Kelmend region

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This article is about the historical region. For the municipality in Albania, see Kelmend.
Catholic church in Nikç, municipality of Kelmend

Kelmend, or Kelmendi mountains (Albanian: Malet e Kelmendit, Serbian: Клименти, Klimenti) is a region and historical tribe in the mountainous borderlands of Albania and Montenegro, of the wider Malësia-region.[1] Part of the region lies within the Kelmend municipality, and is composed of a Roman Catholic majority and Muslim minority. The Kelmendi speak a subdialect of Gheg Albanian as the other northern Albanian tribes.

Families hailing from Kelmend can also be found in Plav, Montenegro and Rugova, Kosovo[a], where they are Muslim. The name is derived from Saint Clement, the patron saint of the region.



Johann Georg von Hahn (1811-1869), one of the founders of Albanology, placed the settlement of Kelmendi's first patriarch in Bestana, southern Kelmend. The foundations of the settlements, where the Kelmendi are found in modern times, have been attributed to his seven sons.[2] Augustin Theiner (1804-1874), the German historian, said that the Clementini hailed from a Clemente, whose father was a Serb from Moraccia (Morača), and mother was from Cucci (Kuči).[3] There are other sources that point that the Kelmendi are of Serb origin,[4][5][6] and that the founder came from the Morača[7] (Piperi[6]), or Herzegovina.[8] According to another story, a certain Klmen (or Amati) from Kuči settled first in Hoti then re-settled in the present clan area.[6] Milan Šufflay (1879-1931) noted that among some Kelmends, Nikola Oštroumni Kolmendija (Nikola "Sharp-minded" Kolmendija) was believed to be the founding father.[9]

Middle Ages[edit]

The Kelmendi tribe is first mentioned in Latin documents of 1485 as Celmente.[10] The Kelmendi recognized Ottoman rule in 1497 and gained the status of derbend and became the guards of the roads leading to Plav and Shkodër-Đakovica route.[11]

Early modern period[edit]

Marino Bizzi (1570-1624), the Archbishop of Bar, mentions them in 1610 as "popoli quasi tutti latini, e di lingua Albanese e Dalmata" (almost all are Catholics, speaking Albanian and Slavic).[12] Bizzi reported an incident in 1613 in which an Ottoman commander, Arslan Pasha, raided the villages of the Kelmendi and started taking prisoners, until an agreement was reached with the Kelmendi clans. According to the agreement, the Kelmendi would surrender fifteen of their members as slaves, and pay a tribute of 1,000 ducats to the Ottomans. However, as Arslan Pasha waited for the payment of the tribute, the Kelmendi ambushed part of his troops and killed about thirty cavalrymen. After this incident the Ottoman troops retreated to Herceg Novi (Castelnuovo).[13] Mariano Bolizza recorded the "Climenti" in his 1614 report as being a Roman rite village, describing them as "an untiring, valorous and extremely rapacious people", with 178 houses, and 650 men in arms commanded by Smail Prentashev and Peda Suka.[14] In 1614, they, along with the tribes of Kuči, Piperi and Bjelopavlići, sent a letter to the kings of Spain and France claiming they were independent from Ottoman rule and did not pay tribute to the empire.[15][16] Clashes with the Ottomans continued through the 1630 and culminate in 1637-38 where the tribe would repel an army of 12,000 (according to some sources 30,000) commanded by Vutsi Pasha of the Bosnia Eyalet. Ottoman casualties vary from 4,000 to 6,000, based on different sources. The legend of Nora of Kelmendi would come to life during this epic struggles.[17][18][19][20]

In 1651, they aided the army of Ali-paša Čengić, which attacked Kotor; the army raided and destroyed many monasteries in the region. In 1685, they helped the Sanjak Bey of Skadar, Sulejman Bushati (an ancestor of Kara Mahmud Bushati) to defeat the Montenegrin forces at the Battle on the Vrtijelica, in which Bajo Pivljanin died. Again, in 1692, they aided Bushati capturing Cetinje after defeating the Montenegrins and their Venetian allies. Giorgio Stampaneo, an abbot of Mirdita, reported in 1685 that the city of Peć paid an annual tribute of 3,000 reali to the Kelmendi.[21]

In 1689 the Kelmendi volunteered in the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire during the Kosovo campaign. Initially they were serving Sulejman Pasha, the mutasarrif of Shkodër, but after negotiations with a Venetian official, they abandoned the Ottoman ranks.[22]

