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The Kanun or Doke is a set of traditional Albanian laws. The Kanun was primarily oral and was published in writing only in the 20th century. The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini (Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit) was codified in the 15th century. Six later variations eventually evolved:
- The Old Kanun (Albanian: Kanun i vjetër);
- The Kanun of Mirdita (Albanian: Kanuni i Mirditës);
- The Kanun of Pukë (Albanian: Kanuni i Pukës);
- The Kanun of Çermenikë (Albanian: Kanuni i Çermenikës);
- The Kanun of Pope Julius (Albanian: Kanuni i Papa Zhulit);
- The Kanun of Labëria (Albanian: Kanuni i Labërisë);
- The Kanun of Skanderbeg (Albanian: Kanuni i Skënderbeut) also known as The Kanun of Arbëria (Albanian: Kanuni i Arbërisë).
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 there is a large ethnic Albanian population; Montenegro, Kosovo and North 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 after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990s.
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. It must have been divulgated during the Ottoman rule. It was so randomly used that when something was legal it was said "it's kanun", and when it wasn't "the kanun doesn't give it". The consuetudinary law was called "kanun". Baroness Von Godin thought that it was the Ottomans that gave the name kanun and that the Albanian name Lek (latin. lex) was only afterly perceived as a proper name that was attributed to the late Medieval nobleman of the Dukagjini family.
Except the term kanun there were used other words of turkish extract (usull, itifak, adet, sharte) or in the Albanian periphrase "rrugë" or "udhë" (way or path). In Martanesh and Çermenikë it was known as "kanun", in Toskëria it was known as "The Kanun of the Adet", in Labëria "The sharte of Idriz Suli", in the Bregu district Venomet e Himarës. but in Dibër, Kurbin, Bendë e Tamadhe it was called zakon (from slavonic законъ). According to Çabej, Camaj and Schmidt-Neke, the oldest Albanian word by which the customary law was known was doke, meaning "custom", "usance", "tradition" in Albanian.
The practice of the oral laws that Lekë Dukagjini codified in the Kanun was suggested by Edith Durham as dating 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.
Development and usage
The Kanun of Lek Dukagjini was named after the medieval prince Lekë Dukagjini who ruled in northern Albania and codified the customary laws of the highlands. 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 the laws are attributed to Lekë Dukagjini, the laws evolved over time as a way to bring law and rule to these lands. The Kanun is divided into 12 sections, and Gjeçovi's version has 1,262 articles which regulate all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organisation of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on. The Besa (personal honour, compare with Lat. fides) and nderi (family honour, Lat. honor) are 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 led to blood feuds that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed. In situations of murder tribal law stipulates the principle of koka për kokë (head for a head) where the relatives of the victim are obliged to seek gjakmarrja (blood vengeance). Women are only seen as producers of offspring and are referred to in a discriminatory manner and so are not considered worthy targets. The Albanian name for blood feud is Gjakmarrja. 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. Tribal also held that thieves would need to pay fines to the relative amount that was stolen.
Former communist leader of Albania 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. In 2014 about 3,000 Albanian families were estimated to be involved in blood feuds and this since the fall of Communism has led to the deaths of 10,000 people.
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:
- The Church
- Property of the Church
- The Priest
- Church workers
- The family make-up
- The Kanun of the groom
- House, Livestock and Property;
- The house and its surroundings
- The boundary
- Transfer of Property;
- Spoken Word;
- Individual honor
- Social honor
- '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 the 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 great number of tragedies that were lost from Aeschylus, there are evident similarities between the kanun and the vendetta customs in all the Mediterranean countries.
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 plays a major role in the Belgian movie Dossier K.
Belgian TV maker Tom Waes visited Albania during one of the shows in his series Reizen Waes. He was served spit roasted goat and was offered the head of the goat. According to Kanun rules, this is how they honor a guest during dinner.
The Kanun is referred to in "The Closer" Season 6 | Episode 14 "The investigation into the Albanian blood feud" 
- History of Albania
- History of Kosovo
- Constitution of Albania
- Blood money
- Honour killing
- Blood Law
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