THE “TSAMS”: HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
THESPROTIA IN ANCIENT TIMES
According to the Ancient and Byzantine authors (Aristotle, Claudius Ptolemeos, Dionysius the Traveler, Strabo and Prokopius), Thesprotia as well as the rest of Epirus was the birthplace of Ancient Hellenism.
The Thesprotians were the most ancient tribe of the three most significant ones in Epirus – the other two being the Molossus towards the basin of Ioannina (Elopia) and Chaonians, on the north of Thyamis River up to Epidamnus (currently Dyrrhacchion) – and covered all the region of contemporary Thesprotia or even the greater area up to Amvrakikos Gulf.
They communicated with the rest classic Hellenism, since their territory constituted a very significant religious center (Dodoni, Nekromanteio, Acherousia, etc.). They also communicated northwards with the Greek Macedonians, while they also participated in the Pan-Hellenic Athletic Games, defense and other wars, as well as in the further widespread intellectual movement. They organized their own athletic games (such as Naia Games at Dodoni), as well as thespian contests (in Passaron and Dodoni theaters, etc). They also took part in various ways in the defense and other wars, such as the Trojan War, the Medic wars and in others as well.
This is why during the Roman era, due to their common struggles with the Macedonians against the Romans, they, as well, paid for Emilius Paulus’s wrath, being captivated and having their cities destructed, in such level that the relics of many destroyed cities could not even be traced or recognized.
However, they were reorganized during the First Christian and Byzantine era. Written texts and other monuments of Architecture, Painting etc, preserved as a whole or in relics, come as a proof to that.
During the period of the Turkish occupation, the Thesprotians did not give up, fighting in cruel liberating struggles, facing even severer dangers than the rest of the Greeks. They managed to survive and regain their liberty along with the rest of the Epirots in 1912 – 13.
THE APPELATIONS “TSAMOURIA” & “TSAMS”
Among the six and more theories for the historic and etymological origin of the names “Tsams” and “Tsamouria”, the most plausible is considered the one which relates to the word “Thyamis” (Kalamas), subjected to corruption throughout the years: Thyamis, Thyamis, Ts(i)amis, that is the inhabitant of the area near Thyamis River, the land of Thyamyria or Ts(i)amouria.
Around 1430 (the occupation of Ioannina by Turks) many Christians of that area were Islamized, resigning to various allures, either material goods or administrative power (the so-called Spahi), but mostly forced by the stifling pressure, mainly after the failure of the Movement lead by Bishop Dionysius Philosophus of Trikki (Trikala), disparagingly called by the enemies “Skylosophus”. (11-12.09.1611)
Of course, from time to time, Turkish-Albanian aga’s settlement in the area, because of the fertility of the land. All these formed the relative minority of the Muslim Tsams, against the majority of the Christian Tsams. At the same time, due to the neighboring and the transactions with the Albanians, the local linguistic idiom of Arvanites prevailed.
Ever since, the term “Tsams” was specialized to either “Christian Tsams” or “Muslim Tsams”, and through time, the simple term “Tsams” was referring exclusively to Muslim Tsams. These Muslims, along with a few Turks Aga and Bey that lived there, almost identified with their coreligionists conquerors, and this is why they were given the name “Turk Tsams”, and respectively their neighbors were named “Turk-Albanians”.
The ethno-martyr St. Kosmas Aetolos, who martyred in Kolikondasi of Northern Epirus on 24.08.1779, made many efforts to have this big current of Islamization ceased, along with others (Sofianos of Dryinoupolis 1672-1770, Nectarios Terpos from Moschopolis).
“TSAMS” AND HELLENISM
During the liberating struggles of the Epirots against the Conqueror, the Muslim Tsams evidently took the side of the Turks and Albanians. The multiple and insidious coalition of those Muslims with Ali Pasha during the struggle of Souli is widely known. When the First Balkan War broke out, they opposed to the liberation of Epirus by Greece, changing their attitude after the defeat of Turkey and the London Peace Treaty (17.05.1913), hypocritically declaring in their Memorandum (6.11.1913) to the “International Control Committee of the External Organization of Albania” that “…We shall fight together with our Christian brothers to the utmost in order to repel the Albanian slavery and preserve our freedom in the arms of mother Greece”!
