TIRANA – On the heels of Greece’s anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA set to give away the name Macedonia in a new composite for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said Greece must also recognize the right of Cham Albanians in Greece’s Epirus region.
Speaking on Albania TV, Rama said the rights of Chams, a sub-group of Albanians who originally resided in the western part of Epirus – which they call Chameria – need to be respected and that Greece must erect a monument to them just as the government is building an official mosque in Athens for Muslims.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, at the forefront of the planned giveaway of the name of Macedonia, that of an ancient Greek province which abuts FYROM, had said Greece and Albania wouldn’t take up the issue of the Chams, a sore spot between the countries.
Rama’s demand came a little more than a week after he told Albanian TV that he wanted improved relations with Greece., “We hope to complete this dialogue successfully and enter a new era of strategic collaboration with our neighbouring country; an era when past problems do not appear as problems in the future, and where the shades of the past remain in the past,” Rama was reported as saying.
Now, he’s upset with the Greek Foreign Minister. “Kotzias did not hear well. The Albanian side is intensely seeking to put the Cham issue on the table,” he said.
“We will insist because it is an Albanian issue,” he added. “We are talking about Albanian citizens who in the past had property in the Greek state … who have bitter memories.”
Albania’s insistence on the erection of a monument to the Chams in Epirus, northern Greece, is a “justifiable demand,” he added.
Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos dismissed the demand. “Everyone would like to enrich their national interests [but] we will never accept the existence of a Cham issue,” he said despite SYRIZA’s anti-nationalist ideology.
The Chams believe they have a right to the property they left in Greece when they were expelled between 1944 and 1945 during World War II. Athens argues that the Chams were Nazi collaborators and have no valid claims.