Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Albania: Blood Feud Terror

Northern Albania is trying to cast aside the curse of the blood feud.
By Agim Kanani

Across the mountains of northern Albania, hundreds of men and boys stay shuttered in their homes, fearing that death awaits them on the other side of their front door.


Blood feuds still rage in this remote region, much the same as they have done for the past five centuries.


Authoritarian communist rule stamped out the practice between 1945 and 1990. After that the country descended into anarchy and back came Kanun law, according to which you are morally obliged to take revenge if a member of your family is killed. This means either killing the assailant or a member of his family.


Now a drive to prevent blood feuds is being pursued by the Mission for Pan-National Reconciliation.


"I pardoned my father's killer five years ago on behalf of democracy," said Zef Gjonmarku, an old man whose father was murdered 60 years ago in the village of Mirdite. "A man of sound principles should find it in his heart to pardon those who have wronged him. Blood feuds are a cancer in our body and we Albanians should root it out."


A year ago Hile Gjon Peraj's husband was killed in a quarrel. Now, besides supporting a family with eight children aged from three months to 18 years, she has to protect the lives of her sons. The eldest boy should take revenge, according to the Kanun. But she has forced him to stay at home, plant the land and support the family. She fears her husband's murderers might kill him too.


Scores of men in the northern region of Puke, Mirdite, Shkoder and Tropoje stay shut up in their homes for years.


Since the unrest of 1997 when army depots all over the country were looted for guns, about 100 men and boys have been killed.


There are no official statistics but the Mission of the Pan-National Reconciliation says 290 families have gone into hiding in the Tropoje area.


Emin Spahia, a worker with the mission, says children are the most vulnerable because they have to abandon schooling and find themselves continuously under threat of death or pressured to kill someone else. About 700 children in this region are affected.


"We must change the whole mentality," said Gjin Marku, head of the mission. " We should respect the law and the police. Not the Kanun."


Nul Bajraktari, a mediator in Tropoje, said, "After the unrest in 1997, blood feud murders increased significantly. Many of them sprang from political or economic motives. Most of those murdered were young men."


Marku put much of the blame on the media. They tend to describe every murder as a blood feud killing, encouraging families to take revenge. " Sometimes killers working for organised crime use the blood feud tradition as an alibi," he said.


Pal Kuka, a mediator in Mirdite, has managed to reconcile 100 quarrelling parties over the last decade. About a dozen of these cases stemmed from blood feuds, others from motives such as economic disputes.


But even those who try to resolve disputes are not immune to the curse of the blood feud. Man Avduli used to be a mediator until about four years ago. But after his son Qazim was killed by his wife and her mother, he could think of nothing but revenge. According to Kanun, revenge cannot be exacted on women. But Avduli said, "The government and the state have nothing to do with this case. My sons and I should take revenge for Qazim's blood."


Interior ministry officials say only a few of the Kanun killers are arrested and sentenced. Some flee abroad, others shelter with their families where it is hard to get at them.


Researcher Edmond Dragoti said the government should push for more police and economic resources to rid the north of its cancer. "If this had been done," he said, "such feuds would now be remembered simply as a folk tale."


Academician and Law professor, Luan Omari, says elimination of the tradition is imperative if Albania hopes to join the European Union. "European integration is not achieved only with improved infrastructure, better roads, water supply and power," the he said. "We must achieve cultural and civil emancipation."


It seems that a change of attitude has already begun. Very recently a family expelled from its ranks someone who had killed a Kosovo man travelling in a minibus into Albania. The ousted man cannot enter his home or the homes of relatives. A family delegation went to the Kosovo family "to ask for pardon".


"It needs an overall mobilisation of the people, the government, the whole society to rid of this Albanian curse," said Omari.


Agim Kanani is a freelance journalist based in Tirana.



Recent IWPR Stories of Related Interest:



More IWPR's Global Voices