In October 1689, Arsenije III Čarnojević allied himself with the Habsburgs, gaining the title of Duke. He met up with Silvio Piccolomini in November, and put under his wings a large army of Serbs, including some Klimenti.[12] In 1700, some 2307 people from Selcë (Klimenti territory) were settled in Pešter, while 642 were left behind,[23] after the defeat and subsequent withdrawal of the Imperial army and their surrounding by the Ottoman army.[10] In 1707 they began their return.[23] In the 18th century, Hoti and Kelmendi assisted the Kuči and Vasojevići in the battles against the Ottomans; after that unsuccessful war, a part of the Klimenti fled their lands.[24] After the defeat in 1737, under Archbishop Arsenije IV Jovanović Šakabenta, a significant number of Serbs and Kelmendis retreated into the north, Habsburg territory.[25] Around 1,600 of them settled in the villages of Nikinci and Hrtkovci, where they later adopted a Croat identity.[26]

Late modern period[edit]

Albanian bajraks (1918).

On May 26, 1913, 130 leaders of Gruda, Hoti, Kelmendi, Kastrati and Shkreli sent a petition to Cecil Burney in Shkodër against the incorporation of their territories into Montenegro.[27] Franz Baron Nopcsa, in 1920, puts the Klimenti as the first of the Albanian clans, as the most frequently mentioned of all.[28]

Contemporary history[edit]

By the end of the Second World War, the Albanian Communists sent its army to northern Albania to destroy their rivals, the nationalist forces. The communist forces met open resistance in Nikaj-Mertur, Dukagjin and Kelmend, which were anti-communist. Kelmend was headed by Prek Cali. On January 15, 1945, a battle between the Albanian 1st Brigade and nationalist forces was fought at the Tamara Bridge. Communist forces lost 52 soldiers, while in their retaliation about 150 people in Kelmend people were brutally killed.[29][better source needed] Their leader Prek Cali was executed.

This event was the starting point of other dramas, which took place during Enver Hoxha's dictatorship. Class struggle was strictly applied, human freedom and human rights were denied, Kelmend was isolated both by the border and by lack of roads for other 20 years, agricultural cooperative brought about economic backwardness, life became a physical blowing action etc. Many Kelmendi people fled, some others froze by bullets and ice when trying to pass the border.[30]


During Easter processions in Selcë and Vukël the kore, a child-eating demon, was burnt symbolically.[31] In Christmas time alms were placed upon ancestors' graves. As in other northern Albanian clans the Kanun (customary law) that is applied in Kelmend is that of The Mountains (Albanian: Kanuni i Maleve). According to Franz Baron Nopcsa's researches the Kelmendi were the most numerous and notable of the northern Albanian clans.[11]


The region consists of six primary villages: Boga, Nikç, Selcë, Tamarë, Vermosh and Vukël, all part of the Kelmend Municipality. Their clan neighbours are the Kuči and Hoti, to the west, and the Vasojevići to the north. The following lists are of families in the Kelmend region by village of origin (they may live in more than one village):