However, right after the Lausanne Treaty (30.01.1923), and as general issues aroused, such as the population exchange with Turkey, as well as the expropriation of a part of large fortunes, in order for our refugees brothers who lived in the East (Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace) to be settled, they (the Muslim Tsams), under the pressure of external propagandas (Albanian and Italian), refused the exchange and the expropriations. At the end, they were unfortunately favored, by the contemporary dictator Pagkalos (1926), who was a great admirer of Mussolini, and moreover while, as the Italians suggested, they were considered as an Albanian tribe. Ever since then, whenever they had the opportunity, they caused problems to the peaceful Christian inhabitants of the area of Thesprotia.
1940 – 1950: THE YEARS OF TERROR
They were given the opportunity to show their vicious hatred against Greece by the proclamation of the Greek-Italian War. In the evening of 28 October 1940, they joined the Italian army organizing two Battalions of their own, and along with fifteen more Albanian Battalions consisting of 15.000 men, they entered Sagada and Filiates, as mercenary allies of the Italians. At the same time, others who were serving in the Greek army – as Greek citizens – acted as the “fifth phalanx”. After the lines had been broken down, the Italians handed over Thesprotia to the mercy of the Tsams.
In particular, in close collaboration with renowned Tsams, they planned the complete destruction of the Hellenic population of Paramythia, where they camped and broke down the Greek Authorities (3 May 1941). This way, they created mixed villages and gave the administrative role exclusively to Muslims. They founded the Albanian Fascist Young Fighters “Militsia”, and with a decree of the Italian government, the brothers Nouri and Nazar Dino from Paramythia, were appointed the former Resident Commissioner of Thesprotia (!), and the latter Colonel of “Militsia”. Later the same year, in July 1942, and always under the protection of the Italians, the Tsams formed the notorious terrorist organization K.S.I.L.I.A. (Albanian Political Administration System), which comprised 14 Battalions, with the main aim to exterminate the Greek population in the region of Thesprotia.
When the Germans entering Greece, the Tsams became part of the German Occupation Armed Forces and wore a distinctive brassard featuring the Nazi cross or even the regular German uniform.
Collaborating with the Germans, at that time, they spread fear and terrorism in the region, murdering, spoiling properties, double-crossing, raping, looting, invading and setting fire to houses and entire villages. From the long list of their criminal action, we mention the following:
a) On 19 February 1942, the Prefect of Thesprotia Georgios Vasilakos was murdered.
b) On 24 October 1942, priest Andreas Vassiliou (Papandreas) was executed in Kalteriza.
c) On 27 July 1943, after the failed attack against the village of St. Kyriaki (Popovo), 800 Tsams of “K.S.I.L.I.A.” lead by Dino brothers and in collaboration with the Occupation armed forces, invaded the villages of Phanari. 519 houses were looted and burned down, a lot of people were killed, dozens of women were raped and 500 people were arrested and sent to Ioannina as hostages. The cattle’s breeding was totally destroyed. Almost 243 villages were depopulated.
This situation climaxed with the massive execution of the 49 Dignitaries of Paramythia on 29 September 1943, who were first ordered to dig up their own tombs. Among the dead, we mention the priest Evaggelos Tsiamatos, the doctor El. Valaskakis, the School Principle Apost. Chrysohoou, the Mayor Ath. Riggas, the headmaster Kon. Siomopoulos, the Bank Director Em. Gkoutsaleris, as well as teachers, merchants, businessmen etc.
The official Reports of the destructions by the Tsams mention the following:
Acted by “Albanian Political Administration System” (“K.S.I.L.I.A.”)
