According to the historical accounts, the coastal part of today’s Southern Albania, including
Himarë/Himara area, was supposed to be settled by the Chaonians in the 11th century B.C.
(Jacques 1995: 27, Winnifrith 2002: 46). The belonging of Chaonians is a subject of dispute
among the local and national scholars, who try to define and set them in a wider sociogeographical and historical context. Numerous historiographers, who represent the locally oriented positions, define the Chaonians as being a part of the Epirote (Rusha 2001: 11, Koçi 2006: 13), as people who lived in the area of today’s Himarë/Himara sometime from 7000 B.C. onwards. Jano Koçi, an archaeologist from Qeparo, is one of rare scholars who take into account the tectonic movements that shaped Himarë/Himara area throughout the centuries. Koçi suggests that in the period of Cainozoic the coastal part of today’s southern Albania used to be united with today’s Greek Islands like Corfu, Ereikoussa and Othonas, with its inhabitants holding trading relations (Koçi 2006: 9-10). In contrast to Koçi, historiographers who represent the national position argue that the tribe of Chaonians belonged to Illyrians (Ceka 2005, Frashëri 2005: 17) or Pelasgian tribes (cf. Bixhili 2004). They settled in the area of today’s Himarë/Himara in the period of Mesolithic (8000 B.C.) (Gjipali 2004: 60-61).
Foreign scholars (Jacques 1995, Vickers 2001, Winnifrith 2002), whose arguments are based
neither on pro-Albanian, pro-Greek nor local positions, note that the demarcation line between Illyrians and Epirotes is a matter of dispute. Their research points out that there are
not enough valid documents, dating from the early centuries, which would confirm the assumptions that Albanians are Illyrian descendants (Jacques 1995: 30, 45). American historian Miranda Vickers (2001:1) states in a similar manner that this assumption was constituted as a historical fact during the time of the communist rule.
Contemporary scholars describe the number of tribes who at one time occupied much of the Balkan peninsula as far north as the Danube as ‘Illyrian’. But whether Greeks or Illyrians inhabited much of the southern region of present-day Albania, known as
Epirus, remains a highly controversial issue. Most probably, both Greeks and Illyrians were originally interspersed in this area much as they are at the present day (ibid.). British historian Winnifrith promotes a similar position, when he defines the language of the Epirote tribes (2002: 47-48, see Chapter I, p. 27). While the scholars defending the local position argue that the language of Epirote tribes used to be Greek, the scholars who argue for the national position try to prove that it was Illyrian, from which Albanian originates.
The accounts presented above illustrate how the historiographers, despite their national and
local positions, define the inhabitants of Himarë/Himara area as unitary and “closed” entities
which belong either to Greek or Albanian nation-state “since ever”. In their works they often
equate the ancient tribes with the present nation-state. Thus for example, Rusha who
represents the local position and Ceka, Frashëri, and Bixhili who argue for the national, pro-
Albanian viewpoint, place the Chaonians on the map of the present Republic of Albania. They
con sider the state-borders as the “natural” boundaries that are “there”. They take no notice of the assumptions presented by Koçi who, for example, argues that in the period of Cainozoic the geographical map of Himarë/Himara area was very different from the one existing today.
The local and national authors write about the ancient tribes as being a part of the evolutional model, which develops from the tribal to the nation-states system. In the paragraphs quoted above both Winnifrith and Vickers place Albania in the Balkans, meant as a synonym for variety, mixture, ambiguity and contestations. Vickers for example writes: “Contemporary scholars describe the number of tribes who at one time occupied much of the Balkan Peninsula” (2001: 1); whilst Winnifrith notes, “It is not uncommon in the Balkans to find people fluent in two or three languages, especially in Southern Albania…” (2002: 47). Todorova (1997) as well as other authors (Norris 1999, Bjelić and Savić 2002, Green 2005) illustrate how the term Balkans, which was until the 19th century used as a sociogeographical term for the mountain range linking the Black Sea and the Adriatic (Todorova 1997: 25), became gradually filled with political, historical and cultural meanings.
In the contemporary literature Balkan is often used as a synonym for mixed, fragmented, multiple, hybrid, ambiguous and contested. In the same manner, Vickers and Winnifrith use the word Balkans, to which they ascribe multiplicity and mixture because of which they cannot find a clear or single answer about belonging of Illyrian and Epirote or “Greek” tribes. Green suggests that “the idea that you can never get to the bottom of it, that it will always be either too complicated or too meaningless to ever be understood […]constitutes the essence of the
current hegemonic concept of the Balkans: that in political, intellectual, historical, cultural,
and even topographical terms, the Balkans are fractal” (Green 2005: 140). Green notes that
this fractality is hegemonic construction where things are not too complex or fragmented but
too much related.