Skip to comments.Albania: Blood Feuds -- 'Blood For Blood'
Posted on 10/15/2001 7:22:09 AM PDT by DTA
RFE/RL Weekday Magazine 12 October 2001
Albania: Blood Feuds -- 'Blood For Blood' (Part 1)
By Jolyon Naegele
In Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, the centuries-old tradition
of blood vengeance has seen a resurgence over the past decade. The
law-and-order vacuum created by the collapse of communism has sent many
Albanians back to the oral common laws of their tribal roots -- laws that
include the right to murder to avenge an earlier killing. In a three-part
series, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Tirana on the
return of the ancient tradition of "gjakmarrja" -- and its devastating
effect on the people of Albania.
Tirana, 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In a broad valley in northern Albania
circled by mountains, a medieval hilltop fortress, and a NATO radar
station, Ndoc Kapsari and his wife Gjovana take turns standing guard
on the roof of the garage where they live. Armed with a hunting rifle,
they scan the surrounding cornfields and vineyards for any sign that
someone may be coming to kill them.
The Kapsaris have lived this way for 10 years. Blamed for a fatal
accident that both Ndoc and police investigators say was none of his
doing, he and his wife have become the permanent target of a family
seeking "gjakmarrja," or blood vengeance. Forced into a life of complete
isolation, Ndoc Kapsari describes himself as "the most unfortunate man
in the world."
He isn't alone. There are an estimated 2,800 Albanian families living
in self-imposed isolation, trying to avoid becoming victims of blood
vengeance. In the years since the collapse of communism, Albania has
seen law and order crumble in many parts of the country, replaced by the
ancient social codes of the "kanun," the unwritten customary laws used
by centuries of Albanian tribes to determine everything from standards
of dress to marriage to the resolution of disputes. The renewed interest
in the kanun has been especially strong in the north of the country,
where Albanians maintain close ties with their extended families, clans,
and tribes. But even in the capital Tirana, at least three published
versions of the kanun are widely available in book kiosks.
Ismet Elezi is a professor of law in Tirana. He says the kanun may
date back as far as 2,000 years to the Illyrians, widely believed to be
the ancestors of today's Albanians. Today there are three main versions
of the code in northern Albania -- the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, the Kanun
of Skanderbeg (named after two medieval Albanian heroes), and the Kanun of
the Mountains. Passed orally from generation to generation for centuries,
the kanuns were not transcribed until between the mid-19th and mid-20th
Now, Elezi says, the current lack of state control and distinct laws
has sent many Albanians back to the kanun and its guidelines on blood
vengeance. "The kanun sanctions the principle of blood for blood,
which means the murderer must be killed."
But Elezi adds that despite the kanun's sanction of blood vengeance, it is
strict in its rules on how such revenge can be carried out. For example,
the kanun firmly prohibits the retribution killing of women, children, and
the elderly. It also limits the types of weapons that can be used, as well
as the period of isolation that male relatives of a revenge killer must
undergo. In the past, male family members were isolated for a week after
a blood killing took place. Now, Elezi says, entire families are forced
into isolation for months and even years at a time.
"Isolation was a phenomenon thought to be a manner of resolution to the
extent that those involved in blood vengeance [otherwise] had no security
for their lives and nowhere to go. The problem of [blood vengeance]
continues because the state structure is not working so well."
Ndoc Kapsari says the state offers him little hope of ever being rescued
from the isolation he and his wife live in -- despite the fact that
investigators and prosecutors three times pronounced him innocent of
the death that sent him into hiding.
In 1991, Kapsari, a carpenter, was standing in line for eggs. Two young
men began pushing him and trying to take his place. Kapsari stood his
ground, but says that after he left the store, the two men attacked him
with knives and iron bars. Kapsari describes what happened next: "The
two young men fled. One of them was on a bicycle, and he crashed into
an electric power pylon and died on the spot. When I saw he was dead
I went straight to the police."
Kapsari was jailed during each of the three investigations into the
young man's death. But after authorities pronounced him innocent for
the third and final time, the dead man's family posted a $15,000 bounty
on his life, insisting he should be killed on the principle of "blood
for blood." Kapsari says he likewise turned to the kanun for guidance.
"After I was released from jail, I decided to proceed according to the
kanun of Lek Dukagjini. I went to church and swore before the priest
that I was innocent. The father of the dead man then said he wanted
to forgive me but that his wife and surviving children wouldn't let him.
They said, 'As long as you're alive, we will try to kill you.'"
