By Constantine S. Sirigos
The Association of Greek Alumni of American Universities (AGAAU) hosted a prayer breakfast and special presentation in honor of “OXI” Day titled The Contributions of the Northern Epirotes in the War of 1940 on October 24 in the dazzling rooftop event space of the Hellenic American Union (HAU) in Athens.
The Keynote speaker, attorney Michael Martsekis, made a fascinating and wide ranging presentation that extended beyond the little known but important historical fact of the support Northern Epirotes provide to their fellow Hellenes against the Italian invaders. He also provided an informative overview of several dimensions of the ‘Northern Epiros Problem’.
Dr. Evangelos Sorogkas, President (AGAAU), thanked all the guests, which included diplomats and past government officials for their participation. He also asked all to rise for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Dr. Stefanos Gialalas, distinguished president of the American Community Schools – Athens, who passed away suddenly the previous week.
Martsekis began by informing that Northern Epirotes had organized themselves into 10 brigades in support of the Greek war effort. He then noted that when Greece’s armies, after pushing the Italians out of Greece, entered Albania, that constituted the third liberation of the Hellenes of Northern Epiros. Unfortunately, as was the case earlier in the 20th century, Greek support and contributions to the victories of their allies led only to broken promises and the continued division of Epiros.
Even more tragically, the Cold War and the isolation of Albania behind its own iron curtain cut off the Epirotes in Albania from their brothers and sisters –literally – in Greece.
While detailing the faults of the great powers, Martsekis does not leave a series of Greek governments of the hook – including the great statesman Elefherios Venizelos – for numerous tactical and historical errors. He also shined a light on important documents and agreements that politicians and even historians have ignored.
Among the intriguing things Martsekis brought to light is the fact that the state of war that existed between Greece and Albania since 1940 has technically never ended according to international law. Indeed, he explained how seemingly arcane incidents and documents such as the Protocol of Corfu have an impact down to the present day, affecting the discussions of vital issues like the rights of the Greek minority in Albania, the delimitation of the two countries’ exclusive economic zones, and the “sacred obligation” of recovering the remains of the Greek soldiers who died in Albania in 1940 and 1941.
“For the people not connected to these matters, these are not burning issues, but for others, they are matters of daily biographical concern,” he said, poignantly.
Martsekis concluded with a warning. Notwithstanding that the EU has just rebuffed the requests of Albania and North Macedonia for accession talks to begin immediately, the Greek government must work to resolve outstanding issues prior to their eventual entry into the EU, because the EU will not involve itself in the bilateral disputes members.
Speakers who followed Martsekis included Chris Spirou, President of HAU; Ioannis Kamnis, VP of the War Museum of Greece; retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Scotes, Maria Anastasopoulou-Krimigis; Makis Kiamos, president of the Pan Epirotic Federation of Greece; Antonios Fousas, past minister; and Giorgos Tjomakas, VP of the Northern Epiros Association ‘Omonia’ that represents the Greek minority in Albania.