Dukagjini Coat of Arms

…it was Kapidan Gjon Marku who bequeathed his name to his descendants. The mountaineers never call the people of his family other than “Dera e Gjon Markut” (race of Gjon Marku).”

…it was Kapidan Gjon Marku who bequeathed his name to his descendants. The mountaineers never call the people of his family other than “Dera e Gjon Markut” (race of Gjon Marku).”

Extract from Hyacinthe Hecquard: Histoire et Description de la Haute Albanie ou Guégarie (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1858), p.219-247

Hyacinthe Hecquard: Histoire et Description de la Haute Albanie ou Guégarie (Paris: Arthus Bertrand, 1858), p.219-247

Gjon Marku II was the only living descendant of the Gjomarku Dynasty in the early 18th century. He was a renowned warrior, who gained great fame for his success against the Turks. He lent his assistance, for which a high price was paid, to the Pashas in their resistance to the central government. It was he who first established the residence in Orosh.

After his death (1775) he was succeeded by his son, Llesh Gjoni who, like him, made war his profession. He was instrumental in the joining of Mirdita into four Bajraks (Flags): Orosh, Fan, Spac and Kushne, making their political and military position stronger. His deeds threatened the Ottoman government and ultimately he was killed in battle, leaving three sons: Prenk Lleshi, Llesh i Zi and Dod Lleshi. It is with these, as ancestors of the existing family members, that we are most directly concerned.

Here we can see how often the abbreviated form of the name Alessandro (Llesh), recurs in historical documents, derived from Lesendria (the island in Lake Scutari), Alessio and other names found in these parts.

Prenk Lleshi, the eldest of Llesh Gjoni’s three sons, succeeded his father as head of Mirdita by birthright. Prenk Lleshi was killed in 1815 while leading Mirdita in a war against Montenegro.

His legitimate successor was his oldest son Dode Prenga. He was poisoned by the Turks in 1828.

Preng Lleshi’s second son, Nikoll was still young, therefore his regency was entrusted to his uncle Lleshi i Zi (Alexander the Black), the most ferocious and dark character of his race.

Lleshi i Zi

In 1831, a few years after inheriting the lead of Mirdita, he was exiled to Janina by order of the Grand Vizier, Mehemet Reshid Pasha, against whom he had sided with Mustafa in his era against the Porte, and was forced to surrender at the siege of Shkodra. While in exile for nine years, his nephew, Nikoll Preng Lleshi, took over as leader of Mirdita.

This was the turning point in the house of Gjomarkaj and a dark chapter in its history. Fury of vengeance broke out on the devoted house, and as they say, not without the cooperation of the Turkish authorities, who were only too happy with the opportunity to weaken a powerful neighbor.

Nikoll Preng Lleshi, being aware of the influence in Mirdita of the sons of Lleshi i Zi, his three cousins: Dod Leshi, Marko Lleshi, Ndoi Leshi and also at the instigation of the Turks, had his three cousins killed, all in one day. Immediately after this event, the sentence of exile against Llesh i Zi was overturned, and he reappeared on the scene thirsting for revenge.

At first, at the sincere plea of the clergy, he agreed to reconcile with his nephew as long as he showed respect and followed him unquestioned. Unfortunately, Nikoll continued on his path of defiance and left his uncle no choice but to kill him. The Gjomarku Porte was in upheaval.

Within a year of the murder, in 1837, Lleshi i Zi was murdered by his victim’s companions. A massacre followed, whereby twenty-two people were killed from two districts. Miraculously, Lleshi i Zi’s grandson, Gjon Mark Lleshi (the son of his second oldest son Mark Lleshi) and Bibe Doda (Dod Prenk’s son) were saved by being removed from Orosh in the darkness of night, hidden in a chest: the future hope of Mirdita and the Gjomarku Porte.

Eventually, when the family was on the eve of extinction, a truce was established, and since the death toll on both sides was found to be equal, it was agreed that the past was to be forgotten, that Bib Doda, being the representative of the elder branch, should be recognized as Chief.

