Blood Feuds in Albania
“And first they established the rule: whoever kills will be killed. Blood is avenged with blood.”
“Nobody comes to Gramsh,” Tauschia told us as we were ascending the foothills of the Albanian Alps that surround the small town of Gramsh.
“We are here,” I joked, though I knew that there would be no way that I would be hiking in these mountains if it was not for the fact that I found Tauschia on the Couchsurfing database, and Tauschia herself would not be here if it was not for the Peace Corps.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Istanbul, Turkey- February 11, 2009
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Tauschia was just coming to the end of her first year of Peace Corps duty, and she already knew the foot trails, the people, and the language of this Albanian countryside well. It is my impression that if you really want to find out about a place, find the Peace Corps. People who have stories usually like to tell them, and Peace Corps volunteers usually have stories. Giving a kid a few months of language instruction and then sending them out to live in the middle of nowhere for couple years is a sure way to cultivate a good knowledge of a region. We walked up a mountain, Tauschia talked, and I learned about Albania. My ears were tuned to the tidings of the story teller, and Albania was quickly becoming a place peopled with faces and character.
“See those towers down there?” Tauschia directed my gaze to a couple of tall masonry towers that stood far below us from our vantage point on the mountain, “I think they were probably used in blood feuds.”
“They happen all the time here. A person from one family kills someone from another and the other family wants revenge. So the offending family has to protect their children by putting them up in towers.”
Blood feud tower in Albania from Blood feuds Wikipedia.
This sounded absolutely medieval to me; medieval and, in an odd sort of way, awesome. A momentary sense of vertigo encompassed me and I could not help but recheck my coordinates. Where was I? What time was I in?
These are the moments worth traveling for, when all of your pre-conceived sense of “what is” is flipped upside down and demolished, when you realize that you are learning something. I did not know that blood feuds were still going strong in Europe, and I did not know that little children were being packed away in little stone towers to prevent them from being murdered.
But it was true, after the fall of Communism the old tribal ways of Albanian began seeping up to the surface again, and the blood feud was a tradition that came back like wild fire. In a country with a population of around three million people, more than 5,500 families are involved in these vengeful disputes.
Usually a blood feud consists a past transgression of one family against another. Either someone kills or responsible for the death of another person, whose family then seeks revenge. But sometimes it is simply a matter of the members of one family allegedly wronging another economically, socially, or in some other way. When this occurs, the offended family will call a formal blood feud against the offenders in which a person, usually a man, from the offending family is perpetually hunted down by the members of another family to atone for the past dispute, murder, or damage. More than 10,000 Albanians have been killed in blood feuds since 1992, and there is little sign of this revived tradition fading any time soon.
There is a sense of regulation to the structure of a blood feud that is set down by the Albanian system of tribal law known as Kanun, which works on the basic principle that “whoever kills will be killed. Blood is avenged with blood.” But often the actual killer is not hunted down, and a member of their family is killed in his stead. So Albanian families who find themselves involved in these battles will often construct fortified stone towers to keep their children in. No boy under the age of eleven is permitted to be killed and revenge killings have been known to take place over 50 years after the incident they are said to have atoned for. The police are not usually contacted in these matters, as this would go against the codes of tribal law.
I looked down at the blood feud towers with wonder. Were there still people wasting away within them like some kind of modern age Rip van Winkle as I watched? Were children hidden inside because their family fear for their lives?
Albania was becoming mysterious. To loose your bearings and iron-clad senses is a prime directive of travel. On a planet that is quickly becoming ordered and understandable, Albania is moving ever closer to vertigo.
Blood Feuds in Albania