I have been passionately interested in Albania since about 1965. Until 1984, when I visited Albania, I spent a great deal of time visiting places from which I could catch even a distant glimpse of the country. One of these places was the area containing the Prespa lakes in the north-western corner of Greece. There are two of these lakes: the Small and the Great Prespa lakes. The smaller one shares its waters between Greece (mainly) and Albania. The larger one shares its waters with Greece, Albania, and FYROM (formerly the Yugoslav Macedonia). The lakes are separated from each other by a thin strip of land, which is currently Greek territory.
Heading west along the strip of land separating
the Great Prespa Lake (right) from the Small Prespa Lake (left)
In 1977, I visited the Prespa area with my parents in a chauffeur driven car. We left the main road that connects Florina with Kastoria somewhere near to the village of Vigla and joined a winding rough surfaced mountainous side-road that led more or less in a western direction. A few metres along it, we had to stop at a police post. An official recorded our car registration and our names in a huge old-fashioned ledger, and then allowed us to proceed. We had just entered the sensitive border area of Greece close to Albania.
Map of the Prespa lakes area showing places mentioned in this article.
(The arrows show my approximate itinerary in 1977).
In 1977, Albania and Greece were still technically at war with each other. One of the causes of this was the Albanian claim that northern Epirus (Çamëria, in Albanian) should be returned to the ethnic Albanians, who had been expelled from it. I get the impression that the problem remains unresolved even today, at least in the minds of some Albanians.
The road we followed wound through wild mountainous terrain. Eventually, we arrived in the tiny village of Aghios Germanos. It had a deserted appearance as we stared at it in the midday sun. Nobody was about. From there we made our way to the neck of land that separates the two Prespa lakes. We stopped along it to have lunch - I believe that we ate fish -at a small restaurant.
The strip of land separating Great Lake Prespa (in the background) from Little
Lake Prespa. Adam Yamey is on the right of the group in the photo.
From where we stopped, we could see the peaks of Albanian mountains in one direction.
Great Lake Prespa. The distant headland in the right third of the picture
and the barely visible mountains behind it are in Albania.
And, in the other direction we could see the distant hills of Macedonia.
Great Lake Prespa looking east towards the mountains of Macedonia (FYROM)
As we drove away from Great Prespa, we began to get good views of Little Prespa
Little Lake Prespa
We left the Prespa lakes region by way of a different road from that which we arrived there. We rejoined the main road that connects Florina with Kastoria near to the village of Trigono, where we stopped because I wanted to take a photograph of the monument whose illustration appears at the beginning of this article.
I had completely forgotten that I had taken this picture in 1977, and only rediscovered it this April (2014). The simple monument in white stone bears an inscription, which I have illustrated below:
My rudimentary knowledge of the modern Greek alphabet allowed me to decipher the subject's name as "Skountris Emmannou??" In vain, I searched for this name or variations of it on the Internet. Next, I wrote to my relatively new acquaintance Professor Christina Koulouri in Athens. She told me that this statue was put up in memory of a Cretan volunteer, Emmanouil Skountris. Furthermore, she informed me that he was a Greek fighter during the 'Macedonian Struggle' (1903-1908).
In brief and at the risk of gross oversimplification, the Greeks were fighting the Bulgarians to gain control of Ottoman Macedonia. There is very little about Emm. Skountris on the internet, but what follows is what I have managed to discover so far.
Trigono is known as 'Osčima' by the Bulgarians. On the 14th September 1904, Greek rebels led by the Cretan Efthimios Kaoudis fought with Bulgarian rebels at Trigono. The Greeks won this battle, but amongst the injured was Emmanouil Skountris.
A Bulgarian web-site ( click here) contains six lines of text about Skountris as well as the picture reproduced above. Using a computerised translator and a little common sense, this is what they say:
"Emmanuel Skundris Adele was born in Crete. He entered the ranks of the Greek propagandists in Macedonia in 1904, joining the the band of Evtimios Kaudis. He took part in the fighting near Kostenariyata and was slightly wounded at the Battle of Oshtima on September 14, 1904"
The variations of spelling are to be expected when transliterating from one alphabet to another. I found another picture of Skountris in a Greek website (click here). In this illustration, he is shown mounted:
When I took the picture of his monument back in 1977, I did so because I was attracted by the naivety of its sculptural style. At the time, I doubt that I even noticed the inscription below the bust. I only spotted it 37 years later! Now that I have seen photographs of Skountris, I realise that far from being naive, this sculpture is a very realistic representation of its subject.
What intrigues me is that this little monument in a tiny Greek village encapsulates the problems that have plagued the Balkan peninsula. Trigono was once just a small place in the large Ottoman Empire. Then, as this empire began to disintegrate at the end of the 19th century, it like so many other places began to be contested by the nations that evolved from the smouldering embers of the empire. Skountris is remembered because he helped to wrest the area from the rival Bulgarians. But, others in neighbouring states may still be looking hungrily at the area around Trigono and the Prespa lakes, where the borders of three countries now meet. Let us hope that whatever the aspirations of those who feel that the borders have been incorrectly drawn, peace will continue to reign in the area.
This article has been written by
Adam Yamey, who has published two books about the Balkans:
"Albania on my Mind"
"Scrabble with Slivovitz"
Details of these books may be found by clicking