Murdered by Tsamis, either alone or in collaboration with the Occupation armed forces: 632
Disappeared and taken as hostages: 428
Rapes of women and girls: 209
Houses burnt down: 2.332
Entirely looted villages: 53
Plundered sheep and goats: 37.556
Poultry (counting only a few villages): 30.000
And the reports continue: “The above mentioned fail to describe what really happened by the general mobilization of the Tsams” and “The whole Muslim population of Thesprotia, between 17 to 70 years of age, had been armed by the Italians, who provided them with military uniforms as well (…), while almost 2.400 Tsams had joined as volunteers the Albanian Fascist Army”.
Considering that they would eventually have to account for their actions to the Greek Justice, they abandoned the region on September 1944, after the second battle of Menina (Neraida) of Paramythia on 20 and 21 September 1944, following voluntarily the Germans on their withdrawal from Greece. Regarding this issue, the Greek Association’s Report mentions the following, quoted by the daily Press of 14.07.1949:” It is known that 16.000 – 17.000 Tsams voluntarily left Greece when the war was nearly over and they found shelter in Albania, fearing that they would have to account for the crimes they had committed in close cooperation with the Italian, Albanian and German armed forces…”
Besides, there are irrefutable confessions even by the Muslim Tsams, reported duly, which prove the truth, such as the following statement of the Tsam Nuhti Latif from Trikorfa, Filiata:
“We Muslims had no complaint from the Greek Administration, and therefore I fail to comprehend why all Muslims, during the Occupation of the Axon Powers, were not only turned into instruments of Italy and Germany, but moreover they expressed their intention to completely vanish the Greek population from Thesprotia region, by murdering and committing criminal acts.”
But even from the new home country that the Tsams had chosen, didn’t stop their anti-Hellenic actions, by reinforcing the mob war with 5.700 men, between 17 – 40 years of age, as well as with repeated inflictions towards the Northern Epirots.
The Special Jury for Traitors at Ioannina, legally and internationally recognized, issued more than 1.700 condemnatory verdicts against Tsams criminals until 1948. The most notable among those being the verdict No. 344/23-5-1945, thus tragically narrating their proven outrageous actions.
Other verdicts followed, such as No. 50862/47 by the Ministry of Defense, according to which the Tsams were to be deprived of their Greek Nationality, as well as one the one that decided the confiscation of their properties (Royal Decree 2185/1952 and Law 2781/54), and their disposal to the victims of their brutalities and to other landless people, according to the relevant international clauses.
Those who remained (232 people until 1949) lived undisturbed, enjoying all the rights of the Greek Citizenship.
As far as the condition of the population is concerned, the Muslims of “Tsamouria” by the time the Balkan Wars had broken out (1912-1913), numbered approximately 8.450 persons. According to the national inventory held in Greece on 17 March 1991, the Tsams who live in Greece nowadays reside in three regions of Thesprotia, and are 56 in number.
ON THE TSAMS’ ISSUE
Compensation claims of Greece against Albania
An article by Honorary Lawyer Mr. Athanasios Lekkas (…)
“Voreioepirotiko Vima” newspaper – 1992
Mostly the Albanians aim at the granting of compensation for the Tsams’ properties. However, being criminals of war, they have no right receive any kind of compensation. On the contrary, our country claims compensation from Albania.
On our country’s side, our demands from Albania are:
1) To compensate the families of the Greeks executed by the Tsams and Albanians, at the aforementioned regions of Epirus.
2) To compensate the owners of the destroyed houses at the aforementioned regions.
3) To compensate the Greek subjects who live in Albania, who suffered war damages, were deported or persecuted.
4) To return the amount of 218.000.000 drachmas that Greece paid to Albania during the German occupation, in 1942, for damages that were supposedly caused by the Greek Army. Greece was the defendant country, not the attacking one; thus Albania was illegally compensated.
5) To satisfy the claims of those Greeks, who were forced into hard labor by the Albanians.
6) To compensate Greece for the destruction of the temples and the looting of their possessions by the Albanians, during the Enver Hohza’s era.
7) To compensate for the destruction of the schools in Northern Epirus during the same period.
8) To compensate for all the destructions and damages that the Greeks of Northern Epirus suffered.
For all those reasons, the Albanians not only lack the right to relocate in Epirus and receive any kind of compensation for their fortune, but on the contrary our country has the right to demand claims from Albania.