographical and architectural legacy of Cham presence in north western Greece is gradually vanishing.

Notable Individuals
* Abedin Dino, founder of the League of Prizren,one of the main contributors in the Albanian independence.

* Ali Demi, World War II hero of Albania born in Filiates, Greece in 1918, and died during a battle with Axis forces in Vlora, Albania in 1943. After him was created the first Cham battalion in ELAS army, the battalion "Ali Demi".

* Aristidh Ruci, from Ioannina, representative of Janina in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

* Azis Tahir Ajdonati, from Paramythia, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

* Bilal Xhaferri, writer, born in Konispol, Albania.

* Gjon Zenebishi, medieval Albanian lord, and prince of Gjirokastër, born in Vagenetia (i.e. Thesprotia/Chameria)

* Hasan Tahsini, also known as Hoca Tahsin, Hodja Tahsin, Tahsin Efendi, Ahmet Nebil mathematician, philosopher and psychologist.

* Gjin Bua Shpata, medieval Albanian lord, and despot of Arta, Angelokastron and Lepanto, born in Vagenetia (i.e. Thesprotia/Chameria)

* Jakup Veseli, from Margariti, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

* Kristo Meksi, from Ioannina, representative of Janina in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

* Muhamet Kyçyku (Çami), considered as the first poet of the National Renaissance, one of the best-known bejtexhinjs of Albania.

* Osman Taka, one of the main contributors to the National Renaissance of Albania and a well-known dancer of his time.

* Rexhep Demi, from Filiates, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

* Thoma Çami, (1852-1909), from Paramythia, founder and chairman of organisation "Bashkimi", the best-known cultural club, of Rilindja Kombetare.

* Veli Gërra, from Igoumenitsa, representative of Chameria in Vlora Congress, signatory of Albanian Declaration of Independence.

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