The Words of the Rexhepi Family
Tirana, Albania -- Following up on the establishment of a Peace Council in Presheva, south Serbia April 26-27, the Albanian Peace Council organized a conference on June 14, 2014, at the Academy of Science in Tirana on "The Cultural and Historical Legacy of the Chami Ethnic Group and Perspectives on a Peaceful Resolution." This year marks the 70th anniversary of the displacement of the Albanian Muslim population from their lands and homes in western Greece.
Albanian Ambassadors for Peace from throughout Albania and surrounding countries were invited for this occasion. But the participation of Mr. Niko Styllo, who is one of the few Chami people of Greece identifying himself as Albanian and has raised his voice for the human rights of this ethnic minority in Greece, was especially noteworthy.
The history and culture of the Chameria region [along the western coast of Greece and Albania], known by Greeks as Thesprotia, has been studied and explored since ancient times and were the subject of many books in Greek and/or Albanian languages. Unfortunately, at the end of World War II, 20,000 Albanians, mainly of the Muslim faith, were expelled from their homes in Paramithia, Filates, Igumenitsa, Preveza, Margariti, etc. After the end of communism, the Albanians of Cham origin were organized for the first time under the Chamëria Patriotic Association in 1991, and in 2009 they participated in general elections represented by the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, which now has five members in the Parliament of Albania.
The program was divided into two sessions with a dozen speakers from Albania and abroad. The moderator of the first session was Mr. Bajram Ibraj, chairman of the UPF-Albania Presiding Council, who introduced the program and the speakers and described briefly the mission of the Albanian Peace Council. A video presentation about UPF International followed.
The opening speech was given by Prof. Lan Young Moon, senior advisor to UPF-Eastern Europe, who was visiting Albania at that time. Recalling her painful experience of leaving her hometown in North Korea 55 years ago, she called for forgiveness and overcoming the resentment of the past based on motto of One Family Under God. She emphasized that thanks to Dr. Sun Myung Moon's teachings she could forgive the North Korean leaders who killed her father and brought so much suffering to her family.
She was followed by Mr. Arben Malaj, chairman of Albanian Peace Council, who praised the Chami people for their skills and virtues and later expressed his hope that "The black shadows of golden dawns cannot question the European future of Greece and must not fuel racist or extremist feelings among the general public or other countries." Next Mr. Shpëtim Idrizi, chairman of the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, eloquently explained the pain and resentment that the descendents of the displaced Chams still harbor in their heart towards the Greek terrorist bands and groups during the World War II and before. "There can be no fair peace without justice; there is no true peace when people of Cham origin are not allowed to cross the border and there is still the legacy of war between Greece and Albania." Also Mr. Idrizi said he was willing to forgive if the aggressors will repent for their past deeds.
Then Mr. R. Mustafa, the head of Presheva municipality that hosted the previous event, took the podium for his message. He drew parallels between the events in western Greece to that of the Albanians in southern Serbia who were displaced towards Kosovo and other areas that were more populated with Albanians at the end of World War II. "We are not here to declare war on Serbia or Greece, but we want to tell the truth and shine a light on history so that the world and Europe can know and make it clear (to Serbia) that it cannot enter the European Union with systematic discrimination of Albanians."
Also Mr. Jonuz Musliu, one of the signatories of the Albanian Peace Council and head of Communal Council of Bujanoc in southern Serbia, gave a congratulatory message. After him Mr. Ardian Tana, the chairman of Chameria Association, gave a historical briefing on the efforts of this group of Albanians to seek reparations for the injustices done 70 years ago.
The second session began with a shortened version of a documentary movie entitled "The Dream of Chameria" with a script writen by Enver Kushi, one of the speakers of the session. This part was moderated by Dr. Saemira Pino, vice chair of UPF-Albania Presiding Council and herself a descendant of a Cham family. The second speaker was Mr. Niko Styllo, a dedicated researcher who presented some very interesting findings through studying old scriptures and icons from various museums in Europe. He pointed out similarities between the Etruscan and Albanian languages. The title of his speech was "Thesproty: The Oldest Home of Pelasgian Civilization," and he presented it in the old Albanian dialect of the Ionaina district.
The next speaker was a well-known researcher and geographer of the Chameria region, Prof. Selman Sheme, who was also one of the initiators and organizers of this event. He spoke on "The Eastern Crises and the Annexation of Chameria from the Greeks." He explained the process of annexation of this territory inhabited by Albanians during the 19th century.
Another respected historian from Tirana State University, Ms. Fatmira Rama, presented historical facts to illumine the period between the two World Wars in Chameria region that influenced on the position of the Albanian Muslims there and established the preconditions for their displacement. She mentioned especially the terrible side-effects of the Agreement between Turkey and Greece on the exchange of populations during 1923.
Mr. Enver Kushi brought to the attention of the audience a golden era of Albanian-Greek relations when Greece was led by Mr. Theodor Pangallos, who was president and prime minister from 1925 to 1926. He quoted some of Mr. Pangallos' declarations to the press that serve as a model for today's leaders on handling this issue.
Dr. Lisien Bashkurti, chairman of Albanian Diplomatic Academy and a researcher of international relations, introduced ways of approaching the Cham issue by the Albanian authorities especially though international mediation. His theses were highly appreciated by the audience.
The conference was greeted by Mr. Hydajet Hyseni, a well-known politician and activist of human rights, who came from Kosovo to support it.
The concluding speaker was Mr. Ali Laçej, co-coordinator of the Albanian Peace Council, speaking on "The Identity of Chameria on the Focus of Integration." In conclusion he said: "The solution of the Cham issue needs the implementation of EU integration policies, and it can only be successfully addressed by turning reciprocal hatred into mutual understanding and love, through recognizing diversity as a source of richness for those involved. The solution will never come if we curse each other nor if we think that one side will eradicate the other. We pray to God this will never happen!"
Furthermore, even though he could not attend, former president Rexhep Meidani sent a message entitled "The Cham Issue Cannot Be Held Hostage to the Integration Process." In this message he said: "To solve this complicated issue, people of good will from both sides are needed, those who can break their taboos in service to peace and reconciliation, avoiding nationalistic poisoning of reciprocal relations, even less on the minds and hearts of the younger generations who are well-civilized."
He proposed that in the actual circumstances the most probable and satisfying solution of this issue for both Albanians and Greeks would be the verification and acknowledgement of the Albanians' properties in Greece and provision for their gradual compensation. "This option minimizes discontent and reduces conflict among the two communities. As such it is within the framework of the universal peace principles which the Universal Peace Federation-Albania is promoting and is upholding."
As usual, the event closed with the appointment of new Ambassadors for Peace, primarily Chami people including Mr. Shpëtim Idrizi, Dr. Merita Hysa, Prof. Fatmira Rama, Mr. Niko Styllo, Mr. Enver Kushi and Mr. Ardian Tana.
The event was reported by the main TV stations on their news programs. A few days later, Mr. Laçej and Mr. Tana were invited to be part of a talk show.