What do you know about Tsamouria (Chameria)? What is your opinion on ‘the Cham issue’?

By: | Post date: 2016-10-08 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: History, Modern Greek

What do I know about Çamëria/Τσαμουριά? Less than Dimitris Almyrantis, but still, I assume, more than most Greeks: I looked into the ethnic mix of the Balkans for my thesis in dialectology, since I needed to know where Greek was natively spoken.

I’ll add a couple of curios:

  • The Tsamiko is one of the major dances of the Greek mainland; it merely means “the Çam dance”. Wikipedia points out the Çams didn’t actually dance it.
  • There is a split in the ethnic Albanians of Greece, between the Arvanites (Arbëror) in southern Greece, who moved there in the 14th–16th century, and the Shqipëtars living across the border from Albania. The Arvanites speak an archaic version of Albanian that is clearly distinct from modern Tosk. The Shqipëtars in Greece speak variants of modern Tosk.
    • Collections of songs or stories in Arvanitika done by Greeks (Arvanites) include Shqipëtar material, which is how I found out about them. (The main collection I used was Michail-Dede’s.) That, presumably, reflects Arvanites not eager to differentiate Shqipëtars as “more Albanian” than Arvanites. But grammatically, the two versions of Albanian are clearly different.
    • Μιχαήλ-Δέδε, Μ. 1978–81. Αρβανίτικα Τραγούδια. 2 vols. Αθήνα: Καστανιώτης.
  • The Shqipëtars in Greece includes the Çams, who were Muslim. It also includes Christian Albanian-speakers, who have remained in place; for example, Lechovo (Florina prefecture), or Kimisi, in the municipality of Irakleia, Serres (migrated from Gjirokastër to European Turkey in Ottoman times, moved to Serres through the population exchanges with Turkey).
    • People moved within the empire. That’s how Bulgarians ended up in Kızderbent in Bithynia (and now Polypetro in Chalkidiki).
  • The ethnic Albanians, Shqipëtars and Arvanite, are of course distinct from the Albanian migrants of the past few decades, that Dimitris alludes to.
  • The anecdote I’ve heard from accounts of ethnic Albanians in Greece (written by Arvanites) is that the Çams remaining in Thesprotia/Çamëria are down to a dozen; and it was impossible to elicit material in Albanian from them. Albanians here have said it’s more than that.
  • Cretans in the 19th century, as Kazantzakis recorded, used the word Liapides Λιάπηδες to refer to the kilt-wearing soldiers of the mainland, the Evzones (tsoliades). I only realised a couple of months ago where the term derived from: it’s the Lab, the Albanian inhabitants of Labëria—right across the border from Çamëria. Most Lab are Bektashi Muslim, but the Greek Orthodox Albanians are Lab; and in those days, all Greek Orthodox mainlanders would have looked the same to Cretans.

So, that’s what I know. More about the Çams’ neighbours, it turns out, than the Çams themselves.

What do I think of the Çam issue?

All ethnic cleansing is repulsive. All ethnic cleansing leaves its country poorer, even if it arguably also leaves it more stable. It’s ancient history, it won’t be undone, and I don’t see any prospect of reparations. It would be good if more Greeks were even aware of it. For all I know, the thaw with Turkey points to a Greece in which more Greeks are aware of it; Dimitris knows, after all.

Then again, Dimitris is in many ways unrepresentative.

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