Kapsari and his family, then living in the town of Shkodra, were forced
to remain at home day and night, year in and year out. During the wave
of anarchic unrest that swept the country in 1997, Kapsari's carpentry
workshop was torched and the family's apartment was destroyed. Kapsari
says he fled the apartment in a hail of gunfire, flagged down a car and
drove 10 kilometers south to his native hamlet of Plezha. A neighbor
brought his family, and friends hastily built a garage in the middle of
the Kapsaris' field, complete with a surrounding three-meter-high wall.
The Kapsaris have been there ever since. Their lifeline to the outside
world is a cellular phone. They have a refrigerator, a washing machine,
a stove, and a tape deck, as well as some couches and chairs, all donated
by villagers emigrating to Italy. They receive newspapers and own two
books -- the Bible and the kanun. Ndoc has assembled a circular saw and
is able to cut timber, using carpentry work to survive.
After two attempts by the rival family to murder their son when he was
just five years old, the Kapsaris have sent all three of their children
to live elsewhere. Ndoc says the attacks continue: "Certainly they are
out there. They come at night. They move on foot along the walls,
throwing stones in our direction. Who in the hell would come at night
just to make the dogs bark?"
Emin Spahia is the chairman of the All-National Albanian Reconciliation
Mission, created in 1991 to help maintain a sense of order following
the collapse of communist rule. He spends much of his time driving his
Mercedes-Benz over the pot-holed roads of northern Albania, trying -- but
not always succeeding -- to help families find peaceful resolutions to
blood disputes. He has been working with the Kapsaris for five years.
Spahia says the strongest obstacle to reconciliation in the Kapsari case
are the women in the rival family who refuse to give up the feud. He says,
"Going on like this, victimizing a person for so long, is illogical."
But, he adds, the kanun alone is not to blame for the Kapsaris' plight.
"The kanun, in fact, is the least of the evils we face at present.
Currently, not even the kanun has any application. [The rival family]
is violating God's law, the state's law, and the kanun -- all three.
The only thing Albanians know how to do well now is rape, murder,
deal in prostitutes, and loot. That's the tragedy of Albania."
Spahia adds that many Albanian families like the Kapsaris are suffering
from a "total absence of human rights" because the state refuses to
take seriously the growing problem of blood feuds. Last spring, the
government promised to help the Kapsaris secure new identities and
emigrate to Canada. But for now the family continues to wait, desperate
to escape a way of life that seems to spring straight from the Dark Ages.
"I'm innocent," Ndoc Kapsari says. "Everyone is convinced I'm innocent,
including the state. I look for help but no one is lifting a finger
and this really surprises me. This is a democracy? What sort of rights
do I have?"
Albania: Blood Feuds -- Revenge Makes Fear, Isolation A Way Of Life (Part 2)
By Jolyon Naegele
Perhaps more than any other city in Albania, the northern town of Shkoder
has suffered from the upheaval that rocked the country through much of
the 20th century. Once a prosperous town with a richly diverse population,
Shkoder has been reduced to a battered shell where an influx of immigrants
from the country's mountain territories have brought their age-old
traditions of feuding and blood vengeance. In this second of a three-part
series, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Shkoder on the
failure of the state and society to stem the growing predominance of
Shkoder, Albania; 12 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A century ago, Shkoder,
known by its Italian name Scutari, was a gem of a city. It was famed
for its Ottoman mansions, tree-lined streets, and immense covered bazaar.
It was also home to a rich blend of cultures and religions, with
Albanians, Montenegrins, Venetians, and Turks, Catholics, Orthodox Jews,
and Muslims all living together.
But Shkoder's prosperity didn't last. It was subjected to a succession of
assaults from the Balkan wars of the early 20th century -- which witnessed
the city's partial destruction and occupation by Montenegro -- through
World Wars I and II, to the communist razing of the bazaar in the 1960s,
an earthquake in 1979, and the sporadic unrest of the 1990s.
Moreover, the massive migration of over 600,000 Albanians to Greece and
Italy left Shkoder open for a wave of internal migrants from the country's
mountain districts, bringing with them their ancient traditions of blood
feuds and revenge. These social codes are part of the ancient tradition of
the "kanun," unwritten customary laws that have come to take precedence
over state laws in northern Albania.
Policeman Ardian Onuzi is one Shkoder resident whose life reflects
the changes this city of 80,000 people has undergone in recent years.
