THE MARCH FOR CHAMERIA IN NEW YORK – VATRA PARTICIPATES AND PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE ARBERESH PARADE
By: Rafaela Prifti
In my view, if we keep silent about a chapter of our history, then it won’t be long before we would be forced to learn about Albania and Albanians from the Serbs’, Greeks’ or Turks’ viewpoint.
The Albanian Parade at the 2019 Annual Ethnic Communities March was dedicated to Chameria in recognition of the historic injustice that occurred in the Northwestern Greece region when the Cham population was violently driven out of their lands by Greek forces under the command of the Nazi collaborator of WWII General Zerva. In contrast with the stifled politics of Albania’s leading class, the Albanian-Americans and hosts of community organizations marched proudly on June 8th to send the message that WE STAND WITH CHAMERIA! The co-founder of the Albanian Roots, who coordinated with the community representatives and oversaw the entire planning of the parade, Marko Kepi, said to Dielli that the parade was the fourth event on Chameria. Mr. Kepi, who is also on Vatra’s Board, stated that recognizing the Greek genocide of the Cham population is a good step to bring forward an issue that continues to be silenced and ignored by the governmental institutions of Albania for political reasons. The widely respected TV journalist from Albania, Marin Mema, Grand Marshall of the Albanian Section of the Parade, addressed the large group of parade-goers drawing attention to the importance of a unified diaspora.
Members of Chameria organizations from Tirana and Unites States, Dritan Sejko and Ilir Ademi, great many supporters and activists like Bashkim Braho, Gani Mezani, Justina Veli Spiro, Ahmet Giaffo marched together. The crowd cheered with excitement the Albanian Roots Presidents, Marko Kepi and Nik Beqaj as well as Former Congressman Joseph DioGuard. The event honored Bruno Selimaj, a well-respected patron of the Albanian cause. One of the honorees at the parade was Sali Bollati, notable advocate and survivor of the Cham extermination of 1944. For her dedication and contribution to the Chameria cause, the Secretary of the Pan-Albanian Federation of America Vatra, Nazo Veliu received the Honorary Marshall title and was congratulated by organization’s officials.
During the first week of June the online readers and Facebook followers of Dielli have been regularly updated on the community’s events in the tri-state area. The June 8th parade completed the week-long program on a high note by assembling a large number of community members and organizations in a remarkable display of support and a cultural showcase of costumes, songs and dances from Chameria and other Albanian regions. Vatra, supporter and co-organizer of the parade, was well-represented by the Chairman Dritan Mishto, Secretary Nazo Veliu, family members of the Treasury Marjan Cubi, as well as Board members Frederik Ndoci, Dalip Greca etc. I ‘teamed’ up with my daughter, sister and nephew who all contributed to assemble a short video-clip from this year’s parade that was posted online.
The report presented comments and remarks assembled hastily from Vatra’s float at 43rd Street and 6th Avenue yet it conveyed the spirit and enthusiasm from the location. The President of Pan-Albanian Federation Vatra, Dritan Mishto, acknowledged that the parade provides an excellent opportunity to present our values, cultural traditions which are expressed in our music, dresses and so on. “What’s particularly remarkable is that 50 years ago Vatra organized the first parade with the Arberesh community here.” He added that half a century later, Albanians have gathered to advocate at this event that brings all of us closer together while raising awareness around an issue of great importance for Albanians.
When asked about his impressions of the event, Dielli’s Editor Dalip Greca’s said that he has covered the parades in the last twenty years and for the second time in the last decade the Albanian-American community marches for Chameria. He noted that the 2019 event marks the 50th anniversary of the first Parade led by Vatra and the Arbëresh of Italy, supported by the Albanian intellectuals who had exiled there at the end of WWII, the clergy representatives of three religions. “It was a truly grand manifestation conducted by Vatra at the time as well-structured organization.
The records show that five thousand participants marched along Fifth Avenue from Hotel Americana to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, holding posters and banners as Proud Americans of Albanian Heritage. Leading the parade were the Arbëresh Women dressed in traditional costumes, Albanian-Americans scholars and an intellectual of the highest ranks, Lume Juka. Marching along them were the children of the late president of Vatra Agim Karagjozi, who was there with his family, and many well-respected figures like Rexhep Krasniqi etc.
It is fitting to remember the parade on this day. Fifty years later, Vatra is a co-organizer of the march for Chameria. On our float we have Vatra’s senior officials, and members of a delegation from the Dossier Information Authority, Mr. Simon Mirakaj and his colleagues, also families, parents, teachers and students of the Albanian School Alba Life.” Dielli’s Editor commented that the 1969 parade in Manhattan organized by Vatra illustrates an important point regarding the role of Vatra as an ‘iconic institution’ for the community and its proud history. “To the voices of critics who question “Why Vatra?” we say “That’s Why!” The Pan-Albanian Federation of America has been there from the start, literally. You see the banner on the side of the float that is dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Dielli that we marked earlier this year. An accomplishment that makes us all proud. And when you see the children who are dancing and singing here, you cannot help feeling optimistic.”
Taking note of the impressive turnout, Dielli’s Editor Dalip Greca, said that the parade presented our traditions displayed in costumes and songs but is also a form of activism in the public arena. He expressed satisfaction with the extensive coverage on the online platform of Dielli of the Albanian Week Program. Unlike the community actions here, he noted that “there is no political will by the Albania’s government to speak up about the issue. Seeing here the representatives of the Information Authority on the Dossier of the Former State Security is a reminder that the Cham issue concerns all the Albanian Institutions and organizations in and out of Albania’s borders.” He completed his remarks by saying “This event reaches to the American public, the diaspora and Albanians back home, aiming to ultimately arouse Albania’s political class from its paralysis.” From every brief statement and comment from the young students to the old survivors, the message was clear: WE STAND WITH CHAMERIA!
In the course of the parade, I too was asked for comments by honored TV colleagues and media personalities Qemal Zylo and Adem Belliu. I expressed my view that the Cham issue illustrates the point that if we keep silent about any chapter of our history, then the time will come when we would have to learn about ourselves and our country from the viewpoints of Serbs, Greeks or Turks.