  • Ahmetaj (Ahmetović), in Vusanje. They descend from a certain Ahmet Nikaj, son of Nika Nrrelaj and grandson of Nrrel Balaj, and are originally from Vukël in northern Albania.
  • Bacaj (Bacović)
  • Balaj (Balić), in Grnčar. Immigrated to Plav-Gusinje in 1698 from the village of Vukël (or Selcë?) in northern Albania and converted to Islam the same year. The clan's closest relatives are the Balidemajt/Balidemići. Legend has it that the Balaj, Balidemaj and Vukel clans descended from three brothers. However, a member of the Vukel clan married a member of the Balić clan, later resulting in severed relations with the Vukel clan.
  • Balidemaj (Bal(j)idemaj/Balidemić), in Martinovići. This branch of the clan remained Catholic for three generations, until Martin's great-grandson converted to Islam, taking the name Omer. Since then, the family was known as Omeraj/Omerović. Until recently was the family's name changed to Balidemaj, named after Bali Dema, an army commander in the Battle of Nokshiq. The clan's closest relatives are the Balajt/Balići. Legend has it that the Balaj, Balidemaj and Vukel clans descended from three brothers.
  • Bruçaj (Bručaj/Bručević), they are descendants of a Catholic Albanian named Bruç Nrrelaj, son of Nrrel Balaj, and are originally from Vukël in northern Albania.
  • Cakaj (Cakić)
  • Canaj (Canović), in the villages of Bogajići, Višnjevo and Đurička Rijeka. Immigrated to Plav-Gusinje in 1698 from the village of Vukël in northern Albania and converted to Islam the same year.
  • Çelaj (Čeljaj/Čelić), in the villages of Vusanje and Vojno Selo. Claims descendance from Nrrel Balaj. The Nikça/Nikča family are part of the Çelaj.
  • Dedushaj (Dedušaj/Dedušević), in Vusanje. They are descendants of a Catholic Albanian named Ded (Dedush) Balaj, son of Nrrel Balaj, and are originally from Vukel in northern Albania.
  • Hakaj (Hakanjin), in Hakanje.
  • Hasilović, in Bogajiće.
  • Goçaj (Gočević), in Vusanje.
  • Gjonbalaj (Đonbaljaj/Đonbalić; also Đombal(j)aj/Đombalić), in Vusanje, with relatives in Vojno Selo. Their ancestor, a Catholic Albanian named Gjon Balaj, immigrated with his sons: Bala, Aslan, Tuça and Hasan; along with his brother, Nrrel, and his children: Nika, Ded (Dedush), Stanisha, Bruç and Vuk from the village of Vukël in northern Albania to the village of Vusanje/Vuthaj in the late-17th century. Upon arriving, Gjon and his descendants settled in the village Vusanje/Vuthaj and converted to Islam and were known as the Gjonbalaj. Relatives include Ahmetajt/Ahmetovići, Bruçajt/Bručevići, Çelajt/Čelići, Goçaj/Gočević, Lekajt/Lekovići, Selimajt/Selimovići, Qosajt/Ćosovići, Ulajt/Uljevići, Vuçetajt/Vučetovići.
  • Kukaj (Kukić), in Vusanje
  • Lecaj (Ljecaj), in Martinovići. They are originally from Vukël in northern Albania.
  • Lekaj (Leković), in Gornja Ržanica and Vojno Selo. They are originally from Vukël in northern Albania. They are descendants of a certain Lekë Pretashi Nikaj.
  • Martini (Martinović), in Martinovići. The eponymous founder, a Catholic Albanian named Martin, immigrated to the village of Trepča[disambiguation needed] in the late 17th century from Selcë.
    • Hasangjekaj (Hasanđekaj/Hasanđekić), in Martinovići. They descend from a Hasan Gjekaj from Vukël, a Muslim of the Martini clan.
    • Prelvukaj (Preljvukaj/Preljvukić), in Martinovići. They descend from a Prelë Vuka from Vukël, of the Martini clan.
  • Musaj (Musić), Immigrated to Plav-Gusinje in 1698 from village Vukël in northern Albania and converted to Islam the same year.
  • Novaj (Novović)
  • Pepaj (Pepić), in Pepići
  • Rekaj (Reković), in Bogajići, immigrated to Plav-Gusinje circa 1858.
  • Rugova (Rugovac), in Višnjevo with relatives in Vojno Selo and Babino Polje. They descend from a Kelmend clan of Rugova in Kosovo.
  • Qosaj/Qosja (Ćosaj/Ćosović), in Vusanje. They are descendants of a certain Qosa Stanishaj, son of Stanisha Nrrelaj and are originally from Vukël in northern Albania.
  • Selimaj (Selimović),
  • Smajić, in Novšići.
  • Ulaj (Uljaj/Uljević), in Vusanje. They are originally from Vukël in northern Albania. They are descendants of a certain Ulë Nikaj, son of Nika Nrrelaj. Possibly moved to the Koja e kucit area.
  • Vukel (Vukelj), in Dolja. They immigrated to Gusinje in 1675 from the village of Vukël in northern Albania. A certain bey from the Šabanagić clan gave the clan the village of Doli.
  • Vuçetaj (Vučetaj/Vučetović), in Vusanje. They are originally from Vukël in northern Albania. They are descendants of a certain Vuçetë Nikaj, son of Nika Nrrelaj.

