The Price of Blood
In Albania the ancient code of the Kanun prescribes a system of retribution for the murder of a family member. While its practice was done away with during communist rule, the 1990s saw a rise in the Blood Feud, especially due to fights over property rights. As people migrated down to the Shkoder district from isolated mountain villages, many brought with them the more traditional practices of the Kanun, as well as feuds that had been waged for decades, sometimes centuries. While feud related murders are not as common as they once were, hundreds of people still remain in hiding or a state of conflict with another family, bound by a seemingly unending cycle of honor and revenge.
The Shkoder district in northern Albania is an epicenter of blood feud activity. When communism ended in Albania, many migrated down to Shkoder and surrounding areas from the mountains. They brought with them a traditionalist mindset and decades old blood feuds.
Luigj Mila, 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.
Klevis, aged 12, was isolated in his house outside Shkoder, Albania for 3 years due to his family being involved in a blood feud. He now attends school, but his mother hires a private driver to take him there for his safety, and worries if he strays too far from the house.
Klevis’ mother Agetina stands in their home outside Shkoder, 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 the whole family sleeps. Agetina’s husband struggles with alcohol abuse due to the ongoing stress of their situation, leaving her to support the family alone.
Agetina’s family became involved in a blood feud when a distant relative committed a murder over land rights. She has struggled to take care of her family while her husband and sons have been isolated in their house, for fear of retribution.
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.
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.
Maria Qukaj was only 17 years old when she was killed with her grandfather in, retaliation for a blood feud. The high profile case prompted activists groups in Albania to speak out about the phenomenon and the violence it spreads towards women and children.
In a rare case, Mariana Qukaj’s 17 year old daugther Maria was killed with her grandfather, while harvesting corn in the mountains above Shkoder. Women are generally exempt from blood feud retribution, yet many have become casualties in recent years.
Marsel, now 6 years old, was only an infant 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.
Luigj Mila of the Justice and Peace Commission of Albania speaks with Maria ,whose son was killed 6 years ago leaving her to care for his 6 children, while her granddaughter looks on. The Justice and Peace Commission help to provide clothing, food, mediation and monetary assistance to families involved in blood feuds.
Bilal Ademi recounts the story of his family’s situation in his home in Mushan, Albania. Bilal’s cousin, a policeman, started a blood feud when he killed a fellow officer in a dispute. Now most of the Ademi men have had to go into hiding for fear of retribution.
Gjylije Ademi speaks about the family’s situation in their home in Mushan, Albania. The Ademi women have had to take on the physical labor required to support the family economically, but are finding it difficult to continue working as they become older.
Vladimir Banush (center) and Luigj Mila (right) of the Justice and Peace Commission of Albania, unload clothing and supplies for a family isolated due to a blood feud, outside Shkoder, Albania.