Onuzi was the first officer to appear on the scene of a double murder
in a Shkoder bar in August. The assailant turned out to be Onuzi's
step-brother, whom he had not seen since he was nine years old. But
despite turning over his step-brother to police, Onuzi has since become
the target of the two victims' families, who are seeking retribution
for the slayings.
Now, armed with a pistol and a Kalashnikov rifle, Onuzi has stayed
locked in his ground-floor flat for over a month.
"I'm a realist. I received no threats or warnings. But since the kanun
rules this city, Shkoder, I decided to go into isolation for 40 days."
Onuzi says he will have to return to work in order to support his family,
whom he has sent into hiding. He says he hopes the victims' relatives
will understand that he has had no contact with the assailant or his
family for some 22 years.
Seeking advice, Onuzi contacted the All-National Albanian Reconciliation
Mission, an organization that works to intervene in such blood feuds.
Onuzi said mission representatives recommended that he follow the
rules of the kanun and remain at home until the families of the victims
are convinced that he is only a step-brother on his mother's side.
If he had shared the same father as the murderer, the consequences
would have been far worse. Some interpretations of the kanun say that
all male relatives of a murderer can be targets of what Albanians call
"gjakmarrja," or blood vengeance. According to the kanun, "blood is
paid for with blood."
But many Albanians -- like the reconciliation mission's Smail Guri, whose
nephews were the two men killed in the attack -- say the postcommunist
chaos of the past 10 years have let this former principle of honor
spin out of control.
"In fact, young men have little idea of what the kanun is all about.
Depending on circumstances, the kanun can be helpful or harmful. The kanun
does not correspond to reality and has become totally twisted."
Reconciliation between feuding families can sometimes be as simple as a
vow from one family not to pursue revenge. In other cases, resolution of a
feud can be bought. The going rate is about $1,000 -- usually paid in cash
over coffee, with the banknotes slipped under the saucer so as not to
cause offense. But in some cases, neither a family's word nor its money
is enough to satisfy the need for revenge.
Emin Spahia, chairman of the reconciliation mission, calls the return
of tribal law and blood vengeance "the clearest case in which the state
is not functioning."
"The absence of state control is the main reason. There are two reasons
to push a family into a blood feud. First of all anger, and secondly
local opinion pushing the family to take revenge. When the state
functions properly, following a murder there is only anger over the loss
of a close relative but not the need for revenge. And public opinion has
Spahia says murders now account for more than 70 percent of all the deaths
of young men in the Shkoder area. The problem had gotten so bad that one
section of the city -- "Lagjia e Gjakut," or "neighborhood of blood" --
is solely occupied by people living in self-imposed isolation due to
blood feuds. But the number of families living in this small, well-guarded
neighborhood has dropped this year from 50 to 18.
Spahia credits the work of the reconciliation mission with the decline.
Still, he says, much work remains to be done in Shkoder -- where even the
local theater director and municipal council chairman lives in isolation
and is forced to conduct his duties from his apartment.
"What can you say about a society in which you have intellectuals,
personalities like the chairman of the municipal council, commune chairman
all living in isolation? Plenty of kids are being raised in such stress
A recent study highlights the waning influence of state laws nationwide
in the decade following the collapse of communism. Between the 1930s
and the late 1950s, the percentage of murders involving blood vengeance
and revenge dropped from 42 percent to just one percent. Between 1965 and
1990, there was only one case of a blood-vengeance murder.
But pent-up antagonisms spilled over with communism's collapse. Between
1991 and 1995, nearly 10 percent of murders in the country involved
revenge. The figures soared even higher during the 1997 anarchy. According
to the Ministry for Public Order, nearly 30 percent of murders in Albania
that year stemmed from blood feuds and revenge.
Part of the problem, some experts say, is that Albanian legislation
currently treats blood vengeance as a lesser crime than murder. Many
murders committed in the name of blood vengeance, in other words,
may only be invoking family honor and the kanun as a way of escaping
Politicians trade accusations over who is to blame for the situation.
Democratic Party Chairman and former President Sali Berisha says the
ruling Socialists are to blame for being soft on crime and abolishing
the death penalty, which he says would act as a more effective deterrent
against murder. Berisha says that since 1997, when the Socialists came
to power, there have been arrests in only 20 percent of the country's
3,000 murder cases. Such lax standards, he says, only contribute to
the ease of revenge killings.
"In some way, governments and organized crime [even] encourage [blood]
revenge and the vendetta -- which was an old, unhappy Albanian tradition."
