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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Blood feuds blight Albanian lives
By Majlinda Mortimer and Anca Toader
BBC News, Shkodra, Albania

Gjin's family
Gjin's family - who cannot be shown - fear losing a male relative
The centuries-old custom of blood feuds - responsible for thousands of Albanian deaths in the past - has started blighting lives in the Balkan nation again in recent years.

The feuds are particularly prevelant in the Albanian district of Shkodra, and the surrounding districts of Puke and Malesia e Madhe, where some families live in fear of blood vengeance.

The law and order vacuum created by the collapse of communism sent many Albanians back to the ancient customary laws of their tribal roots. These laws include the right to murder to avenge an earlier killing.

Blood feuds have existed in Albania for more than 3,000 years. They are regulated by the customary law known as the "Kanun" - used by Albanians during the centuries of foreign occupation, when there was no central authority.

"The Kanuns sanction blood feuds and regulate them from all points of view," said professor of law Ismet Elezi, a specialist in the Kanuns, in an interview with BBC World Service.

"And first they established the rule: whoever kills will be killed. Blood is avenged with blood."


In one village north of Shkodra - which the BBC has been asked not to name - two families live confined to their own homes because of blood feuds.

Gjin, whose family is the potential target in one feud, explained that he personally had not killed anyone - but the feud related to events involving his father around 60 years ago.

Gjin's wife
The feuds force men indoors, and women head the family
"Five years ago, the family of a man who was killed came out of the blue - they said to me that my father was involved in the killing of our uncle, so they'd come to seek blood," he said.

"Immediately I heard about this, I decided to take my family away, because I didn't want to have any confrontation."

Gjin said the event involving his father had taken place immediately after the liberation of Albania, probably in 1945 or 1946.

"I was very young at the time and I don't know what happened," he said.

"I asked the elders of the village that I used to live in if they knew anything about it. As far as they were concerned, my father wasn't involved."

However, this has not been accepted by the family that seeks a killing in Gjin's family.

Gjin also said he was more afraid now because while Kanun law states that boys under 16 cannot be included in the killing, the tradition is being broken by the vengeful. It has led him to withdraw his youngest son from school.

"There have even been cases of children being killed," he added.

"For them, killing my son is greater revenge, rather than doing something to me, because I am older than my son."

In hiding

In an effort to end to this perpetual cycle of revenge, the Albanian education ministry has set up programmes for children affected by blood feuds.

Woman washing up in garden
Feuding families wall their gardens to deter killers
Each local authority tries to identify the children who do not attend school because they are in hiding or confined to their homes.

But Gjin's wife Zoje explained that in her family's case, the state had not helped - because they had not been told.

"The police is not involved here, because this has to do with the Kanun," she said.

"It's between the families. If we go and ask for the police to help this thing will get even worse.

"It's a sort of one-to-one. One family against another family."

Five minutes down the road from Gjin's house lives another family involved in a blood feud. There are two brothers and their families living under the same roof.

One of them killed his young god-daughter in a dispute over a stream of water shared with the girl's family.

He was jailed for the crime, but his brother and all the boys in the family are now in hiding.

"The girl's family will kill any man in my family," said the family's mother, who did not want to be named.

"And they can do that as soon as the boys are 11 years old. Even 50 years from now they'll still kill any men from my family in this blood feud."

Despite the difficult situation, the family is reluctant to ask the police for help.

"We can't go to the police. It's not our way of dealing with it."

Blood spilled

The Kanun states - among other things - that the blood of the victim can only be avenged with the blood of the killer.

But professor Elezi conducted a survey which shows that today few people under 35 know what the Kanun actually says - yet many invoke it as an excuse to kill.

"This is of great concern because the first stipulation of the Kanun is that you can kill only the killer," he said.

"Nowadays the blood feuds involve whole families - the immediate family of the killer as well as the extended family. Even women, girls and little boys.

"Another thing is the means of killing - the weapons. It's in complete opposition to what the Kanun says because nowadays you can use guns, Kalashnikovs, bombs, mines, explosives."

However, he also said the Kanun itself offered the means to reconcile the families involved in a blood feud.

"The Kanun does not prevent the first killing, but would intervene to reconcile the two families after blood has been spilled," he said.

"In this way it prevents an escalation of the killings."

One man who has successfully negotiated an end to blood feuds is Aleksander Kola, of the Foundation for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation of Disputes. He has managed to end 10 feuds in the last two years.

One involved the death of a 17-year-old, Zef, killed by two young women in revenge for the earlier death of two members of their family at the hands of Zef's uncle.

However, Mr Kola explained this did not end the feud, "because Zef's uncle killed two people from the other family and Zef's death avenged only one."

After Zef's death, Mr Kola arranged negotiations between the feuding family and Zef's mother, father and Marash, their only other son at the time.

The feuding family offered a period of grace to Marash so that he could go to school.

Eventually, Mr Kola persuaded them to release the family out of confinement altogether.


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