The families of Đomboljaj (alb. Gjonbalaj/Gjombalaj), Uljaj (alb. Ulaj), Ahmetaj and Vučetaj (alb. Vuçetaj) had previously the surnames of Đombolić, Uljević, Ahmetović and Vučetović.[32]

Notable People[edit]

See also[edit]


a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. ^ Mal meaning "mountain", the region in Montenegro is part of brda, meaning "hill"
  2. ^ Santayana, Manuel Pardo de; Pieroni, Andrea; Puri, Rajindra K. (2010-05-01). Ethnobotany in the new Europe: people, health, and wild plant resources. Berghahn Books. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-84545-456-2. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  3. ^ A. Theiner, Vetera monumenta Slavorum meridionalium historiam illustrantia Maximam partem nondum edita ex tabulariis Vaticanis, Zagrabiae 1875, p. 218: "Clemente, primo stipite, fu di padre serviano da Moraccia fiume, che scaturisce da Monte Negro sopra Cattaro, e di madre detta Bubesca, figlia di Vrijabegna da Cucci." (Italian)
  4. ^ Hyacinthe Hecquard, "Histoire et description de la Haute Albanie ou Ghégarie", Paris 1859, pp. 178-180 (French)
  5. ^ Miloš Velimirović, "Na Komovima", Bratstvo 5, Beograd 1892, p. 24 (Serbo-Croatian)
  6. ^ a b c A. Jovićević, "Malesija", pp. 61, 64, 77 (Serbo-Croatian)
  7. ^ Jovan N. Tomić, "O Arnautima u Staroj Srbiji i Sandžaku /About the Albanians in the Old Serbia and Sanjak", Belgrade, Geca Kon. (1913), p. 74 (Serbian)
  8. ^ Andrija Luburić, "Vojvoda Jovan Mrkšić Klimenta Karađorđev ded i plavski Turci", Beograd 1937. p. 17 (Serbo-Croatian)
  9. ^ Milan Šufflay, Povijest sjev. Arb., Arhiv za arbanašku stranu II, 2, Beograd 1924, p. 197 (Croatian)
  10. ^ a b Elsie, Robert; Mathie-Heck, Janice; Centre for Albanian Studies (London, England) (2005). The highland lute: (Lahuta e Malcís) : the Albanian national epic. I.B.Tauris. p. 432. ISBN 978-1-84511-118-2. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Malcolm, Noel (2001). The Kelmendi: Notes on the Early History of a Catholic Albanian Clan. Südost Forschungen. 59-60. S. Hirzel. pp. 149–62. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  12. ^ a b Jugoslawien, Peter Bartl, [1] p. 146
  13. ^ Elsie, Robert (2003). Early Albania: a reader of historical texts, 11th-17th centuries. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 159. ISBN 978-3-447-04783-8. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  14. ^ Bolizza (1614). "Mariano Bolizza, report and description of the sanjak of Shkodra (1614)". 
  15. ^ Kulišić, Špiro (1980). O etnogenezi Crnogoraca (in Montenegrin). Pobjeda. p. 41. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  16. ^ Lambertz, Maximilian (1959). Wissenschaftliche Tätigkeit in Albanien 1957 und 1958. Südost-Forschungen. S. Hirzel. p. 408. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  17. ^ François Lenormant (1866). Turcs et Monténégrins (in French). Paris. pp. 124–128. Retrieved 2013-11-19. Pendant que la gouverneur de Scutari réduisant ainsi a l'obeissance une partie de la population tserno-gortse, le pahca d'Ipek, uni a moudir de Goussinie, attaquait leurs allies schkypetars les Clementi. Repousse. il implora de la Porte les mouens d'ecraser les montagnards de des bords du Zem. L'annee suivante, en 1624, la crainte qu insiraient les Montenegrins etant calmee, un ordre de Constantinople fit marcher simultanement contre les Clementi les Pacha de Scutari et d'Ipek. ainsi que le vizir de Bosnie, a la tete d'une armee de 30,000 hommes. Les troupes ottomanes se rasemblerent aupres de Scutari et s'avancerent en remontant la vallee du Zem. Feignant, par une ruse de guerre, d'etre epouvantes a la vue du nombre de leurs ennemis, les montagnards de cette intrepide tribu prirent la fuite et attirerent les Turcs jusqu'a un endroit appele Jamara, ou se reunissent las deux branches du Zem et ou l'armee du Sultan se trouva tout a coup arretee par un pont que les Clementi avaient coupe. ... les muslumans se debanderent bien vite et se sauverent a toutes jambes pendant plusieurs lieues, laissant 6,000 morts sur le champ de bataille. Le vizir de Bosnie avait donne le premier l'example de la fuite. Quant aux Clementi, leur perte avait ete presque nulle. Les traditions du pays pretendent meme qu'ils n'avaient eu que 900 hommes engages dans ce combat, avec un certain nombre de femmes, de vieillards er d'enfants.
