by Aggelos Skordas
Albania has no territorial claims over Greece, although the descendants of the Chams who fled Greece after World War II should be able to claim their property rights, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama declared in an interview with Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea, on Tuesday. Referring to recent bilateral discussions and negotiations, Rama said Athens and Tirana are bound with a “strategic partnership”, adding that two sides are approaching a solution over the delineation of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), Greece has pursued for years.
As he pointed out, the so-called “Cham issue” has been conceived by some Greeks as part of Albania’s hidden agenda although “such a territorial claim simply does not exist… such a territorial issue between Albania and Greece cannot stand”. At the same time, he called both the people of Greece and Albania to “eliminate” those “who fuel that kind of fantasy and find refuge in the extreme corners of our political scenes” as they pose a threat for the truth and undermine the future.
“The ‘Cham issue’ only exists as a matter concerning some fundamental rights of fellow Albanians who once lived in your country, and nothing broader than this. I frankly do not think that any rational individual would disagree that these people should have the right to travel back to Greece and visit if they wish to, or that they or their kids should have the ability to claim property rights through the court of law, as every citizen of Europe normally does”, Rama highlighted answering a question regarding the issue that lately appears high on the neighboring country’s political agenda, with the Albanian Prime Minister himself raising it to a priority level.
Using a significantly different wording during an interview with the Albanian TV network Vizion Plus last week Rama said that the rights of the Chams should be respected by Greece and requested the erection of a monument commemorating their presence in certain parts of Epirus. Furthermore, he added that the issue should be put on the table of bilateral talks and dismissed recent statements of the Greek Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, who said that Greek and Albanian officials are not discussing the “Cham issue”: “Kotzias did not hear well. The Albanian side is intensely seeking to put the Cham issue on the table… We will insist because it is an Albanian issue”, he characteristically underlined.
The Chams are a group of Albanians with a long presence in Epirus, northwest Greece, although following the Italian invasion and the occupation of Greece they avidly collaborated with the Axis powers aiming to territorial gains following the end of World War II. In the aftermath of the war the entire population residing in Greek soil fled in fear of retaliation, as large parts of the Cham population actively supported the Axis operations and committed a number of atrocities against the locals.