“Gjakmarrja” – Albania’s plague – Arsa Sota, Albania

“Gjakmarrja” is revenge mostly between two families, when the relatives of the victim take retaliation against the other family, killing the murderer or another member of their family. When a person murders someone from another family, he does this, not thinking of the consequences. As a result, enmity between two families is created and all the males belonging to the family of the assassin are isolated. Women are the only ones allowed to go out and when the blood is returned (when someone from the killer’s family is murdered), the assassinations continue until there are no men left. When this happens, it’s the women’s turn. It all ends when the two families are erased. The best cases are when they choose to reconcile or agree to leave the problem to the authorities.

Many of you have probably never heard of this phenomenon, while others might just know it as revenge. It is much more than killing because one of your beloved ones was murdered. It’s roots date back to the medieval era or even earlier. This social occurrence  was commonly set in Mediterranean nations and more specifically in Albania, South Italy, Corsica and the European part of Turkey.

But where did this phenomenon come from?

This practice is generally seen as in line with the Albanian social code known as Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit, or simply the Kanun. This is a set of traditional Albanian laws. There were 4 known Kanuns but the most important one that continues to influence specific parts of Albania is Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Lekë Dukagjini was a prince and allegedly the first who codified the “Kanun” in the 15th century. Although the laws are attributed to him, they evolved over time as a way to bring law and rule to these lands. The Kanun was divided into the following 12 sections: Church, Family, Marriage, House, Livestock and Property, Work, Transfer of Property, Spoken Word, Honor, Damages, Law Regarding Crimes, Judicial Law, Exemptions and Exceptions.

One of these rules shows how murders is supposed to be handled, and was used to lead to blood feud, and continues to do so even now.  In some parts of the country, the Kanun resembles the Italian vendetta.

Even if it encourages this kind of solution, the Kanun holds important Albanian customs and traditions.  Gjakmarrja dates back to the 15th century when Albanian territory was then divided in principalities and these rules were created because the state was inexistent back then. People used to kill, not because they wanted to take revenge and make the other family pay. Of course, this was a good reason but they were doing it to protect their honor.

After the liberation of the country, the state took action in preventing Gjakmarrja. For 45 years (1945-1990), Albania was under the communist rule and the state took strict action to prevent this phenomenon. It was kept under control but it was never destroyed.

Unfortunately, later, mostly in Nord, people abused with the principles of Kanun. The murderers have continued and women and children that, according to these laws, were untouchable were now innocent victims of this social phenomenon. Kanun protects women and children. There is even a rule saying that the life of a woman is equal to those of seven men but everyone seems to ignore that. These men assume they’re devoted to Kanun but killing has become so easy for them. Law is weak in these areas. Children are scared to go to school. They can’t read or write, no matter how much they want to. People who once used to have a life, are now forced to lock the door of their houses and wait for death to knock.

It used to be completely normal to die because your uncle killed someone from another family but this was so, more than 500 years ago. We are in 21st century and we’re doing nothing to stop it.

Why should someone suffer for something he/she never did?

This is a question many people are asking nowadays and they’re still waiting for the answer.

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