For other uses, see Qanun.
The Kanun is a set of traditional Albanian laws. The Kanun was primarily oral and only in the 20th century was it published in writing. There is only one Kanun since the ancient times commonly referred to the "Kanun of Leke" from which six later variations eventually evolved, categorized according to the area, the personality and their time of origin: Kanun i vjetër (English: Old Kanun), Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (English: The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini), Kanuni i Çermenikës (English: The Kanun of Çermenikë), Kanuni i Papa Zhulit (English: The Kanun of Papa Zhuli), Kanuni i Labërisë (English: The Kanun of Labëria) and Kanuni i Skenderbeut (English: Kanun of Skanderbeg) also known as Kanuni i Arbërisë (English: Kanun of Arbëria).
The Kanun of Skanderbeg is the closest in similarity with the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, and the latter is usually the most known and is also regarded as a synonym of the word kanun. The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini was developed by Lekë Dukagjini, who codified the existing customary laws. It has been used mostly in northern and central Albania and surrounding areas formerly in Yugoslavia where this is a large ethnic Albanian population; Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. It was first codified in the 15th century but the use of it has been outspread much earlier in time. It was used under that form until the 20th century, and revived recently after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
4 Pillars of the Kanun,
6 Kanun in Literature and Film,
7 See also,
The term kanun comes from the Greek "κανών" ("canon"), meaning amongst others "pole" or "rule" and was transported from Greek to Arabic and then into early Turkish and then in Albanian. Kanun was also known by the word of Doke.
The practice of the oral laws that Dukagjini codified in the Kanun may date back to the Bronze Age. Some authors have conjectured that the Kanun may derive from ancient Illyrian tribal laws. Other authors have suggested that the Kanun has retained elements from Indo-European prehistoric eras.Edith Durham, a British anthropologist suggested that the Kanun possibly dates back to the Bronze Age culture. Some other authors have suggested that there are many similarities between the Kanun and the Manusmṛti, the earliest work of the Dharmaśāstra textual tradition of Hinduism, which indicate a common origin.
However several stratifications can be easily observed in the code, beginning with pre-Indoeuropean, Indoeuropean, Ancient Greek, Roman, general Balkan and Osmanli.
According to Serbian authors T. O. Oraovac and S. S. Djuric, it is largely based on Dušan's Code, the constitution of the Serbian Empire (enacted 1349), which at the time held the whole of Albania. Noel Malcolm speculates that an article in Dušan's Code was an early attempt to clamp down on the self-administered customary law of the mountains, as later codified in the Kanun of Lek Dukagjin, and if so, this would be the earliest evidence that such customary law were in effect.
This Kanun existed only in oral form and was first codified by Lekë Dukagjini in the 15th century. The code was written down only in the 19th century by Shtjefën Gjeçovi and partially published in the Hylli i Drites periodical in 1913. The full version appeared only in 1933 after Gjeçovi's death in 1926. In 1989 a dual English-Albanian version was published. and then replicated in a 1992 version.
Although Kanuni is attributed to the Albanian prince Lekë Dukagjini, the rules evolved over time as a way to bring laws and rule to these lands. The code was divided into the following 12 books (or sections): Church, Family, Marriage, House, Livestock and Property, Work, Transfer of Property, Spoken Word, Honor, Damages, Law Regarding Crimes, Judicial Law, Exemptions and Exceptions.
The Kanun has 1,262 articles which regulate all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organization of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on. The Besa (honour) is of prime importance throughout the code as the cornerstone of personal and social conduct. The Kanun applies to both Christian and Muslim Albanians.
Some of the most controversial rules of the Kanun (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is supposed to be handled, which often in the past and sometimes still now lead to blood feuds that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed. In some parts of the country, the Kanun resembles the Italian vendetta. These rules have resurfaced during the 1990s in Northern Albania, since people had no faith in the powerless local government and police. There are organizations that try to mediate between feuding families and try to get them to "pardon the blood" (Albanian: Falja e Gjakut), but often the only resort is for men of age to stay in their homes, which are considered a safe refuge by the Kanuni, or flee the country. The Albanian name for blood feud is Gjakmarrja.
Former communist Albania leader Enver Hoxha effectively stopped the practice of Kanun with hard repression and a very strong state police. However, after the fall of communism, some communities have tried to rediscover the old traditions, but some of their parts have been lost, leading to fears of misinterpretation.
Notably, the current Albanian Penal Code does not contain any provisions from the Kanun that deal with blood feuds, and no acknowledgment of this code is made in the contemporary Albanian legal system.
Pillars of the Kanun:
The Kanun is based on four pillars:
Honour (Albanian: Nderi),
Hospitality (Albanian: Mikpritja),
Right Conduct (Albanian: Sjellja),
Kin Loyalty (Albanian: Fis),
The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is composed of 12 books and 1,262 articles. The books and their subdivisions are the following:
Property of the Church,
The family make-up,
The Kanun of the groom,
House, Livestock and Property;
The house and its surroundings,
Transfer of Property;
'Blood' and gender; brotherhood and godparents,
Law Regarding Crimes
Murder (discussion of sanctioning of blood feuds),
The kanun of the elderly,
Exemptions and Exceptions
Types of exceptions,
Kanun in Literature and Film:
Albanian writer Ismail Kadare evokes the Kanun several times in his books and has it as its main theme in his novel Broken April. He also evoques the kanun in his novel Komisioni i festës (English: The Celebration Commission), where Kadare literally describes the Monastir massacre of 1830 as the struggle between two empires: the Albanian Kanun with its code of besa and the Ottoman Empire itself.
According to Kadare in his literary critique book Eskili, ky humbës i madh (English: Aeschylus, this big loser), where loser refers to the big number of tragedies that were lost from Aeschylus, there are evident similarities between the kanun and the vendetta laws in all the Mediterranean countries.
Barbara Nadel's Deep Waters refers to Kanun and Gjakmarrja.
Joshua Marston's 2011 film The Forgiveness of Blood, a drama set in modern-day Albania, deals with the Kanun. The film relates a blood feud between two families in Northern Albania, focusing primarily on how the feud affects the children of one family.
The Kanun is referred to in season 6, episode 9 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent ("Blasters") as the explanation for the sudden retreat of a group of Albanian assassins.
The Kanun plays a major role in the Belgian movie Dossier K.