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 (Albanian: Kelmendi) is a historical tribe and region (Kelmendi mountains, Malet e Kelmendit) 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.


Early history[edit]

The Kelmendi are first mentioned in a defter (tax registry) of 1497, along with the tribes of Hoti, Kuči and Piperi.[2] They are recorded as having 152 households divided by 5 small shepherding communities.[2] Robert Elsie thus assumes that they were known as a tribe from the last decades of the 15th century.[2] The defter mentions them as derbendci, mountain-pass keepers, and having tax privileges.[2] The derbendci guarded the Shkodër–Altun-li and Medun–Kuči roads.[2]

As early as 1538, the Kelmendi rose up against the Ottomans.[3] In 1565, the Kelmendi, Kuči and Piperi rose up against the Ottomans.[4] In mid-1580s, the Kelmendi seemed to have stopped paying taxes to the Ottomans.[4]

17th century[edit]

Venetian documents from 1609 mention the Kelmend, Dukagjini, and others having a conflict with the Sultan for 4 years.[5] In April the same year the Dukagjini and others attacked not only the Ottomans, but other northern Albanian tribes who did not support them.[5] The local Ottomans were unable to counter them and were thus forced to ask the Bosnian Pasha for help.[5]

Old man of Shoshi by Edith Durham prior to 1909

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 Dalmatian [South Slavic]).[6] 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).[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10] 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.[11]

In 1651, they aided the army of Ali-paša Čengić, which attacked Kotor; the army raided and destroyed many monasteries in the region.[12] In 1658, the seven tribes of Kuči, Vasojevići, Bratonožići, Piperi, Klimenti, Hoti and Gruda allied themselves with the Republic of Venice, establishing the so-called "Seven-fold barjak" or "alaj-barjak", against the Ottomans.[13]

In 1685, Süleyman, sanjak-bey of Scutari, annihilated the bands of Bajo Pivljanin that supported Venice at the Battle on Vrtijeljka.[14] Süleyman was said to have been aided by the Brđani (including the Klimenti[12]), who were in feud with the Montenegrin tribes.[15] The Klimenti lived off of plundering. Plav, Gusinje, and the Orthodox population in those regions suffered the most from the Klimenti's attacks.[15] The Klimenti also raided the Peć area, and they were so powerful there that some villages and small towns paid them tribute.[15] In March 1688, Süleyman attacked the Kuči tribe;[16] the Kuči, with help from Klimenti and Piperi, destroyed the army of Süleyman twice, took over Medun and got their hands of large quantities of weapons and equipment.[13] In 1692, Süleyman defeated the Montenegrins at Cetinje, once again with the help of the Brđani.[15]

In 1689 the Kelmendi volunteered in the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire during the Kosovo campaign. Initially they were serving Süleyman, but after negotiations with a Venetian official, they abandoned the Ottoman ranks.[17] 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.[6] In 1700, some 2307 people from Selcë (Klimenti territory) were settled in Pešter, while 642 were left behind,[18] after the defeat and subsequent withdrawal of the Imperial army and their surrounding by the Ottoman army.[19] In 1707 they began their return.[18] 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.[20] After the defeat in 1737, under Archbishop Arsenije IV Jovanović Šakabenta, a significant number of Serbs and Kelmendis retreated into the north, Habsburg territory.[21] Around 1,600 of them settled in the villages of Nikinci and Hrtkovci, where they later adopted a Croat identity.[22]

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.[23] Franz Baron Nopcsa, in 1920, puts the Klimenti as the first of the Albanian clans, as the most frequently mentioned of all.[24]

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.[25][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.[26]



There are various theories on the origin of the Kelmendi. Several anthropologists and historians have recorded various founding myths.

  • 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.[27]
  • 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).[28]
  • According to French consul Hyacinte Hecquard (1814–1866), Kelment or Kelmend, the founder, was a fleeing priest that had settled the area from Zatrijebač (Triepshi).[29]
  • Yugoslav anthropologist Andrija Jovičević recorded several stories about their origin. One story has it that the founder settled from Lajqit e Hotit, in Hoti, and to Hoti from Fundane, the village of Lopare in Kuči; he was upset with the Hoti and Kuči, and therefore left those tribes. When he lived in Lopare, he married a girl from Zatrijebač, who followed him. His name was Amati, and his wife's name was Bumče. According to others, his name was Klmen, from where the tribe received its name. Another story, which Jovičević had heard in Selce, was that the founder was from Piperi, a poor man that had worked as a servant for a wealthy Kuči, there he sinned with a girl from a noble family, and left via the Cijevna.[30] Milan Šufflay (1879-1931) noted that among some Kelmendi, Nikola "Sharp-minded" Kolmendija (Nikola Oštroumni Kolmendija) was noted as the founding father.[31] Serbian historians have assumed that the tribe was of Serb origin,[32][33][34][35][36] originally adhering to the Orthodox Church, converting to Catholicism, and subsequently Albanianized.[37]


Logu i Bjeshkeve Beauty Festival taking place every August in Qafa Bordolecit

During Easter processions in Selcë and Vukël the kore, a child-eating demon, was burnt symbolically.[38] 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.[19]


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 Novšiće (1789). 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.[39]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo has been recognised as an independent state by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