Bibe Dode “Pasha”

With Bib Dode’s succession the Gjomarku Porte was once again on the rise. He was known for his military prowess during the campaigns he led in Epir, the Orient, Bosnia and Montenegro. He won decorations (Niskan Iftikar and Maxhidije) and later that of the Order of St. George from the Holy See. For his many distinguished military merits throughout his reign Bib Doda was given the title of “Pasha”, the first Catholic Pasha in Albania. His influence and prestige brought the Gjomarku Porte back to its former greatness. However, Turkey, once again tried to manipulate him and Mirdita and the near danger of a war between Mirdita and Turkey was escalating. A meeting took place in 1855 with the leaders of Mirdita, the Counsel of France and England, the Archbishop of Lezha and representatives from Turkey. An agreement was reached and all activities ceased. While Bib Doda’s fame grew it became a real danger in the eyes of Turkey. Over the next years with Bib Doda’s leadership Mirdita grew stronger, this was a seen as disastrous by the Turks who poisoned Bib Doda in 1868 in Shkodra.

Kapidan Preng Bib Doda

After Bib Doda’s death the leadership of Mirdita fell to his son Preng Bib Doda (1860-1919). However, the Turkish government, to demoralize Mirdita, took young Preng Bib Doda, at the age of 8, and brought him to Turkey where he would grow and study, finally releasing him in 1876. To further try to obstruct the lineage of the Gjomarkau Porte, the Turks castrated Preng Bib Doda so that he would not be able to leave any heirs.

During this period the leadership in Mirdita went to his cousin, Gjon Marka Lleshi (Lleshi i Zi’s grandson), who was quite old and found himself in an awkward position as he did not have much support. This gave Turkey an opportunity to infiltrate Mirdita, and they appointed Dode Gega from Orosh as Major of the Ottoman Army in Mirdita, which led Gjon Marka Lleshi to propel the people of Mirdita toward an insurrection and demand that their autonomy not be infringed. An insurrection in Dibra broke out 1872-1873. The Turkish Army was beaten. Unfortunately, Gjon Marka Lleshi died without having to see the realization of his ambitions. He left four sons: Llesh Gjoni, Marka Gjoni, Ndue Gjoni and Dede Gjoni.

Llesh Gjoni, being the oldest son, took over the lead and ousted Major Dode Gega from Mirdita. Within a short time he multiplied his activity, which was seen as dangerous by Turkey. They recognized him as a fierce opponent and immediately set out to kill him, through Major Dode Gega. He was murdered in Shkodra by his personal guard. Dode Gega returned to Mirdita as Major and sole ruler.

In 1876 Mirdita took up arms and demanded the release of their Prince and Kapidan, Preng Bib Doda. He was released and returned to Mirdita. Preng Bib Doda would go on to be an exemplary leader and Kapidan for Mirdita over the next six years.

In 1883 Preng Bib Doda was captured and exiled to Turkey again. The Sarajet of Orosh were burned. The Gjomarku Porte fell under great distress and Kapidan Marka Gjoni (great-grandson of Lleshi i Zi) and next in line, took over the leadership of Mirdita.

Kapidan Marka Gjoni

Kapidan Marka Gjoni, at the age of 22 took over the role of leader. Being young and lacking means, Marka Gjoni left Orosh and went to nearby Nderfande in order to survive. Turkey brought back Major Dode Gega who appointed Prenge Kole Prenga, from a remote branch of the Marka Gjoni family, as Deputy Governor. Although well known he was old and unable to exert the influence of the Porte. Now the Porte was in danger of distinction. As time passed the situation appeared bleak. Dode Gega thought that by having Preng Bib Doda exiled and Marka Gjoni living elsewhere, he would be able to rule Mirdita. It was a difficult time for the House and Mirdita.

Marka Gjoni began to come into his own and formulate a plan to rid Mirdita of Dode Gega, and rid it of Turkish influence. In earnest Major Dode Gega was killed by Ndue Gjoni (Marka Gjoni’s brother). This event catapulted Marka Gjoni to return to Orosh and revitalize his people. There were still a few remnants left in power by the order of the Turks who had to be dealt with and with resolve he confronted the situation and rid Mirdita of the obstacles at hand. The House was back on course, Preng Kole Prenga was removed as Deputy Governor and the title of Kapidan returned to Marka Gjoni. He rebuilt the former palaces of Lleshi i Zi, in the Gorge of Orosh, which were burned by the Turks in 1883, and there he settled permanently.

