History of North Epirus

Northern Epirus is a geographical area which corresponds to the northern part of the wider region of Epirus. Today it belongs to the state of Albania, however, having deep and timeless connections with Hellenism. 
The region, although it gained its autonomy after the signing of the Corfu Protocol, was subsequently awarded to Albania. The term is not used in diplomatic documents and is avoided in official statements, with special exceptions[

Prehistory and founding myths
From the second millennium before Christ, various Greek (continental) races lived, the main ones were the Thesprotes, the Chaones, the Molossians. In particular, the area extending from the shores of the Adriatic, including the regions of Onchismos (present-day Agioi Saranda) and Bouthrotos to Lake Ahrida inland, was inhabited by the Haones (Haonia).

Several narratives are related to the area that go back to the Trojan epic cycle: Elpinor, after the Trojan War, leader of a group of Locrons and Avants, founds the cities of Orikos and Thronio (in the Gulf of Avlona). Aiacides Neoptolemus, accompanied by Myrmidones, founded the ancient Byllida (near Apollonia). Aeneas and Helen, settled with a group of Trojans in Chaonia and founded Bouthrotus. Also a son of Helenus, Chaon was the progenitor of the Chaons.

Ancient times
In ancient times, there were important settlements in the area apart from Bouthrotos (opposite Corfu), Onchismos (modern Agioi Saranda), Phoiniki, Antigoneia (near today's Argyrokastro), Antipatreia (modern Verati), Amantia, Nicaea, Pelion, Orikon and smaller settlements were Kemaras (modern Heimarra) and Thronio.

Apart from the Chaones who gradually imposed themselves on the region, other continental sheets in the interior were the Antitanes, the Paraeos, the Prasaivos and further north the Dexaroi (or Dessarites).

During the period 650-500 BC the Chaones expanded in the wider area, as their power extended to the coastal area from the Kalamas River to the Gulf of Avlonas and inland to the plains of the Korytsa region. Given that mound II at the site of Kutsi, near Koritsa, contained burials of rulers from the 7th century BC, the beginning of the expansion of the Khaons can be dated to that time[3].

During the classical era, in 375 BC all the continental races were united in one political entity, under the dynasty of Aiacides Alcetas (of the Molossians) and in 232 BC. the non-royal Common of Epirotes is established in Epirus, with Phoenice as its capital. As a single state, Epirus was a force to be reckoned with in the wider region until the Roman conquest in 167 BC.

Roman-Byzantine era
The area has been a receiver of Christianity since the 1st century AD, with the tours of the Apostle Paul. But the prevalence of the new religion in the region is observed around the 4th century. Saint Eleftherios (Bishop of Avlonas), Saint Donatos (Bishop of Phoenice), Deacon Isauros were Epirot martyrs of the region. The presence of Bishops in Ecumenical Synods (as early as 381 AD) shows the organization of the Church in the region.

Northern Epirus was an integral part of the Byzantine Empire, while it experienced the invasions of various peoples: Visigoths (3rd century), Avars (6th century), Slavs (7th century), Normans (11th century), Serbs, Albanians and various Italian dynasties (14th century). Nevertheless, the culture of the region was closely intertwined with the other centers of the Greek area, throughout the Middle Ages, maintaining its Greek character.

In 1204, the area became part of the Despotate of Epirus, but from time to time it returned to the jurisdiction of Byzantium. In 1281, a strong Norman expeditionary force, which intended to occupy Constantinople, was repelled in Veratio. The success is due to the combined actions of the locals and the Byzantine army. In 1345 the region, like the rest of Epirus, Thessaly, Eastern Macedonia, is handed over to the Serbs based on an agreement with John VI Kantakouzenos, in return for the services they provided in the Byzantine civil war. Serbian rulers maintain the Byzantine tradition, bear Byzantine titles citing their kinship with Byzantine dynasties, trying to legitimize their power.

At the same time the Venetians control the area of Bouthrotos and various coastal areas. The Ottoman presence was strong from the end of the 14th century, until the final conquest came in the middle of the 15th.

