Into the Abyss of History – Blood Feuds

From Kukës to New York Blood Feuds Prevail

As the dawn breaks in the capital city of Albania, Tirana, a nightmare is interrupted by the inception of a new one. From a life in isolation to a life in the greatest democracy in the world, blood feuds remain in existence, and more violent than ever.

The Committee of Nationwide Reconciliation (in Tirana, Albania) estimates that since the transition from communism, nearly 22 years ago, approximately 10,000 people have lost their lives as a result of blood feuds. In addition, another couple of thousand have sought asylum in foreign lands, many of whom have reached the shores of the United States.

No different is the case of the undocumented Brooklyn resident, S.S, who with inheriting the property of his grandfather inherited the shame, the guilt, and the conflict of blood feud for a crime he did not commit.

Blood feuds are based on a set of traditional laws from the 15th Century, the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, that contain the edict, “spilled blood must be met with spilled blood,” as a victim stated for the German news outlet Spiegel. The Kanun is a prevailing system of justice in rural parts of northern Albania, focusing on family honor, yet defining it through an antiquated perspective, which follows a killing with another retributive killing.

The dispute that forced S.S and his family into isolation dates back to his ancestors. After Albania’s independence in 1912, his ancestors moved to Tirana for better opportunities. The property they left behind in the small town of Kukës was unjustly occupied by other townspeople. In an attempt to resolve the issue, S.S’s grandfather paid a trip to the town.

The negotiations failed, and the people turned to firearms for answers.

Without intending to end a life, S.S’s grandfather shot a blind bullet, leaving a man lifeless, and marking the start of a blood feud, that would in fact begin nearly half a century later.

In 1997, as Albania’s transition from a 50 year old communist system was entering a critical point, the army’s weapons’ depots were pillaged by citizens, and to this day only a small fraction of the weapons has been recovered. In a state of anarchy, the people turned to the primeval system of justice, the Kanun, which led to the restoration of the legitimacy of blood feuds.

Thus, at 34, S.S was left with the choices to seclude himself for the rest of his life, or accept death.

To his luck, his two children were girls. In the Kanun laws, women and children are untouchable by the vendettas.

With the rival clan living in the small town of Kukës, S.S felt no present danger in Tirana, which was a more modern place, and considerably far. However, this would change once the rival clan moved to the capital city.

The family of S.S. would spare nothing if it meant reconciliation and forgiveness of blood. Many times they offered money and land to the rival clan, but at all times the propositions were violently refused.

The economically challenged family then took an even greater risk and funded an illegal trip for S.S.
After providing approximately $20,000 to human traffickers, S.S was smuggled into Montenegro, and Slovenia. Then, he reached Germany where he received an illegal passport with which he entered the United States, in 2003.

In the United States, he reported this story to the authorities and was given an asylum. Since that day he has been waiting for the U.S government to confirm his story and provide him with documents which will one day make him a U.S citizen, eligible to reunite with his family which still lives in Albania.

While the United States has been a “safe haven” for him, S.S has not seen his wife and children in 11 years. The support of the U.S government has made his adjustment manageable, but the danger prevails. New York has a large Albanian community and if word spreads of his situation, who knows what vengeance can spark in the rival clan who lives close to his wife and two daughters in Albania.

The Kanun states that women and children cannot be murdered. Lately however, the mandate that blood must be avenged with blood has been interpreted loosely. In 2012, the streets of Tirana were filled with protesters after a 17- year-old daughter to an isolated family lost her life in a blood feud.

S.S has never rested. He constantly tries to bring his wife and two daughters to the United States in the same manner he, himself, arrived, – illegally. In 2009, he purchased another set of three falsified passports from human traffickers for $30,000. His efforts proved futile, for his family was stopped in Italy and returned to Albania.

When asked if he ever considers going back to Albania S.S proclaims, “I am planning to bring my family here in the U.S and then move from New York. Here I have to be extra cautious, and I would like a place that is quieter if you know what I mean. But, I could never go back there, I would never go back.”

In Tirana, his family receives only $72 a month, in the form of government assistance. This amount is not enough for a semi-comfortable life. If S.S were employed, he could send financial support to his family. However, considering he must remain in isolation, he can only be employed temporarily.

S.S’s battles against a living death do not represent an isolated phenomenon. It occurs in Albania where 2,000 families are currently in isolation, but it persists in the United States, and precisely in New York City.

Across the ocean and in hiding, he states, “Nowhere is safe.”