    Ceux-ci resterent plusieurs annees sans ceder, Mais a la fin leurs provisions s'epuiserent; leurs bestiaux furent tous devores ils en vinrent a se nourrir d'herbes sauvages et de l'ecorce des arbres. Malgre tant de souffrances ils resistaient encore en 1638, lorsque le Sultan Mourad IV debarrasse de la guerre avec la Perse apres la prise de Bagdad, chargea d'en finir avec eux Doudje-Pacha, ancien bostandji-bachi, nomme governeur de la Bosnie.
  18. ^ Benedetto Mazzara (July 21, 2011), Leggendario Francescano, Istorie De Santi, Beati, Venerabili Ed Altri Uomini Illustri, Che Fiorirono Nelli Tre Ordini Istituiti Dal Serafico Padre San Francesco raccolto e disposto secondo i giorni de mesi in quattro tomi dal padre F.Benedetto Mazzara (in Italian), Nabu Press, pp. 10–17,22, ISBN 978-1173702304, retrieved 2013-11-19 
  19. ^ Pjetër Bogdani (1685), Cuneus Prophetarum (in Albanian),, retrieved 2013-11-19, Cusc mundetè me i raam mboh se ma i vobek kjè Vucia Pascia , issiλi pèr tè mbèleξè gni uscterij 12. mije vettesc , nuk' i mbastuenè sciumè miliogn aar , se Kelmendasitè tanè , te sijtè me gniεaan' ;Eja cusc ansctè trim, mbèleξ unè affere 500. vettèvraanè Vucie Pascenè , vjetit se Chrisctit 1639. 
  20. ^ Österreichische Osthefte (in German) 34 (1-4), Vienna: Österreichisches Ost- und Südosteuropa-Institut, 1992, p. 13, ISSN 0029-9375, retrieved 2013-11-19 
  21. ^ Bartl, Peter (2007). Albania sacra: geistliche Visitationsberichte aus Albanien. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 139. ISBN 978-3-447-05506-2. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  22. ^ Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: a short history. Macmillan. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-333-66612-8. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  23. ^ a b Jugoslawien, p. 147
  24. ^ Mita Kostić, "Ustanak Srba i Arbanasa u staroj Srbiji protivu Turaka 1737-1739. i seoba u Ugarsku", Glasnik Skopskog naučnog društva 7-8, Skoplje 1929, pp. 225, 230, 234
  25. ^ Albanische Geschichte: Stand und Perspektiven der Forschung, p. 239 (German)
  26. ^ Borislav Jankulov (2003). Pregled kolonizacije Vojvodine u XVIII i XIX veku. Novi Sad - Pančevo. p. 61. 
  27. ^ Pearson, Owen (2004). Albania in the twentieth century: a history. I.B.Tauris. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-84511-013-0. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  28. ^ Südost Forschungen, Vol 59-60, p. 149, [2] (German)
  29. ^ Ndue Bacaj (Gazeta "Malësia") (March 2001), Prek Cali thërret: Rrnoftë Shqipnia, poshtë komunizmi (in Albanian),, retrieved 2013-12-25 
  30. ^ Luigj Martini (2005). Prek Cali, Kelmendi dhe kelmendasit (in Albanian). Camaj-Pipaj. p. 66. ISBN 9789994334070. 
  31. ^ Elsie, Robert (2001). A dictionary of Albanian religion, mythology and folk culture. C. Hurst. p. 152. ISBN 978-1-85065-570-1. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  32. ^ Vojska, Volume 8, Issues 405-414 (in Serbian). Vojnoizdavački i novinski centar. 1999. p. 48. Џомбољај, Уљај, Ахметај, Вучетај... Али оне су пре десетак и више година има- ли презимена Џомболић, Уље- вић, Ахметовић, Вучетовић 
  33. ^ Bunjaj, Nikë (2000). Nora e Kelmendit. Botimet Toena. ISBN 99927-1-294-5. OL4014711M.
  34. ^
  35. ^ Institut za historiju radničkog pokreta Hrvatske, "Magazine of contemporary history, vol 19", 1987, pp. 165-168
  36. ^ The New York Times, November 1, 1987, Late City Final Edition (p. 14) -"In Yugoslavia, Rising Ethnic Strife Brings Fears of Worse Civil Conflict" By David Binder
  37. ^