Ottoman Era (1430-1880)
During the Turkish rule, Northern Epirus participated in revolutionary attempts and conspiracies that took place in the wider region of Epirus, with the help or the promise of help from Western European powers. A lesser-known conspiracy is the one that took place at the initiative of Bishop Ahridos Joachim and other priests and prefects of Epirus and NW Macedonia, after the naval battle of Nafpaktos, in 1572-1576.

An important attempt for a general uprising and revolution from the Turkish yoke was made in the Revolution of 1821, where residents of Heimarra actively participated and tried to awaken all Epirotians to participate in the Struggle. The uprising of 1854 also had universality when the Epirotians tried to take advantage of the Russo-Turkish war in order to win their freedom with the prospect of a future union with Greece.

Until 1913, the entire Epirus was a single geographical unit. The problem arose when, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece and the newly established Albania (1912) claimed for their own reasons the specific area, presenting as the main argument the population structure of the Northern Continent (from a different point of view, each side ). One of Greece's arguments was that the Christian Orthodox of the region were carriers of the Byzantine tradition and therefore had to join the Greek state which represented, from a perspective, its political continuity in the modern era.

In fact it was very difficult to identify and separate the populations, as under Turkish rule peoples were classified according to their religion and transfers and admixtures were easy under common Turkish rule in the Balkans

Transition period (1881-1912)

With the Ottoman Empire on the verge of collapse, the Greek government, with a memorandum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 13, 1912, considers that Epirus and by extension Greece belong to the entire regions of Preveza, Igoumenitsa, Ioannina, the greater part of the district of Argyrokastro and half of the district of Avlona from the line of Kourvelesi and Kleisoura to Aoos. According to the memorandum, the entire district of Shkodra belonged to Albania, and from the district of Ioannina, only the area of Verati belonged.

In the areas claimed by the Greek government, mostly Greek Orthodox lived. Specifically, based on the Turkish census of 1908, 326,778 Christians and 174,802 Muslims lived there. Another statistic (from the Geografico de Agostini of Rome) shows that in 1907, 452,000 inhabitants lived in the whole of Epirus, of which 297,000 were Christians and 155,000 were Muslims. Nevertheless, when the Turks left Epirus in the summer of 1912, for the benefit of the Albanians, they recognized as Albanian the districts (vilaetia) of Shkodra, Kosovo, Monastirios and Ioannina.

Balkan Wars (1912-1913
With the beginning of the Balkan wars, the Albanians communicated to the Great Powers their undivided support towards the Young Turks as they served their own interests. Thus, on December 7, 1912, the Greek army initially liberated Kortsa. At the beginning of 1913 another part of it, after the victory in Bizani, entered Ioannina and advancing north on March 16 entered Argyrokastro (March 16) and Tepeleni (March 19).

On July 29, 1913, the Great Powers, with the Treaty of London (1913), recognize Albania as an independent state, and with the Florence Protocol (1913), the territory of the Northern Epirus is granted to it. The prime minister of Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos, initially refused to cede the area inhabited by Greek populations and already occupied by strong forces (October 13, 1913). Thus, the Great Powers, with a memorandum sent to the Greek state on February 13, 1914, after the signing of the new Florence Protocol (1914), demanded the withdrawal of Greek forces from the area, otherwise Greek sovereignty over the Aegean islands would not be recognized (except Imbros, Tenedos and Kastellorizos). Furthermore, they asked Greece not to encourage any form of reaction against the Greek populations of the region.

The autonomy of Northern Epirus (1914)
Eleftherios Venizelos, after expressing his regret for the withdrawal and asking for guarantees for the safety of the population, agreed and the gradual withdrawal of the army began. Despite this, the residents of the area refused to compromise and on February 28, 1914 they rebelled and formed a temporary government, with Argyrokastro as its capital and Georgios Christakis-Zografos as president. These Epirotians believed that they had been betrayed by the Greek state, because it not only withdrew from their territory, but also did not supply them with weapons to defend themselves against the Albanians.[10]

The autonomous Northern Epirus initially included, apart from Argyrokastro, Heimarra, Delvino, Agios Saranda and Premet. But after the departure of the Greek forces riots broke out between the Albanians and the Epirotian forces. After intense military conflicts, the Northern Epirotians successively occupied Erseka, the region of Cologne

and Kortsa, which had earlier been handed over to the newly established Albanian gendarmerie by the Greek army upon its withdrawal. The Albanian government was led to a compromise and on March 17 the Corfu Protocol was signed. According to the protocol, they recognized the autonomy of Northern Epirus and committed to the teaching of the Greek language in schools as well as the religious freedom of the Greek population.