Kapidan Marka Gjoni’s fame spread all over the North of Albania. His activities against the Turks multiplied. In 1890, through his close association with Abbat Doci, of the Abbey of Orosh, they were successful in their quest to unite 13 Diocese in Mirdita. This was a great success for Mirdita, as their vision was to make all of Mirdita Catholic and thereby an important religious center.

Turkey continued to try and undermine Marka Gjoni and in 1896 killed his younger brother Dede Gjoni. One year later they captured Marka Gjoni and exiled him to Mosul, Iraq.

During this time the Porte found itself in great difficulty again. Ndoc Ndreca was appointed Deputy Governor by the Turkish government.

Marka Gjoni escaped exile after five years (1902) and once again returned to Mirdita and reclaimed his role as leader. Turkey was still impeding the release of Preng Bib Doda and Marka Gjoni rallied Mirdita and compelled it to fight and demand his return.

In 1910 Preng Bib Doda was released and returned to Mirdita and once again took over the lead. As leader of Mirdita Preng Bib Doda is famously well known. He distinguished himself throughout his life while leading Mirdita into autonomy. He was murdered in Lezhe in 1919.

Once again Marka Gjoni found himself leading Mirdita as its Kapidan. He found himself, once again, fighting against the government, this time within the country. Ahmet Zog became Prime Minister in 1920 and immediately began his campaign against Mirdita. He considered it a strong center for Albanian nationalism and wanted to shatter it. His intentions were clear; he wanted to divide and launch an offensive against the North. Marka Gjoni and his leaders went to Tirana but were rebuked and were told they should subjugate to Zog so that they could be protected by his government. This was unacceptable to Marka Gjoni. In 1921 he led a rebellion and declared Mirdita Independent. The Republic was short lived, three months, as government forces easily dismantled it. However the point was made, Mirdita will not subjugate to anyone. He was the first and only President of the Republic of Mirdita. Marka Gjoni died in 1925.

Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni

Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, only son of Kapidan Marka Gjoni, became leader and Kapidan of Mirdita. He distinguished himself between 1926-1928 by resolving 620 blood feuds. His rule over Mirdita for a period of 20 years was the most peaceful and productive. He united Bajrak by Bajrak, village by village by resolving these fueds. He was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel by then King Zog at his proclamation; to redeem the events that happened in Mirdita in 1921 King Zog felt obliged to bestow praise on Mirdita by honoring Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni.

The events of WWII changed the fate of Albania and the Gjomarku Porte.

Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni had five sons: Mark, Ndue, Llesh, Dede and Nikoll. These men all had their destinies irrevocably changed with the occurrence of WWII and the advent of communism in Albania.

Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni and his second oldest son, Kapidan Ndue, would, under the order of the older son, Kapidan Mark, leave Albania on 26 November 1944 under the darkness of night to avoid being apprehended by the communist brigades, whom they were leading the resistance against. They made it to Italy and eventually settled there and began their political journey by creating the most anti-communist organization from exile; the Bloku Kombetar Independent. Kapidan Ndue married in Italy and had three daughters and one son, Gjon Ndue Gjomarkaj.

Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku would remain in Albania and lead the resistance in Mirdita against the communists for the next two years, until his death on 14 June 1946. He left behind two daughters and one son, Gjon Mark Markagjoni, who died in 2003. Gjon left no heirs.

Kapidan Llesh Gjon Marku continued the fight in Mirdita after his brother’s death, but he too would be killed on 9 August 1947. He left no heirs.

Kapidan Ded Gjon Marku was apprehended by the communist regime in Shkodra in 1945 and spent 15 years in prison and the remainder in internment along with the rest of the family, until 1991, when democracy occurred and they were released. He died in 2015 and left no heirs.

Kapidan Nikoll Gjon Marku was apprehended by the communists in Shkodra in 1945 and was sent to the concentration camp in Berat and Tepelena, from where he escaped in 1949, ultimately joining his father and brother Ndue in Italy. He died in 2018 and left behind one daughter and two sons: Mark and Sander.

Bianca Gjomarkaj

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