Eyewitness Account of the Expulsion of the Chams from Greece
In the latter part of the Second World War, the Cham Albanian population, living in the region of Chameria (Greek Thesprotia), now in the northwestern corner of Greece, was collectively expelled from Greece under violent circumstances and forced to take refuge in Albania. The Chams have still not been given compensation or the right to return to their homeland. Koto Izet Osmani survived the massacre in his native Filat (Filiates) area in September 1944 and gave the following account of the gruesome events to the Albanian Ministry of the Interior in early 1947.
I, the undersigned, Koto Izet Osmani from Koska in Chameria, hereby state as follows concerning the massacres carried out by Zervist bands in Filat, against the Cham population.
One Thursday evening in September 1944, the Zervist bands commanded by Ilia Koço, Ajdhon Koço, Kallogjeropullo, Vito, and Colonel Kranjaj etc, surrounded Filat on all sides. In the middle of the night, the Zervist bands then entered the town and immediately began plundering and attacking Cham families.
In order to carry out their evil deeds more easily, they locked the men in one room of the house and began to rape the women, girls and old women. The 70-year-old Zeko Shëllira was raped and knifed to death in her own garden. The others looted everything in the house, even the blankets in the baby’s cradle. At the same time, they threatened the women with knives, demanding money which they said their husbands possessed. Even when they got some money, they continued to beat and intimidate the women, shouting at them things like: “We will kill your son if you don’t tell us where the money is.”
The people spent that night in fear and anguish. The next morning, all the men were herded together and taken to Koçi’s house. The women were sent to Ikotrofio. Those who were still hiding in their houses were tortured, stabbed to death and then machine-gunned to make sure they were dead. Hilmi Beqiri was killed near his home after they used knives on him to extract the gold from his teeth, while he was still alive. Mete Alia, Xhelo Kila and Harif Sallopi were beaten, stabbed repeatedly and thrown into the well of Xhelal Katorri. On the same day, they stabbed and slew the 70-year-old Malo Muho who had been bed-ridden for four years, and dragged his body into the garden. In the afternoon, they killed Feim Osmani at the entrance to his house and threw him into a hole, with his legs sticking out. Isuf Take was stabbed to death on the hill where the church is. Ali Bodoni and his son Duro were also killed there in the same way, as were Qazim Zaimi and Xhaten Petrovica. The 12-year-old Tahir Musa Haxhia, who had been sick in bed for over a year, was carried by his mother to the place where he was slaughtered in her presence.
Muharrem Shabani, who had been sick in bed for six months, was tortured and killed in his room, after they stole ten lira from him. Abaz Llaçe was stripped and stabbed with knives and then, while still alive, thrown into Isuf Dana’s toilet, where he remained for a long time. Haxhi Çipuni and a woman were killed in the garden of Musa Hamiti. Many other people from surrounding villages were killed in the streets and houses of Filat. The men who were tied up and herded together at Koço’s house were beaten and tortured for three days on end. On Monday evening, they locked 43 Chams in Koçani’s house and then took them off, shackled, to the plain of Filat (the field of Xhelo Meto). Behind them went 20 local men with shovels, who shot them and buried them in a ditch without last sacraments. Only Haxhi Nina managed to escape and get to Albania several days later. Here are the names of some of the men who were shot on the field: Maliq Turku, Sulo Daka, Brahim Llaçe, Qazim Hyso, Refat Karavi, Hilmi Gaxheli, Sulo Ruço and his 12-year-old son, Sulo Haxho and his son, Mero Mendi, his brother and his son-in-law, Naredin Muharremi and his son, Rexhep Çeka, Sami Haruni, Duro Halili, Qazo Halili, Avdul Sulejmani and the 15-year-old brother of Alush, Zane Muhameti, who was beaten up by six Zervist men one after the other (Jorgo Komini from Athens was among the latter), killed and had his ears and hands cut off, Dine Turku and Refat Çuço, who was take away from the women in Kotrofio and killed in Iljaz Sejko’s hut, Sami Taro, Riza Galbaqi, Tafil Haxhia, and Isuf Dame, who was also stabbed in Iljaz Sejko’s hut. Esat Sejko who had been suffering from tuberculosis for over five years, was killed in Galip Xhaferri’s house. His wife found his remains after much time and buried them in their garden. Haki Shameri was killed in a fig tree into which he had climbed to save himself. Halit Mallademi was killed in front of all the women in the yard of Kotrofio. The two sons of Zenel Haxhia from Spatar were stabbed to death and buried under the plane tree of Çerçiz Take, but the next day, when they heard that he had gold fillings in his teeth, they dug him up, pulled his teeth out and left him there unburied.
Dile Killa was killed in the yard of Braho Barbura’s house and his brother was taken to Sofokli’s house where Braho had a shop and, after taking 90 liras from him, then sent him on his way, having stabbed him first in Ziko Veto’s garden. Mustafa Barbura received 12 stab wounds but was able to get away in the dark and reach Albania. Over 20 other people were stabbed to death and left in the house and in the garden of Sefo Muhameti. The women were detained in Kotrofio and were given nothing to eat but a few roasted peas. They were kept there for 43 days. The Zervist soldiers and officers took the girls and women they wanted and raped them. The 12-year-old Idize Sejko was raped by Zervist soldiers in Kotrofio. Over half the women and children perished here. Their bodies were left indoors for over a week and, when they began to rot, they were taken out to the yard of Ikotrofio and left there. Four to five children were found dead every morning. After 45 days of torture, a local committee composed of Jorgo Çori, Panajot Stugari, Kallori Çoti, Miho Foto and others ordered us to go to Albania and not take anything with us but the clothes on our backs, promising that nothing would happen to us on the way. The next day, we set off in the custody of some Zervist soldiers and the local committee who accompanied us to the village of Konska. Many of the children died en route as they were unable to keep up. Among them were the 10-year-old Hazis Çapuni and others. In the village of Konska, all the women and girls were stripped naked and raped and then left to look for shelter in an Albanian village. On the road from Konska to Vërva, over 30 women and children died of cold and hunger, and many of the exhausted women, in particular at the inn of Vërva, abandoned their children on the road in order to get away faster. On New Year’s Eve in December 1944, Zervist soldiers turned up when they heard that Cham people had been returning from Albania and were back. With them came local representatives including Kallori Çoti and Petro Stugari. They persuaded us that we would not be harmed if we all went back to Albania the following morning, but we were only to take the clothes we were wearing. The next morning, the men and women in our group got up to return to Albania. When we got to Vanera, we were ambushed by Zervist soldiers. They led all the people into the trap and then set on us with machine guns and other weapons. When the firing stopped, the Zervist soldiers rushed at us with knives in their hands and began to slaughter the survivors. Over 75 men, women and children were killed in the ambush. Among them were Haki Bena, Zenel Hakiri and his son from Galbaq, Bena’s mother etc. Those who managed to escape hid in the woods and got back to Albania many days thereafter.
[Taken from Kastriot Dervishi, Masakra në Çameri: dëshmitë e të mbijetuarve, përmbledhje dokumentesh arkivore, Tirana: Shtëpia botuese 55, 2009, pp. 143-154. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]