|Albanians Cham protesting while Greek Foreign minister Nikos Kotzias visited Tirana in June 2016. Photo: LSA/Franc Zhurda|
Greece’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn of siding with Albania over the issue of the exiled Cham community, after Hahn mentioned the issue as a live one between the two countries.
The Chams are ethnic Albanians who were expelled from Greece at the end of World War II for having allegedly collaborated with the Italian and German occupation forces.
On Wednesday, in a reply to a Greek MEP, Maria Spyraki, who accused Albania of “irredentism” over the topic, Hahn mentioned the Cham issue as an “existing one” between Albania and Greece, alongside other matters that the two countries needed to resolve.
“Both countries are discussing the creation of a joint mechanism, which will organize periodic meetings for discussing suspended matters. This includes the definition of the continental shelf and Albanian-Greek maritime areas, minority rights, and the Cham case,” Albania’s Top Channel TV station quoted the Commissioner as replying to Spyraki.
The Greek Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused Hahn of bias towards Albania in his reply and of failing to uphold the impartiality of the Commission.
“As we know, the Cham issue does not exist and therefore has never been accepted as negotiated between the Greek and Albanian governments,” Athens said.
“Commissioner Hahn with his false answer shows that he is not exercising his role and functions under the principle of impartiality to promote the common interests of the Union,” the Greek statement added.
Albania diplomacy has long pushed for the Cham issue to included in a package of measures that two countries need to resolve, alongside a deal on maritime borders.
The Cham community in Albania seeks the return of properties left behind in Greece alongside an official pardon from the Greek state for their expulsion. Some maintain that their expulsion constitutes an act of genocide.
The issue is kept live in Albania by a Cham association and by a political party, the Party for Justice, Integration and Unity, PDIU which is part of the current ruling centre-left coalition. The PDUI has five MPs in parliament.