BloodFeuds_NickStOegger_007

Blood Feuds

(a story by Nick St.Oegger)

When standing on the wall of Rozafa castle in Shkoder, watching the sun set over lake Skadar, it’s hard to imagine that in some of the houses below men and boys are hiding in fear of their lives. Yet, in northern Albania, particularly in the district of Shkoder, the practice of the blood feud still casts a shadow over the otherwise serene landscape.

Luigj Mila, secretary general of the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, contacts a family in self imposed isolation on his mobile phone, in a village on the outskirts of Shkoder, Albania. The Catholic NGO supports a number of causes in the area around Shkoder involving issues of poverty, historical preservation and outreach work with families involved in blood feuds.

Luigj Mila, secretary general of the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission, contacts a family in self imposed isolation on his mobile phone, in a village on the outskirts of Shkoder, Albania. The Catholic NGO supports a number of causes in the area around Shkoder involving issues of poverty, historical preservation and outreach work with families involved in blood feuds.

While illegal under Albanian law, the practice is sanctioned under a centuries old set of customary laws known as the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Originally codified around the time of the 15th century Ottoman invasion, the Kanun provided a means for occupied Albanians to exert control over themselves.

In a blood feud family members of someone who is murdered take it upon themselves to avenge the death, by killing the murderer or a male member of his family. It was suppressed during the 1946-1991 communist period, but has seen resurgence since the chaotic shift to democracy.

 

Originally the Kanun prescribed strict guidelines for conduct during blood feuds, but rules have been distorted in modern times. While only male family members at least 15 years of age are supposed to be targets, cases of women and children being threatened or killed have occurred in recent years.

Luigj Mila speaks with Maria who’s son was killed 6 years ago leaving her to care for his 6 children, while her granddaughter looks on. The Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission help to provide some clothing, food, mediation and monetary assistance to families involved in blood feuds.

Luigj Mila speaks with Maria who’s son was killed 6 years ago leaving her to care for his 6 children, while her granddaughter looks on. The Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission help to provide some clothing, food, mediation and monetary assistance to families involved in blood feuds.

Motivated by fear, as well as respect for the victim’s family, men of the murderer’s family stay locked inside their houses, sometimes for years. Women are forced to become the breadwinners for the family, often taking on multiple jobs and working in their fields to make ends meet. Without the men able to contribute financially, many families go into economic ruin. Young boys often do not attend school for fear of being attacked, and are forced to sit at home deprived of an education.

The problem is partially symptomatic of dysfunction in the legal and judicial systems of the country. Mistrust of the government and its entities, due to a longstanding history of corruption, is rampant amongst Albanians. However, even when a murderer is arrested and sentenced for a crime, the feud is not necessarily over. Many feel that blood is the only price that can be paid to settle the debt, leaving innocent family members at risk for a crime their relative has already been punished for.

 

Marsel, now 6 years old, was only 6 months old when his father was killed, sparking a blood feud. He and his 5 siblings were left in the care of their mother and grandmother, who have struggled to support the family financially.

Marsel, now 6 years old, was only 6 months old when his father was killed, sparking a blood feud. He and his 5 siblings were left in the care of their mother and grandmother, who have struggled to support the family financially.

 

The family who killed Maria’s son has been close to reconciliation with her family, but Maria is not satisfied and still longs for revenge. “My son rots in his grave while they prosper,” she said.

The family who killed Maria’s son has been close to reconciliation with her family, but Maria is not satisfied and still longs for revenge. “My son rots in his grave while they prosper,” she said.

 

A cemetery on the outskirts of the town of Shkoder. While the practice of blood feuds is not as prevalent as it was after the communist regime fell in the early 90s, dozens of murders are committed every year as a result of ongoing feuds.

A cemetery on the outskirts of the town of Shkoder. While the practice of blood feuds is not as prevalent as it was after the communist regime fell in the early 90s, dozens of murders are committed every year as a result of ongoing feuds.

Mariana's daugther Maria was killed with her grandfather in a village in the mountains, a victim of blood feud violence despite several attempts at reconcilliation between the families. Maria was only 17 and left behind three younger siblings.