The Corfu Protocol was never actually implemented. After the negotiations ended, as World War I had already broken out, the Albanian government collapsed and Vid left the country. The revolutionaries intended, led by the Young Turks, to restore Turkish rule in the country.

World War I (1914-1918)

With the declaration of World War I, on October 27, 1914, the Greek army entered the area for the second time, formally "catalyzing" the provisional government and now placing the area under the protection of the Greek state. Italy, to strengthen its strategic position, occupied Avlonas. But during the period of national division, Italy took advantage and occupied all of Epirus, even Ioannina.

When Greece later entered the war (1917), the Greek army advanced, recapturing cities such as Argyrokastro, Premeti, Heimarra, Riza, Leskoviki and Moschopoli. In 1921, for the second time at the conference of the Allies in Paris, these areas were awarded to Albania, after diplomatic machinations and while the military adventures of Greece intervened at that time.

Interwar (1918-1939) regime of Ahmet Zogou

With the inclusion of Northern Epirus in the Albanian state, it was accompanied by its entry into the League of Nations (October 1921), where its political leadership pledged to respect the social, educational and religious rights of all minorities. But despite all this, only a small part was recognized as an official 'Greek minority zone' (in the areas of Argyrokastro, Agioi Saranda and three villages in Heimarra - 103 villages). In the following years, the Albanian state took measures to restrict Greek education, Greek schools in the area were either closed or converted to Albanian, and many teachers were expelled from the country. While before the Balkan wars there were 360 schools in the region, their number decreased sharply until in 1935 it practically reached zero:

1926: 78, 1927: 68, 1928: 66, 1929: 60, 1930: 63, 1931: 64, 1932: 43, 1933: 10, 1934: 0

After the intervention of the League of Nations that year (1935), a limited number of Greek schools reopened, but exclusively in the area within the minority zone.

World War II (1939-1945)
In 1939 Italy occupied Albania without a fight and the following year tried to invade Greece through it. However, with the victories achieved by the Greek army, it advanced and entered Northern Epirus for the third time. The advance of the army and the liberation of each city was celebrated not only by the native Greeks of these regions but also by all of Greece that lived the pulse of operations in the mountains of the front.

Finally, after the capitulation and surrender to the Germans (April 1941), the Italians returned to N. Epirus and treated the inhabitants with unimaginable cruelty, just like the Germans later. Over 6,200 houses were burned while it is estimated that around 1,700 Greeks were executed. Many Northern Epirus organized armed guerrilla units in the mountains of the region, organizing the Northern Epirus Liberation Front. There were other North-Continenters who joined the side of Enver Hoxha's communist guerilla, under the Atlantic Charter, with the expectation of receiving the right to self-determination after the war. With the end of the Greek civil war, many members of pro-communist resistance organizations settled in Northern Epirus.

Cold War (1945-1991) Enver Hoxha regime
After World War II, Albania joined the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha took draconian measures against the Greek population of Northern Epirus: Greek schools taught only translations of Albanian history and culture, the 'minority zone' was reduced from 103 to 99 villages (Heimarra was excluded), many Northern Epirus were transported with violence in other areas of Albania, thus losing their 'minority' rights. Also, place names as well as personal names were 'mutated', by force, towards the more Albanian, while the use of the Greek language was prohibited outside the minority zone but in many cases even within it.

The country was isolated throughout this time, and the usual penalty for someone trying to escape to Greece was death and the exile of their relatives to work in the mines of central and northern Albania. On
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