But Albania's current president, Socialist Rexhep Meidani, insists
state laws are adequate and are being applied throughout Albania: "There
was a misconception of law, of the new legal system. But I believe that
now we see that a lot of efforts have been done by different groups --
groups of reconciliation -- helping to avoid this phenomenon of revenge."
Meidani says that with cooperative efforts between the government
and groups like the All-National Albanian Reconciliation Mission, the
phenomenon of blood vengeance will eventually be eradicated.
Spahia says his reconciliation mission is working with the German
government to enact a common law in northern Albania where the kanun
is still strong. Under the new rule, responsibility for a murder would
lie solely with the killer and not his family. He says his group will
work to build close contacts with every tribe, family, commune, and
village in the region in order to assure that the law is broadly enforced.
This effort will be followed next summer with a national convention
outside Shkoder at which a declaration is due to be issued limiting,
if not ending, the conduct of blood feuds. But some Albanians say that
issuing such a declaration without also bolstering state legislation
is short-sighted. As long as the police fail to catch murderers and
bring them to justice, they say, the public will continue to take the law
into its own hands.
Albania: Blood Feuds -- Forgotten Rules Imperil Everyone (Part 3)
By Jolyon Naegele
According to Albania's ancient social code or "kanun," one person may
kill another to avenge an earlier murder. This principle of "gjakmarrja,"
or blood vengeance, has seen a popular revival in the relative chaos of
postcommunist Albania. But such "blood for blood" killings, once strictly
guided by the rules of the kanun and tight-knit tribal communities, are
now conducted with little respect for or understanding of the kanun code.
In the last of a three-part series, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele
reports from the northern Albanian town of Koplik that even women and
children are becoming the victims of blood vengeance.
Koplik, Albania; 12 October 2001 (RFE./RL) (NCA/) -- Koplik, a busy
mountain town of some 3,000 inhabitants, lies between the banks of
Lake Shkoder and the foot of a wild and nearly inaccessible mountain
district running along the Montenegrin border.
It is in a part of Albania where the laws of the Albanian state take
second place to the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini, a traditional oral code
transcribed only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Part of the kanun code is the right to avenge one killing with another.
But as Albania's ancient traditions are forgotten and the country's
once-tight social structure collapses, the kanun is increasingly
vulnerable to loose interpretation. Once only a murderer could be
targeted for revenge. But now entire families can bear responsibility
for the action of a single member.
The Kurtis are one such family. Musa Kurti is a retired fisherman and the
head of a 15-member household that includes three adult sons. The entire
family has been housebound for a year -- living in self-imposed isolation
out of fear for their lives.
A year ago, Musa's nephew, Gjevahir, shot and killed a man in the course
of an argument. Gjevahir fled and has never been caught. Musa says the
family of the dead man would be satisfied with Gjevahir's death alone.
But in his absence, they have extended their wrath to include his entire
family -- including his five grandchildren.
Musa Kurti says Albanian law plays no factor in his current dilemma. Even
if his nephew were tried and put in jail, he says, the dead man's family
would continue to seek revenge according to the principle of "gjakmarrja",
or "blood for blood." Kurti calls the situation "absurd": "Until now,
no law has existed in Albania. So we've had to abide by the code of Lek
Dukagjini, something we never knew or had anything to do with. We have to
obey the code and remain in isolation after such a killing takes place."
Kurti says he knows the basic rules of the kanun but has never
actually read it. Albania's ancient oral codes -- which were only
fully transcribed by the early 20th century -- fell out of use during
the country's communist rule. Now, in the chaos that has followed the
collapse of communism, many Albanians -- particularly those in the north,
where links remain strong to the country's tribal past -- have returned
to the kanun. But few have actually read the codes or have a clear
understanding of how they should be used.
Ismet Elezi is a law professor in the Albanian capital Tirana. He says
that despite the kanun's rich history -- possibly dating back some 2,000
years -- the transcribed versions are not always an accurate reflection
of the original social codes:
"Naturally, the oral tradition of the kanun was far richer [than the
written versions] and too many things are missing or were changed or
modified over the years from century to century. The first written
version of the kanun was in the 19th century, while the Kanun of Laberia
[in southwestern Albania] was only transcribed in the 1950s."
Elezi says the kanun has been adjusted over time to take into account
technological and political changes, such as the development of firearms
and the imposition of communist rule. But he adds the transcriptions often
resulted in certain exaggerations, especially in reference to the role of
the church. A non-religious code that was used by Muslims and Christians
alike, the kanun in the 20th century was adapted in some versions to
include rules from the Roman Catholic Church.