  1. ^ Mal meaning "mountain", the region in Montenegro is part of brda, meaning "hill"
  2. ^ a b c d e Elsie 2015, p. 27.
  3. ^ Bešić 1975, p. 97.
  4. ^ a b Elsie 2015, p. 28.
  5. ^ a b c Bešić 1975, p. 98.
  6. ^ a b Grothusen 1984, p. 146
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Bolizza (1614). "Mariano Bolizza, report and description of the sanjak of Shkodra (1614)". 
  9. ^ Kulišić, Špiro (1980). O etnogenezi Crnogoraca (in Montenegrin). Pobjeda. p. 41. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Lambertz, Maximilian (1959). Wissenschaftliche Tätigkeit in Albanien 1957 und 1958. Südost-Forschungen. S. Hirzel. p. 408. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  11. ^ François Lenormant (1866). Turcs et Monténégrins (in French). Paris. pp. 124–128. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  12. ^ a b Bartl, Peter (2007). Albania sacra: geistliche Visitationsberichte aus Albanien. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 139. ISBN 978-3-447-05506-2. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Mitološki zbornik. Centar za mitološki studije Srbije. 2004. pp. 24, 41–45. 
  14. ^ Zbornik za narodni život i običaje južnih slavena. 1930. p. 109. 
  15. ^ a b c d Karadžić 2–4. Štamparija Mate Jovanovnića Beograd. 1900. p. 74. Дрногорци су пристали уз Турке против Клемената и њихових савезника Врћана20), а седамдесет и две године касније, 1685. год., СулеЈман паша Бушатлија успео је да продре на Цетиње само уз припо- моћ Брђана, који су били у завади с Црногорцима.*7! То исто догодило се 1692. год., кад је Сулејман-пагаа поново изишао на Цетиње, те одатле одагнао Млечиће и умирио Црну Гору, коЈ"а је била пристала под заштиту млетачке републике.*8) 0 вери Бр- ђани су мало водили рачуна, да не нападају на своје саплеме- нике, јер им је плен био главна сврха. Од клементашких пак напада нарочито највише су патили Плаво, Гусиње и православнн живаљ у тим крајевима. Горе сам напоменуо да су се ови спуштали и у пећки крај,и тамо су били толико силни, да су им поједина села и паланке морали плаћати данак. 
  16. ^ Zapisi 13. Cetinjsko istorijsko društvo. 1940. p. 15. Марта мјесеца 1688 напао је Сулејман-паша на Куче 
  17. ^ Malcolm, Noel (1998). Kosovo: a short history. Macmillan. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-333-66612-8. Retrieved 18 November 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Jugoslawien, p. 147
  19. ^ a b Elsie 2015.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Albanische Geschichte: Stand und Perspektiven der Forschung, p. 239 (German)
  22. ^ Borislav Jankulov (2003). Pregled kolonizacije Vojvodine u XVIII i XIX veku. Novi Sad - Pančevo. p. 61. 
  23. ^ Pearson 2004, p. 43.
  24. ^ Südost Forschungen, Vol 59-60, p. 149, [1] (German)
  25. ^ Ndue Bacaj (Gazeta "Malësia") (March 2001), Prek Cali thërret: Rrnoftë Shqipnia, poshtë komunizmi (in Albanian),, retrieved 2013-12-25 
  26. ^ a b Luigj Martini (2005). Prek Cali, Kelmendi dhe kelmendasit (in Albanian). Camaj-Pipaj. p. 66. ISBN 9789994334070. 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ Augustin Theiner (1875). Vetera monumenta Slavorum meridionalium historiam illustrantia maximam partem nondum edita ex tabulariis vaticanis deprompta collecta: A Clemente VII. usque ad Pium VII. (1524-1800) cum addimentia saec. XIII. et XIV. Tomus Secundus. Academia scientiarum et artium slavorum meridionalium. 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 
  29. ^ Elsie 2015, p. 23.
  30. ^ Jovičević 1923, pp. 60–61.
  31. ^ Milan Šufflay, Povijest sjev. Arb., Arhiv za arbanašku stranu II, 2, Beograd 1924, p. 197 (Croatian)
  32. ^ Đoko M. Slijepčević (1983). Srpsko-arbanaški odnosi kroz vekove sa posebnim osvrtom na novije vreme. D. Slijepčević. 
  33. ^ Hyacinthe Hecquard, "Histoire et description de la Haute Albanie ou Ghégarie", Paris 1859, pp. 178-180 (French)
  34. ^ Miloš Velimirović (1892). Na Komovima. Bratstvo 5 (Beograd). p. 24. 
  35. ^ Grigorije Božović (1930). Sa sedla i samara. Štamparija "Jedinstvo". p. 123. 
  36. ^ 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)
  37. ^ Brastvo 16. Društvo sv. Save. 1921. p. 176. Клименти су били пореклом Срби прво православни ... 
  38. ^ 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. 
  39. ^ 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 
  40. ^ Bunjaj, Nikë (2000). Nora e Kelmendit. Botimet Toena. ISBN 99927-1-294-5. OL4014711M.
  41. ^
  42. ^ Institut za historiju radničkog pokreta Hrvatske, "Magazine of contemporary history, vol 19", 1987, pp. 165-168
  43. ^ 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


  • Jovićević, Andrija (1923). Malesija. Rodoljub. 

External links[edit]