KASHMIR AND NORTHERN EPIRUS: A COMPARATIVE LOOK

Blog Politics

Paul Antonopoulos

Writer at Indus News
The author is the Director of Multipolarity Research Center. He regularly appears on Indus News, RT, Sputnik and PressTV.
Paul Antonopoulos

The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has embroiled India and Pakistan in conflict since they won their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. With the two countries fighting in three subsequent wars over Kashmir, each control a portion of the region, although the overwhelming majority in the Indian administered region want to leave the Indian Union and join Pakistan or have complete independence.

With the status of Kashmir undecided by Britain during partition, the first war over Kashmir occurred in 1947-48 resulting in India holding a majority over the region. Since then, unrest has been endless as the restive region struggles to determine its permanent status. A crackdown on dissent in 1989 led to open armed rebellion for a united Kashmir, leading to the deaths of about 70,000 people.

India continues to be criticized for its harsh oppression of Kashmir, and it is expected that the region will soon become a Hindu-majority with mass migration from other areas of the country, now that Article 370 has been removed.

This draws significant resemblance of southern Albania, known to Greeks as Northern Epirus.

Although Northern Epirus has been inhabited by the Greeks for over 3,000 years with many of their ancient ruins found there, the Ottoman Empire captured the region in the 1400’s. Despite retaining a Greek majority, during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, a race between Greek and Albanian forces to capture the area saw the former win.

There were 128,000 “Christians”, mostly Greeks, and 95,000 “Muslims”, mostly Albanians, in the region according to the last Ottoman Census of 1908. Ottoman Censuses recognized people by religion and not ethnicity. Despite the region having a Greek majority, European Great Powers deemed Northern Epirus in 1913 to be a region of Albania and forced the Greek military withdrawal from the region and did not allow the people any form of autonomy or self-rule.

In February 1914, the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus was illegally declared, according to the rules set by the European Powers, in the Greek majority town of Gjirokastër and was immediately condemned by central authorities in Albania proper. In March, the President of the provisional autonomous government, Christakis-Zografos, said in a speech that the hopes of the Greeks in Northern Epirus had been ignored as the European Great Powers did not safeguard their security and human rights by granting them an autonomous status when it was decided the region would be awarded to Albania.  

The Autonomous Republic was extremely short-lived because of the collapse of the Albanian State in World War I, allowing Greece to control the area between 1914 and 1916. However, Greece had lost control of the region after Italy illegally invaded it in 1917. Although the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that determined the status of unresolved issues after the end of World War I in 1918 awarded the area to Greece, it came back under Albanian control as a result of Greece’s defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. With Italy’s failed invasion of Greece in 1940 in the early years of World War Two, the Greek Army controlled the region from Albania for a six-month period until the German invasion of Greece in 1941 when they returned it to Albania, and where it has remained ever since.

The Great Powers of the world, especially the British, ensured Northern Epirus would remain under Albanian control, baring another resemblance to the Kashmir problems as the British had a key role in creating an unresolved and polarizing territorial situation.

Although communist dictator Enver Hoxha recognized a Greek minority, the recognition was only applied to an “official minority zone” of 99 villages that did not include major Greek towns like Himara. This meant that tens of thousands of Greeks outside the recognized minority zone had no access to schools operating in the Greek language and were not able to speak it when in public. Hoxha’s regime settled tens of thousands of Albanians in the region while relocating Greeks to other areas of the country, diluting the ethnic demographics of the region.

The demographic shift saw Northern Epirus become an Albanian-majority region today. And with Article 370 removed, this can easily occur now in Kashmir.

It can be expected that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of ultra-nationalist Hindus, will relocate to the region. A demographic shift of any area means that a region is more securely attached and loyal to the state, therefore the migration of many Hindus into Kashmir makes it all the more difficult for the Kashmiri’s to succeed in their quest for leaving the Indian Union.

With the Albanian majority secured in Northern Epirus by the 1980’s, Greece’s abandonment of all territorial claims over the region improved relations between the two countries. Pakistan has not abandoned territorial claims over Kashmir, which means that the locals there have a state backing to continue their struggle.

Despite Greece’s abandonment of territorial claims over Northern Epirus and the lifting of the official state of war between the two countries, the Albanian government continues to persecute the Greek minority as they have a lack of availability to education in the Greek language outside the recognized minority zone, their property rights are violated, and they face ethnic violence to the new Albanian-majority. These are the same persecutions that Kashmiris face, albeit at a much less extreme.

However, there are still lessons to be learned from the Northern Epirus situation.

Albania’s first post-communist census was held on October 2011, but came with controversy. A Greek community leader said article 20 of the Census law was unacceptable as someone could receive a $1,000 fine for declaring anything other than what was written down on their birth certificate. This meant certificates from the communist-era Greek minority status which was limited to only 99 villages, and did not include important urban centres.

According to the census, there were only 17,622 Greeks in the country’s south and 24,243 elsewhere in Albania. However, the Greek community organization Omonoia conducted its own census and found 286,852 Greeks, accounting for around 10% of the entire Albanian population. Because census results play an important role in determining the true status of an area, they are susceptible to being manipulated by interested parties. It is for this reason that Kashmiri’s must remain vigilant in any future census after the migration of many Hindus to the region.

However, what the Kashmiri’s can learn from the Northern Epirus issue is that even after peace and the withdrawal of territorial claims are made, the occupied people in question continue to be persecuted. In the past few months alone Albania has removed road signs that were bilingual in the Greek and Albanian languages, and attempted to confiscate property belonging to the Greek minority.

Although Kashmiris face a brutal regime of curfews, limited expression of ideas, restricted from making calls for independence from India and being under suppressive police and military rule, for now, their linguistic expression and property rights are not being encroached. This is set to change with the removal of Article 370, opening the way for a new level of suppression against the Kashmiris.

It is for this reason that the people of Kashmir can only achieve their goals through resistance, because as the Northern Epirus situation demonstrates, even after 30 years since the formalization of peace and Greece’s withdrawal of territorial claims on the region, persecution and repression remains.

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Paul Antonopoulos
Paul Antonopoulos is the Director of Multipolarity Research Center. His main research interests are the International Relations and Political Economy of the Middle East and Latin America, Multipolarity, Eurasian Integration and anti-imperialism. He regularly appears on Indus News, RT, Sputnik and PressTV.

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