Albania's best-known contemporary writer, Ismail Kadare, used the kanun
as the central theme of his acclaimed novel "Broken April," written in
the 1970s, when blood feuds were a thing of the past. ("Broken April"
has been adapted for film three times, most recently in "Behind the Sun"
by Brazilian director Walter Salles.)
Kadare says the resurgence of blood vengeance in Albania is less a return
to the ways of the kanun than an angry reaction to the former communist
regime: "[Blood vengeance] is a caricature of the kanun, a stigmatization
of it. We don't have the real face of the kanun. Reaction to the communist
form of communication resulted in the revival of the kanun as a form of
Law professor Elezi says the failure of the government to provide
a legitimate alternative to the kanun has contributed in large part
to the return of blood vengeance: "Instead of revering the kanun as a
cultural monument, [the people] are using it as a judicial act. Instead
of applauding its historical value, they are actually applying it."
In northern Albania, few clan and tribal leaders are well-versed in
the kanun, despite its popularity. The result, Elezi says, are families
who take broad liberties in their interpretation of the kanun's codes.
Formerly, when a killer fled before his victim's relatives could seek
revenge, only the male members of his family could be held responsible in
his stead -- and then only for a limited time, usually a week. Now, Elezi
says, entire families can suffer the consequences of an absent relative's
action, and for months and years at a time: "If the damaged party cannot
find the murderer they have to resolve the blood feud in a certain way.
The only party they can deal with is the killer's family, so that's why
they target them."
For the Kurti family in Koplik, this has meant a drastic change in their
way of life. When Musa checked into the local hospital for an operation,
his wife, Bade, was forced to stand guard by his bedside for 10 days to
make sure he wasn't attacked. And any work done outside the house -- even
in the garden -- is now be done by the Kurti women. For safety reasons,
the men must remain inside.
Bade Kurti cares for the family's animals, does the shopping, chops wood
and does the chores usually divided among several men. Her voice is tired
and sad as she describes her family's plight: "It's very hard, terribly
hard. We have five grandchildren here. Two of them used to go to school,
but now they have to stay home. There are 15 people living in this house
all day long and we have only a tiny income. It's hard."
Musa Kurti says one of his adult sons returned home from Italy, where
he was working, fearing his life might be in danger even there. Blood
vengeance killings of Albanians have been heard of as far away as Canada
and the United States. Musa says the family's children, who range in age
from one to 13, are also not considered safe.
"Even though the Kanun of Lek Dukagjini doesn't apply to revenge against
children, we have had murders here in northern Albania in which children
-- even those who are 10, 11, 12 years old -- have been killed for blood
Emin Spahia is the chairman of the national mission tasked with helping
families involved in blood feuds seek reconciliation alternatives. He
says the kanun clearly exempts women and children from isolation, but says
it is so rarely read that women and children are now being targeted more
"This situation concerning blood vengeance has deteriorated. Recently,
young women and children, even an 11-year-old, were murdered. It's said
they were killed as part of a blood feud. But this doesn't make sense.
So it is no longer the kanun that is involved in this story. The values
of the kanun have nothing to do with what is going on. What is going on
now is nothing more than crime."
Spahia says the Kurtis are just one of about 70 families living in
self-imposed isolation in the district. An estimated 2,800 families are
believed be suffering similar fates throughout the country. Spahia says
in the case of the Kurtis, he believes the capture of the murderer would
considerably contribute to the ability of the two families to reach an
agreement. But he adds he is "confident" the family's suffering will
For now, however, the Kurtis continue to live in fear and isolation. "We
wish we could just live like everyone else and go out and enjoy life,"
Musa Kurti says. "But we can't and it's very difficult for us."
They forgot drugs.
Those who experienced Nazi or Communist "gleichshaltung" know how it works. The wind of change of official party guidelines appears first in the local press, the most likely as a voice of "concerned citizen". Then major media picks it up and gradually change the tone. That's the reason I posted it, because of the source.
The rats will try to abandon the sinking ship. Those who were deceiving the western public, who supported radical islamism for the last ten years now try to escape the consequences of their own actions.
Russia and Greece have their own Balkans bypass pipeline, a much shorter route between Burgas and Alexandropolis. Perhaps the klintoon pipeline policy of avoiding Russia has changed. On klintoon's watch, the only pipeline deal that got done was by Chevron, who took in Lukoil and Transneft and partners. Therefore the deal got done.
At the time, Condoleeza Rice was on the board of Chevron.