Statement to the European-Central Asia Regional Forum about the Cham issue
“At a time when minorities face increased challenges worldwide, the Europe-Central Asia Regional Forum will mark the 30th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities by undertaking a critical assessment of its problem-solving capacity through a gap analysis focusing on the normative framework, institutions and mechanisms facilitating implementation, and the effectiveness of minority participation in norm-making and norm-adherence. The aim is to formulate concrete recommendations for the improvement of the regional and global minority protection regimes.
In 1992, the UNDM was adopted in response to the reconfiguration of the international order following the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. ‘The fate of minorities’ was at stake, echoing the same calls made by the UN in 1948, when the General Assembly adopted a resolution on this important issue of global concern. The 30th Anniversary of the UNDM represents a key opportunity for all concerned to take stock of the state of minority rights protection, to identify gaps in the minority protection regime, and to assess how such gaps fuel threats to minorities and the protection of their rights, and to make recommendations on the ways forward. It is time to ‘Review, Rethink, Reform’ the global recognition, protection and promotion of the rights of minorities for a secure life in a diverse and just world.” (https://tomlantosinstitute.hu/what-we-do/human-rights-of-minorities/events/europe-central-asia-regional-forum-on-minority-issues-2022.html)
On 2 May 2022, Mr. Zandberg made a statement at the second thematic session of the European-Central Asia Regional Forum about the Cham issue.
I wish to explain the human rights situation of the Cham-Albanian community.
The Cham are an indigenous people with a Cham-Albanian language and culture who lived for many centuries in the historical region they called Chameria, which is now North-western Greece. The area was part of the Ottoman Empire until 1913 when it became part of Greece, despite the fact that a large part of the population identified themselves as Cham-Albanian.
The Greek government subsequently implemented a policy of assimilation of the Orthodox Cham-Albanians and intimidation and expulsion of the Islamic Cham-Albanians. For example, in the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923, many Cham were forcibly moved to Turkey since the Greek government claimed the Cham-Albanians were in fact Turkish. Furthermore, in 1944, during World War Two, almost the entire Cham-Albanian population fled across the Greek border to Albania to escape the war. The Cham-Albanians who were forced out to Turkey and Albania were stripped of their citizenship, and their land, houses and other possesions were seized and nationalised through several laws in 1947, 1953 and 1959. The Cham-Albanians have tried to reclaim their rights for decades and the Cham issue remains an open wound in the Balkans up until this day.
The Cham issue revolves around the return of citizenship, land and other possesions that were illegitimately taken away from the Cham-Albanian people. The Cham issue is also about the recognition of the Cham-Albanians as a distinct people who are entitled to minority rights. Unfortunately, Greece has not ratified the treaties of the Council of Europe that pertain to the protection of national minorities, which means the Cham-Albanians are unable to claim minority rights through these means and, for example, the Albanian language is completely absent from public services and education.
Over the years the Cham issue has occasionaly flared up in international politics, but this attention was due to either Greece, Albania or the EU using it for their own political ends without having the best interests of the Cham-Albanian people in mind. The small Cham-Albanian community has been squeezed by the big powers in the region for centuries. We hope that the United Nations could play a role in ending this geopolitical squeeze and place the emphasis where it belongs, namely, the rights of a minority to get peace and justice.
For the United Nations to become the driver for Minority Rights for the Cham-Albanian community by setting up reconciliatory instruments in the region and promoting the implementation of the Minority rights declaration of 1992.