Mariana’s daugther Maria was killed with her grandfather in a village in the mountains, a victim of blood feud violence despite several attempts at reconcilliation between the families. Maria was only 17 and left behind three younger siblings.

Some NGOs around the Shkoder region attempt to study the phenomenon of blood feuds and help families currently embroiled in conflict. The Justice and Peace Commission of Albania, who published a large study on blood feuds in 2009, is one such organization. They maintain contact with families in hiding, provide them with assistance such as food or clothing, and in some cases offer to help in mediation or securing asylum for those trying to flee the country. Most importantly, they stress the need for the teaching of forgiveness and tolerance, in the hopes of changing the mindset that helps perpetuate this centuries old problem.

 

Maria was only 17 when she was killed with her grandfather by a family member who her family was involved in a blood feud with. Killing a woman is not proper under the Kanun, but families have been distorting the interpretation in their attempts at seeking revenge.

Maria was only 17 when she was killed with her grandfather by a family member who her family was involved in a blood feud with. Killing a woman is not proper under the Kanun, but families have been distorting the interpretation in their attempts at seeking revenge.

 

Klevis, aged 12, was isolated in his house for 3 years along with his siblings. He is now able to go out and attend school, as the opposing family has said they will not go after the members of his family for revenge. Blood feuds are often hardest for young children who must stay in the house, unable to attend class, socialize with friends or enjoy the freedom of childhood.

Klevis, aged 12, was isolated in his house for 3 years along with his siblings. He is now able to go out and attend school, as the opposing family has said they will not go after the members of his family for revenge. Blood feuds are often hardest for young children who must stay in the house, unable to attend class, socialize with friends or enjoy the freedom of childhood.

 

Klevis’ mother, Agetina. Her husband became an alcoholic due to the stress and their poor economic situation, leaving her to support the family. While the opposing family has said they would no longer seek revenge with the members of her family, she still fears for her sons’ safety, hiring a private driver to bring them to school and back, and worries if they stray too far from the house.

Klevis’ mother, Agetina. Her husband became an alcoholic due to the stress and their poor economic situation, leaving her to support the family. While the opposing family has said they would no longer seek revenge with the members of her family, she still fears for her sons’ safety, hiring a private driver to bring them to school and back, and worries if they stray too far from the house.

 

Klevis’ mother stands in their house, where Klevis and his brothers were isolated for 3 years. The house is sparsely furnished with only a basic stove, refrigerator, couch and a small bedroom where all members of the family sleep. Male members of the family often lose their position as breadwinners, having been arrested, killed or in isolation, causing the economic situation of the family to deteriorate.

Klevis’ mother stands in their house, where Klevis and his brothers were isolated for 3 years. The house is sparsely furnished with only a basic stove, refrigerator, couch and a small bedroom where all members of the family sleep. Male members of the family often lose their position as breadwinners, having been arrested, killed or in isolation, causing the economic situation of the family to deteriorate.

While the government has passed more severe laws for blood feud related crimes, it has historically downplayed the issue. The new government of socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama has promised wide reforms to tackle many of Albania’s current social issues, but it remains to be seen if he will address blood feuds directly. Although the occurrence of blood feuds isn’t as prevalent as it once was, it is nonetheless an issue that will need to be addressed for Albania’s aspirations to enter the European Union.

Nick St.Oegger 

Klevis, while in isolation for 3 years, has maintained a positive attitude and is excited to be able to return to school and be with his friends.

Klevis, while in isolation for 3 years, has maintained a positive attitude and is excited to be able to return to school and be with his friends.

Vladimir Banush (center) and Luigj Mila (right) of the Justice and Peace Commission of Albania, help to unload clothing and supplies for a family living in isolation due to blood feuds in a village 40km south of Shkoder.

Vladimir Banush (center) and Luigj Mila (right) of the Justice and Peace Commission of Albania, help to unload clothing and supplies for a family living in isolation due to blood feuds in a village 40km south of Shkoder.




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