For over three millennia the southern region of what is modern day Albania
has been inhabited by Greeks. Despite major upheavals and invasions the
Greeks of Albania have maintained their identity and culture. After 1453,
the Greek population of southern Albania had to live under severe
restrictions imposed by the Ottoman administration.
The harshness of the Turkish occupation included oppressive taxation,
including a child tax that forced parents to give up one of their children
to the Ottoman Empire, and the occasional genocide. But the Ottomans,
despite their cruelty toward the people they conquered, at least permitted
the Greek population a degree of local autonomy and religious freedom.
Remarkably the present, non-communist and "democratic" regime of Albania,
refuses to even allow the Greek minority the rights they had enjoyed during
the Ottoman period. These rights have been enshrined in international
conventions such as the Protocol of Corfu (18 May 1914) which established
Northern Erirus in southern Albania as an autonomous province.
In 1915 the Treaty of London (26 April) not only accepted autonomy for
Northern Epirus but also stipulated the transfer of this region to Greece.
Although this agreement was a result of war-time conditions and the intend
of the treaty was not fulfilled, it did afford recognition to the Greek
claim to Northern Epirus and at the very least international acknowledgement
of an historic Greek presence and identification with this region. After
the First World War the Council of the League of Nations and in 1945 the
Security Council of the United Nations have reiterated the guarantees
afforded to the Greek minority by the Protocol of Corfu.
The communist regime of Enver Hodjia ignored all these agreements and
conventions and proceeded to make every effort to extinguish the Greek
identity and language of the Hellenic minority. Religious freedom, customs
and tradition that had been practiced for centuries were not only prohibited
but those caught speaking Greek or even conducting a Christian funeral faced
harsh prison sentences and physical torture.
Greek Orthodox priest were either executed, imprisoned and for a lucky few
exile was the penalty for practicing their religion. Greek Orthodox
churches were destroyed or converted into secular facilities. This included
churches and monasteries that dated back to the Mediaeval period. All this
was supposed to end with the collapse of communism in Albania.
Unfortunately, the new "democratic" regime of Albania has failed to respect
the civil, human, and international rights of the Greek minority. The Greek
population is subject to political discrimination and police intimidation.
Attacks on persons and property are either tolerated or ignored by the
Albanian authorities. The Albanian Government is reluctant to permit the
admission of Greek Orthodox priests and when it does it finds a pretext in
order to expel them.
At the same time the Albanian Government refuses to recognize the property
rights of the Greek minority and offers every obstacle to hinder and delay
the construction of Churches, Greek schools, and the restoration of Greek
Orthodox cemeteries. Indeed, Albanian discrimination is not only confined
to religious, cultural, and linguist persecution but the government refuses
to allow the existence of political parties established by the Greek minority.
Presently NATO bombs Serbia for having given rights to Albanian minority,
and the same rights are not given to greek minority in Albania. NATO
is bombing Serbs for other reasons, and the independent (if any)
journalists have to find out the real reasons.
Hellenic Studies Centre at Dawson College
for the Hellenic canadian Congress.